11/29/2013

Travel Diaries: Antwerp V

The most prominent feature of Antwerp is, without doubt, the textured streets. I don't mean merely cobblestone streets, as seen in this picture, because the textures are not limited to just that specific incarnation. I also saw concrete blocks, cement, bricks, and broken pavement variations. What all of these materials have in common is, obviously, safety.

One of the most difficult aspects of the Middle Ages was personal safety. Governments were disorganized and corrupt, police forces did not exist, and gangs of bandits were more common than Starbucks caf├ęs today. To top it all off, it was always dark (which is how that time period became known as the Dark Ages).

People were hard pressed to stay safe even when taking a casual stroll to a local flogging.

The Belgians came up with a novel and powerful solution to the problem: They made the streets, sidewalks, and all other horizontal surfaces so uneven and haphazard that silent progress simply was not possible. Pedestrians could hear people trying to sneak up on them and bandits found themselves constantly tripping on the rubble in ways that made easy muggings impossible.

Gradually, street crime diminished to acceptable levels and people were once again able to tread safely in the city (apart from stumbling on the cobbles in the perpetual dark).





It's always interesting to see foreign variations on American cultural icons. While walking around the historic city center of Antwerp, I ran across this knock-off of the venerable Hooters chain.




















The Belgians are well known for having a great sense of humor, and the citizens of Antwerp even more so. Often were the times when I would make a joke in one of my presentations and would see at least one person in the audience nearly smile.

Their sense of playfulness is seen here in these street scene where the shop owner went to trouble of setting up a large stand dedicated entirely to sunglasses, which no one in the city would ever want or need, since the weather thankfully provides the city with built-in sun protection at all times.





One thing about Antwerp that I haven't seen discussed anywhere is the art (Dutch: kunst) scene. The artistic community there is vibrant and provocative, taking the city by the lapels and shaking it until its monocle dangles.

One of the symptoms of this situation is that the city is simply running out of space. It's like when you walk in your grandmother's house and there's no space on the walls anymore because they're all covered with photographs of you and your cousins in your most embarrassing childhood haircuts. There is simply no more room for art in Antwerp.

The artists have, of course, not let that stop them, and they are busy creating walls to put more art on. Here we see one of these impromptu walls erected on the harbor to display this beautiful portrait of what appears to be an elfin MMOG character. Stunning.

Side language note: the Dutch word for walls is muren, which is obviously a variation of the word mural, which is wall-based art. The Dutch history of covering walls with art goes wayyyy back.
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