The popular districts of Antwerp
Delightful strolls through the popular districts of Antwerp where I took this photo years back. Often long, narrow streets, rollerblinds tightly shut. Small bars on many of the street corners. A permanent fixture for many of the residents, these bars. One day closed, and always something to do on the other six.
Whatever day you wander into one of them, always a welcoming publican and customers who are just as friendly.
“Go and sit down, mate, where are you from?”
You answer, but no sooner are the last words of what you want to say out than the conversation is taken over.
“Look man, I’ve lived here for years.” Then you mostly get a life story. Just like that. You get these things landed on you for free. You show interest, which I do too, listen with an attentive ear and don’t interrupt the story.
“What do you think about that now?”
“Yes well I’ve known you for just ten minutes, but can only say: that’s the way life goes. Everyone has their own baggage, and some have it fuller than others.”
“Come on, have a pint on me”
“That’s true, mate. Come on, have a pint on me.”
“All right, just one then.”
“You can’t walk on one leg, mate. You need two, but small ones, mind.”
Then come the stories about the area, a number of customers add their tuppence worth. Quite often, I can’t follow everything. Too strong a dialect. I just nod and smile and give the giver of the two small beers a cup of coffee, which I really need more myself.
“What sort of ‘kodak’ (Flemish for camera) is that?”
Anyway, then my camera comes out. “What sort of ‘kodak’ is that?” A brief explanation follows and then of course my question: “may I…?” No problem.
The local constable’s peacefully enjoying his pint, so sees no harm in it. Two shots in the bag.
“Right then, mate, have a good day and thanks for the drinks. You’re welcome, but it wasn’t necessary, coffee doesn’t go down well between my pints.”
Off to a few streets further on, but ducking again, for the atmosphere, into one of these neighbourhood cafés. Actually, it’s the same story everywhere, but then I stick to cold drinks and ask first if they want a pils or coffee.
I always come home with a few lovely photos.
Taking some shots is just fine
Now, after several years, I am in Flanders a lot again, somewhat further into the region, staying often in the lovely city of Oudenaarde and its environs, or beautiful Ghent. Everywhere it is exactly as it always was, immensely atmospheric, very hospitable. Having the ‘kodak’ with you is no problem, and taking some shots is just fine.
Belgium was, is and has for all the years of going there been a sweet box full of treats for photographers. Also no surprise then that some big names in photography come from there.