Thursday, November 17, 2005

One Dark (And Not Quite Stormy) Night (November 10, 2005)

Sitting in the darkened foyer of an office building on Grote Markt, Antwerpen, waiting for my ride home after Dutch lessons, I began noting my surroundings. There was a flickering light that produced almost nothing, and the poorly-closing locked doors created a wind tunnel scream, not unlike the rise and fall of tortured souls. Then out in the darkness the bells of Onze Lieve Vrouw Kathedraal began chiming ... a pretty tinkling tune that heralds the arrival of the heavier chimes on the hour ... and it occured to me, that this empty foyer was surely the perfect setting for a movie of urban horrors and haunting.

I had just walked through the deserted Antwerpen alleyways and streets that surround the square, and had been struck by the fact that the city was all but deserted at six on this cold Autumn night.

But despite how it reads, there was nothing eerie or unfriendly about walking alone; I had peered into warmly-lit pubs and restaurants as I passed by and there had been a sense of looking in at people at ease in those places... they seemed like people relaxing in their own homes.

Loneliness was therefore a condition of choice, not something imposed on me. At any moment, I could have stepped in out of the cold, and immediately been absorbed into the family of man ... a nice illusion I thought, as France's riots and European immigrant woes came to mind.

The 2001 Lonely Planet claims that Antwerpen 'has some 4000 pubs and cafes' ... the number seems excessive, but perhaps it is true ... it has to be, doesn't it, and anyway, walking to Grote Markt, in the old part of the city, there's no lack of places to drink and eat.

Tonight, Antwerpen was a city of rain-darkened cobblestones and empty alleyways; of warmly-lit pubs and welcoming restaurants ... and I have enough knowledge of place to add a few really good bookshops to what was visibly welcoming ... and somehow, all of it combined to produce a feeling that this Kiwi might just have found a place she could call home.

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