Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Brussels’ heroes

During our recent daytrip to the centre of Brussels we visited two of the city’s most famous heroes. They both have their statue near the historic ‘Grand Place’. The first one is Everard ‘t Serclaes. He lived in the 14th century and was one of the city’s leading men. Defending the later capital’s rights and privileges, he got caught in a territorial feud with the Lord of Gaasbeek, who owned a castle just outside of Brussels. The feud escalated, leading to ‘t Serclaes’ being assassinated by the nobleman and his bastard son. In a cruel streak (…if you have a delicate disposition, you’d better skip the next line) ...the two villains cut off the dead man’s feet and pulled out his tongue.

When the mutilated body was found by the citizens of Brussels, they decided to take vengeance by raiding the Gaasbeek castle and stealing all the nobleman’s chickens. The man must have had a large flock of birds as the legend says that the city’s population feasted for days, roasting and eating the lord’s chickens. Even today Brussels’ inhabitants are still nicknamed ‘kiekenfretters’ (chicken eaters).

According to the same legend, caressing the arm of ‘t Serclaes’ statue under the arcades of the ‘Maison de l’Etoile’ in the ‘rue Buls’ will bring you luck. Like all passers-by, tourists and locals, I’ve stroked the bronze arm on many previous occasions … and I couldn’t keep myself from doing it again last Friday. Does it work? I don’t know, but it keeps the little doggy, the body and the angel’s face watching over the dead man very shiny indeed.

The main tourist attraction, however, is Manneken Pis. It’s a 2 ft statue of a nude boy relieving his bladder. There are several stories about why and how this little fellow became so famous. They all go back to the 15-16th century when Brussels was a very prosperous city. And prosperity always leads to jealousy. One legend says that Manneken Pis extinguished the fuse of a bomb that had been lit by the enemy by peeing on it, thus preventing it from exploding and destroying the whole city.

Another legend claims that the little boy was caught relieving his bladder against the house of a witch, who promptly put a curse on him, making him pee continuously for the rest of his live. A sculptor, who saw what happened, felt sorry for the boy and made a statue that looked just like him. As soon as the statue was ready he went looking for the boy. When he found him on a street corner, relieving himself in a fountain, he pulled him away from the water and put the statue in his place, thus breaking the curse.

Brussels’ most prominent citizen, Manneken Pis has a vast wardrobe of tailor made suits that are on display in the stately ‘Maison du Roi’ right across the beautiful city hall. Leaders of state from all over the world, national and international institutions, celebrities, etc. consider it an honour to present the little guy with a typical costume or suit. If you’re lucky, he’ll be wearing his most recent attire when you’ll visit him. Souvenir shops all over Brussels sell miniature versions of the statue. Paris has its Eiffel tower. Brussels has its Manneken Pis … maybe not as prestigious, but definitely very cute!


No comments: