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Visiting Lake Overijse-Genval, Belgium: Shimmering Reflections and the Obscure Nature of Reality in Belgium

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The Lac de Genval. Composite of two photographs taken by David Edgar

The Lac de Genval. Composite of two photographs taken by David Edgar

Realities and obscurities in the heart of Belgium

Having already commented elsewhere on some of the buildings and geographical features in the vicinity of Belgium's Meer van Overijse-Genval / Lac de Genval, I am yet intrigued enough by the Lake itself to be spend further time attempting —maybe with difficulty — to interpret something of its character and context to my readers.

This scenic Lake on the edge of the Sonian Forest / Zoniënwoud / Forêt de Soignes (1) lies within the historic (now divided) Brabant province, but the boundary between two states of the Federal Kingdom of Belgium runs through the Lake.

This means in practical terms that the Lake is divided into two parts: one French-speaking in the Walloon region (French: Region wallonne) and the other Dutch-speaking in the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest).

So how can the waters of an inanimate Lake be partly French-speaking and partly Dutch-speaking? How can this be possible?

It seems so unreal.

Well, this is Belgium, and reality here takes its own Belgian course.

I walked around the Lake: a circular walk, following signs; and for some of my perambulation the signs were in French and for the remainder in Dutch. This how Belgium is organized: every last square metre of land and inland waterways is given its linguistic and community designation.

So am I suggesting that, particularly at a location such as Meer van Overijse-Genval / Lac de Genval this linguistic administrative situation seems somewhat artificial when compared with the natural environment of the Lake?

Well, it may seem so, except...

Except that the Lake itself is artificial, created by one Gustave Smets-Mondez (1861-1938) at the end of the 19th century, who was planning a tourist resort.

Today, expensive villas and a 5 star hotel grace the — linguistically divided — lakeshore.

High priests of perception manipulation?

So I passed the 5 star hotel. And I saw a monk, complete with habit and reflective pose, on the fringes of a social event being held there. I must admit to having wondered: Was the monk's reflective pose authentic or artificial? (How authentic is anyone's contrived pose at a social event?)

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To return to the Lake, it poses a question: Which is more 'artificial' or more 'real', as the case may be: the administrative division of the waters of Meer van Overijse-Genval / Lac de Genval into Dutch-speaking and French-speaking areas respectively? or the shimmering shadows and reflections of the light and the trees of the Sonian Forest / Zoniënwoud / Forêt de Soignes on a Lake which is itself artificial?

Anyway, the human condition in Belgium must surely lie obscurely somewhere beneath the historical process which has made such a situation possible. It seems in any case that Meer van Overijse-Genval / Lac de Genval reveals administrators in Belgium — the culture of which has been profoundly influenced by Medieval Thomist philosophy — to be the high priests of perception manipulation.

October 12, 2017


(1) I once fell asleep in the Sonian Forest / Zoniënwoud / Forêt de Soignes, divided as it is into its officially Dutch- and French-speaking parts. When I woke with a start, I tried to figure in my mind whether the reality of the windswept trees or the reality of wherever I was near the linguistic administrative boundary was preponderant. I am still not sure of the answer.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Also worth seeing

Overijse has a striking Town Hall (Gemeentehuis), Medieval in origin, restored in the 1960s. Its stone parish church of St. Martin is also of note.

The railroad station at Genval contains some interesting Art nouveau features, including ceramic tiling in floral pattern. The former town hall (Maison communale), is of note architecturally, with its pillared stone front entrance, and tower.


How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company SNCB / NMBS maintains a railroad link to Genval station, which is situated approx 1.5 kilometres from Lake Overijse-Genval. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Overijse municipality in Flemish Brabant

Map location of Overijse municipality in Flemish Brabant

Map location of Rixensart municipality in Walloon Brabant

Map location of Rixensart municipality in Walloon Brabant

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