The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

religious art


So here we are in Antwerp, where it seems that the friendly face of the diamond trade is now a Russian with watermelon forearms and eyes like a three-day-dead fish. Passed on the diamond-rimed .357 pendant and hit the Koninklijk Museum for a bit of high-culture in low-land light.

An hour of perusing paintings of martyrdom and judgment and I’d had my fill of the burning, hacking, drowning, beating and skewering (the kind of stuff New York Times pieces on Iraq report generically as “signs of torture�) that were, until relatively recently, the centerpiece of public diplomacy here.

Back on the street, there was a heavily made-up lady busking in the shadow of the Gothic cathedral. She was pretending—quite credibly—to be a statue of the Virgin Mary (she even had a little Baby Jesus on her lap), except, when you tossed a coin in her plate, she came alive and blew you a kiss.

This in the heartland of a vicious, protracted, sectarian conflict that took as a centerpiece Rome’s idolatry and venality. That smashed statues and people with equal abandon.

Nice to see they’ve learned to crack a smile, toss a coin, and move on. And it only took five-hundred years, a few dozen major wars and a mountain range of corpses.

There are a few more pics of my current European tour here.