Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Brief Essay on the Northern Renistruggle

Italy talks a good game (and when it does, it soundsa likea thiiis) about the renaissance being a purely Italian innovation.   Who needs Albrect Duhrer and early Franco-Flemish development when you have Michelangelo, Raphael, and a whole host of other crime fighting reptiles? So in the grand scheme of History (it deserves a capital letter) most people who don't look too closely will find themselves ignoring Holland and it's troubled little cousin, Northern Belgium.

But see, here's the thing, such people are fools, FOOLS I tell you! Because there was a lot going on in Northern Europe at that time, and, despite a few odd wars and modern architects (hard to say which is deadlier) it's still pretty great to see. While painting a chapel might get you some press in the southern countries (and, really, you want some painting done? I know like five painters, reasonable rates, and they aren't going to take YEARS to do it, come on), the north has seen such a back and forth of will-they-wont-they Catholicism that walking through a town in Belgium is like walking around with an argument between Martin Luther and St. Peter on your shoulder. And while the rest of the world might still be waiting with bated breath for those two crazy kids to work it out, as a member of the chosen people, I'm just enjoying the ride. The wild and crazy, Hieronymus Bosch themed ride. (Oh yes, that's right, while the South is carving out a statue and getting all excited about the stars or whatever,  Bosch is busy inventing new ways to be crazy and scare children in the process. Beat this, Di Vinci)

This is not to say that Flemish Belgium today feels like it did 500 years ago. Back then, a walk around Flanders was all about decrying the Reformation, avoiding the Plague and burning the Jews (because it was believed that they had magically created the plague. We can't catch a break, I swear). Today Antwerp is all about chocolate, fries, Thai food, castles, and taxing the Jews, given that we are the major diamond cutters and polishers in that part of the world (and while it might seem like an upgrade from burning to taxing, I wouldn't be so sure...). But while the culture might have changed, the city itself honestly doesn't seem to have altered at all.  And it's not just Antwerp, either, it's Bruges and Ghent as well.  These three towns resemble nothing so much as medieval Disney World. Seriously, I kept expecting to see rides along the lines of "Ye Olde Torture Rack" and signs for "Buye one, Save Thy Immortal Soul for Free!", and I walked extremely fast through the cobblestone streets (pathways) of each city because I couldn't help feeling like once you stop you are likely to be hit in the face by falling midden. Of course, I somehow doubt they had Burger King and H and M five centuries ago, though I can't be sure, never underestimate the power of corporations.

As charmingly feudal as Northern Belgium was, and believe you me, any place that looks like a Renaissance Faire just threw up all over it is bound to be charming, it was something of a relief to return to Holland, and to move from Holland to Germany, which is where I am now. Honestly, that much history was giving me a headache. Luckily, I wont find any of that here in Germany, right? RIGHT?

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