Friday, 26 May 2017

In Ghent

Ghent - Gent - Gand
(the confluence of the rivers Scheldt and Leie)





We are in Ghent.  







Apparently.....







Bicycles and trams abound.....








This is the Flemish town of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck's great early 15th century polyptych Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece, which is heavily guarded (following the still unresolved theft of two panels in 1934 - though one panel was later returned - and various other adventures during wars etc) in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo:




But which appears in many guises around the town, including in this curious Street Art near the Sint-Michielsbrug:







A painting that, literally, changed the world.....  The first oil painting - so giving the middle east complete control of western art..... (just think Damien Steven Hirst)






Thanks, Jan.....






Now our virgins and madonnas only have to whisper Q8 and they are anybody's.....







Art is no longer a question of taste.

I know what I like.....








Or I like what I know....







Or, perhaps, I'm not quite sure what is going on here, but I rather think I might like it..... (it's that Mystic Lamb again.....)






And so you shift focus.  Hi Guys?








No.  No consoulation there.

Hello cat?







Not interested.

Ah.  A smurf burglar....







No it's OK.  Flavio, from Romania, is here, working.....






And all is well....






The lady will clean up.....








So, we stop in a bar.  It's a bit rough. Unfinished, shall we say?









But the people are friendly.  This is Wernerwin von Spleethoven, who plays his composition En God schlep orde in de chaos!  on his phone.....









At the very least, he thinks it's funny (though he is only drinking cola as alcohol reacts with his anti-depressants, poor chap.....)







As does lycra-clad Fagin in pink, whose hundred bicycles hang like orphans from the rafters inside.....







Across the canal, all is calm.....








Though if you look closely there is life on the steps....








Waiting, and willing, to be photographed.....







And along the canal banks, friends, pairs, couples, individuals, loners, geeks and kids push experiment with the limits of the elements....






Examining the important things in life....








While keeping an eye on what goes on around ....








Beethoven blasts from a block across the water, while a gentleman conducts with leeks in time....








He takes a bow.  The music ends.








And it's time to slip back to Dulle Griet, where La Trappe awaits.....








And where, as dusk gathers, the staff extend the warmest welcome.....








And I relax with a bottle of Brussels Champagne.....








Perhaps I am influenced by the local produce, but Ghent is sweet, and dark, and....







I don't know exactly how the good news arrived here....  Or left.....  But....



I sprang to the rollocks and Jorrocks and me,
And I galloped, you galloped, we galloped all three.

Not a word to each other: we kept changing place, 
Neck to neck, back to front, ear to ear, face to face: 
And we yelled once or twice, when we heard a clock chime, 
“Would you kindly oblige us, is that the right time?” 
As I galloped, you galloped, he galloped, we galloped, 
ye galloped, they two shall have galloped: let us trot.










I unsaddled the saddle, unbuckled the bit,
Unshackled the bridle (the thing didn’t fit)
And ungalloped, ungalloped, ungalloped, ungalloped a bit. 
Then I cast off my buff coat, let my bowler hat fall, 
Took off both my boots and my trousers and all – 
Drank off my stirrup-cup, felt a bit tight, 
And unbridled the saddle: it still wasn’t right. 












Then all I remember is, things reeling round,

As I sat with my head ‘twixt my ears on the ground – 
For imagine my shame when they asked what I meant 
And I had to confess that I’d been, gone and went 
And forgotten the news I was bringing to Ghent, 
Though I’d galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped 
And galloped and galloped and galloped. (Had I not would have been galloped?)



How I brought the good news from Aix to Ghent or Vice Versa

W C Sellar & R J Yeatman (from Horse Nonsense)



[With apologies to Robert Browning]









Yay!  Love it!















Thursday, 25 May 2017

In Antwerp

Antwerp - Antwerpen - Anvers






Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium, and with over half a million people it is the largest city in Flanders, the Flemish speaking part of Belgium.  It is situated on the River Scheldt, not far from the North Sea, and it is one of the busiest ports in the world.





At the heart of the city is the Grote Markt, towered over by the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwecathedraal, the largest gothic church in the Low Countries.  There is a lively fountain in the not-so-square as well, which is topped by an effigy of young Silvius Brabo, saviour of the city.  He killed the giant Antigoon, whose penchant was for terrorising boatmen by demanding tolls, and chopping off hands when payment was not made.







The Markt is embellished on the western side by the Stadhuis (town hall), which was built in the 1560s, and which displays an impressive collection of flags (though one appears to have furled itself in shame).....







The cathedral is famous for its Rubens' altarpieces, and there just happens to be an exhibition of many other altarpieces in there for my visit.   I also meet a man who is balancing a cross on the palm of his hand, and shining, like an angel, at the same time.....








At the door, another man sings Blowin' in the wind, with a curiously personal time signature.  He reminds me of someone I never knew.....  We all have our cross to bear.







Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640) was the big name in Antwerp, and his house, the Rubenshuis, which he bought in 1610 and which the city rescued in 1937, is one of the main attractions. It is here that I meet Barbara Arents, painted by Jacob van Utrech in about 1530.  Barbara was Rubens's grannie, and she is rather nice.







In the artist's studio I encounter Anthony van Dyck (1599 - 1641), Rubens's most famous and talented assistant.  For a long time it was believed that this portrait was painted by Rubens, but current theory is that it is in fact a self-portrait.








Later on that evening, I meet him again, sitting by the Stadhuis wall.  He has aged a little, and grown a characteristic beard, and he is looking the other way, but I am sure it's him.....








Characterful faces are to be found everywhere; in bars....







And in the busy streets.....








And on the city's walls. At first I thought this might be a poor representation of Belgium's favourite Police Inspector (Maigret) but it isn't.... This is a mural by Dutch artist Dick Matena's depicting Laarmans, protagonist of Willem Elsschot’s novel Kaas (Cheese). The mural shows Laarmans returning home from cheese shopping with the Brabo statue in the background in a mix of the city’s literary and folkloric past and is the cover picture of Matena's graphic version of the novel.









And just nearby is Conscience by Jan Bosschaert which portrays Hendrik Conscience (The man who taught his people how to read) above a fountain that spews out letters over copies of Bosschaert's own books.





An the city itself is a work of art. The old buildings:


 




The bicycles:









And the modern buildings as well.  This is the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom - Museum by the river), a vast municipal museum in a red sandstone and curved glass tower 60 metres tall which was opened in 2011:






Which has a great view from the panoramic 12th floor:







There are some other fine examples of modern architecture, like the Port House, which integrates a vast new extension to an old fire station, where 500 people, like Stevan, 







work at keeping the port in action:








It's an exciting city, full of surprises, and full of smiles:
















Or half smiles:







Or people saying Cheers!







Or who would say Cheers! if they weren't nose-down in a glass of jenever/genever/genièvre....







Or who would surely say Cheers! if they weren't so busy looking like Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)'s Bagpipe Player:










It was nearly time to go.  Though wrapped Christo-fashion in plastic sheeting, Dock's Cafe produces the best meal I have had for a long time, with their own oysters and beer, and a delicious piece of hake with asparagus, grey shrimps and hollandaise sauce.








Then it's a train to Brussels, time for a wonderful Trappe Tripel









Then the Eurostar back home.....

Shame!  I would have loved to have stayed......