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The Mill and the Cross, Borschic?

Road-to-calvary-bruegel-sm1This summer I've taken much time with the second book in my Borschland Hockey Chronicles series, and after a while, everything seems to come up Borschic.

But "The Mill and the Cross," a Netflix streamer we saw at a local museum recently, engaged me both because of its Borsch-ness and its attitude towards faith.

First, about the film.

The movie is about Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1564 painting, "The Way to Calvary," an oversized canvas that shows the procession of the cross on Good Friday to the hill where Jesus was crucified.

It's one of those European paintings where the artist visualizes the event that happened in Israel centuries ago as occurring in his native land in contemporary times. Which is to say, the landscape looks like Bruegel's native Flanders (northern Belgium and southwest Netherlands today) and the people in it are dressed like 16th century people.

The filmmaker, Lech Wajewski, creates the world of the film by having the painting come to life: that is, the initial shots meld live action with the painting itself, and the painting fades in and out in the same way throughout.

There is no plot per se; the film follows the artist (Rutger Hauer) as he explains his vision for the painting with his patron, Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York). The other characters in the film (except for one-- more soon on her) have little or no dialogue. There are a lot of static shots of people staring into the middle distance, and with those shots a lot of quoting of paintings that I have probably seen but don't remember.

The action revolves around the idea that Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans parallels the deaths of Flemish heretics at the hands of the Spanish who had conquered the Netherlands in those days. There is an ingenious melding of the pathos of contemporary people who die for their beliefs, and of Jesus' undeserved suffering and death.

This trailer gives a good idea of what happens in the film, which is not for kids. It's not rated, but it's an R for general earthiness, frankness, and uncomfortableness that is best handled by grown-ups.

How does this relate to Borschland? Among the first settlers in Borschland in the 17th century were followers of a sect called the Familia Caritatis; the beliefs of that sect influence the nature of the Borschic church today. In the film, Nicholas Jonghelinck mentions that he is a member of this sect, which was presumably persecuted by the Spanish, and according to this entry, Bruegel seems to have been a sympathizer of the sect as well.

The patron also says something about the painting, "So, this could be a group of saints returning from the past to mourn the present state of Flanders." He means characters like the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle John, and so on, who are depicted in the contemporary landscape of the painting.

I thought about the second Borschland book, which also has "saints" (not Biblical but Borschic) coming back into Borschland, not to mourn, but to try to save the country.

BorschlandmapcoloredMy Borschland books are meant to be fun-- recently it came to me that the adventures are in the spirit of Tintin books, beloved Belgian comic books that I read to my son when he was young.

But the nature of Borschland as a place of moral imagination lies just beneath the surface, and it's something I want to continue to explore. 

"The Mill & the Cross" spurs that exploration.

The painter explains in the movie that faith is an elusive thing. It takes work to maintain. People spend so much time just living their lives. The idea of something unseen but yet important is both part of our very natures and yet foreign to us.

So the movie spends a lot of time on showing ordinary people doing ordinary things. And yet, woven into all those shots of kids playing and fighting, women scrubbing doorsills, millers checking the quality of the meal they're making, there is a continuing monologue of the Virgin Mary (Charlotte Rampling) who is contemplating what the death of her son means.

Mary is shown as the archetype of the human being who wrestles with her faith amidst the ordinariness of all the ordinary things of life.

In Borschland, the church has evolved into a place that is quiet and off to the side. Deacons are the practitioners of the faith, praying and giving counsel. People of Borschland do not attend church as a rule, but keep up with the lay traditions of the faith and respect the deacons. There is a sense that the people have made a deal with the deacons: if the deacons will maintain the relationship with God and the saints, then the people will feed, clothe and house them.

So there's a sense that the ordinary has won in Borschland, and yet the presence of the church is always there.

I'm not saying it's an ideal fantasy world for a Christian; I wrestle with my faith daily and I believe God wants that so. But it's a depiction of a situation that I think is true for many people of many religions.

One day it's possible I'll write a book about a spiritual awakening in Borschland. It is a place apart and asleep in many ways. It is a place that comes from that part of me that prefers predictability and resists change.

Yet it is also a place of deep hope and spiritual strength. I'll continue to write in hopes that that comes across in the books.


Book, not author, goes on book tour

Etwart.skaterAnnouncing a different kind of book tour:

This summer and fall, Skater in a Strange Land, the book, is going on a journey.

Etwart says, stuff those mailers!

I will be sending copies of this fantasy novel of "ice hockey, upright bears, and other matters of the heart" to friends, acquaintances and strangers throughout the US and Canada.

These recipients are not asked to read the book, however.

They will be placing the book in locations such as coffee shops or other public places where readers are likely to gather.

Anyone who picks up the book will find a message encouraging him or her to read the book, report their experience to this website, and then pass it on to another reader or leave it where they found it.

I hope this campaign will result in a myriad of reviews, stories and serendipities.

Would you like to receive a copy of Skater and participate in the book tour? Leave a comment, write me at teenage underscore heroes at sign yahoo dot com, or @truenorthwrite, or at, tell me where you are located, and where you would like to place the book.

It would be even better if you take a photo of where you leave the book, and send it to me, so we can do a reveal post.

So far the book is on its way to New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon. Where else will it go?

The poet Martial, who is a favorite of Borschic schoolteachers, wrote a beautiful poem about the journey of his book to Spain:


Go, my brave little book,
Go, keep our friend Flavus company,
over the sea, over waves that speed you
and with winds behind you-- 
Fair be your passage.
...Hie thee, then, little traveler,
You know, I reckon,
they won't hold the boat for one book.



The Flowering Branch Cup to kick off soon

Cover.talesborschland.smallThe Flowering Branch Cup (Rijksijshaackuj Keelk ter Bloomentwejg)

Every year the Borschland Hockey League holds the national tournament for the right to hold the coveted Chalice of the Flowering Branch. 62 teams from all three divisions of the Borschland Hockey League are invited to play a tournament of six rounds plus a home-and-home final. These games are usually held on alternate Friday nights during the regular season.

The Flowering Branch is the national symbol of Borschland. It is considered by some to be a branch from the Biblical Tree of Life; legend has it that it blooms every three hundred years during a long phase shift. At this time, the saints of Borschland will return to save the nation from calamity. The Branch is currently on display in Staff Borsch at the All Saints Rotunda of the Borschicherrijksmuseen (National Museum).

The next several posts will feature descriptions of the teams participating in this year's RKtB (Cup). Readers are encouraged to choose a team to follow in the Cup; results of the Cup games will be announced in future blog posts.

First: the 8 teams of the Open Division (semi-pro/amateur), Western Conference:

Noj-Sporting-West: This team operates out of the ski center in the extreme southwestern portion of Borschland at the foot of the slopes of Mount Borschika, a peak of 9,337 feet. Spectators of this team, dubbed the Mountain Goats, are treated to a breathtaking view of the Borschika range. Noj-Sporting-West seldom finds its way out of the first (play-in) round.

Skujklub Erichels: The mountain city of Erichels with its lovely, rushing River Fluum hosts a first-division team known as Holtzlund. Skujklub Erichels has its rink in the southern suburbs of Erichels where there is ready access to winter sports on the slopes of the Southern Range that separates Borschland from Celtlands. Skujklub Erichels is well-funded for an Open Division club and has made it to the third round in its history.

Groot Maalstaff: Groot Maalstaff is the largest town in the Borschland River valley between the city of Erichels and Meechen. The town is a center of dairy and its team is called the Cheese Champions. Occasionally Groot Maalstaff makes its way into the second round of the tournament.

Retter: Retter is a student team from the Coast Guard Academy in Onathav'n, at the mouth of the fjord that leads to the city of Onatten. Retter (Savior) is regularly a favorite to move on to the second and third rounds; they are normally the best team. Their rival is second division Oststaff, the Borschland Naval Academy.

Brouwergild: This team is sponsored by the National Brewers and Ciderers Union of Borschland. Its rink is located in the city of Sichebach. No team has more enthusiastic supporters and occasionally the union puts in enough money for a team that can get to the third round of the tournament.

St-Pujtr-Altstaff: This beautiful old town to the south and west of the resort city of Sajbell is one of the oldest in Borschland. It was in the old days a center of Loflin (indigenous peoples) habitation and has some of the most venerable architecture that the nation has to offer. Once a provincial capital of Borschland, it is now a tourist mecca, and its team is mostly ornamental, never having made it out of the first round in their history.

Verbrodering-Hammerspujl: This team is located in the most extreme southwest corner of the nation, set as it is in the ruby mining provincial outpost of Hammerspujl. The rough and ready miners of Hammerspujl try their best to make it out of the first round, but they are limited by the unwillingness of better players to make the trek out to this trackless wilderness.

Genk (pronounced Gunk): Genk is a small town on the northern slope of the Borschika range, a place of livestock and lumber. Winter sports are favored in Genk, especially for those who eschew the crowded slopes of Erichels, Dafna, and the Fluum River valley.

Next: Open Division, Southern Conference

Skater's first author blurb

Skater.cover.smallIt's always good to get feedback on your book, positive or negative. This weekend someone gently told me, "Your title sucks!" Well, sheesh. I thought it didn't. 

On the brighter side, local author Kate Betterton, whose debut novel "Where the Lake Becomes the River" knocks my socks off, sent me this promotional blurb which I will proudly feature wherever I get a chance:

Skater in a Strange Land, set in the time-shifting continent of Borschland, is a beautifully written, funny, quirky and good-hearted novel, sure to appeal to a broad readership. Romantics of all stripes will enjoy the blooming attraction between the book's hero Sherm and Borschland's intriguing poetess Rachel; appreciators of kick-ass hockey tournaments will love the action. Prepare to laugh aloud as you revel in Frauenfelder's captivating writing that takes you along on a rollicking adventure set in a fascinating alternate world. 

I had the privilege of reviewing "Where the Lake Becomes the River" here. And I expanded on my review here. If you like Southern literature, you'll be captivated. It's a gorgeous read, dense and thoughtful, and I'm honored an author of her talent has said something so nice about my work. Thanks, Kate.