Bons baisers de Forest!

Marilyne Grimmer


“Bons baisers de Forest” (Love from Forest) is a photomontage teleportation project taking place in the homes of 20 senior citizens from Forest in Brussels at the end of the first lockdown when most of them were still stuck at home. It is part of a larger project called Postcards from elsewhere.

A text written by Rozenn Quéré accompanies each image. It transcribes the dialogue I had with the participants about their desire to escape and their memories of travels.

Every participant received a set of 10 postcards as well as stamps so that they could send their photo to their families and friends. The 20 resulting images where exhibited in billboards in public space in autumn 2020.

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  • UMA
    Everyone calls her Uma.
    But her full name is Ummuhan.
    You may have already seen her sitting on the front steps of her red brick house on avenue
    - Uma, if you could snap your fingers and go wherever you wanted, where would you go?
    - To Pamukkale. Close to my village.
    Pamukkale sits is an incredible all-white rocky landscape in Turkey, which looks like something between a frozen waterfall and a whipped cream cake.
    Literally: Pamuk = cotton and kale = castle
    She grew up a few kilometres from this cotton castle.
    In 1965, her husband left for Belgium to work in the coal mines in Charleroi.
    She joined him 6 months later, with a suitcase in her hand, and 3 children in her arms.
    Today, Uma likes plants (especially fuchsia), the comic actor Kemal Sunal (a kind of
    Turkish version of Bourvil), and watching Survivor / Koh Lanta on TV.
    She is happy in Brussels. She doesn't want to go back to Turkey, except to be buried there. Everything is already planned for the repatriation of her body by plane.
    - Shall we take the photo? Where do I stand?
    - Here in your kitchen, it’s fine!
    - What do I do with my arms?
    - Can you wave? Do you see Pamukkale in front of you?
    She's waving hello, with a big smile on her face.
    That's great! You pose well, Uma.
    I'm in the movies!

    Mama Pia is a local celebrity. She used to be a math and economics teacher, but a few years ago she created an association of African senior citizens. She even ran in the last elections in Forest with the ecologist party.
    - I brought back 369 votes!
    - Not bad! ... Tell me, Mama Pia, what would be your dream destination, right now?
    - I'd like to go back to a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. It's called Muanda. I haven't been there
    for 25 years! It is very close to the mouth of the Congo River, on the border with Angola.
    - What are you taking with you?
    I love to read, I'm taking a book. I also have a water mister, and my swimming suit, of course. ShalI I get ready ?
    Yes, between the sofas, it's perfect. What do you see in front of you?
    - I see street vendors selling shrimp, crab and fish. But I will wait a little longer before going for a swim.
    - Why?
    - Between noon and 2pm, you shouldn't go swimming. Congolese children who live in Europe have died here. Here, between noon and 2pm, the waves are wild. They thought the sea was as tame as
    the North Sea.

  • BOB
    Bob has travelled quite a bit in the past - always by train - but in the end he never set foot in Egypt. Each time there was something wrong... The Suez Canal crisis with Nasser in 1956, the 6-days war in 1967, so on and so forth. So there you have it: It would make him happy to finally go for a walk around the pyramids, even if they’re fake.
    He's still going to take his hat, because it's going to be hot. Immediate take-off from the kitchen! No need for a train, no need for a plane, no need for a booking!
    Bob says that old age means living from day to day, not having any plans (except intellectual ones,
    perhaps). He may have left the future in the dust of the past, but he insists on his freedom! That of
    getting up late if he feels like it, eating out late, hanging out on the internet... Yesterday, he saw a
    documentary on TV about astrophysicist Stephen Hawkins, then he wanted to explore the subject further by taking a plunging into the depths of youtube. Fascinating!
    Right. Here's Bob in front of a pyramid. The sun is beating (fortunately he thought of his hat) and the desert all around has a lot more to offer yet.
    Could you grab my camera for me?

    - I have no dreams, none at all.
    - Come on! Everybody has dreams...
    - I swear! I don't feel like it. I've had a stroke, I've forgotten everything. That's good, too.
    - There's no place you'd dream of teleporting yourself to with a snap of your fingers, really?
    - There really isn't.
    - And with your husband, did you go on holiday?
    - Yes, we went camping. We had a caravan. It was great. I still have the brochure from the
    caravan here on my coffee table, so I can look at it whenever I want.
    - Who was driving the car that towed the caravan? You or your husband?
    - Me, of course! I forbade him to take the wheel because he drove too fast. He died 20 years ago, so I gave away the caravan and all the stuff that goes with it.
    - If you snap your fingers, we'll get the caravan back. Would you like that? Then you could pose in front of it.
    - Yes, I would.
    - Right. You can sit in your blue chair : you are at the campsite. What are you doing?
    - Reading.
    - Perfect! What are you going to do when you’re done reading?
    - I'll go to the campsite pool. It's 7am, and before 9am there's nobody in the water.
    Diving is not allowed. But since there will be no one there, I will dive as much as I want.

    If you were around 60 years ago, you must know Christian Desmet. First, Christian was the great hope of Belgian boxing, and when a law banned boxing (in 1960, but not for long), he moved on to singing. His band "Christian Desmet and the Coyotes » rocked the boys and the girls of his time, and hit singles and international tours followed one after the other. Christian’s band opened for Claude François, Michèle Torr, and even British acts like The Animals...
    Today, the singer welcomes us to his home for a unique teleportation experience.
    - Tell us where do you dream of going?
    - I want to go to Bora Bora, like everyone else!
    - "Like everyone else"?
    - I have the same dreams as all the big stars! And all the big stars have gone
    to Bora Bora. Give me a name, I'll tell you if they went to Bora Bora.
    - Johnny Hallyday?
    - Went to Bora Bora.
    - Audrey Hepburn?
    - Bora Bora.
    - Beyoncé?
    - People from my time, please !
    - Marlon Brando?
    - Bora Bora.
    - …
    Travelling is the most beautiful part of my light. (...) Of my life.

    Rendez-vous at Christiane's.
    - Wow, there are elephants everywhere in your house!
    - I love elephants. They're big, they're strong, but they're herbivorous.
    - Have you been fascinated by them for a long time?
    - When I was a kid in the 1950s, my uncle lived in Congo. He was a cartographer.
    Until things started to go wrong over there. When he came back to Belgium, he brought back an
    elephant's foot, which was used to store umbrellas in the entrance of his house. This leg (+ the
    stories, + the photos) left a big mark on me.
    - And where would you like to go now?
    - Right now?
    - Yes!
    - To Greece. The white houses, the blue sky, the blinding light... I'm going to get my sandals.
    And I'm going to put on the T-shirt that my daughter brought me from her home in Auroville. You see what I mean? Next to Pondicherry. When I told my grandson that this T-shirt came from India, he said:
    It's not a turkey, it's a peacock! (in French a turkey is « dinde » which sounds like India)

  • EMILE for administration, GÉRARD for ladies*.
    I travelled a lot: Congo, Burundi, and especially the Ardennes.
    Could you teleport me to the Ardennes, to Bouillon? I used to go there often, with my sweetheart. We had a caravan.
    I was in the military, an electrician - I know a lot about high-voltage cabins. And when I
    had to spend some time as an instructor in the Ardennes, we settled there for a while, with my
    sweetheart. Not far from Bouillon.
    Before the first world war, my grandparents ran a hotel in Bouillon. One day, a cyclone hit their hotel. Then they left for Paris.
    I miss her, my sweetheart.
    Even though she really gave me a hard time.
    She let herself go... I miss her. 65 years of marriage!
    Since her death, I haven't travelled. Except on Saturdays, to the cemetery. (During the confinement, I could not go there).
    Her body was donated to science. Like her, I would also like to give my body to science.
    But I don't think they will take it! It's too rotten! (laughs)
    To keep myself busy, I make coasters with wine bottle caps. So far, I made 200. I offer them to nice people. I do this all day long. That's good, it prevents me from thinking.
    Have you seen my medals? I am a knight Leopold 2.
    Will you put me in front of Bouillon Castle? I'll get my hat.
    I’ve often been told that I look like JR, in "Dallas".
    Put me in front of the castle. A knight in front of a castle, that’s perfect!
    *When he was born, his father made a mistake in the order of his first names.

    She is tall and slim, she is wearing a long pink dressing gown when she opens the door.
    Does she wants to go on a virtual trip? Yes! Where to? To the sea! No hesitation. We’re welcome inside, even if Gisèle, who knits baby booties because she will soon be a great-grandmother, does not live alone. Fleur and Moustique share her two-room flat. Naturally, she would take them with her to the sea.
    It's a deal! Let’s go Mediterranean.
    - Lebanon, Tunisia, Greece... ?
    - Whichever! But there must be flowers.
    - Of course! In a few minutes, you will leave for the sea, there will be flowers, and your two cats.
    Gisèle disappears for a while in her room to put on summer clothes.
    She has gathered a word-search book for the beach, a bath towel, and a bottle of mineral water, because you need to stay well hydrated. On the other hand, we haven't thought about sun cream.
    Let’s hope she doesn’t get too sunburnt !

    - My dream is to go to the Maldives!
    Marcel has always chosen the seaside as a holiday destination. When you ask him
    what he used to do when he went to the beach (swim? read?), Marcel retorts:
    - Sun, sun, sun! Reading is very bad for the eyes at the beach.
    So absolute idleness. It must be said that he deserved his holidays. He worked hard, Marcel.
    - I was the only one in the whole of Belgium doing the job I did…
    For many years, Marcel was the man who designed Belgian stamps. He reproduced artists' works in miniature to adapt them to the postal stamp format.
    - 24 stamps were issued each year. My very first one was a reproduction of a self-portrait of
    - It's a very meticulous manual job!
    - Yes, it is. But now my right hand is shaking. I have to write with my left hand, unfortunately.
    A former body-building enthusiast, Marcel finds his body seriously rusty today.
    But his shiny blue eyes still work a treat, he is proud of that. He hasn't put on a single
    pair of glasses (except sunglasses on the beach) since he was born in 1938.
    Rusty or not - it doesn't matter - in a minute, Marcel leaves to sunbathe in the

    Jeanine was a traveller when her husband was still alive.
    - Now, just the idea of having to take the suitcase down to my two floors is holding me back.
    But she wouldn’t mind going to Brazil.
    - To the Rio carnival?
    - Yes, that would be very nice. (She takes out her most colourful holiday dress). I love music. I have a
    5 CD shuffle machine, it plays for 5 hours.
    She also likes to dance. She learned with her brother : boogie woogie, rock'n roll, twist...
    - We danced in the cafés in the rue d'Ophem to the music of the jukeboxes. I met my husband in
    a café. 55 years of marriage!
    Yesterday, a friend sent her a youtube video of Bill Haley and his comets, do you know him?
    - One of those rock’n roll hits from 1958 or 1959. It made my tears come up. He wrote to me: “The ones
    you see dancing like crazy in the video, they are today's senior citizens. »
    Music brings back memories, doesn't it?
    Music makes me feel good.

    Florida, 1975. Jeanne, freshly arrived from Haiti, is 33 years old. She works a nanny, she likes to go for walks on the seaside, under the palm trees, say hello to the alligators, picnic with her friends.
    The following year - 1976 - dressed in a candy-pink suit, she lands in Zaventem. Her first time
    in Europe. She has found a job in Flanders, tending to with a wealthy but depressed lady.
    As she gets out of the airport, she is stricken in horror.
    "It's cold!!!
    I will never stay in this country. »
    44 years later, in a flat in Forest with walls covered with Lady Diana souvenir plates and a portrait of Gandhi, Jeanne pulls out a cowboy hat and leather boots from her cupboards.
    She wants to go back to Florida, where the crocodiles were wading around.
    When she and her friends approached, the alligators would open their mouths wide.
    Just like that. (mimic as you read)

    "If the Good Lord gives me a few more years of life in good condition, I would like to return to my
    country, Venezuela, on the island of Marguerita.
    But right now, with this pandemic, I won't be able to take a plane.
    But I also want to go to Lourdes. I haven't had a chance to go there for real!
    I pray every day for the world to get better.
    The little girl from Sweden, Greta... I'm surprised she didn't make any comment during the lockdown...
    To talk about the situation...
    To denounce the business leaders who control the world...
    If I could, I would live in a village with only 20 families.
    Because I think the world is violent.
    People need to realise that we don't just live on money!
    Living is not buying the latest Chinese phone !
    They invent a lot of useless devices, robots, they do all they can to go to the moon,
    but they didn't even know how to make use of this progress to save my son...
    I like to watch Masterchef because I enjoy cooking.
    But when I see all these kitchen appliances, I say to myself:
    What's the point, all that to make mayonnaise?
    If you don't even have time to make mayonnaise anymore…"

    Philippe’s TV no longer works. We reboot his box, the television starts up again, check. Now we can take care of the teleportation. But to go where? Philippe thinks... First, he wants to be transported in time. June 30, 1960, Congo's Independence Day. He was 16 years old. Then Philippe chooses
    to pose in front of the Tata Raphaël stadium in Kinshasa. Because he loves football, but also because it is a place that has stamped his personal history and that of the Congo.
    - It is in the Matongé district. No matter where you come from, all roads lead to this
    neighbourhood. »
    The stadium was inaugurated in 1952 and was then called "Roi Baudoin".
    - I remember bringing stones to help build the stadium... All the students of the Catholic schools did that on Wednesdays, and they had free entry to the stadium on Sundays. »
    Later, another memory: "Joseph Malula, the 3rd Congolese bishop, was crowned there. I was a
    choir-boy. Barely two years later, the events began. »
    The stadium was the setting for several key moments of independence. But if the Tata Raphaël stadium is known worldwide, it is because in 1974 it housed one of the most famous boxing matches in history : Mohamed Ali vs George Foreman.
    A few months earlier, it was the godfather of soul music, James Brown, who was shaking the house down...
    - Ah, I almost forgot: Pele, the Brazilian football king, also came to the stadium. At the height of his glory. Take a look at this picture : I can barely see anything but do you
    did you notice his shoes? Neither Nike nor Adidas... There are no brands on his shoes. »

    Since we called to tell her about the teleportation project, Monique has come to a decision :
    she wants to go to Ireland.
    "There's a lot of greenery in Ireland, it's full of water. I love water.
    In Ireland there are lots of rocks with water flowing through them. I've seen documentaries on TV, it's beautiful.
    I never go out of Brussels, apart from the outings with the senior citizens service: we went to the zoo, to the sea...
    But I like Ireland! It's not too sunny, that's a good thing, I don't like the sun.
    When I think that some people lie down like pancakes, on one side and then on the other... Afterwards, they are as red as crayfish! It gives you cancer, too!
    No, I would be fine in Ireland. In the middle of greenery, water, sheep and the many other small animals you hardly notice...
    Shall we go? I'm putting on my coat.
    Sorry, I don't have boots. »

    At 90, she has so much energy, you have to see it to believe it. Her flat is full of stuff she
    brought back from trips. As for a destination, the former biochemistry researcher decided on Samarkand.
    She loves turquoise, she has never been to Uzbekistan, and the blue roof of the great mosque of
    Samarkand jumped to her mind when we inquired about her dream trip.
    - But I will never go to Samarkand at my age, don't push it.
    - I can teleport you there!
    - That would be very nice!
    - With this great T-shirt?
    (Suzanne wears a red T-shirt with SEX written on it in capital letters)
    - I'm not crazy! I did not even buy it! (laughs). They gave it to me at the shop because I’m a good a customer. To go to Samarkand, I'm going to look for an oriental dress...
    She returns dressed in an outfit the same colour as the ceramic roof of the mosque.
    - Could you take off your glasses? I can see the reflections.
    - Oh yes!... Say, at the moment, the glasses + the hearing aid + the mask, I can tell you that
    it's no piece of cake! It's a good thing I don't have dentures...
    To celebrate the end of confinement, she would love to go to exhibitions and to the cinema. But right now, tickets must be purchased online for everything.
    - I gave up on computers when I stopped working. I don’t need to tell you it's been a while! So,
    if we old people need to buy a computer with internet to be able to go to the cinema, they might as well bin us right away!

    "Where do I dream of going?
    Oh, there are so many things to do on this earth!
    Fighting against injustice...
    Wait, let me think.
    I'm like Gandhi, you know, injustice drives e crazy. Look at my Gandhi, there he is, on the shelf. Not far from the photo of Aung Saan Suu Kyi.
    Do you know her? She's a lady who did 25 years of house arrest and prison.
    Look at this picture : you can see me kissing her. It was in Paris.
    It's a pity that you can't see in the photo when she kissed me.
    In Belgium, we organised actions to talk about her. At the time, I was already one of the oldest women in the association.
    For example, for the 20 km of Brussels, I had hung her photo around my neck.
    When we went to Paris to support her, they told me: go and see her, grandma !
    I knew that I would never get the chance to meet her again in my whole life...
    She is a great lady...
    Could you put me in front of her house in Burma? It's at 54 University Street in Rangoon.
    In front of her house, there is a gate with bars, that's where she used to stir up the crowds.
    Put me in front of Aung Saan Suu Kyi's house.
    Wait, I still have the T. Shirt.
    Do I pose holding the picture where I give her a kiss? »

    Tap dance, flamenco, oriental dance, these have no secrets for her. Scheherazade is an artist. In her most reckless hours, she is even a fire-eater. When she goes on stage, the light dazzles her. She no longer sees the audience, she dives in. It even happened that she performed in exchange for free stays in hotels (with swimming pool please). She has plenty of other talents too, such as clairvoyance. But having premonitory dreams all the time gets tiring.
    On the wall of her living room, we can see a painting representing Aladdin and Jasmine floating on
    a flying carpet.
    - My dad made it for me.
    It's in the land of 1,001 Arabian nights that Scheherazade wants to be teleported. On a magic carpet with her parrot Stitchke at her side.
    She removes the leopard printed cover that covers Stitchke's cage, puts the bird on her shoulder
    and embraces him tenderly.
    Scheherazade? Can Stitchke talk?
    Yes. He says, "Watch out.”, “You can’t!”, “Why?”, “Really?”, and “That's OK.”

    Music floats in the living room, just above the smell of mikatés, freshly made doughnuts
    fried by mama Elisabeth.
    - I gave birth 10 times!
    Elisabeth is very proud of that! Between two spontaneous dances, she says that it is her children who brought her and Papa Louis to Brussels 15 years ago.
    Today, it is Papa Louis's birthday, 81 years old! When they were children, Mama Elisabeth and
    Papa Louis used to love spending time with the fishermen on their boats on the Congo River.
    Papa Louis is looking for pictures on his phone, to show us what the boats look like.
    - ...Here you go. It's at Lake Leopold II.
    - The lake is still called that ?
    - When we were colonised by the Belgians, it was called that. Today it is named Lake Mai-Ndombe. It means "black water" in Lingala. Because the water of the lake is as dark as coffee.
    Now the water is calm. But sometimes there are waves of 4 to 5 metres high ! Sometimes the lake is
    really angry! It is a mysterious lake. It is so huge that parrots can’t even fly the whole length of it.

    - How long does it take to come to Belgium from Mauritius?
    - Fourteen years.
    Shoba corrects Marie-Lise :
    - 14 hours!
    Shoba and Marie-Lise left their native Mauritius 33 years and 46 years ago respectively.
    Today, Shoba has been invited by her friend to take a little trip together from her living room.
    They want to go to India, the country of their ancestors from 7 generations back.
    They say that roots are important.
    That roots don’t " get sidetracked ".
    - It stays with you, one way or another.
    Shoba has never set foot in the land of her ancestors (and her gods).
    Marie-Lise went there two years ago, and it made a big impression on her.
    - When I left the airport in Chennai, I walked away from the group. I stayed silent for a little while.
    I touched the ground thinking of my roots that were there, and I cried alone. It was very emotional !
    Shoba is standing in front of the Taj Mahal to the right of her friend.
    She says: "My body is here. But my heart is already there.
    One day we will go there. If not in real life, at least in dreams. »

    Nicole's place smells really good. Even from outside on the corridor, you can smell the scent of
    cabbage, mashed potatoes and bacon. We ring the doorbell.
    - Hello! It's for a teleportation!
    - Come on in.
    Nicole is busy in the kitchen, she’s preparing a large number of meals to freeze them, and then
    she won't need to cook for the rest of the month.
    When asked where she wants to be transported to, Nicole sets her sights on a Chinese restaurant.
    It doesn't matter whether the restaurant is in China or in Belgium, as long as it is a Chinese restaurant where there are lots of things to eat. Where you can help yourself forever. Without chopsticks!
    Nicole only likes Belgian and Chinese food.
    - The rest disgusts me.
    A big box of sweets (flying saucers) sits on the fridge.
    - Is that’s for when children come to visit you?
    - No way ! No children ever come to see me. It's just for me.