Wednesday, December 17, 2008
My One City Book Tour of France (in Swinging Strasbourg)
Look closely at this picture. It's a rare picture indeed.
Here you have A Not So Important Writer From an Obscure Country with one of his only fans in Strasbourg, France.
Well, maybe I'm being too hard on myself. Maybe I have two fans in Strasbourg, but I bet you won't find many who have read all my novels in French. But this woman has. This avid book seller has swallowed every translated word in La Naine du Tsar, Le Reveur de Palestine, and Le Front Chantilly. She deserves an award, a kiss, a statue.
So what were you doing in France, dear Pierre, you might want to ask?
Well, first of all, my name is Peter, not Pierre, but to answer your question, I was attending a literary festival called 27 Moments de litterérature européenne, thus representing Danemark, Gaia Editions e lui-meme.
And I was treated very well by everybody. They took me to a lavish lunch where I drowned in sauerkraut, they invited me to dinner, they forced their costumers to buy my books. And I was courteous enough to sign them.
Actually courteous is not the word I was looking for. I basically forced myself on people. Yes, at one point I got so desperate I would have signed anything, even novels by Ken Follet. He's always next to me on the book shelves, anyway ... Fogtdal, Follet, you get my point.
Don't get me wrong. Even though the masses didn't line up, I enjoyed every minute of it. France has been good to me. I've been invited to literary festivals in Cognac, Caen, Arles, and Paris before this - all of them great experiences I wouldn't have been without. Not just because of the honor, but because the French suffer from fabulous food fetish. The second they meet you, they want to stuff you with food. They force you to sit at a lavish table, they pour vintage wine down your throat - it gets very ugly and all you can do is ... eat.
To my surprise Strasbourg was as cold as Copenhagen and Portland.
It was 28 Fahrenheit in the morning and I wasn´t dressed for it. Come to think of it, I´m never dressed for cold weather. My blood doesn´t like the cold; it prefers 78 and blue skies.
However, Strasbourg is a beautiful city, full of green canals, 16th century houses, and a cathedral that's one of the finest on the continent. Its surface is knee deep in saints and the place is so big you could host a soccer game under its roof.
Oh yes, there´s no doubt about it, Strasbourg is definitely one of the nicest cities in Central Europe. It's home of the European Parliament and it's known for its huge Christmas market as well - the kind of place where you run into five hundred incarnations of Santa Claus, or where you get wasted on glühwein. Monsieur et Madame Kitch definitely go shopping here. And you wouldn't be surprised if you ran into Germans in lederhosen. After all, Deutchland is only two miles away - we're definitely in the heart of Europe as any Alsacian will tell you.
A lot of the city names of Alsace are German as well, but unless you want to be beheaded in front of the cathedral, don't insult the locals by mixing them up with their neighbor. Alsace is Alsace, a rich, fascinating region that is extremely proud of its origin. For a good reason. But let me give you some advice: If you´re not fond of pork, you should go to other French regions. In Alsace they sure know how to mutilate the pigs.
I also did a book signing at Totem, another fine book store I would recommend to any one who happens to drop by Strasbourg.
The city had been kind enough to supply me with a translator who was half Scottish. She usually works for the European Court of Human Rights which is situated in Strasbourg. I didn't need her when I communicated with the owner of Totem though. We both spoke Italian - a relief for me, since I only know how to say "je ne regrette rien" and "soixante douze" in French.
I actually had French in high school. but I didn´t care much for my French teacher. She used to hit me with a hard copy of Le Petit Prince. I still have bruises on my forehead from her violence against me. I bet she knocked thousands of verbs loose - something I haven´t recovered from to this day.
The main reason why I was invited to Strasbourg was not the book signings, however. It was to present La naine du tsar (The Tsar's Dwarf) at Strasbourg's new library, the impressive Mediatheque André Malraux. A huge crowd came out to see me. When we started we were five but we ended up with fourteen, including the highly esteemed mayor of Strasbourg himself, Ronald Ries.
The mayor is a socialist. I could tell because he was wearing a red scarf. Monsieur Ries seemed like a very nice man. He shook my hand and talked about how important it was for Strasbourg to host a literary festival. He also said it was a thrill to welcome important writers as your truly. However, I don't think I was any one's first choice. They probably tried to get Salman Rushdie, but rumors had it that he was on a book tour of Afghanistan.
The festival 27 moments de litterérature européenne is supposed to be an annual event to showcase European literature and I was proud to be part of this first incarnation.
What made the biggest impression on me, however, was something different. That was a 10 year old girl in the audience. She had brought her Dad - and after my presentation they came up to me. Her Dad said that the girl loved to write and that she'd never been to a book presentation before.
"Well, in that case I hope you'll borrow La Naine du Tsar from the library," I said.
"No." Her father shook his head. "She wants me to buy all three of your books for Christmas."
The cute French girl blushed and made my heart melt. (Yes, I DO have a heart, I just don´t brag about it)
The rest of the evening I thought about how fortunate I am. During the last two years I've presented my books in France, Portugal, Denmark, and the US. The books might be rare guests on best seller lists or people´s coffee tables, but they're out there in the world and I've gotten wonderful reactions from readers in New York, Lisbon, Paris, Milwaukee, Portland, Sheffield, and Aalborg. Plus a lot of nice reviews as well.
So I'm not going to complain about anything for a while.
If only I could get started on my new novel. However, right now I think it's much more fun writing silly blogs ...
**Also, check out my French website (no one else does) http://www.peter-fogtdal.com**