Anti-Freezeland

In Holland when winter is all about and we shiver in hibernation, Friesland, we find, has a huge population of freaks who in wintertime really freak out. Taut, tanned, dumb faces no longer pout, but suddenly show more relaxation while their macho chops with animation produce what is a smile, no doubt. Impenetrable conversation spreads…

St Johan

once under floodlights when I saw footballers weaving a goal moving like elves across the grass, I knew it was from here the saviour would appear. and lo: Johan Cruyff the dancer the faun the eagle of the valleys but when we came for his sermon on the mount he talked about paying taxes.  …

Disruptive Images, Historical Friction

On the Work of David Van Reybrouck Will things work out well for David Van Reybrouck? The awards that have rained down on this young writer (b. 1971) in a scant ten years feel like a tropical storm. And that, please note, in the Low Countries! Has the literary climate lost its way? Or has…

Ghent-Wevelgem

If I could start again, I’d do things just as I did: not for a few quid, but for that new racing strip. That gleams and hugs your buttocks and those of your team mates in the peloton. I’d like to train till I die, trailing the other guy a fraction, I’d always bring up…

Five Poems

Beggars’ Evening Prayer Complaint against the ‘money-hungry’ calvinist judges of Oldenbarnevelt. Ca. 1630, stanzas 1-4. Did he bear the fate of Holland On his heart, To the latest breath he drew With bitter smart, Thus to lave a perjured sword With stainless blood, And to batten crow and raven On his good? Was it well…

Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) at 425

…but what is in my heart Wells up towards my lips; the inward pressure grows: Fermenting like new wine, it bursts and overflows Curry-Comb, 64-66 ‘La langue de Vondel’ – one occasionally still reads it in the French-language press as an alternative to ‘Flemish’ or ‘Dutch’. In the nineteenth century such ‘literary’ language designations were…

Eddy Merckx

(Winner of the Tour of Flanders, 1969-1975) All hell let loose, thinks Merckx and he thanks the cycling gods for the strength that spurts from his trunk and legs. Flanders bends its trees before this unbounded force, the churches shrink into their towers, pigeons fall from the roof and in unbounded pink stupor tongues hang…

A football match

not the beautifully worked out attack ending in a sudden galvanising flash, but the little boy on a patch of grass behind the spectators playing his own game, the dog among those nameless backs snuffling around the waste ground, the torn trampled tickets in the well-combed grass and above the rock-hard winter sky: only here…

Man the Player

Huizinga’s ‘Homo Ludens’ Revisited In 1972, in a lecture at the big Huizinga congress in Groningen, Ernst Gombrich made the suggestion that Huizinga’s biography of Erasmus was a form of self-criticism. ‘Somehow the great humanist aroused in him all the ambivalent feelings that sprang from a life-long fight against the temptations of cultured aestheticism.’ Gombrich’s…

An Extract from ‘Dateless Days’

The hundreds of things you’ve done wrong in your life. Not necessarily on purpose, it may have happened through stupidity, clumsiness, thoughtlessness, by mistake, out of spinelessness, or with no intention at all. Sometimes a poisonous memory suddenly sneaks into your brain, like an intruder throwing a piano wire over your head and pulling it…

Jeroen Brouwers’s Paper Monument

‘My death will be the only thing I haven’t described’ was the concluding sentence of Jeroen Brouwers’s ‘Self-Portrait with Eraser’, which he wrote at the age of thirty-seven. Six years later, in the introduction to The Final Door (De laatste deur), his book of essays on suicide in Dutch-language literature, he noted: ‘I’m a writer…

Cycle ‘Boxers’

neil got a glass jaw, has he?   well nail him right in the throat cut his fucking breath off   , a feint one or two little jabs I come from the left he comes from the right I go inside I catch him down he goes on his arse for three grand,  …