looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

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We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

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After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
Liege Hydrant OutremeuseIMG_3719

Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

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After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

breezing through brussels

Brussels Grand Place
It has been a dream of mine to sit and sketch the whole Grand Place in long panoramic form, to spend about three hours sat drawing all the details, but I think it may be a detailed panorama too far. It is so ornate, so mind-bogglingly overwhelming, I may need to carve out time on another trip. the main reason though is that I keep just wanting to wander off and eat frites, drink beer, explore. This is Brussels, where exactly twenty years ago I would come and walk about exploring on the weekends when I wasn’t in Charleroi. This wasn’t my first trip back since then – maybe my third? – but certainly my first time back in Brussels in over a decade. Brussels is still Brussels, maybe a few more beer-crawl weekenders dressed in matching silly costumes, but the busy wide Boulevard Anspach that cuts through the heart of the city is now pedestrianized, which was a big shock to the system. It took me a few minutes to remember where all the winding roads lead, it’s easy to get lost in Brussels, but finding my way to the tall spires of the Grand Place is easy, and from there, Brussels is my oyster, or perhaps my mussel.

La Grand Place, Brussels
It was evening by the time my Thalys rolled into town, and rather than jump on the metro I foolishly decided to walk from Midi to downtown, a walk I used to know well. This time there was a huge funfair in the way, and I was thrown off by how the exits look different now; I have never really liked Bruxelles Midi station much (known in Flemish as Brussel Zuid), and I’d get to spend even more time there later in the trip, but I was so excited to be back in Brussels I didn’t care. My hotel was not far from Grand Place, and I had enough evening light left to do the sketch at the start of this post, which despite all the details was done really quickly. I then popped into the old fast-fooderie Quick, which wasn’t as good as I remember, and sauntered up the Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potageres to one of my favourite cafes in the world – A La Mort Subite.
Brussels A La Mort Subite

“Sudden Death”, that’s what it means. You may have heard of the beer, especially their slightly sweet gueuze or their very cherry kriek.I was so excited to find my old favourite seat, right by the door and the window, was open for me to sit and sketch when I got there. I used to sit in that seat when I would come here 20 years ago, Saturday afternoon, frosty or wet outside. I remember coming here to meet another English teacher in Belgium, Barry, and playing chess on a little wooden set I bought at Grasshopper, a toy shop nearby, which I still have. I remember coming here in 2008 with my mate Roshan and sitting in the same spot, remembering times when I had come back before and remembered other times. Some people drink to forget, I drink to remember. I had the gueuze of course, followed by a Ciney, and sketched the old interior. When I first came here, people still smoked inside bars and so there was a foggy air which yellowed the walls. These days the air is so much nicer. The cafe was opened in 1928  by Theophile Vossen, and 91 years later the Vossen family still run this cafe. I remember when it was only 71 years old. I am so happy to finally come back and sketch this old place again.
A La Mort Subite, Brussels
A La Mort Subite, BrusselsBrussels

I walked about the streets on the way back to the hotel, tracking the changes that two decades had brought. I came across another place which was significantly less old than A La Mort Subite but where I used to go quite a lot back in 1999, the Irish bar Celtica. I popped in to see if that had changed over the years, and passing the security staff throwing out an extremely drunken sod on the way in, indeed it had not. Live music was being played by Father Jack from Father Ted, and it was full of people young and old, locals and others, it really wasn’t any different. It brought back more memories – this place, as with many others, tended to never close during the night, so you could go there on a Saturday night and leave in the early daylight hours, it would still be packed. Celtica was a useful place to hang out and wait for the first Sunday morning train back to Charleroi on a night out in the capital. I remember arriving in Brussels once or twice by Eurolines coach, at the Nord station, and getting in too late for the train home, so I would come here, sometimes with all my bags (one time I was bringing my guitar), chat to people (I remember meeting staff from NATO once, I asked them if they could let me know where was being bombed the summer after because I was making travel plans; it was 1999), drink very slowly, listen to an old soak bellowing out Whiskey In The Jar on the little stage. I didn’t stay long this time, I was getting jet-lagged (I had arrived on a first-class flight from LA that morning in Paris; 1999 me would probably not believe that, 2019 me barely does), so I walked back to my comfy hotel bed, and I was up early and refreshed for a nice morning run around empty streets the next day before leaving to go to Ghent and then Liege, a whistle-stop tour of my favourite small country.

pottering about paris

Paris Moulin Rouge
I really like Paris, but it has always felt like the city I never really got to know very well, and is better friends with other people. It’s not really very far from London, its history has long been bound up with every other country around it in some way – if Paris sneezes, Europe catches [insert whichever virus is trending that year], and yet from Britain it felt a world away; funny how the British see near neighbours. “Paris m’est inconnue“, a line I remember from Cyrano. My time spent in France was mostly down in the far south, which is why my French accent is so different (see also my time in Belgium, more on that in the next posts) (actually the real reason is that I’m just not that good at French) (I do have a degree in French though). But in all the times I have been to Paris, I realized that I’d only ever been there by myself once, and that was over 20 years ago, for the day, on my way elsewhere. I had been as a 13 year old kid on a day-trip with school, when I first entered Notre Dame and felt the cold ancient stone, and our bus went past the Moulin Rouge. I went when I was about 20 with a girl, that didn’t really work out, and all I really remember now is when I decided to go for a late night wander by myself and walked all over the city, exploring Paris after dark fearlessly and completely without any sort of map. I went another time (with another girl) and I remember going to Pere Lachaise and up Montmartre but little else, it was a long time ago. My solo visit was during the World Cup 1998, as the opening part of my summer-long European rail journey, and I spent the evening watching Brazil beat Holland on a big screen in front of the Hotel de Ville. I never went back, save for changing trains to catch the Eurostar, until my family and I went in 2012 when my son was quite young, and that was my favourite Paris visit, hitting many of the sights, watching Les Guignols in the Jardins de Luxembourg, and taking my son on all the metro lines because he liked being on the train. I really like Paris but have rarely been on a solo trip. And this day, well I was by myself, but it was another day trip. However I was determined to just wander about one area only, the steep hill of Montmartre. I landed at CDG, took an RER to Paris Nord, and set out on foot. And when I arrived on rue Pigalle, on the leafy traffic islands flanked by sexy DVD shops and nightclubs, I saw the one thing that reminded me I am back in France – a man pissing openly in the street, and nobody caring. Some things don’t change. That was a fairly common sight when I lived in Aix, but back then I was not Californian, and didn’t think anything of it. But hey when you gotta go you gotta go. Later that same day I went to Brussels, whose most famous statue is a boy very happily having a public wee.

So anyway, as you can see above, I stopped on Pigalle, and drew the famous Moulin Rouge. It’s so famous that Nicole Kidman made a film about it. It’s so famous that Rod Hull made a TV show about it, although he watered it down a bit. As I mentioned my French isn’t as great as it should be so I think Moulin Rouge means ‘Mussels in Lipstick’ but I didn’t go in to find out, so instead I just drew the big red windmill that is for some reason on the top. I know that the famous ‘can-can’ dance has something to do with this place, presumably it’s about canned mussels (which btw are fine but not as nice as fresh mussels). The can-can was very popular when I was a kid in around 1980-81, I think it had been released in the charts to compete with Shakin’ Stevens, and I remember at parties in our street people attempting to dance a can-can and kick their legs up high. So anyway I drew the windmill because I figured, I am going to be spending a good amount of time in the Netherlands on this trip, this will be the first windmill of many. Spoiler alert, this was the only one I drew. Incidentally, I decided to put a Gnome – a ‘Nain de Jardin’ – on my sketchbook. We all remember that film Amelie, in which there was a gnome that disappeared and traveled the world sending postcards back as you do. That film was set around here, so there’s a photo of me trying to do as the gnomes do (“when in Gnome…”), and failing because I couldn’t get the focus right on the background. This is filed under the chapter “Why I Am An Urban Sketcher (And Not An Instagram Photographer)”. All that said, I will intersperse these stories with the odd photo, such as this one and also the one of the little pixelated wall-sprite, to flesh out the experience. My little gnome, he is in French colours (or maybe Dutch flag colours), and has the sign of the Euro on his belt.
Paris Montmarte Cemetery
I love the big city. The big city is my natural environment. Put me in a big city and I’m like that video that always gets shared of a dog running out of a car into a lake and splashing around. Not that I splashed around in that bloke’s wee, but I just feel energized being back in the urban environment again. Davis, you ain’t Paris. But even I need some quiet time, so I went to Montmartre Cemetery and got all the quiet time I could want. I had never been there before, and it is quite a place, small and yet massive, with secluded corners and grand boulevards. Part of it runs underneath a bridge. I found a bench and sketched while the sound of trees and wind and crows gently muffled out the distant traffic. Peace and calm. Speaking of crows, seeing crows on gravestones was, I thought, the most gothic thing ever. Until I saw a dead crow on a gravestone. I like cemeteries, I am always careful not to walk across any graves and I’m solemn around the dead. We’re all going where they have gone, some way or other. Maybe not this cemetery though, you might have to be quite famous and French to end up here. I looked at the map showing where all the famous corpses were, most of whom I did not know. Except Adolphe Sax, Belgian inventor of the Saxophone. Francois Truffaut is buried here too, but I never watched his films, despite my degree in French, I kinda turned my nose up haughtily at Truffaut, as one of those film-makers that the university wannabes all said they loved at the pub when comparing coolness. “Oh you think that thing’s cool? Then I don’t,” was how I went about things. Even choosing my location for a year abroad, everyone went to France, so I went to Belgium, to be different. So anyway, I didn’t find Truffaut’s grave, and one day I might watch his films. Whoah…Edgar Degas was buried there. I found his grave. Foucault, he’s there too, though admittedly I know Foucault about him. And Emile Zola! I was impressed there. And Stendhal, I looked for his grave too. And the last name I had heard of was Nijinski, though I thought that was a racehorse.

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After a couple of hours spent among the dead, it was time for lunch. I climbed uphill into the windy streets of Montmartre, and found a nice little restaurant called Au Claire De La Lune, on Rue Poulbot. I sat outside, the most Parisian of settings, with a surprising lack of foreign tourists, everyone around me was French. I had sole with bearnaise sauce, and a Kronenbourg 1664. This was a good day.
Paris Rue Poulbot

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And finally I had to wander the streets around Sacre Coeur. I’m a big fan of Sacre Coeur, although I must admit, I have never been inside. I never gave myself time. I had time to sketch though, and I was pretty pleased with what I drew. The sky had character, and the view up to those white domes is one of the most iconic in the world. The view across Paris is jaw-dropping, but you can see the fire-damaged Notre Dame, missing the famous central spire. I didn’t go down to see what has happened to those ancient stones in that awful fire, but I gave her a nod of respect from afar.


Paris Sacre Coeur

And that was all the time I had. There was a train to catch, the high-speed Thalys, taking me to Brussels, a city I had a lot more history in, a springboard for a few days jaunting about Belgium, that country of rain, chocolate, frites, rain, moules, beer, and rain.

What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t going to rain, but it was going to get hot –  very, very hot.

 

summertime in the low countries

Sketchbook first page
Well it’s time to tell you about my summer. Now that it’s cold and probably wet, and we’ve all aged a bit more than six months in the past six months, let’s take a look back at my summer holiday in the Low Countries. They are called that after one of David Bowie’s albums (though I took so many trains that it should be called Station to Station). Following the tradition of the last three summers, I took a Stillman and Birn Alpha with me and filled in the front page with a hand-drawn map and drawings of various things I ate and drank along the way. This was a longer trip – three weeks, two on the continent and another staying with the family in London, taken in the midst of a whopping heatwave. It’s not the longest or anywhere close to the most journeyed trip around Europe I have ever taken – look back to 1998 for that, the pre-sketching days – but now I’m older it takes longer to recover; I’m not sure I have, even looking at the map makes me tired. It was a fun trip though, full of memories, meeting up with good friends, seeing old places from the past, and finally showing my son that mad country of Belgium I keep talking about. He was just as impressed, it was his favourite place. In the image above you can see some of the food and drink I liked – poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes) in Amsterdam, from a jolly guy called Tony; classic simple waffle from a waffle truck in Brussels, the most delicious waffle I’ve ever eaten; Charles Quint, perhaps my favourite beer, from my favourite bar in Charleroi, still open despite much faded glory; proper Waterzooi from Gent, which I had never tasted before; a bright pink juice called ‘Stress Down’ from Joe the Juice in Amsterdam, which honestly revived my brain after it melted in the heatwave, and got my sketching working again; Belgian frites covered in Sauce Andalouse from Robert La Frite in Charleroi, naturally eaten after midnight, the very best frites in the world; and of course, a 99 from an ice-cream van in England, that’s a soft-serve in a cornet with a chocolate flake, everything seems like it will be ok when you have a 99. Lovely foodly memories. Not to mention the delicious Belgian chocolate.

Suitcase

I got a new small suitcase for the trip, smaller even than my other small case, and I had to pack light. I knew I’d be wheeling it around cities, cramming it into luggage lockers, not unpacking much on my one night here, two nights there hotel stays. Fortunately football shirts don’t take up much room and I wear a lot of those. So, this trip took me to France – Paris and Disneyland; to Belgium – Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Charleroi and Bruges; to the Netherlands – Amsterdam, for the Urban Sketching Symposium; and to England – London, plus a day in Watford and St.Albans. Oh, but I did get to start in an exciting way – I flew first class from LA to Paris. I had never flown first class before, and wow this was an experience. Completely lie-flat seats, amazing food with real metal cutlery, a huge TV screen (I watched Bumblebee, of all movies), and flight attendants calling me by my name ‘Mr Scully’. Oh and a door, and actual door, so I could be in my own little cubicle, instead of my usual squashed-against-elbows flights over the Atlantic. And it didn’t cost us anything, as we got it on points. Very much a one-off experience for me! I was unashamedly excited about the whole thing. People from Burnt Oak don’t often get to do this sort of thing. The only thing I was disappointed in was that the toilet was just like any other airplane loo, I was expecting some huge fancy bathroom or something, golden seat maybe. Also, the old man who went in there before me kind of left it a bit messy. I was a bit worried they might think it was me so I actually tidied it up. Still the champagne was nice, and by the time I landed in Paris I had that unusual sensation of having actually slept well on a plane, so I had plenty of energy to get sketching around Montmartre before speeding off to Brussels – more on that later. But you’ll notice IO flew from LA – I first had to fly from Sacramento down to LAX, which if you’ve ever been there is quite a headache of an airport. Looking forward to the first-class flight made up for that. So, here is what I sketched on the flights, drawn in the small in-transit-sketches Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ book, on the very last pages in fact, a book I had started on a trip to Paris back in 2012.
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I really love travelling, and I really love sketching. I’m not a super fan of hot weather, and there was a fair bit of that, and it made the travelling and sketching much harder at points, but I am always so excited about being on the move in a new place that really, I didn’t care. It wasn’t yet so hot when I landed in Paris though. Join me next time for a description of my day in Montmartre, where I had not been in about twenty years.

 

the world’s still spinning round we don’t know why

3rd and B May 2019 sm

Rain has returned for a bit, a surprise at this time of year. More is coming. Not too much I hope. Anyway this week I decided to finish off Sketchbook #32 (my numbering of my panoramic sketchbooks brings us to this number) with a two-page spread of the corner of 3rd Street and B Street. I last sketched this corner over a year ago on a rainy March day, stood as I was this day beneath the entrance of the US Bicycling Hall of Fame. I think it will be a restaurant. Another changing corner of Davis. 3rd Street has had quite an upgrade from this corner down to the University, this week getting a bit of a celebration (that I didn’t go to). Click on the image to get a closer view (or just put your eyes really close to the screen).

thanos the spoiler

Lego Brickheads Thanos

SPOILER ALERT!! I loved Avengers [SPOILER]! It was a great way to [SPOILER] [SPOILER] years of Marvel [SPOILER]. When [SPOILER] flew in and [SPOILER] [SPOILER] in like the first ten minutes I was like, WT[SPOILER]!  And what about [SPOILER] going all [SPOILER], eh, didn’t see that coming. I loved the [SPOILER] bit too. I can’t keep this up. At some point I will [SPOILER] [OK shut it now Pete] do an actual spoiler-filled post about Avengers, using the power of Lego to illustrate my points, and then maybe one about Star Wars, I’ve been meaning to Talk About That for a long time. Maybe I need to do a Playmobil-knight illustrated discussion of Game of Thrones. Did you watch that last episode, the penultimate one, the [SPOILER] one where [SPOILER] goes [SPOILER]? I think Danaerys Targaryan should have been told, it doesn’t matter, Manchester City beat Brighton anyway. Oh sorry, SPOILER for anyone who hasn’t seen the end of the 18-19 Premier League season yet. Anyway, here is a non-spoilery Lego Brickheadz figure of Thanos what I drew. I might go and see Endgame again tonight. I loved it the first time, quickest three hours I’ve ever spent in a cinema, and I loved it even more the second time.

you know the place where nothing is real

The Barn UCD

It was hot, my allergies were making me tired and irritable, I needed to sketch at lunchtime. So I went outside, where it was still hot, and my allergies were still making me tired and irritable, but at least I got a bit of sketching in. This is The Barn at UC Davis. The rose bush in the foreground looks a bit like ice cream with strawberry flavoured sprinkles on the top, but that’s all I wanted to do, and I quite like that it looks like a massive pile of cold food on an already hot day. As of yesterday though the hot weather has put on the brakes and some rain has come, much needed but I hope it stops because the Davis World Cup is coming next week, and we need the fields to stay open…