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)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Reincarnation: The Storyteller's Best Friend

Where do writers get their inspiration from?

Artists and other losers have pondered this question since the dawn of time - yes, even before that. But instead of writing boring essays about it, I wish they would've asked me.

That's right. I'm a novelist, blogger, and airhead, so I have all the answers to the biggest questions in the universe. And since I've written quite a few historical novels I've often asked myself, Peter, where do you get your inspiration from? Dusty PhDs, Renaissance paintings, powdered wigs?

The answer is easy, from hidden memory!

First of all, let me start with a confession that will gross you out: I believe in reincarnation.

So do most people in insane asylums, you might say. As we all know, the world is full of lunatics who are convinced they used to be Napoleon (Here's a test: If your neighborhood Napoleon starts to get nervous ticks when you mention Elba, he might have a case).

However, the belief in reincarnation is not a contest for big egos. It's a help to understand your life today. Our incarnations are still with us. They're hidden in our souls, they have determined our DNA (we were supposedly put in the families that "fit" our karma), and they're narratives that make us who we are today. If you like Jungian psychology, you could call them sub-personalities.

Whether we're writers or not, we're all full of stories that pop up from our subconscious and demand to be taken seriously. And if we're artists they creep into our novels, acting, film making, paintings or music.

Sometimes we learn about past themes from dreams and visions. Most of the time we're not aware of what we're doing. We just call the stories imagination, or we're grateful to our muse - a concept that we're more comfortable with in the Western world than reincarnation.

I have a special connection to Veneto.

Veneto is the region in Northern Italy where Venice and Verona are the two main attractions. It's a beautiful place that I respond to on a very deep level. I've written on several of my novels here, and through regressions and meditations I know of a past life in Veneto that is very important to what I am today - and what has stood in my way as well.

Don't worry, skeptics. Before you vomit all over my website, let me assure you I wasn't anyone "important". Sorry, I don't claim I was Dante or Mussolini (even though I do look good in black). I just know that I feel at home in Veneto and that I was born with some stories, anxieties, and abilities that have nothing to do with my childhood but everything to do with past experiences. I haven't written directly about them yet, but one day I will.

Some people will call this lunacy, but I know of four countries and four cities that I resonate with on a deep level. They give me goosebumps, visions, and ideas. They have taught me about spirituality, illogical fears, and they have convinced me that all humans are wonderful puzzles of DNA, childhood, environment, social class, upbringing, and most important, our soul's experiences through many lives.

The Arts, I believe, is a great way of getting those things out of our system.

And you don't necessarily need an airhead with an astrological chart to go deep. Or a clairvoyant reading your aura like it was Time Magazine.

You can just close your eyes, increase your awareness, and I bet the stories will find you when you least know it...

Pictures are from Bassano della Grappa and Marostica in beautiful Veneto.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kafka in Disneyland (Prague, The City of Sweet Nightmares)

It happened at my wonderful hotel in Prague.

I'd been watching the first half of the Spain-Germany semifinal game and went out to get an ice cream with a friend. We got delayed and ran back to the hotel, up the stairs, and into my room. Then we threw ourselves on the couch, and I turned on the TV.

Strangely enough, I noticed that the TV-set had been moved, but I didn't think much about it. We wanted to concentrate on the game, and luckily none of the teams had scored.

But something felt wrong. I started to look around. On the desk there was a message in a handwriting I didn't know. On the table there was a computer that wasn't mine. Next to it, a book about Basel was thrown onto a chair. I started to sweat. Had I been reading a book about Switzerland without knowing it? Maybe I was sicker than I thought?

I slowly turned to my friend, "Claudio, I think we've walked into the wrong room."

"No, dai" he said, not wanting to take his eyes off the soccer. At that point, it was a 0-0 game, and Italians can't get enough of 0-0 games. To them it's an art form.

I turned off the TV and we ran out of the room. When I carefully closed the door I noticed that we'd gone into number 5 on the second floor, not number 9 on the third floor.

Evidently, my key card could get me in anywhere at this Czech hotel - well, maybe all over Prague and Eastern Europe as well?

Actually, nothing should surprise you in Prague.

It's Franz Kafka's birthplace. As my literary readers know, Kafka is the patron saint of paranoid schizophrenics everywhere; he's a writer so sinister and dark he makes Stephen King look like Mary Poppins.

Actually, Prague is a pretty dark place, too. I'd been in the Czech capital for less than two hours before I was ripped off. This happened at one of the many official Money Exchangers. I got $20 less than the proclaimed rate and told the woman I wanted my money. "Not possible," she said, her eyes enjoying the fight. A Czech writer friend of mine had to call the police before I got the right amount of koruna.

"Everybody cheats in this city," my Czech friend said. "They feel they have to because they're convinced that you cheat, too."

Kafka would have been pleased.

After that nasty experience, we wanted to do something to cheer us up, so we went to the Medieval Torture Museum. I was disappointed that they didn't indulge in water boarding back in those days, but Dick Cheney wasn't around in the 16th Century. Or maybe he was. I believe in reincarnation and I can easily see Cheney as a Bohemian Duke practicing his art on Slovakian scumbags.

Later we went to a Czech restaurant and feasted on delicious pork knees - something that actually passes for food in the Czech Republic. They took me three days to digest, but hey, at least they were expensive.

So didn't I like Prague at all, you may ask?

You got that wrong, I absolutely loved it. Prague is an unbelievably gorgeous city, a Gothic Disneyland of sheer beauty with castles and magnificent churches. It's one of the prettiest capitals in Europe, but it's not a city that gives you a hug. Prague kicks you in the gut; it's a poetic nightmare. It's unreal, disillusioned, tired, fascinating, and worth visiting if you take nothing for face value.

"The Communists have gone but have been replaced with people of the same mind set", my Czech writer friends says. "Nothing has really changed. Our revolution has become bitter velvet."

Her name is Dominika Dery. We were both invited to a literary conference in Cognac four years ago. Dominika has written a fascinating book about being the daughter of a Czech dissident in Communist Prague in the seventies and eighties. It's called The Twelve Little Cakes and did well in Australia, America, France, and Italy. But strangely enough, it hasn't come out in her own language, Czech.

"People aren't interested in that kind of book here," she said.

We crossed Karluv Most, the famous Charles Bridge where there's a fabulous view to the castle, the green hills, and the Kafka Museum. It's one of the prettiest places in Central Europe. Unfortunately, a few tourists around the world know that as well, so you can't cross it without passing ten Japanese tour groups and 1001 Danes lusting for Czech pivo ...

My last morning in Prague I woke up and discovered that I'd turned into a cockroach.

My back was hard as armor; my abdomen had been divided into rigid bow-like sections. I had numerous legs, but they were pitifully thin in comparison to my old ones.

When I reached for my key card, I got the feeling that good old Franz would have been pleased.