My favorite things Belgian

by on March 24, 2016 at 12:45 am in Books, Economics, Film, History, Music, The Arts | Permalink

No, I am not there but think of this as an act of homage from a distance.  Here goes:

1. Novelist: There is Simenon, Yourcenar, and Amelie Nothomb.  I like them all but do not love them.  Can I pick Julio Cortázar, who was born in Belgium even if he did not come of age there and essentially was Argentinian?  As for a fictional character, how about Hercule Poirot?

2. Playwright: Maurice Maeterlinck, read especially Blue Bird.

3. Composer: César Franck is the obvious modern pick.  There is also Henri Pousseur, and a variety of Renaissance composers, including Heinrich Isaac, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Josquin des Prez.  I’ll pick the violin works of Eugène Ysaÿe, as the Renaissance music is arguably more Burgundian or “Franco-Flemish” than culturally Belgian as it relates to the modern nation.

4. Jazz musician: Django Reinhardt, that one is easy, try this cut.  Toots Thielmans, the jazz harmonica player, is perhaps runner up.

5. Economist: Jacques H. Drèze and Robert Triffin would be the obvious picks.   A dark horse choice would be Jean Drèze, son of Jacques, for his obsessive data work in India.  He still awaits a much-deserved major profile.  Gustav de Molinari, who first wrote about private protection agencies and arguably was the first modern libertarian anarchist.

6. Painter: This has to be the strong suit.  Magritte is an obvious choice, but there is also Gerard David, Hans Memling, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Adriaen Brouwer, Luc Tuymans, Jacob Jordaens, Paul Delvaux, Petrus Christus, Robert Campin, and Pierre Alechinsky, among others.  Jan van Eyck is one of the greater painters ever, but for sheer Belgianness I will opt for James Ensor, see the image below.

7. Sculpture: Marcel Broodthaers.  Right now there is a nice retrospective of his work on at MOMA.

7. Historian: Henri Pirenne, way ahead of his time.

9. NBA point guard: Tony Parker was born there, to American and Dutch parents, that counts for something.

10. Anthropologist: Claude Levi-Strauss.  Tristes Tropiques remains a beautiful book to be read by all.

11. Movie: I cannot think of one I really like, can you help?  And I can’t easily digest the works of Chantal Akerman.

11b. Movie, set in: In Bruges, a fun dark comedy.

12. Violinist: Arthur Grumiaux, but with competition from Sigiswald Kuijken.


The bottom line: Once you get into the period where Belgium is a modern nation, it’s all so wonderfully offbeat.

1 Karl Gusick March 24, 2016 at 1:05 am

Well, most people will commend films by the Dardenne brothers. I’ve seen a few of their older films, and they’re good — don’t know which, in particular, to recommend.

2 TGGP March 24, 2016 at 2:30 am

I only watched “Rosetta” because I’d heard it compared to “Day Night Day Night” (in following one untrained actress around the whole movie), but I feel comfortable recommending it. I’ve heard at least one economist complain about “Two Days, One Night”, but I think they’d be more comfortable with Rosetta. They actually made it consciously in response to the standard litany against work by depicting someone who just wants to work.

3 Peter Akuleyev March 24, 2016 at 5:21 am

I haven’t seen it, but Le Nouveau Testament seems “wonderfully offbeat”.

4 vak March 24, 2016 at 5:46 am

If you want off beat black comedy, try The Misfortunates:

5 David March 24, 2016 at 9:27 am

I was going to suggest them, specifically La Promesse .

6 Dzhaughn March 24, 2016 at 1:31 am

What, no best beer?

7 March 24, 2016 at 2:22 am

Belgium Pink Elephant Beer

8 dearieme March 24, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I have no idea what is the best Belgian beer though I have a fond memory of a Belgian beer tasting dinner that would convince you that they are all best equal.

Anyway, our staple beer at home is Belgian though I almost always drink English if I’m out. Current favourite: Black Sheep Ale.

9 dearieme March 24, 2016 at 8:29 am

Even madder, no best chips with mayo.

10 Regular guy March 24, 2016 at 9:33 am

I thought that as well. There are 11 Trappist breweries left in the world, 6 are in Belgium.

11 brad March 24, 2016 at 11:27 am

Rochefort 10. Or maybe Westvleteren 12, but I’ve never had it so I couldn’t say.

I’m pretty sure Tyler mentioned being a teetotaler so that’s probably why he didn’t mention one.

12 DVE March 26, 2016 at 12:32 am

Best Beer(s): Westmalle, Verboten Vrucht

13 mkt42 March 24, 2016 at 1:46 am

Ensor’s a good choice. His “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889” was described by the LA Times’ art critic as “the only masterpiece in the Getty museum”. Having visited there I agree: only one great painting in the entire collection, but it’s an amazing one, decades ahead of its time.

14 UncleMartyPants March 24, 2016 at 1:58 am
15 Ray Lopez March 24, 2016 at 5:05 am

Are those two kissing in Ensor’s painting from the 1880s both men? Wow, he was ahead of his time.

16 AIG March 24, 2016 at 1:49 am

My favorite thing about Belgium: mandatory mosque visits for school children.

– Salon writer

17 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 7:38 am

I used to volunteer with a group that would organize visits of highschool students to places of worship. They would visit a mosque, a Hindu temple, a synagogue and a church. At each place, a spiritual leader would explain some of the basics of the religion. This would be followed by an open discussion among students about their impressions.

A major side objective of the project was to train inter-cultural facilitators. A “facilitator” is a person who ensures that all voices can be heard, and makes maximal effort NOT to impose their own particular views on the dialogue.

I think it was an excellent idea in order to reduce misunderstanding and limit fear/ignorance of the unknown, but I thought Jewish interests were over-represented – among the leadership, a number of them had a high priority to solicit interest in visits to Auschwitz, including participation in fundraising to pay for these trips. It would have seemed correct to me for this to be taking place during the vsits to the synagogue, but was not consistent with the project for it to seep into other aspects of the project (where we were supposed to be facilitators, not advocates).

18 AIG March 24, 2016 at 8:19 pm

Cultures are best understood in their natural habitat. If you want to observe their culture, go take a vacation to their country. When they start living all around you and turning…YOUR culture…into something unrecognizable…than that is no longer about inter-cultural understanding. Then its about destroying your own culture, intentionally, to accommodate other peoples cultures.

Something which, BTW….no one else would ever do to their own culture. If a bunch of Belgians started migrating into Pakistan and started building churches and beer breweries in Pakistan, how do you think their…inter-cultural dialogue…would look?

We know what it would look like, because that’s what Leftists call “imperialism” and decry so much. We saw it happening in with Idi Amin, and Mugabe, and South Africa, and in Communist China and countless other examples of third world s**tholes killing and kicking out Europeans and other foreign cultural elements.

The same brain-dead Leftists who want Belgians to have “inter-cultural understanding”, are the same who cheered and applauded when those same third world cultures expelled wholesale “imperialist” cultural elements.

Yeah, that’s why cultures are best observed in their natural habitat.

19 M March 24, 2016 at 11:58 am

Film “Man Bites Dog”

20 anon March 24, 2016 at 1:56 am

Isn’t Jean Drèze the son (rather than the brother) of Jacques H. Drèze?

21 Stephan March 24, 2016 at 2:27 am

Let’s not forget the Cartoonist Herge and the incomparable Tintin

22 RM March 24, 2016 at 3:42 am

Good point. Though Salon today has a piece about the racism of Tintin, arguing/suggesting/making the point that Tintin has become a divisive figure. I did not read the article, but I would not be surprised if it makes reference to Tintins’s interactions with North African Arabs.

23 So Much For Subtlety March 24, 2016 at 6:27 am

Why should we care if Salon writers are idiots? Divisive? There is a simple solution to that: the sort of people who write for or read Salon should stop complaining.

If there is a complaint it will be about Tintin in Congo. Although looking at Congo since the Belgians left it is hard to see what is wrong with what Tintin had to say.

24 Art Deco March 24, 2016 at 6:54 am


25 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 7:51 am

Imperialists having destroyed previously existing political systems, and having used local strongmen to help enforce imperial authority, it is not surprising that it has been difficult for these countries to forge on towards better systems.

Also, you might like to look up the differences in the history between DRC and Congo, which are two different countries with rather different post-colonial histories and present political realities.

26 Wonks Anonymous March 24, 2016 at 9:06 am

With colonialism it seems like the closest we have to “natural experiments” are countries which were not colonized when their neighbors were. So Ethiopia and Thailand. But I rarely hear about comparisons between them and their neighbors.

27 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly March 24, 2016 at 9:36 am

And yet, many post-colonial countries manage to achieve effective governance.

The Europeans did Africa few favors, but they also left decades ago–to lay modern mal-government at their feet unfairly absolves the people themselves of any agency in the maintenance of those governments.

28 Art Deco March 24, 2016 at 10:44 am

Nathan, Africa has a problem with street crime and low (commonly stagnant) living standards (in the context of secular improvements in literacy and life expectancy). Being a failed state after decades of brobgingnagian corruption is actually pretty local to the Congo and a few adjacent loci.

29 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Art – street crime is not a special problem in Africa except for a handful of reknowned cities with populations running into the many millions, and a woefully underequipped and understaffed police force to deal with those problems.

If you want to find actual statistics on how literacy, life expectancy and per capita income have evolved in Africa in recent decades, they are not difficult to find. With few exceptions (notably Zimbabwe, after kicking/intimidating out all the experienced managers), almost all relevant indicators have been rising rapidly, despite the fact that the size of the population who has yet to exit subsistence farming remains large in most African countries.

You also clearly didn’t look up the difference between Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo before posting. It is a common misunderstanding that the war and failed state occurred in “Congo”. “Congo” is a neighbouring country to the “Democratic Republic of Congo” and while things are far from perfect, it is absolutely not a failed state.

30 Peter Akuleyev March 24, 2016 at 4:48 am

Herge is probably one of the most influential Belgian artists of the 20th century. For someone as aggressively middle-brow as Tyler it seems odd to leave Herge off the list.

31 Ray Lopez March 24, 2016 at 5:08 am

Never heard of him nor any of the other painters except Rubens and Van Dyke, and I took an art appreciation class and bought Paul Johnson’s coffee table book on art. But the historian Pirenne seems very modern, note this Wikipedia entry:

According to Pirenne the real break in Roman history occurred in the 8th century as a result of Arab expansion. Islamic conquest of the area of today’s south-eastern Turkey, Syria, Palestine, North Africa, Spain and Portugal ruptured economic ties to western Europe, cutting the region off from trade and turning it into a stagnant backwater, with wealth flowing out in the form of raw resources and nothing coming back. This began a steady decline and impoverishment so that, by the time of Charlemagne, western Europe had become almost entirely agrarian at a subsistence level, with no long-distance trade.

Hmmm…history repeats itself? 🙂

32 JC March 24, 2016 at 6:24 am

Maybe Tyler finds “Tintin au Congo” too offensive…

33 So Much For Subtlety March 24, 2016 at 7:24 am

I wonder what his views on the sexual politics of the Smurfs is then?

Oddest Career for a Belgian Singer – Jacques Brel. Close second – Plastic Bertrand. Does Siouxsie Sioux count? A Belgian father – all her siblings were born in Congo – but she was born in the UK.

34 AIG March 24, 2016 at 2:47 am

My favorite thing about Belgium: largest number of anti-islamophobic fighters in Syria per capita.

– Jeremy Corbyn supporter

35 Attila Smith March 24, 2016 at 3:20 am

Belgium has the greatest number of Fields medalists per capita in the world, namely two: Deligne and Bourgain. China, India and Africa put together have zero (although the American mathematician Yau was born in China, so one might argue that the above total is 0.5).
Ditto for the Abel prize. Belgium has one :Tits, while Japan, Germany, China, all of Africa and all of the Americas with the US excepted have, taken together, zero.
The above does not reflect the qualitative aspects of those Belgians: Tits is the best twentieth century specialist in algebraic groups and Deligne is one of the four best algebraic geometers/ arithmeticians ever, with Descartes (who invented the business) , Weil and Grothendieck.

36 haha March 24, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Manjul Bhargava, Fields medalist born to Indian parents in USA.

37 haha March 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Varadhan 2007 Abel prize winner, born in India.

38 Attila Smith March 24, 2016 at 9:05 pm

@haha: certainly, but India is not Japan, Germany, or China and is not in Africa nor in the Americas. So why exactly is mentioning Varadhan a reply to my comment?

39 Attila Smith March 24, 2016 at 9:14 pm

@haha You are perfectly right but Bhargava’s nationality is Canadian/US according to Wikipedia My post addresses nationality, not genes.

40 Attila Smith March 24, 2016 at 9:27 pm

@haha To prevent misunderstandings: I have the greatest admiration and sympathy for indian mathematicians and I am proud to have published a paper with one of them.

41 berliner2 March 24, 2016 at 3:22 am

What about Hergé?

42 JC March 24, 2016 at 6:22 am

Tyler didn’t mention his fave Belgium actor either… Jean Claude Van Damme 🙂

43 So Much For Subtlety March 24, 2016 at 7:03 am

Well, to adopt a term from the world of rap – no homo – but speaking bluntly, Jean Claude van Damme does not hold a candle to Audrey Hepburn.

44 Axa March 24, 2016 at 4:02 am

Beer and chocolate?

45 SPL March 24, 2016 at 4:50 am

Singer-songwriter: Jacques Brel !!

Listen to Bruxelles, Le plat pays, La valse à mille temps, Ne me quitte pas, La chanson des vieux amants…

46 Gary Niv March 24, 2016 at 7:38 am

And Stromae.

47 Peter Akuleyev March 24, 2016 at 4:58 am

No, you cannot pick Cortazar, that is just silly. And anyone who leaves Hugo Claus off the list of important Belgian novelists either doesn’t know much about Belgian literature, or has a bad case of pro-Walloon bias. Really Claus is much better than Simenon or Yourcenar. Louis Boon could arguably be considered as well. Problemski Hotel by Dimitri Verhulst is a modern Flemish Belgian novel that people here might find interesting – the story is set in an asylum-seekers center and told from the point of view of a Somali. Very relevant, and apparently has been recently turned into a movie.

48 A Belgian March 24, 2016 at 4:58 am

Regarding 11: Film-making probably isn’t Belgium’s strength, but Andre Delvaux has made some good films (e.g. Appointment in Bray, Benvenuta,…) and used to enjoy an international reputation.

49 Holiday In Canberra March 24, 2016 at 5:00 am

The Promise by the Dardennes, best film.

Pierre Ryckmans, best public intellectual/ sinologist?

50 Ray Lopez March 24, 2016 at 5:11 am

#10- wow, he lived to be 99 years old!

CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS (1908-2009) was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer and Franz Boas, the “father of modern anthropology”

51 msgkings March 24, 2016 at 11:45 am

Add math to the long list of things Ray doesn’t know.

52 Christian March 24, 2016 at 5:20 am

Movie: Man Bites Dog (C’est arrive prez de chez vous) I would recommend (twenty years later the film is still as unique as it was when it was released), apart from Chantal Akerman and the Dardenne Brothers.

53 ricardo March 24, 2016 at 10:43 am

I came to suggest that one. From around the same time I also liked `Toto the Hero’.

(Also, Bruno Dumont’s ‘Flanders’ is set _almost_ in Belgium, and there are apparently Flemish accents. If Tony Parker can make the list…)

54 Patrick March 24, 2016 at 5:42 am

You should definitely see Benoit Poelvoorde as God in Jaco Van Dormaels ‘Le Tout Nouveau Testament’. Belgitude par excellence.

The best Flemish writer was Willem Elsschot. Unfortunately there are not that many translations in English:

55 Patrick March 24, 2016 at 5:49 am

By the way, Ensor composed a bit as well:

56 Jody March 24, 2016 at 7:09 am

And had songs written about him as well

57 Ingmar March 24, 2016 at 5:50 am

Jean Drèze is not Jacques’ brother but his son…

58 Tyler Cowen March 24, 2016 at 7:14 am

thanks, fixed…

59 JC March 24, 2016 at 6:19 am

I don’t know if you like motorsports, but one of the best racing tracks in the world is in Belgium: Spa-Francorchamps.

60 chuck martel March 24, 2016 at 6:28 am

Marcel Broodthaers was an artistic fraud.

61 Art Deco March 24, 2016 at 6:53 am
62 Ted Craig March 24, 2016 at 7:03 am

Best children’s novel set in: A Dog of Flanders.

63 So Much For Subtlety March 24, 2016 at 7:10 am

Favorite Belgian Trotskyite – Victor Serge

64 Eatonrapidsjoe March 24, 2016 at 7:24 am

“7. Historian: Henri Pirenne, way ahead of his time.” A historian can be “ahead of his time” now that negative interest rates as capturing the time-value-of-money. Clearly, time is now running backwards!

65 GW March 24, 2016 at 7:27 am

For best living composer, consider the Flemish composer Boudewijn Buckinx (1945- ), whose diverse catalog includes 1001 Sonatas for violin and piano and nine Unfinished Symphonies, the last a choral work with a text from the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man.

66 rayward March 24, 2016 at 7:27 am

Audrey Hepburn was born in Belgium (in 1929) and spent part of her childhood there. Her father was a British subject born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). In 1935, her father, a Nazi, abandoned the family, and in 1937 her mother moved to England, but in 1939 her mother moved to the Netherlands in the hope that the Netherlands would remain neutral in the war. Hepburn is often mistaken as being from the Netherlands because of her time living in the Netherlands and her portrayal of Anne Frank. Hepburn is my favorite thing Belgian.

67 rundkop March 24, 2016 at 7:30 am

Favorite Belgian movie: Bullhead
bonus point: relates to the regulation of food production as well
extra bonus point: the regional accents

68 Gregory Johnson March 24, 2016 at 11:17 pm

agreed on Bullhead, was going to suggest myself. pretty damn good recent film. can’t say it’s the best, bc i haven’t seen many of belgian movies.

69 jb March 24, 2016 at 7:30 am

René Magritte, beer , chocolate, waffles and if you can’t stomach Tintin then read Spirou

70 Hoosier March 24, 2016 at 7:34 am

I understand that there’s an abundance of world class painters to choose from but how can you leave off Van Der Weyden? One of the all time greats in world history let alone Belgian. Is there a more breathtaking beautiful religious painting than his Descent from the Cross in the Prado?

71 Iskander79 March 24, 2016 at 7:38 am

Movie: No man’s land by Daris Tanovic. Esp. relevant now.

72 Derek March 24, 2016 at 7:38 am

This is what annoyed me about the previous post where the policing or lack of it was decried. Belgium is Belgium, with all its internal contradictions and loveliness. I like a place that functions without a functioning government.

Before the wannabe jihadi nutcase attacked parliament hill in Ottawa the place was pretty open, the lawns a place for people to relax, hangout, protest, visit, whatever. Some medieval political/religious ideology wants to turn Bruges and Ottawa into Mosul or some other hellhole.

I’m not interested in better security. I’m interested in what exists and think it is valuable. The world wants to come to Belgium, Canada, France, the US. If they want to live in a police state they can go home.

Let Clinton be the first president to do the inaugural walk with ankle bracelets. In a functioning society it doesn’t matter, but because of the intrusive economic and social engineering of governments all over it does matter. Stop. If doesn’t work.

Let Belgium be Belgium. The multicultural pipe dream has failed, it really means police states living on the edge of failure.

73 GW March 24, 2016 at 7:43 am

For novelist, I would definitely go with Willem Elsschot, whose focus on business and family life in middle class Antwerp, have an acuity and cynical humor that economists should certainly appreciate. Start with the novel Cheese.

74 Olivier March 24, 2016 at 7:43 am

In the writers section, you should consider the great Flemish writer Hugo Claus ( Or Georges Rodenbach’s “Bruges la Mort” (the dead city:

75 SC March 24, 2016 at 7:49 am

Jaco van Dormael’s “Toto le Heros” is both the only Belgian movie I’ve ever seen, and one of my favorite movies.

76 bjk March 24, 2016 at 7:59 am

Literary theorist Paul de Man was Belgian. That’s got to count for something.

77 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 8:07 am

Since Belgium clearly overperforms by so many metrics, shall we conclude that multicultural and multiethnic societies are a recipe for success?

Or, perhaps, that national success is contingent on a great many factors, some of which positive, and other factors which may be negative unless appropriately addressed.

My only Belgium experience is from an overnight bus trip from London to Amsterdam. There was a rest stop with a store on each side of the highway. I didn’t like the food options on the side we stopped on, so decided to cross the highway. I’ve never seen higher fences in the middle of a divided highway anywhere, and this delayed me by about 20s in both directions, almost causing me to almost miss the bus as it started to pull away.

Another interesting anecdote from the trip was that the entire bus was delayed for several hours upon entry at the European side of the chunnel. One of the passengers had the same name as someone on a blacklist, and it took several hours to confirm that he was not the same man as the one on the blacklist. You’d think that blacklists would include such basic information such as age and place of birth in order for such delays to be reduced from hours (or never) to minutes – but no, apparently we’re not that smart.

78 bjk March 24, 2016 at 8:12 am

We may have different definitions of “Interesting anecdote.”

79 Too Late March 24, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Pretty typical of Nathan though.

I think he (and gochujang/anon/etc.) has a very high opinion of himself and his experience. Otherwise why post so much inane messages?

80 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Interesting, in a context where the effectiveness of border walls is at play.

81 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Oh, you’re talking about the blacklist.

Interesting, in the sense that these measures impose high costs on innocent people, especially in the aggregate. And probably almost never catch people who are on those lists, because they will use alternative identities, etc.

82 A Definite Beta Guy March 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

Belgian GDP per capita seems roughly similar to Germany and France and behind the Netherlands. Germany is weighed down significantly by their East German acquisitions. I imagine both the Ruhr area of Germany and the Netherlands outperform Belgium significantly.

Belgium is often noted for bad tax and labor policies and usually has big estimates for the labor tax wedge. I remember Belgium usually topping the list.

83 Sam Haysom March 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm

You do realize that most of the truly great names on this list predate the existence of Belgium as country right? And that a lot of the names that were born after the existence of Belgium didn’t really hang around- Claude Levi Strauss and Simenon being good examples of this.

84 buddyglass March 24, 2016 at 8:08 am

Movie: I haven’t seen it, but how about “The Broken Circle Breakdown”?

85 Todd March 24, 2016 at 8:19 am

Agnes Varda was born and raised in Belgium

86 Tyler Cowen March 24, 2016 at 11:31 am

There you go, I do quite like some of those, thanks.

87 David M March 24, 2016 at 8:25 am

The nearly-silent films of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (Iceberg, Rumba, The Fairy) are a hoot, and quite touching without being cloying.

88 DJK March 24, 2016 at 8:48 am

For movie, try “A Town Called Panic”.

Jacques Brel is good too (as somebody has mentioned).

89 Brad Not Delong March 24, 2016 at 8:49 am

Here’s another vote for Stromae. Hardly anyone in the English speaking world knows who he is. My daughter attends a French school in Ontario and in the francophonie he is HUGE. And rightly so. The son of a Belgian mother and a Rwandan father – who was killed in the genocide – whose hit song asks “Dad, where are you?” in French street slang (papaoutais). A famous singer who is willing to go onto a busy and pretend to be drunk so convincingly that he gets stopped by the police – all the while surreptitiously recording a music video. His “dance” style (he doesn’t dance in his Papaoutais video -quite the opposite – but whatever you call it, it is powerful), his dress sense, his whole aesthetic, are all quite refreshing. Il est formidable!

90 Jim Nazium March 24, 2016 at 9:21 am

Cyclist: Eddy Merckx. More professional victories than any other racer, also the only rider ever to win the points (sprinting), climbing, and overall classifications of the Tour de France in the same year.

91 Erik March 24, 2016 at 9:37 am

En Bruges is a solid movie set in Belgium

92 Nick_L March 24, 2016 at 9:47 am

One of my favorite things would be King Albert of Belgium, who in WW1 refused to roll over in the face of a fairly significant threat from the Germans. An example, perhaps, for modern times?

93 Alan Seals March 24, 2016 at 9:48 am

The Django link is not Django…
Here is a link to his most famous song.

94 Ace-K March 24, 2016 at 9:56 am

Battle, fought in:

Waterloo is the obvious choice, but it’s unclear whether it was really momentous, or whether the Allies’ narrow victory merely kept the Hundred Days from extending into the Hundred-and-Twenty Days for an exhausted First Empire.

Two of Marlborough’s three great victories were won in Belgium, and the Battle of the Golden Spurs was a landmark in the end of Medieval-style combat, but my vote goes to the Battle of Liège in the First World War. As a delaying action, it allowed French forces to the south time to regroup, and probably resulted in the failure of the German invasion of France, and the ensuing stalemate.

95 A Definite Beta Guy March 24, 2016 at 10:32 am

Bastogne, of course.

The most significant wars for modern history are probably those in the 16th and 17th century, since that’s when modern Europe was really formed.

96 Alvin March 24, 2016 at 10:04 am

Funny, I don’t recall a favorite list for Turkey after the recent attacks in Istanbul and Ankara…or are they considered lesser human beings than the white Europeans?

97 Buffalo Buffalo March 24, 2016 at 10:19 am


98 sort_of_knowledgable March 24, 2016 at 10:42 pm

A favorite list for Turkey was already done in 2010.

99 Martin March 24, 2016 at 10:04 am

Have to second, or is that third, Jacques Brel as a clear oversight on your list. And I would add Roger van der Weyden for good measure.

100 Edward Burke March 24, 2016 at 10:08 am

Now, about Wallonia . . .

101 The Anti-Gnostic March 24, 2016 at 10:14 am

These homilies, platitudes, vigils, memorials, hashtags, poignant cartoons, etc., are meant to normalize militant attacks on the civilian populace of Europe, not stand up to them, much less to end them.

102 luiz cruz March 24, 2016 at 10:16 am
103 Glenn Alan Mercer March 24, 2016 at 10:24 am

I must join the Tintin endorsement wave, for sure.

As for violinists, I think Sigiswald must take first place, on the basis of hairstyle alone.

104 Peter Schaeffer March 24, 2016 at 10:43 am

Why not favorite neighborhood in Belgium?

I vote for Molenbeek. It the future of Belgium and Europe (and perhaps the USA).

From “Molenbeek broke my heart”

“Over nine years, I witnessed the neighborhood become increasingly intolerant. Alcohol became unavailable in most shops and supermarkets; I heard stories of fanatics at the Comte des Flandres metro station who pressured women to wear the veil; Islamic bookshops proliferated, and it became impossible to buy a decent newspaper. With an unemployment rate of 30 percent, the streets were eerily empty until late in the morning. Nowhere was there a bar or café where white, black and brown people would mingle. Instead, I witnessed petty crime, aggression, and frustrated youths who spat at our girlfriends and called them “filthy whores.” If you made a remark, you were inevitably scolded and called a racist. There used to be Jewish shops on Chaussée de Gand, but these were terrorized by gangs of young kids and most closed their doors around 2008. Openly gay people were routinely intimidated, and also packed up their bags.”

The author leaves out overwhelming welfare dependency… Also the future.

105 Andrew M March 24, 2016 at 12:00 pm

None of the “favorite things Belgian” come from Belgium’s ever-expanding muslim community. Not one song, not one book, not one movie, nothing. France’s immigrants have produced a lot of music (mostly rap) and comedy (e.g. Dieudonné), so there is definitely potential.

106 Peter Schaeffer March 24, 2016 at 5:36 pm


A common theme (worldwide) is that low-skill immigrants contribute very little to their host countries even over extended periods of time. In the modern era, multi-culturalism, isolation, welfare, unemployment, underemployment, criminality, religious extremism, etc. have almost certainly made these problems worse. An obvious (historic) exception would be the Jews who came to America around 1900. They were not (generally) a highly-skilled population (female literacy was dismal, male literacy was only average, very few white-collar professionals, etc.). However, they were highly productive (in many realms) over the subsequent decades.

Of course, back then America had a booming job market, no welfare state, middle-class unions (starting in the 1930s), English imposition, disciplined education, no multiculturalism, no bilingualism, no victimization ideology, intact families, rigorous law enforcement, etc. Beyond that, ‘Americanization’ (assimilation) was a widely embraced ideal and promoted heavily. Even with a much more favorable environment, Jews were still somewhat unique in quickly becoming high-achievers in American society.

The low-skill immigrants coming to Europe (and the USA) today could not be more different than the Jews of 100 years ago. Of course, European and American society have changed vastly for the worse in terms of their ability promote immigrant talent.

107 Too Late March 24, 2016 at 6:59 pm

I seriously doubt that Dieudonné would have made Tyler’s list, considering how racist and antisemitic he (Dieudonné) is.

108 Baphomet March 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

Film: Harry Kümel’s LE ROUGE AUX LÈVRES (1971). Music: Nicholas Lens.

109 Roy LC March 24, 2016 at 11:24 am

1. Hendrik Concience, Ouida, Yourcenar, Rodenbach, none maybe great but brightened my life. Herge as well

At least you got Maeterlink, but not Emile Verhaeren.

As to historians, Froissart is one of the most entertaining ever, also Gregoire though maybe unheard of.

But what about Erasmus, who made his living in Brabant and Leuven, or Mercator, or Vessallius.

And for an economists, what would you do without Slusius or Stevinus.

And you forgot Bruegel, how can you not say that he is the most Belgian of all artists.

But all sane people know that Belgians great contribution to the world is cuisine, the areformation left the rebel provinces with the worst food in Europe and Flanders got Rubens and the food to make his models.

110 Vivian Darkbloom March 24, 2016 at 11:52 am

Art historians normally don’t consider painters born before 1810 to be “Belgian”. The majority of famous painters born before that date in what is today Belgium were either Dutch or Flemish (Antwerp being the important art centre). A lot of Flemish today would also stick to that historical connection rather than to any common roots with the Walloons. Unless we are talking about football, the cultural affinity for many “Belgians” to the Dutch is much stronger than to present day “Belgium”.

Also, speaking of Flemish painters, one should not forget Bruegel the Younger, born in Antwerp to Bruegel the Elder, who really was Dutch—he was born near Breda.

Ensor, who is certainly not in the same league as Bruegel, counts as “Belgian” although both his parents were British.

111 copans March 24, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Somewhat edgier playwright than Maeterlinck:

Sort like if Ensor were a playwright. (Read him 49 years ago as a teenager, so who knows?)

112 The Anti-Gnostic March 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Offbeat, quirky places with lots of intelligent ectomorphs have to be protected by ruthless mesomorphs with guns so they aren’t invaded and killed by violent, reductionist ideologues.

113 Skeptic March 24, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Politics: the mass deportations/levelling of Mollenbeek (2017).

one can hope!

114 roadrunner March 24, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Favorite cartoon character: Ned Flanders

115 Nathan W March 24, 2016 at 4:40 pm

There’s a Belgian-Canadian economist, Bernard Ducalawe, who has practically single-handely trained in macro-economic modelling (or was responsible for establishing organizations which led to their training) many of the more senior economists throughout West Africa (especially when excluding all the nepotistic hacks who fill the halls of senior bureaucracy in the region…). Nothing at all flash about any single thing, but keep that up for 40 years and you land up with something pretty impressive. So … macro modelling isn’t perfect anywhere, yeah?

116 Lisha March 24, 2016 at 6:01 pm

What a wonderful way of expressing sympathy.

117 Careless March 24, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Shocked that a post on Belgium got this many responses

118 middle aged vet March 24, 2016 at 10:44 pm

Greatest regret for a destroyed library goes to Alexandria for most people but Belgium had one too, when the Kaiser’s Army invaded (why?) a hundred or so years ago. Also, I am no expert, but Belgian beer reminds me of Czech beer and Bavarian beer and Long Island beer. Emile Verhaeren is a poet I have encountered in almost all the half dozen or so anthologies of French poetry I have read and every time I have read his best lines I have though Here is a real poet.

119 middle aged vet March 24, 2016 at 10:53 pm

That being said i prefer the “tout est grace” of Therese Martin and Bernanos to the “tout est beau” of Verhaeren but all three of them are admirable, Therese Martin ‘tout court’ and the other two in their way. Also, sorry for the “I have though Here is a real poet” – which makes no sense – instead of “I have thought Here is a real poet” which I think is a vaguely remembered quote from Mark Twain (making a complimentary observation about a friend who was kind to animals and good with words and hence a real ‘poet’).

120 DVE March 25, 2016 at 12:40 am

Movie: Memory of a Killer (De Zaak Alzheimer) – memorable

Best place for a Dutchman to buy beer: Poppel (untaxed in Belgium, or used to be)

121 Andrew March 26, 2016 at 9:20 am

Simon Leys aka Pierre Ryckmans if he has not already been mentioned.

122 Jef von Prinsdom March 26, 2016 at 10:16 am

I never realised my non-country and so-called failed state of Belgium was so interesting. Even when nobody mentioned until now our muscles of Brussels, Jean-Claude Vandamme. Or, taling about Damme: Charles De Coster and his Uilenspiegel (learn some Dutch to understand this).

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