Thrown Hands, Old Homes and Black Clothes
Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
141Trip End Jul 21, 2010
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Where I stayed
Erwin's and Valentine's Floor
With the loving two off to respective works I’m out of the house within the hour, making for the water. The small plan I have involved walking up the water’s edge, checking out the buildings as I go, before finding a nice place to relax. The water and the buildings do not meet. Between them is a cobbled stretch of car park, complete with concrete sliding door incase of flooding. Erwin mentioned yesterday that youngsters and pranksters had found a new favourite pastime of finding cars without their hand brake on and rolling them silently into the water, leaving the driver without wheels to take his loving other home
Along the water I find the markets and shelters, big tin sheds that remind me of the Caribbean Gardens markets back home. These have cars beneath them though, people moving quickly in and out between them. There is also an excavation going on- cyclone fencing cutting out a big hole for hopeful drivers catching a free spot. Regardless of this it seems the drivers are set on having the same amount of cars fitting in the smaller amount of space. Car doors nearly touch, lanes are reduced to one lane – if you meet someone coming the other way, it’s a quick conversation with your eyes about who will be reversing – and the cars grow ever closer to the water’s edge.
There is a strange building that looks like a train station without a rail in sight. Passing it yesterday, Erwin pointed it out as the entrance to a tunnel that takes you under the river and out the other side again, well kept and used my much of the population. At the time of his discovery there was not another person insight, giving him the feeling of coming across something secret and unknown to everyone
The shops are still closed; apparently all those rushing to work are not part of the retail industry. Erwin mentioned an amazing recycled shop that builds furniture from bicycle parts and more, but I do not see it. Instead I find all manner of antique shops and cafes – doors closed, lights off. It seems Jason is an early bird.
The fortress and castle, where the fabled giant of Antwerp is said to live, is also on the water’s edge. A squat building situated on a sort of corner piece, ivy climbs the walls and the black iron gates are a stark contrast against the lighter coloured stone. Now standing as a shipping museum that closed in 2008 – yes, you cannot get beyond the gates – this doesn’t really sound as inviting as the prospect of what once stood inside. After a fortress in the 1200s, the building became a prison in which only those from Antwerp could be locked up, tortured and executed. How nice for a city to have a building in which one could deal exclusively with their own people.
The tale of Anterwerpen is fleshed out further – the giant’s name was Druoon Antigoon, which could be confused with Dragon Antigoon, so everything makes sense again. The plaque has the same story in six languages, quite accommodating for the tourists.
Eventually I’m far enough up the river to find the new museum building yet to be opened
Weaving the streets up in what I’m told is the university district; I get a god kind of lost, then a bad kind of lost, then good again. I can’t stop looking up at the rooftops, the shapes cutting into the blue sky. I find the absence of the building even more amazing. Removed recently, the scaffolding is put in place to support those on either side. It feels very postmodern, Alex would be proud.
The graffiti in these streets is wicked. Whole buildings and walls have been taken over and respectfully left untouched by the immaturity of a TOY tag or a scribble of a name. Sticker artists have claimed every pole and unused surface in sight, layering up over years of application.
Since the Black Madonna of Prague I’ve begun to notice the existence of statues on several street corners, both in Utrecht, Middleburg and now Antwerp. A few here have their own little roof to protect from the elements, one of the Virgin and Son of God sheltered beneath with a web address disguised as a street sign under them.
I come across a church alongside what must be an important building of some kind. The gold trim and organic nature of the black is a dead giveaway, very baroque and rich. The church has a family gathered out the front. Slowly a hearse arrives and the men surround the back door. The wooden box is moved between hands until settled correctly before being slowly taken inside. The old lady cries, another who may be her sister in purple comforting with an arm around her. Now is not the time to be a tourist.
Weaving the streets I eventually come to the main Town Hall, all gold foil trim and European flags aplenty. In front is a statue of depicting the final moments of the defeat of the giant – the hero throwing the hand to the river. Valentine spoke of this over dinner last night along with the story. There are three things wrong with the statue, things that destroy the relevance of the story
- The throwing direction is away from the river, yet the tale speaks of the giant’s hand being thrown into the water.
- The shape and arrangement of the limbs is all wrong fro someone throwing. It seems like if he continued to move through the air and follow through he would certainly fall and break something, landing heavily on his side.
- An unknown fact that Valentine had heard from school but presently forgotten
Nearby is the Kathedral - the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kathedral for all those still playing at home. One tower attempts to pierce the sky, visible from streets away. Apparently taking 200 years to build, the map tells of a plan to have two towers, but the city ran into war, money troubles and more to keep it from happening. There was even a threat in 1798 from the French to tear the thing down, which is just politics for you. Massive Rubens canvases are hung amongst the stained glass windows and amazing baroque sculptures inside. Known for his descriptive postures and physique of the subjects, the figures nearly appear life size above you. The organ by contrast pales in comparison to everything else going on. The school group follows me here as well, their orange clashing tragically with the gold trim. Oh well.
From here I catch the directed tram to a district known for its architecture. Erwin also mentioned the chances of catching the old school trams, of which only a few still exist. Looking similar on the outside to the others, the interiors have been kept as they were. The old school signage of 'Please keep from putting your feet on the seats’ using very different language and grammar than that used today and more is freaking wicked.
Near the second train station within the city of Antwerp (of which I think there are three) several suburban streets are full of houses of a very Art Nouveau inclination. Falling to disrepair in the 60s, most have been kept and saved and restored. The area has gone from slumesque area to a very posh place to live, much to the delight of the homeowners and their property prices. I spend hours with my face towards the sky, looking at every single house on the street. The shapes are amazing, much more adventurous than those in Chemnitz. Balconies are enclosed in a circle in some parts. Organic sculptures supporting second stories and others reaching to the sky ever so gracefully. Statues a plenty adorn the windowsills and rooftops. In other places these characters support the second level as it juts out towards the road, the expressions a very strained look, or solemn and evil.
Over the other side of the train station I sight two strange funnel structures sticking out of the ground. These were the water towers for the steam engines of old. Now disused and growing vines, their black and white check still catches the eye of those passing by – turning around I see I’m not the only one looking.
The map mentioned the opportunity to see the giraffes for free. Giraffes! For Free! That’s like my two favourite words! I cross a few squares along the way, each full of their own line of fruit market sellers amongst the play equipment, one child swinging dangerously close to the kebab caravan. I get watermelon like a pro, the guy behind surprised I didn’t ask for it to be cut up. Eventually I reach a new looking building that could be shopping or could be yet another train station
Round the corner and I find a few people congregating around a few windows in the brick wall. HSFB the giraffes! I look over with eyes wide in all directions at once. Slightly disappointed the giraffes are a good few metres away, behind another fence. But I did see them, just as the map said I would.
Opposite the Royal Palace of a station is the craziest postmodern building I’ve seen in Antwerp. Crazy colours and shape seeing decided on a whim, there is a divide in the city between those who find it award wining architecture and those who feel it is an eyesore that detracts from the beauty of the station. I’m with the former, if anything it could only serve to make the station look better.
There is a cinema complex Erwin spoke highly of. While the movies won’t be playing at this hour (it’s a night time thing) the venue itself has a wicked interior and the people there are quite nice too. The tram is packed, and sadly not the antique interior kind. As I leave the tram I check the map and nearly run down an old man who had stopped to look at me. His eyes say tourist, then he looks to the uke I’m carrying,
"Oh, you play? <Something in Flemish>…"
“Yes, I can if you’d like.”
I open the case, much to his disappointment he walks off
Sadly the cinema of amazing interiors in closed. The photos through the glass doors don’t do it any sort of justice, but I can see it would be nice.
Walking back towards city I keep looking up to the wicked fronts of the houses. While not like the Art Nouveau district each is unmistakably of another time. A brown brick home has an amazing green stripe to it. Taking photos of it the three working on the shop front below look over. One of them comes over and asks something in Flemish.
“I’m sorry I don’t speak Flemish.”
“Oh, why do you take photos of the building?”
“I like the green line. Looks good with the brown brick.”
“Oh, like racing car.”
“Yes, like racing car.”
I think I’ve made his day
Eventually I make it back to the square Erwin first found me with the other buskers, who to my delight are back there again. They smile when I approach and little is said when we start playing. Their voices are absolutely amazing as I find chords to the crazy traditional numbers, before we play more Marley and Sublime. People appear quite unwilling with their coinage – while they stop to look and listen I think we made a whole euro each in about half an hour. After a while I leave them to it.
The shopping district is in full swing. I’m on the lookout for another pair of sneakers after my trouble with the cheap foot killers of Utrecht. Buskers are lining the streets here too, but more of your silver painted statue men and jewelry sellers. In a trendy clothing store I come across free promo in sticker form i.e. Jason finds free stickers. Free stickers. I take the pile of them.
There’s a circular theatre hall (I’m hoping is called the Toneelhuis, but that may not be the case) with Some wicked promo cards and bits, and that’s just the hook I need to head inside. While there is no theatre playing at the moment there is a café open upstairs. Getting coffee I once again look to the sky with my mouth agape. The roof is adorned with images of the star signs in brilliant colours, complete with a semi circular skylight made from diamond shapes. The wait coughs to get my attention and stop me drooling. I get a coffee.
I make the first round of second hand stickers as I enjoy the view above
There is some crazy fashion festival on in Antwerp happening around me in Flemish. Every now and again I come across a shop window decked out with mannequins in designer good with a brief, rationale and website to follow through with. Eventually a happen across a caravan that could perhaps be a centre point for these, but all they give me information-wise is the website once again, which I’m told has an English tab. The lack of second language strikes again. What they direct me to instead is the fashion school just up the road, currently housing a wicked exhibition as part of the festival thingy.
Black: Masters Of Black In Fashion & Costume gives a wicked retrospective of the non-colours existence in our culture. Originally existing as a very hard colour to dye and make, Black was reserved for the very rich, often present in their portrait when painted. Is was not until much later that the colour became associated with death and those in mourning, and has grown from there to make itself useful in all corners of fashion ad costume. Traditional dresses and paintings sit against very modern pieces by contemporary fashion designers of today. In my white tee I stick out like a sore thumb, others attending seeming to have come prepared. Oh well, Jason the non-fashionista
Making my way back to Erwin’s I miss the tram stop by a few, distracted by the rooftops once again. Instead I come across the crazy antique shops again, some of which I passed with Erwin yesterday. I have not seen so much wicked crazy stuff since Maria’s house in Sweden. Antlers, doll parts, headless mannequins, globes, stuffed animals and more litter the shelves. I’m lost amongst a few floors for about and hour as I hear three trying to move a chandelier downstairs, drilling holes and what I think is swearing at each other ever few seconds. Welcome to Antwerp.
I’m home with Valentine following soon afterwards, Erwin a little later. I ask if they miss not having a garden, as all that I can see of theirs is the two boxes on the windowsills along the front. I cannot wait to have a garden when I get back – something to look after and control while at the same time letting it go and grow wild. I remember the first house I moved out into had pumpkin growing in the back yard by some sort of unexpected miracle. The plant didn’t look like pumpkin until it began to bear fruit. I can’t remember if we cooked but I made a jack-o-lantern for a friend, some one eyed creature you could sit over a lamp. I cannot remember the last time we spoke. Valentine prepares dinner and keeps disappearing into their bedroom/I soon discover their bedroom has a small balcony out the back, where she has decided to keep the deep fryer. Great idea, and an even better view
Valentine cooks her grandmother’s croquettes they picked up a few weeks ago. They’re cheese and gooey and crumbed and delicious. Welcome to Antwerp
Erwin and I head out to the waterside to check out the excavation sites once again. Erwin mentioned it when we were discussing mps and history, and also spoke of the chance at having a tour of the site, as they are an important part of Antwerp’s history and really quite interesting and unknown. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty on it, calling up the archaeology department about it all and arranging for me to have my own little tour thing tomorrow morning. This is the kind of person Erwin is.
Two strange concrete bunkers each have a metal tower constructed on top of them, complete with diagrams and history of the spaces. One informs of the past, the other tells of the car park they plan to build. Erwin translates for me, saying I’ll hopefully get more details tomorrow. Also on the tower is a woman who begins talking to us upon hearing our English. It turns out she is a tour guide contracted by the council to give tours of the underground sewers and passageways in the old city. These sound even more freaking amazing, and after a talk in Flemish for a little – she commenting on Erwin’s accent, something I cannot hear, but I suppose I don’t know what t look for – we get papers and contact phone numbers to perhaps join her on Sunday. We will have to see, as they these things usually require booking weeks in advance. I’m more amazed at the openness and offering of some people to worry about that. Welcome to Antwerp.