[essay] An Iowan Let Loose in Europe - part 2
Part 1 here
Part 2: Of dance clubs and cellphone antennae…
Now, I'm not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about Belgium, or even Europe in general. But I do know this. Antwerp is one strange looking city.
Allow me to explain.
It's not an ugly city, nor is it an unclean city. It's not entirely unfriendly. And it's more than a little breathtaking. The thing that goes great lengths towards making Antwerp strange would have to be its odd juxtapositions. On the same city block you will find a weather-worn cobblestone street that winds around gorgeous archecture that appears utterly and wonderfully ancient, direcly next to a shiny steel building with an advertisement in front for life insurance.
It's an old city. That much is obvious in places. However, it's an old city that is working to enter a new century. While some parts indeed need to remain old in order to preserve the history (and cater to the tourist crowds), others areas definitely need to reflect the presence of consumerism, because, well, honestly that's the default setting of a capitalist society. Keep in mind, this isn't a bad thing, necessarily. The exact same thing occurs in the United States. The difference comes down to nothing more than about an extra thousand years worth of architecture. So much of the United States is relatively new when compared to Europe, that when these changes and "updates" occur, it isn't so drastic a reformation. But in a city so tremendously rooted in its vast history, these updates have an obvious affect on the cityscape.
As I look out the window, I'm greeted by an old building next to the river that has a promenade running alongside it. If you look closely, the building says "discoteek" on the side. Dance clubs must have been pretty popular in 15th century Europe.
As I turn and look the other direction, I see a large church-like structure (not the famed Catherdral in the center of Antwerp, but some smaller church near the Scheldt that I assume must be intended for some lesser religious organization like Methodists, or Snake Handlers, but definitely not Catholics, because, c'mon—it's no Cathedral). This church has a spire protruding up its north face, and on top of that spire is a set of cellphone antennas. This is considered progress by some, a nuisance by others, likely. And while I am all for progress—especially in a communications infrastructure—is it truly necessary to descecrate such a spectacular historical building in order to further the progress of cellphone availability?
The most important facet of this discussion would have to be the future of such progress. Consider the fact that capitalism has developed as a concept at its current exponential rate of growth only within the past couple of hundred years or so, since the onset of the industrial revolution. Before that, capitalism was really limited to bartering for pigs or crafting your own gold using the ancient mystical process of alchemy. So if major advancements in capitalism have only occurred within the past two or three centuries, what does that mean for the coming future in a continent that has existed for several millennia? If the past two hundred years is any indication of what is to come in the next two hundred years, then what will become of Antwerp's landscape? Are the clergy of the mini-Cathedral destined to become independently wealthy?
On a side note, how can someone be "independently wealthy"? Doesn't the very name suggest that one can also be "dependently wealthy"? So what would it mean to be "dependently wealthy"? I'm rich because I get all my money from my parents? I suppose you really couldn't call yourself wealthy then, could you? So we should probably stop saying that some people are "independently wealthy" since it just doesn't really make any sense. Of course, it seems as though I'm the only one saying "independently wealthy" anymore, so maybe I should simply shut up.
Back to the topic of capitalism. Regardless of the outcome of the debate on the consumer-focused future of Antwerp, one thing remains painfully clear. No matter what happens, they had better not lose their drunken Scotsman.