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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

In Ostende

Thursday, August 20th., Ostende.

The Quai des Pecheurs, where one lands, is a street of houses that look like lanky overgrown cottages. nearly every dwelling is an estaminet, in the sanded, pine-dressed taproom of which fat, enceinte, good-humoured women move loosely and languidly to serve sailors and quay-loafers with bock and cheap tobacco.

Along the front lounge sailors in English blue (looking precisely like English sailors in face, gait, manner and dress); children clatter their loose sabots; fishwives are carrying fish from a brown and yellow tangle of smacks to waiting carts; occasionally a woman porter goes by, sweating in the sunshine, with her elongated barrow curving downwards to one little wheel at the extremity.

In the afternoon Brown squatted down on his stool, en plein rue, to paint the smacks and the lighthouse behind. He had no water. We interrogated small boys, and afterwards men in French, but only Flemish is spoken on this quay. At last a sailor comes who can speak French, and he sends a child for a glass of water. But the child never returns, and the French-speaking sailor has gone. Then a boy takes off his sabot, holds it up to me suggestively, rushes off with a clack-thud, clack-thud, and comes back with the sabot full of water.

Brown's audience gets larger, and it is difficult to keep them in order. Then he discovers that German is near enough to the Flemish to be understood, and begins to talk to a short, thick-set young sailor with an honest, amiable face who thereupon constitutes himself policeman of the crowd. We make friends with the sailor, and when the picture is done tale him to an estaminet for bock. In the corner of the taproom is a primitive bagatelle table; we play and beat him easily, while the fat and pregnant women of the establishment, three in number, look on good-humouredly and yet with a distant air of tolerance.

Turning to the left at the end of the Quai des Pecheurs, one is on the Digue - a vast straight expanse of promenade paved with small, diamond-shaped, corrugated brown tiles, and dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists only. This promenade, overlooking the immense sands and the dazzling sea, is flanked by lofty buildings of florid modern architecture, painted white or yellow - lodging houses, restaurants, hotels, and the white Kursaal (all curves) in the center - flashing in the brilliant sun so that one can scarcely bear to look on them.

The lodging houses are peculiar, and seem to be all made to one pattern. The front room of the rez-de-chausee has a sliding glass front, giving by a broad flight of steps directly onto the street. At the top of the steps is invariably mounted a large brass telescope, polished to blindingness. This front room is furnished with garish theatrical magnificence: highly decorated walls; elaborately carved furniture; a chandelier fit for a ballroom scene at the Haymarket; gaudy transparent paper screens. In the rear of this room wide doors folded back disclose another room - the salle-a-manger - treated in the cool shadow of drawn blinds. One'simpression is that the occupiers of these apartments conduct their existences for the delectation of the public eye. After lunch, during the siesta, one observed stout men, carefully attired in flannels, smoking or drowsing in the front rooms, while further back in the picture fashionably-dressed women with closed or half-shut eyes waved their fans dreamily.

All day, visitors perambulate the promenade and treat each other punctiliously.

This part of the town reaches the very summit of artificiality. The back-streets and market-places are different in character, quaint, with Flemish sign-boards, dog carts, bargaining wives, and a free, unhampered stir and movement of old, mellow colours - amidst all which the visitors, whose natural resting place is the Digue, seem out of key.

See also 'A Gaucho in London' http://earnoldbennett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/a-gaucho-in-london.html

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