Sunday, June 7, 2009

330 kilometers of history

Today began at 6:50 am, when my mobile phone buzzed me awake. I had a horrid night of half sleep and felt exhausted which was worrisome considering the fact that we were being picked up around 8:15 for a day trip to shoot some photos. Because I was using the Lesser Canon (but still 1000 times cooler than my trusty point and shoot) and I was going to try out shooting in RAW, I tried my best to be a good sport and keep myself together despite my low energy levels ( I think I did a good job Di, don't you?)

Anyway, we drove a little over an hour away, to the village of Mesen where we were granted access to an old abandoned brick factory. We paid, but we were given permission to shoot all day long (although he was adamant that nude photography wasn't allowed... of course we were sorely disappointed by this fact, since were were looking forward to being naked in the rotten old building, but we rallied and persevered despite the set back). The factory was everything you'd want as a first time abandoned building photo op, as it was full of ragged old furniture and relics of the past.
We were only permitted to see a small area of the vast series of buildings, and I can only assume that it had something to do with safety because this place is over a hundred years old and it hasn't been touched in over 40. Every nook and cranny held treasures... old decomposing Dutch clogs, a super cool ancient radio, milk jugs, tools, plates, equipment, tea pots and a stove, and there was even an old German bunker in the basement and some creepy old bombs, oh, and stinky sheep too.

We wandered from the factory over to the "city center" (it's a village of 3.5 square km so I don't know if this really qualifies as a center, but basically the place where all the stuff is) for lunch at a tea room and then a visit to the church and through some gorgeous fields to the Island of Ireland Peace Park, which was established as a memorial to fallen Irish soldiers during WWI. Ironically, Mesen is the smallest village in all of Belgium, and yet the Battle of Messines was fought here, which was a precursor to the Battle of Ypres in 1917. Some 19 mines were blown up across the area in order to halt the Germans and I don't know if it's true, but Ive been told that the sound of the explosion was so loud that it was heard as far away as Dublin!

I can't say how I felt exactly upon seeing the rolling hills of Belgian farmland before me, but it was so familiar to me and I could have walked around aimlessly all day long taking it in. I miss Belgium so much. It really is such a stunning country... sigh.

OK, back to the story, so after we wrapped up at the Peace Tower and had some drinks, we hopped back in the car and went to Ypres. I've heard a lot about the city, but I had no idea how beautiful it was going to be! I was bombarded from all angles by the gorgeous buildings surrounding the Lakenhalle and couldn't take 10 steps without seeing something that I wanted to get a shot of. Ypres was pretty much destroyed in 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele and apparently it's is one of the first cities where chemical warfare was used, which helps to escalate the fact that this particular region of Belgium hosted some of the most gruesome and deadly battles in the first World War. As a result, it is a city fiercely dedicated to the memory of the thousands of fallen soldiers who fought against the Germans. There's a beautiful memorial in the city called "The Menin Gate" which lists the names of fallen soldiers with no known grave. What is amazing to me is that since 1928, The Last Post has been played every single night by buglers to commemorate the British soldiers that were lost at the Battle of Ypres (except the 4 years that the city was occupied by the Germans during WWII.) This weekend the crowd was larger than normal because of the anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy so I couldn't see too much, but it was nice to experience the ceremony.

I should also mention that the day began cool with overcast skies. On the way to Mesen, it rained a bit and when we arrived at the factory the sun was poking through in patches. While Di and I were at the Peace Tower, the sun was warm and the sky was blue as ever with huge fluffy clouds everywhere. After we arrived in Ypres, it poured like mad for a bit, sending patio diners running in all directions seeking cover and then as quickly as it came, the clouds dispersed leaving behind deep blue skies and a lovely end to the day. In Belgium I would have expected nothing less.

Before today, I had visited spots along the Maginot Line in France and some bunkers in Ostend, but I'd never really taken the time to think about the impact that the war had on life in those regions. As an American, you learn about the war in school, but it's so far away from everything that you know that it's hard to feel astrong connection to it all and certainly not in the way that people do when huge areas of their country have been destroyed by it. Writing this tonight though, I feel a new found interest in the subject and I want to spend more time wandering and learning about the history of places that I visit. This entire day was such an enriching experience and I feel privileged to have been invited along with 3 truly amazing photographers (and lovely people.) Thank you!

Photos to follow, but now, I am dead, and I need to sleep.


Dean said...

Great read, looking forward to seeing the pics. Abandoned building photos really interest me, so those especially!

Ludwin said...

hey! wake up!!!!
sleeping is for the weak! ;-)
show us the photo's!

Mlle said...

well, let's see what happens. I may have just accidentally deleted all of them :) < this is me trying to force a smile and sell myself the idea that they are ONLY photos, and I STILL had an amazing time, so it's NOT the end of the world... heh. Is it too early to drink?

Ludwin said...

are you serious?
that sucks big time.
in that case you have an excuse to sponsor your local alcoholic beverage reseller. no doubt!

Mlle said...

ok, well it appears as though I have been able to recover the jpegs, but so far, no RAW files. To be honest, at this point I'm relieved that I at least have SOME evidence of yesterday and I've never shot in RAW before anyway, so I don't even know what I'm missing ;)

Ludwin said...

are you aware of the fact that you need a special photoshop plugin to view your RAW files?
you can download it from the canon site. if you haven't got that plugin, you only see the jpeg versions of your pics.
you need this plugin because every moron camera producer decided to make it's own version of RAW, so to make photoshop's camera raw see, and more importantly, edit your raw images you need that plugin.

Peter said...

Your post made me smile, especially the "since we were looking forward to being naked in that rotten old building" part :-)

I'm a local contact of Di's in Antwerp and found your writing both amusing and most detailed, as I know the area around Passchendaele very well.

Regarding the accidental deletion of some images: trust me, it can happen to any one of us. Anyway, I noticed Di already published some stunning shots from your day over at her blog.

All the best from Antwerp.

Mlle said...

I did not know about the plug in! After this fiasco, I probably won't want to look at these for a couple of days. I did recover the RAW files as well, btw :)

Peter, so great to know that you came across my blog! I've noticed that a lot of people who read Di sniff around here every once in awhile, so that always makes me happy.

I've managed to recover the files using Art Plus Digital Photo Recovery, so I'm in the clear and hopefully I've learned a lesson today!

Thanks for all the moral support L and Peter!

V-Grrrl said...

I look forward to seeing your photos. Your descriptions are wonderful.

I had a great time at the Mad House of Di in Antwerp and enjoyed seeing Simon and Paola and other friends. Next time I come, we'll have to get together. The whole time I was at Di's, Miss Four kept mistakenly calling me Shanti. I took that as a big compliment.

I live on land that borders a Civil War battleground where something like 40,000soldiers died in a single battle. Trenches are a short walk from my house. I suspect the land we own saw its share of bloodshed.

Mlle said...

Hey Veronica! I hope to have the energy and will to look at the images sometime soon. Because I'm a plonker, I accidentally deleted them today and spent several hours retrieving them all, so at this point I want nothing to do with them :)

The little one called me Veronica more than a few times this weekend, and according to Jessie I am considered her "Other American" so it was pretty funny.

She looked really beautiful in the dress you bought her too...

I was just thinking about the topic of battles that were fought on American soil and the areas that surround them. Is your town involved at all in Civil War related tourism or anything similar to Flanders Field?

Inge said...

Hy Shannon,
I love your story about our trip to Mesen. I hoped to see some of the pictures you took but i read you lost them and finally found them, but anyway i still hope to see some of them.
If you send me your e-mail adress i'll send some of my pictures of our day at the brick factory.

Mlle said...

Hi Inge,

Great to find your comment here! I haven't looked at the images yet. Maybe I'm still in recovery from the day when I thought they were gone forever. I do really want to give them a look though, although I don't know if I'm going to attempt the RAW files. I may just PS the JPGs for now.

I'd love to see your shots though!