September 19, 2019

Once in a Lifetime: Visiting Bruegel in Vienna with my mom, Perceptive Travel, Feb. 2019

Which is how Phyllis, who recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and I found ourselves arriving at Vienna’s airport, greeted by billboard-size posters of Bruegel’s art with the caption: “Once in a Lifetime.” My mom suggested: “That could be the title of your story.” I said I didn’t know if I’d write about this, and she said, “Oh, you will.” Part insight, part command. The following day when we passed the museum in a hop-on-hop-off bus, my mom raised her fists and shook her arms in excitement. …

Our group of about 25 people trundled over to Children’s Games. Phyllis darted ahead so she could be front and center during our guide’s narration; I’d hung back a bit. Out of nowhere my mom’s arm reached out, and with superhero strength grabbed my right wrist and pulled me next to her. We would be together for this. Painted in 1560, Children’s Games is known as a wimmelbild (busy picture) because it has hundreds of small figures. “Never before in art had children been given a stage of this size,” read the program for the exhibition.

Yet what impressed me most were the painting’s luminous colors—nearby Antwerp was known for the high quality of its red pigment—and the ebullience of the kids wrestling with one another. They are walking on stilts, climbing walls, swimming in a creek, and playing all sorts of other games. One young child learning to swim uses a pair of floaties, probably made from the bladders of pigs.