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I Need to Find the Key to Let Me In

There's more to Brussels than the Magritte museum, just not a lot that I saw.

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After the Magritte museum and lunch, I went to find some more interesting things in Brussels. I'd seen several brochures and gift-shop models of the Atomium, a building that was “The Eiffel Tower of Brussels” (The similarity came in the fact that they had both been built for their city's respective world fair, not anything to do with notereity.) I was considering going to it, but when I asked at the tourist information center, I was given subway directions. The Atomium was about 7 kilometers away. So much for that plan.

Instead, I went to another museum that I'd noticed. It was the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, and they were doing a special exhibit on painter's letters. The letters were in glass cases and almost exclusively written in cursive, but visitors also got a guidebook for use in the museum which included excerpts of the letters we were looking at. The guidebook was a bit too opinionated for my taste ("he was working on his famous piece...” if it's that famous, how come neither I nor my father have ever even heard of the artist? “this extract clearly shows...” Yeah, I see how you get that, but it's not that obvious) but reading the letters was interesting.

The museum was organized into different sections, with three to five letters for each sections. In order, those were: everyday life, health, money, dealers, exhibition, friendship, admiration of other artists, weather, outside, travel, pieces they had been working on at the time, pieces that had been completed and were on display, series, the interplay between pictures and words, intimate relationships, young interest in art, doubt, Magritte, written to writers, discussing general artistic process, the society they were living in at the time, and Ensor.

Any artist whose letters are featured in a museum has reached a rather considerable degree of success..Us knowing that now doesn't mean the artists did. Probably my favorite letter was written from a close friend to Claude Monet, because it showed a side of Monet that I wasn't expecting to see.

“Your great and fantastic talent is as dear to me as your friendship; […] I love you, for you, and for everything you mean to me, true genius. So your letter caused me true pain. I understand your anxiety and your discouragement, because I don't know any true artist who hasn't felt like this and who hasn't been hard on himself, exceedingly hard on himself.”

There were 109 letters on the ground floor. There were more upstairs. I walked up the stairs, determined there were a lot more, and then my mind went “Nope. I'm not doing any more reading. OK, maybe I'll still read the words. But that doesn't mean I have to understand them!” Realizing that any more time spent in a museum that day would only serve to drive me mad, I left the museum and wentt back to wandering around Brussels.

The waffles kept smelling so good, and I figured it would be a shame to be in Belgium and never have a Belgian Waffle, so I found a restaurant that let me sit down and ordered there. From what I could tell, the only food they served was waffles. They were open for lunch, and served “lunch waffles.” I have no idea what that is. Their lunch special was a lunch waffle, a sweet waffle, and a drink. Personally, I always thought of waffles as breakfast food, but....

I did not order the lunch waffle. I did order a waffle with Belgian chocolate on top.. They did not give me a knife. They did give me a plastic fork with one serrated edge that broke halfway into my waffle. Rather than ask for another one, I ate the rest of it with my fingers, like I'd seen some people in the street doing.

Then more wandering around Brussels on streets I must have been on before but only barely felt familiar. And then it was time for dinner.

On our way to the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, my father and I had passed a street that was full of restaurants. We'd walked along it in time for a late lunch, so there were people who were out on the street trying to entice customers. Around lunch, this mainly consisted of acting like the people walking the street had walked into the restaurant and were standing waiting to be seated. One person asked us “two for lunch?” and at another restaurant, someone else out chairs. Glancing at the menu of one of the restaurants (if I'd paused long enough to read it I probably would have been seated at a table with bread and a drink before I could explain “no, I already ate,” I noticed one that looked interesting for dinner. /The waiters did try and seat us, but my father said (in French) “No, we'll come back later for dinner.”

When he came back with another woman (my mother) and speaking English, they remembered him. Which made it worth all the people we needed to ignore the first time. (One of them:”Look, I kidnap your wife. Don't you care about her? Don't you want to eat at this restaurant? I'll tell you what. [pointing at my mother] Champagne. [Pointing at me.] Champagne. [Pointing at my father] A nice Belgian beer? No?”)

The restaurant we'd worked our way to did brought out drinks (not champagne and beer, though if we'd eaten at the other restaurant they probably would have.) without asking or charging us. When we asked for tap water, they not only brought out a pitcher (the first restaurant in Brussels to do that) but the pitcher also had ice in it (one of the few restaurants in Europe to do so.)

Dinner was quite good. It was three courses, and there was enough variety there that the three of us all ordered different appetizers and main courses. (The dessert was just “dessert of the day” which happened to be a waffle.) I also finally had a chance to taste the original French fries before the French took them over. They just tasted like French fries. (Side note: I've seen multiple menus that have a British flag on them and included as a side dish “French fries.” If they're going to do that, they should really replace it with an American flag.)

We were in Brussels for one dinner and one lunch before we noticed a street full of restaurants who were competing (strongly, but amicably) for customers. I wonder how much more of Brussels I never noticed.

Posted by Soseki 07:18 Archived in Belgium

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