At home this week. The Grand Place, Brussels’ main square is alive with the sound of camera shutters, eager talk and the noise made by a dozen or so rowdy scouts.
The weather is clement which means it is pleasant enough to walk through. The Soul Soother and I enjoy a walk around our new home town. I’ve been here for a while now but we haven’t actually had the time to really explore Brussels properly.
Around us, artists paint the sights and the tourists who watch them. Easels stand to attention and announce the latest creation to all who care to pay attention. Chocolatiers seductively dip fruit into a thick sea of chocolate in the shop windows, pretending to ignore the drooling masses outside. A lone tour guide babbles in a foreign language and looks like he wishes he was elsewhere.
I have seen all this before, and yet the sight never fails to put a small smile on my face. This is what I now call home and I feel a certain attachment to it. We walk across the cobble stones, dodging children and making sure not to spoil anyone’s photography. Round the corner, things are quieter and we have time to consider the narrow medieval streets themselves.
All street names here in Brussels are bi-lingual which reflects the country’s make up. The names appear in French and in Flemish as do most signs and posters here. Sign writers can be rather ingenious when it comes to displaying their notices in both languages, I find.
This street in particular is unusual since the name is in Flemish and Spanish, of all languages. This is all due to one odd person in the 16th century.
Apparently, during the days when the Spaniards ruled the roost in this part of the world, a rather poorly educated Spanish bureaucrat was renaming the streets in Brussels. His French was non-existent and his Flemish was basic but he mis-took the word “vrunt” as “vriend”. ”vriend” means “friend” and so the street was christened accordingly. ”vrunt”, however, means prison as the main building in this street was the first prison that Brussels had.
When the French-speakers came back, they had themselves a good laugh and thought that they would leave the name in place to show how silly their Spanish predecessors were. For awhile, in fact, they called it “Rue de l’Ami” (The Friend Street) in French but in 1851 decided to leave it in Spanish.
Consequently, this is the only street in Brussels whose Flemish name is not a proper translation of the French.
Moral of this story – Odd People are not only everywhere, they’ve always been everywhere …
Do you know of an Odd Person stuck in time? Leave a comment and tell us about him/her
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