Tuesday, April 22, 2014

R is for Rue des Bouchers

“This song is catchy,” I said tapping my foot on the wooden floor of a Brussels café.
“It’s In de Rue des Bouchers,” my Belgian friend said as the accordion music poured from the speakers.
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“The song or the street?”
“Either.”
“That’s going to change. Now!”


When living in a foreign country early on you learn that some things are difficult to translate from the host language and culture into your own language and culture. Cases in point: 1) The democratic Netherlands chose to become a monarchy; 2) A statue of a peeing boy became a Belgian national monument; and 3) The ever popular Eurovision Song Festival. On the flip side of the coin you also learn that somethings in this world are definitely universal, for example: 1) Delicious meals; 2) Good friends; 3) Great accordion music.

Not a fan of accordion music? Then you haven’t heard In de Rue des Bouchers by Belgian singer/songwriter Johan Verminnen. This song has an infectious beat, which is just like catching the flu in kindergarten: everyone gets it. You hear it, and you get it, whether you like it or not.

Feeling the need to introduce me to Belgian culture, my friend Astrid grabbed me by the hand and marched me across Brussels to the oldest part of the city. On the way she explained how back in the Middle Ages merchants of a certain business would all set up shop on the same street. To this day you can still see the Rue des Brasseurs/Brouwersstraat (Beer Brewers Street), the Rue des Eperonniers/Spoormakersstraat (Spur Makers’ Street) and Rue des Marchés aux Frommages/Kaasmarkt (Cheese Market Street). And of course the famous Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwerstraat—the Street for the Butchers.

Astrid sang the first verse of the song in Flemish: Luckily she gave me a translation:

If you want to see Brussels live it up As ge Brussel wilt zeen leive
You don't have to spend a lot of money moede nie vuil geld oeitgeive
There's a place where you can go all out dô es ne côtei wô da g'a nie moe geneire
Where you can pass the evening goit er nen ôvend passeire
In the Rue des Bouchers (x4)         in de rue des Bouchers (4x)

“So the song, In de Rue des Bouchers, is about butchers?” I said as we crossed the Grand Place and entered an elegant shopping gallery.
“Oh, there aren’t any butchers there now,” Astrid said as we walked side by side along the flagstones. Passing through the Galeries Royales de St. Hubert we saw exquisite chocolate shops and expensive clothing stores. Then halfway through the Gallery we turned left and stopped at a narrow pedestrian street brimming with outdoor tables laden with colorful bushels of shrimp, crabs and lobsters on ice. 

“This is it!” Astrid said sweeping her arm toward the bustling street below.
“They should call it the Rue des Pȇcheurs,” I said looking at all the luscious seafood. Snuggled next to the displays of fish and shellfish were restaurant tables and chairs filled with happy people eating and drinking under the festive lights and heat lamps in the Rue des Bouchers.

Astrid sang another verse:

You can find anything there Ge kunt dô vanalles vinne
Russian mackerel and sardines Russe macreaux en sardinne
French fries and raw mussels         fritten en moules parquées
The Brussels people love to eat         slôge dei Brusseleirs in uile gilei
In the Rue des Bouchers (x4)         in de rue des Bouchers (4x)

The moment we stepped into the Rue des Bouchers, the voices of restaurant waiters lobbed at us.  
“Belles Mademoiselles! Vous vouler manger?”, “Pretty Lady one and two, eat here!” and “Please, I have table for yous!” Astrid and I exchanged laughs at their comments but the smells of cooked seafood, the bright colors and the cozy atmosphere of eating outside here was too much to pass up. We strolled the street until we found a good restaurant with a free table and an attentive waiter. Then we sat down beside each other so we two friends could eat and watch the world go by. The waiter was efficient and full of compliments for two women out on the town together. For entertainment we made him guess where we came from. He said Astrid came from Belgium (correct) and thought I came from Germany (no), then France (non), then Denmark (huh-uh), then Russia (niet). When he guessed “Modova” I put him out of his misery and revealed I was American. Needless to say, I blew his mind. 

“Vous ȇtes Americaine? Non! Pas vous!” Which just made Astrid and I laugh even harder. Then we ordered crépes Suzettes for dessert and more drinks in the Rue des Bouchers.

Astrid sang another verse:

Beer is poured and drunk there Dô we'd getapt en gezaupe
cafés are open until sunrise da blaift dô tot 's merges aupe
And when the door closes en as ze de dui todroeie
You can hear a rooster crow den es den ôn al on't kroeie

And this time I sang the refrain with her all four times:

In the Rue des Bouchers
In the Rue des Bouchers
In the Rue des Bouchers
In the Ruuuuue deeeees Bouchers


Astrid didn’t have to explain the song to me anymore since I was now living it. What a special night in the Butchers’ Street with: 1) A delicious meal; 2) A good friend; and 3) Great accordion music!