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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ravel'd Sleave

Gent is a wonderful city. But there are some things about it that confuse us. The month-long carnival, for example (though we don't mind at all -- we can't hear it, and it provides a dozen kinds of sausages, fresh frites, and Liege waffles at any hour of the day or night).

The fact that no matter what, we get lost.

The Wednesday night bar-hopping, public singing, and puking tradition. Here, students do their main partying on Wednesday. Yes, many go home for the weekend. But why not get drunk on Thursday? Why Wednesday?

And now, the knitting.

We went downtown this week and noticed that many public buildings, monuments, and bridges were adorned with knitting.

It's very colorful. It keeps the buildings warm, I'm sure. But...WHY?

If any of our Belgian readers have the answer, please tell...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fashion Forward

This weekend's trip was to Antwerp. We were invited by a Joycean with whom Phil had years of correspondence but had never met. Now, I know that Antwerp is a fashion capitol. Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten, those other four...So, under the impression that we'd be hanging at a cafe, dining out, perhaps enjoying a brief museum visit, I opted for the slightly more stylish footwear.


Our host was utterly charming and incredibly knowledgeable about Antwerp. And of course he was wearing sneakers. He took us first to the waterfront, where a very tall anthropological museum provided an amazing view of the city.

Then we walked to Our Lady cathedral, the largest cathedral in Belgium. Flamboyantly Gothic. Luckily for us, the art museum is undergoing renovation, so many of its Rubenses had been moved to the cathedral (their original location).

Next we did the cafe thing, drinking one of the local brews and people watching. Sitting, thank god. Some interesting fashion. Dogs in tutus. I asked the eternal question: How can women walk on cobblestones in spike heels?

Then on to St. Charles Borromeo, this church in a style known as Jesuit Baroque (do the Jesuits have any other style?).

Our host left us at that point. Having walked for 4 hours in this gorgeous city, we opted for an early dinner -- waterzooie, a Flemish specialty.

Finally back to Gent, and another mile up to our apartment.

And now I tend the mangled bits of flesh that once were my feet...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Vernal Equinox

Happy Spring! It's been bizarrely warm and sunny here, as we've heard it is in the Northeastern US. Flowers are up, trees are budding. Flipflops have been sighted. It's very hard to justify hot chocolate.

Signs of spring in Gent:

The nearby park, where we walk most days.

The student bars, where outdoor tables fill up as soon as it gets above freezing.

Frites or waffles? Or both?

And the carnival on St. Pietersplein, which has been running day and night for 3 weeks now.
sacred & profane

there is always a Smurf

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Eyes

There's a lot to be said for traveling with a 20-year-old. Especially one who is intellectually curious and interested in everything, from bizarre fairy-tale museums to wildlife parks to a centuries-old church featuring a reliquary holding a forgotten saint's finger bone. Who eats frites and escargots and schnitzel and kaaskroketten and gaufres de Liege with equal zest.

We visited some places I've been before -- Bruges, for example. But I got to see it through new eyes.

The Michelangelo scuplture in the cathedral was once more a breathtaking surprise.

The Minnewater, crowded with swans and ringed with willows just budded, was again one of the loveliest sights anywhere.

The daffodils blooming at the Beguinage were as astonishing as they had been twenty-five years ago.

The secret window onto the cathedral, where the nobles living in the Gruuthuse observed mass without having to mingle with the masses, was even more wonderful shared. 

And Paris! Though the Mona Lisa was thronged with photo-snapping tourists, her gaze became mysterious again.

The streets and hidden courtyards were magical; the gardens, with their new blooms, glorious.  

We have to try to keep that freshness of vision even as we travel without our pair of young eyes. (And if we forget, he's coming back in May...)

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Well, we saw the Louvre. 'Twas a spectactular assemblage of the finest art. Pockets of pink flesh dripped from the Rubenses in the Flemish wing, as unnecessarily portly and aristocratic women exposed one or more of their breasts to the receptive viewer.

The Mona Lisa in the Italian section stared at me with her piercing eyes and indeterminate expression.

Then Klauser showed up -- the greatest of all works of living art -- along with his lovely wife Sue, and joined us for a meal of extravagant Frenchness. The five of us concluded by perambulating around the gardens of the Palais Royal, at which point we parted ways as the tears flowed like ambrosia.

We didn't get lost at all Paris, but upon returning to Gent...

I also went to Amsterdam.

And now I am leaving. Sadness overwhelms me, yet I feel as though I've grown, from the culture and the wisdom to which I've been exposed here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Deutche Marchen Strasse: An Analytic Evaluation

Well. Some think that fairy tales are merely the distraught illusions of a childish imagination, or, in a more sinister light, lofty attempts at teaching morality to young children in the form of parables.

But I beg you to reconsider, and throw your previous notions of the fantastical in literature out the window.

For the past three days, we have been voyagers on the world-famous Fairy Tale Road in Germany.

You'll notice two figures in the photo at right with odd expressions on their faces. They are named Shtuffel and Toffel. They were the anthropomorphized potato-sack mascots of the restaurant we first ate at, enjoying schnitzel and potato pancakes. Shtuffel is the more extroverted of the two, while Toffel, though quieter, is constantly thinking of ingenious schemes to get out of his responsibilities.

These blessed creatures, preyed on in the wild by vicious predators such as leopard seals, are penguins. We saw them at an animal park in Germany filled to the brim and overflowing, even, with the fauna of Europe. Except for penguins, which are from the Antarctic (mostly). Also wallabies, which are from Australia. And some chinchillas, native to South America.

Situated directly above this incredible, breathtaking slice of the animal kingdom was the castle in which, according to legend, Sleeping Beauty was imprisoned in her own dreams (raped and impregnated multiple times, in some accounts).  This is it.

Here is a list of everything else we did:
  • get lost
  • yell
  • playfully mock the German language
  • visit the fairy-tale towns of Alsfeld, Homberg/Efze, Trendelburg, Fritzlar, Oberweser, Polle, and Hameln
  • get lost
  • yell
  • eat Germknodel
  • get lost
  • yell
It should be of note to all who value fairy tale lore and everything that encompasses that the fairy tale
museum of Alsfeld is a major fairy tale destination with its own collection of fairy-tale related antiquities, such as (but not limited to):
  • Rapunzel's braid
  • themed rooms of Little Red Riding, Snow White, Bremen Town Musicians, Sleeping Beauty, etc.
  • several dollhouses
  • and many fairy tales we didn't recognize

And finally...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Changing of the Guard; A Vague Pithy Title that Doesn't Relate to the Topic at All

Ben is visiting this week, and he has generously agreed to take over the responsiblities and obligations of the blog. So...

Well, I arrived today and I have been entranced once again by the majesty of the golden nation of Belgium. Upon exiting the terminal, I was forced by nothing other than fate to wait for an hour and a half for my parents to pick me up (because they suffered some most-likely falsified traffic dramas).

After this introduction to the passenger pickup area of the Brussels airport, we went into Brussels and saw many many things. Photos phollow:

In short, we ate waffles of the Belgian variety, enjoyed the grandeur of the Grand-Place, and bathed in the pee of the Mannikin Pis.

Allow me to touch upon a part of the trip that is surely notable. Car rides, especially in urban areas, especially in standard-shift cars, can be riddled with strife, chaos, and indignity.

About Gent, the place I visited after Brussels and am currently residing in and enjoying with my parents and...oh, this sentence is way too long.

We drank raspberry beer and due to my jet lag, I attempted to take a short nap. After sleeping a total of ten minutes, I was awakened with raspberry beer and went with Phil to explore the finer points of the city. I could describe to you what I saw in words, but I'd rather do so in feelings: pure emotion. Happy. Amazed. Shocked! Surprised!! If these emotional adjectives do not convey the exact mental image of the architecture and artistry of the city, perhaps the following fotos will:

If they didn't, let me describe in excruciating detail everything I did in Gent:
drank beer
drank beer
saw carnival
got my writing micromanaged

See, followers, there's something you're not entirely aware of. Though I've taken command of this blog in spirit and name, I'm still subject to the whims and illogical, ungrounded syntactical judgments of the blog owner.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Rain It Raineth

But that doesn't stop us! Phil was determined to take some photos of Gent landmarks, so out we went, armed with umbrellas. We didn't count on the wind, which destroyed umbrella #1 in moments. In fact, the streets were littered with umbrella bones, though most people we passed disdained the
parapluie, as proper Belgians should.

First, of course, we stopped for hot chocolate.

Then we walked down to this amazing 17th century building near the Korenmarkt, adorned with dancing demons that look ancient but are not.

Next I managed (sort of ) to photograph the Gent golden dragon atop the Belfort. Legend has it that it was brought from Constantinople in the Middle Ages and won in a war between Gent and neighboring Bruges. The dragon's fiery breath wouldn't have done much harm today.

Neptune rises from the canal and swivels, a little alarmingly, in the wind. He's actually the symbol of the Gent tourist office.

This is the Dulle Griet, a medieval cannon named after a legendary Flemish character, Mad Meg. Supposedly, she led an army of women to pillage Hell and was immortalized in a painting by Pieter Breughel the elder. A bad-tempered woman is called Griet in Flanders, implying that she could plunder hell and return unscathed. I am sure this is meant to be an insult, but I admire it. I am considering changing my name.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

We first came to Belgium twenty-five years ago, when Phil was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at the University of Liege. That's on the French (Walloon) side of the country. We lived in Liege for a year, in an apartment above a bakery, which is sort of like living upstairs from heaven (if heaven made its own chocolates).

The brothels are off to the right
Our dear friends Pierre and Christianne from Liege invited to come back this weekend. Pierre was our host on that long-ago Fulbright. It was our first visit to Liege in twelve years, and things have changed at least a little. There's a bizarrely modern new train station -- but it's still surrounded by the dozens of brothels that were there a quarter-century ago.


Pierre and Christianne feted us with a cheese dinner. Cheese dinners don't happen in Dutchess County -- or in the rest of the U.S., from what I can tell. (I googled "cheese dinner," and only ads for Kraft Mac & Cheese came up.) Basically, it's just what it sounds like: an entire dinner of cheese. We had 8 fabulous cheeses, ordered from a special fromagerie, which progressed from mild (a Belgian goat cheese) to intense (a very strong Roquefort).  Phil was entranced by the lavender and honey chevres, while I loved the Brillat-Savarin.

The damage done
There were, of course, accompanying champagnes and wines, breads, dates, and grapes. It ended with an astonishing fizzy dessert featuring candied lemon peel, sorbet and prosecco, which we will attempt to duplicate when we return. Friends Michel and Elisabeth were also guests (he teaches at the university and she works there), and we ate cheese and talked till one in the morning.

Two pups out of three

And they had the best dogs...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Voyeur's Paradise

I love the windows in Belgium. Many, especially in Wallonia, are partially covered with curtains of beautiful white embroidered lace, allowing the passer-by a momentary glimpse of the room within -- sometimes ordinary, sometimes lighted or tiled like a Vermeer painting.

But there are windows that are different...


Or strange,

Or downright creepy.