The Low Countries - 2009, № 17

27 april 2009

This edition brings together a number of articles under the title ‘Comfortable Discontent: a Sense of Well-Being' . This year we are giving you happiness and well-being. How good do people feel in the Low Countries, still after all a prosperous delta area? Comfortably discontented, as the poet says? How do they cope with the way of all flesh known as ‘ageing', with the welfare-and-happiness supermarket and with their lunatics? Is there a sense of social cohesion? Or maybe the Dutch and Flemish just feel restless. Always on the move, like Henry Hudson 400 years ago, when he ‘discovered' Manhattan while sailing at the behest of the Dutch United East India Company, as you can read in this book.


On 3 September Hudson reached the mouth of a river which Giovanni da Verrazzano had already discovered in 1524, but which would soon bear his own name. He sailed up that river for nearly two hundred kilometres, almost to the present town of Albany. When it became apparent that it did not offer a passage to the Pacific Hudson lost interest in it and turned back. Not until 1624 did the first thirty families, most of them Walloons, settle in New Netherland. A couple of years later, in 1626, Peter Minuit – whose Protestant parents had left Tournai in what is now Belgian Hainault and taken refuge in the North – would go down in history as the man who bought Manhattan from the indigenous people for a handful of trinkets.

Hudson will be honoured in New York for a whole year. But the so-called ‘Quadricentennial' of the links between the Netherlands and America has to be more than just a commemorative year. It must also be a festival, at which the tradition of tolerance and diversity native alike to the Netherlands and to New York will be celebrated.

In this yearbook we also aim to display a sample of that diversity of art and culture to be found in that delta region once sneeringly labelled ‘that indigested vomit of the sea' by the seventeenth-century English. Writers, painters, visual artists past and present, culture managers, landscape architects, the Veluwe's cultured nature and naturalised culture, Belgians who speak German, conflict management in Belgium itself as the political consultative model seems to have reached its limits, architects, musicians, film-makers, sociologists and philosophers. They all help to shape this part of Europe.

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