Last night one of the local news anchors described Gerald Ford’s death as “tragic.” I know, in TV, where it isn’t possible to report a mass murder of kindergarteners without a smarmy furrowed brow and lots of unnecessary modifiers, all deaths are tragic. It’s just a default adjective, like “controversial.” Still. The man got four score and 13 and died in comfort, surrounded by his family. Kind of devalues the word, wouldn’t you say?
I’m devoting this weekend to housecleaning, literal and figurative. Before I change “On the Nightstand,” though, I want to recommend the book that’s been over there for a couple weeks — “King Leopold’s Ghost,” by Adam Hochschild. Most of my reading-for-pleasure is fiction, but as they say, this book reads like a novel. It’s about the formation and shameless exploitation of the Congo, mainly by the late king of Belgium, Leopold II. Hochschild notes in his introduction that although this effort resulted in the death of as many as 8 million people, it’s still strangely unknown in our time. (I had to agree, as I knew precisely nothing about it.) The story of European exploitation of its colonies is familiar, of course, but what makes this one different is the scope, the utter shamelessness with which Leopold sucked the life out of this region of Africa. There’s also the interesting detail that Congo wasn’t a Belgian colony until close to Leopold’s death; before that it was his personal colony, owned outright by one man, who never even set foot in the place. (He didn’t even like Belgium much, preferring the more refined comforts of Paris.)
I’ve mentioned before that Detroit actually has a Belgian community. A friend of mine featherbowls at their main outpost, the Cadieux Cafe, where the walls are hung with pictures of Eddie Merckx and regulars can tell you all about the difference between Flemish Belgians and French ones (called walloons, if you’re interested). But I’d bet few know much about this sordid story.
At some point blogging becomes a form of procrastination, like, um, now. If I don’t clean my kitchen right this minute, it’ll never get done.
Have a great weekend. Happy new year. See you there.