Much as I like Brussels, it is reassuring to know that thanks to the boyfriend I have access to a car, and can escape the city on a whim.
The last few weeks I haven't been doing much escaping, but dashing around with a glazed expression, dishevelled hair and yellow fingers deprived of circulation. I really should invest in some peruvian rainbow gloves from the Christmas market, or find the ones from last year. I also went to the glamorous work Christmas party under chandeliers, but the evening somehow ended in an alley off the Sablon, in a seedy karoake bar where, squished amongst colleagues, stained walls and various dodgy-looking regulars, I tried to summon up the courage to sing. Incidentally I didn't think the adjective "seedy" could be applied to the Sablon. I was wrong. By this point cheap white wine was a-pounding in my skull, so I left somewhat prematurely and without singing a note, neatly sidestepping a pool of vomit outside the front door and averting the creepy, leering smile of Le Patron.
Another night I tried an alternative bar, which is probably a good thing. An oasis in Leuven. Actually this is just a small bar (I think the word is "intimate"), but rather less creepy than the karaoke bar, which shall remain nameless. For now. This Leuven bar, Oase, has space for acoustic performer(s), the odd regular, and a bar that probably doesn't get wiped clean very often.
But wait, Oase, what an extraordinary CD collection you have! And the girl behind the bar, is that a piercing, on her cheek?! My eyes flit from girl to shelf, where the various components of a hi-fi system and record player command my attention even more than the Triple Carmeliet on tap. Records and CDs are even encroaching on the small shelf space devoted to spirits..... This, you sense, is a music enthusiast's home from home. Unusually, for Belgium, beer takes second place.
We listen to Paolo Conte, Bob Dylan, and someone else with a deep, gravelly voice. There are doodles on the back of coasters, stuck to the wall; drinkers both young and old, and plenty of beards.... The barman, dressed in black, looks drunk or stoned, or both. There are deep voices, wooden stools, wooden floor, a wooden bar, and the distinctive smell of B.O.
Oase is one of a crowd of bars on this Leuven square, but more interesting musically than most. B.O or no B.O, I'll certainly be back for another Triple Carmeliet.