There is a cruel and extremely patronising saying in English “bet you can’t name five famous Belgians” which is a rude way of decrying the impact this country has had on the world.
However when tested sadly most of us can’t. Especially when we discover detective Hercule Poirot doesn’t count because he is fictional and cyclists are banned from rattling off anyone other than Eddie Merckx on the grounds that nobody outside our world has heard of Rik Van Looy.
Hergé, Rene Magritte?
A recent trip to Dinant in Wallonia threw up a name who deservedly needs to be on any list of people who have made an impact on the world far beyond their shores.
Where would my “Music to ride Bike By” be without Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, Pink Floyd’s “Us and them” and the Clarence Clemen’s solo on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s “Jungleland”?
What links these seemingly disparate pieces of music? The saxophone. Invention of Alolphe Sax from Dinant in 1846 which makes him by far this region’s most famous son. Best saxophone solos ever? That’s a topic that keeps lots of lists going on the blogosphere.
Dinant itself should be an attractive place in the valley of the Meuse south of Wallonia’s capital Namur but it has a slightly down-at-heel atmosphere which reflects the economic reality of southern Belgium. Things are fairly tough in a region that once depended on coal, steel and shipping down the river which still acts as a freight route. Tourism is doing its best and the riverside is being gentrified to complement the Notre Dame Church and the imposing Citadel which overlooks the town.
The dark grey stone doesn’t help the scene, it looks slightly overcast even on a bright day. By far the most colourful scene in the town was the bridge named after Charles de Gaulle because the future French president picked up a war wound here during the first World War.
Here Sax was being celebrated with a colourful display of 28 painted saxophones, each painted to represent a country of the EU and the EU itself.
It is nice to go somewhere else this year where you just end up smiling and humming to yourself, it gives Dinant that something special, and I would much rather be in a place that should burst into a chorus of “Jungleland” than the “Sound of Music”.
Web site Famousbelgians.net agrees, they have Sax at number 2 after Eddie Merckx in their role of honour. That is almost perfect for Idonotdespair –cycling followed by music. Bring it on boys.