Reading War and Peace as news arrives from Brussels

Reading <em>War and Peace</em> as news arrives from Brussels

This morning I was reading War and Peace, and had just reached this passage when news began to come through of the carnage in Brussels, and the casualties mounted. It’s the scene during the battle of Borodino when Prince Andrei is is hit by an exploding shell and suffers a terrible stomach wound. Lying in agony in the dressing station, he sees Anatole Kuragin, the man he despises for attempting to elope with Natasha to whom he was engaged; Anatole’s leg is being amputated.

The tent which serves as a dressing station is a scene of bloody horror. Everything changes, it seems, but nothing changes. Continue reading “Reading War and Peace as news arrives from Brussels”

The suffocation of a park in Brussels: a metaphor for our time

Botanique 1a

There’s a battle on in Liverpool to save the Meadowlands, a wedge of green space that lies within the original 19th century boundary of Sefton Park.  It’s another example of how we lose the right of access to public open space through the privatisation of land for commercial development.  Like Joni Mitchell once sang: ‘Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / Till it’s gone’.

In Brussels recently, I encountered a particularly rapacious instance of encroachment upon a green urban sanctuary carved out of the expanding 19th century city for the pleasure of its citizens.  Our hotel was situated on the edge of the Northern Quarter financial district, in an urban landscape of startling juxtapositions and fantastical change.  An old working class district hard by the Gare du Nord is being torn down; what remains are isolated streets of tawdry buildings and seedy sex shops.  I was reminded a bit of the devastated landscape in which stood the dilapidated apartment building of the 1991 film Delicatessen.  Except that here, as buildings are being torn down, instead of leaving an empty wasteland, the steel and glass towers of international finance have risen from the rubble. Continue reading “The suffocation of a park in Brussels: a metaphor for our time”

In pursuit of Bruegel in Brussels and Antwerp

In pursuit of Bruegel in Brussels and Antwerp

For a while now we have had the idea of pursuing Pieter Bruegel by visiting cities where his works are exhibited – particularly Brussels, Antwerp and Vienna.  We were inspired by Robert L Bonn’s, Painting Life, in which the author does the same.  So, when a bargain offer came our way for a package  comprising  three nights in Brussels plus Eurostar travel, we grabbed it.

Details of the life of Pieter Bruegel the Elder are sketchy.  He was born in a small town north of Brussels some time between 1520 and 1525, but the rest of his early life is lost, undocumented, in the mists of time.  But the records do show pretty conclusively that he lived in Antwerp between 1548 and 1563 (apart from a two year sojourn in Italy in the early 1550s), where he worked as an illustrator of prints and completed some of his greatest paintings.  It’s also documented that he spent the last six years of his life in Brussels, where he completed another 27 of his 36 major paintings, and where he died in 1569. Continue reading “In pursuit of Bruegel in Brussels and Antwerp”