Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Umberto Does Dallas

I went to see Umberto Eco on Sunday night!

For the benefit of those of you who might be, no offense, utter Philistines, Umberto Eco is the brilliant Italian author who wrote a bunch of books you've probably never heard of, except maybe The Name of the Rose, which was made into a movie with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. And since it was the 80s, probably Molly Ringwald.

I've been a huge fan of the man since I read Foucault's Pendulum, which was my introduction to the whole goofy Knights Templar/Holy Grail conspiracy theory. Unlike Dan Brown (whose The Da Vinci Code is widely regarded as a historical treatise by people who are too retarded to remember that they found it in the fiction section), Eco approached the subject matter with his tongue firmly in his cheek.

(I've been working on my own novel about the Templars for quite some time now. My research has run the gamut from the historical to the dubious to the downright retarded, but it was Eco's novel that got me hooked in the first place.)

So anyway, Umberto Eco was in town on Sunday night for an interview and some selected readings, to be followed by pedantic questions from the audience. I went with my friends Sean and Silver, who are my comrades in all things pretentious.

I've never heard Professor Eco speak before, but the guy is just astonishingly brilliant. As it turns out, he's also very witty and engaging. At one point, he was asked about his love of mysteries and he responsed that all philosophers read mysteries, even if they won't admit it, because mysteries ask the greatest question that all philosophers face with regards to existence, "Whodunnit?"

Eco also remarked that he'd been disappointed by the movie adaptation of The Name of the Rose, and had decided afterwards that he would never allow another movie to be made from his work. He said he was contacted some time later by a producer who wanted to adapt Foucault's Pendulum and get Stanley Kubrick to direct. Eco declined the offer, but said he began to have second thoughts about it. Unfortunately, Kubrick passed away about that time.

Dammit. That would've rocked.

After the interview and a few selected readings from his new novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, it was time for the audience Q&A. Since this presentation was being recorded for radio broadcast on KERA 90.1, a lot of people seemed to view this as their opportunity to audition.

One dufus stood up with a notecard and read some rambling question that I'm sure sounded really clever when he was writing it in the bubble bath. "Professore, I won't ask you to tell a lie about the truth, for that would be a sin in the eyes of God, but rather I'm asking you to tell the truth about a lie because a lie is just the truth when the truth lies like a true in lie that the heart makes when true is true true lie true true that true because lie true with the lie that is true or is truth that is a lie..."

Or something like that. I lost track of the question, and apparently Professor Eco did as well. He turned to the moderator, confused, to ask him what the fuck this jackass was babbling about (only in a much more cultured and sophisticated way, I imagine).

So after meandering through this witty treacle for five minutes, the dork finally concluded weakly with, "Um, so what are your thoughts on that?" Eco then had the man dragged outside and beaten by NPR goons.

Afterwards, we all went out to stand in a long-ass line and get our books signed. I was really hoping for an opportunity to talk to the professor, just to let him know what an impact his work had made on me. I know he probably hears that kind of crap all the time, but still...

Unfortunately, we were at the back of the line. By the time we got to the front, Eco was clearly exhausted and not at his most sociable. People from his entourage were simply grabbing books from us and handing them to him, and he was just signing them as quickly as he could. He handed my copy of The Island of the Day Before to me, and I thanked him, but I don't think he even noticed. He was too busy signing the next one.

Sigh... it's probably just as well. I would've just said something stupid. "Did you know that a lie is just the truth about an untruth but the truth about a lie is not the truth? Um, so what are your thoughts on that?"


During the intermission, I got to talking to a woman named Stephanie who was sitting behind us. She's cute, smart, funny, and ever bit as geeky as my friends and I. She is also, it turns out, a slathering fangirl of our man Eco.

She joined us for dinner afterwards at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. And while we were all eating, Umberto Eco and his entourage came in.

We chattered excitedly amongst ourselves, wondering what we should do. Should we go talk to him? Should we invite him to sit with us? Should we offer to buy him dinner?

(Silver actually proposed that last suggestion, and then dismissed it because "the man looks like he could eat a lot.")

Anyway, apart from the anticlimatic Eco encounter, dinner was a blast. I was probably a tad more manic than usual because I was showing off for Stephanie. I do that sometimes, because I have the social acumen of a five year old.

But we had fun, and I don't think I scared her *too* badly. We wound up exchanging e-mail addresses and website info because, as I may have mentioned, we're both a tad geeky. I also snuck my phone number into the mix because, dammit, I'm smooooooth!

Just ask the ladies that haven't filed restraining orders, baby!


SJ said...

You are correct, I did not know who Umberto was before reading your very entertaining evening in and around Umberto. AND you met a slathering fangirl, well done, well played, Irb. I have heard of Foucault's Pendulum somehow, I'm sure it has to do with DaVinci Code because, you see, I'm no writer, no Umberto fan, (though I may have been called slathering fangirl in my time, sonny) just a hack reader who likes shit like DaVinci Code.

Boidy said...

Stephanie is making a BIG mistake if she lets you get away.. big.. big mistake.. you hear that, Steph? eh? listen up, Irb is a CATCH! get your NET!

... seriously ...

Irb said...

SJ: Aw, now honey, I wouldn't say The Da Vinci Code is shit, but I do think it's funny that so many people are debating whether or not it's true. They even had a mock trial about it, and I can only imagine it was over in a matter of seconds: "Your honor, it says 'novel' on the cover. Plaintiff rests."

Boidy: You heard it here, folks! Nine out of 10 married women agree: Irb is "a catch!"

mr. schprock said...

I was about to say "Yeah! I've read something by him!" But it was really Italo Calvino, which isn't the same thing at all. So I guess I am a Philistine after all. I've been called worse.

I really enjoy your blog.