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, December 27, 2011

There Is Nothing More Powerful Than Yoga (Unless You Hate It, Of Course)


1.
I absolutely adore yoga. It's like having sex with yourself - a spiritual cleansing, a divine form of masturbation that has been passed down from Indian saints who didn't know how to keep warm in the Himalayas. I totally believe you can become enlightened by mastering your body - I'm just not sure I have one.

Yes, you guessed it, I only like yoga in theory. When my body sees a yoga mat it wants to run away and munch on a pork sandwich. It doesn't want to breathe through migraines; it doesn't find any joy in "allowing" the pain from a cracked collarbone. My body wants greasy tacos, sex in phone booths, and long bike rides around nuclear plants.

So why do I keep on torturing myself with the dog and other unhealthy yoga positions? I've done yoga on Greek islands and dengue at a health spa in Thailand. That's right, dengue at a health spa. God is trying to tell me something. "Stay away from yoga," God shouts with that booming voice of His that worked so well for Charlton Heston. "Go and catch chlamydia, that's much more spiritual."




2.
Right now I'm sitting at Kalani Oceanside Retreat in the rainforest on Big Island, Hawaii, and it's so serene it gets on my nerves. Alcohol isn't allowed, but anal sex is, so it's not all dull.

Actually, people are absolutely warm and beautiful. In my group you find a Latvian healer, a musician from L.A. with a gift for Zin Wine, a chocolate sales executive who despises chocolate, and an ex-con from the Oakland ghetto. The food is so healthy and tasty you want to scream, and unfortunately our yoga teacher Will is absolutely great. He even has a sense of humor, something I thought was strictly forbidden on the spiritual pathway. And hey, there's a reclining Buddha overseeing my declining body when I go snorkeling in the pool. With a life guard like that, how can you drown?

So yes, you could refer to this lush rain forest as Paradise, but damn it, there's nothing at Kalani to keep me on my toes. When I visited ashrams in India and Thailand you had to watch out for snakes and monkeys jumping on your back. On Big Island nothing can kill you. You may see a dolphin or hear a whale, but even though this is a spiritual place whales tend to keep to the sea - they're not much for doing The Plow.





3.
By the way, I love mediation much better than the medieval torture that passes for Kundalini yoga. I'm also pretty good at breathing. Without bragging I can say I've done that successfully for half a century.

A few days ago I almost reached Enlightenment. I suddenly found myself fondling the most beautiful woman in the studio which happened to be my own wife. And I felt like fondling a few others as well, since I believe it's very important to share your wealth, but unfortunately my guardian spirit told me to stop.





So yes, I'll recommend meditation to any one, even though self discovery can be a scary journey. The first time I meditated I discovered that I didn't have a soul. I was only Mind and Thoughts. "Good," I smiled, "now I don't have to be compassionate to other people, I can just eat gelato." But those feelings eventually disappear when you get as close to Enlightenment as I am. Yes, you may buy my book and my DVD. I can walk on water, too.

But excuse me, I have to leave you now. There's an Ecstatic Dance taking place in the Rainbow Room here at Kalani. You're supposed to chant and rub your chakras against the other yogis while you chant something incredibly deep in Sanskrit. You just can't go wrong with that, now can you?




Link to the gorgeous Kalani Oceanside Retreat where egos go to die (some more than others)




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Monday, November 21, 2011

Introducing Novelist Olga Tokarczuk, Pride of Poland (Neptune Aspects And All)


1.
I met Olga Tokarczuk in Cognac, France in 2004. Both of us were invited to Litteratures Europeennes Cognac, a literary conference for writers who had books out in French that year. Mine was Le Front Chantilly (Flødeskumsfronten, O Paraiso de Hitler), and I was extremely excited to be there.

I had no idea who Olga was, and since no one ever has any idea who I am, it was a match made in Heaven. We spent the conference talking about Jung, astrology, and dreams. Later, one of the other Polish writers told me that Olga Tokarczuk was Poland's greatest writer. "But she's a vegetarian," I shouted. "How can a vegetarian who believes in astrology be a great writer?"

The next year I read Olga's House of Day, House of Night, her only book out in the US where it has sold somewhere between 13 and 14 copies. It had won the Gunther Grass prize in Germany, however, and was supposedly a post modern work with no beginning, middle or end.

"Oh, that sounds boring," I yawned and opened the book knowing I would hate something that pretentious. Half an hour later I was hooked. House of Day, House of Night turned out to be one of the best novels I've ever read - a collection of dreamy, meditative small stories where Silesia (Schlesien), a southern region of Poland, was the protagonist. I'd never read anything like it, and when I taught the book in a literature class at Portland State University I discovered that my students enjoyed it as much as I did.



2.
I met up with Olga again in Berlin earlier this month where she was on book tour. She's a big name in Germany as well, and we had a great dinner together.

"There are so few writers who are interested in spirituality," she said and told me that her last book had gotten a lot of ridiculous reviews because her protagonist had been (gasp) an astrologer, and in many academics' eyes that made the book less convincing (!)

"I'm not surprised about that at all," I said with a little smile, having been at the receiving end myself of many scornful reviews for those of my Danish novels that are too spiritual.

We also talk a lot about our Neptune aspects and the writing process. I'm dead tired of being too controlled in my writing. I want my stuff to be weirder, less traditional, and more mythical. Olga offers a lot of great insights which go down very well with the Indian Palak Paneer we enjoy in Schoneberg on this dark November night.

Afterward we go out for coffee, and I give Olga a copy of The Tsar's Dwarf where I've borrowed a few lines from House of Day, House of Night as a homage to her wonderful writing.

Olga, on the other hand, gives me her first novel, Primeval and other times which has come out in English sixteen years after its publication in Poland, but not from a British or American publisher but from a Czech.

"That's weird," I laugh.

"I don't think American publishers believe in me," Olga sighs, making me feel fortunate that I've been treated so well in the US - a country that basically is a cemetery for European novelists who don't write thrillers.

But you can't keep a good woman down. And Olga Tokarczuk is a fantastic writer that I truly admire. If you haven't read her you should. She's out in about fourteen languages, so unless you're waiting for the new Stieg Larsson, what's holding you up?

Wikipedia, Olga Tokarczuk




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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Forgive Me, Berlin, But I Miss The Wall and The Gloomy Marxists With Their Bad Haircuts



1.
I'm in Berlin for the first time in more than thirty years.

It's a fun, vibrant city full of cafes, trendy neighborhoods, and friendly people with oversized lap tops. Prentzlauer Berg is hard not to like. So are Bergmannstrasse and fashionable Unter den Linden with the wonderful Berlin museum, but the more I walk toward Brandenburger Tor the more I miss the wall and good old gloomy East Germany.

Not because I liked the German Democratic Republic or DDR. No one did unless they were deranged. East Germany was the most unpleasant country in the world at that time, but it was exciting the same way a nightmare is exciting. The collective paranoia crept into you and made you look suspiciously at every zombie-hausfrau who passed you in the street, most of them smoking Bulgarian cigarettes that smelled worse than the factories.




2.
Yes, that's right, visiting East Germany was like walking into a black and white film with incredibly bad props. People drove around in Skodas and Trabants. The East Germans wore dreadful clothes and had haircuts that made Danish degenerates like me roar with laughter. Alexanderplatz in the late seventies was a paradise of asbestos and huge red banners, teaching us that the Party decided what we should say and think.

God, I loved the Deutsche Democratische Republik the same way you love your undertaker. It was definitely my "favorite" dictatorship because the Poles and Romanians were too friendly. In Hungary the food was too delicious to being real Marxist, but the East Germans got it right: They despised everybody and were downright rude toward capitalists who didn't bow before their Holy Trinity of Marx, Engels, and Hoenecker. But still they dreamed of hiding in your suitcase when you went back to West Berlin.

"God, it must be so exciting to live in this workers' paradise," I used to think stupidly, "they have microphones in the ashtrays just like in the movies, and when somebody knocks at your door in the middle of the night, you know it's not your boring neighbor but some Stasi with a gun."




3.
My fondest memory of my two trips to East Germany was visiting my pen pal, a girl from Halle who dreamed of escaping to the West.

One late night we sat on a bench in Alexanderplatz and kissed. It was one of those three minute kisses you have to be a teenager to endure. We never came up for air, we just kept on kissing ... but while we were at it, I felt something was wrong. I looked up and saw that a police car slowly went by eying us suspiciously. Then it disappeared, but one minute later it came back. An officer rolled down the window and said something sinister to us, so we got up and continued somewhere else. East was meeting West. In our mouths, anyway.



4.
Berlin today is quaint and exciting but not a favorite city of mine. Predictably enough I enjoy the DDR museum and the DDR restaurant the most, even though the latter should be dangerous to your health. I've never had worse food than I did in East Berlin as a teenager. It almost makes the sandwiches at Starbucks seem edible.

One of my favorite places today is Kollwitzplatz. And there's something wonderfully ridiculous about the biggest tourist trap of them all, Checkpoint Charlie where I buy a piece of the Wall that I add to my impressive collection of ridiculous relics like two expensive splinters from the cross on Golgatha.




5.
I leave modern day Berlin after three days, but what I'm going to miss the most is the Club Colas they used to serve in DDR. They always tasted like Cokes that had been left open on a kitchen counter for a decade.No wonder that East Germany ceased to exist. There's only so much suffering humanity can take, anyway.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

No Wonder I Feel Right At Home In Gdansk, Poland (In The Company Of A Certain Naked Woman)


1.
I'm presenting my novel The Tsar's Dwarf at Uniwersytet Gdanski in Poland, and no wonder I feel right at home.

A few minutes before my reading I run into The Little Mermaid. She's sitting stark naked in the hall trying to read Søren Kierkegaard. No wonder she looks depressed. But I've always been a fan of our national symbol, so I decide to cheer her up by gently stroking her breasts. She gets quite aroused, of course, and as you can tell from the picture I get tired from my handiwork.

Actually, I love the fact that the Danish national symbol is visiting Poland. We have a duty to share her with the world, so first The Little Mermaid went to Expo in Shanghai, and now she's hanging out at Uniwersytet Gdanski hoping to get laid.

"Your Danish mermaid used to sit in the Norwegian class room, but we got so sick of her we threw her out," Hilde, the Norwegian instructor tells me with a cruel smile. What she has replaced The Little Mermaid with I have no idea, but it's probably a statue of Quisling or Drillo, the two big Norwegian heroes.



2.
Gdansk is beautiful. I had no idea that the historical center was so breathtaking. It took me back to the happy days of 1716 when everybody wore powdered wigs and didn't worry about the Euro.

Seriously, if I'd known that Gdansk was this gorgeous I would have gone years ago. Gdansk is only 50 minutes by plane from Copenhagen, but it seems like another world. The prices are low, the graffiti in the train stations are awesome, and people really know how to drink.




And hey, I'm deeply impressed with the language as well. The Poles don't believe in vowels. They were forbidden by law a long time ago. However, this country seems to have a kinky love affair with the letter Z. They put it absolutely everywhere, especially in places where it doesn't belong.

But as I said, what impresses me the most is the old part of Gdansk. It was expertly rebuild after the war, and even though the suburbs look grey and dreary, they still have a fifties charm with old train stations and houses with verandas that will collapse if a squirrel runs across the roof.



4.
After three days in Poland I definitely feel like coming back and explore more of this exciting country. However, I want to avoid Krakow and Auschwitz. Those two places have too much in common if you ask me. In one place they don't like the Jews, in the other they don't like the English. But as everybody knows, the European Championship in football will be here next year. And Denmark will win, beating Poland 8-0 in the final.

Why? Because The Little Mermaid belongs to us. Duh!



Thursday, October 6, 2011

How To Milk a Danish Cash Cow (A Holy Scam In Varanasi, India)



1.
I'm in love with India. I've been here about eight times. I love the deep spirituality of this great country. And when I get tired of God, there are always the strong colors, the gorgeous scent of urine, and the palak paneer they serve in the small guest houses.

India is full of surprises, too. Yesterday I ran into three holy cows and Goldie Hawn. And I was head butted by all four. Yes, 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 in India. 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. Or the most impressive sewer in history.

Varanasi is India at its best and worst. It's colorful, charismatic, loud, polluted, dirty, generous, kind, obnoxious, spiritual, beautiful, and a haven for scam artists, con men, and monks with an advanced degree in pick pocketing. Everybody wants something from you. Sometimes it's your soul, but mostly it's just your damn rupees.

I ran into a delightful 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. While roaring with laughter at the same time.




2.
I was walking down the atmospheric alleys of the old city avoiding the cow dung, the one-armed beggars, and the scrawny cows feasting on filthy plastic bags.

A man came up to me and started to talk. His English was fine, 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 100% 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. The fire that was used for the cremation was lit thousands of years ago and had never gone out, my guide told me while meditating on my pin codes.

I started to cough because of the heavy smoke. I've always been sensitive to inhaling the deceased, especially Brahmins.

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

"No."

"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," the Pious One 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 in the dhoti 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, even though I was aware that one of the 32 million Hindu gods probably would cut my head off if I was stingy.

When that was done, my guide stepped forward and asked me to give a donation of 2000 rupees (about fifty US-dollars) 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're asking for justice in this cruel world. "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 100% convinced that this indeed wasan ugly but hilarious 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 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 this divine "hospice".




3.
The first minutes afterward I was a little more shaken than I wanted to admit. Had I been too harsh? Could I be so sure that it was a scam? But of course it was. And I wouldn't have been without all this. 250 rupees to experience something as wonderfully absurd as a hospice tour was a damn bargain.

And hey, I got to take some good pictures, too.

A few days later I left Varanasi.

It was difficult to say goodbye to this gorgeous mess of a place. Varanasi is the kind of city you never forget. It shows humanity at its best and worst: Beggars dying in the streets, horny monks rubbing against women, child prostitution, devout Hindus full of beautiful faith, nuns helping the poor, gorgeous processions with elephants, sun sets coloring the roof tops and the fishing boats, beautiful kids asking for one rupee...

When I entered Varanasi's small airport I saw a sign saying YOU'RE BEING WATCHED.

At first I felt intimidated. Was God at the check-in counter, too? But then I simply decided it was good news for us narcissists.






Rewritten blog entry from the fall of 2009

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hi, Hermann Hesse, I'm Right Outside Your House. Why Don't You Come Out And Play?


1.
I'm visiting the great novelist and poet Hermann Hesse.

Frankly, I haven't been invited, but I don't really care, and Hermann probably doesn't, either. I'm in his house in Montagnola in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. Hermann Hesse lived here from 1919 until his death in 1962, and I can't say I blame him. The area is absolutely gorgeous, overlooking Lago di Lugano and the majestic Alps. If I'd lived here I would have written Siddharta, too.



Right now I'm walking around the first house Hesse lived in. It's called Torre Camuzzi and is a museum for the great German/Swiss writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1946. One Nobel prize is too little if you ask me. The man should have won two! I mean, have you ever read Demian and Siddharta? Hesse wasn't just a great writer, he was also a mystic, a philosopher, a pacifist, and a humanitarian who stood up against the Kaiser, Hitler, and the nationalism of the day.

When I read Demian the first time I was totally blown away because the novel is a spiritual manifesto and a visionary masterpiece that easily could have been written today. I mean, can you mention any writer in the world who had such insight, such language, and used spiritual symbolism in a way that would have made Confucius, Krishnamurti, and Jung proud?


2.
I have a lot in common with Hermann Hesse, except for the small fact that I'm not a genius.

I'm as heavily influenced by Indian mysticism as he was. I'm in love with Francis of Assisi, and I'm a nomad and pacifist as well. So Hermann Hesse holds up a mirror for me. All great artists do. When a reader loves a writer it's never only the writing he or she connects to; it's something deeper - a vision shared whether the reader knows it or not.

Hey, Hermann Hesse even had a younger wife as I do (mine is just more adorable), and he loved traveling in Italy - a country that always has been a great inspiration for me as a novelist and soul.

What is funny is that I never knew anything about Hesse's personal life until a few months ago. In 2001 I read Siddharta and loved the prose and the wisdom. It's only this summer I've started to read the rest of Hesse's books, and what a great journey I'm on.

It's also quite a journey walking around Hesse's home, admiring his straw-hat, the glasses he wore, the typewriter he wrote on - not forgetting the private pictures of the novelist/poet/painter sunbathing in the nude. (Yes, he was German after all). I almost feel as if I'm trespassing, but that's okay because I love trespassing.




3.
The last thing I do is sit by Hermann Hesse's tomb a kilometer away from his house in a beautiful cemetery, surrounded by cypresses and bird song.

His gravestone is simple and humble contrary to lots of the others. A small Buddha is sitting on top, and Hesse's third wife is lying next to him.


I'm very moved by the stillness and the presence at the cemetery. However, I know that Hermann Hesse wasn't a saint. His work was everything to him, he often suffered from depressions and felt like a misfit, but I'm extremely grateful for the art and the insights the weird German Steppenwolf gave to the world and me.

So danke, grazie, thank you, Hermann. I enjoyed stalking you, and I'll continue reading your books until there are no more left...


Monday, August 15, 2011

Beautiful London (And Almost Not a Word About the Rioting)


It's hard not to love London.  The parks are so gorgeous, and luckily they can be used by everybody. There is no dress code, but that shouldn't surprise you. The British haven't dressed well since 1939.





I still love riding the double-decker buses, and like all kids I fight to get the front seat on the top. Sometimes I have to mug a few Spanish tourists, but no one said mass transit was easy. And hey, I got to take this mediocre picture of Oxford Circus.



Being such a history slut, I went to Hampton Court outside of London. Frankly, I wanted to get away from the riots in the city, so what was more natural than escaping back to the peaceful times of the 16th Century?


When I visited the castle I ran into Henry VIII. I was a little surprised since I thought he was dead. But much to my dismay His Majesty didn't look like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers at all.




You see, I'm a little obsessed with The Tudors, the popular TV-series. I've watched it on Netflix all summer and learned so much about the Renaissance. For instance, I had no idea that everybody was so fuckable in the 16th Century. They obviously had amazing dental work in England back then. Even the executioner looks like a TV-anchor with those pearly whites. And a few of the queens must have made use of the tanning beds in Ealing. Yes, those were the days when you could behead your wives and wear fabulous clothes, too.



But there are other more important tourist sites in London. What impressed me most was the shrine to Beautiful Football Played By Whining Millionaires, also known as the Emirates, Arsenal's stadium. The canons outside were put there to make sure that Nicklas Bendtner doesn't come back.




The great thing about London is that you find art everywhere. This photo is from Downing Street, I believe. A few famous residents live there, but I have no idea who.



Your Danish novelist couldn't help taking a picture of himself in Islington where he stayed at a cottage owned by his union. That's why I'd come to London in the first place: to write with that comforting sound of police sirens in the background.

God bless London. Unfortunately, the city is going to need it.

*****



Friday, April 22, 2011

Denmark for Dummies: A Superficial Introduction To The Happiest Nation On Earth (Updated)

Winner of www.Denmark.net's International Blog Contest, 2009. Updated version.

All Danes are blond and gorgeous. And all of us have a cabin with a view of a lake. No wonder the whole world wants to be Danish, but don't get your hopes up. We're very protective of our gene pool.


You're smart.

You're planning to go to Denmark.

You've always wanted to visit our country because you know that it's the most exciting nation in the world. You tell yourself, "Why would I want to go to Paris, London or Florence when I can go hiking in Djursland?"

"Yes," you continue, "I'm trendy. I want to go to Denmark because the Danes are eco-friendly, they ride their bikes like there's no tomorrow, they're innovative with windmills and dildos, and most important, they're the happiest and most trusting people in the world."

Yes, that's right.

What we Danes have known for ages is now official: Denmark has been named the happiest nation on the planet. And I'm living proof of that. Right now this Danish novelist is sitting in the middle of happy Copenhagen staring at the happy rain, enjoying the 43 degrees of happy spring.

Come and visit us, will you?

And please bring all your credit cards because you're going to need them!


YOUR GUIDE TO DENMARK

Here's a superficial introduction to my Southern Scandinavian Paradise. Everything you read in this guide is the gospel truth and is not open for discussion.

Name: Denmark (Danmark)

Inhabitants: 5.5 million.

Capital: Copenhagen (1.5 million)

Ranking: Most livable city in the world (Monocle, British Magazine, 2008)

Other Top Rankings in the World That We Take Pride in Because We Damn Well Should:
a) Most trusting people in the world (April 2011)
b) Best restaurant in the world (Noma)
b) Most Commitment to foreign aid.
c) Most Pork consumption per capita (not counting your neighborhood Iman)

Language: Danish.

Government: Constitutional monarchy.

Currency: Kroner. (5.5 DKK to a US dollar)

Religion: No, thank you.

Name of Queen: Margrethe II.

Name of Prime Minister: Always a Rasmussen.

Size: The 8th biggest country in the world if you count Greenland. (Always count Greenland).

Unemployment Rate: Rising

Hospitality If You're Not White: Falling

Crime per Capita: Fourth lowest in the world.

Corruption: Second lowest in the world.

Average Consumption of Beer per Capita: Fourth highest in the world.

Weather: Not really.

Favorite National Hobby: Bombing Libya

New Pet Hate for Silly Danes: Norwegians.

Old Pet Hate for Wise Danes: The Danish People's Party

World Ranking for Danish Men In Bed: Number 9.


Famous Dead Danes: Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tale writer), Søren Kierkegaard (philosopher), King Canute (conquered England), Tycho Brahe (conquered the universe), Isak Dinesen (conquered Africa), Karen Blixen (conquered Meryl Streep), Vitus Bering (explorer), Niels Bohr (physicist), Georg Jensen (design), Jørn Utzon (architect), Carl Nielsen (composer), Carl Th. Dreyer (film director), Victor Borge (comedian), Hamlet (Shakespeare's boy toy).

Famous Living Danes: Caroline Wozniacki (tennis player, cute) Lars Ulrich (founder of Metallica, not that cute), Anders Fogh Rasmussen (General Secretary of NATO; he'll be happy to bomb any country you dislike), Bjorn Lomborg (climatic self promoter), Helena Christensen (ex-model), Peter Høeg (author), Michael Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel, Nicklas Bendtner (soccer players), Lars von Trier (film director)

Danes Who Ought to Be Dead: Jante.

Famous Half Danes: Viggo Mortensen, Scarlett Johansson, Ludvig Holberg.

Danish Oscar Winners for Best Foreign Film: Gabriel Axel (Babette's Feast, 1987), Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror, 1988), Susanne Bier (In Another World, 2011)
Biggest Danish Film Star of All Time: Asta Nielsen (from the Silent Age. Known as Die Asta by the Germans, and other adorable riff-raff)


Most Famous Danish Building: The Opera House in Sydney.

Famous Danish Companies You Probably Would Want to Boycott If You Were a Muslim Who Don't Care For Our Cartoons: Arla, Lego, Maersk, Ecco, Vesta, Bang and Olufsen, Danfoss, Carlsberg, Tuborg.

Daily Smokers: 10% of population. (All of them will be sitting in your outdoor café of choice)

Obesity Rate: 22% of population.

McDonalds Restaurants in Denmark: 25

Best Danish Food: Moss, lichen, and bone marrow.



Denmark's Claim to Fame in Great Britain: Bacon.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in Spain, Greece, and Cyprus: Blond girls with herpes.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in the Far East: Badminton.

Denmark's Claim to Fame in the Middle East: Cartoons.

Most Important Danish Invention of All Time: The atomic bomb (Niels Bohr)

Denmark's Biggest Contribution to American Sports: Morten Andersen, the all-time leading scorer in the NFL.

Best Tourist Attraction If You're Into Knights in Shining Armour: 1. Frederiksborg castle, Hillerød. 2. Kronborg (Hamlet's castle), Elsinore. 3. Egeskov, Funen.


Best Tourist Attraction If You're Eight Years Old or Behaving Like It: Legoland.

Best Tourist Attraction If You're Eighty Years Old or Behaving Like It: Tivoli.

Most Overrated Tourist Attraction That You Shouldn't Waste Your Time With But God Knows You Will: The Little Mermaid.

Time of Glory I: When the Danish vikings conquered England in the 11th century.

Time Of Glory II: When Denmark won the European Championship in soccer in 1992 and the whole country behaved like a frat party.

This is the kind of abuse we Danes have to tolerate every day: Foreigners who fondle our national treasure as if she were a common strumpet. Shameless, that's what it is.

Biggest International Danish Hit of All Time But Please Don't Listen to It: Barbie Girl by Aqua.

Danish TV-Series That Was a Great Hit in the UK and Now Has Its Own Popular Spin Off In The US: The Killing (Forbrydelsen)

Worst Danish Accent by Great Actress: Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen in Out of Africa

Most Sold Danish Novel Since The Time of Hans Christian Andersen: Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg.




Most Beautiful Cities in Denmark: Copenhagen, Helsingør (Elsinore), Ærøskøbing, Faaborg, Ribe, Skagen, Svaneke, Århus.

Places to Avoid at All Costs Unless You Have A Secret Death Wish: Mørke, Ringsted, Brøndby, Fisketorvet.

Best Months to Visit Our Fine Country: Late May, June, July, August.

Best Month to Commit Suicide Because It's Dark, Dreary, and Everybody Wish They Were in Thailand: January.

Best Danish Traits: Tolerance, sense of humor, informality.

Worst Danish Traits: Intolerance, pettiness, self-satisfied melancholy.

What You'll Miss the Most If You're an American Visiting Denmark: TV anchors with perfect teeth.

What You'll Miss the Most If You're Italian: Bread and Berlusconi.

What You'll Miss the Most If You're Norwegian: Norway

Most Beautiful Area of Denmark: The Silkeborg lake district in Jutland and the island of Bornholm.



Most Stupid Thing to Say to a Dane: Now, which part of Germany are you from again ...?

Second Most Stupid Thing to Say to a Dane: I've just been to Sweden. It's my favorite Scandinavian country.

Enjoy your stay, but do bring all your credit cards. Copenhagen is the second most expensive capital in the world, but hey, we mean well.



Copyright, Peter H. Fogtdal, Danish Accent, 2008, 2009, 2011

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Syria Is A Dream, But Journalists and Lesbians Are Not Allowed (Memories of Pre-War Damascus)


1.
There is a snake in the courtyard. And I'm not talking about Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, even though God knows I should.

No, this is a tiny but poisonous snake. You wouldn't expect to find one in the middle of Damascus, but here it is at the Danish institute, waiting to bite a degenerate Dane and all the other authors, scholars, and painters who are working and studying at this gorgeous place.

One of the Syrian guards catches the snake and puts it in a glass. "It's very dangerous," he says with a big smile and starts to play with the reptile. I almost feel sorry for it. A snake doesn't look right in a tea glass. On a desk. In the Danish Institute in the middle of the Syrian capital.

"And now," the guard adds, "we're waiting for the snake mother."

Some of the other guests go pale.

"What ... what do you mean?" an older scholar asks nervously. He's only used to deal with Rumi, so this is a little bit too real.

"The snake mother will come to seek revenge, of course" the Syrian beams.

That night none of us sleep well at the institute. We are all waiting for an angry mother snake, attacking us through our bed sheets, ready for the kill.





2.
I'm reminded of this innocent scene from my 2007 visit to Syria.  Those were the days when Bashar-al-Assad and his state psychos had everything under control.  Luckily, they don't anymore. Syria is coming undone, and I hope things will end well because the Syrians are some of the most generous and warm people I've ever met.

The Danish Institute  is situated in an old Arab villa in the suq in Damascus. When you walk out of the door, you're in the middle of 1001 Nights. It's a magical place with a small fountain, gorgeous walls, and a high iwan.

The villa is a national treasure. Most of the construction is from the 17th century, but one wall is actually from before Christ. It used to be part of a Roman structure. So here I am, surrounded by sultans, baby snakes, and the smell of apostles and curry.

I've always been crazy about the Middle East. Maybe it's because my grand father was born in Safed eighty miles away, in what today is Northern Israel. He was born Jewish but his father was a Coptic Christian with an Arab background, so I'm happy to say I carry that confusion inside of me.







3.
One of the many fantastic places in old Damascus is the Umayyad mosque, which is among the most important in the Muslim world. It's a ten minute walk through the suq with its donkeys, silk vendors, and water bearers.

The mosque is not just a place for prayers and agitation as we like to think in the West; it's also a place where kids play grab ass and where you meet a lot of Syrians. One day I run into Zeid - a student of English literature at the University of Damascus.

"So what writers do you study?" I ask.

"William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, and Henrik Ibsen," he says.

"Henrik Ibsen is actually Norwegian," I smile. 

"Thank you so much. I'll bring this important information to my professor," he says solemnly.

Zeid is a nice guy. His English is decent, so I take him to a restaurant with my favorite lesbians from the institute, the Danish author and critic, Leonora Christine Skov and an illustrator friend. It's Ramadan. Everybody is chewing on their head scarfs, but most Syrians succeed in being pleasant until around 5 pm. Then they just can't take it anymore.

When we return to the institute, we're told they have found three more snakes. A  few hours later, a Syrian terminator shows up. He looks like a reptile himself, sticking his tongue out, putting out poison in every conceivable hole, including some of my mine. After half an hour, the whole place stinks like a chemical plant.

"We've never had snakes here before," the secretary complains. "Only a few adorable scorpions in my office."

However, the Institute is always infested - it's full of hidden microphones, and several of the people who work there are definitely informants. We are probably followed when we venture out into Damascus. Syria is one of the most efficient police states in the Arab world, and at one point, a local shop owner tells me that he is forced to have a picture of Assad on the wall.

"I would have preferred Cameron Diaz," he says.





4.
The snakes finally disappear from the institute. Or so it seems. You never know with the Devil.

One day I visit one of the many Internet cafes in modern Damascus - a place that looks like East Berlin in the sixties. As usual, most of the visitors are local men watching porn. I try not to notice their erections, but I'm sure the secret police does.

I want to publish a piece on my blog, but blogspot.com is forbidden in Syria. It's hardly surprising because the first time I was in Damascus Hotmail.com was forbidden. My second time here it was Yahoo's turn to cause the wrath of the regime.

Leonora and her friend have the same kind of problem. When they try to get into the official Danish website for homosexuals, they are met by the stern picture of Bashar-Al-Assad, may peace not be upon him.

In a certain sense, it's all very logical. Bashar-Al-Assad sees everything. Before he became a dictator, he worked as an eye doctor - my condolences go out to the world of optometry. But soon, his regime will be history. Let's pray for that. Syria deserves a lot better, so I'd like to dedicate this blog entry to all the Syrians who have had enough. May Allah and all gods in the universe be with you.


March, 2011 (I visited Damascus and worked there on two of my novels in 2003, 2004, 2007, and loved it)







**********All photos copyright Peter H. Fogtdal, Danish Accent

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How To Sleep With An Author In The Comfort Of Your Own Head



1.
It's a difficult choice.

It's always a difficult choice: Who to sleep with. So many writers, so little time but at Sylvia Beach Hotel you can choose between the cream of the American and British crop. You can shag up with Mark Twain. You can cuddle with Agatha Christie. You can share saliva with Scott Fitzgerald. Or how about enjoying your nightmares with the one and only Edgar Allen Poe?

That's what we did at this wonderful hotel in Nye Beach in Newport, Oregon. It's a theme hotel. All rooms are named after a famous writer. Sluts as we are, we slept with three, the first being Edgar.

If you don't know Edgar Allen Poe, I'll tell you this: That man was seriously messed up - like a latter day Lou Reed with a keen eye for the poodle droppings of life. Just looking at his portrait was enough to make your skin crawl. And his room was creepy as well. Dark red colors, pictures of ravens (not exactly the most cheerful bird around), and an axe above the bed to keep you on edge. It wasn't a healthy room to stay in. After a few hours I actually tried to murder my wife twice.

2.
The next morning we moved out and took a walk on the beach. It was a gorgeous day. No dead bodies around, just your odd Christian fundamentalist gazing wistfully at the young girls.

We went back to the hotel and had a wonderful breakfast. Those are hard to come by in the US, unless you're infatuated with plastic spoons. But at Sylvia Beach Hotel they actually have a bit of class: Pancakes, sausages, soy milk, and only a few of those bagels that taste like cardboard.

At noon we moved into the Gertrud Stein room. It was a small place with a lesbian cabinet, a few of her letters on the wall, and some nice unattractive pictures of the writer. We felt much better in those surroundings, even though there wasn't much of a view.

By the way, there are a lot of cats at Sylvia Beach Hotel. For an extra twenty dollars you can have one sleep on your belly - they should call it Rent-A-Cat. Maybe they should have a house penguin as well. I have a weakness for animals in suits.





3.
On the third floor, there's a library with beat up chairs and a fantastic view of the ocean. I tried to reserve all the chairs like the Germans do, but we Scandinavians just can't get away with that.

Sylvia Beach is an easy place to connect with book nerds. Even New Yorkers become mellow when they look at the sea. Several times I strolled through the small library at the hotel. It has an impressive collection of all the books a writer ought to read - the so-called classics that only have one purpose in life, to make you feel like shit because you haven't read them.


4.
The third night was a treat. Luckily, a nice couple got the swine flue and didn't show up, so the kind people in the reception offered us the suite - the Agatha Christie room, with four windows facing the ocean, a fireplace, and an old typewriter.

God, I loved it. Everything had a twenties feel. I could just picture Miss Marple looking for murder clues in the ashtray, or Hercule Poirot driving everybody insane with his Belgian accent. The room was so wonderful I decided I'd never leave - I actually handcuffed myself to the bedpost instead of paying the bill. I've now been barred for life, but sometimes you just have to put your foot down.

In the afternoon we got fogged in, too. The coast disappeared, and the seagulls looked pleased when they defecated on our windows. That night I slept like an angel wrapped up with my pale wife who kept on having gorgeous nightmares about Edgar Allen Poe and his ravens.




5.
So what can I say? I've stayed at hotels around the world. I've been smothered in Thailand, spoiled in Syria, and humiliated in Costa Rica, but the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Nye Beach, Oregon is something else.

And I'm definitely going back one day. I just have one small request, and I don't think it's unreasonable: Please name a room after me. I know I'm not that important a writer, so the Peter H. Fogtdal broom closet will do. Or how about one of those bathrooms where the toilets won't flush - I would be happy with that, too. That's how humble I am, seriously!



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Check out The Sylvia Beach Hotel here!




*Rewritten version of blog entry from the summer of 2008