An Eastward Homage, Day 23: Old Masters and Older Conflicts

June 18, 2014, Brussels-This day, I resolved to explore the royal aspects of life In Brussels, as much as possible.  Also on the agenda was a visit to the Baha’i National Centre of Belgium, which was listed as being  a bit north of the Royal Palace.  First, though, I searched for a cybercafe, as, if you recall, this trusty laptop of mine was on the blink.  My query produced gales of laughter at a self-styled “chic bakery”, but the Discover Flanders tourist office proved helpful, and an hour was spent catching up on the words and wisdom of my g-mail correspondents.

To start my walkabout, I left the area around Grand Place, after helping a group of school kids from Germany identify a landmark or two.  Crossing Place Albertine and the area near La Gare Centrale, I came upon gurgling fountains,

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a demure Queen Elisabeth of Belgium,

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a stern King Albert,

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Don Quixote with SanchoPanza,SAM_1306

and a gleeful Smurf.

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The steps past La Bibliotheque Royale de Belgique led to the first of three lovely gardens.

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Brussels is a constant interplay between concrete desert and lush greenery.  The courtyard of the National Museum is certainly among the former.

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Angels and cherubs break the almost Soviet-esque feel of the building.SAM_1270

Someone also had the idea of planting a hedgerow in view of the Old England Pub, across from the Museum.SAM_1272

I was given the selection from among three art museums:  Magritte, Modern Art and Old Masters.  I chose the third, spending two hours and thirty minutes among the likes of Rembrandt, van Eyck, Vermeer and Reubens. The last offered a striking, for the 15th Century, view of four African men, each in Northern Renaissance garb, entitled “Four Views of a Moor”.  I stood for several minutes, pondering what it must have been like for Africans in the north of Europe at that time.  The era somewhat predated the slave trade, so perhaps life was not so bad for them, if they were indeed treated as human beings, equal to the Flemish and French.  I could have used another two and a half hours, but closing time is what it is.

I had also spent an hour in Belvue, the museum of Belgian History.  Here, the focus was on the country since its independence, in 1830.  The constant interplay between Fleming and Walloon, elite and peasant, business and labour is all outlined, along three floors and in ten galleries.  There is no mincing words about Leopold II, the dour overlord of the Congo, and his depredations in that hapless land.  Leopold III, infamous in Allied circles during World War II, for his surrender to the Nazis, is given a bit more leniency by the Belgian people nowadays.  Many see him as having wanted to stay and suffer with the common folk.  He may well have wanted to also act as a counter to the twin Belgian Fascists, Jef van der Wiele, of the Flemish, and Leon Degrelle, of the Walloons.  Regardless, after the war, Leopold was unable to keep the throne, giving way to his brother, Charles I and then to his son, Baudouin II. Of the two Nazi collaborators, neither were apologetic after the war.  Van der Wiele spent the rest of his life as a prisoner and parolee.  Degrelle was basically a “guest” of Spain, from 1944, until his death in 1994.

Parc de Brussels, across from the museums, is another grand oasis and respite from the overabundance of concrete and stone.

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The Madonna and Child, with Cherubs, take a spot in the center of the park.SAM_1284

This gazebo is the centerpiece for concerts, on cool summer nights.SAM_1286

Many a person would have loved to have dived into this lovely pool.

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Coudenberg Palace was once the seat of the Dukes of Brabant, the province around Brussels. Today, it houses a couple of museums of royal life.

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A curiosity in the Square de Coudenberg is a statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, a sketchy character from the days of the Crusades.  He stands in front of L’Eglise Saint Jacques sur Coudenberg.

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The Academy Palace, across from Parc de Brussels, was built for William of Orange, in recognition of his services at the Battle of Waterloo.  He didn’t enjoy it for long, though.  The Belgian people sent him packing in 1830, and became independent of the Netherlands, as we have seen.

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I am no great fan of Neoclassical, or Protosoviet, architecture.  The Royal Palace built by Leopold I, and kept by his successors, is much more regal.

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Making my way to the address listed online for the Baha’i National Center, I found it was neither Baha’i, nor any kind of a center.  Two young construction workers explained they were renovating it, and had no idea who the next tenants would be.  The Baha’is, they said, were “somewhere northeast of here”.  ( I would find the correct address later that evening.  The actual center will be featured in my next post.)

The day ended with a visit to L’Eglise de la Madeleine.

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I did not seek out Mannekin-Pis.  It is not the image I wish to convey of the people of Brussels, no matter how I might have giggled and chortled at it, when I was ten or eleven, looking through my grand-aunt’s “Travels Abroad”.  I did find this little gem, though, near Belvue.

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With that, I took a bus back to Grand Place, and enjoyed dinner at a brasserie.

4 thoughts on “An Eastward Homage, Day 23: Old Masters and Older Conflicts

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