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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

#Bruegel for Beginners by John von Daler

                We drove all day from Copenhagen to Flemish Belgium, switching drivers, sleeping, talking. Like some army of the Middle Ages we crossed over the Jutlanders, the Saxons and finally the land of Charlemagne to reach our destination. Our little, all-conquering Faroese orchestra complete with poetess/soloist would be performing in various towns in this land of the great king - and of the Bruegels.

                Now you may be asking just how somebody from Oklahoma could possibly fill one third of a Faroese trio. Suffice it to say that the details of a Bruegel picture are often very interesting and very important, but seldom tell the whole story of what is going on. You have to take a step back. In this epic picture I portrayed a fiddler disguised as a Dane disguised as a Faro Islander. Only Bruegel Senior could pull that off.
                We arrived in our picturesque little Belgian town at about seven o'clock, found our hotel, checked in and then met in the lobby to discuss dinner. I ventured the opinion that this might be a rare chance to eat real Flemish food, even though we were hungry and tired. Shouldn't we try to find something good, local and cheap?
                Walking around a small Belgian town in the evening can be depressing, especially when you have not as yet found the huge square that is so typical for almost all of them. Often the restaurants are located close to where the markets used to be.
                This particular town was completely closed down. We walked past windows full of porcelain, furniture, chocolates and maternity wear. Only the occasional MacDonalds or Burger King seemed to be serving food at eight in the evening. I had my difficulties keeping the group on track, hungry as they were and very willing to give up this opportunity for Flemish culture just to get a bite of anything. Here my Oklahoma birthright served me true. I was not going to eat a hamburger in Belgium.
                After much walking on tired feet while discussing the relative unimportance of culture in times of hunger, we finally found a large, beautiful cobblestone square surrounded by narrow, tall houses, a town hall and a few restaurants. Among the last we found a place that looked all wooden and leathery and we went in.
                The restaurant was packed with happy, talkative Belgians, and the waiters, buoyed up by the hectic atmosphere, were working quickly and efficiently. Soon we were reading menus - in Flemish. This was not tourist season. In addition the establishment seemed to have achieved success without catering to foreigners, but we asked for an English translation anyway. No one understood us, so we had to make do with the language of Bruegel.
                We started to decipher. Seeing us work through each word, the proud waiters finally took pity on such helpless travelers and decided among themselves to act out the menu. This place apparently served mostly wild game probably shot by yeomen, fresh mushrooms undoubtedly plucked by innocent maidens and beer definitely blended by hooded monks in dark and hidden monasteries. They served each of us one black and frothing glass of papal ale and then began to imitate the wildlife on the page.
                Soon hares were hopping in white aprons past graceful deer in black trousers while pheasants in tablecloths and wild pigeons in vests sprang noisily from wooden chairs, attempting to fly onto the sawdusted floor. A duck flew on to the lap of our singer. We guessed and yelled and pointed through this little food charade and I think we finally interpreted most of the waiters.  The only fellow we didn't figure out sat over in a corner with a yellow napkin on his head. He didn't move for those ten minutes or so. I ordered his dish. Chantarelles.
                Hopefully Pieter Bruegel was sitting on a cloud in the Flemish heavens, getting the whole thing on canvas.
                Many beers and three courses later, we wandered out into town and got pleasantly lost in the completely deserted streets. After an hour we found our hotel, said good night and went to bed to dream of gazelles and unicorns and dodos dancing pas de trois on giant wooden plates.
                Playing concerts the next few days was easy. After all, now we knew our audience. We even felt a little Flemish ourselves, Faroese Flemish if you will.


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