Sunday, 25 October 2009

Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions - an occasional series

In the first of a new series, I will be taking you through some of Belgium's least edifying tourist sites. No, don't thank me.

The Museum of Musical Instruments

The MIM takes unpromising subject matter and hides it in dusty semi-darkness behind a wall of ultra-hostile Dutch speaking staff. Being located in one of the most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in the city is no bar to utter joylessness. A bearded man with a wintry expression hands you a pair of giant headphones like something from a 1950s science experiment as you go in. Actually, that's inaccurate. First you must run the gauntlet of depositing everything you are carrying in the lockers, following an arcane ritual that no one will deign to explain, merely waving you away irascibly if you try and ask.

Finally you are released into the sepulchral gloom of three floors of dusty ancient musical instruments. If you squint hard, you might be able to spot a series of slightly different sets of moth-eaten bagpipes behind the ultra-reflective glass. Then again, you might not. What you can do is try and stand in the right area for your 1950s headphones to assault your ear drums with a selection from "Now that's what I call atonal bagpipe droning Volume 27". Again, this is somewhat aleatory. You might get nothing, you might get bagpipes, you might get plainsong chant. Or a gamelan. Whatever. If your headphones are too loud, a cat's arse faced attendant will tap you on the shoulder and make disapproving gestures.

"Is this it?" whisper your children, their tiny voices quavering with anticipated disappointment after two floors of dusty instruments topped with "Ne pas touchez" signs made of yellowing cardboard. They are cowed by the funereal atmosphere, and slightly scared by a menacin series of clavecins. Their giant headphones have flopped onto their shoulders and are threatening to strangle them like plastic boa constrictors.

"No, it can't be!" you declare bracingly, but with a creeping sense of doubt.

You go down to the basement which tantalisingly advertises itself as "The Sound Garden".

The "Sound Garden" consists of a single guitar string mounted between two blocks of wood, and an ancient piano whose keys are so silted with chewing gum and waffle crumbs it cannot even muster the WHAM PLUNK BISH BASH ZUNK of St Custard's skool piano, chiz. A couple of TV screens show a mystifying pattern of flickering static. The whole place smells of old lecture halls and mouse droppings. Also in the basement and in a startling concession to modernity, the twentieth century is represented by a Moog synthesiser and a waxy looking model of Johnny Hallyday. Shielding your children's eyes, you repair to the shop, as an assault on the parental purse is always guaranteed to lift their mood.

In the chilly, deserted shop, a man with a waxed moustache sits behind the till listening to 15th century Breton folk songs and stroking a selection of eminently breakable bibelots. You gaze wildly around at the collection of CDs by monobrowed Eastern Europeans in rollnecks and the single wooden recorder and make a break for freedom. Yet another unprepossessing man with facial hair makes you produce a vial of blood and a fragment of the true cross, perform a short minuet and sign a seventy page waiver before he deigns to give you your coat back.

You escape. It is raining. You don't even care.

Tariff: Adults €5, Children €4
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10:00 - 17:00
Better alternatives: gouging eyes out with a sharpened twig, being attacked by a swarm of killer bees, chewing own limbs off, death.

Next time on Belgium's Worst Tourist Attractions (which may be as soon as this evening, I feel oddly inspired by my subject matter): Mini Europe and the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée.


Laura and Ben said...

Belgian tourist attractions usually manage to disappoint.

I quite liked the military museum at Parc du Cinquantenaire (surprisingly) - it shut for lunch just after we arrived and smelt like a sewer but those were the only real complaints I had.

Kate said...

Ha! We missed the MIM but went to the centre belge de la bande desinée,in which i followed F around while he read every freaking page and examined everything at length until i finally couldn't take looking at BDs that I didn't even know.

Mr London Street said...

It sounds like Anthropologie, only better!

Mrs Jones said...

Fabulous! I learnt a new word 'aleatory' (had to look it up though)!

Artichoke Queen said...

Waffle, can you please do something about MLS? I thought hate speech was banned on your blog. Merci. x

Jaywalker said...

AQ - he's deliberately TAUNTING ME. He went yesterday to sneer at it and I'm stuck in fucking Belgium with barely a corner shop.

Completely Alienne said...

Wow! I shall bear that in mind for the next time I am in Belgium with my lovely daughters. Our holidays involve endless bickering and sniping (them) while I walk ahead pretending I don't know them. This sounds just the place to get my own back. I can see them now, trailing round behind me, refusing to listen to their headphones because they're, like, soooo embarrassing and being told to shush by stern dutch speakers every time they whine 'Muuum, this is sooo boring, can't we go nooooow pleeeese'.

Mr London Street said...

Yes, I'm the chief sneerleader. And when I described it to BW as 'Urban Outfitters for the middle-aged' I didn't even know they shared an owner. How very prescient of

AQ said...

Pffft. I bought this from Anthro just the other day. Regardless of the corporate ownership, it's not Urban Outfitters For the Middle Aged. It's Whistles When It Used to be Nice, with Housewares. If one must sneer, accuracy is key.

Mr London Street said...

A knobbly milk jug used as a vase leaves my argument ripped to shreds. I slink out, roundly defeated.

Madame DeFarge said...

Having been to Belgium several times, I can't imagine why I missed this one out. I shall have to seek it out the next time we're there. Really.

Anonymous said...

Oh I love the museum of musical instruments. You just didn't do it right.

Jaywalker said...

Fran, I know lots of people who feel as you do. As for me, I have tried, honestly. I've been several times and someone always shouts at me. I am not even trying to play any 17th century harpsichords. Honest.

Chantal said...

I'm sort-of with Fran, except for the last part (er, it's not really up to the punter to 'do' the museum 'right'?).

I do LOVE MIM though. It reminded me of the Pitt Rivers Museum (which I also love) but with added SOUND!! Who could ask for anything more?

If I ever fulfill my dusty promise of coming to Brussels again, MIM will be on my agenda, but I promise I won't make anyone come with me. I'll keep the crackly harpsichord strains to myself.

Jaywalker said...

Chantal - Pitt Rivers has SHRUNKEN HEADS. There is not a single shrunken head in MIM. Show me tiny heads, and I'm there.
You can still come though.

BMF said...

NO NO MLS, do not slink anywhere. In a fit of male solidarity, I agree with you. What IS the point of this Anthropologie place? Ok, so the green wall sounds and looks amazing. But, it's full of tat no? There was an article in some newspaper about its opening and there was a picture of ANIMAL SHAPED CANDLES which they were selling. There is little I can say but....WHY?

Ok, so this is totally off point. Sorry about that. But it's important nonetheless (arguably less important than world peace etc etc but one has to start somewhere).

And it is such a late comment you will not see it. But I am assuming Emma will tell you that you have found a sneering ally.

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