Saturday, Sydney and I attended -- and much enjoyed -- the first Appalachian Festival at Frostburg State University. As much of it took place in the science building, I took the opportunity to photograph my favorite object on campus, this fine Foucault's pendulum that hangs in the three-story atrium, demonstrating the Earth's rotation by day and night to anyone who passes by.During my first trip to Paris, in 1991, I visited Leon Foucault's original pendulum in the Musée des Arts et Métiers. I went there on a sort of pilgrimage because the climax of Umberto Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum takes place in the museum, at the pendulum. So long before tourists were tracing the steps of Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, I was tracing Casaubon's steps in Foucault's Pendulum.
The two novels have a lot in common, as both are obsessed with outlandish conspiracy theories involving the Knights Templar, but Eco's novel is much longer, much harder to read, and much more snarky. As a lark, its scholar-heroes invent the mother of all conspiracy theories (after considering, then dismissing, the Mary Magdalene conspiracy theory as old hat), with disastrous consequences. Eco's novel has not yet been turned into a summer blockbuster starring Tom Hanks, but I'm sure Eco is doing pretty well for himself nevertheless.
The novel Foucault's Pendulum was recommended to me by my then-News & Record colleague Dave Stroble, who waved it at me one day and exulted, "You have to read this! I'm only a hundred pages into it, but it must have been written just for you!" I ran right out and bought a copy, read it with delight over the next couple of weeks, then returned to Dave's desk and said, "OK, I'm ready to talk about Foucault's Pendulum now." Dave went ashen and cried, "Don't tell me you actually finished that thing!" He had made it through 150 pages or so before giving up.