When I woke this morning it was like swimming to the surface of water. Funny how that can happen after four hours' sleep and yet I can feel crap on ten hours'.
Every work day I scale and, trust me, at 8.30am with no coffee and pastry yet, it is a mountain, over 100 steps between the platform at Gare Centrale, and the Rue Royale where the Parc de Bruxelles is laid. I had sort of wondered if this was Bronte territory, and all the time did not notice Charlotte Bronte shyly waving.
The steps down from the statue of Général Belliard on Rue Royale are the same bloody steps the Bronte girls would have walked countless times. OK, their steps are more of a homeopathic memory of the current ones but still. The original Belliard steps were steeper, narrower and went deeper - possibly to the level of Galerie Ravenstein, a Festival of Britain-ish arcade of offices and shops that one passes through to the station.
The pensionnat where the Brontes lived and taught would have been on the site of Bozar, at the bottom of the steps, on what is now the Rue Ravenstein. For six months I have passed every day and not realised.
Even the park that I plunge through daily appears in Villette, so must have been well known to Charlotte. It is the strangest sensation to feel her company across almost two centuries. She might recognise the park still - the bandstand is still there and the basic layout is much the same. She might be perplexed by the emphatically English signs "NO JOGGING", affixed to sticks in the grass.
Not for the first time I wonder at how brave were Emily and Charlotte. Unaccompanied young women rarely lit out for exotic territory in the 1840s. Especially those who had hitherto been closeted in Yorkshire. The young women returned to Yorkshire after some months because their aunt was dying. Charlotte then travelled back alone to Brussels. Unhappiness returned her home again the following year, 1844.
No doubt she felt a few things that I've felt since I've been here. Considering its proximity to England, Belgium is really quite foreign and this can make one feel quite foreign. If she had had the internet (this is becoming a common refrain) perhaps she would have stuck it out, and spent her evenings arguing politics on some online forum, or posted pictures of kittens.