Tag Archives: Museum

Brussels Celebrities: Boxer Shorts and Peeing Boy

mannekin pisBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Brussels, says Rick Steves in the pages of The Seattle Times, is one of the great travel secrets of Europe. He goes on to illustrate why, with such examples as:

Belgian fries (“frites”) taste so good because they’re deep-fried twice – once to cook, and once to brown. The locals dunk them in mayonnaise, especially delicious if the mayo is flavored with garlic. My favorite budget meal in Brussels is having simple pub grub in an atmospheric old pub with a gaggle of “beer pilgrims,” who’ve flocked here from around the world…

Which is all very nice, but what made our ears prick up was a mention of the stone mascot of Brussels, the Mannekin Pis statue, located near the Town Hall. Steves informs us that its extensive wardrobe comes from all over the world, as various cities send costumes as gifts, which are displayed in the City Museum. How do they get the right measurements? But that’s neither here nor there.

The astute reader has noticed that certain themes run through the work of Kevin Dolgin and thus, through this column. Statues are one of those themes, and he has written about this archetypal piece of functional sculpture. In The Third Tower Up From the Road, he advises:

Plan on spending a good 12 minutes at the statue of Manneken Pis, a minuscule bronze of a small boy peeing into a fountain … if you’re lucky he’ll be dressed up as anything from a medieval pikeman to Elvis Presley. The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.

When they’re not dressing the thing up in goofy costumes, they’re stealing it. Over the centuries, seven Mannekin Pis thefts have stained the city’s honor. Like any urban hero worthy of the name, the peeing boy is the subject of much folklore. It seems there once was an aristocratic toddler, protected from battle by soldiers who stashed him in a tree, from which he peed on the enemy troops. Or, not from a tree, peed on the fuse of the dynamite planted by the enemy at the city wall. Or merely got lost, and everybody in town helped look for the kid, and he was found doing you-know-what, and his rich dad commissioned the statue in honor of the boy’s safe return. Please, feel free to make up your own Mannekin Pis legend and send it to us.

The locals really get into the spirit of things, with ceremonies where beer is pumped through you-know-where and handed out to passers-by (there’s a joke in there somewhere) to the accompaniment of live brass band music. This is definitely worth the trip. You might think that one Mannekin Pis would be enough, but no, the darn things are all over the place. Several other Belgian towns have their own, and in one of them he’s known as Il Gamin Quipiche. In France, they call him Le Petit Julien. The town of Tokushima, Japan, has a peeing boy statue that was presented to it by the thoughtful folks at the Belgian embassy. Even Rio de Janeiro has one. And that’s not even counting the millions of Mannekin Pis lawn ornaments all over the globe, perhaps even more numerous than garden trolls.

While Kevin implies that the peeing boy is one of only three tourist attractions in Brussels, this is clearly an underestimation. The city boasts many fine cultural destinations, including the Celebrity Underwear Museum, as we learn from SpiegelOnline, in an article that must be read to be believed. The museum was founded by a manic and rather infamous artist named Jan Bucquoy. Apparently the collection’s piece de resistance is… a pair of boxer shorts once worn by a finance minister. Like Kevin says, “The residents of Brussels get their kicks as best they can.”

photo courtesy of fiona bradley, used under this Creative Commons license

Acropolis Museum: The House that Grudge Built


News Editor

Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and this month in its pages, he turns the bright beams of a sharp intellect upon a brand-new museum. In Athens, Greece, there is a hill called the Acropolis, and on that hill resides a temple called the Parthenon, which is pretty much in ruins. You knew that. But – and it’s Hitchens asking this question, so pay attention –

Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean?

In his article “The Lovely Stones,” Hitchens explains how the Parthenon was originally built as a civic stimulus package, possibly with the hands-on help of Socrates himself. He traces the Parthenon’s history as a criminally abused piece of architecture, and explains why, philosophically, its conception was unlike that of any other great building, and why the new museum was, in its conception, unlike any other modern museum.

You’ve heard of the so-called Elgin Marbles. Tons of sculptured stone, more than half of the Parthenon’s original decoration, were stripped from the temple around 1800 by Lord Elgin, and removed to England. And if you thought anybody was going to just let that slide, forget it. Greece wants its national treasures back. The famous poet and juvenile delinquent Lord Byron is involved in this story, as a bitter foe of Lord Elgin. He would have loved Hitchens, who deals summarily with all “frivolous and boring objections” the British Museum puts in the way of returning the art.

The new Acropolis Museum, which incorporates nearly 13,000 square feet of glass panels, was designed by Bernard Tschumi. It is an exercise in positive thinking: copies of the missing works are on exhibit as placeholders, until such time as the originals are restored to Greece. As a public shaming tactic, this just might work.

For more on the archaeological dig that preceded the museum’s construction, we consulted The Wall Street Journal for the article “A New Way to See Ancient Athens” by Christine Pirovolakis. She quotes the head of the excavation team who says, “Almost all of the ancient homes that we found in this area contained specially designed rooms where lectures or symposiums took place.” Dig it (little archaeological joke, there) — it was what the upscale ancient Greek family had for a media room!

And what is Kevin Dolgin’s take on the Acropolis? We thought you’d never ask, but you must be 18 or older to view the answer:

Once in Athens, you shouldn’t go to the Acropolis right away. You should make your way towards it, engage in some historical foreplay before the main event.

One of our favorite pieces in Dolgin’s The Third Tower Up From the Road is “Zvouros, the Clawed Guardian of the Acropolis,” and we’ll give you a hint: Zvouros is a cat.

photo courtesy of jonmcalister , used under this Creative Commons license