AND SOME FREE–ASSOCIATION
By Kelly Sargent
“It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.” — Kristin Armstrong, professional road bicycle racer, three-time Olympic gold medalist and the most decorated female cyclist in U.S. history
WHAT KRISTIN said!! That was the whole purpose of this trip to Belgium. And in today's post it's true both figuratively and literally; we climbed Ghent's belfry. (Sounds a little euphemistic.) Actually I climbed it; Paul took the elevator.
Paul used to be fearless about heights, scaling the sides of buildings in Iowa City when he was a student at the University of Iowa. (Seriously! It was kind of illegal.) But over time he's developed a fear of heights. I used to have a phobic fear of heights, but I've worked for forty years at least to get over it through gradually increased exposure and desensitization. I didn't want it to be a limiting factor in my life. Now where I go scares Paul.
The 350 stone steps that circle the inside of the tower round and round and round are worn from centuries of footfalls. When I encounter steps worn in this way, I like to imagine all those who literally went before me over hundred and hundreds of years, wishing that through placing my feet where theirs were, I could get a sense of who they might have been and what their lives were like.
The 300-foot belfry of Ghent, often called simply the bell tower, is the tallest of three medieval towers overlooking the city. (I've already shown you pictures of the other two: Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church, and I've included two photos in this post as well.) There are six floors, each with a lookout point or an exhibit, along the way to the top of the belfry. One of them had an surprisingly-interesting bell museum.
Construction of the belfry began in 1313 and finished in 1380. The uppermost parts have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells. In 1771 a spire was added, but replaced a little less than 100 years later with a cast iron one. That one was demolished in the early 1900s and replaced by the current stone spire based on the original design from the 14th century.
Originally the bells served a religious purpose, but gradually the belfry assumed a secular role, used to announce the time and sound various warnings and as a fortified watchtower where important documents were kept.
Tower bells can be played in three ways. The traditional means is by striking a keyboard with fists and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. They can also be played from an electronic keyboard or by an automated, mechanical device that resembles a gigantic music box or the internal workings of a player piano.
Here are some pictures of and from the belfry of Ghent.
Paul Bridson and Kelly Sargent
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