Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Meeting the Other, and Adventures in Brussels

The Fall of the Rebel Angels
The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1562)
A couch in the elevator in the museum - a great idea. 
On Saturday, I sat in Café Floreo in Brussels drinking a green dragon, a lovely concoction of vodka, melon, ginger, kiwi and soda.  Kids played soccer on the street, asking me the score in the Liverpool match.   I hadn’t been to Brussels since 1985 on my first trip to Europe. I wasn’t quite the bon vivant as I was then. But I was still out there trying. Some words in the bathroom grasped at a problem facing Europe and the world.
“We will keep meeting ‘the other’ cause that’s how one builds a lovely & peaceful world.”
In a nutshell the graffiti said it all. When we embrace the other, the stranger, building common cause, we dissolving borders and fears. We share our world together.  Could such an approach – building friends – become a solution for a trading block reeling from the impacts of refugees pouring in from the East, inspiring nationalist counteractions?
But its not what’s happening everywhere in the world.
We’re trying back home in Brooklyn.  But the backlash is in full force around us, with fascism ascendant in the USA and nationalist impulses everywhere.
So a visit to my old friend Jamesy in Brussels felt useful, a time to celebrate the of the schoolyear and welcome in the summer.
The mystery is everywhere here Magrite used to say, building his own distinct surrealism.
It’s a European capital, but it feels livable and alive, the streets have a Gallic vibe, art and eros everywhere in the grey, rainy city.  But people are riding bikes, working in flower shops, enjoying living.
And for a few days when I was there, the sun was shining.
Jamesy suggested I meet him at L’Ultime Atome at place Boniface.
We had not seen each other since Christmas. So there wa a lot to cover about our changing lives, worlds, relationships, history, the usual topics, the Derick and Rich updates of Vassar frienamies.
The evening was a blur of chat and gossip.
Jamesy cooled sole meuniere, with a perfect layer of parsley.
In the middle of it all, his son called and asked for a dad date.
So we make arrangements to go to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Beaux Arts de Belgique the next day.
Watching kids grow is one of the majestic things one can ever see. Robert, James and I horsed around, posing for snapshots, enjoying the day.
I stumbled into a room showing a film about Breugel and his unseen masterpieces, of St Michael and Lucifer, fighting apocalyptic beasts. With closeups of his subjects, the regular people contending with proverbs and fears, objects of devotion and everyday life, peasants and nobleman, St John and his followers, looking at them as they listen to St John, with Bruegal pointing us toward an image of ourselves. Closeup images of people from his paintings groveling, crawling, listening, playing, flashed over the scream. His source was popular life around him, fear and the unknown feeding a hellish imagination, his focus - on our fragilities…. longing and fearing, hoping and striving, and stumbling.
Magritte reminds us there are other ways of looking at things, if only we pay attention to those voices.
We spent the day at the museum, taking in the fin de siècle collection, Magritte and masterworks from Memling, chucking at the obscene babies, who look like old men by the northern masters, taking in the Memlings, Reubens and Weydens, contemplating David’s The Death of Marat, and the Mars Disarming Venus.  James unpacks the works for us and his son.
In a post art haze, we drank rose wine at Pop Up Sablon bidding adieu to Robert before the day unwound into an afternoon stroll to meet friends, chatting, off to Café Floreo, and back to watch the majestic sun make its way into the distance in St Catherine square.
There are mysteries around us.  This is a majestic place to contemplate them.

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