In Bruges

A midsummer night in Astrid park...

A midsummer night in Astrid park…


Well maybe midsummer had been and gone and it was probably a gang of burly Belgian blokes from Bruges rather than Titania the Queen of the Fairies who had decked out Astrid Park but at that time of night and with the warm weather it certainly felt like A Midsummer Nights Dream.

In Astrid Park mirror-balls were hung in trees with coloured spotlights picking them out, the bar and lounge and the stage were canopied in white with globes of light hung here and there. A silver screen was up and ready to show the universal comedy of Monsieur Hulot. This was all part of the Klinker Festival which runs through August.

Young children had brought their mums and dads along so they could stay out late and play while their mums and dads chattered with other mums and dads about everyday matters.

And while the kids ran around and seemed to be everywhere Astrid Park was still far busier with those who just wanted to meet up and make a connection with someone; maybe a cool guy or a cool girl, dance, chill out with beer or two, flirt, talk, and flirt some more, be young, good looking, have great hair, and be effortlessly cool all at the same time.

The bands brought their music to the stage and had the girls dancing and the guys head nodding in appreciation. The names of the bands is lost to insobriety but the bass throbbed, the drums rolled and the guitar howled in a trinity of shake that thing… but in a really cool way.

In between sets the DJs ruled with some cutting edge music, although at one point, and this maybe just a flash back to the 70s brought on by an excess of ‘Brugses Zot Donker’ he did play ‘Now That We Found Love’ by the O’Jays. Not a bad song but not quite post dub step either.

Dances were danced, drinks were drinked, talk was talked and for those girls who believed that now that they found love lets hope, unlike Helena, the course of true love runs smooth and unlike Titania they didn’t wake up to find themselves ‘enamoured of an ass’… well not the stubborn braying kind anyway.

Moist maiden…

Victor Hugo named it Lac D’Amour, in Bruges it’s known as Minniewater. Whatever it’s name lovers in Bruges spend an inordinate amount of time walking by it, holding hands, looking lovingly into each others eyes, whispering sweet nothing’s and probably getting their legs tangled up if they were doing all four at once.

Although Victor Hugo came up with Lac D’Amour from the medieval Dutch word for love ‘minne’ the truth is all about a Saxon maiden called ‘Minna’ who became a watery ghost.

Minna was a Saxon maiden who loved outside of her father’s wishes and those wishes were to marry Minna off to the suitor of his choice. Minna already had a lover in a soldier who was away fighting the Romans. Minna decided to leave her fathers care and take her chances in the woods around Bruges and await her lovers return. Minna probably wasn’t the outdoor type as by the time her lover returned she had wasted away pining by a stream in the woods. On seeing this Minna’s lover shored up the stream by building a dyke, buried poor Minna and then when the waters had built up broke open the dyke to create a lake over Minna’s grave.

Poor Minna. An overbearing father and a lover who thought spending time with the boys having a bit of a rumpus in Rome was more important than her. Maybe today instead of pining away she would have threw a few essentials into a rucksack, gone off to college, got a good education followed by a good job and came back home to tell them both to go take a running jump in a lake. Then on her terms take up with some guy in a mutually fulfilling relationship where neither of their careers or life choices were sublimated for the benefit of the other and if one day children arrive child care duties would be shared allowing Minna to get out to her assertiveness classes and him to a bit of dyke building in the woods.

And your bird can sing…

In Mariastraat in Bruges the Hospital of Saint John (Old Saint John’s) hosts a permanent exhibition of more than 100 of Picasso’s early works along side works by Miro, Chagall, Matisse, Braque, sketches and small bronzes by Rodin and much else. The gallery itself is a series of light and airy corridors and small rooms. The corridors have works of art on either side except where the inner walls look out onto the atrium with it’s well maintained gardens and splendid views. The exhibition is over two floors and is so well laid out that every step down a corridor and every entry into one of the small rooms is a continuing joy and revelation and whichever curator had the cute idea of putting the children’s area with its little tables and chairs, reams of paper and huge tins of coloured pencils next to Miro’s work with its curls of bright primary colours, almost matchstick and cartoon like people deserves to win whatever award curators win for doing things that inspire children.

To get to the beginning of the Picasso works you cross a bridge open to the elements that joins two parts of the building. Picasso’s works begin with his set and costume designs for Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie’s ballet ‘Parade’. While standing there taking in his sketches of ‘Danseurs’ a small yellow bird flew into the corridor from the open bridge which overlooked the atrium. Confused the little bird chirped while it sat on a display case housing precious Picasso memorabilia and in between times clattered itself against the window wondering why if you can see through it you can’t go through it. Help arrived in the shape of a handsome white haired curator carrying a sheaf of papers and reading glasses. With some Belgian expression that said ‘poor little thing’ in any language he dropped what he was carrying and walked towards the little bird with arms raised to shoo him back through the Picasso’s, towards the’Danseurs’, notes from Jean Cocteau and towards the bridge where he could escape into the open. The curator stopped occasionally to do a little dance and clap his hands when it looked like the bird thought this may not be a good idea and tried to fly back. The little bird made it out into the open to tweet all about his adventure and that he didn’t know much about art but he knew what he liked and he liked what he saw even though there was a distinct lack of sketches of little birds.

Picasso painted his masterpiece ‘Guernica’ as a response to Franco ordering the bombing of that Basque Country village by the Luftwaffe. ‘Guernica’ a 3.5 metre high by 7.8 metre wide black, white and grey painting that contains a dismembered soldier with his hand still holding a shattered sword, a grieving mother holding her child and screaming to the sky, a man caught by flames from above and below, a horse with a dagger for a tongue, and a bull with its tail in flames and at the back of the picture behind the bull a dove holding an olive branch it’s body partly made up of a crack in the wall from which a bright light shines.

Picasso lived in Paris for most of his life and was there during the occupation. There is a story which may be apocryphal that he was ‘asked’ by Nazi generals who were storing up works of art as insurance if the war went badly to view his works which they had collected and say if they were genuine. Picasso was shown different pieces and asked the same question over and over again ‘did you do this?’ To which he replied ‘yes’ over and over again. Turning to the painting of Guernica the Nazi general asks Picasso the same question ‘did you do this?’ To which Picasso replies ‘no… you did’. It may not be true but you have to admire a man who can have that kind of heroic story attached to him.

In the final room of the exhibition are a number of versions of Picasso’s dove of peace holding an olive branch. He painted the dove many times and it is said that he painted the dove instead of ever returning to war as a theme for his work.

I’d like to end this post by making some kind of profound connection between the little yellow bird and Picasso’s dove escaping a gallery in Bruges and both making it out into the big wide world with their messages but as a writer I’m pretty rubbish and I can’t.


About Stella MacQueen

Sheila and Stella sitting in a tree... K.I.S.S.I.N.G.
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1 Response to In Bruges

  1. I feel like I’ve been, and it makes me smile and feel sad that I haven’t at the same time. Thanks for your lovely blog.

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