Music is a passion of mine, much as it is for most of the tnocs.com crew. I imagine for some, the answer is easy when asked What’s your favorite song? or What’s your favorite artist?, but I’ve never been able to answer it. It really depends on which day of the week, you ask, my recent moods, and what’s been in my playlist lately (“Common People”, I’m looking at you!)
But a favorite book? For the last thirty years, there hasn’t been a second of hesitation:
Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. It’s the book Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code wants to be when it grows up.
In 1992, I spent the summer backpacking across Europe, an experience today’s young twenty-somethings will never appreciate: no internet, no contact with home, no computers or electronics. Besides my clothes and hygiene products, I carried with me three things:
1. The June 26, 1992 sports section of the USA Today
2. When Eight Bells Toll, by Alistair MacLean, my favorite book pre-1992, and
3. The 1992 edition of Let’s Go Europe!
For the first month of my trip, whenever I had a couple of hours on a train, or some quiet time in a hostel, I memorized every word, and by the time I hopped onto the train in Vienna, I probably could’ve described Belarus as if I’d spent a year exploring it myself.
On that train, I met some other backpackers who were heading to Venice as well, and one of them was carrying Foucault’s Pendulum. I asked him about the book, and he gave a brief synopsis. Once he put it down, I asked if I could read it.
I was hooked by the time we reached Venice. After an afternoon in the city, I headed back to the train to get to Rome to meet up with my cousin the next morning, with whom I’d split from in Berlin five days earlier. I arrived at the train station a few hours before he did, and searched the bookstores for it, only to find the Italian version. It wasn’t until I was waiting for the connecting flight home in Heathrow Airport that I purchased it.
Since then, I’ve owned seven copies of the book, and given five away to friends. If Foucault’s Pendulum were a holy book, I’d be Gideon, dropping it in every nightstand along my travels.
It’s a difficult book to sink one’s teeth into – in the first eighty pages or so, our first-person protagonist Casaubon is hiding in the Musée des Arts et Métiers afterhours, hoping to find a friend who’s been kidnapped. It reads like a stream of consciousness; and it’s difficult to follow Casaubon’s thoughts, but a couple things are made clear – secret societies run the world, and he’s gotten his friend in trouble.
The story then goes back in time, to when Casaubon was a university student in Milan where he meets Belbo and Diotavelli at a local watering hole, while the two men are ridiculing humanity:
“There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics…Cretins don’t even talk; they sort of slobber and stumble…Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone but provide material for conversation…Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they’re magnificent…Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says that all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, therefore cats bark…Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason…A lunatic is easily recognized. He is a moron who doesn’t know the ropes. The moron proves his thesis; he has logic, however twisted it may be. The lunatic on the other hand, doesn’t concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars…There are lunatics who don’t bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious. At first they seem normal, then all of a sudden…”
Ah, the Templars.
I should mention at this point that, besides music, I have a passion for history and conspiracy theories, and the best of both worlds start with the Knights Templar. Founded in 1119 in the heart of the Crusades, the Knights Templar have been reported to have some connection with Moses, the Freemasons, and every secret society in between. Forget the bogeyman; it’s a member of the banned Catholic military order that’s hiding in one’s closet.
Belbo and Diotavelli ask for Casaubon’s help reviewing a manuscript about the Templars for their publishing company, and while they reject the author, they take his ideas and began to play around with them, and in the process create an alternate world history they title “The Plan”…and the secret societies take notice.
I won’t take you any further on this journey across Italy, over to Brazil, back to Italy and finally to that claustrophobic hiding spot as Casaubon awaits midnight, but in this day and age where conspiracy theories seem to find their followers every day on social media, Foucault’s Pendulum seemed to anticipate the world of 2022 and gives it a wink.
Now, if I could only have convinced the Bond franchise the perfect sequel to Casino Royale was When Eight Bells Toll instead of Quantum of Solace…
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