Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm Deeply Honored, Your Majesty, But Please Forgive Me for Wearing an Orange Shirt at your Fabulous Reception.

I'm sweating like a short order cook. So would you, if you were at the Royal Castle of Copenhagen waiting to shake hands with the Queen, the Prince Consort, the Crown Prince, and the Crown Princess. Yes, you would sweat as well. Even if you're not a snob, your arm pits would itch, your deodorant would fail, you might even giggle like a retard.

"Monsieur Peter H. Fogtdal, Ecrivain e Madame Fogtdal," shouts a man who probably has a fancy title I can't pronounce.

"Oh my God," sighs My Pale Girlfriend who's even paler than usual. As a true American, she has never met anything as exotic as a queen or a prince. She has only run into Laura Bush at Safeway, so right now she's out of her league. But she does look great in her black dress and the Syrian scarf I've given her. However, Madame Fogtdal she ain't. There is no one with that dubious title. She is, however, my gorgeous girlfriend, so she definitely belongs at my side at this defining moment in space and time.

I walk up to the Queen. She is dressed in a beautiful gown in the same color as a forest fire. She smiles and for a second we shake hands. Then on to the Prince Consort followed by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary who looks even better than in the tabloids. Oh yes, my heart is beating fast, my nose is running. Does this make me a snob, or is it all right to be in awe of this Scandinavian Versailles with paintings of perfumed kings and effeminate barons?

Why do I deserve the honor of being invited to Amalienborg, you rudely ask? Well, the reason is simple. This is a reception for the French speaking countries and everything French - and I won the Francophone literature prize in 2005 (or Le Prix Litteraire de la Francophonie, if you will) - a prize given to the best Danish book to come out in the nineteen Francophone countries. (Yes, technically my prize winner Le Front Chantilly (Flødeskumsfronten) is out in nineteen countries, even though I doubt you can get a copy of it in the book stores in Tunisia).

Some of the other prize winners are here as well. Michael Larsen who won in 2007, Leif Davidsen who took the honors in 2004, and Jens Christian Grøndahl who triumphed back in 2003. We form a writers' circle before we enter the palace to mingle with ambassadors, Oscar winning directors, and socialites from the suburbs.

Before entering the palace: Three proud writers and a pale girlfriend getting ready for royal handshakes, some great Flora Danica, Mozart, and a huge Gin and Tonic on the house.

I don't know what's wrong with me but I have this thing for castles and royal intrigue.

In school I loved to study our kings. I knew everything about them - I knew when they ruled, what they wore, and how they were murdered. I even had a few kings on my wall where they watched me fall asleep with royal indifference.

Actually, I've always been a Frederik IV fan. Frederik IV of Denmark-Norway, Slesvig-Holsten, Dittmarsken, Iceland, Greenland, and Lolland-Falster (I don't think I got that title right) ruled from 1699 to 1728 and wore powdered wings. He loved everything Italian, including a nun or two. In 2002 I wrote a novel about him called Lystrejsen. I've brought it along for the Queen. I'm sure Her Majesty is dying for a signed copy. But how do you give her the book? I know you can't walk up and hand it to her. You just can't shove a book into her royal hands and start babbling about it, so I ask a waiter if I can talk to Her Majesty's lady-in-waiting.

"It's so kind of you to bring a gift for the Queen," the lady-in-waiting tells me. "What is it, may I ask?"

I tell her about Lystrejsen. She interrupts me: "Oh, I read that. It's wonderful."

I beam like a toddler and start telling her about the research I did for the book - how I traveled to Italy and saw the places where Frederik IV stayed on his Italian tours - how his palace in Rome has become a bank where good folk exchange their Euros. After a while I'm boring the poor lady to tears, but she listens graciously and promises me that the Queen will be pleased.

But how pleased, I think? Will she actually read it? Or perhaps she did when Lystrejsen came out? Maybe Margrethe hates it with a vengeance. And maybe I'll never be invited again, since I'm using a four letter word on page 71.

No, it's not easy being a guest at the Royal Castle. But I must admit, I could get used to it. I could definitely get used to the lazy champagne and the gilded frames! Just give me a few incarnations and my upper lip will be as stiff as Prince Philip's.

We continue our walk through the castle. In the background some musicians plays Mozart - I guess he's been invited as well. Guests mingle, a few counts raid the bar in search of cognac.

At the end of a long hall there's a wonderful exhibition of Flora Danica, 18th century china that covers every inch of the walls. We admire the plates - the engravings of rare flowers and common seaweed. In the same instant we're approached by Leif Davidsen, thriller writer per excellence. He says to Choul:

"These rooms aren't open to the public. You're probably the third American to see this exhibition after George Bush and Bill Clinton."

Choul looks pleased and we continue talking to interesting people while drinking ourselves silly in spring water. From the room there's a great view of the Amalienborg square. A few tourists are taking snap shots of the Royal guard. I wave at them hoping they think I'm a disturbed duke.

"I don't know why they serve cauliflower at a reception like this," a South European ambassador complains. He also tells us that his wife hates Denmark. "The weather is s o gloomy here."

The Mexican ambassador is more fun. She is introduced to me and tells me she enjoyed Le Front Chantilly. "That was the first Danish novel I ever read." For the next few minutes she talks about it like a true connoisseur.

"Take that, Peter Høeg," I smirk and feel like kissing the Mexican, but I'm not sure you're allowed to kiss an ambassador - it could be against the Geneva convention.

My Pale Girlfriend, Leif Davidsen, Jens Christian Grøndahl and wife.

Two and a half hours later the reception is over. The Queen and the Prince Consort leave the ballroom. This is an indicator that we should get the hell out as well, but my beauty and I want to stay. For a second, I try to chain myself to a French butler but decide against it. I want this day to be without scandals. After all, I'm a Royalist at heart, I admit it.

And next time I'll wear a white shirt and a tie, I promise.
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