Antwerp, port city

Saturday, December 07, 2013

MAS, a museum in Antwerp, explores the idea that Antwerp, as a port city for several hundred years, has seen cultures meet mix and exchange in many different ways.

This idea was in my mind as I wandered around. One evening I passed somewhere with the words Seamen's Club above the door. Intrigued, I looked in and found a social club for people (though mainly men) who work on ships. 

Inside, I found a large room with a bar at the end. It had simple beige tiles on floor, the walls were painted an insipid yellow - except for one in a bright, gaudy orange. Tables and chairs were laid out, each with plastic roses in beer glasses filled with  blue coloured sand.

When I walked in, the room was in a disconcerting hush. Everyone was watching a man playing card and coin tricks.

Those that weren't watching the trickster were glued to their phones, ipads or laptops - seemingly taking a precious opportunity to contact home. The men often crowded around others to see... their latest family pics, the weather in their next destination, or Miley Cyrus's new video? It could be any or all of the above. 

A door led out to a chapel in an adjoining room. Nearby that door, a bookshelf had printed news digests from India, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia, Romania, Philippines, Poland, China and Burma. Novels by Jackie Collins, Barbara Vine, Cecilia Ahern amd Sheila O' Flanagan were sitting on the bookshelves.

A guestbook in a little shop at the back of the bar showed  that some guys had spent last New Year's Eve there, celebrating the start of 2013.

I didn't speak to anyone there, except to order two beers. It didn't seem right somehow.

After an hour or so everyone left, piling on to a free bus which took them back to the port.

A few days later I decided to walk out to the port. While there was a running and cycling track along the way, this isn't really an area in which to stroll. Truck drivers glared at me.

On the way, I passed through old industrial areas now regenerating (with museums, a nightclub and a bar called Stockholm). The port seemed distant - a constant hub of barely perceptible activity.

I never really made it to the port - it is a good few miles out. I certainly didn't see close-up any of the mega-liners on which the men at the Seamen's Club doubtless work.

But, along the way, I did see...

Unexpected connections - a boat called Mozart moored next to  Siberia Bridge; Lithuania Streets next to Lefebvre Bridge.

Buildings so big it's hard to imagine how they were filled

And an unexpected splash of pink among all the grey industrial concrete.