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. 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.