In a new piece at The New Criterion, Dalrymple considers the port of Antwerp, which he recently visited. Although repelled by the exterior of Zaha Hadid’s Havenhuis, he is pleasantly surprised by its interior, which he calls the best working environment he has ever seen. But it is the industriousness of the port and its juxtaposition with the surrounding countryside that seems to interest him most.
All the same, it seems to me an immense achievement that anything at all should grow so close to so large a concentration of industrial activity. Those of us who remember the good old days in Eastern Europe remember factories that seemed to produce nothing at all except pollution, and that poisoned the earth for hundred of yards, if not for miles, around, so that nothing would grow in the oily, poisoned land. It was as if the communist masters took pollution as a metonym for economic advancement: the smokier and the fouler, the nearer to the proletarian heaven the regime approached. And in Cornwall, where arsenic, at one time the elixir of industry, was mined in the nineteenth century, the land is still bare more than a century and a half later. One expects scrub, not fields, around so vast an enterprise as the port of Antwerp.