I woke up as late as I could, which turned out to be eleven. I’m still struggling with jetlag, and keep popping awake at 3 am–here’s hopping I’m cured. Before I mention what I saw today, here are the things I ate:
- Breakfast: two slices of fresh wheat sourdough, a croissant, and a piece of baguette, with a tray of toppings, including butter, hazelnut chocolate spread, and fruit jams. Plus orange juice and coffee. Multiple breads and jam is such a standard breakfast that you can get it at fast food restaurants. I paid way too much for mine, however, because it was touted as organic. I would have had eggs, too, but 2 organic eggs was €3.90. Or, over five bucks.
- Snack: a Belgian Waffel with chocolate. WORTH EVERY WARM MELTY BITE.
- Lunch: another local specialty, Belgian fries. The women in front of me topped their fries with mayo, peanut sauce, and onions. The frietjes shop (they are sold in their own shops, like ice cream) had many toppings, but I couldn’t imagine most of them tasting good. So I just asked for some mayo.
What I got, was so much mayonnaise that I wasn’t sure I could eat any of the fries. I scraped most of it off onto one of the several little sheets of newsprint paper they gave me. I used to like dipping fries in mayo… I’m not sure I can ever eat that again.
- Dinner: The Belgians had frankly let me down. I got a “Scandinavian special” sandwich on my way back to the hotel. It was a sunflower seedy, crunchy dark baguette with salmon, cream cheese, capers and escarole.
I wandered through the Meirstraat district again, but this time everything was closed. What a world, where every shop is closed one day a week! The pubs and restaurants and museums were open, so it would seem to be a day to do things, rather than buy things.
The first stop was Peter Paul Rubens’ house. The entrance fee was not substantial and I hoped to play a bit voyeur. But the house is so well-traveled that it is roped and arrowed into a force flow path. The walk is so narrowly defined that it’s more display than home. I went through twice (which must be rare, as it weirded out at least two of the guards) and tried the second time to imagine the rooms as spaces lived in. I looked at the paintings of game on prep tables and tried to imagine having to light all those fires and the house dogs fighting over bones. I tried to imagine the dailiness of going to the garden, twisting out the linens, and painting in a studio with 30 foot ceilings and high windows letting in the diffuse northern light.
I’m not a rabid Rubens fan, but the house is full of a variety of period artists. My favorite paintings were “Peasants going to market, the 1630s” by Jan Boeckhorst and Frans Snijders (the hissing swan! the artichokes on their stems!),
and “Two dogs in a pantry” (fighting over a cow’s head) by Snijders, alone.
Finally (of course), “Still life with dead birds” by Alexander Adriaenssen. This painting was over the oven/cooking hearth. The kitchen was too dark for a good picture of this one (though you can see a bit of it above), but here it is in full glory on the Rubens house website.
Next, I went to the botanische tuin. It was a small, free affair with a sign at the entrance that boasted of their large collection of medicinal herbs (I noticed several valerians and Artemisia absinthium) and tried to dispel the (still lingering) rumor that the garden once grew leeches in its ponds for St. Elizabeth’s hospital. The garden had a really wonderful mini-exhibit of strange ceramic “flowers” in one of its lawns. Only the entrance sign was translated, however, so I don’t know any more about it.
Mostly though, the garden was an opportunity to lie down on the grass in the warm sun for a moment.
I could see many tourists rushing off to their next site, and it made me glad for my modest goals for the day. I hurried through nothing. (Except that waffel. MAN.)
For the full set of Day 3 photos, click here: tourism.