Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Antwerp Got Its Name (Or, Simply, Hands)

God, sometimes I want to share these historical things with you - facts, statistics, stories, blah blah - but many (most?) people think history is so, so BORING that it makes me stop for a second and think, Ugh, I don't know about this. Do people really care how the city of Antwerp got its name or the conflicting stories behind it? Is that even remotely interesting to the average reader of this or any travel blog? Wouldn't you rather be reading how I drank snake's blood or ate a live squirrel - or something? An extravagant tale of my own savage tendencies that, hey, really POPS and makes you turn to your colleagues at the local watering hole and say, That Jessica (shakes head) - that girl is crazy!

It could be like that. We could do some story-swapping. We could trade tales of unfettered adventure, free from moral restraint, laughing, slapping backs, getting a little soused. We could do that. 

But not today. Today I am going to ask a simple question and offer you a simple answer. That question is: Why are there statues of hands everywhere in Antwerp? That answer is: Because "Antwerpen" in Dutch means to throw a hand, like, literally. Now, this begs the question of why anyone would want to name their city after a dismembered limb. If you were to ask that, I would have to ask you: are you familiar with the story of David and Goliath? Probably. Maybe not. Here it is, just in case:

David was a normal-sized man who fought and won against the giant Goliath.

In Belgium, they have added a unique (don't you hate that word? Brutally overused to the point of meaninglessness. Just like what idiotic chocolate companies did to "decadent." Sigh.) twist to the ending: David cuts off Goliath's hand and throws it into the river, the Scheldt actually, which is a pretty long river considering it flows through at least three countries: Belgium, of course, but also the Netherlands and France. 

If you consult Wikipedia (which you shouldn't, because it is absolutely RIFE with mistakes and inaccuracies), but if you were to ignore my advice, they would tell you that the giant was Antigoon and the man was Brabo, but isn't it so much easier to remember the stories that we all grew up with? Like the girl who wears a yellow ribbon around her neck and her friends are always asking her why, why do you wear that yellow ribbon around your neck because she wears - has been wearing - it for years, and even after she's married, she ignores her husband's requests to untie the ribbon and her children's too, and then finally, when she's a very old woman sleeping in her bed, her husband creeps up quietly and slowly unties the ribbon and then her head just falls off. 


  1. that was a little crazy. but great. just great.

  2. Hmm. Thank you for the double-great. But thank you more for the crazy, because I think, in the end, crazy is less about drinking snake's blood and eating live squirrels than . . . god, I don't know what. Maybe talking in the voice that everyone can hear? Maybe.


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