Yesterday at the comics museum in Brussels, I was thrumming with excitement and a strong desire to draw. I found the character sketches, which show faces in various states of emotion and at different angles, very interesting. The process leading up to the finished page lay right before me. I saw how famous cartoonists developed their characters, sketched layouts, studied movement, and blotted out imperfections with white ink. I especially loved the artwork of Aimee de Jongh, Jordi Lafebre, and Regis Loisel and Jean-Louis Tripp. I need to practice injecting life into my drawings. Statuesque and expressionless is unfortunately how I would describe some of my characters. I practiced a sketch of myself mid-yawn, not very flattering, yet exactly the kind of natural behavior I need to capture.
Today I felt more like painting. I hummed the Norah Jones song, “If I were a painter,” while snapping pictures of swirling cloudy skies with pink and orange hues. My flights of fleeting whimsy, one morning wanting to draw and the next afternoon wanting to paint, and the following evening wanting to write, means I hardly ever finish creative projects. I realized while walking around the Magritte Museum that passion has a habit of dying and that I should stick to one project at a time before my enthusiasm for it evaporates. I used to love Renee Magritte, but I walked through the museum unmoved. I didn’t care at all about his apples or pipes or bowler hats. I found the museum very pretentious and dull.
I guess tastes change. However, if my taste for Italian food and red wine ever goes away, I think it’s safe to assume my heart and soul have been possessed by aliens. My mom and I enjoyed the most satisfying and affordable feast at an Italian place right by our hotel. Il Colosseo doesn’t look like the classiest of venues on the outside, but on the inside it’s charming, vibrant, and redolent with cooking aromas.
Unlike London, where there was too much to do in too little time, Belgium has given us some welcome relief. We have explored Brussels, Bruges, and Leuven at our own pace, taking frequent cappuccino breaks, leisurely strolls, and dips into souvenir shops.
In Bruges, one of the highlights was feasting on mussels at a restaurant called Breydel-De Connick. The Groeninge museum featured paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and Botticelli and some Belgian masters I’d never heard of: Jacob Van Oost, Edmond Van Hove, and Joseph Benoit Suvee. My favorite painting was “Invention of the Art of Drawing,” by Suvee. I love it because it resonates with the thrill of discovery.
Belgium has some disturbing history, both recent and not so recent. I have been meaning to read the book, “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa,” by Adam Hochschild. I feel that in order to learn from history, we must study it evenly, and not just examine selective parts. Why is it that some genocidal maniacs escape people’s memory and moral judgement? I don’t understand.
One night my mom and I decided to toss back some beers in our Airbnb and watch the film, “In Bruges,” a dark comedy about two hitmen waiting for their next assignment. The reference to pedophilia in the film ignited my curiosity, so I decided to google it. Well, now I have some more disturbing associations with Belgium that I can’t get out of my mind, not to mention unanswered questions, and the feeling that justice was never served.
For New Year’s Eve, my mom and I traveled to Leuven. My research had informed me that Leuven was a college town and that the Old Market Square was dubbed “the longest bar in the world.” I anticipated that Leuven would be a lively place to ring in the new year, not realizing that most Belgian college students would take the train home for the holidays. Leuven was a ghost town and everything was closed. Fortunately, the town hall was lit up, but there was absolutely nothing to do but walk around and laugh and make sarcastic remarks about all the wild excitement happening in Leuven. It was a beautiful town and I would love to return when there’s more activity than just blowing tumbleweeds, like in an old Western movie.
Brussels is also beautiful, and we are enjoying our time here, even though the people here are not as friendly or as happy as they are in Bruges. The highlights of Brussels were the Comics Museum and walking around the Grand Place, a huge town square lined with 17th century buildings and accentuated by a dazzling Christmas tree, bedecked with twinkling blue lights. Tomorrow I return to normal life, refueled and fortified by my adventures around England and Belgium.