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)

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Danish Jesusland In The Middle Of The Orange Groves?

It's a wet dream for any Dane.

You're driving down a street in generic Yorba Linda south of Los Angeles. The palm trees are swaying in the Californian wind. It's 71 gorgeous degrees on this Saturday in January; the mountains are glowing in the sun ... and suddenly you see it.

At first you think you're hallucinating. After all, it's not easy being a Dane far away from home missing saltlakrids and Lars von Trier ... but right in front of you, you see something that looks like a Danish sognekirke, a white church. You do a double take. Maybe this isn't Southern California after all; maybe you're in Øster Ulslev without knowing it?

But no, this Danish church is frighteningly real. I step out of the car, and several Danes greet me. They all speak English, probably because they want to be sure I understand them. Then we head for the entrance ... but suddenly I stop dead in my tracks and stare at a huge rock by the door.

No, this can't be true. It's Jellingestenen, one of the most important historical monuments in Denmark. When did these nice people steal it? And more important, how did they get it through customs?

"Very nice," I smile hurrying through the door like a madman, knowing that these Danes aren't well. They must be common criminals. I mean, what am I going to find in the church next? The severed head of The Little Mermaid?

Actually, I'm here to talk about my novel, The Tsar's Dwarf that was translated into English two years ago. Fifty people have shown up for Books & Breakfast. They serve Danish pastry, rye bread, and me. Luckily, these funky Americans and delightful Danes turn out to be a lovely audience. They even forgive me for my sins; something Christ hasn't come around to yet, but I guess He is otherwise engaged.

Most of my book talks aren't for Danes, but I always enjoy visiting Danish cultural centers. Here in Yorba Linda, they even have a red Danish mailbox - what more can you ask for? I'm so grateful I feel like mailing some threatening letters to my accountant, but I decide against it. It's so great meeting all these people who have read my novel in their book club while doing yoga under the tolerant eyes of our Danish God.

When I leave the Lutheran church and it disappears behind palm trees of Orange County, I have tears in my eyes.

Legend has it that the Danish flag fell from the sky in Estonia in 1219. That's not true. Now I know it was in Yorba Linda.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Joan Rivers in Portland - The Most Hilarious and Adorable Sewer in America

It doesn't get much better. Or worse.

Saturday night Joan Rivers was in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland where she did her stand up comedy. It's totally impossible to think of a comedian more outrageously judgmental than this queen of the zinger. She almost makes Ricky Gervais look like a choir boy.

For an hour and a half, 77-year old Joan Rivers told us about all the people she hates and despises: Lesbians, kids on airplanes, Victoria Beckham, Mel Gibson, cripples who slow everybody down, women suffering from breast cancer, dead people, beggars, Mother Teresa, The Three Wise Men, Jackie Kennedy, obesity, Oprah's ass, Chinese women, and men with balls that look like tea bags.

For reasons unknown to mankind, Joan Rivers appeared with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at her show in Portland. "A sick and stupid idea," she told the audience. And it sure was. But it worked. No one wants to be offended for two and a half hours, but 75 minutes are a fucking delight!

By the way, when Joan Rivers was a small Jewish girl in New York, she wrote a letter to Hitler begging him to find a place for a classmate in his concentration camps.

She also makes important confessions: "Do you know why I love anal sex? Because you can do other things while your man is at it. You can read a book. You can check your email..."

Joan hates people with annoying disabilities as well: "Why do blind people need an apartment with a view? They can't even pay you a proper compliment like 'you look wonderful today'. Blind people are so self absorbed. It's all about them."

So was this show in poor taste?

Absolutely not. We all have a dark judgmental side in our heads that pop up when we don't feel well - a voice that tells us how irritating and disgusting other people are. So the show is actually an interesting and hilarious study of our dark side. It's only those self righteous people who identify with being 'all good' or 'true Christians' who will be extremely offended by a show like this.

People with self awareness are painfully aware of their own inner Joan Rivers - that gorgeous and angry sewer that most of us learn to control, so it doesn't do serious damage to our environment.

People who have read my novels or some of my blog entries won't be surprised that I love black humor.

Actually, I wish that Joan Rivers was a damn dwarf because then she could play Sorine in the film version of The Tsar's Dwarf. When I wrote the character in that novel, I was aware that I was channeling my own angry and judgmental side in (hopefully) a tragic, humorous and artistic way. And man, it felt good writing a character that was both honest, wicked and strangely adorable.

So is Joan Rivers.

I'm not sure I would want to invite her to my meditation group (she might tear off my chakras), but I'll continue to admire her honesty and comedy from afar...


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Santa Fe, New Mexico - Kitsch, Tacos, And Snowmen Screaming For Mercy

I've always wanted to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

All my spiritual and artistic friends have raved about the place for ages: The beauty, the many art galleries, the high spiritual vibrations of the natives and the desert. So I went there with My Pale Soulmate Who Shall Remain Nameless Until She Gets A Tan.

When we arrived we were very surprised to find that it snowed. Somehow, the name Mexico doesn't jell with snowmen, but most of the state is actually at a high altitude - something I might forgive after a few more years of intense therapy.

We stayed in a rented cabin overlooking the mountains. And we went for long walks in a city that doesn't believe in sidewalks. But then again, most American cities treat pedestrians like they're perverts. At times, we were the only ones walking around which made the natives seem restless. They would stare at us from their warm cars with a combination of scorn and misplaced compassion.

Our cabin was close to Canyon Road, the awesome street that brag of being the home of two hundred art galleries. There was so much art on that road I almost hoped for a Walmart to break the monotony. Some of the pictures and installations were pretty awesome. And if they weren't, the snow made sure they got an upgrade.

We visited about twenty-two galleries, pretending to be art dealers or con men - as if there is any difference. Many of the gallery owners welcomed us with open arms, since there wasn't any one else around. They even laughed at my jokes which just goes to show how desperate they were.

Strangely enough, there are very few restaurants or cafes on the famed road. Maybe you're supposed to eat the paintings - or continue on to the small but quaint downtown that has an abundance of tourist stores selling native kitsch and non-offensive cacti.

Perhaps we were a little disappointed in one thing: Both of us thought Santa Fe was more of a hippie town, but no one tried to read our auras or poison us with tofu. We did visit a nice new age book store - the kind of place where chakras and herbal tea are a way of life. But we have those places in Portland and Copenhagen as well, so I had to stuff myself with homeopathic medicine to get over the disappointment.

Santa Fe was very expensive, but I'll definitely recommend New Mexico to any hot blooded tourist. It has a peaceful atmosphere, and most rattlesnakes keep out of your way. We definitely want to come back when the weather is warmer. The summers are pretty nice because of the high altitude. And hey, the local tacos should be enjoyed in 60+ weather, not with two blankets wrapped around you.

God bless you, Santa Fe!