Saint Nicolas Itself
Although I work for a single organisation these days, I do get around. The “Cultuurcentrum Sint-Niklaas” that is the overarching city service and the instance calling the shots, is active in 3 separate locations throughout town (they hate it when you call it a town), ranging from a fully functional, well-equipped city theater to the shittiest parish hall you’ll find in any sleepy hollow. If not here as part of the crew, you’ll find me flying solo at the “Museumtheater”, the in-between venue in terms of size and relevance.
I ended up there pretty much from the very beginning, when things were hectic and the crew was spread thin across all locations and more, and I just kind of stuck there.
I like it. The work is less one company to another and more human. Also the director is less likely to say, “Oh didn’t you get the email, we need 50 chairs onstage to seat our choir.” The others don’t like the place too much so I am often democratically selected to run the productions there.
So I run from one venue to another, a lot. The only free parking is at the city theater itself and since the city council decided to refund absolutely zero of my gas and maintenance costs, I’m legging it.
I get to see a lot of the city this way, and through the quiet inner workings of its public services, discover a town (hee hee) that I previously only visited to scrape gum off the stairs of the main train station, as part of my first job after dropping out of school. I guess it’s kind of poetic to be walking those same stairs now, with my head high.
Sint-Niklaas was recently elected “town most likely to encounter a person walking with his mouth hung open” by a respected website. I don’t know why, but it just seems like an unusually large percentage of people here skipped a few evolutionary steps. So far I haven’t found a reason for this, so I chose to construct my own. In my defense, it is based on a few historic facts:
There is a reason why Belgium’s major cities are all more or less the same distance from each other. This was a day’s journey in the medieval ages, when their growth and development really kicked off. Merchants could walk or calmly ride from town to town, changing horses and a few wares in half-way towns like Mechelen, Aalst, and Sint-Niklaas.
So like its sisters, Sint-Niklaas was one of those half-way towns and seems to have stayed this way, in more ways than one. Its people and traditions are also somewhat half-way, if you know what I’m saying.
Aalst, for example, has this obsession with their yearly carnival that grows every year. They wear lamp hoods on their heads and have a “day of the filthy faggots” (I swear I’m not making this up) where literally all men, with only a few exceptions, dress up like flamboyant prostitutes.
Similarly, Sint-Niklaas is all about its patron saint, none other than Saint Nicholas. (surprise!)
They claim to have the largest market square in Belgium. When I mentioned 3 squares from the top of my head that seemed acres larger to me, my colleagues simply restated their claim.
Already, the town is plastered with posters. I and my dozens of colleagues all have flyers in our internal mail-box, with a complete schedule for an event I won’t even attend. More than once, it has this phrasing along the lines of “Aren’t we proud to live in the city of the Saint!?” It’s kinda scary.
They appear to have missed the entire debate around Black Pete altogether because his racist ass is on literally every one of these pieces. I would bring it up in the canteen to open the subject but frankly I am afraid to. I don’t think these fanatics are open to anything touching their traditions, just like Aalst responded to the news that their carnival would be shortened by a day, with strikes and riots.
But still… It’s an enjoyable place to work at. Everyone seems to know everyone and not a single event goes by without it being discussed to death by the residents.
Not many people get to know the pleasure of seeing their work advertised on flags and banners everywhere, but the admittedly beautiful poster design of our new season can be seen in every street.
The city hall and church they’re so proud of, are grand pieces of medieval architecture. I can see the golden statue of the saint from where I’m sitting (don’t judge, there’s a rehearsal going on and I’m not involved in this production so I’m on stand-by, or sit-by as the case may be) and it must be freaking massive from up close.
So yeah, if you get the chance, Sint-Niklaas might be worth a short visit. Just make sure to drop by the SteM and say hi to the stage tech working at the Museum Theater. And whatever you do, don’t mention Black Pete.