MOVING TO BRUSSELS
It seemed a good idea to visit Brussels in advance in order to find a place to live. M. Counasse had advised me to go to Schaerbeck, the nearest part of Brussels to the new NATO headquarters, which were situated on the outskirts of the city. I did not like the area at all, it appeared to me as dull and drab, so I discarded that idea. I went instead to the centre of Brussels. At that time, in 1967, it seemed like a small provincial city, and my heart sank at the thought of moving there from Paris.
I explored the centre, which had broad avenues, with trees running down the centre. One of the main ones was called the Avenue Louise; it was long and straight, a tunnel for the traffic ran down the middle. There were shops, multiple stores, cafés, art galleries and dress boutiques. I decided to look around and I found a very nice ‘pension’ or boardinghouse in one of the side streets, which provided bed, breakfast and evening meal. I felt my mother would be happier there, and that it would be a good idea for us to live there for a while whilst looking for a permanent place to live. It was a repetition of our early time in Paris, with the difference that Brussels abounded in accommodation for rent, both flats and houses. I booked a room for us in advance from the owner, a pleasant Flemish woman.
The great move was to take place in September. I felt sad to be leaving our flat in Paris, the nicest and most comfortable one we had ever had in our various moves; sadder still to be leaving Paris, and the lovely NATO building, with its spacious entrance hall, paper shop and travel agency; the bar and restaurant and all the French personnel who manned them, who would be replaced by Belgians.
Although the Parisians themselves were never friendly, the staff in NATO were different, and we had built up a warm relationship with them. They were quick, lively, sharp and funny. They seemed to be happy in their own skin, I could understand the well known French term ‘joie de vivre’ just through observing them. Whenever we entered the bar, we would find our coffee or favourite drink waiting for us on the counter when we got there. They took a keen interest in what was going on among us, who was sitting with whom, any budding romances amongst the staff.
The functionaries, too, in the various offices dealing with pensions, housing or other problems were always helpful and friendly; they had the human touch. NATO, at that time, was like a large family, even though I did not always recognize it or feel part of it.
We were given a week off during the time that NATO was being transferred from Paris to Brussels. We had, of course, been busily packing up all our documents and papers, everything classified had to be labeled and placed in secure containers. It was an exhausting time.
When I had told Jean Pierre that I was moving to Brussels, he had been devastated. He did not want me to go.
‘Restes, restes’, he urged me, and then finally, the last time I saw him: ‘restes gentille.’ “Stay sweet.” I was touched, but had no strong feelings about him. My main feeling was one of relief.
I never saw him again.