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The Bright Side of Brussels

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Brussels: the capital of a divided European Union and a country that recently operated for 18 months without a government. In times like these, it’s easy to look at the negatives, but Brussels with its myriad of cultures and communities, has been only looking up.

With musicians like Angele, Romeo Elvis and Damso dominating the charts and the national football team bringing joy to millions during the World Cup last summer, it’s been gaining international attention. The city’s growing creative reputation has given birth to the nickname: the new Berlin.

So, what do the people of Brussels see in their individual and collective futures? What’s tomorrow gonna bring? We talked to a few locals to find out their desires, dreams, fears and hopes, and took along with us Belgian photographer Thomas Ost, whose visual essay captures the city’s distinctively Belgian sense of Optimism.  

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Abstract landscapes in vibrant colours convey joy in nature and a way to document memories that too easily slip away in Chicago-born Tessa Perutz’s work. She favours the quaintness of Brussels over New York or other mega-cities, appreciating its sense of lightheartedness and community.

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What’s the best thing that happened to you today (so far)?

I went on a beautiful long walk through the gardens of Moscow.

Does the famous Belgian sense of humour help out with optimism?

It’s everything really. It contributes in a major way to people being very easy going. The humour adds to a sense of lightheartedness and community. Most people don’t take things too seriously in Belgium and I find it very refreshing.

What’s something positive going on right now in Brussels?

So many things! The art scene is super vibrant and supportive. And a lot of the important figures are women - which I find so inspiring and uplifting. There are many important galleries from international cities opening branches in Brussels which also allows for a greater sense of connection between American, European, and other backgrounds. Beyond that there is also a lot happening in the music, food, and fashion scenes - there is a lot to be thankful for and excited about!

How much faith do you have in the people of Brussels?

I have a lot of faith in the Brussellois. From even the first days I landed here there were people making me feel welcome. Already I feel some of the friendships I have made will be lifelong, and I’ve been here less than a year. There is also a certain relaxed attitude from living in a smaller, cozy city that I like, that makes me feel I could stay here a long time. It’s much more livable than the huge mega-American cities I’ve lived in most of my life. 

Is 2019 gonna be better than 2018?

That would be hard to top, since 2018 was a great year. But so far I can’t complain :-)

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A born optimist, writer and photographer Hugues Ntoto is inspired by personal stories and the subtle cultural meaning behind seemingly simple occurrences. The multi-faceted, urban chaos of Brussels creates the perfect starting point for his work, full of surprising contrasts and happy accidents.

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What’s the best thing that happened to you today (so far)?

I woke up greeted by a clear sky and bright sunlight. My favourite part of waking up after a good night of sleep is the excitement of a new day. The best things that happen to me are more than often as simple as that.

Does the famous Belgian sense of humour help out with optimism?

I like to think I was born an optimist, so my glass is always half full.

What’s something positive going on right now in Brussels?

There's a vibrant creative scene and energy that never settles and it's open to all. Brussels feels like a city that's on a neverending quest to find sense and beauty in its own urban chaos. It's what drew me to this city in the first place. Maybe there are other people who feel the same way about this place.

How much faith do you have in the people of Brussels?

I have as much faith in the people of Brussels as I have faith in myself. When you live in a bustling city like Brussels you try to get by and make the best of it. We don't always share the same struggles or joys, but people are more similar to one another than they sometimes realise. That's where my faith comes from.

Do you forgive after a fight?

I'm more of a diplomatic conflict-resolver so I try to avoid fights in the first place, but I believe forgiveness is important.

Is 2019 gonna be better than 2018?

2019 has been stranger than 2018. I'm OK with that.

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Photographer Catherine Lemblé captures vast mountain landscapes and snow-covered huts in her work, to portray the complicated relationship between humans and nature. These images of solitude couldn’t be more different from the fast-paced urban lifestyle of Brussels, where she lives.

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What’s the best thing that happened to you today (so far)?

The smell of sunscreen

Does the famous Belgian sense of humour help out with optimism?

Are we famous for something else besides chocolate and beer?

What’s something positive going on right now in Brussels?

I see a lot of people trying out different things without caring much what other people think

How much faith do you have in the people of Brussels?

Do you mean on a scale from one to ten?

Do you forgive after a fight?

Only if they're bleeding (just kidding)

Is 2019 gonna be better than 2018?

It sure will get hotter than 2018

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