Blog archive June 2018

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28.06.18 / 01 / brussels

This year's tp bennett staff trip was Brussels 22nd-24th June. My photos here. What I wanted to get out of Brussels was Art Nouveau. This was a chance to see in depth a style that is rare in Britain. Certain districts of central Brussels have many Art Nouveau houses - some are famous or museums, many are just part of the streetscape. Somehow I managed to explore the city in spite of troublesome hip injuries and a walking stick.

I was struck by how modern, even frankly industrial the buildings are underneath the ornament. There is a functional disposition of entrance and big windows, often with exposed iron lintels. The 'whiplash style' ornament is mostly in the form of applied ironwork, with the fixing lugs and bolts as part of the design - the components and assembly can clearly be seen. There is a liking for big circular windows and facade mosaics or frescos.

The pearl of Art Nouveau houses is the Horta Museum. One is not allowed to photograph inside but the guide has good pictures. The living spaces form a continuous open plan, winding up on quarter-levels around a central column with branching vaults and whiplash tendrils. The dining room is a surprise with white glazed brickwork and exposed iron ribs, like a metro station of the time. The ascent culminates in a stair landing under an elaborate stained-glass rooflight with mirrored panels extending the space on both sides. Every element and surface has sinuous ornament, in mosaic, wrought iron or carved timber, and the furniture is to match. There are some curious details, like the urinal that folds out from a bedside cupboard to save nocturnal bathroom visits.

One cannot yet see the equally famous (but very different) interiors of the Palais Stoclet - one can only admire from outside.

In a 'when in Rome' spirit, I overdosed on moules marinieres - very nice but in the end the 'realism' of the mussels got to me, and I left 15. No such qualms with beer or chocolates.

Belgium is the land of Tintin and Asterix and the 'bande dessinée'. I didn't get to the Comic Book Museum, but I did visit specialist bookstore Multi BD. The store was split between Franco-Belgian comics and American ones - when divided and concentrated in this way, my strong impression was that the BDs were essentially good-hearted and good-humoured, while the American material was dark and violent. I know which room I felt happier in.

Almost the first thing I did on arrival in Brussels was buy a contactless travelcard with a Smurf on. I made good use of the trams and the Metro - the 1970s trains are a feast of mustard and orange plastic. The trams run underground in the centre as the 'premetro' - pending an upgrade into a full metro at some future time.

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