Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Art and life in Brussels

As a 'writers' jaunt' with my word-smithing friend and erstwhile Live&Lippy co-poet Hazel Stewart, our 4-night stay in Brussels turned out to have an unexpected emphasis on visual art. We'd neither of us been before so had no idea what to expect: our aim was to squeeze in one last trip abroad as Europeans, walking through Arrivals in the EU citizens line and enjoying non-alienated immersion in the cultural experience of this city while it was still part of our experiential identity... and to have a great time. Mission accomplished! The old city, about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, is a cats-cradle of impressive edifices linked with tramlines and zebra-crossings and cobbles (and zebra-crossings on cobbles) and ribbon-development roadworks. Many of the buildings are extensively decorated, with statues satisfyingly secular as well as saintly, and there's masses of modern street art, so our exploratory walks all became art-trails of sculptures ranging from absurd &/or vulgar to the impressive series of 48 bronzes around La Place du Petit Sablon in homage to the city's ancient crafts. Ten larger statues here also celebrate 16C notables - here's me with Guillaume le Taciturne aka William of Orange from 1533-1585 - a century before the King Billy of Irish notoriety, of course.
The abundance of visual stimulus around in the city streets continued within doors too, with every imaginable style from traditional to pop, classical to op, vividly represented in the cafes, bars, boulevards, and galleries of this fast-moving and fabulous city.
Here's Hazel in some of my favourites: MiMA (the Millenium Iconoclast Museum of Art) - the reconstructed Arles bedroom at the Immersive Van Gogh experience where we learned that the brilliant colour strokes in paintings like Starry Night were the consequence, poignantly, of Vincent's colour-blindness... and the Magritte Museum, an amazing journey through the artist's works over four floors of imagery with an excellent short film showing how the effect of his mother's suicide lingered in his art and perhaps explains his choice to leave the surrealists for a more bourgeois life with Georgette.

So with no ambition other than to spend each day wandering and writing, we were especially lucky to find wonderfully varied places whenever we decided to stop for refreshment, from the gilded splendour of the Metropole Cafe to ultra-hip TICH, with friendly cafes down side roads for amazingly good scoff: Cafe Charbon, your home-made salmon quiche was fabulous, with an equally good experience at 'Coming Soon' where the walls are filled with original photographs of film stars at Cannes festivals all taken by owner Jean-Pierre Malherbe.

Brussels, we found even in our short stay while going no further than our feet would take us each day, is a city of paradox. Streets of elegant frontages (art nouveau designer Victor Horta apparently was the influence here) share the skyline with towering glass-fronted cubes, and fruit-stalls piled with oranges share the pavement with armed soldiers and rows of electric scooters - the Boris bikes of this city. And, of course, so much more.... Writers like painters use their medium to explore and process their own lives, and in this process there are always serendipitous coincidences of observation and discovery.  I'll end with one of my favourite images, from the canal side near MiMA, the old brewery that now celebrates street art. 

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