The people's choice: inhale and imbibe at the Beer Museum in Bruges. Photo: William Craig Moyes
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If Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy mixed his drinks, so can you

Philip moved his court frequently and I believe his reasons had to do with drink: half of his lands produced wine, the other half beer. 

If you wish to know how long it takes to walk from Dijon to Bruges, the internet is a marvellous invention. However, for some reason, Google Maps doesn’t give journey times for travelling on horseback, which makes me wonder if we are quite as superior to the ancients as we like to think. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy from 1419-67, would have known that trip’s exact duration, as he owned both cities and was fond of travel. But all I can do is calculate that if walking takes 102 hours and Philip’s mode of transport, though faster, required resting and feeding (to say nothing of the delays caused by a 15th-century lord’s entourage), it would have been at least a three-day commute.

Why bother? Many medieval lords owned territories they didn’t see that often: turning up in your far-flung lands was what you did when someone else was trying to filch them, but, to be fair, that was pretty common. Philip moved his court frequently and I believe his reasons had to do with drink.

Even when winemaking techniques were in their infancy and production was the province of monks who may well have considered too great an emphasis on the Blood of Christ’s actual content inappropriate, owning Dijon would have been a licence to drink well – and tax the purveyors of your pleasure at the same time. Bruges, on the other hand, though a great trading port, would have been more of a place for beer. The tussle among brewers over using gruit, a haphazard selection of herbs (including heather, rosemary, mugwort) that was enthusiastically taxed, versus hops – which weren’t – would not have affected a duke. We know who won: I’d never heard of gruitbier until I visited Bruges’s new beer museum, but I’ve never heard of any adult who has never heard of hops. (Apparently gruitbier is dark and smoky and tastes a little like vermouth, thanks to all those botanicals.)

My theory, entirely unsupported by history, is that Philip loved both wine and beer, and that this fondness for the drink of two different regions made of this great landowner a permanent exile. He had reason to drink, having handed Joan of Arc over to the English. Even in a murderous age, sending to her doom a young woman who might have a direct line to God was surely a stressful activity. I picture Philip in thriving, beautiful Bruges, sipping his dark beer and dreaming of vineyards, or back in Dijon, his palace strewn with travel-weary courtiers, swirling a goblet of red wine and inhaling a tantalising fume of mugwort or rosemary.

There’s information on gruit in the Bruges Beer Museum, but to read it you must point a tablet in the right direction: paper labels presumably being too medieval. The present passion for interactivity would doubtless have displeased Philip and his cohorts, in an era when claiming the right to speak directly to God (much less receive an answer) could get you roasted. Again, I suspect our modern devices are overrated: the real interactivity in this frankly disappointing museum comes at the bar, where your entrance fee gets you three generous tasters of beers including Oude Lambiek De Cam, a juicy flat beer with an orange-grapefruit tang; the slightly barbecued-sausage Steenbrugge Blond; and Rodenbach Grand Cru, a red-brown beer matured in oak casks for two years, which has a malty nose and a sweet, almost liquorice kick atop an odd sourness that I’m convinced would work well with rabbit.

Scent and flavour are the last refuge of the exile, who can assuage his homesickness with something that tastes like home, just as the deskbound traveller can inhale, sip and be magically elsewhere. Time of travel: the blink of an eye. Beat that, Google Maps . . . 

Nina Caplan is the Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year 2014 and the Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year 2014

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 17 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Scotland: What Next?

Love Actually stills.
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Cute or creepy? How romcoms romanticise stalker-like and controlling behaviour

I present to you: a history of Hollywood romance, unromanticised.

This week, a new study was published with findings that suggest romcoms can encourage women to be more tolerant of stalker-like behaviour. I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You, a report Julia R Lippman, a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan specialising in gender and media, studied women’s responses to “stalking myths” after watching a series of films of different genres.

Women who watched There’s Something About Mary and Management were more likely to be accepting aggressive romantic pursuit than those who watched films featuring “a scary depiction of persistent pursuit” like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough – or benign nature documentaries such as March of the Penguins and Winged Migration.

Are we really that surprised? The male-dominated film industry has a long tradition of neutralising and romanticising controlling or harassing behaviour from men, from its beginnings to today. I present to you: a history of Hollywood romance, unromanticised.

It Happened One Night (1934)

Often credited with the birth of the romcom, the story is as follows: a newspaper reporter blackmails a celebrity on the run from her family into speaking to him for a story, threatening to turn her in to her father for reward money if she doesn’t comply with his wishes. After dangling this threat over her head over days, he hunts her down on her wedding day, and accepts slightly less than the agreed reward money from her father, arguing that he did what he did for love, not money. On hearing of this noble deed, our heroine swoons, cancels her wedding, and runs off with the reporter instead.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

A group of brothers kidnap six attractive women by causing a life-threatening avalanche that keeps them imprisoned all winter. The women play pranks on the men in revenge, and, in a shocking case of Stockholm syndrome, everyone has an all-round jolly time. They pair off and are all married by summer.  

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Two men disguise themselves as women to trick a young woman into trusting them. One continues his attempts to seduce her by disguising himself as a billionaire and faking severe psychological traumas to gain her sympathy. They eventually sail into the sunset together.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

A man becomes enamoured by a pretty young woman, but is angered by her repeated attempts to marry richer men. He investigates her past relationships, without her permission. When she is abandoned by her fiancé, the man follows the pretty young woman to a New York library, insisting she confess her love for him, telling her, “I love you. You belong to me.” When she tells him “people don’t belong to people” he becomes enraged, lecturing and patronising her. They kiss in the rain.

My Fair Lady (1964)

Two men attempt to assert their control over a pretty young woman: one by promising her the career of her dreams if she promises to change her entire personality according to his strict preferences, one by stalking her, lurking constantly on the street where she lives. She almost marries one, and falls for the other.

The Graduate (1967)

A young man intentionally upsets his ex’s daughter by taking her on a date, where he is horrible to her, and forces her to go to a strip club. He hides his affair with her mother from her, and, when she discovers it and rejects him, follows her across America, spends days on end harassing her, and ruins her wedding. They elope, via the world’s most awkward bus journey.

Back to the Future (1985)

A teenager goes back in time to aid his creepy, peeping Tom father achieve his dream of marrying the woman he watches undress from a tree outside her house.

Say Anything (1989)

A young man wins back the heart of his ex-girlfriend by turning up uninvited at her family’s home and intentionally disturbing them all by holding a boombox aloft, humiliating her by blasting out the song she lost her virginity to.

Pretty Woman (1990)

A man manipulates a sex worker to overhaul her entire personality in order to conform to his idea of womanhood.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

An outcast becomes obsessed with a popular young woman after staring at her childhood pictures in her family home, watches her from a distance, carves an enormous, angelic statue of her, then murders her boyfriend. They kiss, feet from the boyfriend’s lifeless corpse.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

A man who knows a young woman is not attracted to him kidnaps her father as a way to lure her into his home. He imprisons her and uses his legion of servants and magical home to manipulate her into falling for her captor, all so he can get a sexy makeover. In a shocking case of Stockholm syndrome, she falls for him.

Something About Mary (1998)

Thirteen years after his advances were first rejected, a man travels all the way from Rhode Island to Florida and pays a private investigator to stalk his childhood crush. He lies to her and everyone who knows her in order to win her affections. When she becomes aware of his deceit, she shrugs it off, as everyone else she knows has been stalking her, too. His excuse? “I did it because I never stopped thinking about you. And if I didn’t find you, I knew that my life would never ever be good again.”

American Beauty (1999)

A young man follows an attractive young woman to her house and videos her getting undressed. She gives in to his advances.

High Fidelity (2000)

A man tracks down every one of his ex-girlfriends to harass them over why they left him. He stalks his most recent ex’s boyfriend, standing outside his house in the pouring rain. She goes back to him.

50 First Dates (2004)

A man discovers an attractive woman’s amnesia leaves her vulnerable, so spends every day trying to manipulate her condition to his advantage. After studying her every move, he engineers “chance meetings”, essentially kidnapping her without her consent by the film’s end.

The Notebook (2004)

A woman falls for a man after he writes several hundred letters to her without receiving any replies, stalks her hometown, and restores an entire house based on the fact they had sex there once.

Love Actually (2004)

A man of enormous privilege and power falls for his secretary, comments on her physical appearance to colleagues, has her fired, turns up on her family doorstep on Christmas Eve, and bundles her into his car. She kisses him.

Also, a sullen young man resents his best friend’s wife for being good-looking, is horrible to her, films her obsessively on her wedding day, then arrives on her doorstep on Christmas eve, threateningly brandishing a picture of what he imagines her decaying corpse will one day look like. She kisses him.

Time Traveller’s Wife (2009)

A man uses his time-travelling powers to groom a pre-teen version of the adult woman he loves into falling for him.

Twilight (2008)

A centuries-old man disguised as a teenager infiltrates a school and becomes obsessed with a teenager, stalking her and watching her sleep, all the while making clear to her that he is “dangerous”. She gives in to his advances.

Also, a violent man pursues a teenage woman long after she has rejected him, usually in a state of semi-nudity.

Management (2008)

A man develops an obsession with a married woman when she checks into the motel where he works. She does not return his affections, so he follows her around the country: first to Maryland, then to Washington State, where she is engaged to a man whose baby she is carrying; then back to Maryland. She eventually gives in to his advances.

Crazy Stupid Love (2011)

A teenage boy stalks his female classmate, sneaking into her room at night to watch her sleep.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

A billionaire uses his money and power to hunt down a student journalist who interviewed him at her place of work. He kidnaps her when she is drunk, and blames her for drinking. He manipulates her with gifts and encourages her to sign away her independence. When she tries to leave him, he follows her 3,000 miles to her mother’s home. She gives in to his advances and he assaults her. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.