lunes, 24 de diciembre de 2012

Km 23,548: A capella in Bruges

I've been living in the Netherlands for almost two years, catching on to typical Dutch habits like keeping my beer outdoors during the winter and biking past a windmill on my way to work every morning. Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, I sometimes indulge in little outbursts of Mexican bad habits, notably poor planning. The last episode was only a week ago, when I realized, first, that the flight I was taking to see my sister in Montpellier in a few days was actually a day later than I thought it was and, second, that no matter how early I left Nijmegen on that day, it was impossible to arrive on time to catch my flight in Brussels Charleroi. As a consequence, I now had an extra day of vacations and had to spend the night before my flight somewhere near Brussels. In an effort to protect my pride from the fact that I had to spend the money I had saved with my cheap Ryanair ticket on a hostel, I decided to make it worth it.

Bruges is my white whale; every single plan I've ever made to visit it has failed in the past couple of years. Everyone else has already been there and doesn't want to go back. Patching my frustration with my credit card, I booked a bed in a hostel in Bruges and decided to go by myself.

After an unexplainably long train trip from Nijmegen to Bruges, some wandering in dark alleys and checking my map, I arrived to my hostel in time for Happy Hour. Except it wasn't all that happy, because the bar was occupied by two radically different species of humans: autistic travellers, busy with diverse electronic devices and with no interest in social contact, and socially awkward locals, excessively eager to buy you a drink and take you for a romantic walk through the city. I decided to forget about socializing and wander through the city at night by myself. I walked for a couple of hours, visited a few monuments and the Christmas market and did some window shopping, without the hassle of the troupes of tourists.

The next day was equally lonesome but, to be honest, it didn't really bother me. I woke up early and, armed with a very cool map I got at the hostel, visited every single highlighted location I thought was interesting. I had a lot of time to walk about, to take pictures, to sit around and to think. I made plans for the evening, to visit in Brussels a long lost friend from highschool for "all you can eat" ribs and some catching up. I had lunch and visited the last highlighted location on my map: the museum of lace.

Now, now. I can hardly think of a museum that sound even more dull than the museum of lace (the museum of buttons in Mexico City is probably close). But the museum of lace in Bruges is remarkable for two things. The first one is that for The same €2, you also get an entrance to the creepy Jerusalem chapel next door. This bizarre church has the honor of owning, hands down, the eeriest altar I have ever seen along with intimidating inscriptions about God's awareness of your deepest thoughts (even if you don't really want to share them with Him). If this uncomfortable religious experience doesn't cut it for you, the museum of lace is also remarkable for it's collection of award-winning lace and live demonstrations of how lace is handmade.

Creepy altar in Jerusalem chapel
 A small piece of handmade lace that would sell for €10 takes about 10 hours to make. If deductive reasoning is on my side, a piece selling for €100 would take, say, 100 hours to complete (I'm not sure if the complexity/price relation of lace grows arithmetically or exponentially, but I'm going to settle arbitrarily on 100 hours. Just because). This means that the extraordinarily complicated pieces they have on display in the museum may have taken hundreds or maybe even thousands hours to make. And that puts a lot of things in perspective. The only things in which I have invested hundreds of hours of my life is in studying medicine and perhaps in playing the Sims (which is definitely much less glorious).

When I look at the time and patience required to make a piece of lace by hand, I wonder what will happen with handcrafts that go at a slow pace that just seems incompatible with modern life. After going to school or work, hitting the gym, catching up on Facebook (or 9gag or whatever your online addiction may be) and spending time with your loved ones, who will have time to work on their lace project for hundreds of days on end? What's more, what will happen to those with stereotypes associated to gender roles? My mother is capable of sowing, knitting, crocheting and embroidering in a way that I probably never will be able to achieve. But just like playing with dolls, learning to knit or embroider never sounded like a thrill for the younger version of myself (although I recently developed an interest in knitting and picked it up, mostly from the internet, partially from a group of young women with a somewhat obscure interest in making sweaters out of balls of wool). Will the popularity of these crafts shrivel? Will they end up being kept alive by small groups of people with something which will be considered an outdated or obsolete hobby?

I think I would rather invest hundreds of hours of my life in studying medicine all over again rather than in making lace by hand. I'm not so sure about the Sims though. It might have been a waste of time that I could have spent working on my handmade lace project instead.

Map of Bruges made out of lace

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