Today is going to be pathetically short, as I am in between engagements, as it were, and I want to actually get to bed before 2AM. Today we were in Bruges, a city I’ve wanted to see since I watched the seriously under-rated movie IN BRUGES with Brendan Gleeson(Mad-Eye Moody) and Colin Farrell(no introduction necessary). If you haven’t seen it, run now to get it. It is irreverent, wildly imaginative, snortingly funny and tragic at the same time. Seriously. Don’t miss it. It’s about two hapless Irish assassins who kill the wrong person and are sent into exile. Gleeson is delighted, because he’s always been enamored of the history and architecture. All Colin Farrel can say is, “But it’s feckin’ BRUGES!”
The other thing the city is known more recently is that it played a big part in George Clooney’s Monument Men, when they rescued a Michelangelo statue called the Bruges Madonna and brought her home. I’m embarrassed to say that that was the first time I heard of her. But I had to see her. I had to see Bruges, with its medieval homes and quiet canals and swans. I had to walk the cobbled squares and sit inside the silence of ancient churches. (Okay, and I had to eat french fries and waffles. They’re so famous here for their waffles, they actually have Waffle on a Stick. Now, how can you resist that?).
And finally, yes, I have seen the Madonna. Something you should know about my Irish Catholic family. We’ve always had a thing for madonnas. My aunt and godmother gave me her collection when she turned 80, figuring she wouldn’t be around long enough to enjoy them(she’s now 91). So I have some 63 madonnas in my ranch house. The good news is that my nieces and nephews are getting married. So I hand them out as needed. But the thing is that when we have a chance to visit a great madonna, we do it (and light a candles. Catholics love lighting candles). I’ve seen Michelangelo’s two pietas, and more painted Marys than you can shake a stick at. So I came to see the Bruges Mary.
First of all, she isn’t the fancist madonna in the church. She isn’t the biggest. She it tucked into a niche in a side altar of the Church of Our Lady(are you getting a theme here), which is currently under renovation. So the stage isn’t exactly set for such a piece. It doesn’t matter. I caught sight of her down the nave of the church and began to cry. She is exquisite. In a facebook post today, I called her a miracle. Michelangelo catches her as she holds onto her toddler son, who is anxious to escape. You can see on her face that she already knows her future and his. you can see the heaviness, the resignation, the grief and the love for that rambunctious little boy. The statue has life and grace and pathos. (of course, you say. It’s a Michelangelo. I know. But even though I’ve seen his other work, I still find myself surprised all over again at its power.).
In a few days I’ll go to the anniversary of a slaughter. I will stand where blood soaked the ground of other rambunctious boys whose mothers had to let go into the world to die. I will think of those boys, those mothers, and the soft, sad eyes of the madonna Michelangelo left us, who really represents every mother who sends a child out into the world she knows all too well. And then, as opposed to those other mothers, I will get to go home to hug my son. But I will still think of them, empty-armed and lost, their future bleeding into the ground. And I’ll ask that other lady to watch over the other mothers now, who follow the same path.