My mother’s Irish-Belgian relatives lived on Rue Sans Souci before the war -- the Second World War, that is.
That is where her aunt and her two cousins, whom she knew well, hid Scottish soldiers hiding from the Nazis, allowing them to recuperate and later escape. For that, her cousin Florrie died in Bergen-Belsen and her cousin Leopold died right after the war, weakened from his imprisonment.
That branch of the family died out but there is a monument to the Belgian Résistance in the same Ixelles section where my mother’s family lived. Florrie’s name is on the monument to resisters who helped keep Brussels an international city of culture and labor and hope.
Brussels was the first European city my wife and I visited – the Grand-Place, the great art museum, Europe, like going home, for the first time. I flew into Brussels again in 2004, for the start of the Tour de France in Liège, and bought David Walsh’s book, in French, about the doping methods of Lance Armstrong (which Lance denied, of course.)
Brussels is the code name for the European Union, where many languages are spoken, where laws and systems are regulated. I once met a farmer in southwest France who spat out the word Brussels because of the agricultural absurdities imposed by bureaucrats in that distant city. Belgium’s monarchy committed colonialist sins and abuses once upon a time -- and Jacques Brel razzed the ways of his home town -- but in this age, even with talk of separatism, Brussels is at least a symbol of order.
Refugees from failed societies have found their way to some of the great cities in the world where I have been lucky enough to visit, even live – New York, Boston, Madrid, London, Paris, Istanbul. Now Brussels has joined that list.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.