Remember the ’90s hit animated series ‘A Dog of Flanders’?
A new monument to honor the beautiful story of friendship between the poor Flemish orphan boy Nello and his dog buddy Patrasche can now be found in the heart of Antwerp, Belgium.
It has continued to draw tourists, mostly Asians, who get emotional every time they remember the touching story, an 1872 novel by British author Marie Louise de la Ramée set in Antwerp that had several adaptations, including an animated series.
One of them is Barcelona-based Filipino Mikko Iñigo Luba, who flew all the way from Spain to Belgium to get a glimpse of the sculpture.
Luba felt a mix of happiness and awe upon seeing the sculpture of Nello and Patrasche.
“Ito po ay labis naming ikinahanga sa pagkalikha ng nasabing monumento. Sino ba naman ang makakalimot sa istorya ng magkaibigang ito na umere sa bansang Pilipinas nung taong ’90s? Isang malaking karangalan ang makita ng personal ang lugar kung saan mismo ginawa ang istorya,” said Luba.
Located on Handschoenmarkt in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp, the sculpture was designed by local artist Batist ‘Tist’ Vermeulen.
Tist, though a fan of manga and animé, said, in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN that his creation was based on the original story by De la Ramée, an animal rights activist who wrote the novel under the pen name “Ouida”.
From afar, the giant sculpture may look like a cone of vanilla ice cream on the ground. But upon moving closer, one would see the smooth white marble figure of Nello and Patrasche sleeping soundly together, with the cobblestone street as their blanket.
The sculpture evokes feelings of peace, serenity, and childhood joy, and captures the unconditional bond between the boy and his dog.
The idea behind the sculpture was “to capture the friendship, the unconventional friendship between Nello and Patrasche,” Tist said.
It also promotes friendship as visitors, especially children, can play around it and take pictures close to the figures that are at ground level, unlike typical statues on a pedestal.
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No wonder Tist’s creation was declared the winning entry among designs received by Tanguy Ottomer, a local tourist guide and one of the proponents to build the new monument for the famous literary characters last year.
Tanguy and friend Philippe Blondé were able to get financial support from a Chinese diamond trader and approval of the mayor of Antwerp to pursue the project and build a happier representation of Nello and Patrasche.
Another monument can be found in the Antwerp district of Hoboken.
Ironically, the story that made the whole world, especially Asians, shed tears is practically obscure in Belgium.
Tanguy, who now organizes “Nello and Patrasche” tours, recounted that many Japanese tourists were coming to Antwerp to look for the statue.
Part of the tour and central to the story is the Gothic cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp, a UNESCO World Heritage site where Peter Paul Rubens’ triptychs of The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross are gloriously displayed.
One time, Tanguy told ABS-CBN News, some Japanese tourists got very emotional and started crying after seeing Rubens’ triptychs.
In the story, Nello dreamt of becoming a great painter like Rubens and wanted to see the Flemish master’s paintings. But because of poverty, Nello couldn’t afford to pay to see it.
Until Christmas Eve, when Nello’s grandfather had just passed away and he had nowhere to go, the boy, with his dog, took the chance to go to the Cathedral.
After braving the harsh winter cold and an entire life of hardships, Nello and Patrasche made it. But it was also the site where they died: lying in front of Rubens’ paintings, inseparable even in death.
Despite the sad ending, Tanguy said the story inspires optimism amidst adversity: “Instead of saying I’m cold and hungry, Nello thought that this is the moment of my life, to see the painting, my best friend is with me, and I will be reunited with my family in the afterlife.” Originally published on news.abs-cbn.com