Category Archives: Belgium

The other side

Quand les mensonges deviennent la vérité, et la perception devient la réalité, tout est perdu.

We are on the other side of the election. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Much will be said about this election, about perception and reality, the role of the media, the place of the common man, populism, etc., etc..

Pas de platitudes ici.

No platitudes here. Okay, I lied about that. Having already said that lies become the truth and perception reality. Leave at this. No congratulations, no lamentations, he may be great, we hope, no, I prefer to escape (c’est le mot?) in time and place to the other side of the world, Bruges, to the 9th Century, and to Baldwin Bras de Fer.

Burg Square, City Hall, Bruges

Europe in the 9th Century was at war. The Vikings were on a rampage across Europe and throughout Britain and Ireland. Hordes of Saxons and Angles poured across the English Channel and were sweeping across England. Alfred, king of Wessex, was not yet great, but on his way.

Charles (in red), instituting Baldwin (in armor) (Wikipedia, image circa 1450)

Baldwin I (circa 830s – 879), Baldwin Iron Arm to historians, was first Margrave of Flanders, founder of Bruges. Count Baldwin grabbed the spotlight when he ran off with princess Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of West Francia. Judith was living at home with dad, having previously been married to two kings of Wessex and therefore, twice a queen, until 860, when the second king died. With her brother’s help, Judith escaped dad’s protective custody in France, and fled to Flanders with her dashing Count Baldwin.

Charles, not one to take such an effrontery, demanded their return. Not happening.

So Charles had his bishops excommunicate the couple. They, not wishing to live in sin, went to Rome to see the Pope. He recognizing true love, took their side, put Charles in his proper place, and all was forgiven. Baldwin became a loyal supporter of Charles and helped him in holding off the Vikings.

In his struggles with the Vikings et al., Baldwin used the location of Bruges as his base of operations. On Burg Square in central Bruges, he built a fortress, since long gone and now the site of the City Hall.

If there a thought behind all this, I am not sure. Historical figures come and go. And Baldwin did not leave us with his fortress, but with the beginnings of a city.

Une fois une figure effrénée mais a oublié

The image above of the Bruges City Hall that one sees is itself a distortion. The angle of the camera contributes to that. So too is the fact that I removed an offending individual from the center of the image. Then I brightened up a dull and grey image. We see what we want to.

I will leave you gentle reader with this thought. When lies become the truth, and perception reality, all is lost. Dear reader, it is not an original thought. I am not even sure it is accurate.

For just when it seems all is lost, we wake up, reality is restored and it back to life. Elections, and the things that are said during them, are such ephemeral things.

We hope, we pray.


Four and twenty blackbirds

Chante une chanson de six sous,
Une poche pleine de seigle.
Quatre et vingt merles,
Cuit dans une tarte.

Quand la tarte a été ouverte,
Les oiseaux se commencé à chanter;
Était-ce pas un plat savoureux,
Pour régler devant le roi?

Le roi était dans sa maison comptage,
Compter son argent;
La reine était dans le salon,
En mangeant du pain et de miel.

La femme de chambre était dans le jardin,
Raccrocher les vêtements,
Quand le bas est venu un merle
Et picoté hors de son nez.

Blackbirds are a common in Europe and America and considered a nuisance when they gather in flocks. We go to great trouble to get rid of them. But some good must come of them.

I speak of the common blackbird, although there are certainly others such as the red-wing, grackle, raven, rook, or jackdaw. Yes, I speak of the blackbird that in autumn and winter gathers in flocks by the thousands and makes a mess of cars, tables, and porches. In the country they can be seen in the cut fields gathering what remains of the  wheat and corn; in the city they perch on telephone wires and buildings, watching, it seems, as if to descend and strike back at us for cutting down their habitat.

Who doesn’t recall Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? If we let the mind wander and soar, then I prefer Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.

Four blackbirds

Wander I must.

Here I am in Belgium, outside Brugge, walking along the canal on the way to Damme. It is early September, a little early for the blackbirds to gather together in flocks, but someone has to put out the word.

“Four and twenty blackbirds…” goes the rhyme, first appearing in print in 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Songbook.

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.


In the Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder had ma improvise when pa shot the blackbirds that ate the crops. There is no great loss without some small gain.

Ma made a pie.


The evening and the rose

The Evening and The Rose

Many an hour I’ve shared and spent with you
and never for one hour with you
have I been the least bit worried.
Many many is the flower for you
I’ve picked and plucked,
and, like a bee, with you, with you
honey from it drunk;…

Guido Gezelle, 1858


Guido Gezelle

Who doesn’t like a challenge?

Two weeks ago, I was in Bruge, capitol of West Flanders with my two brothers-in law. No wives, just us. I mention Flanders because, one – the point of our trip was to tour the World War I battlefields of Flanders, and two, in Flanders they speak Flemish. I hope the Flemish will forgive me for saying their language is a melange of Dutch, German, French and English. Google Translate doesn’t have a Flemish translating tool, a surprise to me as it would seem quite simple to do.

But what do I know?

We stayed for two nights just off the central market square at the Hotel Cordoeanier and the attached Cafe Red Rose. Lovely stay, not long enough to take in all the sights, love the bikes everyone rides to and from work, loved the canals, Venice of the North, yada, yada.


Cafe Red Rose

Loved the hotel, loved it breakfast, loved the cafe, loved the Belgian beer and the good conversation we shared with all those that showed up at the Cafe Red Rose in the evening hours. I wasn’t sure about the plastic red roses hanging from the ceiling, but then I hadn’t met Guido Gezelle.

I only mention all this as a lead up to my meeting in Bruges with Guido Gezelle.

Who is Guido and what is he doing in Bruges, you ask? I answer by saying that he is a bit of a fixture in Flemish culture and in the city of Bruge itself. Literally, he is a fixture, a life size bronze statute in a quite city square.


There he stands, tall and proud, a resting place for pigeons, and a puzzlement to tourists. Guido – the Italians pronounce it Gwee-do, the Flemish, like the Germans, I assume, Gee-do. It’s Guy in French, and not often used in American-English except in Mafia movies and as one of the characters in Pixar’s animated movie Cars.

Guido Gezelle statue


Guido deserves a little respect for Guido is no less than the national poet of the Flemish language.

When the Flemish speak about Guido, they say this, “Guido Gezelle is zowat de bekendste dichter uit het Vlaamse taalgebied.” He is the most famous poet of the Flemish speaking region.”Bekendste dichter” could as easily translate as well-known poet, and it is a mouthful to speak, as is German, as is Dutch, both of which are similar.

He wrote many poems in the Flemish language, one of which is Dien Avond en die Rooze. The English translation is The Evening and the Rose. One can figure that out fairly easily as it is phonetically close to English. There is a bit of controversy about the poem, but controversy makes for good discussion. The fact is that the poet priest wrote the poem about or to an 18 year old student, Eugène van Oye.

So, what do we read into this? Nothing or everything, as you wish.

My challenge is to take the rest of the poem and translate it into English. If you need help, use the Dutch translator to help with the English translation. After that use your imagination.

My beginning is at the top. Here is the Flemish:



‘k Heb menig uur bij u
gesleten en genoten,
en nooit en heeft een uur met u
me een enklen stond verdroten.


‘k Heb menig menig blom voor u
gelezen en geschonken,
en, lijk een bie, met u, met u,
er honing uit gedronken;


maar nooit een uur zo lief met u,
zoo lang zij duren koste,
maar nooit een uur zoo droef om u,
wanneer ik scheiden moste,

als de uur wanneer ik dicht bij u,
dien avond, neêrgezeten,
u spreken hoorde en sprak tot u
wat onze zielen weten.

Noch nooit een blom zo schoon, van u
gezocht, geplukt, gelezen,
als die dien avond blonk op u,
en mocht de mijne wezen!

Ofschoon, zoo wel voor mij als u,
– wie zal dit kwaad genezen? –
een uur bij mij, een uur bij u
niet lang een uur mag wezen;

ofschoon voor mij, oschoon voor u,
zoo lief en uitgelezen,
die rooze, al was ‘t een roos van u,
niet lang een roos mocht wezen,

toch lang bewaart, dit zeg ik u,
‘t en ware ik ‘t al verloze,
mijn hert drie dierbre beelden:
u – dien avond – en – die rooze!


Source of poem.