The curse of the black cherry witch

March 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The word Flemish always makes me smile.

While for some it might bring up jokes about phlegm and Antwerp, I think of a place where beer is made from cherries, the humour is dark and deprecating, and the medieval architecture looks straight out of a Brueghel painting.

And lord, how I love it.

The last time I lived in Brussels, it was in the Marolles. This notoriously down and dirty area first came into being in the 1100s, when the criminals, whores and troublemakers were excluded from the inner gates of the city. Just in case they forgot their place in the world, they were exiled to an area consisting of a leper colony presided over by Gallows Hill, where bodies were left swinging from the noose.

Why would I live anywhere else?

Rue Haute

Flea market on the Place du Jeu de Balle

My street - Rue des Chandeliers/Kandelaarsstraat

Brussels is largely responsible for my linguistic degree and pursuits. I first moved there at seventeen to study languages, and fell headfirst in love with its glorious mix of Flemish and French. I learnt to smoke Gauloise cigarettes, drink my coffee from a bowl, and begin a sentence in French, slide a few Flemish words into the middle, and flip back to French without even noticing.

But the Marolles dialect still floors me.

Marols is totally indecipherable to the foreigner (which covers everyone not born in the Marolles) which is probably a good thing as it is richly abusive.

Louis Quievreux’s ‘Dictionnaire du dialecte Bruxellois’

The dialect of this fascinating former leper colony is a rich stew of Flemish, French and even Spanish; utterly unique and almost impenetrable. There’s a quaint cafe on Rue des Renards that holds poetry and song evenings in Marols. When I took my friend Hilde there, whose mother tongue of Dutch gives her command over Flemish, she took in all the posters and turned to me with a facial expression akin to mine whenever someone attempts to explain the offside rule in soccer to me, or the appeal of Dylan songs….babe, what the hell?!

Traditional Marollien cafe on Rue des Renards

And lord, do they love to swear.

Some choice insults include:

Scrapings of a monkey’s testicles – afkrabsel van mettekouwskluûte

Bacon-shitter – spekscheeter

Bag of lice – loïesenderm

And like all good storytellers, Marolliens like a drink and apply careful consideration to their degrees of drunkenness.

Schijlzat – fairly drunk (squint drunk)

Duudzat – dead drunk

Strondzat – shit drunk

Crimineelzat – criminally drunk

Strondcrimineelzat – criminally shit drunk

Bordijlegzat – whorehouse drunk

Their greatest insult, however, is enshrined in the name of a pub. Hundreds of years ago, many Marolliens were forced to leave the area due to the building of the gargantuan Palais du Justice on top of Gallows Hill. This monstrosity was for a time the biggest building in Europe, admired by Hitler and hated by the locals. It’s said that a Marollien witch cursed the architect, who then went mad and committed suicide just as the building was completed.

So if you’re ever down near the flea market on the Place du Jeu de Balle, pull up a stool and order a Duvel beer at the pub whose name is now spat at wrongdoers with hundreds of years of fire and venom.

Schieven Architek…you twisted architect.



  1. Rebecca said,

    Great post (apart from the Dylan bit – spekscheeter). Hee-he, thanks for giving me an excuse to put that into a sentence xx

    • inkymouth said,

      Only my little sister could get away with calling me that! I’ll come around to Dylan the day I enjoy your whistling 🙂

      One day, I’ll take you for a cherry beer on the Grote Markt, and you’ll see just why I’ve been raving about Brussels for twenty years…can’t wait! x x

  2. Hilde said,

    Oh my, that poem hanging on the door of the toilet! I will never forget it. It was pure gibberish to my eyes and ears.
    I loved this post! And I hear you on the Dylan part…..although incidentally I caught myself asking V. “what’s this song? It’s beautiful”. Dylan sneaked up on me, damnit.

    • inkymouth said,

      I’ll never forget your face when you came back upstairs…it took a lot of cheese and wine to bring you back to normal!

      And N. once handed me what I thought was a poem, and won me over completely with its beauty and depth….then grinned and told me it was a Dylan song. Damn it! So I can grudging admit he’s a gifted lyricist (who just should never, never have started singing).

      To our next wine in the Rue des Renards, liefje!

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