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, November 17, 2009

No, Oprah, Danes Aren't Happy. We're Godless Patriots on Painkillers

It's old news now.

Danes are the happiest people on earth. That survey came out in June, 2008, and just a month ago Oprah dedicated a TV-show to us happy Danes. What's our secret? Why are we always so goddamn happy? Even when we shop for carrots we're the Embodiment of Bliss. And when we throw poor refugees out of the country, we smile because we live here and they don't.

So what's up? Are our expectations lower than others? Are we happy because our welfare state works (kind of), or do we simply take pride in the fact that we invented Lego?  If you've ever played with Lego, you know it makes you happy, right? Well, that's what we Danes are all about, supposedly.

But are we seriously happy?  No, we're simply patriots. That's what the survey reflects. We suffer from The Small Country Syndrome. We're tired of being taken for Swedes or Germans. We want to come out of our Southern Scandinavian closet; we simply want to be seen!

That's what the coming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen is about as well. See us, appreciate how much we do for the environment, admire us. But happy? No, how could we be? Most Danes don't believe in anything, not even in ourselves. Our only God is the welfare state. That has become the church we worship, and the walls of the church are crumbling down.  The recession will see to that.

So Oprah, next time you come to Denmark, please continue to celebrate us, because we do have a great little country with socialized medicine. And Denmark is still the kind of fairy tale place where it makes national news when a gang member fires a bullet into a park bench.

But if you walk around Copenhagen on a cold November day, you won't find much happiness. You'll see people in their own comatose world, walking to and fro with plastic bags and briefcases, not saying hello to any one, not smiling through their painkillers, just going about their business in the dreary drizzle.

Strangely enough, if you want happiness, you  see more of that in a poor village in India or Bali - maybe because they have 52 million gods to help them with their pain?

Read my award winning blog entry, Denmark for Dummies: A Superficial Introduction to the Happiest Country in the World.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Milking a Cash Cow in India (The Joys of Bad Karma?)

I love India.

I've been here about eight times. I love the spirituality of this great country. And when I get tired of that, there are always the strong colors, the humorous people, and the best spicy food in the world.

India is full of surprises, too. Yesterday I ran into three holy cows and Goldie Hawn. And I was head butted by all four. 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. 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.

Varanasi is India at its best and worst. It's colorful, charismatic, loud, polluted, dirty, generous, kind, obnoxious, spiritual, and deeply criminal. Everybody wants something from you. Sometimes it's your soul, most of the time, it's just your money.

I ran into a wonderful 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.

I was walking down the colorful alleys of the old city avoiding the cow dung, the beggars, and the scrawny cows feasting on plastic bags.

A man came up to me and started to talk. His English was good, 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 totally 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 (freight?). The fire that was used for the cremation was lit thousands of years ago and had never gone out.

I started to cough. I've always been sensitive to inhaling the deceased.

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


"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," my guide 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 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.

When that was done, my guide stepped forward and asked me to give a donation of 2000 rupees 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've asked God for cash. "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, convinced that this was a 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 a 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 the patient-free hospice.

The first minutes afterward I was shaken. Had I been too harsh? Could I be so sure that it was a scam? Maybe the Western volunteer was right in his criticism. Why didn't we tourists give more money to the poor when we easily could afford it?

But then I remembered the sinister atmosphere, the intimidation, and the spitting when these people didn't get what they wanted. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that my money never would end where it was supposed to.

So I was happy with the outcome. 250 rupees to experience something as wonderfully absurd as this was a damn bargain.

By the way, it's important for me to say I have the deepest respect for the Hindu religion, so if any one finds the above disrespectful, I apologize. But I reserve the right to be facetious when spirituality is being abused. And spirituality often is, in India and everywhere else.

But needless to say, scams are a small part of India. The country is so picturesque it's impossible to take a bad picture.

This time I enjoyed my aimless walks along the Ganges and in the alleys of Varanasi - one of the most incredible places I've ever been. I enjoyed the masala dosas at the local grease joint, I enjoyed my talks with Mr. Namit Agnihotri, the general manager at The Gateway, one of the finest hotels in Varanasi (I recommend it highly). And hey, I did run into several holy cows and Goldie Hawn - the latter actually stayed at my hotel, but she "disappointed" me greatly by not asking for a signed copy of The Tsar's Dwarf.

When I left Varanasi I saw a great sign in the airport. YOU'RE BEING WATCHED, it said.

That's good news for us narcissists.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: Now at Lingnan University, Hong Kong

"Sterilize in every hour," says the sign at my hotel in Hong Kong.The sign is referring to the elevator keyboard - this potentially germ, bacteria infested death trap that will give you the swine flu the second you push any button.

Yes, it's not easy to survive in this world with so many dangers. The first time I was in Hong Kong everybody was afraid of SARS. Now it's the swine flu, but as long as you don't touch anything you should be safe.

Let's face it, life is a death sentence - even if we "sterilize in every hour".

Apart from the paranoia, Hong Kong is an upbeat town. I love its mixture of East and West, of double decker buses and sampans, of nerdy computer wizards and soulful soothsayers. However, I'm not here because I was born in the Year of the Monkey: I'm doing a reading and a workshop at Lingnan University in Tuen Mun.

Lingnan is far away from the sizzle of Kowloon. It's situated in The New Territories close to the border to China. This university is small and quaint with a landscaped garden, an Olympic size swimming pool, and a great collection of turtles.

I've also been invited to Lingnan to do a writing workshop, so Friday I return from Hong Kong Island to teach a Master Class for 15 adorable students.

It takes place in a classy room with freezing air condition and good tuna sandwiches. The participants are from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia, and Nepal. Several students have actually traveled from Lignan's sister university in Southern China to sit at my feet.

My Master Class (yes, I like using this word as often I can) is part of Lingnan's Life Writing program - an absolutely great invention where students write about their own life experiences. If you're a bore you could call it autobiography, but I like Life Writing much better.

I read and critique five stories, and some of them are very good. One student has written a moving tale about how a small gesture of trust from a stranger in Wales changed her life. Another story is a wonderful character study about a late uncle on the Mainland who was accused of counter-revolutionary tendencies, even though he was a mere loner.

But what impressed me the most were the students themselves. After an hour I wanted to put them all in my suitcase, so I could bring them with me to Denmark. They were wonderful, and so were the professors at Lingnan.

"We want you back," says chairman Richard Freadman. And who am I to argue with an Australian chairman? Or with fellow Dane Mette Hjort, chairman of Visual Arts, who invited me here and who knows more about Danish films than any quiz contestant?

Before I leave campus I go back to the turtle pond and kiss my new friends goodbye. "I wouldn't dream of making soup out of you," I whisper lovingly and return by train to crowded Hong Kong Island.


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.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: First Stop, Athens, Greece

Thursday, September 10, 2009:
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, especially 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 me. I'm going to Athens, Greece; Sutri, Italy; Montreal, Canada; Portland, Oregon, and Hongkong, China. And on my way back, I'll stop in Varanasi (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.

As I said, 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!

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. (Sorry about the shirt though. I don't look good in yellow)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Dammit, I Missed The Naked Bike Ride in Portland (Sweaty Balls and All)

I'm still disappointed I didn't make it to The Naked Bike Ride Saturday night in Portland. All those bloated bellies and saggy balls flapping in the wind.

My Pale Girlfriend and I wanted to go, but as everybody knows it's hard work getting naked. First you have to take off your clothes, then you have to make sure that your genitals are behaving.

But if God has blessed you with a great body, you have a responsibility to flaunt it. I don't mean to brag but I'm a 53 year old with a body of a 52 year old.  I belonged in that race, and I wasn't going to wear a sissy helmet or a g-string like all the Germans I know.

The ride is part of The World Naked Bike Ride, an annual occurrence in Portland, San Francisco, and several degenerate cities in Europe. I've heard they even have one at Guatanamo bay. This year thousands of Portlanders biked through downtown to prove that riding naked is the thing to do when it's 56 degrees and your nipples are as hard as kidney stones.

But as I said we never made it. My Pale Girlfriend and I had just stripped naked when we found a mouse in the house. The mouse raced through the apartment and hid under the sofa. I tried to get it out with a broom. When that didn't work I went New Age on the rodent. "I see God in you, so get the fuck out of there before I call Rent-a-Cat."

And it's true. I don't want to kill any animal on earth; it's only people I feel like terminating. God, we did everything in our power to get rid of the mouse. First, we put on a noisy fan, then we ran around screaming like maniacs.

"No, we have to do something nastier than that," I said to my girlfriend and played some Country  music, but the mouse still stayed put. Later we found out that it had built a nest under one of the cushions. It was quite comfortable there. The mouse munched on our goat cheese and my liver pate - it even enjoyed watching Judge Judy.

So My Pale Girlfriend and I missed The Naked Bike Ride. And I wanted to go so badly - not to show off my ten inches (I have a long collarbone), but to teach people how vulnerable cyclists are in traffic. You see, The Naked Bike Ride in Portland is not about testicles.  It's an homage to naked cyclists who are killed every day - by truck drivers wearing too much clothes.

So it's high times that we take action. And Saturday millions of cyclists made the kind of political statement that can bring world leaders to their knees - at least if we hand them a pair of binoculars.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Christopher Hitchens a Messenger From God?

I just read God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.

Since I'm a believer I didn't expect to like this onslaught on religion, but I actually loved the book. It's well written, funny, provocative, and humanistic to the bone. Christopher Hitchens shows that atheists often are more "religious" (moral) than believers - and more tolerant than the people who claim they've found the "Truth". Hey, at least atheist don't condemn others to Hell, they don't cut off your clitoris (at least, not for religious reasons), and they're happy to put their teeth into a good pork chop, right?

However, make no mistake about it, Hitchens is as dogmatic himself as the religions he criticizes. His absolute "Truth" is that religion poisons everything. He also seems to overlook that the world is full of people who carry their God within. They shouldn't be blamed for the mess the religions have made. It's not every Christian who uses the Bible as a baseball bat. And it's not all Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus who want to show others the "right" way. A lot of believers just live their values - their faith gives them inner strength and make them better people. So the problem is not God at all, it's organized religion.

However, Christopher Hitchen's book is an extremely important work. And it's definitely much more honest than Bill Maher's mockumentary Religulous that used all believers as a punching bag for his wit.

But the world does need to be reminded how much damage religions still do today - how most wars are caused by people who think their "Truth" is superior. So no, God Is Not Great ain't a work of the Devil. It's more likely a work of God.

Yes, I see it now: While Christopher Hitchens was sitting in his study, God descended on him, angels whispered in his ears, saints led his pen. Who knows, maybe God even supplied Hitchens with his Scotch to calm him down (and with cigarettes to soothe his nerves) because they knew that the world of faith needed a provocative slap in the face.

So without realizing it, Christopher Hitchens, the rationalist, has written a spiritual manifest. It's not only a Bible for people of the Atheist faith, it's also a work for the millions of believers who are suspicious of organized religion.

Most often God and religion have very little to do with each other. It's this point that the angry, but brilliant Christopher Hitchens doesn't seem to get.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Joyous Countdown for Literary Droolers (PEN's World Voices 2009)

A bit of nostalgia: World Voices 2008. Nuruddin Farah from Somalia, Fatou Diome from Senegal, and silly old me. I know Nuruddin Farah from Ledig House where we both had writing grants in 2002.

I love World Voices literary festival.

So would you if you were in New York at last year's event. I saw Rick Moody interview Israel's Edgar Keret, I was a witness to Chenjerai Hove's fist fight with Nuruddin Farah. (They were discussing tribal wars; I'm sure they're still cleaning up the blood). And I was at Housing Work Book Store where they offered free condoms to the audience. That's right. You could pick up a condom on the way out.

"What a great idea," I thought. "Everybody knows that bad literature is contagious. We simply have to protect ourselves against the STD of airport reading." But at the same time, the free condoms didn't make much sense because World Voices only does good literature. The festival is a class act. I should know because they haven't invited me.

Yes, dear friends, let me be brutally honest. I had hoped that I would have been a guest this year. As my blogreaders know, my translated novel, The Tsar's Dwarf came out last fall and has done well. But no such luck.

However, I want you to know that I've taken this humiliation as a man. I only cried for three days when I found out. And I've been heavily medicated ever since. Right now I'm on Valium and several herbal teas that make me fart, but my therapist has encouraged me to go to New York any way.

"Peter, it's not personal," he insisted, "it doesn't necessarily mean that PEN hates you or your pathetic novels."

"Are you sure?" I said trying to log into my PEN account without success. Danes Not Allowed, it kept on saying.

So here I am, a South Scandinavian novelist with a chip on his shoulder. However, I've received a beautiful consolation prize. I've become an official PEN blogger. Yes, you heard me. What more does any writer want from life? It's almost as good as receiving the Pulitzer prize or that Swedish literary award that snobs rave about. What's it called again? The Nobel prize ...?

So I'm deeply honored and I promise I'll be fair to those writers who are part of the festival. After all, it's not their fault that they were invited. My therapist and the medication have made me see that now.

New York in April is surprisingly hot, a melting pot of stressed out business men, hardcore joggers, and nuns with iPods. Not all of them have plans of going to World Voices; most are probably heading for Wall Street, Central Park or God. However, we're still many with sound priorities. We want literature and we know where to get it.

I have a list of events I've promised American PEN to cover. And I'm looking forward to them all. I'm going to listen to Stories of Change with Salman Rushdie and Zimbabwe hot shot, Petina Gappah. I'll enjoy a Literary Film Feast at Instituto Cervantes and Evolution/Revolution with Nicole Brossard, Narcís Comadira. And hey, I'll be happy to know more about Trends in Spanish Language Literature (I wonder if Lou Dobbs is going to show up?) and much more.

So please stay tuned because World Voices is a smorgasbord of international literature, it's a celebration of writers dappertutto. This year's festival should make any wordsmith drool. So here I am, a notorious drooler, celebrating PEN and the written word.

If you're interested in my silly report from last year, read PEN World Voices (Now With Condoms)


Saturday, March 21, 2009

God, I'm So in Love with Judge Judy. She's my Favorite Nazi.

I'm in love.

Please don't tell my girlfriend. She'll be devastated when she finds out, but I can't keep it to myself any longer: I'm madly in love with Judge Judy, and I want to be the stepfather of her kids.

For those of you who aren't blessed with American TV, Judge Judy is a real judge who has a reality show on CBS where she settles cases in a small claims court. And she does so with gusto, wit, and the kind of sadism that works like a charm on TV.

By the way, Judge Judy is not a babe. She's more like your Latin teacher from Hell. But make no mistake, Judy Sheindlin is God's gift to American reality shows. She is tough, funny, and fair. She'll abuse you whether you're innocent, retarded or left handed. Her intuition is uncanny - Judge Judy knows you're a loser, even before your step into her court. And she's happy to humiliate you in front of ten million viewers.

The dark part in me absolutely loves the show. There's nothing like watching common people being torn to pieces. Judge Judy is court porn at its best; she has turned condescension into an art form. Judy Sheindlin passes judgment on everybody - just like God. The only difference is that she looks so much better in a black robe.

What I admire most is how Judge Judy rules the court with an iron fist. She's happy to tell people that they're bums, free loaders, and sociopaths with dandruff. And she has every right to because her ratings are high!

A clairvoyant friend told me that during Judy's last incarnation she worked in a concentration camp for the SS - and now she has come back to finish the job. But of course that's not true. Judy is a wonderful mother, a stout Republican, and a gracious tipper. Her values are all-American. I bet she believes in God as long as He shuts up when she speaks.

Well, I for one believe in Judge Judy. She's a part of me ... not a part that I like, but a part nevertheless.

But now, you have to excuse me, I have to jet. In a few minutes another re-run of Judge Judy is coming on - the one where two choir boys are suing a priest for spanking them with his Bible belt. I bet Judge Judy is going to have a field day with that one!

The wonderful cartoon is by Læmeur.