Bird houses and play houses in Hisingspark

I am home in Sweden for a short autumn visit. It’s dull and damp and I am busy, but here are a couple of photos of bird houses and play houses that I took on Sunday in Hisingspark.

Bird houses and play houses in Hisingspark

Play houses like bird houses

Yoko Tsuno – Science Fiction on the Brussels Comic Book Route

Yoko Tsuno reflected: A visit to Japanese engineer Yoko Tsuno’s strip frame at Rue Terre-Neuve on the Brussels Comic Book Route

Just before the Comic Strip Festival earlier in the year, I took myself off on a photo-walk following the Brussels Comic Book Route. Brussels is proud of the Belgian comic book tradition, which stretches back to Tintin in 1928 (and earlier). Celebrating this, Brussels has decorated house gables across the city with comic-strip frames. The City of Brussels tourist offices can provide a printed map so you can follow the route. Or you can follow it in virtual reality on line here.

At the time I published my photo essay from the Festival it felt like too much of a good thing to follow up with more comic strip photos. This week, though, I’m travelling and rather busy with personal matters. It feels OK to share these photos of the Yoko Tsuno cartoon at Rue Terre-Neuve.

Yoko Tsuno is Japanese engineer. Her adventures on Earth and in outer space started in 1970 and currently run to 27 volumes. Sad to say, most are not available in English. Read more about her on this Wikipedia page.

Yoko Tsuno strip frame at Rue Terre-Neuve

As you see (below) I do try trying to do more than just reproduce other people’s artwork. I was pleased to find the following reflections in the windows on either side of the street.

Yoko Tsuno at Rue Terre-Neuve Reflection 1

Yoko Tsuno at Rue Terre-Neuve, reflected detail 2

 

 

The Sleeping Homeless

The sleeping homeless - behind Square Jaques Brel
The sleeping homeless – behind Square Jaques Brel, Brussels, a sunny afternoon (Saturday 3rd September 2016)

Alas, poor Yorick

Alas, poor YorickAlas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest whose response to life I fain would emulate…

I am not posting a blog entry this week as I am on holiday. In Denmark, in the tourist information centre at Helsingør, as far as the photo above reveals.

Below, in unnatural pose, I am supposed to be looking at Helsingør’s Kronborg – Shakespeare’s Elsinore – there in silhouette on the horizon. There’s a Shakespeare festival taking place there all of August.

John and ElsinoreNot that I actually visited Elsinore on this trip. But more of that when normal service is resumed – next week if all goes according to plan. And the weather gods permit.

Louisiana view through a rainy windowHave a great summer!


I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.

A walk in Molenbeek

A walk – with photos – through Molenbeek, the Brussels district vilified in the international press as a hotbed of jihadist terrorist activity

Greater Brussels is made up of 19 communes. These are local authorities, in effect towns, and are responsible for among other things the parks and the streets, local schools and sports centres. They also co-operate with one another (sometimes) to administer or oversee other services such as water and power supplies and (I think) the collection of rubbish. The communes are fiercely protective of their autonomy (a bit like Britain in the EU now I think about it).

On the Porte de Flandre bridgeOne of these communes, Molenbeek, recently attracted international opprobrium as a nursery of terrorism. Terrorists associated with both the major attacks in Paris last year had family connections in Molenbeek. You can still find articles on-line in the international press with titles like: “Molenbeek: Inside Belgium’s seething city of jihad where ISIS are heroes” (the British Express) or “Molenbeek: A Troubled Neighborhood in a Failing State” (the US National Review).

Graffiti along the Charleroi canal near Porte de FlandreWhen all the world’s press started writing about how terrible and dangerous Molenbeek was (and by extension Brussels), friends and relatives started getting in touch to check that Mrs SC and I were “safe”. It was all a little confusing. While I wouldn’t claim to know Molenbeek, I’ve been there, I’ve shopped there and I’ve walked through parts of it with a camera. It never struck me as exceptional in the context of Brussels, or particularly alarming. We own a standard lamp bought in a furniture store in Molenbeek; we have a favourite art work there we sometimes like to show visitors.

But perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places? Last Saturday 27th February, I joined a party from the Swedish Club for a walking, talking tour of what US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has branded “Europe’s Hellhole”. (Bless!)

Barge on the Charleroi CanalThis photo, taken from the Porte de Flandre bridge, I actually took last February. Our walking tour started on the bridge and the Charleroi Canal, which separates Molenbeek from the Ville de Bruxelles, is a key to the history of the place. On Saturday’s walk I learned that the Charleroi Canal was one of the earliest navigation canals in Europe, though it’s gone through many enlargements and extensions over the years. It now links the port of Antwerp to the north with Walonia and, beyond, with the extensive canal system of France to the south. The canal is the reason Molenbeek developed as an industrial centre in the 19th century.

Artists' colony in old brewery on rue du Cheval NoirAlong the Molenbeek side of the canal is an area of once busy industrial buildings. This building on rue du Cheval Noir used to be a brewery. With the collapse of industrialism in Brussels – as in so many places in western Europe – the local authorities have put a deal of effort into “repurposing” the buildings. This one, as you can see, has been extended with a modern construction alongside the original structure to create purpose-built artists studios and music practice rooms.

Our motley group with Tomas G on rue du Cheval NoirOn rue du Cheval Noir, here’s our motley group of Swedish speakers led by Tomas Grönberg, our erudite guide. Note the colourful wall of graffiti behind. There were several examples of graffiti on the walk. I liked them but several of my companions seemed divided over their artistic worth.

In the square behind the breweryHere we are in the square behind the artists’ studios/brewery. The brewery is the old brick building in the far corner. See how the architects have echoed the round windows of the brewery in the architectural features of the newer buildings around the square.

In the square behind the brewery 2The same scene from the opposite side (with the bright sun behind me now). And the roundels in the building on rue des Marinier are mirrored in the round shapes of all the satelite dishes on the balconies of the block of flats on rue Fernand Brunfaut. According to information on the Molenbeek commune website about half the 90,000 residents of Molenbeek are Moslems, and the majority of those come from Morocco. Several of the residents in the block of flats took an interest in our visit, standing on their balconies to look down at us, but it was damn cold in the wind, despite the sun, so no one hung around long.

Indoors at La FonderieIt was so cold that we were rather happy when that our tour broke for a visit to La Founderie – the foundery – a museum dedicated to Molenbeek’s industrial history. The foundery originally produced both practical objects (gas and electric light armatures for example) and art works. They were responsible, we were told, for most of the bronze statues of Belgium’s King Leopold II dotted around the city. (Objects that are – in my opinion – neither artistic nor practical.)

Indoors at La Fonderie 3 - chocolate bean roaster Still indoors, this machine was used to roast cocoa beans, the first stage in the process of extracting cocoa butter for chocolate making. Our guide – we had a special one for the museum – was keen to impress on us how all the industrial processes of the city supported one another, were integrated with one another and ultimately shaped the society that both worked in Molenbeek and bought the goods produced here.

On Molenbeek PlaceBut then it was out into the cold wind again to walk to Place Molenbeek – the Molenbeek market square next to the town hall. This photo was taken just as Tomas G informed us (in Swedish of course) that we were standing in front of one of the shops said to be a hotbed of jihadists. It looked very sleepy, though I did not tempt fate by trying to take a photo.

The minaret of the church of St John the Baptist Molenbeek A little way beyond Place Molenbeek is this remarkable tower. Though it looks like a minaret it is the bell tower of the Parvis Saint-Jean-Batiste – the Parish Church of St John the Baptist. (Officially, this commune is Molenbeek-Saint-Jean). The church was built here in the 1930s, long before the first Moroccans were recruited to work in Belgium in the 1950s. It’s just a happy accident it looks the way it does.

Playing cricket in front of St John the Baptist MolenbeekIn the square in front of the church, a group of young men were enthusaistically playing cricket. Not exactly a sport otherwise associated either with Belgium or the Arab world, I hazard a guess they or their families originated in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

L'Agent 51 - VaartkapoenOur tour of Molenbeek proper came to an end at Place Sainctelette where everyone crowded around trying to get a photo of this bronze. (Nothing to do with Leo II and not produced in the Molenbeek Foundary.) The figure (by the Belgian sculptor Tom Franzen) shows “De Vaartkapoen”. That’s him coming up out of the manhole. Apparently the vaartkapoen are people born in Molenbeek. “De vaart” means “the canal” and “kapoen” means something like “cheeky”. The cheeky young rebel is upsetting authority. The sculpture went up in 1985 and it portrays something that is much older still (the policeman’s uniform is reminiscent of something from the 19th or early 20th centuries). I’m not sure what it has to say about the current culture of Molenbeek, but I suspect if a modern vaartkapoen were to try this on nowadays the terrorist rapid response force would arrive in short order and arrest him. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that.

Graffiti rue Fin
Graffiti rue Fin

My thanks to Tomas Grönberg and the other members of the Brussels Swedish Club for a fine day out.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The Bottom Line in Ghent

Very dull, misty, grey and monochrome – so to the bottom line in Ghent.

The weather has been occasionally dull, occasionally bright for the last week or more. On Saturday it was dull. Very dull, misty, grey and monochrome both here in Brussels and across the country. Not a day to go sightseeing in Ghent as Mrs SC and I had planned – especially not when the attractions include the view from the Belfort tower (“access via a lift”) and the Sint Michiels bridge that “offers the best views of the city”. In Brussels the tower blocks at the Gare du Midi and Gare du Nord disappeared into the mist at about the sixth floor, so we knew views would be limited.

Nevertheless, we took the train and arrived at Gent-Sint-Pieters station in about 40 minutes. (€10 per return ticket. Not bad.) It was 2½ kilometres into the town centre, we discovered (we could take a tram). On the other hand, not 10 minutes walk from the station was the City Museum of Contemporary Art – Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst – which gets abbreviated to SMAK. (Something my Swedish readers will appreciate, smak being the Swedish word for “taste”.) Showing at SMAK right now is an exhibition of contemporary drawing: The Bottom Line. We chose the museum.

It was a good choice. The museum was exhibiting work by more than fifty artists, all active since the 1950s and most still with us yet, and still working. Inevitably some were more to my taste than others, but the cumulative experience of seeing what artists can do with (by and large) monochrome lines on paper was dramatic. I came out itching to pick up a pencil or a piece of charcoal, or playing with ideas of how I might acheive some of the same effects in digital drawing.

We spent a good four hours going around the rooms at the museum, looking at the drawings. (There were also, as a contrast, some light installations by an English artist with a Danish name who works in Belgium – Ann Veronica Janssen.)

Interestingly, as we made our way back to the station afterwards, the subdued light in Ghent combined with the memory of the drawings gave me the distinct impression that some of the drawings were not nearly so abstract and divorced from real life as at first they appeared.

See what you think. Below is an abstract drawing by William Anastasi from the exhibition and under it a photograph of pollarded trees in Ghent.

Drawing the Bottom Line 2 - William Anastasi

Pollarded trees in Ghent

And here are two more pictures. The first is part of a larger drawing in six panels – unfortunately I don’t have a note of the artist. The second was taken at Gent-Sint-Pieters station.

Drawing the Bottom Line 7 detail

In Ghent St Peters station

The formally framed pictures in the museum and the spaces between them were beautifully reflected in this candid shot of a mother holding her daughter to look down into the well of the museum at the reception desk below.

Drawing the Bottom Line 6 - mother and child SMAK reception

Drawing the Bottom Line 6 - SMAK reception

And finally, as we waited in the late afternoon gloom for the train home, I noticed these illuminated panels in the floor of the platform, and the patterns created on them by the marks of travellers’ boots.

Traveller's markings in Ghent 1 detail

Traveller's markings in Ghent 3 detail

Traveller's markings in Ghent 4 detail


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

Not so much this week as I am working on my entry for the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition.

The West Pier across shingle

West Pier across shingle

What is left of the West Pier across shingle.

The Channel's leaden line

The Channel’s leaden line.

The West Pier with lense flare

The West Pier with lens flare.

Three photos I didn’t manage to include in last week’s post from Brighton. I’m on holiday once again – a new blog entry will follow just as soon as I have the time to write it!

For some truely spectacular photographs from Brighton and Sussex that are far superior to my efforts, follow this link to Brighton Photography.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.