Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Brussels: Bruegel, Magritte, music and more

I'm afraid it's been rather quiet on the blog front lately. That's because I've been jetting off - or rather Megabusing off - a lot recently. After Saturday to Tuesday in Bristol, I went to Brussels for Thursday to Sunday, for an action packed few days of art, music, inflatable lizards and lots of chips.

I was staying with my lovely friend Bethany, who works for the Quaker Council for European Affairs. The office is currently full of funky peace posters like this:

On my first night, we went to Le Cercle des Voyageurs, an amazing world food restaurant that also has a travel literature library and hosts live music, comedy, theatre and more. We then went for some late night sight-seeing at La Grande Place, where the unconventional Christmas tree is causing quite a stir. I quite like it.

The next day, I headed to the Musée des Beaux Arts following in the footsteps of Alfonso Castelao who documented every painting he saw at that museum 91 years ago in Diario 1921 (one of my three dissertation texts). My mission: to find Peter Bruegel the Elder's The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562).

As I wrote in a previous post, Castelao didn't hold back on his criticism of the vast majority of art housed in the museums of Paris, Brussels and Berlin. However, he adored the Flemish masters, and was even inspired by them to create his own sketches called 'Things that occur to you in a Brussels café'. It's easy to see why he loved this painting so much, copying parts of it (particularly the toad ripping itself open) into his notebooks. While other Bruegel paintings are more famous - especially The Fall of Icarus - I was just mesmerised by this painting, staring at it for a good 20 minutes and constantly finding new things. I love the weirdness of all the creatures.

As well as Bruegel, I was on the look out for Hieronymous Bosch, and particularly the Temptation of St Anthony triptych, another painting populated with amazingly demented characters. A picture cannot do it justice, as you can't make out the incredible detail of every face and every demon.

Talking of demons, I love these from a Last Judgement - wish I'd written down whose it was. Religious art was so much fun in the 15th Century!

Sticking with demented figures, but from four centuries later, I really liked this portrait by Antoine Mortier from the exhibition about abstraction as a response to World War II.

Again I stupidly didn't write down who this one was by, but it was part of the same reactions to WWII collection.

The Musée de Beaux Arts is joined to the Magritte Museum, a must see for a surrealism junky like myself. I spent several hours there, learning more about the artists work and enjoying the vast collection of his works which question the meaning of words, images and symbols.

The art's not just in the museums but on the streets too. Brussels is famous for its moulles, but I've never seen one like this before!

That night, after a very traditional Belgian dinner of frites, we went to a party at Beursschouwburg celebrating 10 years of Globe Aroma. The star attraction was a Kurdish/Iranian band called Mozaiek Musik, who lived up to their name, combining rhythms, songs and instruments from the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. They had the whole packed venue flailing.

The next day continued on a musical track with the Musical Instrument Museum. Housed in a beautiful old Art Nouveau department store, the MIM brings together folk instruments from around the world, mechanical music makers across the ages and more varieties pianos and violins than you can imagine. You're provided with infra-red headphones, so when you get close to an instrument, you can here what it would have sounded like. Weird and wacky instruments abound, but my favourite was this fishy relative of the lute from Portugal - you can't really see, but it even has real teeth!

Last stop, the Christmas market. The market had everything you'd expect: vin chaud, sausages, chips, chocolates, hand made tat... And then there was a giant inflatable lizard, or 'incredible Christmas ice monster'. If you dare to journey inside, you can explore the beasts internal organs and learn how they work. Infotainment at its best. Unfortunately I was a little too old to go in :(

And that's about all I had time for. I'm looking forward to another, warmer trip to Brussels at some time next year to soak up even more of the amazing range of culture on offer.

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