More of a post holder than a blog post

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I missed posting a blog entry last week and I was on course to do the same this week. This isn’t the post I was trying to write. Instead it’s a nice, short post explaining why I’m having problems.

The post I’m trying to write

The post I’ve been trying to write is about the Africa Museum at Tervuren just outside Brussels. However, the more I wrote, the further I seemed to get from anything you might call a blog post. If my notes and drafts can be called anything, they might be described as the outline of an essay. Less generously, the words disjointed mess spring to mind.

I know I have a tendency to run on. Some of my posts over the years have been quite long; 1200 to 1400 words are not exceptional. Personally, I’m happy to read posts that long, if they have something interesting to say. (And I do think most of my longer pieces are interesting.) But even I would baulk at 4000+, which is the direction my Africa Museum post was headed.

It would probably make sense to break it down into two or more shorter posts. That’s where it might end up. But it’s not there yet. Not even close.

Congo warriors in the European imagination. Absent feet.
Congo warriors in the European imagination. Absent feet.

A horrible attraction

One post might be about my desire to visit the place. Given it’s notoriety that might seem strange. But some of the descriptions that I came across of the Royal Museum for Central Africa as it was until very recently, just in the first decade of this millennium, exerted a horrible attraction.

The museum closed for refurbishment in 2013 and was supposed to re-open in 2016, then 2017. In the end, and possibly after superhuman effort (super-Belgian effort perhaps), it finally re-opened late in 2018. Mrs SC and I lived in Brussels for three years from January 2015 to December 2017 and we always planned to visit when the museum re-opened, but it kept on not re-opening. We finally got to see it in the spring of 2019 when we were in Belgium on a working visit. (She was working, I was visiting.)

Why did it take so long to refurbish? Therein lies a story, the length of which threatens to overwhelm me once again.

Post illo: The Africa Museum, Tervuren, Belgium
The Africa Museum, Tervuren, Belgium

The actual visit

A second post could be completely taken up with the actual experience of visiting the museum. (This is where I started.) Of the approach to the museum, of the buildings old and new, of the expansive park where it is set. The original building has the appearance of a palace, even though it was constructed as a museum from the beginning.

Inside, the visitors, their composition and behaviour when I was there, were almost as fascinating as the exhibits. This post would give my slant on the success, or otherwise, of the refurbishment. The presentation of the collection. Actually, re-presentation, because the collection was gathered in the first place, and originally put on display, as propaganda for Belgian colonialism in Congo. This means part at least of the refurbishment had to do with re-purposing the available material to tell a different story.

A wider, darker, brain freeze

Beyond the actual museum and its exhibits, there’s a wider, darker story. Of how and why little Belgium ever had an African colony to exploit. Belgium as a state was never involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but they sure made up for that in the 80 odd years they controlled the Congo.

Retelling this story, this (potentially third) post would find itself blending into the “culture wars” currently being fought in various contexts and various places. Not least in my homeland, where lawmakers are attempting to make the maximum penalty for damaging a statue 10 years in prison. Currently the minimum sentence for rape under British law is 5 years. So at least some people think damaging a statue more serious than damaging a person.

All of which leads to inarticulate fury, and my brain freezing. And a blog post not getting written.

I’m not promising to do better next week either, but at least you now know where I’m floundering.

Post illo: In the crocodile room at the Africa Museum
In the crocodile room at the Africa Museum

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