Belgium

It’s nearly five o’clock in the Galeries Royales de St. Hubert, just a block from Brussels’ Grand Place.  Highly fashionable traveler that I am (having been reunited with the contents of my suitcase) I’ve taken a slight detour to explore a shop on the corner—a shop which boasts a new “Summer Collection 2010.” 

And what a Summer Collection it is: for starters, the entire shop is framed by an arcade of Doric columns: tall and gray, they mean business.  Surrounding the door are a series of marble pilasters, in three different colors, which would be more than enough to send me off into a fit of architectural ecstasy even without the gold leaf and glass paneled ceiling.

Given the excessive trimmings, I’m nearly hyperventilating by the time I pull out my camera, and the contents of the Summer Collection 2010 are like nothing I’ve ever seen: rich chocolately browns, bright and summery “sorbet” hues in pomegranate and raspberry, a limited edition “fusion” of strawberry and banana and finally a delicate array of pearls in white, milk and dark “chocolate.”

I decide to treat myself to a little something.  A girl who manages to get on and off the bus at the right stops deserves a little something.  Not only that but I also located the tourist information office just minutes after arriving in downtown Brussels (the real one this time) and spent the afternoon dutifully reading the English gallery guides at the Musée de La Ville de Bruxelles

I even tried my hand at a bit of guerilla journalism: taking photographs in an exhibit where they were expressly forbidden, which qualifies me as something of a revolutionary as far as I’m concerned.  This caused the historic preservationist in me to have a small personality crisis and caused the guard to come tumbling after me, hissing, “I see you take your camera!  No pictures!  No pictures!” 

I’m not sure how she knew to reprimand me in English, or how she saw me take my camera out of my bag—I was being discreet— but the humiliation was enough to ensure that I won’t be doing that again.

Instead, I asked a guard—a different guard—where I might find the subject of the exhibition.

Manneqen-Pis?” he asked.

Oui, si vous plez, Manneqen-Pis” (I’m getting quite good at this whole French thing).

When the lady at the tourist information office told me the Musée de La Ville de Bruxelles museum had “mannequins in traditional costumes” I decided that the lace museum could wait.  Traditional costumes trump lace any time in my book, and so it was with great excitement that I made my way to the third floor of the Musée de La Ville de Bruxelles museum.

I have since learned that “mannequins” and the “Manneqen-Pis” are two very different things.  Precisely, the Manneqen-Pis is a statue of a naked boy taking a piss.  He is a symbol of freedom according to the mayor of Brussels (which is why perhaps Belgium has been free for less than two centuries; the Belgians, I think, would be better served by a cracked bell enshrined in bullet proof glass or a statue carrying a torch and calling the “tired,” the “poor” and all those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to her shores, provided of course that they don’t look like foreigners).

The Manneqen-Pis, I learned, lies a few blocks from the Grand Place.  I decided that since I couldn’t take a picture of the many replica Manneqen-Pis in the exhibition that I had better go take a look at the real thing, but first: a little something from the Summer Collection 2010.

After much deliberation, I selected a scoop of Belgian chocolate, a dallop of limited edition pomegranate sorbet and a spoonful of the aforementioned chocolate pearls.  Häagen Dazs Brussels is a beautiful thing.

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9 thoughts on “Belgium

  1. Sounds amazing, and as your architecture buddy I can appreciate,… glad you are using your language skills so adaptively, but you did come from a multi-lingual home ;-)

  2. ahhh…it was ice cream, LOL…first I thought you may have found Promod, which is like a French Primark, then I thought it was chocolate heaven…pretty good suspense there–but what about the period clothing????? Just like our Haagen Dazs on South eh? Tell Florence and her mom, “hi”, for me.

    • Puh-lease! Haagen Dazs on South St. doesn’t even come close :) Unfortunately the closest I got to period clothing was the wacky wardrobe of Manneqen-Pis…

  3. The story I was told about the Manneken Pis is that a rich man lost his son and a big search ensued. The man promised to build a bronze statue of his son in whatever position or place he was found. When they discovered the toddler taking a piss, the statue’s design was obvious. Another story is that a small child was placed in a basket and hung from a tree during a battle. He peed on the enemy and the battle was won. So, a symbol of freedom? Perhaps. But also the silliest fountain ever made. I saw it as a child and was dumbstruck.

    So glad you loved Belgium, especially the food! I love reading your blog!

    • Hi Laurie! I had a feeling I might have missed part of the story :) Still rather bizarre but thanks for shedding some light onto the mystery of manneqen-pis!

  4. I heard the same story as Laurie, the first version anyway. But when did he get clothes? When I saw him in 1987 (don’t laugh) he was naked.

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