We Are a Hospitable People

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, John, Joanna and Nigel, chers compatriotes, mesdames, messieurs, we are a hospitable people. This is written in blood in the books that tell of our past. We are a hospitable people. We are a helpful people. The man in the house on the hill leaps out of bed at the…

Robbed by a Cheque

In January 1991, Willy Claes, the Belgian Minister of Economic Affairs, approved ‘cheque charges’: users would from then on have to pay for writing out a cheque. In his weekly column in Humo, a Flemish weekly (which invariably ended with the mantra ‘Do it!’), the writer took up arms against the banks. It was the…

The Arrival and Observations of an Exile

1852 Brussels, 8 January Unusual manners. The Flemish middle-class has something of the uncomplicated, crude bourgeoisie of the past. Rabelais would have laughed at their sayings. Instead of It never rains but it pours, here they say It never rains but it pees. The most popular monument in Brussels is a small boy ‘peeing’; another…

First Steps 

He ran into the street without a glance and I, becoming like him more and more, thought he could make it to the door. But he turns round and away, cars racing along the prom. Now he’s almost there I’ll never get to him in time. Just as my father, all his life, could dream…

Poems

Stevens on Sunday 6 It was difficult to sing in face of the object… The singer and the architect they never fully agreed: should they inhabit a lyre or a house of tones much higher? All that’s true becomes, in its other half, all that’s heavy and decays. We know that the singer dies, tired…

A Bigger Head

1 You must keep your eyes open, said Bodo. Now watch for a moment. He jumped over the low wall, a metre and a half high, which hid the public lavatories from the passers-by, and thereby re-entered the world. The church was emptying. While bells were ringing and the wind blew straight into Bodo’s face,…

The Courage of the Critical Intellect

The Work of Stefan Hertmans As a poet, prose writer, critic, essayist and playwright, Stefan Hertmans (1951-) is probably one of the most multifaceted Flemish writers of his generation. And although his writing originally came up against a certain amount of resistance from literary critics, it now proves to be among the most highly prized. Hertmans made…