April 13th, 2015


Two books about Belgium

The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn

Many many thanks for pgmcc for getting this for me, many years ago, and apologies for not getting around to reading it sooner. It's a guidebook to Belgium from 1934, and the copy I have was given to his mother by the author, and then reclaimed by him at a later stage. (His father founded the Lunn Poly travel firm.)

It's interesting just how much of the book is devoted to simply describing the great art on display in each of the large towns - Bruges and Ghent of course get the most coverage by far, but there are decent chapters also on Antwerp, Brussels and "Louvain". It's striking also that the linguistic issue simply isn't mentioned - the street names in Flemish cities are all given in French, so instead of Leuven's main artery being the Bondgenotenlaan we have the Avenue des Alliés of Louvain. At the same time, Lunn does manage to situate the Belgian national character - suspicious of authority, quietly individualistic - in the historical experience of medieval civic and guild autonomy, and it all makes sense.

The author's father founded the travel firm Lunn Poly.

Een geschiedenis van België voor nieuwsgierige kinderen (en hun ouders) by Benno Barnard and Geert Van Istendael

A history of Belgium for curious children and their parents; zooms bracingly through two millennia or so, starting with Julius Caesar. though with some odd editorialising - clerical celibacy? It didn't really linger with me, I'm afraid.

Both books have quite a lot to say about the Battle of the Golden Spurs of 1302, which few outside Belgium will have heard of. Barnard and Van Istendael explain its relevance to the Flemish movement; Lunn situates it as a Belgian rather than Flemish event. Times change, and history sometimes changes with them.