To the Victor go the…large mounds

January 26, 2008

waterloolion290x200.jpgBattlefields have a strange attraction. Gettysburg had an impact on me which was all the more powerful for being so thoroughly unexpected. The humanity of it all was perversely rammed home by understanding the sheer scale of the slaughter. In the case of Gettysburg the preservation of the slaughter-yard otherwise called a battlefield adds to the weight of the experience. Read more

Are Cartoons Literature?

January 1, 2008

lucky-luke-mural290x200.jpgThere is a general acceptance that cartoons can indeed be literature although one would need to be selective about which cartoons were selected for the library shelves. As ten years olds, or thereabouts we used to devour Commando Comics. One of our friends had a father who absolutely prohibited “this rubbish” from his house – we smuggled them to our friend under our shirts… Read more


May 21, 2007

The poppy flower brightens the trackside vegetation and livens up the borders of the wheat fields where the plough has not scarified them out of the ground. They blur past me as I gaze across gently rolling fields from the train taking me to Waterloo. The freshness of the red helps you understand how it has become a symbol of the great battlefields of the Great War. They bloom around Waterloo as well. Not the Waterloo of Canada, Britain or the US. But the original from which our vernacular says “he met his Waterloo” and to whom we refer being Napoleon. For here he and his aspirations for a European republic centred on France were dashed in bloody fields the likes of which were not seen for another generation in places like Gettysburg. Today a modern military type would describe the gently rolling fields as ideal tank country. Plenty of dead ground. Good line of sight. Little natural obstruction. In 1815 it was ideal cavalry country but that same ground and its cavalry qualities were disastrous to the exposed soldier and their wounded and mutilated bodies covered swathes of ground and filled numerous ditches to overflowing.

Visiting the site (it is a short train ride from Brussels) requires more than the couple of hours I had to explore the headquarters of Wellington, climb the memorial mound or spend a few minutes in the Panorama rotunda (from which this photo is taken). But it was enough to be reminded that we have never done a good job of learning from one generation to the next the appalling cost war imposes on our communities.

17 May 2007

Old St Catherine

May 21, 2007

How old is the church of St Catherine? Very old is my guess. In a town full of old things, its age stands out. Old enough to have the fine detail of its relief carvings weathered to rounded edges and their definition blurred. Angels and saints, soldiers and devils, Mary and child all returning to dust as grain by grain they are washed to the cobblestones below. The fenced off walls are shelter now to groups of homeless people who have broken through the fence and settled their noisy nests in the sandstone vaults exposed to the square. At least the church does what it was called to do – extend its hand to the poor and the downtrodden. For this neglected old cathedral you could say its hand is outstretched while its eyes are sightless.

Around the square are new maples, ice cream shops, trendy little restaurants, a few bars – one in which I currently prop – and Flemish style buildings most recently refurbished. Getting here through the outlying city blocks was a traverse of nations and cultures. Africans spilling out of the “Little Castle, a place of refugee application. Pakistani soft-drink sellers. Aged Belgian men walking their pugs. Muslim women of indeterminate origin (other than from the generic “Middle East”) with their scampering children, Korean family selling car deodorisers from the sidewalk, Chinese hairdresser, beggar on a stool still elegant in his beret and doing what he can to maintain his dignity.

16 May 2007

Belgians in Brussels

May 21, 2007

There is a roughness to the population which is quite striking. It almost verges on the skinhead look. Unkempt and dark. Not that there is any sense of threat. It is just the dress of the youth. Dark and oppressive. Aggressive even. But it seems this is the Soho of Brussels so I should not be surprised. Indeed, there is something vibrant about it as well. Art shops, bookshops, music, paint, stamps, postcards, small bars, gay bars, sidewalk cafes, street theatre, huge murals, on walls, (Tintin and Snowy descending a flight of stairs on one), rubbish piled high, despite the seeming constantly working fleet of trash trucks, more dog turds, and now drifting rain. Bald headed bearded elderly homeless men drift around. Japanese tourists ogle past, mouth open in perpetual surprise. Shaven young Lebanese lads bolt up the street to the nearest night club. Of which there are dozens. So too jazz and blues clubs. Surprising. In fact I am missing a Jazz marathon by a week. Shame really. Unshaven, beanie, long locks drifts past the window. Is this drabness and darkness what the Belgians exported to the Congo all those years ago? Their colonial reputation was not very flash to say the least.

I am parked in Tavern Le Dylans and a mix of French blues and jazz is belting out of the sound system. It is getting dark. People are drifting around outside. Tyres slick and hiss along in the wet. A muslim mother pushes past with pram and two kids. More jacketed youths rush past. Three “homies” shuffle along, arm in arm. Women with dirty brown faces, ripped and ragged brown dresses. Bare feet. But laughing. And with flowers in their matted hair. It is a strange town but there is no question I could come to like it. If the sun ever came out that would improve impressions somewhat.

15 May 2007

Tintin, Waffles and Chocolate

May 14, 2007

Brussels is a strange town. I sat and ate a very expensive McDonalds burger (the Big Mac Index blows out in this place at about USD8.00, AUD10.00. And as I did so watched grey people on a grey day. It is Sunday, Mothers Day and everyone seems to be out and about. But it is not an attractive city today. It has a hard edge to it. Dirty and somehow forgotten. Museums are boarded up being repaired. Streets are filthy – cobblestones are great for trapping rubbish. Yet that which had people flee the old world is no doubt what attracts us all back. There are flashes in this town that surprise and enchant. And let’s face it, I have only walked for a couple of hours after getting off a 24 hour series of flights from Sydney. So my sampling is very limited. On the other hand first impressions count.

There is an area surrounding the Grand Place – a beautiful central square – in which you could lose yourself for a long time. Art and music, food and chocolate, fashion and books. An arcade in which colour and light entice you to the window like mosquitoes to a blue light, and from there the scent of cocoa and spices draw you in to the chocolate tar pit from which you never escape. Unless of course you spend a small fortune and walk out with your purchase wrapped in Tintin paper.