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.
basset said on December 29, 2006 at 11:14 am
basset said on December 29, 2006 at 11:22 am
OK, I googled it… the obligatory Flickr pics are at:
think I’d rather go to that bar with the black Lab, myself.
Adrianne said on December 29, 2006 at 12:24 pm
I read King Leopold’s Ghost in a weekend gallop after hearing Adam Hochschild speak at the Nieman Narrative Journalism conference in November. It was really fascinating, especially the profile of Leopold’s nemesis, the Englisman who figured out the rape of the Congo by watching the boats come into Brussels laden with African goods, and watching them go out loaded with guns and little else. Highly recommended!
danno said on December 29, 2006 at 2:42 pm
Does the Belgian community in Detroit have a place that serves pommes frites?? Belgian fries are the bomb!!!
Kim said on December 29, 2006 at 6:33 pm
I, too, have been meaning to mention King Leopold’s Ghost. So glad to see it on the nightstand! It’s a ripper, one that becomes even more shocking when we realize our relative ignorance about Places That Are Not Here. I came upon it soon after its publication due to a strange, inexplicable fascination with the Congo (Joe Conrad, maybe? I dunno.) Anyway, for anyone who read/was fascinated by Poisonwood Bible, this would be the perfect nonfiction companion read.
On the tragic death of our former president: Ugh, I am so over that word to describe a life well-lived. Same with “died suddenly” to describe anyone over 80 who’s shuffled off this mortal coil. The best part of Ford’s death was my former employer’s “localization” of it: “Ford visited here several times.” All you newspaper folk in NN Land will know this tendency to make local something that is probably news enough on its own. (James Brown got the same treatment … and placement in news position above the fold!)
Recommended reading: If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name, by Heather Lende. She’s an east coaster who moved to Alaska on her honeymoon some 25 years ago. Columnist for the local newspaper (town population: 2000, give or take), wonderful read of goings-on in tiny Haines, AK, and her take on the stuff of life in a beautiful, wild and remote place where your friends become your family.
A belated merry and early happy to all, esp. the proprietress.
Marcia said on December 30, 2006 at 1:31 pm
Happy New Year to you all! I will be festively celebrating the stroke of midnight at work, wearing my formal green scrubs. You all have a lovely evening.
brian stouder said on December 30, 2006 at 11:27 pm
Happy New Year to you, Marcia – and here’s hoping it is a quiet evening at your workplace