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)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No, Oprah, Danes Aren't Happy. We're Patriots on Painkillers

It's old news now.

Danes are the happiest people on earth. That survey came out in June, 2008, and just a month ago Oprah dedicated a TV-show to us happy Danes. What's our secret? Why are we always so goddamn happy? Even when we shop for carrots we're the Embodiment of Bliss. And when we throw poor refugees out of the country, we smile because we live here and they don't.

So what's up? Are our expectations lower than others? Are we happy because our welfare state works (kind of), or do we simply take pride in the fact that we invented Lego?  If you've ever played with Lego, you know it makes you happy, right? Well, that's what we Danes are all about, supposedly.

But are we seriously happy?  No, Danes aren't happy at all, we're simply patriots. That's what the survey reflects. We suffer from The Small Country Syndrome. We're tired of being taken for Swedes or Germans. We want to come out of our Southern Scandinavian closet; we simply want to be seen!

That's what the coming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen is about as well. See us, appreciate how much we do for the environment, admire us.

But happy? No, how could we be? Most Danes don't believe in anything, not even in ourselves. Our only God is the welfare state. That has become the church we worship, and the walls of the church are crumbling down.  The recession will see to that.

So Oprah, next time you come to Denmark, please continue to celebrate us, because we do have a great little country with socialized medicine and trendy windmills. And Denmark is still the kind of fairy tale place where it makes national news when a gang member fires a bullet into a park bench.

But if you walk around Copenhagen on a cold November day, you won't see much happiness. You'll see people in their own comatose world, walking to and fro with plastic bags and briefcases, not saying hello to any one, not smiling through their painkillers, just going about their business in the dreary drizzle.

Strangely enough, if you want happiness, you would see more of that in a poor village in India or Bali - maybe because they have 52 million gods to help them with their pain?

Read my award winning blog entry, Denmark for Dummies: A Superficial Introduction to the Happiest Country in the World.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Milking a Cash Cow in India (The Joys of Bad Karma?)

I love India.

I've been here about eight times. I love the spirituality of this great country. And when I get tired of that, there are always the strong colors, the humorous people, and the best spicy food in the world.

India is full of surprises, too. Yesterday I ran into three holy cows and Goldie Hawn. And I was head butted by all four. I'm truly blessed.

This time I'm here to do research on my next novel. It takes place in Varanasi, the holiest of all cities. Varanasi (Benares) is the famous place where you wash away your sins in Mother Ganges. And cremate your loved ones at the same time. You could argue that Ganges is the biggest funeral parlor in the world.

Varanasi is India at its best and worst. It's colorful, charismatic, loud, polluted, dirty, generous, kind, obnoxious, spiritual, and deeply criminal. Everybody wants something from you. Sometimes it's your soul, most of the time, it's just your money.

I ran into a wonderful scam the other day. Since I know how to navigate in India, it didn't take me totally by surprise. But sometimes I'm not as cynical as I like to think, so let's say I was mildly disappointed.

I was walking down the colorful alleys of the old city avoiding the cow dung, the beggars, and the scrawny cows feasting on plastic bags.

A man came up to me and started to talk. His English was good, so we chatted for a while. At one point he asked whether I wanted to see the burning ghats - the place where the dead are cremated before their ashes are spread over Mother Ganges.

I said, sure, and we went to a house that supposedly was a hospice for the poor. Here people come from all over India to die and are taken care of for free. I was greeted by a little old lady in a dirty sari.

"This is The Mother Teresa of Varanasi" I was told, and then I was introduced to a guru in a dhoti and two volunteers. A "pious" looking gentleman lead me up to the roof of the patient-free hospice, so I could get a good view of the cremations at the nearby ghat.

"You have to understand, we're not asking for money. We're all volunteers at this hospice," my guide said.

I nodded, knowing that when a con man says he doesn't want money, things are going to get very expensive. But I went along for the ride for the simple reason I wasn't totally sure whether this was a scam or not. Yet.

From the roof top there was a nice view of the Ganges and the three platforms where the dead are burned: One for the upper cast (business class?), one for the middle cast (coach), and one for the lower cast (freight?). The fire that was used for the cremation was lit thousands of years ago and had never gone out.

I started to cough. I've always been sensitive to inhaling the deceased.

My guide looked at me with that pious look he had practiced in front of the mirror, "Look around, Sir. Look at all the people bringing the bodies. Do you see any women?"


"Women are not allowed to attend because they cry. Crying holds back the soul. It's very selfish to show emotion, Sir."

"Well, sometimes men are emotional, too," I said.

"Yes, but men are not women," my guide answered with surprising contempt. Then he told a story about a widow who threw herself on the fire to be with her dead husband. This unfortunate incident happened ten years ago and meant that women had been banished from the cremations ever since.

After ten minutes of watching I'd had enough. Even though there was something sad but beautiful about the cremations, there was a limit to how much of a voyeur I wanted to be.

When I got downstairs, the guru was ready to bless me as a token "for the large donation I was going to give to the poor".

"The small donation," I added quickly.

The guru asked me to kneel and put a warm hand on my head and started praying. I liked looking into his eyes, and I clearly felt good karma was coming my way.

When that was done, my guide stepped forward and asked me to give a donation of 2000 rupees which would cover the expenses of a cremation for two people.

"I'll donate 200 rupees," I said immediately.

My guide looked at me with horror. "No, that's not possible," he said, once more putting a hand on his heart as pious people do when they've asked God for cash. "A 1000 rupee donation is the smallest we can accept."

Now suddenly I was crowded by six people. A young volunteer from Europe said he was sick and tired of "tourists who'd only give the equivalent of 5 euros when they are filthy rich."

The atmosphere was getting ugly, but now I got stubborn. If these people were who they pretended to be, they wouldn't pressure me. So I stood my ground, convinced that this was a scam.

When it finally dawned on everybody, I wasn't going to give more than 200 lousy rupees (a weekly wage for most in India), one of them shouted, "give at least a something to Mother Teresa."

Suddenly, the frail old lady stood by my side and looked up at me with her big compassionate eyes. I sighed and handed her a 50 rupee bill, just to end things on a civilized note.

The next second I'll never forget as long as I live.

"Mother Teresa of Varanasi", this pious woman who had dedicated her life to the poor; this modern-day saint who had renounced luxury to do God's work on earth, stared at the 50 rupee bill I'd given her with a baffled look on her face - a look that I best can describe as "you gotta be fucking kidding me." Then the look slowly turned into contempt and then to anger. For a short second I thought this angel was going to attack me and rip me to pieces.

When I walked out of the hospice I heard the sound of people spitting after me, and when I continued down one of the narrow alleys, I felt how the good karma I'd been promised slowly evaporated and gave way to ancient curses from the "spiritual" people at the patient-free hospice.

The first minutes afterward I was shaken. Had I been too harsh? Could I be so sure that it was a scam? Maybe the Western volunteer was right in his criticism. Why didn't we tourists give more money to the poor when we easily could afford it?

But then I remembered the sinister atmosphere, the intimidation, and the spitting when these people didn't get what they wanted. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that my money never would end where it was supposed to.

So I was happy with the outcome. 250 rupees to experience something as wonderfully absurd as this was a damn bargain.

By the way, it's important for me to say I have the deepest respect for the Hindu religion, so if any one finds the above disrespectful, I apologize. But I reserve the right to be facetious when spirituality is being abused. And spirituality often is, in India and everywhere else.

But needless to say, scams are a small part of India. The country is so picturesque it's impossible to take a bad picture.

This time I enjoyed my aimless walks along the Ganges and in the alleys of Varanasi - one of the most incredible places I've ever been. I enjoyed the masala dosas at the local grease joint, I enjoyed my talks with Mr. Namit Agnihotri, the general manager at The Gateway, one of the finest hotels in Varanasi (I recommend it highly). And hey, I did run into several holy cows and Goldie Hawn - the latter actually stayed at my hotel, but she "disappointed" me greatly by not asking for a signed copy of The Tsar's Dwarf.

When I left Varanasi I saw a great sign in the airport. YOU'RE BEING WATCHED, it said.

That's good news for us narcissists.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: Now at Lingnan University, Hong Kong

"Sterilize in every hour," says the sign at my hotel in Hong Kong.

The sign is referring to the elevator keyboard - this potentially germ, bacteria infested death trap that will give you the swine flu the second you push any button.

Yes, it's not easy to survive in this world with so many dangers. The first time I was in Hong Kong everybody was afraid of SARS. Now it's the swine flu, but as long as you don't touch anything you should be safe.

Let's face it, life is a death sentence - even if we "sterilize in every hour".

Apart from the paranoia, Hong Kong is an upbeat town. I love its mixture of East and West, of double decker buses and sampans, of nerdy computer wizards and soulful soothsayers. However, I'm not here because I was born in the Year of the Monkey: I'm doing a reading and a workshop at Lingnan University in Tuen Mun.

Lingnan is far away from the sizzle of Kowloon. It's situated in The New Territories close to the border to China. This university is small and quaint with a landscaped garden, an Olympic size swimming pool, and a great collection of turtles.

Tuesday I do a reading and book signing of The Tsar's Dwarf - the last event on My Pretentious World Tour.

So what's a showboat like me going to do with my sorry life after this? Well, I guess I could write on my novel. Isn't that what novelists are suppose to do, anyway? Come to think of it, I am writing on two novels, one in English and one in Danish, but then again what would you expect from a scatterbrain who's traveled till he's blue in the face?

I've also been invited to Lingnan to do a writing workshop, so Friday I return from Hong Kong Island to teach a Master Class for 15 adorable students.

It takes place in a classy room with freezing air condition and good tuna sandwiches. The participants are from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia, and Nepal. Several students have actually traveled from Lignan's sister university in Southern China to sit by the feet of this moronic Master.

My Master Class (yes, I like using this word as often I can) is part of Lingnan's Life Writing program - an absolutely great invention where students write about their own life experiences. If you're a bore you could call it autobiography, but I like Life Writing much better.

I read and critique five stories, and some of them are very good. One student has written a moving tale about how a small gesture of trust from a stranger in Wales changed her life. Another story is a wonderful character study about a late uncle on the Mainland who was accused of counter-revolutionary tendencies, even though he was a mere loner.

But what impressed me the most were the students themselves. After an hour I wanted to put them all in my suitcase, so I could bring them with me to Denmark. They were wonderful, and so were the professors at Lingnan.

"We want you back," says chairman Richard Freadman. And who am I to argue with an Australian chairman? Or with fellow Dane Mette Hjort, chairman of Visual Arts, who invited me here and who knows more about Danish films than any quiz contestant?

Before I leave campus I go back to the turtle pond and kiss my new friends goodbye. "I wouldn't dream of making soup out of you," I whisper lovingly and return by train to crowded Kowloon.

Hong Kong is one of many places on earth where I'd like to live. Why does happiness always screw you up?

Next blog: Varanasi, the holiest city in India where I'll be doing research on my next novel that takes place in India and Denmark.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How To Get Thrown Out Of A Country Club in Hong Kong

I love Hong Kong. It's one of my favorite cities in the world along with Venice, Perugia, Sevilla, San Francisco, New York, and Molyvos in Greece.

My first two days I'm staying at Sai Kun in the New Territories, a far cry from the frantic city center with its tall buildings and hard working egos. Out here there are still sun sets and wild cows roaming the streets.

That's right, Sai Kun is known for its wild cows munching out on the grass in the roundabouts. These vicious animals are known to attack bus drivers and mosquitoes. They get in the way of the traffic, but contrary to the holy cows in India, these cows are not into meditation. These Chinese cows mean business. They will gang up on you and maim you before you have the chance to say dim sum.

Am I making this up? Maybe a tiny bit. I'm introduced to these weird cows when my Chinese guide drives me through Sai Kun on the way to a posh country club at Clearwater Bay.

By the way, I'm not exactly country club material. I'm known to pick my nose in public, and luxury never impresses me too much. However, I'm a bit of a view freak, and Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club has a view to die for. The bay is right underneath, full of greenish water, small windy islands, and lazy sampans.

But right now I'm just warming up to two events at Lingnan University with some country club fries in the 86 degrees weather, while I'm writing on my next novel. My only problem is a sign by the entrance that makes me vomit.

"Are you serious???" I ask the lady at the counter. "I brought my Filipino maid, my Indonesian butler, and my Norwegian slut, and you're telling me I can't bring them into the pool area?"

"So sorry, Sir," the Chinese lady says.

"But I promise you they won't drool."

"Not allowed, Sir."

"I could tie them to a post somewhere," I ask politely. "Norwegians are used to that."

A few minutes later it gets ugly. The Chinese lady calls her boss, and I'm carried out of the club foaming at the mouth. "I'm the owner of three yachts," I shout. "No, make that four yachts. Five. Siiiiiix..."

Ah, the problems of the rich ...

Did this really happen, you want to ask?

Well, let me put it this way, I felt it happened, for thank God I'm only an underpaid novelist who has no business in a country club. Believe it or not, I don't even have people to write my books for me which just goes to show how out of place I am in Clearwater Bay ...

At night I learn that a new survey has come out. It claims that Hong Kong is the place on earth with the largest gab between rich and poor.

The next day my Chinese guide takes me to the picturesque pier in Sai Kun with fish tanks full of Barracudas that you can munch on for lunch. Here I feel right at home being a bit of barracuda myself.

Tomorrow I'm going to Lingnan University to do my first Hong Kong reading on My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf.

And hey, I'm planning to bring some of the wild cows with me, so I'm sure to have a sizable audience ...


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting High on Oxygen at Wordstock Book Festival in Portland

Yes, all writers are on drugs.

I'm into two things: Extra Strength Tylenol - and the Piña Colada scent at the Oxygen Bar in Wordstock's VIP room.

Man, did I get high. I put on one of those nasty plastic tubes that go over your ears. It has nozzles that fit into your nostril, so you look as if you've just survived a liver transplant. And then my head began to spin.

After the first hit I started to sing the Danish national anthem. After the second, I shared my selection of raunchy Christian spirituals. They had to carry me out on a stretcher while I shouted, "My name is Richard Dawkins, I'll sign your fucking books now."

This, of course, all took place in my mind, except for the fact that there was an Oxygen Bar in the writers' VIP room at Wordstock - a VIP room so crowded it reminded me of a Polish concentration camp. The coffee was cold, but the people who worked there were hot.

When I arrived at the biggest book event in Oregon, I was met by an escort (no, unfortunately not that kind), then I was led in handcuffs to The Mountain Writers Stage to do my reading of The Tsar's Dwarf.

That was not a wise choice of venues. I'm from one of the flattest countries in the world, so after I started to talk I suffered from vertigo. Verbs fell off the page and crashed to an untimely death while I tried to concentrate on the great audience in front of me.

Apparently, I've gotten a reputation as an entertaining reader/performer which definitely is true when I'm not on oxygen. But it's hard to be a serious writer of lit. fiction when all you can think of is, "I gotta get back to the VIP room for some more oxygen."

So how does an Oxygen Bar look, you may ask? Well, before my first hit I was a middle aged writer with dandruff, but after two rounds of fresh scented air I turned into a gorgeous platinum blond with a nose job.

So yes, Wordstock was great fun. I signed about 15 books, met readers who wanted me to do books on tape, talked for twenty seconds with Chelsea Cain, for nine seconds with Monica Drake, and for seven seconds with April Henry. Then I hung out at Hawthorne Books booth where I harassed people into buying more of my books.

"I'll sign anything, even the Old Testament," I shouted.

Wordstock is a wonderful event. You can listen to 186 writers who all say the same thing. You can buy expensive tacos, attend work shops about adverbs, and run into people like James Ellroy and Sherman Alexie.

But now you have to excuse me. I have to get back to that cool Oxygen Bar for the newest and most popular scent, the Swine Flu.

Next stop on My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf is Lingnan University in Hong Kong, China.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: Mais Oui, Montreal, Quebec

Sunday, September 20
My Pretentious World Tour got off to a good start with a memorable reading at the Athens Book Fair and some Etruscan writing in a small Italian town, Sutri.

Now I find myself on Air Canada's monkey class on my way to Festival International de la Littérature in Montreal. We're four foreign writers who have been invited to this French speaking event, Roberto Pazzi from Italy, Najat El Hachmi from Spain and Marocco, and Jakob Arjourni from Germany.

I arrive in Montreal on a beautiful Sunday. In the airport I'm picked up by the Danish Honorary Consul, a nice man who doesn't speak a word of Danish.

"How can you be consul of Denmark if you don't speak the language?" I ask rudely.

The nice man shrugs his shoulders and drives me along the bay, so I get a sense of the beautiful surroundings.

"What's the capital of Denmark?" I quiz him aggressively.

"Je ne sais pas," the Honorary Consul says and invites me to a delightful lunch with his wife. She doesn't speak Danish either but at least she's heard of Copenhagen.

Actually, I'm not being fair. Seven years ago the sweet couple was in Denmark for a big party for the Danish Honorary Consuls from around the world. They deserve it because they work for free. But hey, they do get complimentary business cards and herring for lunch, so what more can they ask?

Monday, September 21
The Goethe-Institut in Montreal is co-sponsor of the festival, so two delightful women invite me for lunch at a nice Italian restaurant. One of them, Lise Rebout is from Nancy, France - Hanna Zehschnetzler is a trainee from Bonn, Germany.

They don't hand me the key to the city, but a key to the public Bixi bikes in town, so I can ride around making a fool of myself.

Montreal is great. For instance, Starbucks isn't called Starbucks. It's called Café Starbucks which just goes to show how sophisticated they are in Quebec. I also like the fact that the homeless say "bon jour" instead of "how are you, Fuckface?"

Monday, September 21, evening.
I connect extremely well with one of my colleagues, Roberto Pazzi from Italy. Not just because I speak Italian, but because we're both writers of historical fiction and inspired by spirituality and astrology in our work.

Roberto's books are out in 26 languages (lucky bastard). His novel Conclave has been sold to 18 countries and sounds like a wonderful read. Luckily, I'm not the jealous type (?), so we hang out a lot talking about Proust, the Baroque period, and our killer Plutos. We both claim we communicate with the dead, but a historical novelist has to, since the people who lived back then are ... dead.

There is absolutely no way a writer can write about a historical figure without that person trying to influence you. The fact that he or she doesn't have a body has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, September 22
At 7 pm I'm being interviewed by Jean Fugère from Radio-Canada.

The event is called "Une heure avec Peter H. Fogtdal" and it takes place in the huge auditorium at Grande Bibliotèque downtown. I would lie to you if I said it was full, but since I am a liar, the auditorium was full.

Jean Fugère interviews me about La Naine du Tsar (The Tsar's Dwarf) and luckily his questions are great.

Towards the end he says, "I've been doing this for 20 years, but your novel is the first Danish book I ever read. In Canada the only Scandinavian books we know are Swedish and Norwegian thrillers."

I sigh. There is nothing wrong with thrillers, but couldn't people start to show interest in our Danish mass murderers? Hey, we're good at mayhem as well, dammit!

After the event I talk to a few readers who ask me if there are a lot of trolls in Danish literature ...

Wednesday, September 23
Montreal is gorgeous and trendy.

I ride around on my Bixi bike in the old part of town. I hang out in the Portuguese ghetto around Duluth, I enjoy the cafes at Saint Denise and downtown. People here are friendly but not obsessively so like in the Pacific Northwest where everybody is smiling to the point of insanity.

And hey, the Quebec French like their cigarettes. They'll be happy to blow smoke in your face any time any place. But you end up forgiving them because Montreal is a vibrant city of bistros, beautiful houses, seedy strip clubs, and oui, c'est vrais Café Starbucks ...

Thursday, September 23
My second event in Montreal is at Atwater Public Library and this time I'm allowed to do my show without a translator. My reading is part of a lunch series that attract a lot of Danes from the Scandinavian ghetto in town. It's great fun to meet them and I run out of books to sign, so I start on Stieg Larssons. Those dead Swedes need all the help they can get.

Roberto Pazzi and the wonderful Spanish writer of Moroccan descent Najat El Hachmi are kind enough to join me for my reading. Najat is a known essayist in Catalonia and her first book won an important prize in Barcelona.

In the evening Roberto Pazzi and I hang out again. The only bad thing I can say about the man is that he doesn't like soccer.

At one point he watches me carefully and pays me a wonderful compliment, "Peter, you have two faces. One of them is a ragazzino (a young boy), the other one is a wise old man, and they change all the time."

As the readers of Danish Accent know, it's definitely the boy who maintains this blog ...

My two colleagues Najat El Hachmi and Roberto Pazzi with Hanna and Lise from Goethe Institut, co-sponsor of Festival International de la Littérature. Thanks to Hanna Zehschnetzler for the two photos from the readings.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: First Stop, Athens, Greece

Thursday, September 10:

Apart from looking into the eyes of my girlfriend when she's asleep, my favorite thing in the world is to be on book tour.

Well, actually it might not be my all time favorite thing; I'm fond of sex, too. And riding my bike into ongoing traffic. And watching Denmark's national soccer team when it plays well which it did a millennium ago. But you get the idea: I'm very happy going on My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf.

Let's face it, I'm not a household name in any country, but still the world wants my ass. I'm going to Athens, Greece; Sutri, Italy; Montreal, Canada; Portland, Oregon, and Hongkong, China. And on my way back, I'll stop in Benares and Mumbai, India to do some research on the novel I'm writing. All this is covered by wonderful grants from the Danish Art Council, CopyDan, and DPA, The Danish Songwriters' Guild.

I'm a lucky man. And right now this lucky man can't sleep. He lies in bed, his silly head full of silly ideas while the world of literature is waiting to devour him.

Friday, September 11:

What's wrong with the climate? I'm leaving a gorgeously sunny Copenhagen for a rainy, dreary Athens. Are the Greek gods on drugs?

Actually, the atrocious weather is appropriate since this year's Athen's Book Festival has a theme, Greening the Future. So now The Danish climate has moved to Greece and the Greek climate has moved to Denmark - that is kind of scary.

I'm met in the airport by the Danish ambassador's Greek driver. The man turns out to be an entertaining cynic. He tells me at great length about the politics of his country, how the Greeks are fooled by corrupt politicians, how he was born in Australia where there isn't much to see, how Denmark should get its act together and clean up Copenhagen. It's an enlightening monologue from a smart man who seems disillusioned with the ways of the world.

I'm only disillusioned with the weather. "When it rains in Athens, the whole city comes to a stop," Panagiota Goula, the Greek cultural attache at the Danish embassy tells me. "Then everybody in Athens gets into their cars and traffic breaks down."

Later she shows me several Athens newspapers that mention my name. But if someone gave me a million dollars and a little of that excellent taramosalata, I still wouldn't be able to decipher where my name was on the page.

Saturday, September 12

I'm invited to a liquid lunch with the Danish ambassador, my colleague Iris Garnov; Leo, my translator, and four local poets - one of them turns out to be the Greek ex-ambassador to Sudan. Talking about multitasking!

By the way, I'm at my best behavior during lunch - I don't vomit on anyone.

The ambassador's apartment has a gorgeous view of Acropolis and the rest of Athens. "Can I be the next ambassador here?" I ask the nice man whose name is Tom Norring. "No," he says flatly and I leave the apartment totally devastated.

Luckily, I recover for tonight's performance. About thirty people show up at The Danish Institute in Plaka where a Greek actor Konstantinos Konstantopoulos reads excerpts from The Tsar's Dwarf and my latest Danish novel Skorpionens hale.

Even though I don't understand a word of the Greek translations, it's obvious that Konstantinos Konstantopoulos is doing a fantastic job. I'm totally spellbound by his voice. He never looks up when he reads but he totally stays in the world I've created. Two fine Greek musicians add flavor to the night, and I'm moved to tears by the whole event.

My only regret is that Zeus and Pallas Athena didn't show up. Where are the Greek gods when you really need them?

By the way, tomorrow I'm going to Acropolis. I believe it's some kind of semi-famous ruin they put on all of their postcards ...

Iris Garnov, Danish poet, Georgis Georgiadis, musician; yours truly; the Greek actor Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, and Dimitris Theocharis, musician. What a memorable evening.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Ghost at Tower Bridge (A True Story)

I was just in London for the weekend.

As most sane people, I like the city immensely. London is full of fun and excitement - for instance, there are so many ways you can get run over in England. The British cars come at you from unexpected angles. It's part of that London experience: when are you going to get mowed down - and by what? The first time I was in London I was hit by a double decker; the next time by a milkman. Yes, London is great fun and the British hospitals are cheery places - I usually bring a date.

London is also a city full of ghosts.

No, I'm not talking about Tony Blair. He is gone. I'm talking about real ghosts in real apartments. You don't even need to stay at a castle or an old inn. You can find many in the posh Tower Bridge district.

I should know because I visited my friend Ruthie who has psychic abilities. Let me give you an example of her amazing gift: The first time she saw me she knew I was an asshole. That was in Koh Samui six years ago at a health spa. We both got dengue - at a health spa! And lost seven kilo. You could say that we bonded over our diarrhea.

But back to the ghost: There's a dead guy in Ruthie's apartment and he sucks the air of the place.

He's not a scary ghost, mind you. He doesn't tackle you rugby style or make you trip over stools; he just stares at you from his corner - you feel that some one is watching you; it's a bit like being in Syria.

"What am I going to do with Presence?" Ruthie asks me one evening. That's her name for the ghost. Not Jerkface, but Presence.

I find that endearing. But I guess you should be nice to your ghost. There's no reason to make him angry; the ghost might get a heart attack and die.

Ruthie has tried to get rid of him for a long time. She has tried Buddhist rituals and Japanese chants. She even reads him Norwegian poetry, but good old Presence just stays around sucking the energy out of the apartment. She can't write in her own place, it makes her tired staying there for more than a night.

"What do you think Presence wants?" I ask Ruthie who is a lawyer who has gone to Psychic School, "your legal advice?"

Ruthie sighs. She's tired of him but a bit fascinated as well. It's probably the fascination that keeps him there.

But ghosts don't belong on earth. They should go back to their ghost towns and rest.

Isn't that part of the curriculum at Psychic School - along with channeling God and deceased poodles?

The last day I'm in the apartment Presence fucks with the internet. Ruthie can't get online. But funnily enough, I can.

"It's because of my un-psychic ability," I tell her. However, it's not true because I suddenly catch a glimpse of the ghost and sense him, too. Presence has come back. He wasn't here when I arrived. Maybe he went to Wimbledon to watch some tennis?

"Please stay here with Ruthie," I tell the ghost, "don't stalk me; my girlfriend won't like you."

But when I get back to my apartment in Copenhagen I actually see some one next to me when I work at my computer. I won't name the porn site I'm on, but let me put it this way: That ghost is a bit of a pervert.

But how an alien like him got through Danish immigrations I'll never know.

This British woman has obviously seen a ghost at the fruit stand. Or is it just the obscene prices she reacts to?


Monday, June 15, 2009

Dammit, I Missed The Naked Bike Ride in Portland (Sweaty Balls and All)

I'm still disappointed I didn't make it to The Naked Bike Ride Saturday night in Portland. All those bloated bellies and saggy balls flapping in the wind.

My Pale Girlfriend and I wanted to go, but as everybody knows it's hard work getting naked. First you have to take off your clothes, then you have to make sure that your genitals are behaving.

But if God has blessed you with a great body, you have a responsibility to flaunt it. I don't mean to brag but I'm a 53 year old with a body of a 52 year old.  I belonged in that race, and I wasn't going to wear a sissy helmet or a g-string like all the Germans I know.

The ride is part of The World Naked Bike Ride, an annual occurrence in Portland, San Francisco, and several degenerate cities in Europe. I've heard they even have one at Guatanamo bay. This year thousands of Portlanders biked through downtown to prove that riding naked is the thing to do when it's 56 degrees and your nipples are as hard as kidney stones.

But as I said we never made it. My Pale Girlfriend and I had just stripped naked when we found a mouse in the house. The mouse raced through the apartment and hid under the sofa. I tried to get it out with a broom. When that didn't work I went New Age on the rodent. "I see God in you, so get the fuck out of there before I call Rent-a-Cat."

And it's true. I don't want to kill any animal on earth; it's only people I feel like terminating. God, we did everything in our power to get rid of the mouse. First, we put on a noisy fan, then we ran around screaming like maniacs.

"No, we have to do something nastier than that," I said to my girlfriend and played some Country  music, but the mouse still stayed put. Later we found out that it had built a nest under one of the cushions. It was quite comfortable there. The mouse munched on our goat cheese and my liver pate - it even enjoyed watching Judge Judy.

So My Pale Girlfriend and I missed The Naked Bike Ride. And I wanted to go so badly - not to show off my ten inches (I have a long collarbone), but to teach people how vulnerable cyclists are in traffic. You see, The Naked Bike Ride in Portland is not about testicles.  It's an homage to naked cyclists who are killed every day - by truck drivers wearing too much clothes.

So it's high times that we take action. And Saturday millions of cyclists made the kind of political statement that can bring world leaders to their knees - at least if we hand them a pair of binoculars.


Monday, June 8, 2009

It's Award Times: Winner of Best Booth at Book Expo America (Hey, It Was an Outrageous One, Too)

As the followers of this blog know, I visited Book Expo America last weekend.

It took place at the Jacob Javits Conference Center in New York - the kind of place that would be perfect if you brought your private jet and didn't know where to park it. Unfortunately, the Javits isn't an airport hangar, it's the home of North America's biggest book fair.

So how do you survive a room with thousands of booths, with literary blogger assassins, and neurotic novelists looking for people to harass - not to mention an Elvis impostor, a skinny girl in beige bikini, and two Scientologists trying to convince you that Ron L. Hubbard is God and Tom Cruise is the Holy Ghost.

Well, it ain't easy. But I survived, mainly because BEA09 (as we smart asses call it) is a lot of fun if you're schizophrenic. I also survived because I ran into some truly great people.

So ladies and gentlemen, it's awards time. I'm going to give a prize to the best booth at Book Expo America. And no, it ain't Simon & Schuster's, even though they had the kind of carpet my dog would love to take a dump in. It's not Penguin Books', either. Those booths were the kind of places you'd go if you felt like head butting your accountant.

No, the winner of The Danish Accent Award for Best and Most Outrageous Booth is: WINDY CITY PUBLISHERS, Chicago!!!!

Winner of Best Booth at BEA09, Windy Publishers. Oh, to drown in this sea of gorgeous women.

You've never heard of this fine publisher? Well, I hadn't, either. I've never even heard of Chicago, but this booth kicked serious ass if I may be so bold. I got acquainted with these gorgeous psychos Saturday afternoon. I was in a bad mood (which is rare for some one as shallow as me), but suddenly I was attacked by two beautiful women. They started off by passing out pens, golf balls, and garden gloves to get my attention. Then they got down to business, removing my clothes under the excuse that I should feel more "comfortable". More women joined in. Believe it or not, one of them was a mother of three. "I'm gonna scream if you stop," I shouted - it was certainly a full-service booth.

Seriously, I hung out there for half an hour, convincing all the women that they should buy The Tsar's Dwarf. To get rid of me they promised they would, but I don't even care if they lied. Windy Publishers made my day. You should buy their books. Or their book. They just started out, but they're going places if you ask me.

Runner up for Best Booth at BEA09: Yogananda, SRF publishers, and his soul mates.

Runner up: SRF Publishers
I always need a dose of spirituality. So would you if you watch Judge Judy. Luckily for me, SRF Publishers had a booth that was dominated by the face of Yogananda, the Indian guru who introduced the West to Kriya Yoga and samosas. I adore Paramahansa Yogananda. He might be my favorite Indian guru, since he never dabbled in small boys as opposed to a lot of his competitors. If you don't know this Indian master, you should get hold of SRF's books. The most famous is the gorgeous Autobiography of a Yogi, a must for any one who is into spirituality. SRF has also reprinted a lot of Yogananda's wonderfully uplifting speeches.

I had a lengthy talk with Frank Marquette, a man who radiated the kind of serenity you'd expect from a cocaine addict. But Frank Marquette was not high at all, he was the real deal and I enjoyed talking to him immensely. He seemed like a man who lived his spiritual values. I would definitely buy a used guru from that man.

Jenn Northington, King's English Bookshop and me at the BEA09 in New York. It's Jenn on the left.

Honourable Mention: Jenn Northington from King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City. Jenn Northington didn't have her own booth, she just had 8.244 meetings to go to. Still, she found time to introduce me to book sellers, event managers, and a Twitter party that took place in a night club where you couldn't hear a word any one said - the perfect venue for people who are forced to express themselves in 140 characters. Mrs. Northington was the one who told me that I should go to BEA, so I could meet the right people. Luckily for me, Jenn is a big fan of The Tsar's Dwarf and has sold an obscene amount of the book in the Mormon City. Dear God, let me meet more book sellers like her on my fall tour!

Yes, that's right. You should sign up for my fall tour, the third one I'll be going on. I'm loud, ridiculous, and known to stand on broken chairs. Nine states have survived me so far. If you want to be next, send an email to my publisher Kate Sage at Hawthorne Books, or contact me (see upper left bar on this blog)

Support your small independent publishers. They do weird things like believing in Danish novelists of the tragicomic persuasion ...

Also read, Unpublished Writers, Please Don't Visit Book Expo America or You Just Might Get Shot at Dawn


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Christopher Hitchens a Messenger From God?

I just read God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.

Since I'm a believer I didn't expect to like this onslaught on religion, but I actually loved the book. It's well written, funny, provocative, and humanistic to the bone. Christopher Hitchens shows that atheists often are more "religious" (moral) than believers - and more tolerant than the people who claim they've found the "Truth". Hey, at least atheist don't condemn others to Hell, they don't cut off your clitoris (at least, not for religious reasons), and they're happy to put their teeth into a good pork chop, right?

However, make no mistake about it, Hitchens is as dogmatic himself as the religions he criticizes. His absolute "Truth" is that religion poisons everything. That's not correct, religion only poisons 88% of things. (I'm ready to negotiate this, it could be 87%)

Hitchens also seems to overlook that the world is full of people who carry their God within. They shouldn't be blamed for the mess the religions have made. It's not every Christian who uses the Bible as a baseball bat. And it's not all Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus who want to show others the "right" way. A lot of believers just live their values - their faith gives them inner strength and make them better people. So the problem is not God at all, it's organized religion.

However, Christopher Hitchen's book is an extremely important work. It's more necessary than a lot of the poop you hear Sunday mornings from pastors with face lifts. And it's definitely much more honest than Bill Maher's mockumentary Religulous. that used all believers as a punching bag for his wit

But the world does need to be reminded how much damage religions still do today - how most wars are caused by people who think their "Truth" is superior. So no, God Is Not Great ain't a work of the Devil. It's more likely a work of God.

Yes, I see it now: While Christopher Hitchens was sitting in his study, God descended on him, angels whispered in his ears, saints led his pen. Who knows, maybe God even supplied Hitchens with his Scotch to calm him down (and with cigarettes to soothe his nerves) because they knew that the world of faith needed a provocative slap in the face.

So without realizing it, Christopher Hitchens, the rationalist, has written a spiritual manifest. It's not only a Bible for people of the Atheist faith, it's also a work for the millions of believers who are suspicious of organized religion.

Most often God and religion have very little to do with each other. It's this point that the angry, but brilliant Christopher Hitchens doesn't seem to get.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Joyous Countdown for Literary Droolers (PEN's World Voices 2009)

A bit of nostalgia: World Voices 2008. Nuruddin Farah from Somalia, Fatou Diome from Senegal, and silly old me. I know Nuruddin Farah from Ledig House where we both had writing grants in 2002.

I love World Voices literary festival.

So would you if you were in New York at last year's event. I saw Rick Moody interview Israel's Edgar Keret, I was a witness to Chenjerai Hove's fist fight with Nuruddin Farah. (They were discussing tribal wars; I'm sure they're still cleaning up the blood). And I was at Housing Work Book Store where they offered free condoms to the audience. That's right. You could pick up a condom on the way out.

"What a great idea," I thought. "Everybody knows that bad literature is contagious. We simply have to protect ourselves against the STD of airport reading." But at the same time, the free condoms didn't make much sense because World Voices only does good literature. The festival is a class act. I should know because they haven't invited me.

Yes, dear friends, let me be brutally honest. I had hoped that I would have been a guest this year. As my blogreaders know, my translated novel, The Tsar's Dwarf came out last fall and has done well. But no such luck.

However, I want you to know that I've taken this humiliation as a man. I only cried for three days when I found out. And I've been heavily medicated ever since. Right now I'm on Valium and several herbal teas that make me fart, but my therapist has encouraged me to go to New York any way.

"Peter, it's not personal," he insisted, "it doesn't necessarily mean that PEN hates you or your pathetic novels."

"Are you sure?" I said trying to log into my PEN account without success. Danes Not Allowed, it kept on saying.

So here I am, a South Scandinavian novelist with a chip on his shoulder. However, I've received a beautiful consolation prize. I've become an official PEN blogger. Yes, you heard me. What more does any writer want from life? It's almost as good as receiving the Pulitzer prize or that Swedish literary award that snobs rave about. What's it called again? The Nobel prize ...?

So I'm deeply honored and I promise I'll be fair to those writers who are part of the festival. After all, it's not their fault that they were invited. My therapist and the medication have made me see that now.

New York in April is surprisingly hot, a melting pot of stressed out business men, hardcore joggers, and nuns with iPods. Not all of them have plans of going to World Voices; most are probably heading for Wall Street, Central Park or God. However, we're still many with sound priorities. We want literature and we know where to get it.

I have a list of events I've promised American PEN to cover. And I'm looking forward to them all. I'm going to listen to Stories of Change with Salman Rushdie and Zimbabwe hot shot, Petina Gappah. I'll enjoy a Literary Film Feast at Instituto Cervantes and Evolution/Revolution with Nicole Brossard, Narcís Comadira. And hey, I'll be happy to know more about Trends in Spanish Language Literature (I wonder if Lou Dobbs is going to show up?) and much more.

So please stay tuned because World Voices is a smorgasbord of international literature, it's a celebration of writers dappertutto. This year's festival should make any wordsmith drool. So here I am, a notorious drooler, celebrating PEN and the written word.

If you're interested in my silly report from last year, read PEN World Voices (Now With Condoms)


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

God's Punishment to a Texas Basher: A Book Signing Without Books

A picture of a real Texan, strong, manly, imposing. Definitely not some one who believes in gay marriage. Or soy milk.

You know writers. We´re so unbelievably demanding.

When we travel for six hours to do a book signing, we expect the book store to get the book. That was not the case at Book People independent bookstore in Austin. Thirty people showed up for My Gorgeous Book Signing Without Books. However, the store did apologize, the audience was great - and what the hell, people can buy The Tsar's Dwarf on, any way.

So no, I wasn't mad at Book People. I'm proud to say I took this humiliation as a man. Shit happens as my grandmother used to say. And I did spend a wonderful hour with the cream of Texan book lovers. I now have thirty two readers in The Lone Star state, so I haven't lived in vain. If you can make it in Austin, you can make it anywhere - my grandmother used to say that, too.

Luckily, I did another presentation of The Tsar's Dwarf as well, at University of Texas. I appeared in a Danish class in Bordine Hall. That's right, a Danish class. You actually have 14 weird students at UT who want to learn Danish. I don't know whether they've been forced at gunpoint, but they should get an award. These people could have chosen Spanish, Mandarin, Croatian or Urdu, but they decided to go with the only language that makes sense.

Frankly, I felt like kissing every single of them, but since you're not supposed to touch your students, I just drooled. And insulted them. You always want to have a little fun when you've traveled for six hours.

I was also happy to visit Texas for another reason - a deeply embarrassing one, to tell you the truth: I've always had a lot of prejudices against the Longhorn State. And I don't like being prejudiced, so my travels had a therapeutic purpose as well. In a certain sense, it was a pilgrimage: I wanted the state of Texas to forgive me for my sins.

Why have I been prejudiced against The Lone Star state, you ask curiously? Well, I blame the movies of my childhood - and all those big steaks that give you indigestion. I've always associated the worst things with Texas: cowboys, gung ho Bushes, gung ho Armstrongs - and I don't like any of them. Cowboys kill Indians and I like Indians. Bush kill Iraqis and I like Iraqis. Armstrong doesn't dope and I like doping. Then if you throw in the Christian Right and people who get a kick out of shooting others, Texas seems like a nightmare for any sissy - a Heaven for Republican gun slingers who think Glenn Beck is cool.

But forgive me, Lord, I was so wrong.

In Austin people actually seem enlightened. They drink caffe latte and watch English soccer; they ride funny bikes and wear designer flip flops - they even read Danish novels. What more can you ask of any civilized person? And the Texans are nice and friendly. They don't even talk that funny - they leave that to me. So I'm sure I'll be back some day for more of those kinky Breakfast tacos.

And hey, next time I might do a book signing in a book store where they actually have ordered my books. Then, I swear I'm going to be the happiest novelist in the world ...

Caffé Medici in Austin. An enlightened place for Texans who aren't afraid of ordering a latte.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

God, I'm So in Love with Judge Judy. She's my Favorite Nazi.

I'm in love.

Please don't tell my girlfriend. She'll be devastated when she finds out, but I can't keep it to myself any longer: I'm madly in love with Judge Judy, and I want to be the stepfather of her kids.

For those of you who aren't blessed with American TV, Judge Judy is a real judge who has a reality show on CBS where she settles cases in a small claims court. And she does so with gusto, wit, and the kind of sadism that works like a charm on TV.

By the way, Judge Judy is not a babe. She's more like your Latin teacher from Hell. But make no mistake, Judy Sheindlin is God's gift to American reality shows. She is tough, funny, and fair. She'll abuse you whether you're innocent, retarded or left handed. Her intuition is uncanny - Judge Judy knows you're a loser, even before your step into her court. And she's happy to humiliate you in front of ten million viewers.

The dark part in me absolutely loves the show. There's nothing like watching common people being torn to pieces. Judge Judy is court porn at its best; she has turned condescension into an art form. Judy Sheindlin passes judgment on everybody - just like God. The only difference is that she looks so much better in a black robe.

What I admire most is how Judge Judy rules the court with an iron fist. She's happy to tell people that they're bums, free loaders, and sociopaths with dandruff. And she has every right to because her ratings are high!

A clairvoyant friend told me that during Judy's last incarnation she worked in a concentration camp for the SS - and now she has come back to finish the job. But I don't believe that's true. Judy is a wonderful mother, a stout Republican, and a gracious tipper. Her values are all-American. I bet she believes in God as long as He shuts up when she speaks.

Well, I for one believe in Judge Judy. She's a part of me ... not a part that I like, but a part nevertheless.

But now, you have to excuse me, I have to jet. In a few minutes another re-run of Judge Judy is coming on - the one where two choir boys are suing a priest for spanking them with his Bible belt. I bet Judge Judy is going to have a field day with that one!

The cartoon is by Læmeur.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank You, Hermann Göring. At Least You Got One Thing Right.

The other day a raccoon walked down my street in Copenhagen.

I don't know if it were looking for me, but unfortunately I wasn't home. But that's beside the point. What's interesting is that we actually don't have any raccoons in Denmark. Vaskebjørnen, the raccoon, is not a Danish animal. It's an illegal immigrant.

But I'm so happy about this sighting I could scream with joy. You see, I adore raccoons. I often spot them in Portland, Oregon. The raccoon is a North American animal; it's everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. But how on earth did it end up in Copenhagen?

I did some research on the subject and it turns out that Hermann Göring is to blame. Yes, that's right, good old Hermann Göring, the "beloved" Nazi leader who adored two things in life, wienerschnitzel and concentration camps.

Apparently, Hermann Göring liked to go hunting, so one day in 1934 he got hold of four raccoons and let them loose in Hessen. "I'll come back and shoot them later," the fat slob said to himself and went back home and tortured some gypsies.

Yes, believe it or not, Hermann Göring, the fat fuck, introduced the raccoon to Europe and the raccoons just adored the surroundings. The four raccoons turned into four thousand, then into forty thousand and so on. Now seventy year's later, they're all over Central Europe and since they don't respect borders, they have now turned north and crossed into the Kingdom of Denmark.

Believe it or not, they're not welcome. The authorities consider them invaders the same way we considered the Nazis invaders in 1940. However, most of us Danes are still fascinated with the raccoons because there are so few of them. Let me give you an example. Last summer it made national news that a frightened man in Smørumnedre called the authorities when he found a raccoon in his shed.

"You don't belong here," he shouted at the raccoon that probably was munching on the Danish flag, spitting out the white cross on his manicured lawn.

"Maybe it's a Muslim," his daughter whispered and ran back into the house to play with her Lego.

The authorities picked up the raccoon and put it into a home with four other raccoons that also had entered our country without a visa.

So yes, the raccoons are here. They're even in the middle of Copenhagen now, walking down my street as if they were going Christmas shopping.

I'm thrilled to death by this. Raccoons are absolutely adorable, and I feel like cuddling them to death when I see them. Sure, they're a menace, but we need to spice up our parks and forests and the raccoon is perfect for the job.

"But Peter, you're insane," my girlfriend says, "the raccoons are nasty. They can tear a baby to shreads."

I know but who needs babies, anyway? Or cats, dogs, and tulips? I know that raccoons aren't political correct. They move into attics and rearrange the furniture. They destroy flowerbeds and piss in swimming pools. They'll even munch on your doorknob if you don't feed them their favorite kind of pizza.

But honestly, we need a sense of adventure in Denmark. Right now it's impossible to be attacked by any kind of wildlife, but with the raccoon around, at least you can get your eyes scratched out.

So thank you, Hermann Göring. I'm not an admirer of your fat ass, but at least you got one thing right back in 1934.