Monday, May 23, 2011

Traveling to Brussels

Sooner or later I knew Paris would end and we would be heading to Brussels.  I've only been to Brussels twice, and both times to the airport, which I don't really think qualifies.  I was most interested in going to the museum there and, on a more light-hearted note, having the original 'french' fries at Maison Antoine- and possibly with Eddy Merckx if I spotted him.

 After packing I left Paris on a bus and settled into doing some sketching while listening to Adele.  I was really fired up on some new ideas for my figure paintings after lecturing at the Musee Rodin and wanted to commit them to paper. My lines looked like Daumier sketches riding the bus! It was good to go "inside" and start thinking about some ideas that were percolating.  Looking out the window was pretty plain so no distractions there.  For the most part the country side was fairly common interspersed with wind farms like this one.

Arriving in Belgium I was happy to see cycling imagery alive and well in the city.  I didn't have time to search out any cycling stores, but imagine there are many.  It was nice seeing all of the Giro d'Italia updates on the tv news even though there was too much Contador for me.

We stayed in a wonderful hotel that is not advertised.  Many diplomats and figures stay here on business trips due to all of the EU functions hosted here. The place was well equipped with numeric-coded locks at the main door and my room was really set up nicely with WI-FI, full bathroom (can't tell you how wonderful a 30 minute bath is after only having a shower for two weeks) and a queen sized bed with Tempur-pedic mattress.  In addition they had a stocked kitchen that we were able to have full access to- free of charge.

I had a window that let in a lot of light and provided a view on the enclosed courtyard.

First stop walking through Brussels was at the famous Maison Antoine to taste the original french fry.  A close friend tells me they are twice fried.  (As your close friend I can tell you they are delicious!) They came with a number of dipping sauces including curry.  We each got a little basket and beers were ordered all around.  I tried a cherry beer to help wash them down.

We went to the Grand Place that evening. It was brimming with people as we walked through many  narrow streets.  The cafes and restaurants were starting to fill up and had many displays like this one.

The first thing to know about consumption in Brussels is that beer, waffles, chocolate and mussels reign supreme.  For me, I could use these as a food group strategy! They are all outstanding from what I tried. My friend had me try the belgian waffles with her at Findlay Market back in Cincinnati this spring and they were amazing as well (all of her suggestions have been great :)).  However, these bad boys in Brussels were really loaded and must have weighed a half a pound!

I did manage to take some photos of the Grand Place at night and it was even more stunning with the lights. Here are two pics from the many I shot in the piazza.

Several of us went looking in search of the Delirium Cafe.  The cafe has pink dancing elephants for its logo and over 2500 (!) in stock including 25+ on tap.

The place was located at the end of a street and was really busy.  The downstairs was so smokey and busy that many of us decided to go back upstairs.

The next day we set out for the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium ( I had never noticed any paintings being there so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I guessed they might have some Rubens, some Flemish stuff, maybe some Metsu or Maes and some filler. Wow.  I underestimated the collection...BIG TIME.  Look at these babies!

They had some amazing paintings that I don't have here including some huge Rubens' paintings.  If I can clean some of the photos up, I might add them here later.

We spent the remaining part of the day shopping for souvenirs. and managed to get clear photo of the famous "Boy peeing" sculpture.  The strange subject celebrates the myth of the little boy peeing on a lit stick of dynamite to help save the city, but there are many more listed on wikipedia:

There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city. There was at the time (middle of the 15th century, perhaps as early as 1388) a similar statue made of stone. The statue was stolen several times. In 1619 it was replaced by the current bronze statue, created by Franco-Flemish Baroque sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy, father of the more famous François of the same last name.
Another story (told often to tourists) tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing. The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden. The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the fountain built.
Another legend was that a small boy went missing from his mother when shopping in the centre of the city. The woman, panic-stricken by the loss of her child, called upon everyone she came across, including the mayor of the city. A city-wide search began and when at last the child was found, he was urinating on the corner of a small street. The story was passed down over time and the statue erected as tribute to the well known fable.
Another legend tells of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king's castle from burning down.

In the end Brussels was enjoyable and provided some down time, though I was already longing to go back to Paris, and dreading saying goodbye to all of the students and people I had grown so close to in sharing these experiences.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Latin Quarter and Vietnamese

I feel very lucky to have met such wonderful people on this trip.  One of my favorites has been Varena Forcione, a former assistant curator from the Louvre's Inventory of the Department of Prints and Drawings. She worked for a number years as an assistant on northern 16th century Italian drawing.  She and I had a wonderful chat over Vietnamese food last week.  The conversation quickly got into Italian artists we loved and discussed our mutual love of Pontormo.

I had mentioned several of the Ingres and Delaroche drawings that were at out on display during a visit to the Louvre and that I was considering copying some Ingres drawings next year.  Varena suggested I determine a list of drawings that I am considering and when I arrive the box will be there with the drawings pulled.  She said that its more time consuming to process individual drawings and that you are unable to just ask for an artist.  Here are two pics of the drawings we were talking about.

A number of us were out at a vietnamese restaurant, which was as wonderful as the conversation.  I began with a beef salad and wonderful teriyaki/ ginger-like pork.

We left the restaurant and headed back walking through the Latin Quarter.  The sun was setting and was throwing gold and amber all over the Pantheon.  For a moment I was transported back to Florence where light like this is a common occurrence.  It was yet another example of the beauty that was found there on a daily basis.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Climbing Notre Dame

Its taken a few days for me to update this since I've been busy wrapping things up in Paris and traveling to Belgium, Brussels to be exact.  In my last post I mentioned that I was planning on climbing Notre Dame with some intense students who were looking for more adventure.

I remember taking a group of students to Florence a number of years ago for Washington University in St. Louis where I taught for a few years.  The suggestion of climbing Notre Dame instantly reminded of climbing to the cupola of the Duomo.  That climb is a brutal one.  Consisting of over 400 stairs, the dome is tight climb and at points the stairs follow the curved structure of the dome.  When returning from the top you often cannot see several steps in front of you as the stairs curve so severely you have to lean backward to avoid falling forward.  I remember walking the spiral staircase, over and over again until I felt dizzy.  We would often have to stop and everyone was winded and slightly claustrophobic.  By the time we arrived at the top, everyone was sweating and glad to be outside seeing wonderful views of the great city.

For those interested, I read a book during that trip by Ross King entitled, Brunelleschi's Dome.  The book is an incredible read and I enjoyed it as much as his other books. King goes into great narratives describing the contest to procure commission and an array of mechanical inventions that were necessary to resolve placing the dome.

I was thinking about that climb and wondering how Notre dame might compare.  Several students and I got off a metro stop early and we slightly got mixed up in locating where the church was from the stop.   Once there, we had to wait in line before starting the climb.  Once inside, we climbed a little before reaching a bookstore/ gift shop where you could stop to buy souvenirs. Here's Annie, Andrew, Britt and Adam stopped to look and a pic of the dome inside the shop.

The climb was lots of fun, at least as stair climbing is concerned.  Luckily, after climbing Montmartre, Notre Dame pales dramatically from the Duomo.  You do seem to walk in a rhythmic cadence that seems to go on forever.  Here's a vid of the last few climbs before coming out on the first level.

Once on top, the view was really magnificent. At first, we believed this to be it- that we had reached the highest summit we would be allowed to climb.

It was great to Sacre Coeur's Cathedral, where we had just been, on the horizon line to the right.

I thought it might be interesting to give a bird's eye view of the height from this level so I wrapped the cord around my wrist and held it out over the ledge.

Here are some additional pics that are a little more rare.  I love the fact we were able to see these views!

As we started climbing yet another level, the bells began to ring.  It was incredible to feel the vibration under our feet.

Once inside, you could climb some wooden stairs to see one of the bells that was inoperable.

Back out we continued to climb the whole way to the top providing the most stunning views of Paris!

In this pic you can see Sacre Couer in the background on the hill.

One last pic of the Notre Dame Climbers! Andrew, Britt, Annie, Adam and myself.