Monday, April 23, 2007

In Memory of David Halberstam

I was sad to see that David Halberstam died in a car accident today.

He was a prolific writer and won the Pulitzer Prize for covering the Vietnam War for the New York Times. He also wrote several books about baseball.

In college I read The Children, a marvelously detailed account of the student leaders of the American civil rights movement.

America lost one of its great nonfiction writers today.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"When I am a medieval plunderer, I can do what I want"

I couldn't pass this up. The International Herald Tribune reports that some Belgians are going medieval.
During the week, Ivonne Janssens, 57, is a hospital cleaner. But come the weekend, she climbs the narrow steps of a three-story medieval tower and turns into a 14th-century duchess with a faux-emerald necklace, a linen headdress, a leather satchel full of fake gold coins, and a retinue of mercenaries to fend off invading French knights.

Her husband, Daniel Grandjean, a 50-year-old furniture maker with a pot belly and bushy beard, becomes an axe-wielding soldier-for-hire.


Across this country of 10 million, a growing number of Belgians are trading in their jeans for suits of armor. They are rubbing stones together to make fire, eating their dinners out of cauldrons, re-enacting heroic battles and participating in mock hangings.


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 week, 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. His wife, Jeanne, a 49-year-old secretary, becomes a peasant woman.

"When I am a medieval plunderer, I can do what I want and I love the freedom," he says, showing off the chain-metal outfit he puts on before setting out on fictional rampages.

"You can be in big trouble if both you and your partner aren't into being medieval,"
Yeah, I'll bet. I wouldn't want to be returning from grocery shopping, only to be waylaid by a sword-wielding marauder.

Other Belgians, of course, are suggesting not taking this too far.
Not everyone here has embraced the medieval trend. Eduard Van Ermen, a professor of medieval history at the University of Leuven - who confesses he once pretended to be Emperor Maximilian I - argues that Belgians who idealize the medieval period are underestimating its challenges. These, he says, include an average life span of 40 years, the Black Plague, potato famines, torture for minor transgressions and the constant threat of bloody wars.
Plague, Schmague. Long live Maximilian I!