I don’t have much of a sense, more than it not being a marquee or top ten destination, of how Ghent rates as a place for the traveling public. Certainly, for the non-traveling public, at least the American, Ghent cuts no figure whatsoever. We chose to situate our time in Belgium here because the guidance which Lonely Planet and various websites gives led us to conclude that it was the smartest move.
We had planned a day trip to Bruges, but ditched it in favor of savoring Ghent. We will touch down in Antwerp, as we did in The Hague, for a short look-see on the way back to Schiphol, where we will in three days leave Europe behind for now, and embark on one of the most anticipated segments of our trip of only anticipated to highly-anticipated parts: safari in the famed parks of Tanzania.
We have the sense that we are playing out the string for these final few days in comfortable Europe, a feeling contributed to today by the steady rain and the grey that is its bedmate. We were out for a few midday hours tramping about the puddles that form in the troughs between the cobblestones which pave many of the streets, yet kept dry by our miraculously supple and light rain shells courtesy (for a fee) of Patagonia. But rain is still rain. Our journey took us to the recently completed city library by the most recent Pritzker Prize winners. Whatever its acclaim, it’s either a dud or just fine. Evolutionary Mies or softened up Mies or watered down Mies – take your pick. It tries to cut a figure in the cityscape with pizzazz that will elicit a wow. But it fails, even more in the steel-flesh than it does as a photo, as it seems to have the air of cool and edginess without actually being cool or edgy. A bad and self-undermining combo — ask any teenager. The interior is at best clean and uninteresting, and at worse, a bit dehumanizing (read Sarah’s current GREAT book, Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives). This now makes signature buildings of two Pritzker Prize winners in a row extremely disappointing.
(Disclosure and disclaimer: My amateur pronouncements on architecture (and art) are (for better or worse) mine alone and should not be construed to express or reflect Sarah’s (or Gideon’s!) views in any way, unless I explicitly indicate that they do. Although I am and always will be a diligent student of Sarah’s, I often do strike out in my own direction.)
As with many failures and disappointments and fallings-short (how many things don’t fall short in some way?), the library led to a productive discussion, which continued over lunch, about how prizes are not to be taken so seriously (or seriously at all), as the record of awards for the Pritzker, the Nobel, the Pulitzer and many others show. Gideon was amazed by the list of Nobel literature winners, both who won (a who’s who of never-knowns and already-forgottens) and who by their absence were demonstrably never deemed worthy, including such argument clinchers as Tolstoy, Proust, and Joyce. The Peace Prize is rightly a standing joke: Kissinger, Arafat!!, and Obama. Politics of, candidates’ friendships with, and fads too strong to resist among the people who in a given year are the jury members have plenty to do with such awards. This state of affairs is hardly the end of the world, but it does mean that we should not confer the mantle of greatness on prize winners just because they won. Back to Tolstoy, Proust, and Joyce. Throw in Bob Dylan and ask the Sesame Street question: Which of these things is not like the other? Chances are you and the Nobel committee agree – but for different reasons. Anyway, our lunchtime discussion about the library and prizes was illuminating (especially for amazed Gideon), and fun was had all around.
The next, our final full, day in Ghent was perfect weather, and, lo and behold, the sense of playing out the string dissipated.
Gideon, who had spent the night with his friend Mike in Brussels, returned at 3:30 in the afternoon. Until then, Sarah and I spent the day walking Ghent, talking about and analyzing Ghent, photographing Ghent (that’s Sarah), and marveling at Ghent, both in the super-historic center and the merely historic and partly modern near-center.
There is much to say about Ghent, which Sarah can do with far greater perspicacity and literary verve. I gather she intends to do so in an extended form somewhere down the line.
After Gideon’s return, we congregated and caught up in our Airbnb, another lovely apartment (in a building from 1723 in the heart of the city center) which contributed substantially to our sense of wellness in Ghent.
Evening now approaches. We’ll get dinner and do a little packing-triage of things we’ve discovered we don’t need as we head to our stops in Africa.
— Danny, posted in Tanzania, 14 August 2017