The last few days have been sunny and balmy. Twice over the last 48 hours violent hailstorms have raged over the country, causing considerable damage to glasshouses and crops. Two nights ago areas in the south-western part of the country were ravaged. Yesterday afternoon and last night it was the south-east and the north. Right now it is our turn, in the centre. It’s almost noon and yet outside it looks as if it were 10.30 – 11 p.m. It's raining cat and dogs and I see light flashes in the distances. The storm is not yet over us … if the classical trick is still correct, i.e. counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the first thunder and multiplying the result by three, I’d say it is still some 25 km south-west from us.
By precaution, I’ve unplugged my laptop and am working using the battery. I hope the storm will stop before it goes down. I haven’t unplugged the internet as it has a special, lightning proof cable.
Oops … it’s coming closer … only 10 km or so. Time to get on with today’s post ….
With the warm weather we’ve been having, it didn’t take much effort to work up a sweat. Things were slightly different when V. an S. were in Belgium in April, though. As I mentioned before we had decided to climb the tower of Leuven’s University Library. It started with a gentle, wide and straight flight of stairs which led to library hall where two or three scores of students were immersed in their reading. It was extremely hot in the room, but the students didn’t seem to mind. We wandered around for a while, respecting the big ‘silence’. We marvelled over the many dictionaries, some of them representing languages we had hardly heard of.
The rest of the climb was less gentle. The next flight of stairs went up a narrow stone turret, not unlike the stairs you find in the Loire Valley castles. On the first floor we saw the first part of the exhibition dedicated to the history of the Library during WWI and WWII. On both occasions the building was devastated by the invading army. Thousands and thousands of valuable books were burned. After WWI the Library was rebuilt with the help of the American government and the American people.
During WWII the enemy dismantled the store room and used the steel structure for the war industry. Once again the Library was unrecognizably ‘mutilated’. Yet, like a Phoenix, it rose from its ashes a second time. The building as we know it now dates from the 1950’s. You would never guess when you see it from the outside. However, when you continue the climb to the top of the tower – five steep winding flights of stairs – the concrete structure is clearly visible.
Each floor hosts an episode in the Library’s war history, cleverly illustrated with photos ‘d’époque’, short yet very evocative texts in four languages and subtle light in different colours. By the time we had reached the top it was quarter to four. When we stepped out on the platform overlooking the town, we found ourselves at only a meter of the huge bell that hangs in the top of the tower. The young man at the ticket office had warned us not to stay beside it when it was ready to strike 4 o’clock. He even advised us not be any higher up than the fourth floor to avoid ear damage.
Part of the exhibition.
Each floor had a different colour theme.
We took a quick tour of the platform, shot some photos of the panorama and hurried down. By then our knees were beginning to feel a bit wobbly. On the third floor we ran into a mother with her 14 or so old son. They were on their way up. The woman stopped us and, slightly out of breath, asked: “How many more flights to the top? Is it worth it?” You could tell that she was secretly hoping that we would say that it wasn’t worth the effort. Yet, the boy looked so eager, that we advised them to continue. The mother gave a desperate sigh and pushed the boy forward. “Go on then, you wanted to see this.” We let them go, after warning them about the bell and the fact that it was almost four o’clock.
While we were descending the last flight of stairs the bell chimed four times. I sincerely hope that mother and son had taken the precaution of waiting on the fourth floor or that they were already on their way down by then.
Slightly sweating and with sore legs we stumbled down the last steps. Outside we decided that we had deserved the next item on my to-do-list: some beer tasting. Nobless oblige, Leuven being the beer capital of the world!