The Belgian crisis continues, you know. Many of the neighbours have Belgian flags hanging from their windows. I overheard a tram driver saying darkly that some areas have more flags than others. Our commune is staunchly in favour of the continuation of Belgium, if the matter can be judged by the number of flags. A website has been set up to encourage people to stick with the Belgian project but I can’t remember the address and nor can I find it by googling the obvious words (there is some irony there I feel).
The King continues to be rushed off his feet. No, really. He had surgery on his hip recently and when he woke up from the operation, he told his consultant that all the time he was under, he had dreams about the negotiations on the future of Belgium. He is a busy man, the King of the Belgians, perhaps he should relax and enjoy the position while it lasts.
I see that there is concern in the circles that are paid to be concerned by such things that the lack of any government in Belgium means that the Lisbon Treaty may not be ratified in December and all hell will break loose. If you care, the Lisbon Treaty is the redraft of the ill-fated constitutional Treaty which, depending on whom you listen to is either completely different from or identical to its predecessor. OK, you didn’t care, did you?
I recently got an email from an English language bookshop here entitled “Does Belgium Matter? In case you care, or want to trot along, here are the details:
Book presentation: “How can one not be interested in Belgian History: War, Language and Consensus in Belgium since 1830”
142 days since the last general elections and still no new government in Belgium. While analysts discuss the possibility of the end of Belgium, Belgian flags are appearing at the windows of houses around Brussels. So does Belgium matter?
Two years ago, during the 175th anniversary of Belgium, Martine Van Berlo, lecturer of Dutch languages in the Department of Germanic studies at Trinity College Dublin, organised a symposium, ‘Belgium revealed’. The speakers (Benno Barnard, Geert van Istendael, Marc Reynebeau and Sophie de Schaepdrijver) each highlighted a specific vision of the origins of Belgium independence and of what that complex notion of ‘belgitude’ is ultimately all about. An unexpected image of Belgium was projected to the Irish audience of a post-nationalist, federal country, combining cultural pragmatism with a rather solid social consensus … A country quite capable of playing its own role on the European and international scene.
Following the symposium, a small volume of the presentations was published, in which was also included an essay by Tony Judt, “Is There a Belgium?”. Belgium does matter. This book tells you why.
On Thursday 15th November from 7:30pm onwards, Nicola’s Bookshop (you need to email to get in, such is the popularity of Belgium as a topic but entrance is free) will host a Presentation by Martine Van Berlo of the mentioned book. There will be a question & answer session after the presentation where you will be able to voice your opinion on the state of Belgium!
This will be followed by a taste of some of Belgium’s best products (beer, cheese, waffles, pralines)!
* * * * * * * * *
Belgium rarely attracts foreign notice. Yet the country is more than fine chocolates, delicious beers or Tintin. This volume celebrates Belgium as a federal, post-nationalist country, which combines cultural pragmatism with a rather solid social
consensus. It presents a critical vision on the origins of Belgian independence and on that complex notion named ‘belgitude’. It illustrates how a deep-seated tradition of local autonomy and suspicion towards state authority go hand in hand with a strong sense of individual tolerance and solidarity, with a refusal of violent confrontation and a continuous search for consensus. Prominent commentators on things Belgian combine critical and irreverent observations with a strong attachment to the existence of the country and its role on the international stage. They emphasise the potential of linguistic diversity and cultural plurality. They also point out the ambivalent relation between history, national myths, and the ‘lasagne’ identity of most Belgians. Belgium may be a model or a warning. Its history addresses questions of identity and security, of a sense of cohesion and common purpose – or the lack thereof.
Belgium does matter. This volume tells you why.
E is for Eugenides which is just as well. Also, it turns out D is for Didion and Darrieussecq and C is for Clarke; this alphabetical index is harder than I thought.
Anne Enright won the Booker prize and I have read two of her books. She does not appeal, we will move on. Dave Eggers – the man who gave us “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” is overblown. Mr. Eugenides is, however, interesting. I find that his style makes him a bit heavy going. I bought “The Virgin Suicides” many years ago because I was intrigued by the title. It is intriguing and funny in places. “Middlesex” was more entertaining and a very interesting premise. As a fringe benefit it provides a tutorial on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. A little long but recommended, particularly if you are thinking of marrying a sibling.
Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” is one of the best books I have read in the past year but terribly, terribly sad. I haven’t read any of her other books but I will.
I have read two of Marie Darrieussecq’s books; that’s a lot when you consider I read them in French. “Truismes” is translated into English as “Pig Tales” which tells you a lot more about the book. It is, essentially, the story of a woman who turns into a pig. It was an enormous success in France and my French flat mate gave it to me to read. It was alright; perhaps some of the humour escaped me as I was reading in a foreign language. For whatever reason, despite this uninspiring beginning, I bought her book “Le Bebe” and it was, undoubtedly, the best book about having a new baby that I have read. In it she says that she is superstitious about writing another of her works of fiction (featuring as they do the weird and the grotesque); that makes it so odd that she has now written a book about a mother who loses her baby – “Tom est mort”. It caused a bit of excitement in France. I’m planning to read it when I’m feeling strong.
Finally, I so enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” in a sort of this is very long and very odd and you need to do some work on your understanding of presently kind of way that I think it only fair to include it.
And tomorrow it will be F – I am unstoppable. Your E recommendations accepted with pleasure.
I loved “Middlesex” and “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I don’t care much for Didion’s fiction but her essays are pure genius.
Just could not get through “Jonathan Strange…” It made my head hurt.
If you like Ms. Gaskell, perhaps you’d like George Eliot as well, assuming you have not already read her? I love love love Daniel Deronda — it’s one of my favourite 19th C novels. Daniel Deronda is the new fictional boyfriend of my early twenties life (I am quite proud of myself for moving beyond the whole Heathcliff and Rochester romantic ideal of my childhood to a more healthy prototype).