A human triumph

Port of Antwerp

The port of Antwerp, Dalrymple notes,

is the centre of a vast chemicals industry.

The industrial landscape, he writes,

has romance and beauty, though ecologists, observing the smokes of many colours emerging from the forest of tapering chimneys, would see nothing but the death of wildlife and the production of the canopy or pall of pink-gray-mauve that covers so much of the earth’s surface, the price of industrial abundance.

Smoke of chimneys is the breath of Soviet Russia

By contrast, the chimneys and their plumes of smoke

would have delighted the inconographers of communism, who would have regretted only that it was capitalism, not communism, that created them.

Antwerp port’s

immensity, its concentrated ingenuity, intelligence, and industry, is best seen from aerial photographs. One sees the first artificial dock: it was constructed under the orders of Napoleon, who recognised the strategic importance of Antwerp in the imposition of his Continental System on Britain, a system that the European Union, in order to survive, will have to try to impose (under different guise) once more. Napoleon bestrode the world, and his struggle with Britain seemed titanic, of world-historical importance, to all involved, and to historians ever after.

Antwerp, Dalrymple points out, is not even among the largest 15 ports by tonnage: Rotterdam is at least half as big again. Antwerp’s port training school educated the chief executive of the port of Shanghai, it is true.

It is humbling to gain a glimpse of the scale of human practical intelligence.

Bonaparte disembarks at Antwerp

Belgium, says Dalrymple,

is a conundrum. It functions though it is dysfunctional.

The Continental System

Port of Rotterdam

Port of Shanghai

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