Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dog Turds in Brussels

I am not sure I have gotten my head around this town yet. However I have had an opportunity to get out and about this afternoon and walked a few kilometres through an interesting cross section of the city. It is certainly a town of contrasts, all living cheek by jowl. Perhaps starting with a panoramic view helps set the scene. The view from the high point of the city, the Palais de Justice, is telling. The cathedral spire, dating back to the thirteenth century, and other ancient and beautiful buildings are nearly lost by that horrible post war bland box architecture which blights all our cities to one degree or another. But in this city ancient is hemmed in by 1960s “deadimaginesque” and all piled up in a strange mix. There is no old centre gradually giving over to the modern the further you get out, although to be sure the Grand Place is about as grand medieval place as you can get. Surrounding the Palais de Justice are some interesting juxtapositions. Down from its base of imposing Roman architecture black children shouting in French play in a small concrete soccer field but with blocked drains so half their field lies under a stagnant pond. Graffiti covered the surrounding walls. Although some of that is art worthy of attention. Lift your eyes up from the soccer kids and look south across a concrete block paved courtyard surrounding the obligatory monument to the war dead of 1914-1918 an d1939-1945. Grass grows through every crack, moss and corrosion taint the statue and the damp must of a tomb pervades the site. It is a hang dog affair for the commemoration of something so glorious. Or maybe its ruin is appropriate.

Walking down from the high ground you pass through cobbled lanes that are alternatively pretty, flowered, cobbled, and given to fine furniture, architecture, or fine art, or drab piled high with rubbish and littered with dog turds. Street repairs are like those you see in China. Half done. Piles of ripped up cobbles and heaps of earth, some with well established weeds, indicating workers have been absent a while. And I am not in the back blocks here but down town – the Grand Place is a short two minute walk away.
15 May 2007

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