Monday 28 November 2022

In the place of fallen leaves

Now that the dust had settled on the first installment of the office move, it was finally time to relax. 

And what better way to do so than by enjoying a 3-day weekend, starting with a public holiday on Armistice Day. As I already regaled you with that day's adventures in the sculpture park in a previous post, let's move swiftly to the rest of the weekend.

With everything being closed on Friday, there was nothing for it but to indulge our rummaging urges on Saturday the 12th when, as usual, we visited two shops, with a car picnic in between. Rather unusually though, there wasn't anything which even remotely tickled our fancy.

As those of you who have been following my blog for a while will have gathered by now, this doesn't happen all too often. I can only surmise that it was just one of those days on which the charity shop goddesses must have been lavishing their attention elsewhere!

Perhaps it peeved them that, apart from my belt and necklace, most of what I was wearing that day didn't find its origins in a charity shop.

Take the blouse, for instance, which I actually bought brand new, snapped up in an Outlet shop during one of my lunch breaks the other week. My matching opaques and favourite mock croc ankle boots were retail buys too, as was the ring which I picked up from fast fashion shop Forever 21 back in the mists of time. 

While not charity shopped, at least both the skirt and the elephant brooch are vintage. My red plaid and pleated skirt, which much to my surprise I hadn't worn since January 2018, came from Think Twice, while the brooch was a flea market find.

Contrary to the charity shop deities, those in charge of the weather kept being on their best behaviour. When we woke up to lashings of sunshine and forecasted highs of 15°C on Sunday, we were adamant to make the most of our good fortune by going for a walk. Particularly since the forecast for the week ahead was looking pretty dire!

We'd set our hearts on a stroll in a park established on the pleasure grounds of an old castle estate called Solhof, in the neighbouring village of Aartselaar

This was one of the parks we'd attempted to visit but couldn't reach back in October. Confident that the roadworks which had thwarted our plans would have been completed by now, we hopped into our car for the 12 minute drive it would take us to get there. Imagine our dismay when the street leading towards the park's entrance turned out to be still under construction.  As one or two cars - probably belonging to the street's unfortunate residents - were turning into the bumpy, unsurfaced road, we followed suit and were rewarded with a parking spot in a side street.

The park, designed in English landscape style inspired by Capability Brown, is now a semi-wild woodland traversed by a warren of meandering paths, and is home to a number of monumental 100 to 150 year old trees. I'm always in awe of these mighty giants who, I'm sure, must have a few tales to tell if only they could speak our language. 

They do put me in a reflective mood, reminding me of our insignificance and putting those little day-to-day woes into perspective. 

Trying to get back into the charity shop goddesses' favour, I was wearing some of my recent finds, starting with the off-white and bottle green checked wool-blend Tommy Hilfiger skirt I found back in October. 

I always look forward to wearing my green wool jacket with its furry collar again. It's vintage and I paid full price for it at Think Twice about five years ago. As it was the jacket of my dreams, there was no way I was going to take the risk of waiting for it to be reduced in the shop's next sales! 

The feathery pink scarf was charity shopped in 2018 and is among my most worn ones, while the matching beret was an old retail buy which has definitely proved its worth over the years.

A mix of retail, charity shop and flea market finds made up the rest of my outfit, most notably the Art Nouveau inspired vintage blouse found during a charity shop rummage earlier this month.

I'm at my happiest when I'm able to indulge in a leaf-kicking session, delight in the symphony of colours provided by the turning leaves and have the scintillating mix of Autumn scents tickle my nostrils. 

There were vistas to delight us around every corner: a time-worn heart carved in a tree trunk, the Autumn-hued canopy above us, a golden-clad weeping willow preening itself in the moat, and the top of the gazebo peeking out from a frame of evergreen yew hedge and russet leaves.

The gazebo, which crowns an earthen mound insulated by ancient yew hedges cleverly concealing an ice house, can be reached by a narrow path spiralling up the mound. We weren't feeling too adventurous that day and refrained from climbing to the top. After all, the view from up there isn't on a par with the  magical one of the gazebo on its mound, the seemingly impenetrable wall of yews conjuring up an image of Sleeping Beauty's castle.

The late 19th century castle has been much modernized and turned into a fancy hotel and for all its air and graces isn't much to look at.

Taking the path skirting the castle and its moat took us to its entrance on the busy main road through the village. Our effort was rewarded with a view of the picturesque courtyard flanked by the former coach house and caretaker's house. Surprisingly these only date from the early 20th century. Only the two watchtowers dating from around 1550 and standing sentinel on either side of the entrance, have stood the test of time.

Although the sun was still in evidence on Monday the 14the of November, there was a significant drop in temperature with highs between 7 and 10°C. That morning, I actually wore gloves for first time this season!

It was my first day at the temporary office, and as my colleague had the day off, I was all on my own. I felt a bit weird and out of sorts all day, as if I had lost all sense of direction. On top of that, building work had started in our proper office next door, at times accompanied by lots of noise, making all efforts to concentrate on my work fruitless.

I made my escape during lunch break and walked to the outlet shop where I'd bought the three blouses the previous week, finding an additional two. Again, both are from the defunct Who's That Girl/Wow To Go labels.

Apart from some hammering and shouting - why do these builders always have to shout, I wonder - the noise was bearable for the rest of the week, and when my colleague and I went to have a peek on Wednesday, they'd already removed the nasty old carpet and the ceiling tiles and they were in the process of painting the walls and woodwork.

My working week was another short one as I once again took Friday off.

It had been a wet and windy couple of days, so we were glad to wake up to a dry morning, with some timid sunshine thrown in. It didn't last long, though, as it started raining again before the morning was over, with hardly any let up all day. It was quite chilly as well, the mercury climbing to 9°C at the very utmost.

This called for a first wearing for the Italian made pink Tweed jacket with its gorgeous floral lining I charity shopped at the end of October. I can't remember where or when I bought the large green bird-on-a-branch brooch I pinned to the jacket. More shades of green were added with my scarf - last Winter's charity shop find - and beret, which is the twin of the pink one worn above.

The forest green pleated skirt - a naughty retail buy in between Lockdowns in 2020 - wasn't the best choice for the day's temperature. Its fabric is rather thin and even with a half-slip worn underneath as well as a pair of opaques and my tall mock croc boots, my bottom half was freezing!

My pink and green belt was bought in this year's Mango Summer sales, but the floral cardigan-worn-as-a-jumper, the brooch I pinned to it, the green wooden necklace from the Belgian Les Cordes label, and my ring with its green and pink stone, were all charity shopped at one time or another.

And talking of charity shopping, well yes, it was time for another round of rummaging, which this time was rather more successful. 

As luck would have it, there were a lot of deadstock Who's That Girl and Wow To Go items on the rails of the first shop we visited. The lady at the till, who recognized the label, congratulated me on my finds, which would have cost me at least a tenfold of the € 25 I paid for the lot if I'd bought them brand new.

There was a blue box-pleated cotton-blend midi skirt adorned with the label's speech bubble logo, an orange and olive green check shawl-collared cardigan and a pink woollen jumper masquerading as a cardigan. I was properly fooled by the latter as I only discovered it wasn't actually a cardigan after I got it home.

Finally, there was a green rainbow striped cropped cardigan and a classic red V-neck jumper trimmed with a double row of navy stripes. I've included the ribbon-tied tags in the photo. Both garments also came with a tiny zip-lock bag containing alternative fabric samples, indicating that the garments were initially meant as samples and would have eventually been sold at one of the label's sample sales. They both mentioned their sample sale prices of around € 25 ... which if you remember was what I paid for the lot! 

I'll be back with more outfits and bargains in my next post. Hope to see you again in a couple of days!

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Reflections of Autumn

With just one more week's worth of November days ahead of us, Saturday the 5th November seems like an eternity ago. That day, we were served a menu of sunshine and clouds and highs of 12°C, which feels like the height of luxury in hindsight, now that true Autumn has finally arrived on our doorsteps.

Nevertheless, I thought the weather had cooled down sufficiently for one of my long-sleeved Diolen frocks. Found in a charity shop in January 2017, it's one of my all-time favourites. Obviously, its bottle green colour meant that it was love at first sight, but it's the dress's white, cream, yellow and burnt orange geometric pattern which adds a ray of sunshine even on those days when the sun isn't much in evidence.

My yellow beaded necklace and suede belt, the latter a recent bargain for an outlet shop, helped to give the waning sun a run for her money.  A shiny Autumn leaf brooch was added as a nod to the reigning season.

Although they always show up as more of burnt orange in photos, the opaques I'm wearing actually match my necklace and belt almost exactly. 

The warm woollen jacket with its symphony of sage greens was charity shopped in the Autumn of 2018, when I was lucky enough to find two blazers in my holy grail colour of green in quick succession. To its lapel, I pinned an orange felt flower corsage.

Flush with Friday's thrifting success, we packed a picnic after breakfast, and went for another round of rummaging at two of our favourite charity shops.

Our first port of call was the shop on the industrial estate in Mechelen. If due to various reasons it had somewhat fallen out of favour during the pandemic, there has been a definite improvement in the last couple of months. In fact, it has been quite a while since we left the shop empty handed.

This was, after all, the shop where I found the green checked Tommy Hilfiger skirt and the zig-zag twin set I showcased in a previous post!

In fact, my first find that Saturday featured yet more zig-zags in this red, blue and white short-sleeved and front zippered vintage frock. It's from Penney, which was the label sold by the well-known Belgian department store Sarma (1928-2004). They were taken over by the American chain J. C. Penney at the end of the 1960s, hence the label's name.

The cheerful yellow cardigan with its blue and white chevron pattern was an obvious no-brainer. It was new with tags from the former Belgian label Who's That Girl. They had a second label called Wow To Go, which I might have mentioned on the blog once or twice. They were the label which made me fall in love with dresses again after I snapped up a gorgeous green one at a bargain price in a trendy boutique in Antwerp. Subsequently, I bought lots of their stuff, most notably at one of the label's sample sales. Once, I even won a € 100 voucher to be spent at one of their shops by entering a competition on Facebook. 

Further finds were a box of old-fashioned dolly clothes pegs, which has joined our kitchen cabinet of curiosities and a ceramic toadstool tealight holder, which was simply too cute to resist.

From here, we continued to the shop in Duffel near the park where, as the weather had become too blustery to comfortably sit on a bench, we had a car picnic before continuing our rummaging. 

Imagine my delight when the first item I set eyes on was a dress by the aforementioned Wow To Go. How fabulous is that pink and brown checked fabric? The collar, cuffs and wide round buckled belt are in a soft fine rib corduroy.

I also fell for the riotous pattern - with some clear Art Nouveau influences - of this vintage blouse, and the lime green midi skirt with its stylish black and white flowers. The latter is from a label called Collection Catarina, which I Googled but couldn't find anything about. Someone had made a clumsy attempt at taking in the skirt so that it was initially too tight for me. As it looked fairly easy to undo, I decided to take a chance.

Too dismal a day, with rain from late morning onwards, Sunday was the perfect day to tackle such a job.  After I'd unpicked the unsightly stitches, a previously unnoticed feature in the form of two side pockets came to light! Then it was just a question of moving the button to its rightful position and hey presto: a perfectly fitting skirt with pockets!

The weather didn't allow for going outside for outfit photos, so your guess is as good as mine as to what I was wearing that day.

My journal tells me that I finished my latest read, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, a fictional account of the early life of Beryl Markham who, in 1936, was the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from Britain to North America. I loved this book, and it has certainly whetted my appetite for reading her memoir, West with the Night, which was published in 1942. 

Monday and Tuesday brought the typical mix of sunshine, clouds and showers, the latter usually occurring during my commute or lunch break. 

It was nothing but a relief to have the sun accompany us through Wednesday, so that I could soothe my pre-move jitters by going for a walk and what Sheila would call a wee mental health shop. Although Think Twice was a disappointment, I found some funky tops by - yet again - Who's That Girl and Wow To Go, in an outlet shop across the street. It was only when I was photographing them that I noticed the pattern of the middle one are coffee pots!

Thursday the 10th was moving day which, as already mentioned in an earlier post, went surprisingly well. After the moving guys had finished, it was the turn of the IT guy to make sure that we were connected, and so it was mid-afternoon when we could finally switch on our PCs and catch up with work. 

We fooled everyone with our makeshift blinds (above, bottom left) which were temporary ones we'd fashioned from a roll of disposable paper tablecloth. After all, we will only be staying here until January, when we'll move back to our renovated premises.

But first, a well-deserved day off! 

Friday the 11th being Armistice Day is a public holiday in Belgium. We had a lie-in, then after breakfast I washed my hair and photographed my latest finds. By then it was time for lunch, consisting of free pastries leftover from our office move and coffee made from ground coffee beans Jos got for free with his purchases at the organic village shop.

As the sun was still keeping us company, it would have been downright silly to spend the rest of the day inside. As we hadn't been to Middelheim Sculpture Park for a while, that was our destination for the afternoon settled.

The temperature remained in the low double digits, so this long-sleeved yet lightweight blue vintage dress from Think Twice was enough to keep the chills at bay. Especially when topped with my recently thrifted yellow cardigan, not to mention the burgundy velvet vintage C&A coat I charity shopped last Autumn.

Note the wooden poppy I pinned to my coat. It was that time of year after all.

A yellow beret and multi-coloured knit scarf completed my outerwear and I carried essentials in my Oilily weekend bag.

Apparently, changes are ahead in the sculpture park. There will be a reshuffle of the sculptures and no less than thirty new ones will be added. The arrangement will be thematic with the relationship between (wo)man and nature as the central theme. A new open-air depot will allow the collection to rotate more smoothly. The park will also become greener with the planting of sixty trees and two thousand shrubs.

While all of this is expected to be finished by the end of 2023, things were still mostly the same at the time of our visit.

We caught our ghostly reflections in the glass panels of the recently restored Belgian Funhouse by the American artist Dan Graham (1940-2022). Graham was an all-around artist who not only sculpted but was also a photographer, film-maker and performance artist. He played an integral role in beginnings of Conceptual Art during the 1960s.

Reflection was an essential component in Graham’s work, and he was best known for his his outdoor pavilions containing glistening reflective plates of glass like Belgian Funhouse. Dating from 2004, it was originally created for a square in Antwerp but moved to Middelheim after suffering damage.

We just wandered around without any particular itinerary but delighting in the organic mix of art and nature which continues to make the park an all-seasons favourite.

We wondered and sometimes sniggered at the names the works of art have been given by their creators, shaking our heads at those with the unimaginative Untitled moniker.

First prize goes to the work on the bottom centre, which is called Les Murs ont des Oreilles que la Raison ne Connait pas. It's by the Belgian sculptor Reinhoud d'Haese (1928-2007) and dates from 1958.

This particular visit's favourite photo, however, is this one, of the sculpture called Pegasus. Dating from 1949, its creator is the Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955). In Spring and Summer, exuberant foliage somewhat obscures its magnificence, which was now enhanced by the glow of  the low-slung Autumn afternoon sunshine.

Friday 18 November 2022

Caught on camera

'Twas October's final Sunday. The weather gods were still on their best behaviour and treated us to another day of sunshine and unseasonable temperatures.

After a morning of faffing and pottering - my memory fails me here on what I did exactly - we cast around for walking destinations which, as we were in one of those archetypal lazy Sunday moods, wouldn't be too far from home nor too strenuous. In the end, we declared that a walk in Den Brandt, one of Antwerp's loveliest parks, would be just the ticket.

The temperatures might have been leaning more towards Summer than Autumn, but there was no denying that it was the end of October, soon to be November, with all the sensory signs of nature winding down present and correct.

In fact, the juxtaposition of the seasons felt slightly unreal as if we were living on borrowed time, which undoubtedly we were, with dull and dark November waiting in the wings.

Short-sleeved it may have been, but my dress definitely belonged to Autumn, with its glorious mix of seasonal colours including the quintessential Hallowe'en pumpkin orange. It's one of my favourite Diolen Delights and I usually keep it out to wear in Autumn if the weather allows.

In spite of the mildness of the day, I was wearing layers, starting with a green cardigan and followed by a fiery orange velvet jacket. The ochre yellows in my dress's print were picked up with my belt and necklace and if you squint you might make out the purple glass ring I wore.

As usual, we entered the park through the adjacent picking garden. Here apples, pears, cherries and plums can be harvested in season, and there's a range of soft fruits and a selection of herbs to take your pick from from as well. At this time of year, though, only half-empty beds of straggling herbs were on offer. 

I always make a beeline for the Gautam Buddha - a gift from the Ambassador of Nepal back in 2004 - who is keeping watch from the garden's far end, eager to see the offerings he has received. Finding his lap empty, I picked him a posy of wildflowers which I tied with a long blade of grass. Jos's contribution were two feathers he found in the dewy grass.

Behind the hedge which backs the Buddha is an intriguing turreted house called Villa La Chapelle. Now a conference centre, the house was originally built in neo-Gothic style between 1880 and 1885 as the gardener's residence of Castle Den Brandt, commissioned by the then lord of the castle, Emile Augustin Joseph della Faille de Waerloos (1835-1890). 

Normally a locked gate keeps one from entering the secluded garden belonging to the villa. For some reason, however, the gate was now standing invitingly open and beyond it an arrow pointed into the direction of the path leading around to the villa's back. An equally inquisitive couple was just rounding the corner when we tentatively stepped through the gate, so we confidently followed suit.

We would eventually have to turn back as there was a fence preventing us from accessing the park this way, but not before exploring the villa's small and slightly overgrown garden.

Half-hidden among the thicket of shrubs was this statue of a lady leaning pensively on a gate post, a shawl draped nonchalantly over her shoulders. She was rather sad-looking, I thought, perhaps hankering for the halcyon days of her prime. Who was she, and what was her name, I wondered. As her stony gaze gave nothing away, I named her Flora.

With one backward glance, we bade goodbye to Flora, whom we'll probably never meet again. I'm fairly certain that wide open gate was a case of negligence rather than intention.

Back in the picking garden, we climbed the steps leading into the park itself. We proceeded to walk along an avenue of majestic trees, at that particular moment in time still largely in leaf, with the faintest hint of amber dotted among their branches. 

The hapless victims of storms and high winds were lining the edge of the path, while fungi reared their heads from their beds of leaves.

The park as we now know it was first opened in 1911. It used to be the pleasure grounds of a romantic castle, originally built in 1790, but renovated in the 1870s in late classical style.

For its opening in 1911, the city had a reproduction of Michelangelo's David installed in the grounds, which they purchased at the 1910 World Fair in Brussels.  Like the famous original in Firenze, the statue is over 5 meters high. Unlike the original, however, you can admire this one, popularly known as den bloten David (colloquial for naked David) for free and without joining endless queues. 

There is also a small English cottage in the grounds, which is purely ornamental, placed in the garden as a romantic element.

Picturesque though it is, it is standing there quite forlornly in its miniature cottage garden. In fact, I think it looked just a little bit spooky, particularly on this day before Hallowe'en. I might not celebrate the latter, but I'm not averse to some tasteful seasonal spookiness.

The week which followed was a bit weird and chaotic, what with the impending office move keeping my colleague and me occupied.

On top of that, I had some catching up to do on Monday after my three-day weekend, so that by the end of the day I was more than ready for another day off. Wasn't it just fortunate that Tuesday the 1st of November was All Saints Day, which is a public holiday in Belgium!

It was mostly sunny and a more than reasonable 17°C, but a gale force wind made it feel quite unpleasant outside.  I continued with the seemingly never-ending wardrobe changeover, putting aside two bags of stuff to sort through and decide whether to donate or sell at next year's flea market.

Then, in the afternoon, we got a visit from my brother, whom I hadn't seen or heard of for well over a year. Apparently, he'd been spending time abroad, which neither me nor my sister were aware of. A close family we certainly aren't. Anyway, by the time he left, it was alas too dark for outfit photos. 

Work kept being crazy fort the rest of the week, although on Wednesday I took some time out for a visit to my hairdresser.

On Thursday, we had some outside help packing up most of the office, so that we would be obliged to spend the days counting down to the actual move surrounded by walls of boxes.

We were also given the key of the new temporary office, which is only next door to ours, its windows offering a slightly different aspect from the one I have been used to for 27 years. I snapped this moody photo of the view towards Antwerp's main shopping thoroughfare with my phone on Friday morning.

Yes, I did work on Friday again! Only a half-day, though. It was a gloomy day with a couple of showers and a drop in temperature to 13°C. Still in double figures, so I guess we couldn't complain, particularly as it had cleared up somewhat by the time Jos picked me up.

We stopped off at our local charity shop for a rummage, but let's have a look at my outfit first.

The skirt, which I bought at 70% off in the January sales, is made from a very strokable faux suede fabric and is equipped with two generous patch pockets.

Its companion for the day was this aubergine blouse liberally sprinkled with multi-coloured dots, which was a Think Twice find many moons ago. 

Both my purple belt and orange beaded necklace were charity shop finds, while the Lea Stein lookalike cat brooch with its orange eyes and ears was a gift from my lovely friend Kezzie.

Now, what did I find? 

First up is a pair of hardly worn tan leather Italian made loafers. I also found this modern tartan patterned dress, which started life at C&A.

But it was Jos who claimed the star find this time!

Another remnant from the infamous Day of the Charity Shops, the price tag on this wooden stereo camera dating from the late 1800s, early 1900s, was a bit higher than what we are used to pay, but still a fraction of what it would have cost it in an antiques shop.

Its leather-clad case had a tag mentioning "Louis Van Neck - Constructeur breveté - Klapdorp - Anvers". Some Googling brought me to the Directory of Belgian Photographers compiled by FOMU, the Museum of Photography in Antwerp. 

Apparently, Louis Van Neck (1853 - 1917) was a pharmacist who sold photographic chemicals and supplies at his premises in a street called Klapdorp in Antwerp from 1884 until 1908. He is considered one of the finest and most inventive Belgian camera manufacturers of the 19th century. 

In 1893, he patented "a new, simple stereoscopic camera, the ‘Royal Excellentis L. V. N."

Our new treasure is a dry plate camera, dry plates being pieces of glass plate coated with a gelatin emulsion which when exposed to light will capture an image. They were invented by Dr. Richard L. Maddox in 1871

Included in the camera's bag were three sets of wooden dry plate holders, which offer space for two dry plates, one at each side. These holders would be inserted at the back of the camera. After exposure of the plates, a clever mechanism allowed the holders to seal them off from light.

We are still thinking how to properly exhibit this jewel in the crown of our antique camera collection, but in the meantime Jos ans his assistant have already given it the necessary TLC.