All that Jazz – after-hours in Saint Joos

Jazz in Saint Joos – A walk through a gallery of jazz musicians only to be seen after-hours along the Chausée de Louvain in Saint-Joos-ten-Noode

Jazz heroes: Manu Dibango on saxBelgium has a reputation for jazz. At least in Belgium’s own mind. Belgians will be quick to remind you that “they” invented the quintessential jazz instrument. Well, to be sure, Adolphe Sax was Belgian. But in 1846 when he patented the saxophone he was living in Paris. Also he intended his instrument to be used by marching military bands. The jazz saxophone didn’t really become a thing until the 1920s.

Okay, the saxophone isn’t the only claim Belgians have on jazz. Even somebody as ignorant as I am of this music form has heard of a couple of Belgium’s big-name contributions to the jazz pantheon. Toots Thielemans (who I know of as a harmonica player) was Belgian before he became American. And Django Reinhardt, the demon gypsy jazz guitarist, turns out to have been born here.

Jazz heroes: Cesaria Evora singsHistory apart, there is a flourishing modern jazz scene in Brussels. If this is your preference you’re pretty well served. Even if you’re not particularly keen, you still find yourself stumbling across jazz references wandering about town. Never more so than along the first stretch of the Chausée de Louvain/Leuvensteenweg between the Madou metro station at Place Madou and St Josse Place.

Jazz heroes: MenThis is a well-trafficked though rundown shopping street on the edge of the European quarter. It’s just inside Belgium’s smallest and most densely populated municipality, Saint-Joos-ten-Noode. During the working day, you probably won’t see anything so much out of the ordinary, but walk down here in the evening after the shops are shut, or on a Sunday, and you’re confronted by a gallery of jazz musicians.

Jazz heroes: Chris Cody and the Sydney Opera HouseThe pictures are painted on the roll-down metal blinds that cover the doors or the whole display windows of some of the shops. The portraits show an international array of stars, each playing their instruments. Behind each is something “typical” of their home country – the Eiffel Tower, the Congress building in Washington DC, the Sydney Opera House. I’m not sure how many there are, but when I went to take photographs for this article at the beginning of November I found eleven. (Though the pictures are numbered up to eighteen.)

Jazz heroes: Josephine Baker in white-faceAs I’ve implied, I’m not a great jazz aficionado. I don’t actually recognise the names of any of these musicians (with the exception of Josephine Baker). But several of them are quite obviously jazz musicians. Here is Terumasa Hino blowing his horn in front of Mount Fuji. Here is Manu Dibango playing his sax in front of what appears to be a spiral playground slide. And here is Nils-Henning Örsted Pedersen plucking his double bass in front of a seal. No, sorry, it’s the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen harbour.

Jazz heroes: Terumasa Hino blowing his hornA couple of the pictures include an Internet website address: sarendip.org. Follow the link and you find the website of a street art collective, Sarendip. They look as if they were quite active a few years ago. The most recent entry on their website, though, dates from 2012. There are two entries from September 2011 titled “St-Jazz Ten Nood” (sic). It isn’t entirely clear to me what the website is trying to say. However, I think the pictures were created to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of a jazz festival – Saint Jazz – that takes place annually in Saint Joos every September.

Well, these are the remnants of that commemoration. I’m guessing that some of the pictures have since been removed – the blinds replaced – but it’s impressive that the ones that remain have escaped being graffitied over. Honour among graffiti artists perhaps. How long will the pictures that remain last, I wonder.
Jazz heroes: Nils-Henning Orsted Pedersen and seal

I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge. I also produced a shorter version in Swedish for Bladet – the magazine of Svenska klubben in Bryssel (the Swedish Club in Brussels).

A couple of days in Maastricht

Maastricht in the Netherlands – a photo essay and a wander through this charming, picturesque little city in company with Mrs SC and TheSupercargo.

Maastricht's Basiliek van Onze Lieve Vrouwe from WyckI wrote last time that I went through a bit of a dark patch in October and November, but even in the dark there can be flashes of light. At the end of October we celebrate Mrs SC’s birthday. It can be hard to wrestle the time from her schedule, but last year we managed four days in Florence. This year we pulled an overnighter in Maastricht.

The John F Kennedy Bridge and the MaasThis little Dutch city on the Maas river (downstream from Belgian Liège where the river is the Meuse) claims to be the Netherlands’ oldest. Apparently there’s a dispute with Nijmegen. It’s probably best known today – for those of us outside Benelux – as the city that gave it’s name to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. That was the treaty that established the European Union and the euro as a currency. Which probably puts Maastricht near the top of the EU-haters’ hit-list.

Disused docks on the Maas, Beisenwal, MaastrichtA shame if true. It’s an appealing little city – or at any rate the centre is. But even the docks and factories by the side of the river, run-down or disused now, have a picturesque charm in the autumn sunlight.

Maastricht: Through the Helpoort 1229Walking around the centre, you can see how the city grew. Maastricht was awarded its city charter in 1204, and immediately started building protective walls. This gate proudly displays a date – 1229 – making it, I suppose, one of the earliest city gates. It’s called the Helpoort – the Gate of Hell, though it looks fairly innocuous now.

A part of the Maastricht city walls along Lang GrachtjeClearly a wealthy city, like Brussels and other places in the area Maastricht outgrew one ringwall after another. There are well-preserved remnants of city walls from various periods inside the city, incorporated now into the structure of the town.

Maastricht: Lit interior through arrow slitLook through a slit window in one massive bastion and peer into a room already decorated for Christmas. Is it someone’s living room or the interior of a shop? (It’s a shop – even in forward-looking Maastricht, private homes are not decorated for Christmas at the end of October.)

We reached Maastricht in the afternoon on Saturday 29th after an adventurous train journey. Not so adventurous really, just that we missed our stop to change for the Maastricht train. It meant we took a detour through the surprisingly hilly country towards Eupen before the ticket inspector put us right. The history teacher in me was interested to see Eupen. The victors after the First World War granted this largely German-speaking area to Belgium in reparations. Nazi Germany took it back in 1940, but Belgium regained it in 1945.

Eye contact in Maastricht 2That first day was overcast and dull. Not great photography weather – especially not from a moving train. It was better in Maastricht. In the Vrijthof, a big, light, open square, lots of people were standing around or sitting in pairs looking one another in the face. Hand-draw signs asked “Where has the human connection gone?”

Eye contact in Maastricht 1It was a manifestation – or an installation – or perhaps just a happening. On Facebook when I checked later it was billed as The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment.

The bar and barmaid at Café de Pieter, PieterstraatWe stayed not far from the Vrijthof at a little hotel on a street called Achter de Molens (Behind the Mills). There’s a restaurant, Le Petit Bonheur, in the same building which seems popular. At least, there was a late-night party going on there the night we stayed. Hallowe’en, of course. But it really didn’t disturb us because we were out exploring the town by night and drinking in a local bar – Peter’s Café.

Through an arch on Achter de MolensThe following day, though, the autumn sun came out and we took a long photo-walk through the old town. The sun and the turning leaves made Maastricht even more attractive.

Part of Maastricht city wall and moat at Haet ende NjitAt the newest gates to the old city (I think they date from the 16th century), the Jecker, a tributary of Maas, was once canalised into a moat. The Jecker is still here, and the moat, to the delight of quite a variety of water birds. And one or two photographers.

The Hoge Brug from Wyck 1A little beyond, we crossed the Maas by the modern pedestrian and bicycle bridge, the high bridge – Hoge Brug. On the the far bank, Wyck seems to be an early suburb of Maastricht.

Preparing for a street party on Rechtstraat in WyckThere was some sort of a local food day in preparation in Wyck. This whole street, Rechtstraat, was blocked off and filled with a laid table. But not, at the time we passed, with any food. The sign advertises “La Saison Culinaire de l’Euregio”. The Euregio turns out to be a local cross-border region covering this part of the Netherlands and adjacent districts in Germany. It’s been building cultural links (and other links) here since 1958.

Nee on RechtstraatI must share this picture that suggests there’s a sold front against direct advertising in Maastricht. I saw many letter boxes – or letter slots perhaps – where the home owners made it clear they didn’t want advertising or free publications. Nee! Nee!  and Nee! Nee! But this house had the best contrast between the Nees and the surrounding material. I should add – in the interest of balance – that I did see the very occasional Ja! but never in a context that made it easy to photograph.

De Wiekeneer by Frans Carlier - Wycker Brugstraat outside Hotel BeaumontOne final picture. This is a representation of the typical Wyck resident. That’s how I interpret sculptor Frans Carlier’s title “De Wiekeneer”. A stoic citizen who strides on his way though the sharp wind off the Maas cuts like a knife. Though I may be reading more into it than I should.

All in all it was a very nice short break, though we didn’t see everything that Maastricht has to offer. There is said to be a fine collection of early Dutch paintings in the Bonnefantenmuseum, but it was closed when we came by. Perhaps another time. It’s only a couple of hours away.

(I find myself saying this rather a lot nowadays, but there’s always somewhere new to visit instead.)

Painted bench on the De Griend waterfront in Maastricht
Painted bench on the De Griend waterfront in Maastricht

I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The Saint Job Fair – a September event

The Saint Job Fair in Uccle: giants, a brass band, death and the baker, a boy in a bubble, a jousting knight and a sleeping cat… among others things

About the middle of September, all around Brussels (and for all I know around Belgium too) fairs are taking place. Some of them seem to blend into the weekly markets (such as the one at Place Flagey), but others are unique to themselves. There are sideshows and performances, parades and music, and some take the opportunity to promote a local district or municipality. My guess is that they have developed from harvest festivals in much the same way as Thanksgiving in the USA, but as local rather than national affairs. Last year, my first September in Brussels, I simply registered what was going on. This year I thought I should get out with the camera and take some photos.

The waterbearerThen came the question – where to go? Up the road towards the city centre, the Parish of Saint Giles (Parvais Saint-Gilles) was advertising a major effort with processions from four different starting points in the municipality all leading to a celebration of Les porteuses d’eau (the women waterbearers). I was tempted.

Then I saw that my own municipality was offering the “129th Annual Market of Saint Job”.

I’m not sure why the Old Testament prophet is dignified as “Saint” Job in this corner of Belgium. A trawl through the Internet doesn’t leave me much the wiser (though I really doubt it has anything to do with the Orthodox Saint Job of Moscow, Wikipedia). But I’ve always had a soft spot for Job, so Saint Job’s market won the toss.

Giants of the Saint Job FairThe Belgians have a fascination for géants – giants. This seems to be a tradition that has hung over from the Middle Ages. Every district of Brussels has its own giants who are wheeled out (literally) every year for these fairs. They also make occasional appearances at other spectacles and events to represent the spirit of their district. At the Saint Job fair the two principle giants were a fellow in a bicorn hat and a curly-haired blonde. The two had a couple of half-sized giant children who orbited around them.

A parade in a tubaSeveral of their helpers (the people necessary to manhandle them over cobbles and kerbs) were also dressed up – as you can see from the photo. They looked like toys the giant children might want to pick up and play with.

Of course, you can’t have a parade or a festival without music, so there was a brass band on hand. In this photo you can just make out the tuba-distorted reflection of the male giant at the head of the parade.

Saint Job Fair: A break from blowingThe band had a lot of blowing to do, so they were happy take a break now and again. Here on the steps outside the church. (I think they’d want me to remind you, by the way, that the saxophone was invented by a Belgian – Adolphe Sax. You can post your heartfelt thanks below in the comments. Or not. As you wish. 🙂 )

Saint Job Fair: Posing for the cameraApart from the parade and the giants there was an exposition d’animeaux de la ferme. (This was one goat, one donkey, some chickens and a small selection of child-magnet-rabbits).The donkey was very obliging and happy to pose for photos when other people pointed their cameras at her. Me, she turned her back on.

Saint Job Fair: Pony go roundThere were also some ponies that had been coralled into an area like a small roundabout, and were walking around in a circle. Each had a small child uncertainly perched on top. There was a recorded – very distorted – voice blasting out a message in French. A message punctuated with the sound of a cracking whip and a “Yeeha!” I just can’t feel convinced by a “Yeeha!” when it’s part of a sentence in French. I’m probably deeply prejudiced.

Saint Job Fair: With death by my sideThe inevitable stall for face painting meant there were quite a number of kids running around with startling faces. The one that startled me most of all was this young man’s face. He was watching with intense interest as this baker demonstrated his craft. You could buy samples of the bread once baked, but personally I found the presence of death at the baker’s side a bit off-putting.

Sleeping cat lyingThere were other things for kids to do at the fair. They could visit the exposition de chats d’exception. A lot of very indolent pedigree cats in travelling cages. The cat show took place in a rather a dark, enclosed hall, so I came away without any photos. On my way home, though, I met a street cat I know who was happy to let me photograph him in his favourite place, on warm tarmac under a parked car. By way of a fill-in photo for all the siamese and persians I missed.

Saint Job Fair: Boy in a bubbleThere was a piste d’agilité vélo, a bicycle obstacle course, overseen by two dour police officers. It didn’t look a lot of fun and certainly while I was there, didn’t seem to be attracting much interest. By contrast kids could also get their parents to pay to have them zipped into plastic balls in a paddling pool. This looked to be really popular. It gives a new sense to the Boy in the Bubble.

Saint Job Fair: At the tourneyIt didn’t surprise me that so few kids were interested in the bicycle obstacle course, though I was disappointed so few wanted to try out the medieval jousting. However, I was patient and eventually a happy tourney rider showed up to reward me.

I hung around the fair from about 11 a.m. until 14.30 hoping to get some photos of the concours du chien le plus sympathique. I like sympathetic dogs – and these were very sympathetic dogs remember.

Saint Job Fair: The Green ManUnfortunately for me it seems everyone likes sympathetic dogs . (Well, of course. I should have guessed.) Probably the most well attended event of the fair, by the time the parade started the crowd pressed too densely around the stage. I tried, but there are no photos I want to share.

So I gave up. I was actually on my way home when I met another giant. Not quite in the same league as the official ones, perhaps, but he had a charming face and happily posed for me to take a photo. This Green Man was standing on stilts. He was about as tall as the bicorn hat giant’s shoulder.

That was my visit to the Saint Job Fair.


I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Comic Strip Festival

The Comic Strip Festival in Brussels has become an annual event that attracts comic fans from across at least the Francophone world.

Mysteries revealed

If you hang around long enough, mysteries will be revealed. Apparently.

TheSupercargo with presumed Atomium mascot - perhaps Spirou?Back in the spring I visited the Atomium here in Brussels (and wrote in May about the time-slip I experienced there). Entering the Atomium building I was accosted by a mascot and a photographer and paid my €7 to be able to share this photo. I wrote after: The mascot doesn’t appear anywhere on the Atomium web site, so I’m guessing it was all in aid of advertising something else – but I have no idea what.

Spirou

Comic Strip Festival: Inflating the balloon characters 4 - Spirou sittingWell, now I think the mascot was supposed to be Spirou. Spirou is a Belgian comic strip character and protagonist in the comic strip series Spirou et Fantasio… He also serves as the mascot of the Belgian comic strip magazine Spirou.

OK, I know this because I’ve just looked Spirou up on Wikipedia. But I was prompted to look him up by meeting him in various guises all over the place at the weekend.

Comic Strip Festival: Inflating the balloon characters - SpirouSpirou was big at the Brussels Comic Strip Festival. I’m not just talking about the Spirou-shaped balloon whose crotch the young man is groping in the photo. There was a whole section in one of the festival tents dedicated to this intrepid bellhop-come-boy-reporter. Every other person seemed to be wearing Spirou pill-box hats.

Tintin surprised(And I’ve just gone through all my photos and found not one to back up that last statement. Not one!)

Mind you, I’m still no wiser about what Spirou was advertising at the Atomium in May.

Fête de la BD/Stripfeest

Comic Strip Festival: Things to leave outside
Comic Strip Festival: To leave outside…

The Fête de la BD/Stripfeest as the Comic Strip Festival is called locally is pretty big. I don’t mean it can hold a candle to Comic-Con in the USA (judging by all I’ve seen on YouTube), but in Brussels, it’s an event. It spreads over the whole weekend, it occupies the big park opposite the royal palace, it attracts comic fans from across at least the Francophone world. And on the Sunday a parade of inflatable characters winds through the city to the sound of  walking  bands.

For all these reasons it seemed appropriate to take myself and my camera off to the park on Sunday.

Inflation problems

According to the programme I found on-line, the parade was supposed to leave the palace courtyard at 2pm. When I arrived at 1:45, though, it was obvious some of the characters were suffering inflation problems.

Comic Strip Festival: Inflating the balloon characters - Garfield
Garfield lay on his back and Le Chat was face down, levitating a metre over the cobbles. A gusty wind wasn’t helping.
Comic Strip Festival: Inflating the balloon characters - Le Chat
I’d seen ads for volunteers to help manhandle the balloons through the streets and I suppose most of the inflation teams were also volunteers. I could have waded in to help, but, nah. They would probably manage better without my interference.

I think these soldiers below would have liked to help out too. (Sadly, we’ve become all too familiar with scenes like this over the last few months.)

Strip Cartoon Festival: Security presence

In the festival ground

So I went for a walk through the festival. Four long tents occupying avenues through the park, each filled with stalls dedicated to cartoons. You could buy vintage cartoons and new; vintage “merchandise” and new.

Comic Strip Festival: Collectors cornerOr you could meet cartoonists and stand in line for an autograph. Or join a master class.

Strip Cartoon Festival: Workshop 2You might meet characters in costume for a photo op.

Cosplay - Alex the boy legionaire and friends

(I think that’s Alix in the middle with Julius Caesar and Alix’s sidekick Enak from The Adventures of Alix.)

And you could read – read – read – read…

Strip Cartoon Festival: Reader 1
Strip Cartoon Festival: Reader 2
Comic Strip Festival: Reader 3
Comic Strip Festival: Reader 4
I don’t really know what was going on below here – although at a wild guess it had something to do with Marvel Comics.

Comic Strip Festival: The Marvel Mobile

Absent friends

There were noticeable absences. Apart from the van above (if it really was from Marvel), almost nothing from the world of English comics. (Nothing till the parade anyway.) Nothing obviously from Japan or South Korea either. I came away with the feeling of having seen a world that was at once familiar but alien. Which is kind of what you want from a festival that predominantly celebrates fantasy and science fiction. But it’s kind of disturbing too.

I wonder if French speakers get the same frisson visiting English language conventions.

The Comic Strip Band

The photographer in me was also a bit disappointed that there were so few people in costume. Cosplay is such an eye-catching feature of Anglophone events nowadays. Fortunately there was this band of pirates. They played first to keep people’s spirits up at inflation square, and then walked in the parade.

Comic Strip Festival: Band of pirates 1
Comic Strip Festival: Band of pirates 3
Comic Strip Festival: Band of pirates 5At last the parade got under way, and finally here were a few familiar faces. From Star Wars: BB-8,

Comic Strip Festival: BB-8 BalloonRey,

Comic Strip Festival: Cosplay - Rey… and Darth Vader.

Comic Strip Festival: Cosplay - Darth VaderI think Darth Vader is a little like Father Christmas. It’s amazing how he can get around and be at so many events in so many places all over the world. (And the galaxy.) Not a lot like Father Christmas, of course. Just a little.

And look below here, from Tintin – Thomson and Thompson.

Comic Strip Festival: Cosplay -Thomson and Thompson

There was a real problem getting the balloon characters out of the park and across the road into town. The electrified tram lines were a serious barrier.

Comic Strip Festival: Getting the balloons under the tram linesBut once their wranglers had wrestled them down and under, the parade could proceed.

Comic Strip Festival: Le Chat balloon in processionAnd I think the wranglers felt a real sense of achievement.

Comic Strip Festival: Handling the balloons is funAh! Look! That guy to the left is wearing a Spirou pill-box hat! You see, not fibbing.

Comic Strip Festival: Le Chat leads the flags


I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Lisbon photo essay

A Lisbon photo essay to round off my series of entries from Lisbon.

The last week in June, Mrs SC and I visited Lisbon – my first visit, her second. In my two most recent blog entries here I focused on a couple of of Lisbon’s “sights” and their history. First off was the Alfama, the oldest part of the city dominated by the Castelo de Sao Jorge. That article retold the story of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Here’s a photo of the castle that I didn’t fit into that article.

Lisbon photo essay: Baixa - Looking up to the CastleIn my second article I wrote about our visit to the Museu de Marinha in Belém and how the museum presents the story of the Portuguese Age of Discovery… and what it leaves out. We didn’t spend the whole day in the Maritime Museum, though, and here’s a picture of an ancient fig tree in the Jardim Botânico Tropical, which turned out to be another good place to rest in the shade.

Lisbon photo essay: Belem - fig tree in the tropical botanical gardens
My final article was going to be about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, but I’ve had second thoughts. I love history, but I know I can run on a bit. The last couple of entries have been rather wordy, so today’s will be mostly photos. I’ll hold the earthquake over to a later date – or perhaps till after I revisit Lisbon, which I’m tempted to do. We did have a very good time.

But first, allow me just a little more history. I took the next photo on the morning of our first day. We were out scouting for breakfast, walking down the tree-shaded Avenida da Liberdade  when I saw this. As you probably remember from school, Christopher Columbus “discovered America” in 1492.
The Discovery of America 1472 - Avenida da Liberdade
OK:

  • The aboriginal peoples of America actually discovered it tens of thousands of years earlier,
  • Leif Eriksson was the first certain European visitor and he was there around the year 1000,
  • Columbus probably went to his grave believing he’d actually found India,
  • The Waldseemüller map – the first to actually name the continent America – didn’t appear till 1507.

Still… 1472?

I really thought it was a mistake. The sort of thing that happens sometimes when street painters doze on the job and paint SLOM on a road where they ought to have painted SLOW. But, no. It seems there’s this theory in Portugal that a Portuguese explorer called João Vaz Corte-Real discovered the New Land of the Codfish (Terra Nova do Bacalhau) in 1472. So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you Spanish and American Columbus lovers!

And while you’re doing that, enjoy these photos from a tram ride we took through Lisbon’s Bairro Alto district.

Lisbon photo essay: Tram 28 at Martin Montiz
Above is tram number 28 at the Martin Moniz stop.

Below is from the interior of a number 25 tram heading up to Bairro Alto.

Lisbon photo essay: Inside tram 25

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - reading the news
Above: Two gentlemen in the shade by a news kiosk – taken from the tram window.

Below: On the phone with the washing – also taken from the tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - street scene - on the phone

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - trams 28 and 25 passing
Above: A number 25 and number 28 tram passing on a corner in Barrio Alto. In places the tram lines are so steep I wonder how the trams manage to climb and not slide back.

Below: A Lisbon street seen through a tram window.

Lisbon photo essay: Bairro Alto - Through the tram windowThat was how we spent the morning of our final day in Lisbon. For a complete change, we took the metro to the ultra-modern district Parque das Nações and spent the afternoon at Lisbon’s Aquarium. The Oceanário de Lisboa is probably the most child-friendly place we visited on our trip. It was pretty entertaining for two older people without kids too. Here’s one of the sharks.

Lisbon photo essay: In the aquarium - shark
And here is a panorama of silhouettes transfixed by the main ocean tank.

Lisbon photo esay: In the aquarium - silhouettes 2
A final couple of pictures to round this off.

Lisbon photo essay: Fado performance 2
Above: The first evening we went to a Fado bar…

Below: …and I had a sangria. Cheers!

John, sangria and Fado
So that was our visit to Lisbon. A very packed schedule, but we had a great time and certainly hope to return one of these days. On the way to the airport the taxi driver asked where we’d been and what we’d seen and then said: “Oh, but you haven’t see Sintra. Sintra is the best.” (It turned out Sintra was where he lived.) So we promised to put Sintra on our list for the next time.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Open day at the EU Commission

An open day at the European Commission? How exciting! No? Oh come on, try at least to show a little enthusiasm!

After more than a year as a Brussels resident, it was high time to visit one of the centres of EU power in this, Europe’s capital (three weeks a month). High time not least because, judging by the noises coming out of Britain, it may be my last year as a British and an EU citizen.

Every year in May, Europe celebrates. There’s something for (more or less) everyone this month: the Second World War came to an end on 8th May 1945 (9th May if you are east of Berlin); the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 by the Treaty of London and celebrates that event every May 5th; and the EU celebrates on May 9th because that was the date of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, regarded as the seed of the European Union.

Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany.

Robert Schuman, then French Foreign Minister

The celebrations spread through the month. This year the Headquarters of the European Commission in the Berlaymont building at the Schumann roundabout here in Brussels held a family fun open day last Saturday. (It wasn’t in fact billed as “family fun”, just as an “open day”, but there were definitely families there, and many seemed to be having fun.)

Personally I found it a curious mix of the genuinely interesting, quite entertaining and deadly boring. Many of the Directorates-General and Service sections of the Commission were represented, but it was clear which had put thought and effort into what they were doing there. The stalls run by everyone connected to science and languages had crowds of visitors and eager participants. Some of the other stalls were staffed by people whose enthusiasm and ability to connect with the general public was lukewarm at best.

There should be more of these events (with engaged organisers), and they should be taking place in schools and public forums across the EU on a weekly basis. Perhaps if that had been happening in the UK the last 40 years we wouldn’t be where we now are. Or at least the British public would be better able to make an informed decision. As it is, most of the propaganda I hear from both sides of the Brexit debate at present seems bloated, ignorant and designed to prey on fear.

But let us not dwell on the negative. Here are some photos from Saturday’s open day.

EU Open Day: Computer coding for visitors
Computer coding for visitors
EU Open Day: Our environmental future Europe
Our environmental future Europe
EU Open Day: In the Schumann Conference Room
In the Schuman Conference Room simultaneous translators show off their stuff
The author - a serious selfie in the Schuman Conference Room
The author – a serious selfie
EU Open Day: Families together in the Schumann Conference Room
Families together in the Schuman Conference Room
EU open day: Panorama in the atrium
Open day panorama in the atrium of the Berlaymont building
What would make you leave your home country?
What would make you leave your home country? The stickers say: Job, Study, War, Love, Curiosity, Putin, Chavez…
EU Open Day: Camera bank
This camera bank was presented by EU Research and Innovation
In front of the cameras
You got a white coat and some green fluid in a test tube and then stood in front of the cameras…
…and they took a photo and turned it into a 180 degree animation.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Florentine graffiti

Florentine graffiti: some people like it, some hate it.

Florence is known as one of the homes of the Italian Renaissance, and there is a wealth of art to see there. It’s also the home of Europe’s oldest, dedicated school of art, Accademia e Compagnia delle Arti del Disegno, or the “Academy and Company of the Arts of Drawing”, which was founded in 1563 by Cosimo I de’Medici, at the recommendation of Giorgio Vasari. Not surprisingly, the city also shelters a flourishing tradition of unofficial art – graffiti to you and me.

If you do an Internet search for “graffiti Florence”, you’ll turn up a surprising volume of references (over 700,000 when I googled it just now). To be sure a number of these – for reasons that escape me – seem to refer to the film American Graffiti, but most are about real Florentine graffiti. As with most graffiti, some people like it, some hate it, and some might appreciate it more, perhaps, if it wasn’t “disfiguring” Florence.

I’m not wild about tagging, and not generally impressed by written graffiti, on the other hand I think the people who live in Florence have as much right to decorate or pass illustrative comments on Florence as anyone in their own home. Especially when it is done with skill, wit and panache. Here are some I photographed last November.

Florentine Graffiti 9

I suspect the one above and the one below are by the same hand.

Florentine Graffiti 12

Florentine Graffiti 11

Many pieces make use of architectural features as a frame.

Florentine Graffiti 3

Florentine Graffiti 14

Others adapt what the city gives them. The one below was just outside a shop advertising alcohol for sale.

Florentine Graffiti 15

Florentine Graffiti 5

And there are no rules about materials either. The one above uses gaffer tape.

Florentine Graffiti 10

I don’t really count the below as graffiti, but I’m not at all sure it is official art. It was ocupying a niche high up on the corner of an alley in the Oltrarno (“the other side of the Arno”) and certainly seemed to be making a comment on something.

Sculpted woman holding her nose

If graffiti is defined as illegal art on walls, then I suppose a fresco, which is legal art on walls, is graffiti’s legitimate cousin. Frescoes are painted in wet plaster directly on to the wall – art fused with the material of the wall itself. Below is the Judas kiss from a fresco of Fra Angelico in the San Marco Friary Museum in Florence.

The Judas Kiss (detail)

And here below is evidence that art students are still hard at work learning from the masters. (That’s the Annunciation she’s copying, too concentrated to notice the fat Englishman with a camera behind her, even though I’m reflected in the glass).

Art student sketching Fra Angelico's Annunciation at San Marco

Finally, a couple more balloons – the first with an ancient artistic reference (on the back wall of the San Marco museum if I remember right).

Florentine Graffiti 13

Florentine Graffiti 7


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Tip of the hat to fellow Blogg52er Ulla Marie Johanson who blogs a new painting (and accompanying poem in Swedish) daily at Kreativ varje dag (Creative every day). Last Wedesday was a picture of balloons which reminded me I’ve been wanting to share these graffiti images since Mrs SC and I visited Florence last year.