Yesterday we went back to Brugge, which the F-word was anxious to do because of its fantastic art gallery with Flemish Primitives, and Bosch, and which I was happy to do because In Bruges had been one of about seven films I'd seen on planes in the past little while (and it was by far the best, though that's not much of a claim considering the other films were Iron Man, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, The Devil Wears Prada, two other completely forgettable ones, and the only other serious contender, Hallam Foe, which wasn't that serious a contender, despite demonstrating that little Billy Elliott has grown himself a really nice ass, because the dialogue was rubbish). And In Bruges, ridiculous though it got as soon as Ralph Fiennes started chewing up the celluloid, made Brugge in the winter (which it now is here, as the markets are selling clementines and it's impossible to venture outside without mulling over how easy a mulled wine would go down) look very, very sweet.
And indeed it is. I don't have much enthusiasm for winter - I've lived all over the place in my thirty years of life, but always all over the place in fucking cold countries, and now I really have had enough. But there's no doubt that a bit of weather is bracing if you wrap up properly, and Brugge braced me, with its fresh air and canals and twee little houses. And romanticization aside, going to an old city like that, a real time warp of a city like Venice or York as well, is such an interesting reminder of a time when people's identities were so much more wrapped up in their cities. It's a sensation that you still feel all over Europe, of course, particularly in southern France or in Italy - people really think of themselves as from a certain town, in a way that looks like patriotism or nationalism. But in a sweet old remainder like Brugge you can see how that would have worked, just a little bit. All the way from the delightful unified architecture to the network of religious sites to the guillotine.
And we went to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which has got a bit of Jesus's blood apparently, which I found a little distressing for a couple of reasons. First, the night before we had watched The Baby of Macon (which featured Ralph Fiennes dying spectacularly, as did In Bruges, and In Bruges also featured Jesus's blood from the basilica - it's all a complex tapestry) which was about a Jesus-y type toddler who gets chopped up into little relics at the end. I had found it disturbing, more disturbing for Julia Ormond's ten minute rape than the dismembered toddler actually, and didn't like it in the least - seemed like the sort of film only a big asshole would make. But there's no doubt it disturbed me, and being invited to caress a flask of Jesus's blood by an automated voice in the Basilica while a priest smiled over it didn't help me stop being disturbed. Second, I'm in the middle of The First Crusade by Steven Runciman, which contains nasty historical details of all the people who murdered, cheated, schemed and died over religious relics, and here one was, a big one, and the automated voice was inviting us all to touch it and to give a little donation to the church accordingly . . .