Sunday, September 27, 2009
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 rape and 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.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Sunday, September 13
When you're in Athens you have to visit Acropolis.
You don't really have a choice. Acropolis is the most famous ruin in the world. It reeks of ancient history. You can almost picture Socrates, Plato, and Ari Onassis walk around with their iPods.
Yes, something is wrong with Acropolis, especially on a Sunday when four cruise ships are in town. No matter where you go Mr. and Mrs. Obesity are killing time before they go back to B-deck for some more chili burgers.
After five minutes I've had enough. The sun is beating down, and there's absolutely no shade, not even in Pallas Athena's armpits. But you do have the pleasure of rude Russians who demand you take pictures of their sulky daughter; of boisterous Belgians who miss Manneken Pis, and of dumb Danes who'll become mass murderers if they don't get out now.
"Move on," the prison guards yell when we stop to take pictures. And prison guards are the right word for these uniformed Greeks. Some of them should have worked at Auschwitz. Come to think of it, maybe they did. This is just a new incarnation of herding cattle around, inflicting pain on the people who have paid 12 Euros to get in and 52 Euros to get out.
In front of me a Spanish guide is sounding like a bazooka, two Frenchman are getting erections. I love Greece, but Acropolis is almost as bad as a turkey farm before Thanksgiving.
God, Sometimes I Wish I Was Born in Italy and Had a Daughter Named Francesca
Monday, September 14
My Pretentious World Tour for The Tsar's Dwarf is continuing on to Italy.
Unfortunately, none of my books have been published there, so I'm "only" going to write on my novel. One of my Danish unions, DPA has an apartment in a small Etruscan town where I'm staying for 6 days. It's free for members if we do the dishes.
Sutri is close to Viterbo. It's one of those places where you want to sit on the piazza for a year with a caffé Americano, La Gazzetta dello Sport, and a bad tramezzino.
I'm basically the only straniero in town, but I get a lot of attention because I speak the language. My Italian has become a little rusty, but I'm happy to say it's decent enough to order food, insult Juventus, and discuss the sex life of Berlusconi.
Thursday, September 16
God, I'm writing well. So would you if it rained for three days in a row.
At the local bar I talk to the barista about Zucchero and Enrico Ruggieri, my two favourite Italian singers, ma San Remo fa schifo we both agree.
I always get high speaking Italian. The language is like a drug to me. If only I could get my fix more often.
Saturday, September 19
On my last day in Italy I take the bus into Rome.
In the late nineties I lived for six months in Trastevere, the most beautiful part of the city, but now the place has become a boot camp for middle aged Danes in search of Campari.
I walk around in a daze enjoying Campo de' Fiori and my favorite hang out Bar Calisto. Everything is as great as I remember, but being in Rome is like re-visiting an old lover who is still gorgeous but has very bad breath.
Sunday, September 20
Today My Pretentious World Tour moves on to Montreal, Canada for three events at the Festival International de la littérature (FIL).
I'm a happy man with an aisle seat. Now it's time for some Canadian jet lag.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
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.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I've been a tour guide for ages. Not a professional one, just a happy amateur showing loved ones around Copenhagen like the adorable cattle they are.
I've always been proud of my city, especially the fact that it doesn't have a Starbucks. To me Copenhagen is a gorgeous sleepwalker; a self satisfied but trendy, historical city that will whisper to you in its husky voice, "you may be visiting a small country, but it's much better than yours."
The last victim of my tour guide skills was no other than my favorite stalker, my pale girlfriend who shall remain nameless until she gets a tan.
She has been to Copenhagen several times and she's in love with the place. It's not so much the beauty of our capital that impresses her but our baby carriages and the fact that we leave them outside cafes, babies included, without any fear that a pervert will steal them.
However, what makes her faint with joy is not our gorgeous castles, our smørrebrød or our environmental trendiness, it's our Danish legs.
Maybe it's because you see them everywhere - we have quite a few legs in this country.
"Perhaps I should take you to Esbjerg," I smile. "That's the obesity capital of Denmark."
"Why is that?"
"Because it's the city closest to Germany," I answer sweetly and devour my tenth soft ice of the day.
My pale girlfriend continues down one of our prettiest streets, Magstræde with colorful houses from the 16th and 17th century. The cobble stones make the place romantic. You can easily imagine how it must have been back then - especially when you see all the garbage.
"You know, I find it surprising that Copenhagen isn't as clean as Spain. Why is that?"
Unfortunately her remark is true. Copenhagen has been dirty the last decade. It's a disgrace and a lot of us natives are ashamed of it. However, Naples is worse. And so is Calcutta, I hope?
To make things more ridiculous our politicians are going to "gift" us with another Metro that no one needs. This means that some of the most picturesque parts of the old city are going to look like a construction site the next ten years.
You see, our Danish politicians are like most other politicians. They want growth - that's their favorite word. They don't necessarily know what it implies, but it's a sure vote-getter. Growth has become the Viagra of the mind.
Things might not be going well in Denmark, but at least we can beat Sweden in soccer. I watched the World Cup qualifying match in Portland with six Swedes and barely made it out of the house alive. A very aggressive half-Swede tried to strangle himself, then me - not the most logical succession unless you've overdosed on Abba.
Back to my gorgeous city. We cross Strøget, our famous walking street that starts to look like any other mall in the world.
"... and then you tolerant Danes have almost become racist," my pale American continues while we pass a Japanese who is trying to commit harakiri because he only can get overpriced sushi.
"WHO SAYS THAT?" I shout.
"You do. All the time."
I start to blush, ""Oh, that's true, but we're racist in a very endearing way. If we know that you're just visiting, we'll embrace you no matter where you're from. But if you decide to stay, you're asking for trouble."
Then I tell her about the biggest controversy of the summer - how we just expelled a bunch of Iraqi refugees who were hiding in a church. The police picked up the women, the kids, and the men and sent them back to the most dangerous part of Iraq - the Iraq we helped to destroy by being part of Bush's Coalition of the Willing.
I kiss my girlfriend goodbye in our flashy airport. Her last act is to get a soy steamer at Baresso, our Danish version of Starbucks with scarily polite baristas.
When I see her adorable back disappear through the security check I'm happy that she isn't Iraqi.
Next time she visits we just might let her in again. After all, she's pale enough to pass as a sun starving Dane.
Also, read my award winning blog Denmark for Dummies - a Superficial Introduction to the Happiest Nation on Earth