Tended by angels

Lovely sunny morn to begin with – at least out of the very long windows of our room. I was up at 8:30 after a lovely uninterrupted sleep. Mirinda woke at 10 and we went for our doughnut breaky.

Today’s culture day, beginning with a tram to Place Royale and Musees Royaux de Beaux Arts. It is a massive art gallery of two halves. The first half is the Musee D’Art Ancien and houses a wonderful collection of paintings and statues including a few Brueghels and some Rubens – truly exquisite.

However, before even citing a single famous painting, I came across, naturally, a piccy of my old friend St Sebastien.

Saint Sebastian by Giulio Cesare Procaccini

This one was painted by an Italian painter, Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574-1625) and is called Saint Sebastien secouru par les anges (SS tended by the angels). It shows our friend St Sebastien being transported to heaven by little angels who also remove his arrows. I tried to get a postcard of it in the shop but only managed a Hans Henning version which I didn’t see. However I found this one on the internet.

Mirinda left me so she could hire one of those ear things that tell you all about some paintings, while I wandered about admiring some lovely, some gross and some hardly discernible, Flemish paintings. The Brueghels were closed between 12 and 1 so we popped across to the Musee D’Art Moderne – same building but about 30 miles away through corridors and down escalators. Here they have quite a collection of surrealist works by Magritte and Delvaux. I thought Magritte was all guys in bowler hats looking enigmatic but he was so much more. I particularly like his paintings that seem to just use single lines to create figures. Lola de Valence is one I particularly liked – I’ve included it in the photo album.

After walking down the 8 floors and back – a loooooooong circuit – it was very much time for a tea break. Mirinda had a tea with brie, walnut and radish while I had coffee and a chocolate/custard éclair. Forgot to mention we also saw David’s Marat Sade – a painting I’ve admired since seeing The Marat Sade play at the Ensemble which, I think, was probably my first non-musical play. I saw it with John Farkus so many years ago it hurts to remember.

After refreshment we spent half-an-hour with the Brueghels searching for the momentous occasions amongst the humdrum of normal life or the normalcy betwixt feast and fast. We were pretty successful, I’d have to say. Highly evocative and wonderfully ornate. Unfortunately the ‘art shop’ had only postcard size reproductions of the Brueghels which do not do justice in the least otherwise I’d have bought a giant one for the wall of the New Pink Room.

Top of the staircase in Victor Horta's house

It was then time to catch the 92 tram back to the Louise district and, just a block up from our hotel, the Musee Victor Horta. He was an architect, very much influenced by William Morris and embraced the whole art nouveau movement. His designs are curvaceous and swirly, sexy and cool. His house is now a museum to his genius. Every thing swirls, from the golden bannisters to the curvy doorways. And space! His use of windows, mirrors and high ceilings ensure that every room has the appearance of space. He believed that the architect was as much an artist as painters and sculptors so he insisted on artistic freedom. Many of his buildings are still around in this area of Brussels and stand out as being truly unique. We both reckon Bob would be very interested in this place as the joinery is really quite special. A lot of bentwood is used and then reflected in handles and knobs. Quite inspiring. In fact, Mirinda is going to fill Haslemere with swirls and lead light windows over archways.

Afterwards we walked towards the hotel, stopping for an unexpected coffee at a bar. Unexpected because I thought I’d ordered a latte for Mirinda and a beer for me. It seems my excellent command of French once again let me down as I took charge of the latte, the beer and an espresso. Oh well.

Back at the hotel Mirinda rested her sore knee and we watched Xena. Mirinda ordered a chicken and bacon sandwich from room-service. We thought €10 was a bit excessive until it arrived. Half a chicken and a loaf of bread under a metal cover. A feast. And, oddly, a roll to go with it. I think they had to wait for the egg to hatch too, as it took a very long time to arrive.

Mirinda's chicken sandwich

I had a lovely hot bath then, at about 7, we set off for the Grand Place for dinner.

We were going to tram it but decided to walk instead. Just past the Boulevard Waterloo is the Palace de Justice. What a massive building! This dwarves everything I’ve ever seen. It is indescribably huge. People look totally insignificant standing by its smallest columns. I’d never seen anything so big. It seems the guy who designed it and had it built was hounded and reviled by the people of Brussels because he had to destroy thousands of homes and displace heaps of people in order to build this thing.

Just the other side of this is a sort of look out where you can stand and appreciate the Brussels skyline. Apart from the spire of the town hall and a big church, it’s a bit boring and couldn’t hope to compare with somewhere like Sydney or New York or Ballestrande.

From here we walked down, passing more and more al fresco restaurants till we reached the very buzzy Grand Place. The beer festival was over and tents and stalls were being pulled down. Mirinda decided we wanted pizzas so we walked round till we found the Veneziano, one of the millions of little sidewalk restaurants which claimed every available (and sometimes unavailable) space in the streets around the Grand Place. We sat right on the roadside and ate calamari then pizza as the world passed us by. From the two buskers with piano accordions and limited repertoire to the old Moslem woman who refused to move out of the BMW’s way.

I had a traditional egg on my pizza while Mirinda had the Aussie favourite ham and pineapple except with chicken…which will be chicken and pineapple.

After dinner we strolled down through the Grand Place and into a side street which heaved with restaurants and people – no room for cars. Actually there were places where there was no room for people. And everywhere so busy. The fiscally opinionated taxi driver is obviously in the wrong business. We finally came out at the Bourse where I managed to pick up an Australian hand made ice cream (go figure) and then we approached a taxi.

Mirinda asked him if he’d take us to our hotel. Actually we’d forgotten the name of our hotel so there was a few minutes of panic but eventually we managed to remember. The taxi driver, a jolly chap, said “Of course, it’s my job” and we set off. He apologised for his English which, he said, he only got to practise in the cab. Mirinda said he had “Taxi English” which he half understood. Mirinda then said she had Ice Cream French and sprouted “je voudrais un glace au chocolate” to which he suddenly asked if she wanted an ice cream. I thought he was about to spin the cab round and find an ice cream parlour but Mirinda managed to almost explain her joke. He was a fun taxi driver obviously working for a different cab company than our first one.

Back in our room we watched the last half-hour of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – the same bit I’ve seen a million times (and the first bit only once). Tomorrow is mini-Europe day so, no culture then…

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