I was luckier than a friend from England, who had chosen Saturday for a day trip to Europe's capital. He reported that it was "Quiet, but not OK. The closure of the metro didn't bother me - it's a compact place and I know my way around on foot. But what hasn't been as well publicised on the news is that all the museums and an awful lot of the shops were shut. Which was made worse by the rain, and then the snow and the near freezing temperatures. So not many places to shelter, not even City2 which they shuttered down at midday. Ho hum."
Today, I had little difficulty getting into Brussels; trains were delayed, but that is normal enough on the first cold day of winter. But I arrived to find the office two-thirds empty; those with children at school in Brussels, or dependent on cancelled public transport, or just not wanting to make the trip, were sensibly encouraged by our management to stay at home. The rest of us went out for a morale-boosting lunch, and afterwards I walked into the city centre for an errand. There was a more visible police presence around the Central Station, but more striking was the comparative absence of other people; it was like a wet Sunday in February. In the evening I counted myself lucky to get home smoothly - trains are now being cancelled due to staff staying home for whatever reason. Having grown up in Belfast in darker days, this is all tedious rather than frightening to me.
All non-essential meetings in the Brussels bubble have been cancelled for the next few days. The police who would normally show up to look like they were doing something now actually are doing something. Last Thursday I unexpectedly bumped into an old friend, the foreign minister of [redacted], on the street. I don't think we'll be seeing foreign ministers wandering around Brussels so casually for a while. Meanwhile we understand that the security forces are continuing their operations, though they have successfully persuaded social media users not to give blow-by-blow accounts of police movements but post cat pictures instead. I do hope that this turns out to be something more than security theatre to steady the nerves.
One of the winners of the current situation is the news website POLITICO.eu, who have run a series of incisive and insightful pieces starting (with eerie prescience) two days before the Paris attacks by interviewing the Belgian interior minister, excusing his inability to keep our country and our neighbours safe (it's well worth reading most of POLITICO's recent output). Well, maybe it will occur to voters in the next elections that if you support politicians who are intent on underfunding and undermining the institutions of the Belgian state (outlined in detail in this excellent piece by the excellent Kristof Clerix), there are associated costs to that support. Once the current security crisis is over, I hope that there will be a reckoning.