A fascinating oasis of peace and inspiration is where I spent this past weekend. Brussels is a lovely and pleasant city packed with art nouveau buildings, design shops, antique workshops, bric a brac markets, litres of tasty beer and tons of rich chocolate, but it was Philippe's house which made my stay great. He lives in an ex mirror factory spanning over four high-ceiled floors which he overhauled by undertaking a conservative renovation: he kept all the original features and painted the walls in the tones of grey, pastel olive oil, sepia and mustard. All the furniture come from flea markets and pieces are often reused and reinvented to serve to a new practical scope. The rooms, all inspired to a different and ever-changing theme, are decorated with fresh flowers and objects he has been collecting from his travels. The end result is bohemian and extremely elegant in its essence and essentiality. The calming colours of the walls acted a relaxing effect on my soul as soon as I stepped in. The tribal antique statues from Africa and his symbolist paintings contributed to create this sense of detachment which I had previously experienced only in the middle of an oasis in the Libyan Desert - hence the use of my metaphor to describe this place. Breakfast in the morning was a colourful mix of handmade marmalades and jams accompanied by strong coffee and all sorts of bread.
Oh, and then the city! I knew already I would have liked it, but when I discovered the amount of Art Nouveau (Deco for the Italians, Modernista for the Spanish and Liberty for the English readers) scattered throughout the capital, I was stunned. Saint Giles is the first quarter I went, to visit my authors. As soon as I got off the taxi, I looked around in amazement. I couldn’t detach my eyes from the sinuous facades of the surrounding buildings. Later, one author explained me that this is one of the few areas that has not been targeted by vandalism thanks to its decentralised position. Only later on, when I was in the city centre (harrassed by millions of annoying tourists!), I realised what he meant with his remark. In St Giles, we had a meeting/lunch in a lovely brassiere which looked more like someone’s flat. We started with an aperitif in the Belgian fashion and carried on with a fine two-course meal served with a fruity white wine de la maison. The conversation flew smoothly for over two hours. My second meeting was a bit less glamorous but still very enjoyable. I was on the 25th floor of a building with a superb 360 degrees view. At 6pm I was finally free and had an extended nap in my chambre Africanique while waiting for a delayed Lofty to arrive. Since we were always hungry at the wrong time or at the wrong place, we managed to taste the typical Belgian food only on Saturday night when we went to a rather hectic old taverne. I had moules a la bier (muscles cooked with a creamy beer sauce), beer sorbet and of course beer to drink! The sorbet tasted very alcoholic but was sweetened by some pink fruit.
On the art front, we visited the museum of modern art where my highlights are: La Morte de Marat, by the neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David (wow!), some paintings by Chagall, Picabia, Francis Bacon and, of course, the striking paintings of Magritte (my second favourite artist) which always make me smile in a disturbing way. The downlight was that an entire museum dedicated to the famous Belgian painter will open its doors only in 2007! I had a deja vue! Six years ago I spent a month in Vienna, and the Leopold Museum, hosting an entire collection dedicated to Schiele (my favourite painter number one), was going to be inaugurated the following September. Arghh! I haven’t been back since. My only consolation was that I can go back to Brussels since 80 per cent of my authors are based there and from London it is at an easier reach than Vienna.
The following morning we visited the Espace Photographique Contretype located in the ex-Hanon Hotel, an eccentric house, whose shape reminds Gaudi’s artwork. There we saw a small photo exhibition by Sebastien Camboulive, an artist obsessed with crowds and gifted with the rare talent of catching passers-by in the exact moment they all cross each others gathering up in a heterogeneous group. At first look, you would have thought they were groups of tourists hanging around together, and only a fraction of a second later you would actually realise that they are all strangers out and about for their own businesses. I tried to figure out the photographer’s execution and pictured a little man (don’t know why I imagine him small!) on a corner of a street patiently waiting for the right moment to come and then immortalising it with a speedy shot. The rest of the weekend was spent strolling around amongst the many designer ateliers (coincidentally, it was Brussels young designers weekend), antique furniture shops and markets. Lush!
Sunday night I was miserable: our late train was delayed nearly two hours because an earlier train hit a big animal (?!?) and my feet were proved by three days of trekking in rigid cowboys boots. Mea Culpa! My shopping: I bought two prints by the dreamy Chagall and symbolist Spilliaert, plus the centenary catalogue of Magritte in French language because I am determined to improve my French which, at present, suffices for survival but it is not enough. I also got from Philippe a vintage coffee pot dating back to the ‘20s .