BACK from the vacation of a lifetime! The following was written the trip, more or less. We begin on July 2, in Minneapolis.
There’s a time in a man’s life when he’s standing in broad daylight at 5:40 AM on a Copenhagen street corner, looking up at blow-up of a Danish newspaper, wondering if Eddy and Soren are good guys or bad, and why they’re in Somalia.
This being the 21st century, early version, you take a picture, enter the text into the Universal Translator, and get your response. Explains that. Doesn’t explain why I’m in Denmark, though, or why I’m up at 5:40. So:
At some point today or yesterday - the distinctions are unclear at the moment - I checked the airline website to see if the flight was delayed. It happens, you know. We were packed and ready, finishing touches on the getaway, locking down and closing up, ready for the 7:30 PM flight from Minneapolis to Iceland. Iceland, for fargin’s sake; I’m going to Iceland. Ipad is loaded up with movies and TV shows, Kindle’s packed, and I even have a few personal condiments for the inflight movie. We’ve calibrated the day so we’ll fall asleep soon, and start the adjustment. Everyone’s beat.
The plane is four hours late.
The plane has not yet left Iceland. It has to come here before it goes back.
Call the travel agent; she makes some calls, says we’re probably booked through on our connecting flight, but to make sure, we should go to the airport. So we do. Get there, check the website.
Five hours late.
“It’s going to get ugly,” the TSA guy said when we checked through. Really? Ugly? “Well, boring,” he said. “Lot of bored passengers. The restaurant closes at eight.”
Did I mention this is the quaint terminal? The leetle tiny Rosanne-Rosanadana one? By that I mean it has one restaurant, one place selling $37 ham sandwiches, and one bar. That’s right. If the plane leaves at midnight, that means four hours without the option of eating as entertainment. The thought: perish it.
We finally push away from the gate at 1 AM, having been told to hasten to our seats so we can beat the thunderstorm bearing down on the airport. Trundle to the runway. Wait. Note how this flight doesn't have the cool screens built into the seats and there is a baby and it's so very late and we're all so very tired and cranky. Travel! The glamor of:
Pilot comes on and says something in Icelandic, then in English: A passenger who checked a bag is not on the plane, so we must go back to the gate, in case it’s a bomb. Probably not a bomb, but hey, you know, better late and grounded by a storm and missing all your connections and your ship and your vacation than sorry, right? The pilot tells us the guy’s name, and everyone curses him unto his seventh generation.
I fall asleep somewhere in between the trundle back and the leap up. Awake: we are off the earth and heading towards tomorrow.
Around 3 AM the flight attendant wakes me up and offers me a doughnut and some coffee. It seems rude to decline. I eat both and fall asleep.
There is a bump; a jostle; a screech and a thump, and we are in Iceland. Which just seems preposterous, but there it is; always thought of it as a place I'd never see, being so impossibly remote; turns out it's six hours away, or about as long as it takes to drive to Bismark, North Dakota.
The airport is tidy and grey, as if infused with ash; it is deserted. We go to another place and get on another plane and sleep some more, and then I wake to the impossible tongue of Icelandic explaining something that might possibly be pertinent, but I don’t know, because it sounds like a Slav is shoving Legos down the throat of a Swede. Awake and asleep in six-minute increments. The pillows have an ancient Icelandic lullabye (Borka Borga Binkie Bu / Hooska reygnifyyie horma sku, I think. More or less.) and the coffee cups have the all the words for “cup” in the language.
We are now on that second leg, starting to go down. Copenhagen is next. It begins: The Balkan Fortnight!
We’re staying overnight in the Palace hotel, seen here from across the City Hall square:
Based on that design, I call it the Birdenflippen. Audrey Hepburn stayed here, and Cary Grant as well. Neither went to Burger King. We went off in search of supper, and chose, to our regret, a place called Il Peccato, which had smart young pretty waitresses carrying plates heaped with huge prawns. Overcooked, overseasoned, overpriced: welcome to Europe! We don't rely on repeat business. Everything in the neighborhood was preposterously expensive. Don't know if it's tourist-shearing at work, or if everything in Denmark costs more, just to balance out the social benefits. Our taxes are high, but we get generous benefits, but prawns are ten bucks per creature, but college is free, but housing is expensive, but we can bike to work, but and so on.
By the entrance to the plaza, some metal mistakes:
They’re admissions of exhaustion. No one likes them. No one wants their picture taken by them. There were half a dozen, symbolizing something, or nothing. Didn’t matter. If you want beauty, look elsewhere; it's there. Usually a statue looking in the other direction, just to be civil about it all. I didn't liberate this city and /or found this nation state just to spend my days starting and something that looks like a robot's nightmare.
We wandered down a shopping street, milled along with the well-behaved crowds.
Same stolid safe architecture, with the occasional spasm of sensual Viennese influence:
By Danish standards, that's practically whorish. Came across a deserted plaza with statues of old notables, staring with silence at the indifference of time:
I love how Google blurs the faces of the statues, which are the very definition of something that's intended to be seen by everyone. Around the corner, a church.
You know, in Europe, that really doesn't narrow it down. Anyway, St. Winston, patron saint of smokers:
. . . and some bas-reliefs that would probably get sniggers from sophisticated moderns if anyone paid any attention to them at all.
My favorite sight of the day? I think it was this. Just a simple drain pipe, but it has a fish. Or perhaps it's Daddy-Duck as an aquatic Woody Woodpecker. Whatever: there's no reason for this to look like this, which makes you love it all the more.
Back to the room; daughter wanted hot chocolate, so I went around the corner to McDonald’s. Big ruddy manager, hectic hands filling late-night orders. The place was jammed, and not an American in the room save me. When he encountered someone who didn’t speak Danish he switched to English, and lo and behold, a Joisey accent. I wondered: how the hell did you get here? But there was no time to ask; he was as busy as a New Jersey bilingual in a late-night Danish McDonald’s. (My new standard, displacing the one-armed paperhangers.) I paid with my Visa, hoping it would be declined; doesn't Visa worry when your card suddenly shows up on another continent? (LATER: not when they can get that $1.36 international transaction fee, they don't.)
I wrote this. Now it’s ten. Alarm is set for a long time in the future. The ship awaits.
Oh, Eddy and Soren in Somalia? Tomorrow.
LATER TOMORROW O'CLOCK
AS I SAID: There’s a time in a man’s life when he’s standing in broad daylight at 5:40 AM, looking up at blow-up of a Danish newspaper, wondering if Eddy and Soren are good guys or bad, and why they’re in Somalia. I used hotel wifi to investigte: They’re held captive by Somali pirates. The headline asks MUST EDDY AND SOREN ROT IN SOMALIA? The head of the company that owned the ship from which they were taken is apparently spending his time golfing and boating, instead of paying the umpteen-kroner ransom. The newspapers have resurrected the story to whip up public pressure; they’ve been rotting for some time now.
Special-forces teams do come in handy.
Why up at 5:40? Jet lag, of course. Up since 4:17. The streets are deserted, but it has that end-of-the-world feeling. Trash blowing around, bikes dropped here and there.
No one steals the bikes. Interesting. No one steals the bikes. This speaks more about the culture and place than any other attribute. Someone explained it by saying that "everyone has one," but that's not enough. Some people have better ones. They remain unswiped, piled next to the doorways with the junkers.
Walked around City Hall Square. A devlish gargoyle:
Aside from the fountain, it's a charmless void of stone; like the streets around it suffered some sort of socialist anti-beauty campaign in the 70s or early 80s. Large blocks of stone on which you could drop your bony behind, content to know that discomfort was an egalitarian thing shared by all. Now they’re ripping it up so they can plant trees and other bourgeoise fripperies. But they’re not bourgeoise any more, are they? They’re sustainable.
That’s the interesting thing about these cities: how the worst of modernism coincided with the most ambitious plans of the the state, and how the dreary manifestations of “democratic” will are so pallid and mean next to the things made by money and kings.
Speaking of which! After we’d had our 7 AM breakfast - which did not, to my immense disappointment, include ebelskiver; I’d pinned my hopes on authentic Danish pancake-nodules - we decided to spend the morning walking ourselves dead, and so we set out for Frederickbergensstrassegartenryjv, or something like that. A huge park, probably a royal preserve turned over to the People to keep them happy and not thinking about things like “down with kings.” This meant a hike down a broad street, a few miles, with the compact and sensible architecture lining the streets.
The occasional showy piece of streetline-cracking modernism - in this case, a classic 60s podium-and-tower Lever House rip-off. It’s as destructive here as it is anywhere else the streetline is consistent, but every city should have one of these.
The park was large but modestly appointed; only a few statues here and there to remind you of your dead betters. Up at the palace . . .
. . . where the royals came in the winter, or summer, or just to get away from the big drafty joint that smelled horrible in the winter because people relieved themselves in the corners. (Really: I was reading a review of a nobleman who’d been a friend of the French royal court, and his letters mentioned over and over the stench of Versailles - if it wasn’t people whizzing in the corners or leaving a loaf in a side room, it was the oppressive BO of everyone, unwashed bodies overdressed in stifling rooms.) It had magnificent view of tamed Nature; perhaps deer gamboled across the lawn, biding their time until the hunt.
Across the street to another portion of the park, with a large fountain and many dogs. This seems to be where people went for the brisk morning walk with their canines. Zig-zagged down to a broad street called Sander, which had a green line on the map indicating a center strip of grass. Aside from the big parks, the city is devoid of vegetation; it’s really either/or. The center strip had been turned into some sort of People’s Median, with benches and concrete monolith and severe fountains:
Ah, the rich urban tapestry! It seemed unused and scorned, and as befits things given to The People, it was full of ungrateful graffiti. From the looks of it there’s much construction going on, which may be tearing down the bygone future for something more humane. Another half-hour of staggering took us to the Christianborgenstrassebyynvek Palace. I’m exaggerating the language, which daughter says looks like someone slammed their head on a keyboard, but I cannot get my brain around it, let alone my tongue. Now and then I see something familiar, like BOEFHAUS, but mostly these Northern tongues are Tintinabulations, and I’m the poorer for not knowing.
The Palace was impressive, which of course is the point: cow the small, reaffirm the political class’s sense of self-worth and proper placement, and provide the visiting dignitaries with the proper stage for strutting and nodding.
Back to the hotel to gather our things and begin the last step in the long chain of travel: the ship, the great Eurodam.
Which is where I am now: on the veranda at the cool conclusion of a hot day, still sleepy, watching windmills standing in the harbor slide by. It’s the Fourth of July, and there’s a barbeque waiting on the Lido deck.
The sun is high. There is no sign it will set. We’re unpacked and settled in for the long cruise ahead.
Have no doubt I’ll be up at four AM. Wonder if there will be dessert?
Tomorrow: The Sea and Estonia!
PS: I gave a talk a while ago about mastering your digital media while you’re on the trip, not after. If you come home, dump all the photos in a folder and say “I’ll get around to those after I’ve settled back in,” you’ll have pictures whose names are DSC_9834398534.jpg forever. If you take a little time and name everything at the end of the day, jot down some notes, you’ll have your story and your pictures.
This I did. I even edited the entry above on the plane ride back. It’s still a mess, because I was exhausted, and still am, and had to cobble together this design while yawning uncontrollably, and got the idea of inserting Google Maps you can see where I was, which took some time. So, bear with me; better tomorrow.