Silence and Northern Light

Silence and Northern Light

Antwerp, Belgium

Jun 2013

Text: Laura Taccari

Photo: Elvire Van Ooteghem, Laura Taccari and Courtesy of Boulevard Leopold

Listen: Jens Lekman, Department of Forgotten Songs (low volume)


We arrive in Anversa on an early spring morning under a sky so clear you’d think it was painted. The first thing we love about the city is its silence. There are only a few cars around, almost none. Instead, lots of bikes ride at speed on their dedicated lanes. Our bed and breakfast is inside an old building in the Jewish district. It’s called Boulevard Leopold, an unusual name, and has no sign outside. We ring the bell next to the door, as we were here to visit some friends. Martin greats us like we already knew each other. He lives here with his family, together with their guests in transit. Past him, we can see an ice white marble staircase, high ceilings and a pale light. There are pictures, mirrors, glass bells and books everywhere. The rooms have a decadent, peaceful, almost mystical feel. Ours is the last one from the bottom. The bathroom and the bedroom are combined in an open space, separated only by a small partition. Our bed is on the creaking mezzanine; so high up it feels like sleeping in the sky.

We stop for a bite at De Biologisch-Dynamische Bakkerij and order wild salmon salad and black bread. The quality is excellent and the portions huge. Two women are playing cards in the garden. The sunlight reveals the best side of things. From the main square, Groenplatz, we head to Nationalestraat with its fashion boutiques. The river Scheda is around the corner, so wide it could be a sea. Kloostertraat, with its second hand boutiques, antique stores and bookshops, is a true paradise for vintage nostalgics. Our afternoon flies by wandering through its dusty workshops. The air is pleasantly fresh and the tables outside the restaurants in the Southern Docks are crowded. For an early dinner (they eat early in the North) we choose Fiskebar, a fish bistrot with white tables, pendant lights, perfect music and a cheerful atmosphere. We only have trouble understanding the menu densely written on a blackboard on the wall, in Flemish. We walk to the bar to place our order and point at the shellfish next to the counter just like kids choosing ice cream flavours of which they ignore the names. When we finish eating, it’s still light outside and we decide to walk our way back through tree-lined streets. A few orthodox rabbis wearing austere tunics hurry along, their eyes hidden under their big black hair. Before the sun sets, the sky behind the skylights turns to indigo; the Nordic light becomes softer and more intense at the same time, almost soothing. In the evening, the silence gets deeper, so deep it makes you whisper.

Good night Anversa.