Archive for November, 2007


“Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there…”

I collect Charlemagniana. Friends, family, and generous readers support my fixation by alerting me to Charlemagne-inspired novels, movies, news stories, pop songs, public gardens—any cultural spinoff that amplifies the muffled murmurs of the Matter of France.

Thanks to my friend Kate Marie, I now know where the emperor himself, were he a time traveler, might enjoy a hearty meal: at a remarkable Charlemagne-themed bistro in Weston, Missouri.

If I lived nearby, I’d be a regular. How could I resist such a menu? Turpin’s paella! Eggihard’s sirloin! Roland’s horn smothered in Childeric sauce! I’d take a ninth-century name, don my nephew’s helmet and a rakish Carolingian mustache, and stake my claim to a corner of the bar. Sing, O Theodulf! Bring on the dancing bears! Hel-lo, Gundrada…

Alas, it may be a while before I can partake of this unique neo-Carolingian repast. But Kate Marie and her husband, Sadeeq, are on notice: the next time I drive through the Midwest, we’re meeting there for lunch.

They needn’t worry, though. The helmets and mustaches? I’ll bring enough for three.

“Bring me my broadsword, and clear understanding…”

“Lo, for four winters I ravaged the playground, terrorized the feeble hearts of toddlers, deprived neighboring preschoolers of juice—until one day, a sibling arrived, taking the place that the protector of warriors formerly bestowed upon me…”

Swa cwaeð min sweostorsonu, snottor on mode…

“Floating in this cosmic jacuzzi…”

This weekend, at a truly enjoyable fundraiser, I met several newcomers to Becoming Charlemagne, as well as a few people who had already read the book. As we got to chatting, I was reminded of the neatest thing about writing a book in the first place: the author’s obsession, developed over years and often nurtured in solitude, finally becomes a shared point of reference through which readers can look anew at some aspect of the world.

Those readers aren’t always strangers, either. I came home from the luncheon to find that a friend had emailed me the following news item:

Schwarzenegger Learned Dealmaking in Tub

San Jose, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger learned the art of political negotiation in a setting that’s oh so California – soaking in his backyard hot tub. Keynoting a gathering of Silicon Valley business leaders Friday, the Republican governor explained how his wife – former television news anchor Maria Shriver – came to support his 2003 gubernatorial bid.

“We were sitting in the Jacuzzi. I said, ‘Maria, here’s an idea. What do you think about this, me running for governor?'” Schwarzenegger said to peals of laughter. “I said, ‘There’s a recall, there’s only a 2-month campaign. I think we can work our way through this two months and then I’m governor – isn’t that great?'”

After the laughter died down, Schwarzenegger turned solemn.

“In all seriousness, she had tears in her eyes. I had to work on her for 14 days,” Schwarzenegger said. “That’s where I learned to negotiate – bringing Democrats and Republicans together right there in the Jacuzzi.”

“Californian, eh?” my friend writes. “Seems to me Ahnold’s not the first leader of Germanic extraction to practice politics from the tub.”

He’s right. Here’s Einhard on—who else?—Charlemagne:

He took delight in steam-baths at the thermal springs, and loved to exercise himself in the water whenever he could. He was an extremely strong swimmer and in this sport no one could surpass him. It was for this reason that he built his palace at Aachen and remained continuously in residence there during the last years of his life and indeed until the moment of his death. He would invite not only his sons to bathe with him, but his nobles and friends as well, and occasionally even a crowd of his attendants and bodyguards, so that sometimes a hundred men or more would be in the water together.

Last year, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, my family and friends surprised me with their eagerness to talk about the conflicts of Charlemagne’s era, the culture of medieval Baghdad, and the cruelty of the Byzantine empress Irene. Maybe this year, inspired by historical parallels, we can debate a more urgent proposition: whether Karolus Magnus, for all his scholarly advisers, would have been able to pronounce the word “gubernatorial” without sounding just a little bit silly.

“…and no one knows but Lorelei.”

Ah, the Middle Ages: idealized by some, studied by many, and fated to serve as the wellspring of some truly awful motion pictures.

Scott Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard is having fun with the “study guide” for the impending Beowulf movie. A sample: “As I searched for the actual number or e-mail to order the study guide, I realized that the glossy ads for the film on the back of the poster were the study guide. Oh.”

Carl at Got Medieval is grumbling, too, about Beowulf’s mother’s footwear choices.

Meanwhile, Jennifer at Per Omnia Saecula notes, with understandable dread, a film adaptation of Boccaccio’s Decameron starring fame’s latest love-children.

Alas, my Charlemagne-and-the-giant-scorpions miniseries is no closer to becoming a reality. However, Variety mentions another movie that may have tremendous potential:

Telepool also picked up “The Charlemagne Code,” Munich-based Dreamtool Entertainment’s $7 million TV movie about an archeologist on a perilous quest to find the legendary Nibelung treasure. Made for RTL Television in Germany, Telepool has already presold the TV movie to Telecinco in Spain and TV2 in Hungary.

Charlemagne, the Nibelung treasure, and a German Indiana Jones? I’ve been teaching Wagner for three weeks, so part of me would love to see this improbable, ridiculous gesamtkunstwerk find its way to American cable.

And if it happens to have a few giant scorpions in it? So much the better.