Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Settling into home from home

Last week, shortly after I first got here, I was having myself a coffee and a read of my book, which I do a lot as a lady of leisure, when I overheard an ex-pat conversation about where to buy good food in Brussels. (Things I'm learning about Brussels - there are ex-pats everywhere) Naturally my ears pricked up and I latched on to the conversation that was happening a few tables away. The couple were having a grand old conversation about different areas of Brussels, where was nice to live and where were the best places to do their various bits of shopping. The conversation couldn't have been better suited to someone like myself, just off the plane from Dublin, looking for somewhere to live, with an insane interest in food. I listened intently while pretending to study my book. Don't judge me, you've all done it. Unfortunately for me, these two were clearly Brussels veterans and despite speaking English, every time they mentioned a place name, their pronunciation was so impeccable that I hadn't the slightest notion what they were talking about. So, serves me right I suppose for listening in on other people's private conversations.

Well, a week later, I've moved into my new home from home for the next few months and as luck would have it, it's right down the road from one of 'the' markets that my cafe friends were talking so enthusiastically about. It's exactly as they described. It happens weekly, on a Wednesday, and is filled with everything my culinary heart could desire. As far as my limited understanding of French allows me to determine, and what I overheard from the cafe couple, it seems to be stocked with produce from surrounding farms with an emphasis on local and organic. It's got everything you need, bakers, cheesemongers, fishmongers, florists, butchers and of course wine. As I said, everything my culinary heart could desire. And at the end of my street. I couldn't have picked a better location if I had actually done some research and tried.

I've always been insanely jealous of the European's relationship with food. Ever since I went to Italy as a little girl and experienced what a real tomato tasted like. Europe has access to the kind of local produce that we as pale skinned islanders on the edge of the Atlantic can only dream of. And it seems that fresh produce and a culture of market shopping go hand in hand. In Europe it's nothing fancy, it's just the way people have shopped for years and continue to do so today. Why wouldn't they? The sun shines down on them, the produce is in abundance and it fosters community spirit. It allows local economies to thrive as bars and restaurants pop up around market squares turning them into bustling centres. Understandably, we in Ireland are jealous of this and are trying to emulate our European counterparts with food markets springing up all over the place. Except, we still don't have the produce, so instead it travels miles and miles to get to us, is overpriced as a result and usually, if out of season as it so often is, is as tasteless and undesirable as a wet rag. We've also totally missed the point of food markets. Ours seem to go hand in hand with a certain lifestyle choice, not with the everyday business of good food for all. (With the notable exception of the English Market in Cork of course.) Even the organic markets import the majority of their veg from the continent so do nothing to help with sustainability or cutting down of food miles. Quel dammage! It's a minefield, but one I can avoid for the summer, by shopping in my newly adopted, wonderful, local market. For those of you who find yourselves in the Brussels area, it's at Place Chatelain, on Wednesdays. Don't miss out. 

So all in all I'm pretty thrilled with where I've ended up. There's enough bars and restaurants around me that I will never get bored and I'm pretty sure I'll be at the market every Wednesday without fail. I may not be able to live this way in Ireland, but I'm sure going to soak it up while I can. 

my street

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Arbutus Abroad

Cake for breakfast and Calvin & Hobbes in French. Tres European.

As the very keen eyed among you will notice, it's been quite a while since my last blog post. And quite a lot has happened....I moved house, so sadly the original Arbutus Club is no more; my best friend emigrated; my mother decided to follow suit - a mere coincidence, it had nothing to do with my moving back home, or so she tells me; then she was followed by another dear friend upping sticks and buggering off. You're seeing the pattern I'm sure.

The upshot of all this is I find myself at a bit of a loss. I moved home three years ago hoping to reconnect with a city for which I held a naive nostalgia, only to find the city much changed and the majority of it's inhabitants booking one way tickets in the opposite direction. My timing has always been impeccable. The frustrating thing is that Dublin's actually a really great place to be at the moment. Unless of course you're trying to raise kids and are in neagtaive equity, or long term unemployed, or just graduated, in which case I feel very bad for you, life in Dublin probably sucks right now. But the fact is for single, middle class 30 somethings like myself, with enough work and no responsibilities, there's a hell of a lot going on in Dublin. The recession has forced people to get inventive. The cheap rent and abandoned spaces have meant that there are a glut of inventive artists studios popping up all over the place putting on new and innovative events. You can't walk ten paces for tripping up over a new restaurant or cafe. There's endless movie nights, gigs, supper clubs, exhibitions, all popping up in strange unexpected places and giving Dublin a distinctive edge of cool that it never had when last I lived there.

This is all great, except I find myself in the, probably not altogether unique, situation of forced solitude now that half my friend's have emigrated and the other half are settling down and having kids. There's all this great stuff going on but finding a reliable partner in crime can prove difficult. Every time I see something interesting, I get all excited about it, then I run through the potential list of invitees and my mood plummets as I realise....they're all gone. Well, not all, but you get the idea. So. What are my options? Stick around waiting for things to get better? Yes, I could do that. Or I could hop on a plane with everyone else and check out what this whole 'Europe' thing is about. 

So here I am in Brussels of all places. With the rest of Ireland it seems. What better city than this, the queen of transience, to spend the summer months? At the very least I'll eat some good food, drink some great beer and learn un peu le Francais and at the very most I can drag the rest of their sorry asses back to Dublin with me when I leave.