If you grew up in a small Walloon town in the 1970s, you did not only look towards Brussels because, geographically, you were just a stone's throw from other capitals. So you naturally turned towards Antwerp, London, Paris, Berlin (or even Düsseldorf because you had a feeling that Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider were creating the popular music form that would dominate the start of the 21st century in Europe).
To me, this state of affairs was a treasure in itself. It is not repeated often enough that a major cultural characteristic of Wallonia is its natural sensitivity to many different outside influences. From a historical point of view, it has certainly been influenced by its many invaders, but remarkably, it has also been able to free itself from these by becoming a land of openness and welcome. A land where differences do not create fear, one from which we are encouraged to explore the world. If you live in Wallonia, you become aware that having your feet here does not mean your head cannot be elsewhere.
But how can I try and get you to understand this cultural feature of Wallonia? How can I summarise what this feature can bring you? I think the easiest way is to start by offering my own personal experience. If I think about the reasons why my wife - born in Tongeren - and I chose to buy a house in the street where I used to graze my knees playing football with my neighbours as a child, I have to admit that it is not just because of the district's charm since, like anywhere else, it has temporarily lost some of this due to the explosion of urban vehicle traffic; it is first and foremost due to the wonderful spirit that prevails in our land. I would define this spirit as a common freedom to become enriched by things that are not local to us.
To illustrate my remark, below is a transcript of an extract from one of the few texts (which somewhat explains the first part of his artistic journey) that David Bowie wrote in 2001 for one of the editions of Blood and Glitter by photographer Mick Rock. Some may consider that in this, David Robert Jones revealed a kind of veiled chauvinism, but I think that he mainly manages to demonstrate an ability to look elsewhere whilst recognising what is good about here (meaning his native land). Here it is: "... Yes, we loved American underground music and John Rechy's City of Night but we really did have our own drag queens and drugs in London, thank you very much. We also had a Clockwork Orange, Lindsay Kemp, George Orwell and Nietzsche, Yamato Kansai (one hundred percent responsible for the Ziggy haircut and colour, by the by), Mishima's gay army and Colin Wilson to draw upon. (I could list ad nauseam, and have been known to do so, as the ingredients for high-glam were dizzyingly disparate)".
While I love living in Wallonia, it is mainly because this region - even my small town! - has always given me access to these disparate ingredients from elsewhere that this artist, who knew no frontiers, evokes without the slightest ambiguity.
I was just talking about the past. And I know you could say that today, with the Internet, every region - or almost... - has access to the global information heritage. It's true, but it does not excuse you from knowing why you are looking elsewhere. My conclusion is as follows: culturally, the context of Wallonia has not just taught me to look elsewhere, it has taught me to look exactly where I wanted to. I believe that this is a skill I have developed thanks to the rich community life in Wallonia much more than the excellent education I received in Namur and Brussels. This is why, today, I always await the next #IMANDAILY post with the same degree of impatience.
Charles Angelroth (firstname.lastname@example.org)
University of Namur
Responsible for the international expansion of R&D projects.