What Pegman Saw: Johannes fuit hic*

Image: Google Street View

Johannes set the time and place for our meeting.

Fourth bench from the oldest stone crossing, when the 101 cast their bills to the west.

Typical Johannes.

My guidebook said the oldest stone crossing was the Meeburg. As for the 101 I hadn’t a clue … Then a flotilla of white darts scudded along the canal, their wake pointing to an egg yolk sky. I smiled – the 101 swans of Bruges, returning to their nests at sunset.

I walked Meestraat, remembering Mother’s words when I told her Johannes was an author and an oil painter.

‘Writers are liars and thieves. Artists are cowards.’

Not for the first time I wondered at her life before marrying my accountant father.

The bench was black with rain, golden with fallen leaves. Taped to the seat was a large cardboard sign.

New York calls me home. Enjoy the canals. J

I hate it when Mother’s right.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Bruges, Belgium.

Notes.

*Being an art history graduate, the first thing that came to mind when I saw Pegman was in Bruges was the Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) – also known as Johannes. Van Eyck is famous for many wonderful oil paintings, not least The Arnolfini Portrait. He has signed the portrait just above a representation of a mirror. It reads “Johannes de Eyck fuit hic 1434” – “Johannes van Eyck was here 1434”.

Visit here to learn the full story of the 101 swans of Bruges.

As far as I can make out, the Meebrug is the oldest stone bridge in Bruges. Other crossing places may be older, but the Meebrug is the oldest structure.

My Valentine’s Recommendation : A romance with a dark heart

Image : Pixabay

Valentine’s Day is around the corner – well, around the corner and long the corridor a bit, but definitely within spitting distance – and that being the case, I’ll be absent from Word Shamble for a few days.

Now, I know many of you are cynical about the event, trussing a 3rd century Roman saint to selling chocolates and jewellery and overpriced flowers, pressurising lovers into expensive purchases to prove the depth of something as ephemeral as love.

You have a right to feel cynical. The heart shaped balloons and cutesy ‘wuv woo’ bears and cards, the way manufacturers package seemingly unrelated items in red just to sell them to men desperate to get themselves out of trouble … It’s capitalism run riot and it ain’t pretty.

May I suggest an alternative to this unpleasantness?

Those who’ve followed this blog a while will already know my attachment to certain books – every reader has them, those tomes that burrow into your psyche, often at a young age, and squat in your brains like benevolent worms, raising their heads and twitching their tales every now and then to make their presence felt.

For me, Precious Bane by Mary Webb is one such book.

Set in the Shropshire of the early nineteenth century, it focuses on Prue Sarn, cursed with a ‘precious bane’ (a hare lip) that seems to rule her out of marriage, out of happiness, that shapes her life, her personality and her destiny.

Yes, it’s terrifically romantic and melodramatic – there are love spinnings and sin eaters and wise men. There’s a fair amount of yearning, of chaste glances between Prue and the gentle, magnificently named weaver Kester Woodseaves.

There’s darkness too. Unfathomable lakes, moody landscapes, curses, folk magic, pain, humiliation, betrayal, death – lots of death.

But aside from the fabulous prose, here’s a wonderful thing about the book. Prue is not Disney Cinderella beautiful. She is outshone by her best friend, seen as ugly and shunned. But she is brave and loyal and decent and all of that makes her shine through as a character, means that she’s no wishy-washy heroine who gets a fit of the vapours when spoken to unkindly. She works the fields – she drives a sodding plough, for heaven’s sake – and even though she suffers greatly, she is nothing like a victim.

So, here’s my recommendation.

Leave the chocolates, leave the flowers (okay, buy the flowers – I am a florist after all!), leave the teddy bears (no, really LEAVE the bears) and buy a copy of Precious Bane instead.

It’s one of the few truly romantic novels I’ve ever read.

And if you doubt the quality of Webb’s writing because you’ve never heard of her, take a look here to see why The Guardian newspaper’s Eloise Millar thinks she’s better than Thomas Hardy.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. See you on the other side.