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Published: January 20th 2020
Half hour ride from Lille to Brussels.
Four stops on Red metro line to Porte de Namur station, right beside Hotel Chambord.
Took a walk down Rue de Numar. Coffee in TICH, a vegan cool kids large order at the counter joint. Opposite a similar Café called JAT. Then to the Musical Instruments Museum. ‘Old England’ Horta building. A riveted cast iron structure with airy feel. Darkened rooms full of the most extensive collection I’ve seen.... way better than Berlin, and broader and better presented than Finlandia Museum in Turku. Not all that much African stuff, lacked thumbpianos etc. But stunning environs. Brass section dominated by the Sax family’s experiments with trumpet and reed instruments. Saxhorns included a ‘trombone’ with seven bells and six valves. A ser I’d saxes with oboe like double reeds. Many tuba variants which were as tall as the player.
Also a glass harmonica based upon a hand-cranked spindle mounted with a set of tuned glass bowls, and a piano sized hurdy gurdy with many rotating bows operated by a piano key board. Northumbria pipes.
Ate Caesar salad with jumbo prawns in fabulous roof top
restaurant with glass partout. Impressive views of the city, chimney pots and the Mont Art. Finished visit with look at keyboards and mechanical instruments.
Then off to the Grand Square, Mannekin Pis and his female counterpart Jeanneke Pis.
A bear and wine in the Cirio Bar down from the Grand Square. Sat beside a club each member with a small dog. Great angular or thick necked waiters, all male, with waistcoats, white shirts and black trousers. Drank a bottle conditioned Westhalle dubbel brown beer, made by Trappist monks.
Then home via the Metro for a rest, before going to a trendy quiet Italian deli/restaurant Ars Vinorum near to hotel. I had gnoccetta with lentils, saussice and salsa. Very nice. More expensive than Lille.
Second day we walked to the Magritte Museum. A generic entrance way leads to a number of the Beaux Arts musées. You then descend to basement level moving to a new building which is opposite the MIM.
Up a lift to the 2nd floor and an exhibition based upon a time-line of Magritte’s life. The surprise for me was that he painted in a number of different styles throughout his
life. It was only late on in Brussels, removed from Surrealist colleagues that he started using the sky, bowler hats, pipes, doves, apples and daytime / night time light paradoxes.
There’s a key pair of exercise book pages where he scribbles the basis of his work exploring the interchangeability of images, words, reality and representations of reality.
Another revelation, for me, was his continual identification with other practitioners in pamphlets, exhibition publications, magazines and posters. Being seen to make statements of practice and sharing authorship gives the artist clout, certainly when in retrospect.
Then off on an Art Nouveau trail, on foot, to find Horta’s house, workshop and a good number of other edifices near by in Ixelles and Matonga / Matonge districts.
The house is full of nice touches, but fewer bespoke features than some AN we’ve seen in Helsinki, Moscow, Stockholm. Horta was clever to employ bolt-together, kit based ironwork e.g. but the end result is less pleasing and more repetitive than we’ve spied elsewhere.
We followed one of four trails detailed In a pamphlet bought at Horta’s house. A pleasant way to see some different residential areas. Decorative panels within
AN influenced turn of the 19/20 century indicate association with the movement, a number in need of tender care before they’re lost.
Matonga’s fabric shops bedecked with colourful printed cloth; deli shop front displays full of big vegetable roots, okra and ginger; and hair salons packed with braiding paraphernalia evidence a Little Africa all in one district. And minutes later we’re back at the Porte de Namur and our hotel.
We went to Le Trappiste for an evening meal of moules frites. A big bar resto with booths in a grid, the formality of the arrangement matched by the uniformed men: professional waiters providing excellent service and, unusually, a smile and a gentle manner. Big mussels, I was envious of Marion’s sauce..... so many sauce choices. I opted for white wine sauce over cream, curry, garlic, cheese, chilli and so on, but the effect of M’s sauce d’ail sample was rapturous.
On the last morning we walked to the Musée de Bande Desinée, another Horta edifice, built as a fabric warehouse with glass ceilings, open balconies, mosaic sand decorated ironwork providing a wonderful environment for a very well presented exhibition exploring the history
of comic strip and illustration. I became aware of how much planning and drafting goes into comic strips ....... I need to take more time and do more research in my illustration / graphic work.
Back via chocolate shop where the notion of a small gift was curious to the staff who were keen to make us part with large wads of cash.
The Chambord Hotel has turned out to be well placed for our explorations, the breakfast fair enough (but not the coffee). An attractive Art Deco building right beside a metro station and a short way from the Mons Art where art galleries abound, the Musical Instruments Museum and a pleasant descent through gardens to the Grand Square.
The Eurostar was on time, smooth and uneventful. The train journey up England a bit slow and noisy compared to European transport but a bottle of wine and sandwiches from M & S bought at St Pancras eased the travelling.
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