In the fairy tales the hero jumps on a black ram who would take him to the Underland. There he experiences different challenges or finds magical objects which would then help him to go back to the Upperland (again on the back of a ram but this time, for a change, a white one), triumphs over his enemies and gets the princess.
This image occurred to me once as I was passing by the Palais of Justice, with the terrace, revealing my favourite view over Brussels, on the way to the elevator, which would take me down to Marolles.
Right. The ram has turned into a transparent box instead in which one makes a fast transition from the luxurious glittering Upper world of Louise to the magical Underland of Marolles.
And the first place you find yourself at looks like a square but is actually a street, according to the sign – Rue de L’Epee. Surrounded by building this street-square hosts three restaurants, Havana Club, which is very popular among the younger generation, and a bar. In a good weather days most of its surface is covered by tables. Having Italian pasta in one of the restaurants with some wine makes you feel as if you are in one of the charming squares in Italy.
Marolles is full of surprises, hidden treats and obvious charms. Its life has a double dynamic. From Monday to Thursday it is quit and feels as almost any other city quarter, leading its ordinary, day-to-day existence. Most of the antiquarian shops and galleries and some of the restaurants and bars are closed and there is not much going on. On Thursday however Marolles enters its second week phase – the celebrative, vivid and luring both tourists and les bruxellois one. Its two main streets Rue Hautes and Rue Blaes get full of people who ramble around the shops or enjoy the numerous small restaurants and bars, creating a relaxed holiday atmosphere. The pick of this transformation is Sunday morning till early afternoon. This is the time to spend careless hours strolling around, stopping in the little vintage second hand or more pricey but still reasonable boutiques, listening to the Roma musicians, who are inevitably there, playing a cheerful mixture of jazz and ethno music.
Then take the charming Rue de Renards which offers a good variety of tiny restaurants, galleries and fashion shops, down to Place de Jeu de Balle.
Place de Jeu de Balle is another little universe within the wonderland of Marolles. With its daily flea market which contains all that one can imagine – from porcelain figurines, old jewellery, clothes and books to furniture and cooked sea fruits and wine at a stand. The square is crowded by people who walk carefully among the goods, spread on the ground. The cafes around are full too. A jazz band is performing at one of the corner bars – outside in nice weather and inside in colder days.
A new art complex has just been opened in front of the square in the place of the fire station, with a bar, a restaurant, a gallery and an artesian shop in it. The old baths Les Baines du Centre with their beautiful architecture offer a lovely swimming pool. A charming hotel welcomes its numerous guests just next to it. There is even a church on the square.
On Sundays the overall mood at Place de Jeu de Balle is cheerful, careless, timeless, as if it has always been and always will be Sunday lunch time here, an encapsulated moment of sweet amnesia about the existence of other places, people, times.
And if we stay with the fairy tale metaphor, this would be the gift (apart from some precious object or a piece of clothing) which one takes away from Marolles – the reviving energy which helps to go through the week ordinary business till another Sunday arrives.
Jeu de Balles is my favourite place in Brussels. Every piece of writing shouldconjure words from readers-this post does. My favourite phrase? ‘Sweet amnesia’.