Sunday, July 19, 2009

Funerals hip and classical

Yesterday, Amsterdam and the whole Dutch speech community, as well as the spiritualist network worldwide, said farewell to hippie poet Simon Vinkenoog. Last Wednesday, the Flemish Catholic and the European Conservative communities buried Nucleus publisher Pieter Huys in Bruges. In their respective life's work, they had little in common except my sympathy.

Somehow, the death of good people leaves me with a peaceful feeling. Their deaths first of all draw attention to their persons and the work they have done. Otherwise you take them for granted and don't think of them, eventhough a mere thought of them is beneficial. This past week, I was drawn to reflect on two major influences on my life, though at different stages.

Simon Vinkenoog died at the full age of nearly 81. Indeed, yesterday 18 July would have been his birthday. Born and buried on the same day, that was astrology enthusiast Simon Vinkenoog for you. I guess it must have been his Cancer sun sign that made him so chaotic and so dependent on constant female attention; he married six times. Or in another view of the same data, he ran away from five of them, just as he ran away from the responsibility for his children, as well as from the taxman. Reportedly he was a loving husband as long as a marriage lasted, but not very involved as a father, except when his son had to lead him by the hand through the city of Florence while he was high on LSD.

In the sixties and seventies, he presided over the wave of hippyism that swept Amsterdam. He pioneered the reinstating of poetry as a performing art, and was all over the place in New Age publications almost until his dying breath, displaying in passing his considerable erudition in religion and philosophy. Not being much of a reader, I never read his poetry though I attended some of his performances, and had one conversation with him after his show in my hometown Leuven, ca. 1980.

As a matter of personal impression, he was a very kind man, the kind that seems unable and disinclined to do anyone any harm. Then again, many will hold it against him that he contributed mightily to the mainstreaming of marihuana in the Netherlands. Most marihuana smokers of my generation gave up the habit by age 25 or so, but Vinkenoog kept it up until the end, in spite of renouncing tobacco. He also took LSD trips once every six months, for reaffirming his roots in heaven. It didn't keep him from functioning, at least in his own unique role, nor from making a living and leading a rich family life. Many less gifted people who followed in his footsteps were not so lucky.

From the summerland up there, he may feel a bit puzzled to see himself juxtaposed with Dr. jur. Pieter Huys. This Bruges-based lawyer was a pillar of the Catholic community in his hometown, in Belgium and to some extent even on a wider scale. He certainly was a faithful husband and father of three. He had been a personal friend of Pope John Paul II and had many connections among leading thinkers and dignitaries with serious Catholic and/or conservative convictions. He published the Dutch-language monthly Nucleus, for which I wrote since 1992 till now. He was a very good man, whose strong convictions never stood in the way of an open mind, even for apostates like myself, in whom I suppose he saw at least a sincere seeker.

He also found the solution to a problem most conservative papers face: the inability to pay their contributors. They all complain that they don't have the money for that, and tell writers who expect payment: "If all of you start making demands like that, I'd have to close down this paper and then our beautiful message wouldn't be propagated anymore!" But not Huys. He paid out of his own pocket, and his resources were limited too. So as a rule, he paid those people who make a living by writing. Politicians who wrote by way of personal publicity, or civil servants and professors writing in their salaried working hours, generally contributed without payment, and that way they indirectly supported the professional writers. Equal treatment of people in unequal circumstances would not have been a just equality.

Pieter Huys was the voice of intelligent conservatism in Europe. We cannot do justice to his thought in an obituary, but no doubt we will have opportunities to discuss its relevance on upcoming occasions in the near future.

Vinkenoog's funeral ended on a flowery note with a "celebration" in the hippie colony Ruigoord. By contrast, Huys's was entirely classical, the coffin being carried out of the church under the singing of "In Paradisum". Given his stature in the Catholic community, I only thought that the Cathedral of Bruges would have been a more appropriate location than the Saint Francis parish church. But then the Belgian Church establishment isn't very good at recognizing and fittingly honouring a valuable friend.

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