Where The Streets Have No Names

This morning, I had to go see a specialist optician to discuss various aspects of my triple eye malfunctions. Now that may sound as a contradiction in terms, to say that you are going to see an optician, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway. I was told that the optician was located in Boulevard St. Michel, and that I’d reach it by alighting fom the Metro at Place Montgomery. (Now there’s an interesting factoid, by the way. Brussels proudly produces both a gargantuan roundabout named after World War II British field marshal Bernard Montgomery – with the man as a life-sized statue – as well as a long thoroughfare road named after Winston Churchill. When will the capital of the two gentlemen’s native country rival that?)

Up from the Metro I thus emerged, having very little idea exactly which of the roads was the one I looked for, let alone which side of the roundabout I was. Half knowing that it was futile, I looked for road signs on the houses.

But sure enough, as usual, there were none. There were two large roads to choose among, both leading out from a third. Thus, a total of four different buildings and six different walls to hang at least one street name sign. But, as is only too common in this city, there was not one. Not ONE.

As you already know, I have no sense of direction because I’ve been going in so many directions that I can’t keep track of them all, and besides, as I said, I was going to the EYE DOCTOR, for crying out loud. Thus: Lost.

It’s happened to me quite often, that I’ve been driving around town and ended up in an area where I’ve needed to know the name of the street I’m driving down – or at least any of those crossing it – to answer mankind’s two eternal questions:

1) Where am I?

2) How do I get out of here?

In other words, you cannot be sure to find your way around even if you have a map, because using a map reqiures you to know where you are in the first place. And EVERYONE I know who come by car to visit us here in this town gets lost on the way at least once.

This is something I find mind-boggling. Why ever cannot the City of Brussels be bothered to put up some signs stating the names of at least major roads at crossroads and intersections? Can’t they afford it? Or have they already sent out a crew armed with signs and ladders that has been lost somewhere in the urban jungle, unable to find its own way around because there are no signs in the first place?

GPS devices are selling like hotcakes, judging from what I see in my local stores and their promotion leaflets. No wonder.

As for my attempts to find my appointment, there was a 50-50 chance to end up on the right road simply by just starting to walk down one, and of course I chose the wrong one. But the street numbers – at least they have those – quickly told me that it wasn’t likely to be the right one. Luckily, a few metres down the other road, there was a police patrol that I could ask. (I was thus forced to actually ask for directions, even though being a guy. Maybe that’s why I get so upset by the lack of signs?)

But when the friendly doctor asked me with a smile if it was difficult to find the surgery… all I could produce was a polite “ehrm, no, not really”.

Maybe I have myself to blame for being a coward.

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