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Sunday, May 13, 2012

King of the Elephants (and Some Beer)

A fabulous day in Brussels. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Belgian chapter, invited us to an exhibit celebrating Babar the Elephant at the Centre de Litterature de Jeunesse de Bruxelles, so off we went. It's a wonderful little library, overseen by a man whose name I didn't get (we arrived a little late and he was lecturing in French, so I wasn't about to interrupt). He has collected some 85,000 French children's books, many very old, many very special, and is involved in trying to preserve their legacy.

The exhibit involved works by Belgian artists inspired by the de Brunhoffs' work, and we learned some things about Babar we didn't know (or I think we learned them; it WAS  all in French). For example: the first Babar story was created by de Brunhoff's wife to comfort their son when he was sick.

And: these pages, depicting the murder of Babar's mother by hunters, were excised from the original book for many years because of their excessive violence. Also: de Brunhoff's son is still living in NY and working (at 84!), illustrating the Babar books his wife writes. We also chatted about the difference between European and American children's books, which led to a rather interesting discussion on censorship.

We then traipsed down to the Grand Place to drink and buy beer. Passed a bus full of rolicking, highly inebriated people on the way to a gay tea dance, but we weren't dressed for it, so we decided not to join them.

Instead we stopped in at St. Michael's cathedral, which we hadn't seen in 25 years. And then we found the Delirium bars, a series of pubs dedicated to beers, absinthe, gin, rum, and pastis. We stuck with beer (well, we might have tried the absinthe one, but it didn't open till 10 p.m.).

Crowds of tourists kept coursing past us, and finally we crept among them to discover a strange little statue in a shady corner, the feminist answer to Brussel's famous Mannekin Pis -- the Jeanneke Pis.

You've all seen Phil's Wall o' Beer, but you might not know that when we're in a cafe, I am often assigned the task of removing labels with my fingernails. It's a tough job (and frowned upon by bar owners), but I'm resigned to it. At the Delirium Monasterium, which serves only Abbey beers, they caught me -- and then offered to soak off the labels for us! When we asked, they told us that other insane people have done the same thing.

Wait -- does this mean there are other Walls o' Beer out there?

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