Since the introduction of a new law on July 1st, part of our National Heritage is in danger of extinction. Maybe it’s a part that some people would like to see disappear altogether. I’m not one of them, though, because it would mean the end of something Belgium is famous for. No it isn’t chocolate, frites, lace or even beer; although the latter is unavoidably linked to it. I’m talking about our small, local village cafés. I admit that they have lost of their former charm and function in the old days when village people used to gather there once a day to exchange the daily news, have a few drinks and play cards. And yet ...
Adolphe Sax - to find out where this famous man comes in,
you'll have to read the whole post!
you'll have to read the whole post!
Rural villages are getting smaller because the young people get married and move away towards towns and cities, while other villages slowly but surely develop into small towns with newcomers who have their own social circle and rarely mingle with the locals. In order to survive, local cafés in these new 'towns' at one point started serving food. At first it were just some cold snacks, sandwiches and spaghetti Bolognese. But gradually more culinary dishes started to appear on their menu cards.
This phenomenon as well as the growing consensus on the negative effects of tobacco has led to a smoking ban. At first the new rule only applied to cafés serving food: a rule I loudly applaud since the time when I was forced to eat a delicious casserole of mussels sitting next to a lady who apparently had a craving for' smoked' mussels. In between mussels she puffed at her cigarette which she kept in her left hand while picking up the mussels with her right hand. It was disgusting!
However, after a transitory period of about one year, the government officials in charge of controlling whether the new law was respected found that there was a very fine line between ‘food’ as it had been described in the law on the one hand, and the way in which it was presented in daily life situations on the other. Fining the offenders – the café owners who allowed people to smoke in their establishment – turned out to be a problem, as there appeared to be a lot of loopholes in the law text.
Therefore the government decided to ban smoking all together, including in the small village cafés where only a few elderly and locals come to exchange the local gossip and to play cards. After hardly six months, the new rule has turned out to be lethal, not to the smokers, but to the cafés! Settled into their long-time habits, sitting at the same old table, glass of beer in one hand and a self-rolled cigarette in the other, the regulars can't seem to cope with the chance and the new rule that forces them to go outside to smoke their cigarette, thus missing a good hand in a game of whist or a juicy piece of gossip! So, they prefer to stay at home ...
As a result 2,500 village cafés, where never an item of food has been served, have closed down since July 1st. Is it worth it? I have mixed feelings about the whole matter. I don’t approve of smoking and I’m glad that I can now enjoy a meal – simple or gastronomic – without having to look for my food through a cloud of heavy and smelly smoke that is hovering over my plate. However, why deprive some elderly – and sometimes not so old – village locals of their ‘watering hole’: the place where they used to meet their friends to stay in touch with village life?
My favourite café in our village (a village that had now become a small town) serves food and so smoking is no longer allowed in the main room. They have a back room though that opens up to the garden where you are allowed to smoke and where no food is served. When I go there once a week with my friend (who occasionally smokes), he disappears into the back room once or twice to have a cigarette, while I wait for him. I use this ‘time-out’ to practice my favourite pass-time: watching people!
The café is called ‘The Saxophone’. In the back of the café, safely protected in a large glass display case, hangs a real brass ‘saxophone’, an instrument invented by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) who lived in the city of Dinant south of Namur, in the southern part of Belgium.