Stained Glass and Light : Postcard from Brussels

Among the hidden jewels of Brussels is a tiny Art Deco church called Église du Divin Sauveur. Located in the commune of Schaerbeek, it is decorated with the striking stained glass windows. On the outside it looks plain, but as is the case for most churches in this part of Europe, stepping inside reveals the true magic. As the early morning light streams in, the church is filled with an undulating rainbow of colors that makes the space seem bigger than it is. I walk through a river of sapphire blue and immerse myself into crimson and emerald. 

I’ve seen many stained glass window-adorned churches and mosques, but every new one is a special delight. The play of light never gets old. Every time it’s a thrill, awakening a childhood memory of playing with a kaleidoscope and waiting for the one special–the favorite, the unique–arrangement to fall into a place. A turn of the tube, the sound of glass fragments falling into  place, a new pattern.

These days such calm moments are rare, so I savor and seek them out even more. I especially enjoy when they happen when I least expect them. If I can capture with one sentence the learnings of this year, it would be–take care of yourself. Go for walks, pursue hobbies, enjoy your most extravagant perfumes, daydream, hope, and remember that every moment holds the promise of a wonder.

What takes you to your place of serenity? 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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51 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    What a lovely idea for a post.

    For me, the first place of serenity is my home, especially on days when I don’t have to go anywhere. I can choose to do whatever I like – read, listen to music or a radio program, watch a film, email a friend, or anything else that takes my fancy.

    The second place is being with my father, who is 92 and now uses a walker at home, as he is so frail. Even when I’m taking him to his frequent medical appointments of one kind or another, I feel a kind of peace, knowing that I am helping him. On Wednesday, he told me that he had begun re-reading “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens. So I think I shall pull out my old copy from university in 1979 and read it again myself, so that I can discuss it with him. I’m acutely aware that my opportunity to share such things with him is limited, so I plan to savour it. Of course, genius that he is, he’ll finish it before I do. He may be very old, but he’s still as sharp as a tack! November 6, 2020 at 7:25am Reply

    • Monika: This is a really beautiful and thoughtful post to share, thanks Tourmaline 🙂 Your words capture something lovely about what care and compassion mean when we live them every day. I felt calm just thinking of you chatting with your dad about books! X November 6, 2020 at 8:23am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thank you, Monica. I’m glad you got something so lovely from my comment. X. November 6, 2020 at 8:31am Reply

        • Tourmaline: So sorry; Monika. November 6, 2020 at 8:32am Reply

    • OperaFan: I love the effort you are making to stay connected with your father.
      My young teenage son, like a lot of kids, have gotten into E-games. So one of the ways I try to stay connected with him is to “play” some of these games with him. Actually, he plays while I watch, and occassionally he lets me make decision calls. It’s actually quite fun, and we get to talk about it.
      Not quite the same as reading Charles Dickens, but…. 🙂 November 6, 2020 at 11:06am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thank you, OperaFan.

        That’s a great way of staying connected to a teenage boy, which isn’t always easy. (I don’t have children of my own, but worked in Child Safety for 24 years.) It makes it easier to raise any issues with you, too, if there’s something he wants to talk about.

        We’ll see how my reading of Dickens goes. I suspect my Dad has almost finished, whereas I haven’t begun yet! November 6, 2020 at 7:30pm Reply

    • Zazie: Love how you nurture your connection with your father, and the serenity it brings you.
      Such lovely sentiments to share.
      Your comment shone a ray of light into my day… thank you!
      Best wishes to you both November 6, 2020 at 2:53pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thank you so much, Zazie.

        Having thought about it a little more, I realize that it’s not just the fact that I enjoy my father’s company, it’s the fact that, while I’m with him, I’m not worrying whether he’s okay or whether he’s tripped over or cut himself or whatever. I’m right there, by his side. November 6, 2020 at 7:33pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Living stateside, these have been some of the most nerve wracking days of my life.
    What I have found to help me is interacting with my 2 cats. Socks, in particular can “sense” when someone is troubled and will pay special attention.
    I am also a lay reader at my church. I always prepare by working to understand and practice the reading (like I do singing) so that my delivery becomes more like an organic flow, and brings meaning beyond what straight recitation would do. It doesn’t take a lot of time but while I’m doing it I am completely immersed, and it feels gratifying.
    Thank you for this post. Now I will be more aware of special moments like these and cherish them. November 6, 2020 at 7:55am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi OperaFan,

      I would like to get a cat one day. I would only be annoyed if it used my favourite wine velvet chair as a scratching post. My dad’s cat has destroyed two chairs, and most of the cords that hang down from the blinds! November 6, 2020 at 9:41am Reply

      • OperaFan: Hi Tourmaline – Cats are totally worth it! Methodically clipping their claws can minimize a lot of damage. Also if you can find the perfect scratching object (most cats have favorites), it can help save others from becoming casualties. Cats I’ve had in the past have tended to “favor” specific objects and locations while leaving others alone.
        Unfortunately, my husband’s family has always had their indoor cats declawed, so the current pair (adopted after my marriage) do not have the issue. I know this is a continuing debate, and there have been talks of making declawing illegal in NJ. In that case, I would happily go back to clipping. November 6, 2020 at 10:59am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Thanks for the tips, OperaFan.

          Yes, I would probably buy a couple of different scratching posts. It is very difficult to trim the nails of Dad’s cat, Iggy. He bites and scratches and runs away. Dad took him to the vet about a year ago for them to do it. They were going to give him some sedative first. Even with two vets, they had enormous trouble, and some of the injection went into Iggy and some went onto the vets and some went into the air, and they only managed to trim a couple of his claws.

          More recently, the vet gave Dad some sedative to put into Iggy’s food prior to taking him to the vet. Iggy – who is a very smart cat – ignored the food and never ate it. If he sees his cat box, he runs and hides. It’s difficult. Dad says that Iggy still has lots of the wild animal left in him!

          But I’m sure I will still get one someday! November 6, 2020 at 7:26pm Reply

  • Jani: I love anything by Bertrand Duchaufour and am currently enjoying Trayee (yum!) with all its spices, woods and resins gloriously blended. I believe he created Traversee du Bosphore, too. I only sampled it years ago, but remember thinking I would love to own a full bottle of this one day. Perhaps today is that day. Thank you for the possibility, Sara! And Victoria, please do forward my email to Sara should I win the draw. Just have to say that I love you and your blog so much! November 6, 2020 at 9:27am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Jani,

      You might want to put this comment on Victoria’s previous post about the giveaway, so that you are sure to be in the running. Your comment has landed in her next post.

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline November 6, 2020 at 7:36pm Reply

      • Jani: Oh for heavens sake! You are right! That’s what I get for trying to hurry before a deadline. I appreciate your alert, though. 🙂 I often read your comments to Victoria’s posts with interest and learn a lot from them. Thanks again. November 7, 2020 at 5:35pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: It’s an easy mistake to make. Thank you; i’m glad you derive something from my comments. Good luck with the draw! November 7, 2020 at 8:29pm Reply

  • kat: My place of serenity may sound odd but here we go – it’s simply nighttime. Everyday (night) before going to bed I open the window and take the sounds or silence of night in. Also the scents which differ from daytime or are just sharper: earth, hay, manure (alas), snow. And then I send a couple of soap bubbles into the night. Sometimes the wind takes them before I can say goodbye and sometimes they rise high to the stars before gently returning down to earth and when the full moon is out they will reflect its light like tiny stars themselves. November 6, 2020 at 10:27am Reply

    • Klaas: Hey Kat, I also very much enjoy the night and its serenity. I love the idea of sending soap bubbles into the dark. A moment of mindfulness and maybe even spirituality? Or just for fun, that would work too, of course 😉 November 8, 2020 at 11:05am Reply

      • okat: Hi Klaas, the bubbles can be everything depending on my mood. A moment of spirituality, a message to the moon or my favorite star and sometimes the simple wish for a moment of beauty after a stressful day. And sometimes I just like to wonder at their movements and dance (I have no idea why they move the way they do on some nights). It’s a reminder to keep childlike wonder alive. November 9, 2020 at 11:27am Reply

        • Klaas: I love it! November 9, 2020 at 11:54am Reply

  • Tara C: Like kat, I’m fond of the night time as well. And being outside is especially calming. The beauty of nature and the fresh air are soothing. November 6, 2020 at 12:46pm Reply

  • Gabriela: What a beautiful post Victoria. Hope and the moment of a wonder, we all need that, indeed.

    Serenity for me is looking at trees, looking at the sea, my daughters sleeping…
    Silence is serenity especially at night when I watch from my window the lights that are still on and wonder what people are doing, if they are happy or suffering. November 6, 2020 at 12:51pm Reply

  • Toni: Such a beautiful vision of hidden art.
    It brings light into our lives as we prepare for more social restrictions. Your travel experiences are always fascinating.
    Thank you Victoria. November 6, 2020 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: My place of serenity is the Gardens I visit every lunchtime near my place of work. I find it so relaxing and calm to be surrounded by nature. I especially go to spot the different birds, and to feed the squirrels.

    I agree that night time is very calming, so I use Saturday night, every week to paint my nails. 💅I find the process very relaxing, taking as long as I need with no disturbance.

    Bathing with my new L’Occitane soap from the Aromachologie range. Scented with essential oils to evoke the scent of a stroll in the forest, is a relaxing way to unwind in the evenings. November 6, 2020 at 4:28pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo nui loa Victoria, for your sun lit post. The beauty of stained glass helps us transcend our earthly problems. I was able to visit the Matisse Chapel in Vence as a teenager. I’ll always treasure the memory of that special place.

    I’ve missed visiting our Honolulu Museum of Art. My favorite painting is ‘Lady of the Flowers’ by the Symbolist Odilon Redon. His flowers seem to be illuminated from within. Googling this image takes me to my serene place. November 7, 2020 at 3:08am Reply

    • Tourmaline: That wretched virus! There must be many people who miss going to galleries and museums.

      It’s a lovely painting.

      https://uploads2.wikiart.org/images/odilon-redon/lady-of-the-flowers.jpg November 7, 2020 at 4:09am Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: What a serene aura this painting has! And it has this universal feel to it: it could be some Persian or Indian miniature painting of a court scene, it could be some preliminary idea to a Gustav Klimt, or even a romantic rendering of an Orthodox Church icon.
      Thank you, Peter, for introducing me to this picture! November 8, 2020 at 8:12am Reply

      • Peter: Aloha On Wings, I’m glad I could introduce you to something originally from your side of the world. You describe the painting’s ‘Universal Consciousness” so well.
        I’m also a Gustav Klimt fan. I did a full-scale copy of “The Woman Friends” for an Art History class. November 8, 2020 at 9:51pm Reply

    • Klaas: I love that Odilon Redon made it all the way to Honolulu! He’s one of my favorite painters….. November 8, 2020 at 11:09am Reply

      • Peter: Aloha Klaas, Our Honolulu Museum of Art has a fantastic Gauguin and many paintings by Hawaii artists. But there is something magical about the Redon. I got a large monograph to explore his work. I especially love his luminous floral masterpieces. November 8, 2020 at 10:00pm Reply

        • Klaas: Yes, his floral paintings are incredible, indeed. He is such a unique painter, with such a bold, personal style. LIke I said, one of my favorites. November 9, 2020 at 4:19am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Come on, men, I’d love to hear more from YOU about your comforting/serene places or times.

    OnWings – is it when you’re cooking? And what about you, John, John Luna, Klaas, Matty, Sebastian and all those others out there who are guys but who have names that aren’t transparently male to this Australian… November 8, 2020 at 2:25am Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: No, cooking does not equal serenity, comfort and satisfaction: yes. Perhaps also greediness & neediness.
      Serenity is something a bit rarer, something that I might probably find best in nature: walking the coast listening to the crashing of the waves. Or walking in the hills or mountains; when light is particularly golden as in autumn or in the late afternoon. The bright paddy green in spring (in German we call it “Maigrün” May green), the Indian Summer… November 8, 2020 at 8:20am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: … sorry, the “yes” somehow slinked into the first sentence, where it shouldn’t have been! November 8, 2020 at 8:22am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Isn’t it annoying when that sort of thing happens… November 8, 2020 at 8:38am Reply

        • Tourmaline: I should add that I doubt whether cooking is a consequence of (or inspires) greediness or neediness. For someone like you, who appreciates smells and flavours, it is surely some fusion of science and art. It’s interesting how people often think of overeating as indicating emotional problems. Perhaps in some instances it does. But nobody suggests that listening to more than 20 songs a day, or constant reading, indicates emotional problems. Perhaps people just enjoy food, music and words! November 8, 2020 at 8:48am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi there OnWingsofSaffron,

        Thanks for replying. That is interesting; I thought you would kind of get in the “zone” while you were cooking. I can understand how nature could lead to such feelings, though.

        I sometimes wish I was more of a “nature girl”, but I’m pale as a ghost and I don’t much like being outdoors, except perhaps at night. I avoid the sun. I enjoy watching, hearing and smelling the rain, but from inside.

        My father’s grandparents were German, and there is German on mum’s side as well. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of the German I learned at school, but Dad can speak and read it. November 8, 2020 at 8:36am Reply

    • Klaas: Hahahaha, Tournaline, wow, you’re so adamant! Ok, ok, here goes:

      For me personally serenity has very much to do with lifestyle and the way we look at the things that happen to us. It is something we need to conciously make space for, practice even, as it is not always easy to find serenity in our sometimes hectic and troubled existence.

      I can feel serene sometimes when I read a nice book, when I listen to a particular piece of music, when I walk in nature (autumn is a very good season for serenity), or when I go for a nice run. But then I do these things when work is done, my chores are done, or when I feel like I have some time on my hands…..I think it is mostly this that makes me feel serene. To be able to step away from obligations and from the bustle of life. November 8, 2020 at 5:49pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Klaas,

        Thanks so much for responding.

        I understand what you are saying. Having a particular world view and an understanding of human nature can assist greatly in making sense of things that happen, and being at peace with them, in a sense, even when we don’t like what has happened. Listing, in my mind or on paper, the things I’m grateful for, is one way that I consciously seek peace.

        I identify with your point about having work and chores completed freeing you up to feel serene and choose a leisure pursuit. For years, I have tried to rise above an impulse to wait until everything is “finished” to feel content. For so long I told myself that when I’d cleaned out the garage and varnished those two bookshelves and written that overdue letter, and so on, I would feel happy. Eventually it dawned on me that, while I’m alive, I’ll never be completely finished everything. I have worked to enjoy the moment more, to feel happy in spite of the dishes piled in the sink or the fact that I need to clear all the stored items out of The Violet Room, dust if off and photograph it for Victoria, as I said I’d do several years ago now…

        Thanks again for your thoughtful response. November 8, 2020 at 8:02pm Reply

        • Klaas: You’re very welcome 😉 November 9, 2020 at 4:21am Reply

          • Tourmaline: 🙂 November 9, 2020 at 4:43am Reply

  • shiva-woman: I’ve been there. After my mother passed in ’12, I so enjoyed my time with my father until ’14. It was hard work, but he was so gracious, such a good conversationalist–the best of the bittersweet years. My dad too was “sharp as a tack.” November 8, 2020 at 2:08pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Shiva-woman,

      So you know what it is like – the joy, the challenges, and the fear of wondering when and how “it” is going to happen, and how you will cope when it does. There must be thousands of people out there going through the same thing, and many of them, sadly, feeling so alone. November 8, 2020 at 8:03pm Reply

  • Hilde: My moments of serenity are on sunday morning, sitting in my sofa while it is still dark outside, with some lightening and burning some candles, with my cat – a British shorthair – aside of me while listening to classical music on radio Klara.

    I adore classical music, but I get trilled of gregorian chants. Messe de Notre Dame by Guillame de Machaut is heavenly. The harmony of those beautiful voices without using any instrument. I can listen to it a thousand of times. November 9, 2020 at 2:46am Reply

  • Muriel: My favourite place for serenity is the ruins of the abbey in Villers-la-Ville, not so far from Brussels, and I love to go there at this time of the year, when the colours of nature are so beautiful. I also find serenity in order… which is not always easy to reach in a family of 6 🙂 November 10, 2020 at 4:47am Reply

    • Hilde: Abbeys have something mystic, still more than churches. Churches and cathedrals are sometimes overloaded with ornaments and wall- and ceilingpaintings. They are great work of art, but to relax I also prefer the silence and modesty of an abbey, as Muriel does.

      By the way, the ruines of Villers-la-Ville are such a beautiful scenery. November 10, 2020 at 6:26am Reply

  • Carla: This year I have to make a real effort to think positively. I have never had to try so hard to do that, but it really helps.
    I have turned to food for comfort and it is so very comforting, but the scale and the fit of my clothes do not lie! So I need to change that.
    We watched the show Now Hear This on PBS last night and it really boosted my mood. Lovely people making beautiful music. November 10, 2020 at 10:24am Reply

    • Carla: And I want to add that nature has been such a good comfort and distraction… November 10, 2020 at 10:25am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Carla,

      I just wanted to say that you are not alone in having gained weight during the pandemic. I have as well, and you are right: the clothes do not lie! I’m slightly comforted by the fact that my doctor told me, “everyone has gained weight!”

      All the best to you. November 10, 2020 at 7:31pm Reply

      • Carla: Thank you for your kind words – this blog is a light shining through the internet with all the awful politics everywhere else, isn’t it? November 10, 2020 at 7:46pm Reply

        • Tourmaline: You’re welcome, Carla.

          It certainly is; it’s the best blog in the universe! November 11, 2020 at 1:45am Reply

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