25 February 2008

Local explorations

Yesterday's peripatetic combination of activities left my feet aching, but my brain (and tummy!) satisfied. We saw several areas of the city we had never explored, and ate at places that have long been on our to-do list.

In the afternoon we took a visit to Tour et Taxis, a gigantic exhibition space and urban center. (Check out the website, which with its electronica vibe, seems to try to be promoting the thing as some sort of nightclub.) The building itself is breathtaking, although it is located in the midst of a wasteland of derelict structures, seedy warehouses, and piles of trash. It's not exactly a place you'd end up wandering around in, which is why we had never been before.

Two exhibits are going on at the moment, one a Star Wars extravaganza, and the other called C'est notre histoire (This is our history), about the history of Europe over the last 50 years. I suppose you can imagine which one we were there for, but it was a bit depressing to walk past the long lines, teeming with children and adults, to the ticket counter for the Europe exhibit, which had no line whatsoever. "History, schmistory!" they seemed to be saying. "Let's go look at light sabers!"

Still, the European history exhibit was truly impressive. The concept itself is massive in scope, with an astounding array of historical moments, people, countries, and topics to cover, but the gigantic exhibition space and well-thought-out distribution of information were equal to the challenge. I loved that contemporary artworks were interspersed with the historical events they respond to, and that the quotidian (a reproduction of a 1960s home, for example) could dialogue with the monumental (an American and a Soviet warhead, pointed at one another, dwarf you as you walk between them). Of course we ran across the inevitable dull bits, such as a large diagram trying to explain how the various European institutions work, involving a lot of arrows. Even the Mister and our two friends, who also work at the Parliament, just shook their heads at it. But overall, well worth the three-plus hours we spent wandering through the galleries.

Stomachs grumbling, we walked to Ste-Catherine, the area of town known for its seafood, and strolled up to the little outdoor seafood bar called Mer du Nord, eating our fill of fabulous tapas-like dishes, a perfect late lunch/early dinner. We stood there for hours, and ate--quite literally--everything on the chalkboard menu: fish soup, perfectly delicate oysters, grilled scampi, shrimp croquettes, sea snails (whelks), battered cod fillets called Kibbeling (such an odd name!), grilled scallops, and plenty of rounds of white wine. Slightly chilled, but happily stuffed, we walked around the corner to Café Frederic Blondeel, where we sampled some of the fabulous chocolates and little tarts along with our coffees: there's always room for chocolate, right?

Having lingered over our meal and our dessert, it was already nearly 8 pm, and time for a concert at the Botanique, a huge greenhouse-cum-concert space. I had never been inside, so it was fun to see the place, and the concert was pretty great (with the exception of the opening act, an experimental electronica group). Even though my aching feet kept complaining (am I now too old to go to concerts without seats? I found myself incredibly annoyed at the people pressed around us, but it wasn't their fault), Vinicio Capossela's music was just strange and energetic enough to keep me from tumbling over. Ragtime, circus, western ballads, latin rhythm, folks songs: the music was wonderfully weird, the lyrics literary and mythic (Medusa, anyone? Rime of the Ancient Mariner, anyone?) and all of it a spectacle: a different jacket, hat, or mask for every song, wacky instruments (including a toy guitar and a toy piano with real candles), and Monty Pythonesque video projections.

Home again, jiggety jig, to put up our feet and watch Lost before bed. A more satisfying day I couldn't have invented if I had tried.


Sarah said...

What a lovely day! I have renewed interest in Belgium since last week when my mother introduced me to some delicious Belgian cookies called Jules Destrooper (www.destrooper.com)- oh, they are good.

Robin said...

Mmmm, the Destrooper cookies are SO good. You can get them in the grocery store here, and I have to stop myself from picking up a box every time. Such a pretty blue-and-white box, too.