Brussels is coming apart. The weight of stones and man no longer capable of containing the city it once was.
Cobblestone streets ripped by curiosity, here and there begin to show a glimpse into the 13th century. An intricate three dimensional urban puzzle of brick and stone appears, streets, archways, narrow steps, patios, rooms, cisterns in a clash of utility.

This is a glimpse into 1238, an open grave exposing its treasure next to the Palais de La Bourse. The simplicity of one overwhelmed by the presence of the other, back and forth one gazes realizing the distance between one’s eyes spans nearly 800 years…. the mind becomes playful.

Today’s walk started casual enough out of a simple desire to celebrate my day by solitary immersion into the city’s fabric. I wanted to fill myself with the essence of people and architecture, details of color, stone and light.

Arriving by metro at the Parc de Bruxelles, I listened to my footsteps crushing its gravel pathways, a sound rich in childhood memories that always energizes me, this Parc differs tremendously from its Parisian cousins, it is nearly two dimensional, patches of fine grass formed by classical grids cut diagonally.

There’s a fountain in its center, a perimeter line of mature trees pruned into gnarled stumps closed to the trunk, looking like a row of implanted thick ropes with skyward frayed ends tied in knots, and children everywhere. Children globally alike in their inquisitive minds and treasure seeking eyes, playing, squealing, crying bored and chilled through their wind burned rosy cheeks.

Turning right at the Palais Royal one faces the Palais Des Beaux-Arts, here a first hint at, what I now think Brussels is, a massive grave. A huge hollow from the middle of the plaza to Des Beaux-Arts exposes it’s brick foundations and more. A world once buried shows itself again, granite walks, and intricate masonry arches of what was the original Palais Royal built by Phillipe le Bon in 1460, destroyed by fire in 1731, sealed until now under tons of earth and cobblestone which form the royal plaza.

How will they deal with the fact that this heavily traveled plaza is both a major motorway and an archeological treasure? I hope the motorists loose.

I turn down Rue Mont D.L. Cour and stop… in the middle of the block something familiar, the empty copper and iron mass of the Old England department store, waves of childhood memories of exotic scents, polished walnut and mahogany woods, thick carpets, beautiful people and sparkly things. It rests an empty and proud example of Art Noveau with its filigreed iron minaret and roof rails, steep slate roof and slightly bowed iron and scalloped glass canopy.

At the bottom of this steep street, the Place de L’Albertine, anchored by the bronze statue of Prince Albert proud on his immense horse trying to not look down on the kids below performing Kamikaze skateboard launches on its base.

Down again, into the Rue de la Madeleine, moving slowly to look at all of the galleries and antique bookstores, one can’t avoid the small church. Eglise de la Madeleine is graciously simple, classic with its high center nave and roofed buttresses, each with intricate stained glass inserts, the entire composition pointing towards the chilled but crystal blue sky.

Stepping into the Galleries St.Hubert to warm up. This street covered by a continuous curved glass skylight, goes on for three blocks and is teaming with people walking, shopping and sitting in its cafes. I cut across it to the Rue Des Bouchers and become immediately flanked by restaurants, side by side, every type of seafood delicacy displayed well into the street.

One navigates slowly through here, must capture every fragrance of imaginable sauces, bouillabaisse’s and warm breads. Choosing by menu is impossible, here one must decide based on friendliness, color schemes and instinct.

Nearby the sound of a church bell, methodical, a beautiful deep baritone indicative of the real thing. It is Eglise St.Nicholas, strange that I had missed it completely… then I realize it is surrounded by all of the restaurants, built with their backs against its stone walls, side by side they cover it completely except for its two entrances which I had mistaken for doorways into other food venues.

Curious I walked in, the magnificence of the sanctuary takes my breath, the Mass is starting so I join the celebration and sit down to pray and stare with equal amounts of devotion. Tall granite columns line up the main nave and support a crisscross of archways lacing upward. At the intersections, iron belts rust and stain the decomposing stone. Light is filtered through slivers of blue and white stained glass, wood is sparse a few attachments for the confessional and the high pulpit wrapped around a massive column.

The sacred altar protected behind intricate iron gates is dark except for a gleaming gold cross at its center, the new altar, friendly and of the people sits outside the gates and off center to the nave. One feels reverent here, quietly I rest.

After the service, I choose a simple restaurant, La Moule Provencal, and proceeded to have a birthday dinner of anguilles, salad Des tomate, and sole Provencal. This accompanied by half bottle of 1985 Bordeaux and an espresso with a glass of warm cognac to aid in the digestion.

It was the subsequent walk through the meandering next few blocks of this city that led me to turn right into the point of the story’s beginning.

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