On our last morning in Antwerp, we took Mitchell back to the Chocolate Line in Het Paleis & bought a lot of chocolates though not the one marked “bacon” with the smiley pig face. Honestly, do you think that pig would be smiling? The boys decided they were done with Antwerp, so we went back to the hotel, gathered up our luggage, and went to the station. We had lunch & I hung out with my family until putting them onto a very crowded train for Rotterdam, where they would transfer to the Schiphol train.
I went and checked into the very basic hotel near the station where I would spend one night, then I went to find the Mayer van den Bergh museum to see Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Dulle Griet, or Mad Meg as they call her in English. This is not exactly a house museum though it feels like one because it was built to house the collection, not the collector, who died in his 40s; his indomitable mother dedicated the rest of her life to creating the museum. The collection is kind of a mish-mash, with lots of interesting bits and pieces. Mayer van den Bergh was a pioneering collector of Breugel, who was considered in somewhat poor taste in the 19th century, and the first person to tease apart the personalities of Pieter I and his sons Jan I and Pieter II. He also collected some Dutch and Flemish still-lifes, some portraits, some Gothic sculpture, a little maiolica, a few manuscripts, a 15th-century shoe I made a drawing of, and so on.
Each month the museum picks something to highlight – tulips, say, or Wise Men. This month it was St. Anthony Abbot, whose emblem is, oh yes, the pig. I finally learned why, or rather that no one really knows why. In the middle ages, the Antonine order was allowed to let their pigs run free, in gratitude for their care of the sick. Anthony was a saint invoked for protection against the plague, so one theory is that since pigs eat garbage and therefore control the vermin population, they help him protect against the plague. Another theory is that the pig stands for gluttony, one of the temptations St. Anthony had to battle.
I had been planning to visit the Maagdenhuis afterwards, another small museum specializing in northern Renaissance painting, but I didn’t leave the Mayer van den Bergh until after 4, so there wasn’t enough time. Instead, I went north to see St. Paul’s Church, which houses 3 Rubens. A choir was rehearsing in the nave, which was a heavenly accompaniment to the paintings.
I had to leave at 5 & then decided to go to the MAS, the new city museum reminiscent of a stack of shipping containers in the port area, even though the museum part was closed. The panoramic walkway was open until late at night and I wanted to see it. So I checked my route and negotiated the most direct route from St. Paul’s church to the MAS. Mistake! My map did not see fit to inform me that the most direct route from St. Paul’s to MAS was right through the red light district. Lots of women in lingerie standing in windows. It was only a little after 5, but being gray and rainy it felt later. Not unsafe, but a little creepy. The MAS too felt a little desolate in the drizzle; no one was lingering on the rooftop to take in the spectacular view. In most cities you would have to pay for a view like that, but the panorama was free.
I worked my way back to the historic center, carefully avoiding the red light district, and looked for a restaurant near my hotel. I’m a little ashamed to say I went back to Wagamama, but I wanted protein, didn’t want cheese croquettes, and didn’t want to feel self-conscious about eating alone. Then back to my room, where the free wi-fi refuse to penetrate – hence my delay in posting.