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Doomed to a Writer's Paradise
When I think of Flanders, I first of all recollect the cows. Happy ones grazing on the rich green meadows, lazy ones lying delightfully in the mud, and seemingly human-like ones with long white eyelashes resembling shy blond girls with gracious smiles.
But best of all I remember the cows with big asses evoking those of pigs. Poor beefy creatures cultivated to bear as much juicy meat as possible seemed almost too ugly to arouse my pity. Riding along their fence I got off my bike and spent hours watching them. Their udders were small - too small to be milked, having been outgrown by steak. These cows would slowly approach me in huddled groups until being stopped by the fence. They gazed at me trustingly. Despite being bred into grotesque disfigurement by humans, these animals obviously weren't scared of people and for some reason I felt guilty that they came so close to me without fear.
Apart from these ruthlessly cultivated cows, few other things spoiled the feeling of "an aesthetic Legoland" during the month I spent in the countryside of Flanders as a writer in the lovely Hellebosch villa. Nice and tidy houses neatly arranged between ordered fields and grasslands evoked a colorful playground. There was something appealingly friendly in this soothing order, as if nothing bad could ever happen there. I couldn't avoid comparing it with the countryside of my own country and it's very different atmosphere.
Some areas reflect the effort of people who toil on them. In such places you can sense the considerate care of the locals. You can tell their houses and gardens mirror their preference of a nicely ordered world. Flanders is a good example of such meticulous treatment. Everything is fixed and fits. Family houses are surrounded by imitations of antic sculptures, fountains and little wooden windmills. You can hardly find a patch of grass that is not finely mowed or an unkempt corner of a courtyard.
A place like Flanders brings about a desire to stay and get lulled by its safety and peacefulness but at the same time it might gradually get on your nerves. There are few places that aren't either private property or meadows reserved for cattle, which means you can actually have a hard time finding a place to rest a little after a two-hour walk. Neither is this all-embracing perfectionism very inspiring. Nothing provokes mental or aesthetical effort, all has already been taken care of with great efficiency. There is nothing left to be trimmed, the cultivation of nature is complete and you swing between admiration and boredom, with the former prevailing at the beginning and the latter later on.
In the Czech Republic we don't care as much. You can find piles of garbage beside houses, neglected gardens and wild forests difficult to penetrate. There of course isn't any benefit in filth and carelessness as such, which can be linked to my country's Communist heritage. It is more than vital to care about one's environment. But once there is no imperfection, to me the spirit of a place somehow turns dull. Just as kids become spoiled when they have everything they ask for, my senses become numb when things around fit like pieces in a puzzle and there is no challenge to overcome.
If your ideas are already clearly developed and you just need a calm and comfortable place to put them on paper, Flanders is a writers' ultimate paradise. It might seem like heaven even if you are just polishing what you've already roughly made up in your mind. But if you are still searching for a topic, Flanders is a tricky place for inspiration. Too much perfection, which seems so appealing to live in, has already doomed not only lots of novels, but also many aspiring novelists who permanently reside in an environment where disorder and imperfection seems to be a disease on the verge of extinction.
Petra Hulová, May 2007
2.04.07 > 30.04.07