The restaurant tram of Brussels (also Gaudí – Barthes, Poulantzas, Althusser, Feyerabend, Foucault – Laurent Binet)

dining tram Brussels 119 3.JPG

Yesterday at a quarter to eight, Travelling Companion and I waited with our old friends M.I. and K.I. in sharp cold at the Palais de Justice tram stop for the restaurant tram. Along it came and thirty-four of us climbed on board.

dining tram Brussels 119 2.JPG

It is wonderful. For two hours it clatters around a long circuit, past Flagey and Montgomery and the Tram Museum and Wiener and back up Avenue Louise, while you eat and drink. In another country the food on such a vehicle would be, at best, OK.  In Belgium, if it wants to survive – and it has been going for six years – the food has to be magnificent. The octopus, cooked for three hours at 75°, was the best I have eaten.

(Another octopus story:

The thing about Belgium, said a Belgian colleague who I told about the tram, is that there is an extensive middle class that likes good food and is willing to pay for it.

I asked for pepper. The waiter came back to inform me that the chef considers that his dishes are seasoned as they should be. If I insisted it was possible but not certain that the chef would relent. I did not insist. Travelling Companion recalled a time in Cannero, on Lake Maggiore, when I asked for white wine with my cheese and the waiter refused to serve it.

I am fond of trams so I was surprised to find only one tram quote on my hard drive. It was from a review in the Spectator a couple of years ago of a book about the Sagrada Familia, recording that Antoni Gaudí was run over by a tram in 1926. This fact had gone out of my mind, although Travelling Companion remembers that his body remained unidentified for several days.

This reminded me in turn of the fact that Roland Barthes was run over by a laundry van in 1980. I remember this because of Barthes’ preoccupation with everyday things,  and as one of the oddly appropriate fates of French intellectuals around that time. Nikos Poulantzas, whose Marxist analysis concluded that the working class could not win, committed suicide in 1979. Louis Althusser, who emphasised our inability to make choices under the iron hand of historical inevitability, murdered his wife while mentally ill in 1980. Paul Feyerabend, my favourite, the cheerful anarchist philosopher of science, survived the decade – but I’m cheating because he wasn’t French.

I know about these people because at about that time, I fancied myself becoming a postgraduate student of structuralist political philosophy or something of the sort, sitting at the feet of Michel Foucault at Paris VIII. I’m glad I found a job instead.

Laurent Binet’s book The 7thfunction of language begins with the laundry van and carries on funnily about all these people. I think it is better, fuller, than his other book HHhH.

A couple of years ago this art work was shown in the street next to ours in Brussels:







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Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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