DAY 16: A Day in Gent and Brussels
4:00am. Head-pounding music. Feet moving across the floor. Loud voices echoing throughout the house, chanting something indiscernible in Dutch. I was asleep before these events unfolded this morning.
New guests at the place I’m residing, you see. They quieted but I’m not falling back asleep. Not a chance. Perhaps a blessing in disguise. I wanted to make up for the last two days anyway. Gent and Brussels were on the itinerary. Neither of which were ever a priority but I’m attempting to absorb 4 cities per country. Except France; Paris will be enough.
Took the train to Gent first. I hadn’t heard much about the city. People consistently described it as “nice” but nothing beyond that. It’s a small, pleasant city. Definitely “nice”.
Citadelpark was pleasant. There was a small wedding in the flower garden. Intimate. They had a gorgeous red 1970 white-striped Camero awaiting the bride and groom’s departure. The grooms took it for short joy rides through the park before the ceremony concluded. I would’ve done the same; Beautiful automobile.
Headed to Sint-Pieters museum. They were conducting a photography festival today called 80 Days of Summer. Majority of the work was nothing special. There were a few interesting collections but not many memorable ones. One series centering around an overweight blonde woman sticks out in my memory. Photographs of her cuddling with her lover, or rinsing off outside in an unflattering bathing suit or even close-ups of her excess fat or cellulite. There was nothing “special” about the woman in these photos, which is ultimately what, in fact, made them special. They felt like truth.
My favorite work at the festival was from an older photographer named Tenn Voeten. Shot on black & white 35mm film. His images were harrowing but thoughtful and truthful and passionate. I could sense the attention to detail, accounting for everything he could within the frame even under dire circumstances. Check out his work if you have a moment.
Exited the museum to find three women in dresses performing a dance routine atop a stone wall. Bizarre until I noticed the blazing circular silver bounce card being held by a Production Assistant. He was using it as a shade for a camera operater with a DSLR. Low-budget Belgian music video world.
That was that for Gent. Went over the map continuously but without any desire to see anything beyond that. Straight-forward city. Good people. But I was on a train headed to Brussels within 3 hours.
Now having been there, I do agree with my first host about Brussels being the wrong city to stay in while in Belgium. It’s particularly difficult navigating through the city versus elsewhere. It's another city, like Bruges, dependent on its iconic historical buildings and towering structures to guide me through the city.
Saw the pissing boy statue. Couldn’t recall the location of the pissing girl one though. The boy had an icon on the map for you to find him while the girl was this hidden gem you had to scavenge for; Sexism! Something so amusing about watching a mob of people clamor together to snap a photograph of a little bronze statue pissing in their general direction for eternity.
The street art is astounding here. Surreal and off-putting work. So unadultered and raw. The city doesn’t bother trying to clean the graffiti or paint a solid coat over all of it. The street art is an enormous element in what gives Brussels it’s soul. Like scars.
Crossed the Mont Des Arts garden. Climbed the stairs. Found myself in front of a second set of stairs with a good amount of people on the steps. They were facing an open courtyard with three performers about to conduct their act. Two of the three men, dressed in brown vests and rolled khakis, were creepily approaching each person in the audience with their multi-colored juggling clubs tucked in their arm, searching for a volunteer. A guy, mid-20’s, in a white Hollister shirt was picked from the crowd, forced to wear a ridiculous red hat and smoke a cigar. The two performers proceeded to toss their clubs back and forth on either side of the volunteer’s body while the third performer played live music in the background.
The sun was setting. Brilliant orange rays. The people around me were all smiling. Entertained. Forgetting their worries for the short time these performers did their job. I won’t give a homeless man begging for money anything but food when he asks. I’d prefer to surrender my Euro to people like these street performers. Who truly earn it.
Once the act concluded, I continued toward the palace. But it was the 32-acre park across the street that drew my attention. I entered the gates and walked the dirt path toward the park’s monumental fountain. Long rectangular stretches of grass. Dirt roads on either side. A father and his 4-year-old daughter holding hands by the water, watching the fountain disperse into the wind and return to the ground. Grandfather refereeing a soccer game with four 10-year-olds boys. Skateboards planted on either side of the field to represent the goal. All smiles. Friends and family lying in the grass with drinks and food, chatting.
My favorite moment concerned a young couple amongst one of these patches of grass. Black male and white female. Sitting together. He was gently caressing her cheek. Eyes locked on hers. I haven’t seen a man look at another woman like that in sometime. I couldn’t begin to assume the nature of their relationship based off this moment alone obviously but… He loved that woman, and he didn’t have to say a word for us all to know it. They were lost in each other. Didn’t even look my way when I was observing them like a creeper. This was paradise. Absolutely nauseating in it’s positivity. Gave me hope.