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Posts Tagged ‘belgium’

A Comfortable Chair

In Belgium, Brussels on 10 October 2011 at 23:30
October 10

Agora Brussels Day 2

View of Brussels from revolutionary boardroom

Dear people,

I have planted myself in the boardroom of the Media Center on the top floor of Revolutionary HQ, in a comfortable chair, with a stupendous view over Brussels. I just wanted to have the feeling.

 Still, there’s little we can do here. The people from Media Center have made badges, and attached indications throughout the building, but they haven’t yet fulfilled their one and only scope. Guarantee a broadband internet connection accesable for all. For the moment the connection is limited and unreliable. To be able to upload things I have to look for internet elsewhere.

 

 This is one of our problems. Another one is that we still can’t use the toilets after yesterday’s inundation. We are used to worse in two months of marching, but as long as we don’t resolve these things, we are seriously limited in our activities.

Fortunately, there are other things we can do. Among all the stuff that was left here by the university there were boxes full of fluffy ‘anti-stress dices’, part of a ‘student survival kid’. When they were brought to Media Center, people were happy to stop trying to connect themselves with the world and start a battle, throwing dices, and seeking cover behind the desks. It ended when someone acvtivated the fire extinguisher. When big clouds of white smoke came out of the windows, the people below thought that the building had caught fire.

It was the most interesting activity of the day, as far as I know. We have an official program, with debates, and forums and other serious things, but hardly anybody cares. Not the people from outside, and not even the people from the marches. Most of them are busy with projects for after Brussels. Our comrades from the Mediterranean are active in preparing the indefinite occupation of this place. Many people from the Meseta march are planning future marches, to Greece in the first place, and maybe to Palestine later on. Others are developing a nomad project, which consists more or less in forming a kind of ‘Revolutionary A-Team’. They would wander around Europe and the world, searching for hotspots of rebellion where they can participate in sedition, and put their experience into practice.

 The people from our march are already complaining that the comfort of this place is leading to a dangerous lull in revolutionary enthusiasm. And they are right. For now most of us just want to make maximum use of the potential of our building. It’s like a christmas present that you can’t put away for as long as it doesn’t start to bore you.

Revolutionary HQ

The Cafetaria

Revolutionary entrance

There are some commissions that have been fully active from start. One is the ‘Direct Action’ commission. It’s composed by two Spanish comrades who joined us in Paris. Until our arrival here they were mainly known for drinking beer and making noise, but once they got their own office, they have been preparing flyers and manifests in different languages all day and are active in distributing them at the night. It surprised us, just as it doesn’t surprise us that the more intellectualoid activists have been burying themselves in blabla all day long. The General Assembly has simultaneous written translations in three languages now, but hasn’t been able to disuss or decide about anything.

Another commission that has been seriously active is the commission Mushroom Cloud. This morning the three core members went on a trip in the woods and they brought home dozens of varieties of mushrooms. They have classified and exhibited them, with a warning not to eat them because some are known to be lethal. The hallucinogenous ones are being dehydrated. They have been claimed by the Spirituality Commission for their mind openening characteristics.

First mushroom harvest

At late night we have a little reunion in the economy department of the library, where comrade Roberto has made his home. The evaluation we make of the situation is not very positive. The people who were arrested are suffering from a kind of ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, as comrade Canario put it. They thought they were defending the great cause of our movement when they had themselves arrested, but when they came home they noticed that most people didn’t really care about what they did. Now they bear a grudge. They accuse the people from Brussels of underappreciating the marches and of using our arrival for their own glory. I have also heard accusations of elitism and lack of activism.

I haven’t yet been able to analyse the new situation well enough to say something about this. But it’s clear that a structure made up of closed spaces invites people to separate themselves and close their minds.

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Triumph of Stupidity

In Belgium, Brussels, March on Brussels on 8 October 2011 at 23:37

Brussels, October 8

Day 75 of the March on Brussels. From Aalst, 29 km.

A suburb of the Acampada in Aalst

Dear people,

Dark skies hovered low over Aalst when we got ready to leave for the last leg of our trip. The great day had come. Many new faces had joined us to walk, all the way, in the rain.

Route Commission had planned three reunification stops, to make sure we would enter Brussels as a group. On all those occasions, right from the start, we were carefully observed by three police officers. The day before, comrade Canario had gone to Brussels to see how the coordination of our arrival was coming along. This morning I asked him for his evaluation.

“It’s chaos.”

Route of the last day

For some reason, I’m not surprised. And as the walk starts, the Central Committee reunites to consider the various possibilities. Unfortunately, none of the indignados from Brussels accompanies us with up to date information on the situation we will encounter. A detailed map of the city only arrives at the second reunification stop. At that moment, we hear that we do not have permission to camp anywhere and that our primary camping site near the Basilique is crawling with police. Repression like we experienced in Paris is in the air. We start plotting about alternatives.

Close to Brussels the rain stops and we receive the news that the police is retreating from the park. We can go there, after all, for our grand arrival.

Comrades Christ, Roberto and Canario

 

 

Thus, late in the afternoon of August 8, we enter the capital territory of Brussels. A band of indignado drummers is there to greet us, and to accompany our entrance with a beat. Hearing that sound, seeing us march by with banners saying things like ‘bonheur pour tous’, the people in the windows watch us joyfully. Some of them respond to our salute with a V-for-victory sign.

 

In one of the smaller parks we reunite once again with the Mediterranean. Our group is numerous as never before when we march the last few metres to the Elizabeth park near the Basilique. The press will be there at seven.

At the park, a discrete group is people is waiting for us together with the Brussels indignados. They submerge us with cheers and a heartfelt applause. It’s great. But after walking thirty kilometres in the rain, I would have preferred it if they had welcomed us with warm drinks and something to eat.

At nightfall, we camp. The tents are deployed for the eye of the cameras, and the people lay out peaces of cardboard on the wet grass ifor a popular assembly in the dark. A lady from the municipal police intervenes to congratulate us with our accomplishment as a march. She says that the police does not have any intention to cause us trouble. She hopes that we will be able to work together in a constructive way, and she comes with a proposal. In short, we will be able to use the Elizabeth park every day for assemblies, working groups and other events. In case of bad weather these activities can be hosted at the Flemish University of Brussels, located at two minutes walking. It offers all basic facilities and we will be able to sleep there the entire week. But we will not be allowed to camp in the park. If we try to do so, police will evict us.

The rest of the assembly is dedicated to deciding if we will accept the proposal, or if we will try to camp anyway. The evening turns into a farce.

At Elizabeth Park

Many of us are hungry and cold. They don’t care to have an assembly about anything here. But as usual, it takes hours. Most people from the marches have gone elsewhere, so we start to wonder who is actually deciding in assembly about what we are going to do.

The only rational decision to take is to accept, without even calling an assembly. Then go to the university, and have one hell of a party. But apparently there is a small group of indignados who want to camp at all cost, to claim the public space.

I sigh. Once again we are giving a dire image of our movement. At a certain point, the police lose their patience, and van after van full of officers in riot gear are unloaded. They block the assembly on three sides. They give us ten minutes to accept the offer to go to the university or be arrested.

The reaction of people was just as predictable as it was stupid. Many of them sat together, bracing arms, ready to be taken away.

It made me think of the ‘dos de mayo’, the day in 1808 when Spain rose up after Napoleon had forced the Spanish king to abdicate in favour of the emperor’s older brother. The Spanish people didn’t rebel because they were attached to their king. He was a complete idiot, and everybody knew that. But when they saw the way their monarch was treated, they rose up because Napoleon had trampled on their national pride. ‘He may be an imbecile, but he is our imbecile.’

Something similar happened yesterday. People probably knew that it was absurd to hold a lengthy assembly in the dark about whether to stay there and be evicted or not. But when the police came to pressure them they rebelled. ‘This might be idiocy, but at least respect our assembly an let us finish this idiocy in peace.’

Some people from our march joined with the hardcore protesters out of solidarity. I didn’t. I’m not against a confrontation with police, as long as we have a space of manoeuvre. But here we sat with our backs against the wall.

We will be able to organise actions all week. The public space is ours, in any case. We don’t have to camp in the mud to prove it. I respect the conviction of the people who remained, but conviction without common sense is counterproductive, and potentially very dangerous.

They were taken away, more or less peacefully. There were too many police officers around, and it was too dark to be able to film anything.

I was there with friends of mine who had come to visit from Holland. “So this is Brussels, at last,” I said when the police bus drove away. “Let’s go grab a beer.”

Provisional Acampada Brussels

The Advantage of Chaos

In Belgium, March on Brussels on 7 October 2011 at 21:15
Aalst, October 7
Day 74 of the March on Brussels. From Gent, 29 km.

'Saludo al Sol'

Dear people,

We left Gent this morning in group, and we were singing our usual songs in French and Spanish. “They call it a democracy, but that isn’t true / It’s a dictatorship, and you know it!”

To me, it sounded a bit strange to sing something like this in a country without a central government for one and a half years running. But we are not talking about political dictatorship. National governments don’t matter that much any more, the states have lost their sovereignty bit by bit. The economy is queen, and her high priests united in obscure institutions like the Fed, the IMF, and the ECB decide on policy for the world at large. National states only need to implement their directives.

In a nutshell, this is what we are going to denounce in Brussels. Our political system has nothing to do with democracy. The socialist government in Greece is forced to sell the people’s property to multinational vultures in exchange for loans at unpayable interest. If it weren’t for the revolution, which will take place more sooner than later, the country would be enslaved indefinitely.

Action interview

St. Peter's Square in Gent, this morning

In Belgium, the crisis hasn’t yet made a real impact. Some of the Belgians I spoke say that this is in part thanks to the fact that they don’t have a government. Drastic measures cannot be taken by a provisional government, so deep cuts were not made until now. Life goes on here, banks are falling, but as long as people don’t feel it in their pocket, they don’t really care. They look at our protest as something picturesque. They are sympathetic towards us, but they’re not yet worried about themselves. In the South of Europe the tempest is raging, but here only few people have noticed the clouds rumbling in the distance. The storm is heading towards them as well, and when it arrives, they will remember us.

Leaving Gent

Gent is the most northern point of our expedition, from here we turn straight East, towards the rising sun. Like yesterday, the city never ends. These are still the suburbs of Waregem. The national roads are a very interesting urbanistic shadow zone. It seems like things are permitted here that you will not see in the cities themselves. There is no real need to keep up a façade, because apart from us, no-one walks by. Between the houses, the villas and the shopping hangars, you find lots of erotic night clubs and brothels, where people from the city can enjoy themselves anonymously, far away from peeking eyes, and far away from the lord our god. You will find all kind of buildings on the way, but you won’t find a single church.

Along the road a police van stops to ask us where were going. We are going to Aalst, our last stop before Brussels. It’s four thirty in the afternoon when we arrive, but it seems like it’s three a.m. on a saturday night. High school students are clustering around the bars in the center, drinking beer. Disco beats are blasting out onto the streets on every corner.

On the central square the mayor is there to welcome us. She offers us a camping space near the swimming pool at the edge of town. We respond that we prefer to camp in the center, and we create a ‘Square Commission’ ad hoc, to look at the different possibilities. The central square is out of the question, because there will be market tomorrow. We choose a square with access to water. A bit reluctantly, but with a smile, the mayor accepts our decision. I doubt they have sufficient police force at their disposal to evict us.

Instead of an assembly, cancelled because of the rain, we take the square and we play a game of ‘stoelendans’. The revolution is fun. It can only be fun, or else it won’t be worth the effort.

Scenes from a 'stoelendans' on the central square of Aalst


Tomorrow Brussels. It’s going to be a different story than what we’ve encountered in the Belgian towns. In a world without national states, the metropoles form a Champion’s League apart. The capital of Flanders, Belgium and the European Union has more in common with cities like Barcelona, Paris, Milan and Tokyo than with a small town like Aalst.

Yesterday evening we lost a lot of time in an internal assembly, trying to decide if we will accept the invitation of a Scandinavian left wing party to enter the European parliament. We could have made much better use of that time, to work on the preparation of debates and actions. To me it seems that many people consider all the talking to be an activity already. Once they finally decide on something, they don’t see the necessity – or they are too exhausted – to put it into practice.

The result is that we don’t really know what is going to happen in Brussels. Things have been prepared, but it’s not really clear by whom and how it will turn out. It might become a very constructive week of exchange. But it might also turn into complete chaos, which is more likely.

Still, as the great Dutch philosopher (and former football player) Johan Cruyff says: “Every disadvantage has its own advantage.” And the advantage of chaos is that everything becomes possible.

Revolutionary Sabotage

In Belgium, March on Brussels on 6 October 2011 at 22:28
Gent, October 6
Day 73 of the March on Brussels. From Waregem, 30 km

Popular Assembly in Gent

Dear people,

This morning the lowlands were covered by a sky in all the different shades of grey. A strong wind was blowing, and while we were having breakfast, the rain started.


It felt good. The rain and the wind are as a much a part of this country as the canals and the dikes. It fits. And besides, we have been too lucky already with the weather. A bit of rain is always good for the epical aspect of our expedition.

It didn’t last long. While we walk over the bicycle lane of the national road to Gent, the wet weather ceases. From then on the walk is easy.


Belgium has lots of peculiarities. One of these is the urbanisation of the roads. When we arrive in Gent it seems like we never left Waregem. We didn’t really cross the countryside. All along the way there were houses, villages or shopping centers.

Through the years Belgians have kept up the tradition of building their own house. And up until not so long ago they could legally do so wherever they bought a piece of land. And because most people for convenience’s sake want to be close to a road, this resulted in an endless variety of houses lining the national roads, from one village or town to another. It might seem that most of Belgium is one big city, but that’s an illusion. The country side starts in people’s back yards.

Comrades Charlie, Cowboy and Abel

Comrade Maria

The Avengers, from the Flemish public television

Along the way I talk a bit with comrade Rino, from Italy, who has been with us before on various occasions. After Paris he has joined the Mediterranean for a while, and I was happy to hear positive news about them for the first time.

They called themselves ‘Ecomarche’ when they left Paris, because they wanted to give an example of an expedition without a carbon footprint. They went without support vehicle and carried their bags on their shoulders. That was the beginning, later on they were joined by a support vehicle all the same, so to uphold their ecological image they started gathering the trash they found along the road. Some of the many, many bags they filled were piled up on the squares of the villages and towns where they arrived, to confront people with everything they just throw out of the window.

Rino denied that Lady Blue is a dictator and that the marchers wouldn’t reach Brussels without her. She’s with the vanguard, she prepares the arrival and coordinates the diffusion in the towns. The others contribute to the march in their own way and sharpen their objectives with the feedback of the assemblies they hold in the towns. If it’s all true I would have to admit, shamefully, that their march is working out better than our own at the moment.

Scene from an assembly

We enter the lively town of Gent and we occupy the impressive square of Saint Peter. All day long we have been followed by a Flemish television crew. They have the occasion to film our first trilingual assembly. Dutch, French and Spanish. The indignados from Gent have been very active in preparing it, they have been waiting for us and they received us with cakes and sweets and lots of food. Some of them were already present at the border and at Kortrijk. It was a great occasion, but before too long it was sabotaged by a band of anarchist squatters. They came with drums and a whistle. A brilliant move.

Late night demonstration

As the samba rhythm echoes over the square, our bagpipe player joins in and people start to dance and jump around. Finally, after all the endless assemblies in Spain and France we had to come here to the cold and windy lowlands to find the one fundamental and indispensable ingredient of the revolution.

Music.

Belgian Hospitality

In Belgium, March on Brussels on 5 October 2011 at 21:28

Waregem, October 5

Day 72 of the March on Brussels. From Kortrijk, 17 km.

Dear people,

 

When we showed up on the central square of Kortrijk yesterday, the authorities were completely taken by surprise. After a while  a police car came up, a big friendly looking officer stepped out, he walked up to us and started to ask, in his best French, who we were, where we came from, what we were doing here etc. He was visibly relieved when I responded to him in Dutch.

For lack of a good equivalent word I told him we are “les indignés”.

“How do you spell that?”

I spelled it out, without forgetting the accent. He had never even heard of us. So I gave him a very short history of the movement and I told him we planned to camp and to speak to people about local problems and the problems of society. “Tomorrow we leave. We will go to Brussels.”

He scratched himself under his cap and said: “Sure, I can appreciate that, but all the same it’s not possible to camp here. I will have to contact the municipality to find a solution for you.”

“Very well, but I can’t guarantee that we will accept it. We are a horizontal movement, and we will decide in assembly what to do.”

Minutes later the mayor showed up in person. When he heard our discourse about participative democracy he went into ‘campaigning mode’, and he affirmed that his administration was very active in inviting people from the neighbourhoods to participate in politics. I don’t think he really understood that our concept of participation is slightly different from his own.

Still, in no time we were offered a space, with showers and coverage in case of rain, outside of the center. Camping on the square remained strictly forbidden. We would risk jail time.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for the assembly to reach a decision. People didn’t want to risk. They accepted. So off we went. Our first night in Belgium. We didn’t even hold a Popular Assembly, also because at night fall the streets were deserted.


This morning, many people stayed around to work or to do some propaganda in the square. This is a very rich part of Belgium, but as I heard, people seemed to be interested and open minded. Unfortunately, we hadn’t prepared any flyers in Dutch. This is my fault, I admit it. We only had flyers in French. When they were handed out, people lost interest on the spot. Welcome to Flanders.

 

Unlike many others I walked early, together with comrade Infiltrado. He is not really an informant, but he got the fame to be one, and it stuck. The walk was short, only a couple of hours under the wide grey skies of the North, partly along a river. I’ve never been here before, but it feels like I lived here all my life.


In the small town of Waregem the news about the arrival of our march had already reached the authorities. I must say I was flabbergasted, almost embarassed. In general the people of the hot southern and eastern countries have the reputation of being very hospitable to strangers, as opposed to the countries of the North. This doesn’t go for Waregem. The town council offered us a space in the center, next to the football stadium, with all possible facilities, they invited us to hold an assembly or a concert or whatever in any square of our choice. They sent the police to our camp, not in riot gear, not to threaten us or to evict us or to gas us, no, they sent them to bring us food. A present from the town of Waregem.

'Popular Assembly' in Waregem

It didn’t really matter at that point that our assembly in the empty central square was visited by very few locals. One, to be exact. But it was typical that that one person, an ex-construction worker who was rebuilding a former conference room, offered anybody who suffers the cold to camp indoor. “I have enough space for the entire group. All of you are invited.”

 

 

Brightness and Darkness

In Belgium, March on Brussels on 4 October 2011 at 23:12

Kortrijk, October 4

Day 71 of the March on Brussels. From Rijsel, 29 km

 

Dear people,

 

At Arras a shadow march was born, the so called ‘super indignados’, consisting of people who are angry with the indignados for various reasons. In the beginning there were three, Alexis and two other comrades. Yesterday we met them again in Lille, and by now their march is numbering nine participants already. I’m curious to see how many they will be in Brussels.

 

Comrade Canario

 

The Intelligence commission in Tourcoign

 

While we walk through the metropolitan area of Lille, comrade Roberto, my partner in Intelligence, reveals his true objective. I could have guessed what it was, but it is so obvious that I never considered it. As an ex-banker, an ex-stockbroker, and an ex-choirboy, he has infiltrated in the 15M movement to reestablish capitalism under the enlightened guidance of the pope.

“And that is only the beginning”, he says. “We will create a New World Order.” He turns around. The group follows in the distance. “Look at these people. Do you think they will make a change? Do you really believe in the revolution?” He smiles. “Come with me to the Dark Side.”

I don’t answer, I watch him, as if to say: ‘Go on.’

“As long as you leave them the illusion that they are free, it’s easy to forge people’s minds. That is what we do.”

“Who is we?”

“We are the one percent. We are the Patriarchate.”

I remember a banner that was attached to one of the metro entrances during the Acampada in Sol. ‘The Revolution will be feminist,’ it said, ‘or it will not be.’

“Before the advent of civilization”, Roberto explains, “society used to be administered by women. People were equal, and they were free. It must have been incredibly boring, and thankfully, we changed all that. First through the sword, and later through the church.” He looks at me. “Don’t you think it’s amazing that the church has managed to transform the image of woman from a reveared and honoured symbol of fertility to one of chastity and submission?”

“I’m not that enthustiastic about it.”

“Think about the implications. Once people subdue their women, they will be able to subdue mother earth as well. There are no limits to the human potential for us to exploit.”

“But what is the reason?”

“Power doesn’t need reasons. It only needs to grow.” I see a twinkle in his eyes. “We will create new humans. We will use technology. We are already doing so. In the near future man will be unable to rebel against us. We will have him consume the planet and we will force him to find ways to emigrate to other planets. Our power will spread through the universe. We will consume it all, and we will leave a desert. The Dark Side is too strong. You can’t stop us.”

 

At first sight Roberto seems to be a perfectly normal person. He must be joking. But the fact is that I’m not completely sure about it. To avoid the temptation of the Dark Side, I walk ahead.

Towards the border

We arrive at the border. I can’t believe it. Six weeks ago we entered France, and now we crossed it all on foot. Even though the only ones who walked every single leg of the way were Jesus Christ and me.

Belgium at last. It’s a ridiculous country and I will never understand it, but I’m fond of it. For a Dutchman, Belgium has something ‘exotic’. It’s slightly different. People come from a catholic tradition, they have a funny accent, and in the South they even speak another language. There is some nature as well, hills and forests, things that an artificial country like Holland doesn’t really have. On the other hand, for a Dutchman abroad, Belgium feels very familiar. It’s the combination of the two that makes it such an adorable place.

 

Crossing a border gives you a lot of energy. It’s like you accomplished something. You don’t worry that much about all the practical and social problems in the march any more. You put them into perspective. I did the same yesterday in Lille, when two young locals came up to me to express their admiration for what we’re doing. “We are with you. Remember that.”

They are by far not the only ones who said so. It’s always good to hear. It makes me realise that our march is much more than just a group of people walking.

 

Arrival in Kortrijk

Back on Track

In France, March on Brussels on 25 September 2011 at 22:32
L’Isle Adam, September 25

Day 62 of the March on Brussels. From St. Denis, 29 km.

Dear people,

Finally we are on the road again. Yesterday late in the evening the assembly decided on the three possible routes that were prepared by the Route commission. Before it began I had already measured the spirits in the group and I was pretty confident that people would decide on route number one.

The shortest of the three routes was the number two, which goes direct over Compiègne, St. Quentin and Valenciennes. A daily average of 21 km. The number one route is the long one, with an average of 26 km per day. Most people prefer it, because it takes us to some very interesting cities like Amiens, Arras and Lille.

The third route didn’t gain any popularity. It would go over Reims. There was even a variant which would include a train trip to Reims, and from there a large manoeuvre through the Ardennes to be able to hit Luxemburg and Namur.

Indeed, the number one route was voted by almost everybody from the Meseta and Toulouse marches. Many slackers from the Mediterranean voted for the short route. In the end, this morning, we decided to go together for the moment. I woke up late, I had to run. Some groups had already left.

According to the latest information gathered by the Intelligence commission, there are five cities in Belgium with permanent Popular Assemblies. These are Brussels, Liège, Namur, Mons and Gent. Note that only one of these cities is Flemish.

Once we arrive in Lille there is the possibility for the march to split in a Flemish branch and a Walloon branch. The Flemish branch would pass by Gent, the Walloon branch would pass by Mons and enter Brussels through Waterloo. We would leave the city of Liège and possibly the city of Namur to be touched by the German march departing from Aachen at the beginning of October. I’ve also heard rumours about a Dutch bicycle march from Amsterdam, which could stir things up in Antwerp.

So yes, we start to focus on Brussels, and we walk again. After a week in Paris, we have to get accustomed to it once more.

The city of Paris itself has its strokes of colour, but in general it’s so bourgeois that you can’t count it as a really vital city. Life begins in the suburbs. The dense multicultural matter of St. Denis slowly gets thinner when you march away from the center of gravity. You pass by town after town of middle class homes and gardens. After that, the spaces become bigger and bigger, as do the houses. The final belt around Paris is one of luxury villa’s on the edge of the forest.

The forest we enter represents a very welcome change. It’s sloping, there are some cornfields in between. The roads are small, and some of them are very old. The one we follow straight through the woods seems to be a Roman one. As I look at the autumn light which filters through the yellow foliage of the trees, I imagine encountering Asterix and Obelix chasing a wild boar, or a platoon of Roman legionnaires.

We arrive at L’Isle Adam, a rich village for the well-to-do family man working in the big city.

Paris has given the march an impulse. We are a large group with many new faces. And even though I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of popular support we found there, I’m content about what we did. I think that as a march we grew stronger after Paris, and if all goes well along the route, we will be even stronger when we get to Brussels.

 

French translation by Dominique Couturier