Brussels BonanzaOn April 27, 2022 by Elyse
Dear readers, I have good news or bad news, depending on whether you read this blog for entertainment or out of obligation: Second Glance History is going on a semi-hiatus.
Life has taken a surprising turn, and I was unexpectedly offered a position abroad. Can you guess where? Jumping through bureaucratic hoops and moving across the ocean will consume my life for the foreseeable future, but I hope to be back with all-new (er, old) stories later this year.
I wouldn’t leave you completely bereft of cringeworthy puns. “Clip of the Week” posts will continue appearing in your inbox and on social media every other week. Please stay subscribed and continue to follow Second Glance History on Facebook and Twitter, where I’ll keep the off-brand cat gifs coming.
In the meantime, if you’d like to follow my (mis)adventures abroad, I’ve joined the 21st century—and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/Waffling_Through_Belgium. I wish I could take credit for the username, but that goes to my ingenious Aunt Elizabeth.
Although I visited Brussels several years ago, I spent most of that trip making and eating chocolate. I have a lot to learn about the city I’ll shortly call home. Luckily for me, the historical newspapers are, as ever, a font of knowledge.
Today, Brussels is known for bureaucracy, beer and Belgian waffles. However, the city had a less alliterative reputation more than a century ago.
Brussels is. . . a purring, self-satisfied, quiet, satiated, much-envied place. . . a town inhabited by men of simple manners and moderate intellectual power, combined with a weakness for trivial amusements and military pomp and show; yet, with it all, still remaining a very paradise to those who like to lead an easy, careless life.– Camille Lemonnier, Harper’s Weekly, January 21, 1893
The tourist brochure needs some work, but I’m intrigued. Tell me more about these trivial amusements.
The other day it is said the German Governor of Brussels affixed a proclamation to the walls of the city making the usual plundering requisition. On this occasion the burghers were asked to bring to the Town Hall what horses remained in the city and neighbourhood.
For context, the German military occupied most of Belgium during the First World War. So much for “trivial.”
The order was complied with so far as possible; but what was the consternation of the alders when they saw a crowd of children coming on behind them dragging all the old wooden toy horses, donkeys, and other beasts that they had collected from cellars and garrets, where they had been stowed away. These they gravely took to the Town Hall, and left for the Germans, who, it is said, were furious, but in present circumstances were impotent to vent their wrath.
It is the first laugh that the people of Brussels have had since their city fell into the hands of the Huns.– Press, January 2, 1915
If Bruxellois/Brusselaars/Brussels residents can laugh even under the direst of circumstances, we’re going to get along just fine.
However, if I ever get on my high horse—see what I did there?—my future neighbors know how to handle Americans abroad.
Mr [Cornelius] Vanderbilt, who on his recent visit to Brussels was keenly interested in the old city. The museum of beautiful laces had a special attraction for him, and he could not find it in his heart to leave without taking some of the costly specimens with him.
I felt the same way, except it was a chocolate museum, not a lace museum.
Thinking that a millionaire could have no difficulty obtaining them, he sent for one of the [museum] guardians: “I don’t care how much I pay, but you must sell me a piece of this lace,” he said. The poor man was horrified, and explained that they belonged to the State, and were not for sale.
But Mr Vanderbilt persisted, and refused to leave the building until he had got what he wanted.
Anyone who has ever walked through a museum gift shop with a small child knows exactly how this unfortunate guardian felt. Alas, history doesn’t say if Mr. Vanderbilt threw a temper tantrum.
The guardian sent to the burgomaster [mayor], and asked if a visitor had any right to act in this way. “Assuredly not,” said the Magistrate, “but it is better to avoid any disturbance with an eccentric character of that kind, so send for some lace at the nearest shop, sell him that, and we will give the money to the poor.”
That’s what we call a win-win situation.
The guardian did as he was told, and returned with two or three handkerchiefs, saying that he had got permission to sell those. But when the millionaire heard that 80 francs was all that was asked for them, he was not satisfied. So the man quietly returned and bought some others of a different pattern, which he sold him at £20 apiece, to the delight of Mr Vanderbilt and to the profit of the poor of Brussels.– The Star, November 30, 1901
I have to disagree with the first article: with a ploy like that, Brussels has more than moderate intellectual power.
Beauty competitions no longer possessing the charm of novelty, some one in Belgium has hit upon the idea of getting up an ugly man’s exhibition. A grand prize for ugliness will be given to the competitor who vanquishes all comers, by the hideousness of his countenance. The men are to be on view at a place of amusement at Brussels.– The Westminster Gazette, quoted in the Olneyville Tribune, March 17, 1894
How dare they blatantly objectify men in such a way! As a woman, I have no idea what that must feel like.
With local intel like that, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. If you have tips on buying authentic, priceless lace, finding a moderately attractive men’s exhibition or generally being an expat, please send them my way.
Dear readers, as always, thank you for reading, for your kind comments and for your saintly tolerance of my terrible puns. I wouldn’t have been able to keep Second Glance History up and running over the last 3.5 years without your support, virtual and otherwise. You’re everything that’s right about the internet.
Until next time, au revoir! (Look how much French Duolingo has taught me already.)
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About This Blog
Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.