11/29/2013

TravelDiaries: Antwerp IV

Antwerp is many things to many people: diamond markets, a place to buy excellent chocolate, a tropical seaside port. But the thing that it is best known for worldwide is its architecturally stunning bridges.

It is clear why this happened. With its location on the water and the various channels running beside, in, and through the city, Antwerp has long been known worldwide as the "Venice of North-Central Belgium." With all of these beautiful waterways, the city had no choice but to build beautiful bridges to complement the natural wonder of the water.

Here we see just one small sample of these bridge delights. This is actually a functioning draw bridge, which may not be obvious as the architects hid what could be cumbersome mechanisms behind a piece of art that is stunning to behold.



One of the many things that Belgium is known for is its health care services. More particularly, Belgians are known for the desire to take care of others.

This trait extends beyond traditional doctors and hospitals into all areas of life. Here, we see how they carefully tended to a wound on the bathroom door of my hotel room, applying a bandage so perfectly that I nearly didn't see it at all.

I don't really want to be wounded anywhere, but if it has to happen, I hope it happens in Belgium.



The Belgians, especially the Antwerpians, are a devout people, practicing religion not only in their minds and in their homes, but also in their plentiful churches.

"The body is a temple," as the saying goes. But in Antwerp, so is everything else. Here we see what, at first, looked like a simple cargo transport ship. But on closer inspection, I noticed that it is clearly labeled KERKSCHIP, or, literally, Church Ship. It was then obvious, after the fact, from the ship's unwordly design that this was a place of worship.

I walked silently on to let the masses worship in peace.



One of the things I enjoyed about Antwerp was the pristine man-made vistas. The thing that struck me most about these scenes was not the beauty itself (though it was always a wonder to behold, with such collections of large, rusting containers set before stunning 60s industrial architecture), but rather that the scenes were always completely undisturbed by any human occupation.

Whenever I walked by these places (morning, afternoon, drunken evening), there would be the functional-yet-gorgeous oxidized hulks, but no people in sight. It was as if the artists had come in, installed their work of living art, and then went on holiday for decades.

It's one thing to declare your connection to such industrial equipment in such a penetrating and visceral way. It's quite another to simply abandon it to the weather for all time and go to the pub, allowing the pieces to stand alone in their magnificence, free from any visible human participation or effort.



Belgians are all about a fair and equal society. Nowhere is that more obvious than in their castles, like the one seen here.

My taxi driver told me that this building, which looked to my untrained eye like any other small castle of some minor lord, was the place where citizens would be imprisoned and tortured for failure to pay their taxes.

Beyond the obvious benefit of encouraging everyone to play fair with public revenues, the use of buildings like this was also helpful in a larger sense. In less fair societies, people might aspire to own buildings like this, or envy those who did. But by using these beautiful buildings as jails and places of punishment, the officials established the idea in the minds of the people that they really wanted nothing to do with places like this, and that they were quite happy in their dim, leaking hovels.
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