That was why he had chosen Bruges, Bruges, from which the sea had withdrawn, as his great happiness had withdrawn from him. That in itself was an example of the phenomenon of resemblance, and because his mind would be in harmony with the greatest of the Grey Towns. How melancholy is the grey of the streets of Bruges, where every day is like All Saints’ Day! A Grey that seems to be made by mixing the white of the nuns’ head-dresses with the black of the priests’ cassocks, constantly passing here and pervasive. A mystery this grey, this perpetual half mourning. Everywhere along the streets the façades shade into infinity. Some are of a pale green wash, or faded brickwork, repointed in white. But beside them are others of black, austere charcoal drawings, burnt etchings whose inks moderate, compensate for the somewhat lighter neighbouring tones. But what emanates from the whole is still grey, drifting, spreading along the alignment of the walls, along the quais. The sound of the bells also seems blackish. Muffled, blurred in the air, it arrives as a reverberation which, equally grey, moves along in sluggish, bobbing waves over the waters of the canals. And the waters themselves, despite all the reflections – patches of blue sky, tiles on the roofs, snowy swans sailing along, green poplars on the banks – coalesce in paths of colourless silence. In Bruges a miracle of the climate has produced some mysterious chemistry of the atmosphere, an interpenetration which neutralises too-bright colours, reduces them to a uniform tone of reverie, to an amalgam of greying drowsiness. It is as if the frequent mists, the veiled light of the northern skies, the granite of the quais, the incessant rain, the rhythm of the bells had combined to influence the colour of the air; and also, in this aged town, the dead ashes of time, the dust from the hourglass of the years spreading its silent deposit over everything.
- Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte (translated by Mike Mitchell and Will Stone)