Saturday, March 28, 2015


A day in Antwerp. Had breakfast with Marleen, chatted about Vrienden op de Fiets, Flemish, families, etc. She is off to the Belgian coast. She's taking a folding bike. She says that a tram runs along the coast. I could go to Ghent tomorrow but the wind is blowing toward east and rain is predicted. Is this the end of my journey? It's been a week.

(original date of this entry: Sept 20, 2014)
A warm sunny day in Belgium. I'm at a cafe on the Laar, ringed by a street market where many women in headscarves shop, push babies. I like the vibe here and it seems cheaper than Holland. 

I went to the bookstore that Marleen recommended on Nassaustraat by the Willemsdok. They have racks upon racks of cycling maps. Found a fiets atlas for Flanders and an LF map for Belgium--the new frontier. 

After that I went to the Red Star Line museum, housed in the dock hangar where millions of immigrants boarded ships to America, perhaps including my father's parents Julius and Molly who came, like Irving Berlin, from Belarus, or White Russia. But before embarking on the museum tour I needed sustenance. The museum cafe seemed too pricey so I went out and cycled to a zone below the Willemsdok. Nothing appealing so I got some fritjes around the corner from the Villa Tinto, the prostitution "mall." It depressed me to even think of the girls who had to work their cubicles on this hot sunny day. I couldn't finish the greasy fries but it did fill my stomach momentarily.

The museum was in fact quite good. Among my favorite exhibits were a stereoscopic viewer showing scenes of people boarding the ship which seemed remarkably true to life, and a bunch of letters in different languages from migrants describing and assessing their new lives in America. The original letter was shown on a screen--such elegant handwriting--with sections highlighted. The highlighted bits were shown in translation. Some of the letter writers were disillusioned. One invited his relatives in the old country to come over and attend his wedding. At the conclusion of the exhibition an experimental film was shown that questioned the American dream. A great hall full of people, all disrobing until they stand naked, in rows. Jets of hot water fall over them, then they put on factory uniforms. The message is clear: the masses of immigrants forfeited their identities to be incorporated into the new world's manufacturing machine. This scene is followed by a glimpse of the next generation, contentedly driving down the highway with offspring: the fruits of the American dream. Continued ...

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