NAME: Rodrigo Albea, 43
BORN IN: Rio Grande, Brazil
CURRENTLY LIVING IN: Brussels
Rodrigo: “I arrived in Europe in 97, to do my Master degree in Dance in Paris. I became interested in investigating the idea of miscegenation in the work of a Brazilian choreographer who was working in Brussels, so in 2002 I moved to Brussels. I basically followed my passion: dance, theater, the arts. Brussels is definitely the capital of dance, with very important established artists like Michele Noiret, Maria Clara Villa Lobos and Wim Vandekeybus but also emerging talents like Ayelen Parolin.”
How well did you know Belgium before you moved here?
I studied about Belgium, its cultural and political context and I came here several times, in the frame of my studies. I also follow festivals as a journalist. I immediately felt at home. People are friendly and open, they have humour. They’re not ‘striking a pose’ like in Paris, or even in some Brazilian social environments.
What’s the biggest difference between Brazil and Belgium?
Both countries inevitably have a different relation to space. In Brazil, we used to drive 12 hours to spend holidays in the sun and when I was studying in São Paulo I used to travel 15 hours to visit my family during the weekend. In Belgium on the other hand, all you need to do is drive one hour from the capital city and you’re already in another country… I prefer it the Belgian way!
What surprised you the most when moving here?
Before Paris I lived in São Paulo, where I studied journalism and started working. It’s a very big city; more than 20 million people live in the metropolitan region. Paris was smaller but also a very busy city. And then I arrived in Belgium… My biggest surprise here was the calm. Even today when I take the subway in Brussels, it still surprises me. The calm makes me mad sometimes! But I’m gradually learning to appreciate and love the calm, the ‘human size’ of Brussels as an international and global city.
What traits do you like the most about Belgium/Belgians?
Belgium definitely is one of the most advanced countries in terms of societal themes like same-sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion. I also like the creativity, the welcoming feeling and openness, the fact that in Brussels you can just ‘be yourself’. I never ever faced a situation of discrimination in Belgium. Maybe I’m lucky… Oh, and the Belgians also know how to party, something I really appreciate.
Anything that frustrates you?
What I don’t like sometimes is the visible lack of ambition, mixed with the craziness of the institutional layers and decision processes. This can be seen in urban projects and political choices. Think about the RER, the Brussels Regional Express Network, a rapid transit system announced initially for 2012, and now to be ready in… 2027 ? Or in a more simple scale: Place Rogier in Brussels. I think it has been under construction for almost 15 years…
I just love the North Sea and don’t have any problem with the buildings in the coastal cities which look so ugly to Belgians. The beaches here are very different from tropical beaches and that makes them all the more charming.
The top 3 things to see or do when in Belgium in your opinion?
Out of the obvious places like Atomium, Grand Place in Brussels and Bruges, there’s a lot more to see.
- I just love the North Sea and don’t have any problem with the buildings in the coastal cities which look so ugly to Belgians. How can a Brazilian enjoy the Belgium beaches, you ask? Well… they’re very different from tropical beaches and that makes them all the more charming. There’s something poetic about them. The seaside towns all have a different character. Ostend has the feeling of a down to earth city, Knokke is a playground for art lovers.
- Make a stop in Ghent, even if it’s a quick one. It’s charming, with young people, cool coffee bars, art spaces, a tasty and contemporary gastronomy… I love the city.
- Take a walk through the Marolles in Brussels and its daily flea market to the Dansaert neighborhood, with a stop to eat outside in the fish spot in the St Catherine square. Don’t forget the Beguinage either… The diversity of Brussels is visible within a kilometer walk.
- Can I add a number four? When in Brussels, go see a (dance) performance. One of the most celebrated choreographers in Belgium is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, often seen with her company Rosas at Kaaitheater and La Monnaie. She created a school in Forest, PARTS, that attracts students from all over the world. Or go to places like Brigittines and the choreographic center La Raffinerie, both great places to enjoy the very diverse and creative environment.
What’s your favorite cafe?
Brasserie de l’Union, at the now fashionable and trendy Parvis de Saint Gilles. Because it’s where I meet friends, where I know the ‘patron’, where I feel home. It’s my place ! Since Parvis became a pedestrianised market square, it’s definitely one of the new places to be in Brussels.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
I had a very nice experience at Naturell in Ghent recently. The food is creative, fresh, modern, healthy… and it’s in the heart of the city. The restaurant is set in a contemporary decor and it’s not overly expensive.
Favorite Belgian food and drink?
Orval is for sure the best beer in the world (and a nice place to visit, too). I’m also very fond of the shrimp croquettes, but most of all, of the fried parsley that comes with it.
Your favorite Belgian expression?
I like the way people say ‘mert‘, with a guttural ‘r’ and a ‘t’, meaning… merde!
Carnival is a tradition we share, Brazilians and Belgians. The best way to experience the carnival in Belgium is with local friends. The party starts very, very early and soon you’ll find yourself drinking champagne and beer, dancing at 8 in the morning. It’s crazy and fantastic all at once.
Your favorite Belgian tradition?
Carnival is a tradition we share, Brazilians and Belgians. I’ve been to Binche and Stavelot. I have friends in Binche and that really makes it even better. The party starts very, very early and soon you’ll find yourself drinking champagne and beer, dancing at 8 in the morning. It’s crazy and fantastic all at once. This year, I’m going to the carnaval in Tournai.
Favorite outdoor attraction?
I like going to the weekly Monday market in front of the City Council in Saint Gilles. For the products, the frame, the friends!
What advice would you give to anyone visiting (or moving to) Belgium?
Want to meet and mingle with locals? Make the first step and get ready for the best parties of your life.
“I would like to share my 15 minutes of fame with…”
vzw/asbl Convivial. They do an essential job, helping refugees find their way in Belgium. They help to find a place for them to rent, help them get a job, clothes, furniture etc. An organization worth sharing if you ask me.