Turn on the light, s’il vous plaît

by Lorenzo Piccoli

In the last few weeks I spent considerable time at the Royal Library of Belgium for my researches.The library itself is quite remarkable. It has a big, bright study room that is very quiet, yet not boring. The system works extremely well as it is based on a disciplined organization: upon arrival, people are required to register and they also have to leave bags and baggages in a box at the entrance. There are hundreds of box that can be chosen. Each box is characterized by the picture of an eminent Belgian personality, featuring hundreds of artists, politicians, sportmen who are completely unknown to me. I personally fancy the box of this Jacques Crickillon guy, probably because he appears very inspired while smoking a long pipe.

As part of its tight organization, the Library closes at 7.00PM. Apparently, and this is something you have to know when you’re living in Belgium, Belgians like to be ahead of time. For example, if you go to the supermarket at 6.40 they won’t let you in, even though the place is supposed to close 20 minutes later. The same principles applies at the Library, where this bizarre custom is communicated to the customers by an authoritarian old lady who kindly invites everybody to fuck off at 6.45. All the customers ordinarily follow the announcement and get ready to leave. But then, and this is a development that results even more surprising to me, the lady switchs off the light. At that point, people start crawling in the dark and make the best efforts to find their way to the exit maintaining a very remarkable composure. In Italy such scenes would be followed by screams, laughs, and other indecent behaviours that, I am sure, could not be tolerated by the old Belgian dictator.