The Arrival and Observations of an Exile


Brussels, 8 January
Unusual manners. The Flemish middle-class has something of the uncomplicated, crude bourgeoisie of the past. Rabelais would have laughed at their sayings. Instead of It never rains but it pours, here they say It never rains but it pees. The most popular monument in Brussels is a small boy ‘peeing’; another famous fountain depicts a little fellow throwing up.
There is something jovial, obscene and patriarchal about it.
Senators here go to the pub. In the evening you see them at tables in bars in a brown fug in which everyone has to find their way almost by touch, the mayors sitting drinking their glass of faro (a sweet, heavy Brussels beer) and the judges smoking their pipes. No one makes any secret of the fact that they frequently visit the rue des Crombras. There is a renowned brothel in this street — one of the many — whose salon is adorned by a full-length portrait of the former King of the Netherlands, William I, which he presented to the establishment himself. He visited it every day; the madam sheds sentimental tears on hearing his name.
Faider, a prosecutor-general at the Supreme Court, never goes home in the evenings; he spends every night in the rue des Crombras. When the court session starts in the morning and the prosecutor-general keeps them all waiting, the judge says, ‘Will you go and fetch him from Trinette’s.’

Brussels, 12 January
I have been officially banished.
Now I shall remain outside France as long as it pleases God, but I feel unassailable; I have right entirely on my side and my conscience is clear. One day the people will awaken, and on that day everyone will be back where they belong; I in my house and Louis Bonaparte in the pillory.

From Things Seen 1849-1885 (Choses vues 1849-1885, 1972)
By Victor Hugo
Translated by Gregory Ball