Friday, August 21, 2015

Suddenly, New York [and Brussels too]

Lunch anyone?

Suddenly, New York.

We had no plans for the summer, being tied up, as many of our age are, with various medical bureaucracies which might have prevented or delayed travel. But they resolved themselves faster than predicted, and there was Zohar going to celebrate her 60th birthday in Central Park without us! Lo ba beheshbon! לא בא בחשבון!! Out of the question!!

So we consulted friendly Orna of ISSTA and decided to take in a European city on the way (thus earning miles) and wavered between Brussels and Amsterdam (Madrid having been ruled out by the multitude of Israelis who have relatives in South America) and decided on the former as being a place we hadn’t really visited before. But first – NYC!
Air Brussels from Tel Aviv had the dubious advantage of making United Airlines (code-sharer for the second lap) look good. The seats were nine across and even Yosefa was too crowded to put her shoes back on. However, we braved it, with mental reservations.
In NYC, having slept only two hours the night before and fitfully on the plane, we crashed. Luckily Zohar and family came to us for supper and we splurged on a taxi for a few streets. Arkee was delighted to see his American grandchildren, the first sighting for many months.
Joey and Maya with their Daddy

The VRBO apartment served its purpose, housed up to five of us with minimum inconvenience and was located beautifully for our needs. The fire house on our block supplied a view of a hydrant that would have delighted Murphy:

Only the next morning did we contact my brother David and Susan, my school friend. This resulted in an invitation to dinner which was very enjoyable.
In the late morning (we rarely get out of our lodgings before noon when on holiday!) we went to investigate the new Whitney museum. We fortified ourselves with a light lunch before viewing the latest exhibitions of modern and very much politicized art. The building is recent and very impressive, overlooking the Hudson River.
The next day we had breakfast with Sue at her lovely studio flat. We got there at 10 and stayed almost till noon. Renewing old friendships is always delightful. Then we had to be back in time for David to pick us up as we had an invitation to New Jersey to meet up with David’s family. 
Gil, David's son,  was waiting with the barbecue with onion and peppers added, grilled pineapples and other delicacies made for a lovely meal and a family reunion.

From left, Naomi, Judah, Tali and Matt
But the most important was the interaction with the children and grandchildren – Eva and Shoshi

Shoshi and Eva
and Judah (Josh was at camp). Arkee had a wonderful time solving a very sophisticated crossword grid with Eva and Judah

and Judah engaged us in some very difficult questions about Israel..

In the morning Hadass, who had arrived from Winnipeg, had breakfast with us at the Italian restaurant on the corner and we all dined at an Indian one on Friday night.  There we had the first birthday celebration with a cupcake and sparkler for Zohar.

Family breakfast with Joey, Maya and Hadass
Friday we got to MOMA just in time to see what we wanted to before the crowds came in for free at 4 pm.

An official was necessary to direct the traffic in and out of the cloakroom and did so very efficiently. We saw an exhibition by Jacob Lawrence, a black artist (the first African-American to exhibit in NYC), who documented the great immigration of blacks from the South after emancipation. His style was naïve but dramatic.

The next morning we finally got to the Met museum and viewed some of the new Chinese and Japanese exhibitions (western imitations of Chinese dresses- amazing)

and in the evening managed to join up again with David and meet Gidon’s family for Chinese (the boys manage quite well with chopsticks and know what they like) and then Fro-yo – a choice of 14 handles to pull by flavor and pay by weight. Samples are free…

Natan, Yadin and Fro-Yo
They are lovely, intelligent kids and we had a warm family evening.

Sunday was THE BIRTHDAY.
It was a sunny day, and quite a few female New Yorkers took advantage of it by sunbathing on the grass in minimal clothing. The male members of our party took advantage of their long lenses to enjoy the view.
Central Park trees and recycling bin

The grandchildren who had been sleeping with us, went off early to reserve tables in the park. We lazed along, via Danny who did some laundry for us, and came upon a set table

with Turkish takeouts from the neighborhood, drinks, coffee, birthday cake etc.

The Birthday Cake!!
The table next to us was taken  by a Jewish family with the birthday of a three-year old, and they donated the rest of their birthday cake to us too.


From left: Maya, Danny & Zohar
We met people we knew, as well as interesting people we didn’t and finished up the evening back at the Chinese restaurant.
Altogether we had a beautiful cultural, culinary and social week and are determined to do it again…

Onward go YandA:

Brussels: other than sprouts? 

Other than the grey day we visited it years ago and duly recorded the Mannekin Piss?
We arrived early morning, too early for  our apartment to be ready for us. So breakfasted at the airport and finally took the bus recommended “200 meters from  the apartment”. But we still had time to wander, only not dragging elephants behind us.
So we schlepped 200 meters in the opposite direction and stashed them in a large locker. Only wandering, with or even without suitcases, was not what we were up to after a short night, and the final lap of our portage was complicated by steep  streets and rough cobblestones…yes they still have them in Europe. We sat around the Museum of the European Parliament:


The apartment, on the other hand, is modern, bright, clean and well-equipped, minus air-conditioning! I think I remember saying that we could manage without if the price was a place close to the center, but did not think we would have a south-facing room, all windows, only alleviated by thick dark curtains and powerful  fan. But we were tired enough to sleep, anyway.
Today, Wednesday (I think) we could not find the Michelin. So misguided, we made our bus way towards the center, when we could have left the bus right in front of the museum.

This was corrected by some energetic walking through the city (no hardship, and it was not too hot).

and the visit well repaid our efforts. Breughel I and II, Bosch, Hals, Memling, Van Dyck, Van de Werden and many more.
The Yawner by Breughel I

Unfortunately, the modern wing was closed for renovations, but we spent a long time (with a combined ticket) in the Magritte exhibition which is the largest in the world, and also features documents, letters, magazines of the time, quotations and short comic films he made himself.  Photography is not allowed in the exhibition itself, but we used our cameras in the museum shop:

As everything closes at 5 pm we missed buying a book or catalogue and will have to return.
Having lunched, we made our tortuous way down to the Grand'Place where the most impressive buildings were still sunlit and there is the beginning of a flower show which we hope will be the big one.

En route to the Grand'Place

 On the way we saw an interesting clock built into the side of a building. The clock is beautiful and the figures in its alcoves slowly animate.  Its chimes have a great sound (even though the bells do not move)! The man on top rings out the hour with his hammer and the figures animate.

Unusual Clock In Brussels, Belgium

These pictures show the   building known as Maison du Roi ("King's House") or Broodhuis ("Bread hall"). Note the musicians on the roof.


There is not a Belgian to be seen on the streets, they are all behind counters when they have not let out their franchises to immigrants from other nations.

The streets and squares were cram-jam packed  with tourists – Italians, Spanish speakers, Israelis, Germans and French – and of course Chinese. However, the general atmosphere is very festive and the waiters all speak English.

We saw a good reason for the reputation of Belgian chocolate and waffles.

Some people eat chocolate on a larger scale:

We can get around easily by bus if we find the stop, and remember to say “nonante’ (ninety in Belgian French, which is the logical  way to say it, but not what I learned in French French). But why do so many (young) people smoke??
Today was going to be very hot (and was when we were not in the shade) so we elected for another museum in what was left of the morning – this time the one showing musical instruments. Well advised as to the bus routes, we set off for the Magritte shop – but road-works changed the route and we once again found ourselves in the wrong place. This however, was soon remedied with a coffee and a bus in the reverse direction, which did take us to our destination. However the book I wanted of the Magritte exhibition was too heavy to carry around the whole day so we finally bought it the next day.
Then around the corner to the “England house”  where the exhibition is held. This is an art nouveau building which once served as a department store.
The first floor is all mechanical instruments (pianolas,  organs, pianos and music boxes) and not very interesting. However you are supplied with an automatic audio guide and if you stand in the right place, you can hear the instrument in front of you playing. This is wonderful if the audio-guide goes the same way you do and keeps up with you – but can cause some confusion and amusement. The second floor, however, shows hundreds of different instruments used through the ages from all over the world. From the coffin shaped zither (and  others decorated with dragon heads) to the drums – one made of clay 1.5 meters long with the head of a fish, clappers formed out of human skulls and the wonderfully decorated panels of Chinese chimes – it was a fascinating and informative exhibition which took up our afternoon.

Human bones used as trumpets-Tibet

Detail of Chinese gong clappers

From here we went back to the square where,

as it is an odd year, there is no carpet of flowers. Only an exhibition of flower arrangements in the Rathuis (Town Hall to you). Massive bouquets, bowls, streams along staircases and fanciful forms filled every room – and will all  be thrown  out on Monday.

Brussels is a hotbed of leftists who think that refugees are people. We tend to agree with them.

We got back to the flat just before the rain, and have not yet decided how much this will influence our plans for tomorrow. After the worst was over we went out to dinner – and discovered our usually calm and quiet square, with cafes and restaurants around a central statue with dead grass – jam-packed and noisy due to “happy hour” and its continuation into loud music and shouted conversation over meals. We took out or tuned off our hearing aids and had fish and chips.
After the late supper, we got out really late this morning. We decided to pay our respects to the Cathedral and found the right bus.  
The Cathedral, dedicated to St. Michael and St. Gudula,  is impressive, early Gothic, with statues on every pillar  (rather unusual) and a beautiful ebony pulpit. The church was 13th century, but additions were made much later. We appreciated the silence and the art.

Yosefa and the Cathedral

Base of pulpit by Hendrik van Verbruggen (1699)
We ate under umbrellas in the rain which turned quite heavy before we caught our bus, I was well protected and Arkee doesn’t care. We decided to call it a day after finally picking up the Magritte catalog  and came back to a fish meal and Arkee’s promised Belgian waffle. Now we can leave Belgium!
All the same, we   intended to take advantage of our last day here. Antwerp, the Atomium were possibilities that were soon ruled out by the bad weather. Arkee did not even have a sweat-shirt with him. So we decided to make do with Erasmus’ house (where he only stayed for five months while doing some research) which had been on our programme anyway. We found a wonderful breakfast  place with really good coffee and then made our way through the rain to the Metro. From the Southern railway terminal we wended through the suburbs (coming back we were directed to take the tram which had a much shorter route) to the stop named Erasmushuis. We alighted in the middle of a city street with shops and restaurants – all closed! Yom Kippur? Sunday?
Anderlecht, suburb of Brussels

And not the slightest indication that there was an Erasmushuis within 100 kilometres! But at least at one place they told us it was a Christian holiday (known as the Assumption). All this time it was raining and I was leaving  Arkee under the eaves of some building while I inquired and inquired. Finally we walked up Erasmus Street, and found a local jogger who knew something. When we finally found the house, it was nowhere near Erasmus Street, with no signpost or notification that this was what it was until you got right up to the front door.
Inside, however, we were gratified.
Erasmus, 1469?-1536

We were the only people there (four or five people left as we arrived) and were courteously received and given an English guide book to look at (they only had the one copy…) saw Bible interpretations, books and tractates and collections of letters (some self-censored after the Reformation when it was “as dangerous to speak as to remain silent”.)
Also books of education for princes intending to become rulers (for instance how to tell the difference between a friend and flatterer) and other wise treatises with white spaces or floral decorations in the middle of the pages
where the Inquisition had blanked them out…..(Miri Regev, please note)
And back by tram and Metro through the somewhat lessening rain for a siesta, dinner and packing up. This time we decided to take a taxi to the airport! It arrived at 0631 with an apology from the driver…