Upon arriving at Arbontorium Kalmhout, I noticed that the gift shop was an attraction onto itself. Remarkable artistic ingenuity was on display throughout. Flower and tree-themed stuffed animals and birds all had a charming static animation if there is such a thing. The greeting cards all had top-quality and very imaginative designs. Framed pieces depicting whimsical figures that were composed of leaves, twigs, bark, and flowers were awesome. It’s always stuff like this that reminds me just how uncreative and pretentious much of modern and post-modern art really is. Especially famous modern art. Especially modern art worth hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s that got to do with anything? Nothing. Did I buy anything? Nothing again. We were in a hurry. Not to see depictions, but the real thing!
Hey, I’m not a flower guy and I’m not into prettiness, and many might describe this place that way. But the intense hues and lavish chromas of arguably tens of millions of flowers, which are surrounded by and against a backdrop of endless tones and shades of green throughout this estate, did it for Lieve and me on this bright, warm and sunny day. It is not so much that the flowers are singularly beautiful as it is that they harmonize magnificently within the vastly larger sphere of green, which they are surrounded by at every turn. This creates a synthesis of exquisite beauty. Wildflowers are abundant and they outnumber their cultivated cousins by a thousand to one it seems, yet rival them in beauty in their proliferation. My second thought, in this beautiful garden, is that I think I want my ashes scattered here after I pass from this mortal coil. What a splendid visual! A pageantry of flowers that seem to surround you at most every turn. The vast grounds are so thoughtfully laid out and designed. All without affecting a manicured look. There is a splendid naturalness to this place. Did I just see Monet, or was that John Singer Sargent setting up an easel to paint?. No. That was just a guy with a thick black beard and wide-brimmed straw hat taking a stroll through my imagination. How dare he.
Look! How positively refreshing. There’s plenty of benches to sit down and rest. Unlike many other venues of this kind. They must’ve known that a cranky American who was wearing cheap footwear while being besieged by chronic back and hip pain, was roaming the grounds. “No smoking anywhere on the entire grounds!, announced a sign. I guess a new species of the Rat Pack is roaming the grounds as well. Those that would rat or snitch to the domain management on any hapless smoker trying to relax with a Marlboro. The Rat Patrol must be proud that they have assumed a level of voluntary or delusional civic importance in keeping their fellow citizens from breathing second-hand smoke that dissipates in seconds on this vast estate.
This place soothes the soul. Harmony, serenity, and peace prevailed until that damn bee stung me (just kidding!) as the flowers almost sing to you in silence though mellifluous tonnes of joy while the sunlight filtered through the abundantly leafed old stout trees, splattering magnificent patterns of light on most every meandering pathway. Large, dramatic shapes of darkness defined shaded areas that were sliced here and there by intensely sun-drenched leaves. OK, it wasn’t quite as spectacular as that, but it sure sounds clever here.
We arrived at a large and well-developed frog-pond or kikker-vijver, which was half-covered with lily pads, some the size of small pizza’s. Here we heard the calls of these cute little tailless amphibians. Their wet and dark olive bodies were tattooed with dazzling zig-zagged designs of light olive and tan and glistened in the afternoon sunlight. Lieve’s great photos of them captured this quality, though she had to be quick on the shutter button for more than a few shots. Their collective calls, which came from every area of the pond, created a kind of orchestrated Frog Symphony in D-Minor. I figured that this shallow water was loaded with these tailless amphibians. As I continued to listen, I swore that I heard them calling out what sounded very much like Sympathy For the Devil by the Rolling Stones. Wow, I thought. Even though these frogs are in only a few centimeters of water, “these cats are deep!” Naturally, Lieve didn’t hear it, as she was engrossed, knee-deep, as it were, with her demanding photography.
A large and ancient tree trunk, which had a magnificent sculptural quality which only God could’ve created, was mounted vertically on a smartly-designed pedestal, turning it into an impressive work of art. It went perfectly with its surroundings, no doubt, being at one time a living tree from this very domain. It certainly beat those government-funded horrid monstrosities (there goes mister idée fixe yet again!) of post-modernist formless rusted steel which proliferate in many public venues in Belgium and elsewhere, and which are incongruous, or at odds with, their surroundings. Later in the afternoon, a light wind gave soft movement to all flora and leaves throughout the entire domain. The swaying, lazy, and peaceful movement soon had me falling asleep. Luckily a large bee, with a buzz like a Mercury 50-horsepower outboard, snapped me out of my mid-afternoon stupor.
As we departed, my nose started to itch. I soon discovered that tiny flowers of many colors had started to grow out of my left nostril. How lovely I thought, but does anyone have a scissor? Though there was confusion in this as Lieve insisted that it was my right nostril. Yet another instance of a disagreement over the left and right of a thing! As we continued to walk, and as I turned for one last look at the place, I felt something move in my most private dark place. I’m not that old yet, said I. What a relief when I saw a tiny cute-as-all-hell frog leap out of my pants near my sneaker. “Look at him go! Going back to sing with the Stones!” Lieve then asked what the hell was I talking about. “Nothing Sweetheart. Nothing”