We were hungry when we reached this Venetian clone. We ate a late lunch of ‘curried’ chicken sandwiches. It began to rain as we commenced our explorations on the afternoon excursion. Stella, the lady who drove us had waxed eloquent about Bruges’ beautiful handmade lace. We didn’t have umbrellas- the only thing between us and the rain were the shops. My eyes espied some beautiful tapestry. Tapestries have always intrigued me- especially their interesting histories, like the famous Gobelin. The idea of needlework conjuring up complex scenes struck me as awesome artistic labour. This devotion to an ancient craft belongs in the Indian ethos. This connect with antique artisanship seemed admirable in the mechanized West. The lady whose shop we entered looked skeptical- she must have seen us as cheapskates dodging the downpour.
Noting my genuine interest in her products, as I discerned scenes from legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne, Christine dropped her initial reserve and enthusiastically displayed her beautiful wares. The past came alive in the colorful threads of bygone scenes depicting beautiful gowned ladies and chivalrous knights on their chargers. The poetry of Tennyson, the musical ” Camelot” and T.H.White’s ” The Once and Future King” stirred in memory.
I was lost in happy dilemma making a choice between one brilliant bolt of embroidered fabric and another. The cotton tapestries were cheaper, but we were assured that a silk tapestry came with better finish and durability, so a silken beauty with intricate cross stitch was our special souvenir of the city. Christine gave us a generous discount on our purchase and gifted us beautiful lace edged handkerchiefs with our initials.
The irresistible aroma from a chocolatier grabbed us where hand made chocolate was in process; our arms were filled with many mouthwatering boxes. A knight templar’s figure for Nawal and a traditional Belgian doll for Tammy followed at another store. The proprietrix Adrienne was similarly friendly.
The rain stopped, but it was a chilly ride in the canal for a glimpse of life as it has survived for centuries. These were not opulent palaces but the homes of sturdy burghers’ of the mercantile class, the epitome of thrift and hard work. These residences had survived from their medieval past, attracting on that gondola ride our own family from India and a Mongolian student.
Sadly, by the time we reached the Cathedral, it was already closed. It has a unique artifact that the people of Bruges are proud of-a Michelangelo sculpture of the Virgin Mary; I was deeply regretful to have missed it.
Strangely enough, I’m unable to access our Bruges photographs. It doesn’t matter because my memories are vibrant, and the trip’s artifacts often jog them. Though the famous statue eluded my viewing, the hand stitched silk tapestry vividly depicting the doomed love of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenevere hangs near the doorway of our drawing room. It is my own dear and accessible masterpiece, a link to a lost world of romance and chivalry.