Sunday, February 24, 2013

News and links, week 8

  • Writing for the New York Times, John Tagliabue provides a lovely portrait of the the village of Vleteren and its world-famous Trappist beer, Westvleteren 12.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

News and links, week 7

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jukebox Friday: Laïs - Le Renard Et La Belette

Laïs in 2003. Photo: Michiel Hendryckx.

I mentioned Läis in my introduction to Belgian music, but strangely enough, I haven't featured them in Jukebox Friday yet.

Until now.

Laïs is a vocal trio consisting of Jorunn Bauweraerts, Annelies Brosens and Nathalie Delcroix. All members are from Kalmthout, a town near Antwerp. Since 1994, they have released seven albums and are a recurring act at various Belgian folk festivals such as Folk Dranouter.

Laïs is the Celtic word for voice, which is an essential part of the group's music. Their sound is defined by polyphonic close harmonies which gives their songs a medieval touch, even when the instrumentation lies closer to folk rock than early music.

"Le Renard Et La Belette" can be found on Laïs' brilliant sophomore album, Dorothea (2000). The recording is based on the tradtitional Breton folk song "La Jument de Michao". Some of you will know this song better as performed by the Breton folk band Tri Yann (video here).

I'm sorry if you don't understand the lyrics, but then, neither do I, and I still think it's a fantastic song and a terrible earworm. If you happen to have a workable English translation, please don't hesitate to share it with me.



C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter

C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter


C'est dans 9 ans je m'en irai
La jument de michau a passé dans le pré
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin

C'est dans 9 ans je m'en irai
La jument de michau a passé dans le pré
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin

L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira
L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra

La jument de michau elle s'en repartira
L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira
L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira

C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter

C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter

C'est dans 9 ans je m'en irai
La jument de michau a passé dans le pré
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin

C'est dans 9 ans je m'en irai
La jument de michau a passé dans le pré
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin
La jument de michau et son petit poulain
Ont passé dans le pré, ont mangé tout le foin

L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira
L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira

L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira
L'hiver viendra, les gars, l'hiver viendra
La jument de michau elle s'en repartira

C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter

C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
C'est dans 10 ans en je m'en irai
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter
J'entends le loup, le renard et la belette
J'entends le loup et le renard chanter

A triumph for diversity and language

From Xpats.com:
The city of Ghent will no longer use the word allochtoon (immigrant, or, literally, originating from another country) in its official communications and everyday speech. "This marks the launch of a new integration policy," says Equal Opportunities Minister Resul Tapmaz, himself a Ghent politician of Turkish origin. "The ethnic cultural minorities have come to me asking to have the Ghent administration scrap the word," says Tapmaz, "The people of Ghent from whatever background are not satisfied with that label. They feel like Gentenaars, not immigrants." More specifically, the city will replace the word 'immigrant' in all its administrative documents with terms such as ethnic minorities, Turkish Gentenaars, Ghent Moroccans and newcomers.
It should be mentioned that not only Ghent, but several other cities in both Flanders and the Netherlands, have made this change in protocol. A new wind is blowing, and it smells like solidarity.

What the Xpats article doesn't mention is the main reason for the change: the negative connotations of the word allochtoon. Fact is, the word has traditionally and frequently appeared together with words like theft, violence and poverty, in order to highlight social problems within some immigrant communities.

When this word is applied as an umbrella term for immigrants, you end up lumping a lot of different people into the same box. A box that is starting to stink to high heaven.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

News and links, week 6

  • Aviation Week has some photos of Belgian A109s getting shipped from Melsbroek military airport near Brussels to Sévaré in Mali. The helicopters will provide medevac services to combat troops fighting Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.
  • Marc Dutroux, Belgium's most infamous killer, has launched a bid for early release (Reuters).  While cops are being pulled from vacation to provide security detail for Dutroux, officials have declared that the chance of the appeal being granted is as good as zero.
  • In a recent review, Rogert Ebert praises Rust and Bone (French: De rouille et d'os), a drama film starring Belgian leading man Matthias Schoenaerts opposite Marion Cotillard.
  • Employees at six Belgian Colruyt stores discover a total of 66 kg (145 lbs) of cocaine hidden in banana crates. (Expats.com)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ellen N. LaMotte: The Backwash of War (1916)

I apologize in advance to those now rolling their eyes at this seemingly endless stream of posts about the First World War. By the way, you can read the other post here.

Today's book was introduced to me by Joski, my father-in-law, who is still churning out posts on his Dutch-language blog on history, music, and everything in between. If your Dutch is strong, like the heart of a young stallion, you can click here to read his post on this book, which also includes several more photographs than can be seen here.

The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse was written in 1916 by Ellen Newbold La Motte (1873-1961). Having worked as a qualified nurse since 1902, she volunteered her skills to the Western Front in World War I as one of the first American war nurses in Europe.

Ellen Newbold La Motte c. 1902.

From 1914 to 1916, La Motte served with the American Ambulance Service in Paris and as a nurse at a French Army field hospital in Belgium. The Backwash of War chronicles fourteen episodes from her time at the field hospital. The book is rich with powerful moments that, if not for the pen of Ms. La Motte, would have been lost in the sands of time.

The nurse's perspective is very different from that of a soldier. While combat itself often means death in the blink of an eye, things change dramatically when you follow the trickle of wounded to the field hospitals behind the trenches.

At the field hospital, you are faced with three possible outcomes. You may heal enough to get sent back to the front to die another day; you may end up in the cemetery; or you may be sent back home, where a missing limb or some other heinous wound serves as a constant reminder of your sacrifice for "the greater cause". The Backwash of War describes all of these possibilities with equal amounts of bitter realism.

La Motte describes life in a WWI field hospital in meticulous detail, never shying away from the most repulsive descriptions of the "human wreckage" she sees. She works in the hall of the Grands Blessés, where the most seriously wounded men are brought. It is an atmosphere of constant, lingering, slow and painful death. La Motte evokes the sight of dirt, blood and other bodily fluids, the smell from terrible wounds, and the moaning, screaming voices of the dying.

Presumably to preserve morale, the book was censored and withdrawn when America entered the war in 1917-1918. It wasn't republished until 1934, sixteen years after the Armistice.

Operating room in the field hospital at Roesbrugge near Ypres.

Like many other portrayals of the First World War, The Backwash of War is cynical, bitter, and relentlessly realistic. There is a good portion of sarcasm, for example in the description of generals who visit the hospital only to pin medals on the bedspreads of dying men, to boost morale among those who may heal enough to get a chance to die in a future battle.

There are no heroes in this book, only regular people trying to survive and do their job while all the world seems to be falling apart around them. There is no Kate Beckinsale here, running to and fro with blood packs while Hans Zimmer conducts the orchestra. There is only a tired staff of nurses, doctors and orderlies who see death every day and know that it is more than often ugly, painful, unavoidable and completely senseless.
Thus the science of healing stood baffled before the science of destroying.
La Motte does not shy away from less-than-flattering characterizations of individuals and groups. This provides a unique insight into some of the tensions that existed even between allies, especially the French and the Belgians whose country they were fighting to liberate. One of the fourteen vignettes, titled A Belgian Civilian, describes what happens when a small child, dying from a shell wound to the abdomen, is brought into the hospital. His reluctant mother is brought down from Ypres by another ambulance:
So she continued her complaints. She had been dragged away from her husband, from her other children, and she seemed to have little interest in her son, the Belgian civilian, said to be dying. However, now that she was here, now that she had come all this way, she would go in to see him for a moment, since the Directrice seemed to think it so important. The Directrice of this French field hospital was an American, by marriage a British subject, and she had curious, antiquated ideas. She seemed to feel that a mother’s place was with her child, if that child was dying. The Directrice had three children of her own whom she had left in England over a year ago, when she came out to Flanders for the life and adventures of the Front. But she would have returned to England immediately, without an instant’s hesitation, had she received word that one of these children was dying. Which was a point of view opposed to that of this Belgian mother, who seemed to feel that her place was back in Ypres, in her home, with her husband and other children. In fact, this Belgian mother had been rudely dragged away from her home, from her family, from certain duties that she seemed to think important. So she complained bitterly, and went into the ward most reluctantly, to see her son, said to be dying.
Later, the woman leaves for home, showing even less concern for her dead offspring than some animals would. The chapter ends with an exclamation of solidarity from a French soldier:
“These Belgians!” said a French soldier. “How prosperous they will be after the war! How much money they will make from the Americans, and from the others who come to see the ruins!”
And as an afterthought, in an undertone, he added: “Ces sales Belges!” ("These dirty Belgians!")
In the end, The Backwash of War is a shockingly honest firsthand depiction of one of mankind's darkest hours. If you're already acquainted with the soldier's perspective on the war in the trenches, this book will significantly broaden your horizon. Also, it's quite simply a very good read.


The Backwash of War by Ellen N. La Motte can be downloaded for free at the Project Gutenberg web site.

Sources:
http://www.medicalarchives.jhmi.edu/papers/lamotte.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_LaMotte
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26884/26884-h/26884-h.htm
http://www.wo1.be/ned/geschiedenis/gastbijdragen/roesbrugge/roesbrugge.htm
http://berichtenuithetverleden.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/ellen-la-motte-the-backwash-of-war-het-kielzog-van-de-oorlog/

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jacques Tardi: It Was the War of the Trenches - C'était la guerre des tranchées (2010)

(As always, click on images to embiggen.)

My brother-in-law gave me this book for Christmas. I finished it yesterday, and now it's begging for a blog post.


It Was the War of the Trenches is a collection of fictional episodes describing the experiences of French soldiers on the Western Front in World War I (1914-1918). Written and drawn by WWI-aficionado Jacques Tardi, it was published in the original French in 1993. The full English translation came out in 2010.

The book is a tour de force of storytelling, with compelling characters and big ideas set against the infathomable destruction and suffering of the First World War.

It Was the War in the Trenches is very different from the more action-oriented American war comics I used to read as a kid. Tardi focuses more on the individual soldier's internal and external struggle than on gunfights and artillery barrages.

Using an HBO analogy, you could say that this book has more of the bleak cynicism of The Pacific than the peppy camaraderie of Band of Brothers. The book shines the brightest in moments where the balance between these two is just right.

A dying soldier contemplates the paradoxes of war (p. 91).

The comic does have plenty of jarring action sequences, reminiscent of what we've seen in old movies but completely stripped of heroism and glory.


Tardi's extensive research is evident in how he adapts vintage photographs into his panels. Without knowing it, I incorporated one of these photographs in an earlier post on the battles of Passchendaele. Here's an above-and-below comparison:

British soldiers blinded by tear gas near Ypres, 1918.

Tardi's 1993 version.

The book also deals briefly with the Rape of Belgium, a propaganda term for atrocities committed by the Germans during the invasion and occupation of neutral Belgium. One of the scenes in the book depicts German soldiers chasing off Belgian soldiers by using their own women and children as human shields.

The French soldiers are less troubled by the prospect of firing at the Belgians, and soon open fire. 

Use of human shields by Germans in It Was the War of the Trenches.

This event was originally illustrated by Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956), a Dutch cartoonist who created some of the most striking propaganda images of the war.

The Shields of Rösselaere by Louis Raemaekers.

In a café, lower down, near the canal, I saw a number of German soldiers, and was successful in having a chat with the inn-keeper, at the farthest corner of the bar. I asked, of course, what they meant by burning the village, and he told me that the Germans had made a number of successful attacks on Fort Pontisse, until at last they had reduced it to silence. They were now so near that they could open the final assault. They were afraid, however, of some ambush, or underground mine, and the Friday before they had collected the population, whom they forced to march in front of them. When they had got quite near they dared not enter it yet, and drove the priest and twelve of the principal villagers before them.
- L. Mokveld: The German Fury in Belgium (1917)

Most of the individual events in the book are fictional, but this does not diminish the fact that similar things happened, again and again, to thousands of young men during the war. Tardi's meticulous research has allowed him to tell his own stories while staying true to the era, the people who inhabited it, and the ideas that governed them. Well-researched, well-drawn and well-told, It Was the War of the Trenches is perhaps the best comic book on a historical subject I have read so far.

The Western Front claimed fifteen million casualties between 1914 and 1918, in as many gruesome ways as man could have invented up to that point. As harrowing as this book may be, it can never fully communicate the horrors that took place in this little corner of the world nearly a hundred years ago.

You can find another great review of this book at Forbidden Planet International.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_of_belgium
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34031
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_world_war
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Raemaekers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Lys_(1918)