13 September 2014

National Italophone Day in Belgium

Three times today, I heard folks speaking Italian and each time it was pretty exciting. I am staying at the Hotel Erasmus in Ghent, Belgium which is located in a 16th-century house. The breakfast room is one of the original public rooms: high ceiling, looking out into the garden, furnished with portraits. I was quietly eating my breakfast when a couple came into the room. He was just bursting with morning excitement and said "bonjour" as they entered the room. They talked animatedly for a bit in Italian and then he settled down into the serenity of the breakfast room. It was delightful to hear the Italian and a little sad when he deflated.

I took the train to Antwerp today, only six euros for a senior roundtrip! The Royal Museum of Fine Arts is closed for renovation but many of their masterworks are on display in various venues around town including the Cathedral of Our Lady where about a dozen paintings joined the cathedral's two Rubens paintings and other works. Wow. The little pamphlet in English said you might like to start with a little sit down and appreciate the space but they did not say you had to weep from joy.
I love the Flemish version of the church's name: Onze-Lieve-Vrouw (Our Beloved Lady or Notre Dame). Anyway, after I left OLV, I went to the Rockox House where they had a special show which mixed the house collection with that of the Royal Museum. It was hung cabinet-style and the show was called The Golden Cabinet. More Van Eyck (the unfinished Saint Barbara!), Memling, Van der Weyden, and the incredible Madonna by Jean Fouquet from the Melun Diptych. That Fouquet woman is just amazing. Fouquet may have invented surrealism. And Metsys, Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens. In one of the upstairs galleries, I noticed a young man with his parents (identities not confirmed) and he was reading to them in Italian about the works on view. I'm guessing that he may have been translating as he "read" since I don't know that the brochure came in Italian. Anyway, he was devoted and looked oh so Italian. And mama kept saying "questo? questo?" Later, the trio passed me, mom on son's arm, as I was eating lunch in the next block at the Maison Tartine where I happened to select the tartine italiano (grilled sandwich, Italian ingredients). There was a couple over "there" at the side of the building, she smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, speaking animatedly, in Italian!

So I guess it must be Italophone Day in Belgium. I'm enjoying my time in Belgium and the people have been helpful but it's not like the Italian exuberance and animation. Last year's trip to Sicily was very different in the memories of individual persons as well as the collective.

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