Monday, April 09, 2007

Quote of the day

From the NYT:
“I feel proud to be a duchess,” Ms. Janssens said from the tower, which is decorated with swords and animal-skin rugs. “If I had the money, I would pretend to live in those times all day long. This was a glorious period in the history of Belgium. It was far less stressful in the Middle Ages, because there were no phones and no vacuum cleaners.”

I've taken the silliest quote, I admit, from a fairly smart article on the appeal of a sanitized, simplified Middle Ages to a Belgium having vast difficulty imagining its own present and future. The author even manages to link these two facts:
  • "Medieval history faculties are no longer lacking students and report a surge in Ph.D. candidates."
  • "In contemporary Belgium ... a far-right movement known as the Vlaams Belang ... calls for an independent Flanders and rails against multiculturalism and what it calls an invasion by Muslim immigrants in particular."
Check out the full article.


Karl Steel said...

One wonders how The Battle of the Golden Spurs plays into this imagination. The ethnic cleansing of the French prior to the battle no doubt complicates the Vlaams Belang's imagination of ethnic solidarity: or, given that VB wants an independent Flanders, perhaps not.

I surprised you didn't call attention to the sexual fetish aspect of the article, JJC.

For Pol Malfait, an affable 53-year-old postal clerk from Ghent, the Middle Ages is not just a historical era but a state of mind. Every weekend, he becomes De Nevelaar, a 14th-century Flemish soldier who fought for the king of England against the French crown during the Hundred Years’ War and then became a full-time plunderer. “When I am a medieval plunderer, I can do what I want, and I love the freedom,” he said. [ME: !!] Luckily, he said, his wife, Jeanne, a 49-year-old secretary, shares his hobby.

“You can be in big trouble if both you and your partner aren’t into being medieval,” he noted. “My wife doesn’t mind if I dress up in medieval clothes at home....”

Maria Lowers, 51, is an amateur historian who impersonates a 15th-century orphan rescued from poverty by a wealthy merchant (also known as her husband, Danny Troosters).

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I suppose you bolded those lines to imply that the Malfaits (great last name!) don't practice the medieval virtues of chastity and continence while impersonating medieval clich├ęs?

Michael O'Rourke said...

I'm surprised I didn't point out the postal worker aspect of the article.

Michael O'Rourke said...

Especially since I like to think of myself as an affable 31-year-old postal sorter with expensive medieval perversions.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

M O'R: affable eh? When did that happen? Anyway I'm glad it did.

Karl Steel said...

Maybe M o'R started being affable at the same time I stopped being grumpy.

Funny that the nostalgia here is for a unified identity for a time in which the Low Countries were the centers of inter'national' commerce. Circulation of goods, circulation of people, Flemish in London, French in Flanders, Italians everywhere, with merchants (and pilgrims) as the original cosmopolitans. Hardly an easy time for nostalgia, I should think.

Anonymous said...

We're a crazy bunch, we is. I just want to say that this article came out of the blues. Noone in Belgium noticed that the Middle Age re-enactement thing was getting "big", wonder if people even knew it exist except for the museums and stuff.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I'm amused by the satanic carrots, myself. Because I've been telling my students for years that people in western Europe ate root vegetables -- there not being a ton of veg that aren't root veg or cabbage family!