The Royal Palace itself expresses the sorrow of the people as well as the sorrow of their young king. Never in my life have I seen any building look so lifeless and sad as this enormous grey palace with its closed and sightless windows. Were the blinds always drawn that way or is it a normal protection against the early spring sun? I cannot say. But in any case the impression that emanates from this vast building is one of emptiness, desolation, as if the life and soul that once animated its rooms and galleries has fled, leaving a lifeless shell in place of a smiling palace.
And then there is the evidence of the shop windows. Hardly a window display - whether it be of haberdashery, jewellery, or fancy cakes - but it has its framed portrait of the Queen, and in every house I have visited so far the Queen's portrait holds the place of honour.
I was told a charming tale the other day, and as its authenticity is vouched for it deserves retelling. A stranger mounts the front platform of one of the many tramcars, and from time to time asks information from the driver. What is the name of this church? What is the population of Brussels? Intrigued by the stranger's accent and questions, the driver finishes by asking the nationality of his passenger.
"Swedish," answers the stranger.
"Ah! Then monsieur is from Her country!" Thereupon he stops his tram, opens the doors, and announces to the occupants that "Monsieur est Suédois." Everyone has his word to say on the qualities of the late Queen. But meanwhile the stationary tramcar is holding up the traffic and a policeman rudely asks the driver for an explanation. The driver leans out, and, indicating the stranger, explains that "Monsieur est Suédois." The policeman salutes and then, quietly to the driver, "Roulez, quand même," (Get a move on all the same).While I am all in favor of the people's devotion to their kindhearted Queen, I hate the way the cult of Astrid was later used to vilify Leopold and his second wife.