Wednesday, 2 April 2008

To love to hate

In Brussels on Saturday I picked up a fascinating book: Le Labyrinthe Belge, by Geert Van Instendael. It's a Flemish take on Belgium, and although it was written with the intention of explaining things to the Dutch, the interest further south was such that it was translated into French (hence how I can read it, as my progress in Dutch is almost non-existent). His preface simply starts like this (my rough translation), which I want to share, because it captures a few of the Belgian distinctives so well:

I love Belgium because there live houses which are more spacious, more comfortable and less expensive than in any other country I know. I hate Belgium because these houses are ugly and pretensious, and because their omnipresence disfigures the gentle countryside.

I love Belgium because people speak French there, and because at school I learned French in detail - this language, clear, at times reserved and spiritual, which whether heard, spoken or read always provokes in me a refined pleasure, this language of measure and reason, this language of Paris and the Mediterranean. I hate Belgium because with this high & mighty French she wanted to destroy my Dutch, because she sent it to the pigsty, because she chased my language out of school. And because Belgium didn't grant it justice until after a century of ill-will and violation of its rights, and of resistance against this injustice.

I love Belgium because, thank God, the insolence of the Dutch, their superior airs, indelicateness and miserable incomprehension of what passes over their borders, are totally foreign to Belgium. I hate Belgium because the Flemish prefer their shiftiness and provincial meanness to indispensible cultural contacts with Holland, and because the Flemish are too obtuse to appreciate the Serious, and the organisational sense of the Dutch.

I love Belgium because, thank God, the insolence of the French, their superior airs and madness with grandeur, are totally foreign to Belgium. I hate Belgium because the Belgian is too obtuse to relearn even the smallest bit of the republican rigour of the French.

I love Belgium because my ear can still play there with the glory of all the regional dialects. I hate Belgium because there people still speak this frightful suburban flemish, instead of learning how to speak the language correctly.

I love Belgium for her corruption, big and small, its 'arrangements', because each 'makes his way', dodging the law, profitting from all bits of power. I hate Belgium because nothing is possible without 'knowing someone', because everything is intrigue and distorsion, and the veil of power is spread over everything.

I love Belgium for the ostentation of its dishes, the glory of its beers, and becauase in Belgium, a good meal and good wine are everyday things. I hate Belgium because you talk about nothing but eating and drinking.

I love Belgium because all of a sudden, she manages to find democratic solutions and ingenious balances to assure peace and tranquility between Flemish and Walloons. We have never massacred each other like the Bosnians or the Northern Irish. I hate Belgium because the squabbles between Flemish and Walloons are eternal, and because we needed a battle of more than a century before my language and culture got elementary rights already technically acquired during the brief union with the abhorred Batave.

I love Belgium because a country with has two hundred different beers is so ingovernable. I hate Belgium because her vision and imagination don't go any further than the depths of a beer glass.

I love Belgium because dozens of thousands of people demonstrate in the capital against judges who shirked their duty, and because the police speak in regional dialect and rise to the situation with a bit of humour. I hate Belgium because the law is so twisted, so twisted by politics, jealousy and grumbling, that it is possible to kill thirty people, unpunished.

I love Belgium because the Belgians work themselves to death. I hate Belgium because too many Belgians don't do anything but work themselves to death.

I love Belgium because hussle, fuss and booby-traps are resolutely binned with the words: don't talk ****. I hate Belgium because everything that the Belgian doesn't understand, everything which makes him ill at ease, and all artistic flair, falls into the category of ****.

I love Belgium because its inhabitants only show themselves to be patriotic once or twice per century, at a propicious moment. I hate Belgium because its inhabitants are, at no moment, proud of their country.

I love Belgium because she exists.
I hate Belgium because she exists.

I could do some similar reflections from a Christian perspective, but it probably wouldn't be entirely upbuilding. I ponder similar statements for each of our countries...

1 comment:

Andrew Cook said...

Pretty much sums it up. Was born and went to school there until I was 16. Loved and hated it for all the same reasons. Agree that who you know does matter. Loved the conviviality. Hated The material aimlessness of my friends which was depressing and too often infectious.