Brussels/Berlin 2023

Thursday 27th July 2023 – Being an Art Lover

The breakfast provided at the hostel was surprisingly good. It was buffet style with toast, ham, cheese, jam, scrambled egg, bacon pieces, and cereal. I helped myself, poured a coffee and enjoyed.

To describe the weather using the wonderful Scottish word “driech” would be an understatement. The drizzle seemed to simultaneously hang in the air and rain down at the same time. The result of this was a soaking, so any outdoor activity was very much out of the question.

Thankfully, I had an informer. My friend Athole lives in Brussels with his family and we were to meet in the evening. Seeing the weather, he suggested a number of museums including the “Fine Arts Museum”. Now, I would be honest in saying that I’ve never really explored this area of art in any way. In fact, the big art museums tend to be places I would avoid. I have a particular memory of visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris as a teenager on a school trip and being quite bored.

Nevertheless, I chose to challenge myself for a bit. Worst case scenario, I would be in the dry and I could keep my visit short if I wanted to.

I started on the lower level with the artwork of René Magritte. Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist during  approximately the first half of the 20th century. He in fact painted in a number of styles but is probably most famous for clouds, pipes, and bowler hats. The exhibition of his work was a temporary one as a wing of the museum was being refurbished for a permanent exhibition. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the work and perhaps the smaller display was a good thing for me by way of an introduction. I particularly enjoyed the “Sky Bottle” with the clouds which, even I recognised. I also enjoyed some of the work he’d been commissioned to paint. Obviously, this is a common revenue generation technique for an artist. In Magritte’s case, it seemed that he would take the subject he had been commissioned to paint (often a family member of the person commissioning) and incorporate them into his own style, including things like the spheres and candles he was known for. I also enjoyed a number of his human studies, particularly those where the subject was multiple colours.

After viewing Magritte’s work, I took myself upstairs to look at the work of some of the “Dutch Masters”. This term is generally used for artwork from the 1600s by a large number of artists when The Netherlands was the “Dutch Republic”. I was very much expecting to “whiz through” this area of the museum but in fact, I enjoyed a number of works. I was surprised that many religious works caught my eye, depicting Bible stories I knew well from my Sunday School days. In particular, there were annunciations, crucifixions abound, along with many “Madonna and Child” depictions. There were also a number of artworks taking inspiration from mythology. Some of this I recognised from a book of Green and Norse myths and legends that I still own and dip in to often right up to the present day. Facial expressions jumped out at me a lot, whether it be the pain of torture, the happiness of parenthood or the hedonistic joy of a party. I very much enjoyed my visit and was pleased to have accepted this cultural challenge.

Afterwards, I enjoyed coffee and a cookie at a local establishment before heading to the Museum of Erotics and Mythology. I won’t go in to too much detail as to what I saw at this location but suffice to say little was left to the imagination. This small museum really showcases the fact that the things we often think of as sexually strange and unusual in the modern age are utterly nothing new and in fact, humans have been experimenting with their sexuality in all ways since the dawn of time. Much was seen and some was learnt.

It was then Metro line 1 that took me to Stockel, the area of Brussels where my friend Athole lives with his wife Katy, and their two children. It was so lovely to see them after many years. I don’t think I’ve seen them since before The Pandemic.

Athole cooked a Chinese inspired dinner. The children and I made dumplings which were then thrown into boiling water and consumed. It was a fabulous meal accompanied by some very nice Belgian beer. The world was set to as-close-to-rights-as-we-could-get-it. 

Athole was kind enough to walk me back to the metro station, killing two birds with the proverbial one stone by walking the dog at the same time. I made my rather wiggly way back to the hostel and set my alarm, ready to catch the train the next morning.


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