The cold weather was quite a shock last week in Brussels, where rain and grey skies are the usual complaint about the weather.
But for me, a bigger shock was the number of homeless sleeping rough on Rue de la Loi, the main windy street whose buildings house the European Commission. Of course, we callous Brits with our Anglo-Saxon economics and politics became used, under Thatcher and later, to people sleeping in sleeping bags on cardboard in doorways. Even "cardboard cities" grew up under railway bridges. And charities set up extra soup kitchens in cold weather for them.
True, I haven't been to Brussels for a long time, so the growth of the homeless sleeping rough near the Commission may have been gradual. But for me it was a shock that here in the heart of Europe, this is what we have already come to, with years of austerity still to come. Perhaps the only thing to be thankful for, is that the main austerity economies are in the south, so sleeping rough is not exposed to such extremely cold temperatures.
And here is another chilling tale, full of sound and fury, signifying something at least.
I was listening with half an ear to Mezzo this morning, when some ghoulish singing stopped me in my tracks and locked me in front of the TV. Afterwards I rushed off to google "Cold Song" by Purcell to find out more about this haunting music that sounded like the teeth chattering of the homeless. It was actually Andreas Scholl singing on Mezzo, but this alternative recording by Klaus Nomi in costume is far more shocking and moving.
It's from the opera King Arthur by Purcell. Here are the words:
———- Purcell’s Cold Genius ———–
What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow
From beds of everlasting snow
See’st thou not ( how stiff )2) and wondrous old
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I ( can scarcely move or draw my breath )2)
Let me, let me freeze again to death.3)
from Roger Bourland's notes here. Bourland makes it even more poignant by pointing out that Nomi died afterwards from Aids related complications, and his gaunt appearance from illness only adds to the music.
Listen and weep. I would say pray, but to whom? Such heartless gods in Europe at the moment.