Yesterday I strayed out into the outskirts of Antwerp, into another town in fact. That of Sint Niklaas. As you can imagine, in the middle of the town there is a square with a church which has a golden statue of St. Nicholas on its towering spire, as a beacon for the town and its identity. I have yet to go inside the church and see - our common Dutch history of celebrating sinterklaas, dear sisters, obliges me to - but as I am bound to return there quite frequently in coming weeks for a project I've just started, and a cellist who lives there whom I am yet to meet, this will be no difficult resolution to fulfill.
The person with whom I had met (prime St Nick contact!) has a brother who was being hounded by the media, because he is to perform a mass wedding ceremony, after some other people said they didn't want him to perform their marriage ceremony because he is black. This kind of thing happens frequently these days because people seem to be getting more and more racist in red-neck flanders. As a response loads of people came forward saying they want my friend's brother to renew their vows. Just to show that it is not all red neck, thank goodness. When I left the camera crew came in because they wanted to meet his brother - my friend - too. I like both of them -although brother just from first sight - because they are being so terribly down to earth and unimpressed about it all.
There is, I noticed, a very beautiful statue of a golden angel with outspread wings, near my prime St Niklaas contact's house. The wings, brilliantly reflecting the setting sun as I left, are topped with spikes to prevent pigeons from making them less brilliant.
I was quite hungry so I decided, before driving home, to stop for a bite to eat. By the time I had found my way back to the motorway I was so hungry I stopped at the shopping centre. I have heard of it by name but nothing could have prepared me for the sprawling consumption city state that lay before me. People wandering by as if in a street, looking serious, as if engaged in a fascinating activity of some urgency. As if, indeed, being there was an essential source of their wellbeing and happiness. A fulfillment of a certain destiny.
There are shops, broad avenues, restaurants (expensive ones!) dotted here and there. Whether it was my spaced-outness induced by hunger, or the novelty of the muzak-drenched experience of walking around this accomplishment of shopper's bliss, I do not know. One thing I do know is, that, when I wondered if art could exist here, I assumed it couldn't. Because everything in this enclosed place is programmed in function of this: the comfortable shopping experience geared towards profit. Most artists I know would wish to subvert this set-up, but in a closed system such as this it is hard to think how anything could be other than a lure for more and new consumers, perhaps even from the cultural class!
I, too, was tempted, and settled for a meal and a coffee. It was okay, the service was excellent, the food was so-so, the floors were shiny, the muzak sang in my head, as I tried to reach the door...I was drawn back in by curiosity, I kept saying to myself, chance brought me here, what am I doing? Until eventually I found myself back on the motorway to the sanctity of home and the grungy streets of Borgerhout.
The Middle, equally pasty-faced, One