Thursday, October 8, 1987

1987 Low Countries: Brussels (10/8/1987)

Thursday, October 8, 1987
We left after breakfast at about 9:30 when the rain let up. Caught the bus, changed to the Metro to the Park station to come up in Parc de Bruxelles, which was once a hunting ground for the Dukes of Brabant, but in the 1700s was transformed into a French landscape, a formal park with the Palais de la Nation, the National Parliament built in 1783 with finishing design touches by Barnabé Guimard. Lots of trees, some being trained into fences.
Espaliered trees
We couldn’t see the Royal Palace at the other end of the park because of the trees. Found the Palais des Beaux Arts, which we thought was the fine arts museum. The building had a sort of Turkish façade, done in 1928 by architect Horta, and it contained the concert hall, exhibition hall, restaurant, and theaters. On a side street was the entrance to the Museum de la Cinema with evening screenings. This also was not the fine arts museum, but did have a special Europalia exhibit of the Treasures of the Golden Fleece, a sovereign order, where they had large paintings of various members, some pieces of armor, gold-embroidered vestments, and some marvelously illustrated volumes (rule books of the order, etc.). The gold treasures included intricate chains, pendants, cape hooks, a child’s necklace, an elaborate collar called Patence with small gold plates decorated with coats of arms, and the Cross of Oath made entirely of gold with pearls, rubies, and sapphires, each about the size of a fingernail! There was a Face to Face exhibit of artwork from Vienna, Austria including a variety from classical to modern art on subjects like martyrism, the Cross, eroticism, psyche, etc. We had to pay 250 BEF/$6.60 entrance fee, and I had to check my camera for 20 BEF/53 cents.
Europalia ticket
When we went outside, it was pouring rain, and the wind was blowing hard. We hurried to the Art Museum, but ended up at the entrance of the Modern Art Museum, which we didn’t want. We walked down Rue du Musée/Museum Street to see the clean white façade of the National Library. Finally found the Classical Art Museum across from St Jacques, but on Rue de la Regence. We went to the special Gustav Klimt exhibit for 200 BEF/$5.25 each.
Klimt ticket
We had seen his “Judith” in the Face to Face exhibit. This was an extensive exhibit on the great master of the Wiener Secession. Started with pencil sketches and drawings, then on to the paintings through several styles (Kent said practice makes perfect!) from unique mythical, classical to Impressionism, the latter suddenly very colorful. He had a unique monogram.
The Europalia is a periodic exhibition of art and music, where a city or country is highlighted with their master art/artists and orchestras are brought to Brussels to display and perform throughout Belgium. This year is Vienna, Austria. The classical art rooms of the museum were closed, so we went to the restaurant that offered some hot meals. We shared a quiche Lorraine with mushrooms, along with a salad of tomato and watercress, and a helping of Bouchée de la Reine, a puff pastry cup overflowing with a nutmeg-y chicken a la king in a cream sauce. Since it is so wet here, mushrooms must do well! We paid 315 BEF/$8.30 and found a table to ourselves. At 13:00, we went up to see the Medieval Art that had just opened, although not all the lights were turned on. First the 15-16th century to see the so-called primitives with Rogier van der Weyden, Dieric Bouts, and Hans Memling portraits. Lots of masters of this and that! Van der Weyden had realistic, expressive faces, and, like Memling, clean-lined portraits. Bouts did a couple panels on commission for the town hall of Louvain, where the subject was when Emperor Otto was deceived by his wife and had an innocent courtier beheaded. The widow submitted to the fire ordeal to prove the innocence of her husband, by holding a hot iron without being burned. Saw a van der Goes, and several St Sebastians, a couple Gerard Davids, and many Jan Gossaerts. Came to the Bosch paintings, one of Christ on the Cross, and his masterpiece, the three panel Temptation of St Anthony with his typical surrealistic figures. There were some Lucas Cranachs, including another Adam and Eve. And on and on. Saw Pourbus portraits, the last of the Bruges primitives. The new rooms for classical art were supposedly in the palace of Charles Lorraine.
Next was the Pieter Breugel room with Bosch-like Fall of the Rebel Angels. He tended to have simplistic rural paintings, placing religious scenes in snowy lowlands. We noticed two copies of the Counting at Bethlehem. Saw his Landscape and Fall of Icarus, carrying a moral lesson. A couple of the younger Breugel paintings, very much like his father. Also Kermesse Flamande/Town Life, and Kindermoord/Slaughter of the Innocents, another religious subject placed in rural Flanders.
We were a bit satiated, so whizzed through the 17th and 18th centuries to find the Peter Paul Rubens room, full of giant paintings, including the Martyrdom of St Livinius, having his tongue cut out and fed to the dogs, with a red cap in the middle of the painting. Typical fluffy people, celestial subjects, and some landscapes. Did manage to see the art of Jacob Jordaens, and a couple Anthony van Dyck portraits including one of sculptor Frans Duquesnoy who did the Mannekin Pis. And a Frans Hals portrait.
We found our way to the Modern Art building, which goes eight floors underground. Mostly French and Belgian, with a few from elsewhere. We went specifically to see René Magritte, but the lights weren’t on in his room, which was too bad since he is a favorite of Kent. From what we overheard, they were having problems with the electricity. Saw some Paul Delvaux surrealism, and a Salvador Dali (another Temptation of Anthony). On our way out, we came upon the Impressionist James Ensor, a couple paintings by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagalls.
Finally out in the fresh air where the rain had cleared, but the wind was still biting. At the end of the street was the Palais de Justice (1866-1863), known to be the ugliest building in Europe, designed by 19th century architect Joseph Poelaert who wanted the dome (now technical home of Eurovision relays) to be a pyramid. Larger than St Peters at the Vatican, it is in eclectic Greco-Roman style. We walked down to Notre Dame du Sablon, a “small” Gothic chapel built by crossbowmen in 1304. It took a century to finish it. After entering, saw a statue of St Hubert with a stag at his side, the patron saint of hunters. The church is supposed to be built on a site where a woman had a legendary vision. Vaulted stone ceilings in late Gothic style, with rococo decorations.
Notre Dame du Sablon
Across the street to Place du Petit Salon with wrought-iron railings with 48 statuettes representing each of the guilds.
Place du Petit Sablon
Guild statues
We tried guessing the trades, but could only get the obvious ones. In the center of the square were neat gardens, and towards the back a statue of the pals and Counts, Lamarol d’Egmont and William de Horne, who were beheaded when they objected to Spanish persecution.
Counts d'Egmont and de Horne
They were surrounded by a semi-circle of statues of 14-17th century Belgian scientists. Behind the square was the Palais d’Egmont/Egmont Palace, now a semi-public office building. 
Palais d'Egmont (1548-1560)
We walked through and found our way to the gardens where there is a replica (1924) of George Frampton’s Peter Pan statue given by the London children to the children of Brussels.
Peter Pan
The palace was once visited by Louis XV, Voltaire, and Swedish Queen Christina. We exited to walk along the Boulevard of Waterloo with expensive shops, movie theaters, etc. Back over to Place du Grand Sablon with cafés, bookstores, and antique shops.
Place du Grand Sablon
Storm clouds behind Notre Dame du Sablon
The sun came out, but the wind was still fierce, and when we passed sandblasters, we got sand in our hair, pockets, and shoes! Walked to the 12th century church of Notre Dame de la Chapelle, with the tomb of Pieter Breugel the Elder, which was closed.
Notre Dame de la Chapelle
Followed Keizerlaan to glimpse the 12th century bulwark tower, Tour d’Angle.
Made our way to the minute Mannekin Pis who was wearing a uniform of a concierge, and had a stuffed dog on a leash.
Mannekin Pis
A group of Japanese amassed around the iconic tiny statue of the pissing boy.
Japanese tourists
We bought a silly little Mannekin Pis figure with an air bulb so that you can squeeze water through him! Larger ones are available for wine or beer! It is said that a king immortalized his son in this position in which he was last seen before being killed. A symbol of the rights of man, it was kidnapped by the French in 1695. The statuette was made by François Duquesnoy in 1619, and it also symbolizes the irreverence of the people of Brussels.
Next to the truly impressive Grand Place, surrounded by 17th century guildhouses with cornices and gold leaf, having been rebuilt after being destroyed by French troops in 1695. One of the most beautiful squares in the world, according to Jean Cocteau and/or Victor Hugo! The Town Hall was built in 1402-1455 in Gothic style with a 320-foot belfry tower topped by a copper St Michael (patron saint of the city) crushing the devil beneath his feet (1454, by Martin van Rode). Over the gate, statues of prophets and females representing Peace, Prudence, Justice, Strength, Temperance, and Law, by Claus Sluter in the 14th century.
The guildhouses were a mixture of French and Italian Renaissance styles decorated in Flemish Baroque. Standing with our backs to the Town Hall, to our left was a row of buildings beginning with Le Renard/The Fox (haberdashery), La Corne/The Horn (boatmen with ship poop gable), La Louve/The She-Wolf (archers), and #4 was Le Sac/The Sack (for carpenters and coopers, the only original dating to 1645. Next La Brouette/The Wheelbarrow (greasers) and the larger Le Roi d'Espagne/King of Spain for bakers (St Hubert was also their patron saint).
Guilds left to right: The Horn, The She-Wolf, The Sac,
The Wheelbarrow, The King of Spain, and The Ass (KSS)
Continuing around the square, across from us were the La Bourrique/The Ass, The Saint-Barbe, Le Chêne/The Oak, Le Petit Renard/The Little Fox, Le Paon/The Peacock, and La Barre/The Helm.
Guilds left to right: The King of Spain, The Ass, The Saint-Barbe,
The Oak, The Little Fox, The Peacock, The Helm, and
part of Le Maison du Roi/King's House (KSS)
Next the Maison du Roi, the 16th century flamboyant Gothic style King’s House built in 1873. It was the scene of Charles V’s abdication in 1555 to his son Philip II of Spain. Charles V was an enemy of French kings and headed an empire from Austria to Peru. He spent the rest of his life as a monk in Yuste. The King’s House is now the Municipal Museum, which contains, among other things, the 300 plus outfits for the Mannekin Pis figure, including a gold-embroidered one from Louis XV.
Then there was the Le Petite Salle de Juge Ammans/Small Room of Judge Ammans with the Brabant coat of arms, and Le Pigeon/The Pigeon (painters) where Victor Hugo lived in 1852 during his exile after the fall of the French government. Le Galion d'Or/The Golden Galleon (tailors), L'Ange/The Angel (now a lace shop), Joseph and Anne, and on the corner, Le Cerf-volant/The Kite (now housing Godiva Chocolatier).
On our right side was The House of Dukes of Brabant with individual houses being La Bourse/The Purse, La Colline/The Hill (stoneworkers), Le Pot d'Étain/The Pewter Pot (carpenters), Le Moulin à Vent/The Windmill (millers), The Fortune (tanners), The Hermitage, and finally La Renommée/The Renowned.
Guilds from left to right: The Purse, The Hill, The Pewter Pot,
The Fortune, The Hermitage, and The Renowned
On our right next to the Town Hall, starting from the far side were Le Mont Thabor/The Mount Tabor (private), The Rose (also private), and L’Arbre d'Or/The Golden Tree (once tanners, then upholsterers, and finally the brewers), a house topped with an equestrian statue of Charles of Lorraine. Then Le Cygne/The Swan (butchers) with a swan sculpture, L’Etoile/The Star (chief justice). Under the colonnade of the last building is a memorial to Everaert’t Serelaes, an alderman who died as a result of a 1388 revolt he led. A statue of him with his dog is rubbed for luck and is shiny in spots. Saw Brussel sprouts in the markets.
We checked out a restaurant in the basement of The Renowned, but it was closed until 18:30. We went down the alley of Bouchers, to pick out a restaurant. Not many were open at this hour, so we stopped in La Bigourneau because they had a fire going in the center of the small place. A sign in the door indicated menus in several languages including English, but the waiter gave us French menus and would only speak in French. We managed to order a pot of mussels with garlic, steamed with a broth with several greens, but not very strong with garlic. Delicious little mussels, about 60 or so. We also had a waterzooi de Turbot, a waterzooi being a cream soup, usually with chicken if Ghent style, but we got it with Turbot, a large flat flounder-like fish. Very good, with potatoes, carrots, celery, onions in a tomato base with lots of cream. We shared both dishes which were a long time in coming. I got a glass of Vittel (no gas mineral water) and Kent got a Wiel’s Pilsener. The waiter was not at all accommodating. We left 1100 BEF/$28.95 for the 1030 BEF/$27.10 bill.
La Bigorneau receipt
We walked in search of the Female Pis, but saw no signs of it. Ended up at the Royal Galleries St Hubert (1846), the oldest arcade in Europe, very impressive in size. Stopped in a chocolate shop to try a couple chocolates for 26 BEF/70 cents, one with a pecan marshmallow center (shaped like a pecan shell), and one with a maple-flavored soft center and a nut. It was pouring rain again as we lost our breath looking at the prices of crystal in a shop window. Went back to Grand Place to the Godiva shop to buy souvenirs chocolates. Decided to head home because of the rain, and wandered back through a maze-like arcade of trendy shops. Saw tin soldiers, but expensive, and no troops that we recognized. At the Central Station, we took old wooden-framed escalators down to the Metro. The Brussels Metro is supposed to have the most comfortable seats in the world; they are comfortable. Changed to the bus and got off at Marcel Thiry, walking back up the hill to a little grocery store to get a variety of Belgian beers for Kent to sample, and also some chocolate bars.
The name Brussels comes from Broeck-sele, meaning brook dwellings. It was started on the River Senne, which is now underground. Brussels is cosmopolitan, home to the seat of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Coordinating Committee (ECC), and the Benelux Union. The US has ambassadors not only to Belgium, but to NATO and the ECC as well. The Belgians drink 120 liters/32 gallons of beer per capita per year, and Pils(ener) is their ordinary beer. Geuze is bottled and Lambic is on tap. Kent tried an Orval, a Trappist monk beer that looked like iced tea with a big head. Not great with a wine-y taste. Some of the beers have Coca-Cola undertones, some are made with oranges. One third of the country’s 189 breweries are in the Brabant province. Kent also tried a Belle Vue Geuze, also light in color, which was good. Kent looked up Geuze in Tom’s beer guide to learn it means “wild,” which means it naturally ferments. He tried an unremarkable Special Palm, brewed in Brabant. The Puur chocolate bar was a delicious dark chocolate of the Côte d’Or brand. We read a report in the embassy newsletter about the Treasures of the Golden Fleece, describing it as a chivalric order, a community of Knights founded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, on January 10, 1430, in Bruges, on the occasion of his marriage to Isabel of Portugal. The ruler of the order was to always be a Duke of Burgundy. Philip wanted to give his court a noble distinction, with the romance and fantasy associated with knights of the Crusades. Philip established the order to lead a crusade against the Turks, but it never materialized. The order was linked to the Catholic faith in belief and ceremony. It later split into Spanish and Austrian factions in the 18th century. The Austrians possessed the order’s archives including the Cross of Oath, dating to 1401.
After Tom came home from work, Kent “tried” another Stella Artois beer.
Map of Brussels

Next: Antwerp.

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