Friday, February 13, 2009

Morning in Bruges. What a nice thing to experience. Overcast, slow pace, and quite a museum space. The Saint Johns Hospital was begun in the 1100s to tend to the poor and indigent. Ten centuries later the building still retains some of its original bricks and mortar but now it is a showcase for a slice of Flemish art which had its apogee a few hundred years ago. Notably, there are six Hans Memling works here and each one is a treasure. Memling, whose work recalls Lucas Cranach to me, painted mostly altarpieces in the late 1400s, and one of the most spectacular works of this sort to survive is on display here. Even in a cold February drizzle it draws a fair share of onlookers. Best of the bunch for me, however, is his portrait of a young woman. It is brilliant. No photographs however, even without flash, are permitted in any part of this massive old hospital/church/social center, and so to preserve memories there are coffee table books and other nice pieces for purchase. I added to my art library with one small book. Across the square may be found a collection of works by an artist as far away from Memling as it is possible to get: Salvador Dali. Think of it, Memling and Dali sharing the same square. And whereas you cannot take a camera near Memling, they point out as you arrive to see Dali that pictures are encouraged. Even from beyond, Dali still markets himself. Really this is a very nice assortment of original oils, water colors and pencil and ink sketches, plus numerous numbered and signed lithographs. Worth a stop. The centuries may not be as kind to Senor Dali as they have been to Memling, but you have to give him credit for his public egocentricism. In trying to sort out all this surrealism it is useful to remember one of Dali’s dozens of wonderful quotes which accompany most any display of his art. He said, “The fact that I myself do not understand the meaning of my paintings at the same time that I am painting them does not mean that they have no meaning.” So there! Even he did not know what on earth they all are about. One minor regret: I did not allow enough time to pay a visit and my respects to the Museum for French Fries. Darn! Can’t dance every dance.
I took a 4:00 p.m. train to Brussels, arriving at 5:00 p.m. right on the money. And right on the spot, as my hotel is about a two-minute walk from the train station. That fact was pointed out to me by a would-be taxi driver who said I could get there quicker on foot than with him. The hotel, La Dixseptieme, is beautiful.
Well recommended and justly so. Something I look for in a hotel in a city I have not visited is its location. It is good to be able to walk out the door and find all the things you want to have a look at, and all the restaurants and museums and concert halls close at hand. Such is the case with this very pretty place. When in Brussels, have the mussels. Near the center of town and just across the way from the hotel is an wonderful and lively Restaurant Row of sorts, with something to suit every price point. Here you can see an assortment. Couples in high style, couples with little style at all. It is one of the most festive areas of any city I have seen in some time. Not many cars, just mostly lots of people out for dinner and looking to be swayed by restauranteurs out selling, and trying to outsell the establishment just next door. A lot of fun and energy here. I picked Vincents, which has a window displaying hanging red meat on one end and mussels and other catches of the day on the other. The hotel had recommended this place and it also got high marks from my guidebooks. Good choice. Great mussels, fresh from the North Sea. Wine and fresh baked bread complimented a special meal and a grand introduction to this big, lumbering, lively metropolis. I look forward to daytime and more discoveries.

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