Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday, May 10, 1920

This is a beautiful morning and we are out early for a tour of the town. Did lots of “window shopping” in fact about all the shops contain is put in the windows. Went to the bank and had some money changed for Belgian money. We had so much trouble in England to get our money exchanged or rather to receive the current rate of exchange. We feel we have mastered the exchange question - applied some one’s definition of swimming - 99 parts confidence and one part experience, taken in water frequently. Purchased a pencil and filagree silver chain - something I have long wanted. Every turn was something new. Saw a brilliant flower growing every place that I wanted for mother and I undertook to find some seed. Visited the funny little shops, but they interpreted my wants to mean anything from a wind-mill to a mouse trap and our effort was a pleasant failure. Finally we found one with an English speaking clerk and got the seed. Visited the lace shops and found one with and English speaking clerk and bought some beautiful collars of real lace.

The lace makers are trained in the convents and often children 6 and 7 years old weave the spindles from dawn to twilight. The pay of a lace maker averages 1 franc (20 cents) per day of 8 to 19 hours of skilled labor. Lace is made in the peasant homes and contracted for by the buyers from Brussels and Bruges who supply the thread. Weavers of delicate patterns of Princess, Cluny, Mechlin, Valenciennes and Brussels rarely receive more than 50 cents per day.

In one of the shops, the woman noticed my little white bow pin and remarked, pointing to it, “I know what that means.” Surprised, I said “why do you? what is it?” She answered, it means “drink water.” Then we had an interesting talk concerning the customs of Belgium as compared to America.

After the noon lunch, some of our party took a ride upon the canal, but I felt I had had plenty of riding on water for a time at least.

An American woman, who, with her husband is in Belgium on business and stopping at our hotel, went with me to the Cathedral, where we saw work of Michael Angelo in marble, paintings by Van Eyck, and Rubens etc., then we went to the Benaize (convent) to see the lace makers.

The grounds outside were beautiful - trees, flowers, shady nooks, seats etc. but when we went inside - such a cold, damp, musty, “smelly” place, it seemed as if the sun never got inside these walls.

When I saw the white face of the Mother Superior and the still whiter ones of the Lace makers, in their somber black garb, they looked like the song had gone all out of their lives.

What a perverted idea of life, to shut themselves in behind stone walls, when the world so much needs their smile, because “Way down deep within their hearts - Everybody’s lonesome” and the world needs a lot of loving. We need it in the morning, for an unknown day is before us; We need it at noontime in the midst of the day’s cares; We need it at night time, when the weary tasks are ended. For me, “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.” - in the pulse - in the midst of things and help make the world happier and better.

I am afraid when I get back to America and put on my beautiful Belgian laces, that the pale faces in the Benaize at Bruges will rise up and shut out all the sunlight. But I am forgetting to tell the story of the laces.

In one pattern they were using 500 bobbins, in another 350 and it required 2 months solid work to make their yard. When I placed my name in the visitor’s book, I noticed a little ways above, the signature of Marshal Petain. We were told that the Kaiser had been in Bruges 4 times during the war and worshipped in the Cathedral where we were to-day. Only one German had ventured back since the war - presumably to see some Belgian lass and he was given 2 hours to leave the country. A flock of sheep from Germany was brought here to-day, as part of the Armistice terms.

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