Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brussels – Erasmus House and Garden

The Tour de France is over for 2011. Cadel Evans of Australia is the winner. Mark Cavendish of the UK (Isle of Man) won the Green Jersey, Samuel Sanchez of Spain won the Polka-Dot Jersey and Pierre Rolland of France the White Jersey (see my last post to understand the meaning of the jerseys.) It was moving to watch Cadel Evans on the podium on the Champs-Elysées in Paris at the conclusion of the Tour.

The TV announcers said that 50% of the viewers are not cyclist fans but watch the Tour de France to see the landscape and sights along the way. Below are some of the sights from this Tour (photos courtesy Gibson Photo, NBC, VeloNews and AFP.)

Now after all the Tour emotions I am returning to reporting on our short stay in Brussels. After visiting the Beguinage in Anderlecht (see post here) we visited Erasmus House and Gardens.

Click on collage to enlarge, then on individual photo to embiggen

Growing up around old buildings in France, I took antique houses as a matter of fact. After decades in the US I now am more impressed when standing in a house built several centuries ago. Erasmus house was built in 1515 and has been restored to the way it looked in 1521. It is one of the oldest Gothic houses in Brussels. This Burgundian style house was transformed into a museum in 1932.

It was almost lunch time, the sun was shining brightly – time to take some pictures while the courtyard was deserted.

A guide accompanied us through the house. No pictures were allowed and she stood close to me to make sure I would not take any. Coincidentally postcards were available for purchase and I bought several. We saw a Renaissance hall, a Rhetorical chamber, the study and a room with frescoes. Many works of arts, including drawings, prints by Albrecht Dürer and oils by Holbein are shown in them. In the Rhetorical chamber you feel you jumped back to the 16th century. Some portraits of Erasmus are in the study. The one below was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger (German 1497-1543.)

Another room had the walls covered with Cordova leather in turquoise and gold. The room with frescoes had gothic furniture and a rare collection of volumes of Erasmus.

The library has many prints of Erasmus and I understand that there is a reading room, containing one the world’s largest collection of 16th century volumes, which is reserved for scholars researching ancient works. Erasmus lived in this house in 1521.

Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer, German 1471-1528

I knew the name Erasmus but, frankly, was not sure about what he had accomplished. I read up on it and have enough notes to write a 10 pages report – no,I won’t transcribe them here… I’ll try to sum it up. Desiderius Erasmus was born in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, in either 1467 or 69 and died in Basel in 1536. Rotterdam has a statue of him.

1622 Statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam (courtesy Wikipedia)

Below is a 100 Dutch Guilders bill showing Erasmus. The Guilder was the currency of the Netherlands until it was replaced in 2002 with the Euro. Actually I still have some old Guilders in a purse.

Erasmus was a classical scholar, theologian and the most renowned humanist ever. He was the inspiration of Martin Luther but argued with him about sin and free will. He was called “the Prince of Humanists” as he advocated religious education toward a simple faith which would be accessible to all. His intellectual knowledge was such that Kings and others rulers of the time invited him to be their guest. He was always traveling and had a great influence on the scholars of his time. He called himself a citizen of the world not restricted to any one region and said that he belong to the “Republic of Letters.” “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes” Erasmus. I second that!

Bust of Erasmus in Gouda, Holland where he lived around 1487 (Wikipedia)

Erasmus wrote some popular books including Encomium Moriae (In Praise of Folly) (1509) which poked satirical fun at church and society. He was against the powers of ignorance and superstition and loathed clerical fanaticism. He was disgusted by the ignorant hostility to learning that reigned at the time. In 1516 he published a pioneer translation of the Greek New Testament with parallel Latin text. It exposed the many errors of the text the Catholic Church was then using. Of course the Catholic Church did not like that and it censured many of his writings. He was for a time placed, on the order of Pope Pius IV, on the Roman Index librorum prohibitorum, the List of Prohibited Books.

Man's mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth.” Erasmus

Postcard showing original Erasmus censured writings

Erasmus was an innovator, a reformer and an eternal student. His message was spread through his books and thousands of letters. He favored church renewal and tolerance. Here was a man in the 1500s who believed that one should not judge others’ ideas, that mankind should have free will and independent beliefs (as when he visited Moslems.) He would have liked to see the power of the clergy broken; he had the ear of the educated class. Alas Luther spoke to the people and the ignorant and out of his revolt arose evangelism, another type of fanaticism.

Portrait of Erasmus, Quent Massys, Belgian 1465-1530

Erasmus was a pacifist and attempted to persuade the rulers by his books and letters to end wars and bring peace to their lands. Erasmus’ Adagia (explanation here ) first published in Paris in 1500 contains the following writing: "The people build cities, princes pull them down; the industry of the citizens creates wealth for rapacious lords to plunder; plebeian magistrates pass good laws for kings to violate; the people love peace, and their rulers stir up war."

Peter van den Dungen, a Lecturer in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford in England says that : “ If any single individual in the modern world can be credited with 'the invention of peace,' the honour belongs to Erasmus rather than Immanuel Kant whose essay on perpetual peace was published nearly three centuries later." I think we need another Erasmus right now.

He who allows oppression shares the crime. The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.” Erasmus

Portrait of Erasmus in his later years, Hans Holbein the Younger

After the visit of the museum we walked toward the garden. Erasmus introduced the concept of a philosophical garden -‘Nature is not silent but speaks to us everywhere and teaches the observant man many things if she finds him attentive and receptive.’ (Convivium religiosum.) The garden was redesigned in 1932 and again in 1987 on medieval and Renaissance ideas.

Erasmus wished to have a garden filled with medicinal plants but also to be an invitation to sit down and enjoy the time as it slips by or to exchange reflections with friends for, as Erasmus said, "‘Where your friends are, there is your wealth.’” ( Là où sont mes amis, là est la richesse.) Below is the Medicinal and Herb Gardens.

Each curative plant has a tag with its name and a little figure of Erasmus showing where it helps the body.

We left the enclosed garden and entered another garden which was not so formal but in a more natural setting.

Beautiful roses were climbing on the red brick walls.

Little reflecting pools of water have Latin phrases placed there to make you think or philosophize.

Chairs and benches are placed in various parts of the little garden to incite you to sit and meditate. Some light wood benches had a beautiful design and I sat for a few seconds to silently contemplate the wild flowers nearby – but my husband was coming and we could not stay long.

There was no more time to observe the sun rays and shadows playing on the leaves. It was time to leave this magical garden – so peaceful in the middle of the vibrant cosmopolitan city of Brussels.

So we walked back to the planted garden to rejoin our friends.

And here is my favorite quotation:

"I am a citizen of the world, my homeland is everywhere, I'm a foreigner everywhere" - from a letter Erasmus wrote to the reformer Ulrich Zwingli.

Painting of Desiderius Erasmus statue in Rotterdam market (by unknown artist.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tour de France in the Alps – Galibier, l’Alpe d’Huez and Announcement

Above is a poster showing the Tour de France riders climbing towards the Col du Lauteret in the Alps. This poster used to be hanging on the wall in my cubicle at work. I looked at it many times and it was always an inspiration. Col du Lautaret is on a ridge that separates the Northern Alps and the Southern Alps.

Col du Lautaret, photo courtesy Russell Stranding

On Thursday 21 July, 2011, for the 18th Stage, the Tour de France riders will get close to the Col du Lautaret on their way to the Col du Galibier. The Col du Galibier will be the highest ever finish location for the Tour - at an altitude of 2645 meters (8,678 feet) reached after a 23 kms ascent (14.28 miles.) The stage totals 5,180 meters (17,000 feet) of climbing. This is an historical climb as the original tour organizer, Henri Desgrange, first added the crossing of the Galibier one hundred years ago in the 1911 Tour de France. Émile Georget who won the stage in 1911 took over 13 hours to complete the route. The main riders had to go through six feet high walls of snow – some riders even had to walk. Henri Desgrange wrote in his newspaper L’Auto : “ Are these men not winged, who today climbed to heights where even eagles don't go, and crossed Europe's highest summits? They rose so high they seemed to dominate the world!

Picture of Émile Georget in 1912 (Wikipedia)

In July 2009 I wrote a post on the Tour de France called “What is the Tour de France” explaining its history – you can read it here.

But in short, the origins of the Tour de France go back to Henri Desgrange (1865-1940) who was a legal clerk in the 1890s in France. He was an amateur racing cyclist also. When he became the editor of a magazine called “L’Auto” he conceived the idea with another journalist, Géo Lefèvre, to organize a 2500 kms. (1553+ miles) cycle race around France so their magazine could report on it. Thus was born the world's greatest and most famous bicycle race.

Henri Desgrange on the cover of Voila July 7, 1934

The road to the Galibier was built from 1880 to 1891 and has been part of 57 stages in the Tour.

Road near Galibier, photo courtesy Christophe Ena

The Tour de France started Saturday July 2nd, 2011, and will end on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 24th, 2011. This year it is made up of 21 stages covering a distance of 3,430.5 kilometres (2131.6 miles.) The stages are set up to test different skills and endurance and include flat stages, 1 team time-trial stage, 1 individual time-trial stage, medium and high mountain stages with summit finishes. Some stages venture into bordering countries – this year the countries were Spain and Italy. Next year in 2012 (the 99th Tour) the Tour de France will start in Liège, Belgium.

Route of the 2011 Tour de France

I get up early every morning to watch the Tour live on television. I especially enjoy the views shown from the helicopters flying over the Tour. The scenery is beautiful and so varied. I tried to take some photos from the television, but the pictures are not as good as from the televisions in France and Belgium, since it is another system.

Because of the 100th anniversary of the race to the peak of Galibier the emphasis this year for the Tour is in the Alps. Some cyclists will have a difficult time climbing the steep hills and the yellow jersey may pass to another racer. This is what the leaders’ jerseys mean: the Yellow jersey (maillot jaune) is worn by the over-all Tour de France leader. The Green jersey (maillot vert) is the sprinter jersey with the highest number of sprint points. The White with Red Polka Dots jersey is the “king of the mountain” jersey awarded to the best climber in the stage and the White jersey is awarded to the best young rider, under 25 years of age. The jerseys are awarded to riders at the end of each stage. So far Thomas Voeckler of France has been wearing the yellow jersey since Stage no. 9.

Thomas Voeckler was born in the Alsace region of France in 1979. His father was a psychiatrist and his mother is an anesthesiologist. When he was 7 years old his parents decided to go to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean so that his father could use his sailing boat and enter boat races and cross the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately in 1992 his father was lost at sea with his sail boat. Thomas joined a cyclist club in Martinique when he was 12 years old. When he was 17 years old he came back to France for his studies. He became a professional cyclist in 2001. He is not a strong climber so he may have to surrender the yellow jersey after the tough stage to the Galibier peak which is followed by the Alpe d’Huez the next day.

Thomas Voeckler on the podium receiving the Yellow Jersey on 14 July, 2011

The Tour de France has riders from many countries. I do not have a favorite rider – I watch the way they ride and support the ones I think did a good “job of work” as the TV announcers say. After watching the Tour for so many years I know some of the riders well, such as Thor Hushovd from Norway, Frank and Andy Schleck from Luxemburg, Cadel Evans from Australia, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Tyler Farrar of the USA, Mark Cavendish of the UK and big George Hincapie from Greenville, South Carolina (who is married to a French woman.)

Thor Hushovd of Norway winning the Stage in Lourdes

The Tour de France is really a prestigious race followed by fans from all over the world. Thousands of fans line the route, some sleeping in tents in fields nearby and other bringing their campers from stage to stage. At the top of mountains when the riders are approaching huge crowds get close to them on the road, some wearing outlandish clothes, like a German fan called “el Diablo.” I always worry that someone will get in the way and a rider may fall – accidents happen often as it is.

Friday, July 22, 2011, will be Stage 19 which ends in l’Alpe d’Huez. Alpe d’Huez is a winter and summer resort nicknamed “the island of the sun” as it averages 300 days of sun per year. It is an hour away from Grenoble, two hours from Lyon and two and a half from Geneva. Panoramic viewpoints show one fifth of the French territory with the Mont Blanc, Mont Ventoux, the Massif Central, Switzerland and Italy. This is a very important and popular stage and where the Tour can be won or lost.

The first winner of the Alpe d’Huez stage was Fausto Coppi in 1952. We did not have a television then but I remember hearing about it on the radio. Coppi (1919-1960) was a “Campionissimo” a super-champion. He was the first to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France the same year. He won many races but unfortunately died prematurely from malaria which he had caught in Africa. Below is a book on Fausto Coppi.

The formidable 21 laces which go to the Alpe d’Huez are relentless for runners; many of them are afraid of this climb which brings failures for those who cannot stand high altitude and whose legs become weak. It is a tough stage and a thrilling one to watch. Just 4 more days to watch the Tour – Thursday to Sunday then I’ll watch TV rarely until next July. By Friday though, after the Alpe d’Huez stage, we may get a better idea about the expected winner of the Tour de France. The winner will get 450,000 Euros (the purse total is 3.2 million Euros awarded to the top team and riders i.e. US $4.565 million.)

While watching the Tour de France every day I knit or crochet a baby blanket. So far I have done 14 of them. Last year I knitted one for a friend of my daughter. He requested a blanket looking like the French flag, so this is what I did. I also crocheted a small car seat blanket – they are below.

This year I knitted a rainbow blanket because my daughter was expecting another baby. It is already finished and I brought it with me to Nashville last week.

I was pleased that it was finished because …….ANNOUNCEMENT - we had another grandson, born last Wednesday, July 13th. He is a strong boy of 9 lbs 4 oz. I know he is strong because as I was holding him last Saturday he lifted his head away from me – which is unusual for a 3-days old infant. Now at 5 days old, last Monday, he went with his parents from Tennessee to Florida – he may become a traveler like many in his family.


Course Cycliste 1902, Georges Duchesne, French

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blog Intermission No. 14 – (entr’acte) – Woman in the Mirror

Several months ago I purchased a small book of poetry entitled “Now Might As Well Be Then” by Glenda Council Beall. The poems are lovely, well written and infused with much warmth – they touched my heart with their tenderness.

The back cover of my book says that Glenda Council Beall holds a degree in Education from the University of Georgia. Her essays, articles and poetry have been published in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is listed in the Poets and Writer’s Directory of American Poets and Writers. Glenda graciously authorized me to publish her poem, below, in my blog. You can read more on Glenda at her blog here (http://www.profilesandpedigrees.blogspot.com/.)


Woman in the Mirror, Theo van Rysselburghe, Belgian 1862-1926

What happened to seventeen,
when I rode my mare
free as the river flows,
jumped over downed trees
splashed through narrow streams?

Marie in the Mirror, Peter Severing Kroyer, Norwegian-Danish, 1851-1909

What happened to twenty
when I danced in the moonlight,
my slender form dressed in a gown
white and shimmery as pearl?

La Toilette, L. C. Breslau, German-Swiss, 1856-1927

What happened to thirty
when I rode my Yamaha
down fire roads, mountain trails,
long black hair flying free?

Woman at the Mirror, Leon de Smet, Belgian, 1881-1966

What happened to those days
I ask the woman in the mirror.
Gone, she says, all gone, unless
you remember it.

–Glenda Council Beall

Reflections, Richard Emile Miller, American 1828-1943


Note: Top picture is from my collection of vintage postcard. It is signed Alice Fidler, 1911.

Blogger Break - Post pre-programmed –
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...