Wednesday, 6 August 2008
roBERT RUBBISH MEETS JAMES ENSOR BELGIUM GREATEST PAINTER
MEET JAMES ENSOR
"I dont do early mornings " I have been heard to say on more than one occassion and this was the second in two days. The day before being a six o'clock in the morning early morning.Today was not so bad it was eight or something like that, the time of day best not experienced unless still up in a jolly spirt and partying from the night past.Orange juice for breakfast, cornflakes, bread rolls and jam. This was living, I was largeing it three stars style in the city of Brusells home of the EU.Today was my second day in the lowlands of europe, Belgium. Across the table from me sat my faithful travel comrade and long suffering friend she was tucking into scrambled egg and meats she opted for apple juice.This trip had been waiting to happen for five years and some.The little things like jobs, time and money had put a stop on it happening until now. After breakfast we gathered togther are maps and personal effects. I emptied the contents of Miss Nina's blue Nike retro bowling bag on to my bed and transfered a number of items from my bag that I brought over for this outing plus a microphone and camcorder.
Then we were off on a ten minute walk across town to central station only stoping once at a tourist infomation centre for young people where Miss Nina did pick up some trendy maps for young people, maps for all Belgium's major cities. It did puzzle me why Oostende didn't seem to be represented with it's own 'down with it' map, maybe it was totally uncool. I thought good, then it will quiet and dead. The sun was out and it was going to be a hot one "I don't like hot weather" I have been heard to say every time it gets to the temperature I deem too hot. Miss Nina filmed my approach to central station and a few token shots standing outside, then we took the train bound for Oostende.
An hour later we pulled into the fair port of Oostende. A few shoots of getting off the train and then we followed the herd of people out on to the hot promenade. "My word what a lot of people" I thought. We walked a bit more, it was sea-side hell, Belgium style. I remarked to Miss Nina with a hint of ironic miff "We have arrived in the Belgium Riviera" a few yards down the promenade I changed my mind, "we are in the costal Belgium." Everywhere you looked there was balcony lined apartment blocks, micro versions of the Costas. On ground level, the Belgians feasted on frites and creatures from the murky seas across the way. Giant sea-gulls attacked the diners. We ventured on towards the casino where the tourist information office was housed. I knew of the casino from a documentry on Marvin Gaye's time he spent in Oostende.I had been watching it on you tube recently, it had been played to me one night many years before, that in the early hours of a post club boozy night. Where upon the Gaye obsessive was giving me a blow by blow account of Marvins life and music I have Clarence Clearwater a Jersey blues man for first turning me on to Oostende. Marvin had come to Oostende to get his life together and get off hard drugs. Living in Oostende would drive most people to hard drugs.
We turned the corner of the promenade, there was some roller disco thing going on with someone dressed in a giant rabbit costume and an emcee giving his all over the euro pop. Finally we got to the tourist office looking at the brochures there where none with any reference to James Ensor (the reson why we had come all the way here). After asking we where given a map and the kind lady behind the desk showed us where his museum was, the modern art museum and his grave. We set off through the back streets of Oostende (it was cooler then the sun trap of the promenade) the buildings we passed en route where modern, bland holiday apartments most of Oostende's fine Victorian splendor was gone. The only old buildings we saw where depleted and in state of decay or waiting to be replaced by new shite.
Ahoy the James Ensor museum was in full view. It was in a row of Victorian houses that had seemed to be in good shape. The museum was closed so we took a bit of flim and made our way across town to the modern art museum to see some of the great mans work. It was getting hotter, I was starting to wilt. The sweat ran down my forehead. My forehead frazzled in the sun. We found the museum and purchased two tickets. I happened to ask the lady on the desk about what ensor work they had, she repiled "There are no Ensor originals in this museum. It then dawned on me that we had come to the wrong museum. Too late now, so we looked around the museum at the wonderful Belgian modern art bought some postcards and where then off out into the burning Belgium sun.
Did i mention twas hot? We made our way across town to the Ensor museum, it was housed on one of the few nice streets in Oostend that had seemed to have kept some of its Victorian splender. The museum had been home to the Ensor family. James' Grandparents had lived there and ran a shop selling seaside gifts, chinese curios and carnival masks. This place had been a big influence on him and the subject matter in his work. We entered the museum. The ground floor was like it had been when Ensor himself had kept it as a curious installation. There were old shelves that housed many carnival masks and a large wooden and glass cabinet that now housed many books on Ensor. A nice man behind the counter greeted us. We gave him some Euros, he gave us some museum information. We wandered around the groundfloor, there were some strange hybrid skulled lizard or monkey type things in an a glass case, in the corner was a top hat and old coat resting on a hatstand, next to it was a grand cabinet with photos of Ensor in houses he had lived in as well as curious objects.We ascended the stairs to the first floor where there was a wax work of an old fisherman based on one of Ensors paintings. It was very creepy and very life like. Next we entered a red room with lots of glass cabinets and a large bronze bust of Ensor. The cabinet in the centre of the room was home to a cast of Ensor's death mask and one of his old palettes. Harmonia music was piped through the room adding an odd ambience to the whole place. We rose to next level that housed two rooms. They had been decorated in the style the house was in when he lived in it. On the walls hung reproductions of his paintings. The next room was a magnificent affair with blue flocked wallpaper, with a harmonium like the one Ensor used to play with a collection of masks resting on it.The wall the harmonium was against featured a scaled reproduction of his most famous work 'Christ Entering Brussels' the room also featured an easel and a couple of couches and a dining table with a macabre assembled figure of a woman sitting on it and a moody looking staff member sat on one of the couches, very scary.
After looking at the room for a while we descend down to the shop and bought some postcards.Then it was off to see Ensor's final resting place. We walked to the famous casino and took a tram six stops to a sand dune area near the airport. We searched around and found an old church next to a campsite but there was no sign of a graveyard. I was totally cheesed off. We had already gone to the wrong gallery with no Ensor paintings and now we had come to the wrong church and to top it off did I mention the heat? There was no rest from this cruel sun. The sound of the music from an ice-cream van filled the air so I deciced to buy some refreshments and asked the icecream lady if by chance she knew of the grave of Ensor. She did indeed and gave us directions. Onwards, ever onwards we did go. Down a cycle track, dodged the masses of Oostende's biking OAPs. At last the church made its' self clear to us. Entering the church-yard I was very excited and ordered my director of photograhy to document this event. I slung the blue Nike bowling bag over my shoulder and set off on a quest to find Ensors grave.
It didn't take long as there where only a handful of graves in this place. There it was. A three foot high granite monument. By now I was giddy with excitement, sun damage and dehydration. I made my approach down the gravel path stopping at the foot of the tomb, paid my respects with the sign of the cross. I took the bag from my shoulder and took out a plastic skull that I brought as a gift. Placed it on the top of the tomb then took out a note I had written on the tram on an envelope from the modern art museum it read as follows:
DEAR MR ENSOR
HOPE YOU ARE WELL
I CAME TO OOSTENDE
TO SEE SOME OF YOUR STUFF
THERE WAS NONE
SO HERES A GRIFT
I put the bag over my shoulder and left the the tomb, we then made our way back to Oostende and then onwards to Bruges.
THANKS TO NINA FOR EDITING THE TEXT
HOPE ALL IS WELL WITH YOU ALL
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