brussels re-cap II
saturday, june 26
i think i’ve been duped. on paper, everything seemed so close. on paper, you’d think you can hit 2 places in one day.
note to self: don’t buy eurail’s “unlimited travel for 5 days in one month” pass if you’re only going to be in the country for 5 days. to think, i originally wanted to check out brussels AND antwerp today. then tomorrow i’d go to bruges. and my last day would be spent in luxembourg. with so much to see and do in each place, what was i thinking? it’s like that time when i first went to the uk to kick around in the country for about 8 days. During my trip i also wanted to drive up and see scotland and ireland. i got laughed at for that by my friend mat who knew better.
anyways, i’ve decided to knock luxembourg off my list. unfortunately, with a travel time of 3 hours each way, i’d be spending my last day mostly on the train. and then get on the train the following day to head back to amsterdam? that’s too much train-hopping.
so today i stayed put in brussels.
i headed to the focal point of the city, the grand place. talk about in-your-face architecture! and you wouldn’t think that the narrow alley you’re walking down on would open up to such grandeur: the humungous plaza, rows of guildhouses, sculptures and gilding.
the street beside the grand place there was a french chanteuse with her 2 kids. she sang sad french songs while her little boy dressed in lederhosen walked around with a chapeau for donations. how could i resist? i have a thing for sad french songs.
first stop was to the musee de la ville de bruxelles at the maison du roi. similar to the amsterdam historisch museum, it tells of the city’s history. but more importantly, it houses the 800+ outfits designed for the little pisser himself, brussel’s beloved manneken pis statue including the elvis, cosmonaut, french cook, momo taro & daimyo, chinese mandarin and maharaja looks. and i thought barbie had a killer wardrobe. why, just this past april, manneken pis was dressed as dracula for the zombie parade.
manneken pis is just a short jaunt from the grand place. for a bronze statue, it kicks up a lot of fuss. first off, it’s wrought ironed fenced off and there’s hella lot of tourists jockeying to get as close a look as possible. and while people are ooh’ing and ah’ing, i’m looking at the cheeky little monkey and i imagine a thought bubble hanging in the air. manneken pis is grinning and saying, “i pee on all of you.”
left: manneken pis. right: manneken pis chocolates in white chocolate, strawberry, orange, apple, cherry, banana, raspberry, cassis, milk chocolate and dark chocolate
also at the grand place is the tintin store. tintin the boy wonder and his dog snowy are belgian’s most celebrated comic strip character. since 1929, 200M tintin books have been sold worldwide and translated into 56 languages. i remember reading the adventures of tintin when i was in elementary school.
and here was a store devoted to all things tin tin: t-shirts, games, postcards, key rings, stationery, mugs. and figurines. none of which are cheap. the high quality, copyrighted goods come at wallet breaking prices. the blue lotus figurine set range unbelievably from € 145 to € 189,50. for the serious collector only.
outside the tintin store was something i hadn’t seen before in my travels. i came across many gypsies begging for change. gypsy mothers with their sleeping infant or toddler sitting on a piece of cardboard looking up forlonly. then another gypsy woman would come along to relieve them and have with them another baby or child. or the gypsy women who would go right up to passerby and thrust their cups into their faces, shaking the cup with the few coins already in there. not as aggressive as some homeless bums i’ve encountered in new york but upfront all the same.
with the mercury hitting 28C, i headed back to the air-conditioned musee royaux in the afternoon. michele was working today and was kind enough to comp me a ticket to both the symbolism in belgium exhibit AND entrance to the magritte museum. nice to have friends in high places.
i didn’t know too much about symbolists before the exhibit. but i liked what i saw about it on brochures and banners. it looked very pre-raphaelites to me and that’s my favourite period of art history. michele said the exhibit didn’t rock her boat because the art was too dark.
and she was right. symbolism is the dark, gothic side of romanticism. if we’re speaking literature, the precursors to symbolism in art are edgar allan poe, christina and dante gabriel rossetti, charles baudelaire and william blake.
the symbolist artists featured are mostly belgian: jean deville, fernand khnopff, xavier mellery, leon spilliaert, george minne, joseph middeleer, jan toorop and félicien rops to name but a few.
clockwise from top left: deux femmes by jan toorop, autoportrait by leon spilliaert, pornocrates by felicien rops, une aile bleue by fernand khnopff, the sphinx or the caress by fernand khnopff, les elements en movement by willy schlobach, le cycle des pasiones by jean deville
there was paintings and drawings from the 1890s-1900s artists that were perhaps viewed as diabolical and taboo. some of the works were disturbing but others were fascinating. there were paintings that looked like they were from a modern day graphic novel. and to think that turn of the century artists were imagining all this during such a conservative and puritanical time.
the exhibit lead to the sub-level floors of the musee royaux des beaux art where i stood and contemplated favourites edward burn-jones and salvador dali.
the wedding of psyche by edward burn-jones
la tentation de sainte-antoine by salvador dali
after that exhibit, i headed to the attached magritte museum. every time i see a magritte painting, i hear that brilliant nina simone song, oh sinner man, in my head. ever since i watched the thomas crown affair with pierce brosnan and rene russo, his paintings and song have become inexplicably linked.
the 4 story museum was dedicated to surrealist artist rené magritte’s life and works. you start on the 4th floor which tells of his beginnings and work your way down.
clockwise from top left: la magie noire, memory, the return, the domain of arnheim and scheharazade
ever the romantic, i was more intrigued about his romance and marriage to georgette berger. they were together for life.
what surprised me was that none of his bowler hat series were displayed. i thought for a second that i may have missed it? the security guard told me that the painting, the son of man et al were in houston. magritte had painting those when he was living in the us and there they remain. how ironic. a museum that was a shrine to rené magritte did not possess some of his most famous works.
as shops are closed on sundays in belgium, i made my way to rue neuve which is the main pedestrian shopping with all the high street labels. i’ve noticed that in amsterdam and now here that people SHOP. they have only one late night shopping in a week, (and that’s only til 7pm) so people make sure to take advantage of when a store stays open after they finish work or on the weekend. the shops are packed, especially now that there’s summer madness sales.
i took advantage but the deals weren’t as good as in amsterdam. but hey, i will not have to shop for my summer wardrobe when i get back home now.
the heat was stifling and oppressive so i just got some takeaway sandwiches and headed back to the apartment. i wish i could say that i was taking advantage of the nightlife in amsterdam and brussels but going to these places by myself would not be so much fun. and besides, i always start my day early and stay out for like 8-10 hours, so i need the night to recoup and recharge.
i end my evenings watching tv. in amsterdam, they air dutch programs as well as north american shows, which are in english but with dutch subtitles. in brussels, throw in the mix french programming. some of the US shows are dubbed in french or dutch. i’m finding that holland and belgium are big fans of frasier, CSI, house and that 70s show cuz that’s on every day. it’s funny to see what strikes a chord with a country.
i had to laugh and send a text to sean when i came across a jean claude van damme movie on tv. i was watching the mussels from brussels in his mullet glory, kicking ass on a motorcycle in hard target, while i was in brussels. that’s probably funny only to me.
tonight, pichou graced me with his presence. he ventured gingerly into the livingroom to sniff me out. and little by little, he came to rub up against me and plop himself on the floor, loving all the petting i was lavishing on him.
sure, it’s nice to have the whole apartment to myself. but it’s even nicer to know there’s a little heartbeat in that house with you.