BELGIUM: The Black Country

Periodically over the centuries, the area known as the Borinage gives a twitch of excruciating pain, and all Belgium suffers. Death has always been close by in that flat, depressing southern region.

Sometimes it came deep in the earth where Borinage miners scratch out coal from overworked shafts in constant expectation of cave-ins, poison gas, flooding, fire and explosion. More often it came on the grey, slag-heaped surface as miners coughed out their lives. Emile Zola saw the Borinage in the 1880s and poured its horror into his powerful classic, Germinal. A few aged miners still remember the emaciated, stubble-bearded...

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