Tag Archives: Denmark

Not so Cynical Torso (CPH, part 3)

I love speaking to the locals when travelling abroad. It’s very difficult to get a feel for a place in such a short time, but I’ve realised that doing things that they may do on a daily basis, is the best way. Who goes to bloody museums, but tourists? So, I went to the swimming pool a couple of times in Copenhagen, well, actually in Frederiksberg, which is a separate town with it’s own mayor, a town within a town.

The swimming lanes were very strangely arranged. Four lanes, two for men and two for women supposedly, and of the two that I could use, one was huge (in width) and the other very narrow. It turns out that the huge one is for the breaststroke and the narrow one for the crawl. I haven’t been to many pools in my life, but this strikes me as particularly stupid. I can imagine someone in a high position, who knows nothing about swimming, say maybe the son of the mayor of Frederiksberg who could also be the owner of the pool, thinking that it’s a good idea with a touch of brilliance, instead of the usual slow/medium/fast lanes separation, to go by width. Ridiculous and annoying, both in the narrow one, where I kept bumping into that floating separator, and the huge one, where all the very slow pensioners were and where people were overtaking each other all the time, thus defeating the purpose of having a large arm span to do your breaststroke in. I think I understand now what it was all about. The idiot who had the idea, couldn’t do the crawl and was spiteful towards people who can do it…

The steam room was great though, and so was the free shampoo/shower gel. And I spoke to one local, the pool attendant, who hails from Yorkshire, just outside Leeds. Funny accent…

The other great place to meet the locals is on public transport. On the way back from the pool, on the Thursday, I wanted to get back to the hotel quickly (it was a half hour walk) so decided to catch the bus for the first time in Copenhagen. There was an old lady at the stop. So sweet. I think I frightened her in the beginning (and in the end) but we ended up chatting a bit. She told me she was sorry she couldn’t speak more, because she’s ill and she made a motion with her hand over her scarf. So I said, “a cold?”, and she smiled and said, “no, much more serious than that”. I felt like a twat.

She told me that she likes to go out every day, even though it’s difficult for her. She asked me where I was from and when I said Greece, she looked at me and asked if I have brown eyes. I said no and she told me that she has brown eyes. She patted the edges of her white hair and said with a cheeky smile “I used to be a brunette, I’m Spanish” and broke out into a big smile. Oh, I said, do you speak Spanish? No, not at all, my ancestors came here 200 years or so ago and I don’t even know which part of Spain I’m from.

I sat just behind her on the bus, but she didn’t notice this and when I went to get off, I said, “goodbye”. She literally jumped out of her seat. It scared the shit out of her. I laughed and said sorry. She laughed as well. Old ladies are great.

I left my swimming gear hangin’ in the hotel room and took the train to Malmo. On the train I almost jumped out of the seat myself, startled. I had forgotten my passport. I hadn’t even thought about it. Here I was about to enter a different country and I had no form of identification. I hadn’t planned this day trip properly. I texted a friend of a friend from Crete, a Greek lady married to a Swede living near Malmo to see if they could give me some advice about where to go and what to see there. She never got back to me. I later found out that they were in Chania, Crete at the time. Luckily I arrived in Malmo and didn’t need an ID.

The first thing that struck me in Sweden was that the drivers were a bit “ruder”. Not so gentle and polite as in Denmark. And so were the cyclists. Oh, Copenhagen, how I miss thou… with your gentle tree lined avenues and well-behaved organised systems… The language to my untrained ears sounded slightly different. Whereas I was hearing French-sounding noises in Danish, I could hear Italian-sounding noises in Swedish. But that’s just because I don’t understand either, and am probably insulting all Danes and Swedes and French and Italians. Fuck’em.

Malmo’s a nice place. The weather was great. But I had stupidly forgotten to think about …currency. I really hadn’t thought this day trip out properly. You’re going to a different country, spiro. I didn’t have any currency, I didn’t know the exchange rate, I didn’t even know if they have the euro or something else in Sweden. So I went to the first cash point I found and decided to take the 2nd lowest option, which was 500 Kronor. And I ended up with more money than I needed, coz once I left the cash point I saw that an average meal is around 100 Kronor (~ £9). So, I went to the bookshop (which was great, though the staff were a bit snobbish) and bought myself a crime novel in English by a Swedish author, set in Göteborg and Copenhagen. So it all ties in nicely. Sweet.

The weather was great and I went to a nice big park, with lakes and sat in the sun a bit and then walked towards the twisted torso building. I just googled it and found this link, on Concrete Monthly – News from the cement and concrete industries. The sad thing is that they definitely get more hits than this blog does. Pfff… I also found out that Calatrava was the architect, the same one who designed the Olympic stadium in Athens for 2004. And so now I just remembered the comments that the Dalai Lama made about the Olympics in China having to go ahead and … respect the torch… and a whole load of bollocks. But I’m getting all worked up again…

The view of the bridge that links Denmark and Sweden is great from that area near the torso and there were alot of people sunbathing, taking photos, walking around. Very civilized and nice. The area looked a bit boring. A lot of construction work going on, what looked like apartments and offices. The building is fun. I liked it. Then I walked back into town and had a great steak meal. Sat in the sun in some central square, got hooked on the book, the steak was good and the vegetables and chips that came with it even better.

On the final day in Copenhagen, I was flying at 4 pm, so had a full morning to wander into parts I hadn’t been to before. I ended up in the National Gallery which I loved. Some modern stuff, not so good, alot of sculpture, some of it great, and some more classical stuff. I liked the depiction of Danish life from around 50-100 years ago. Some of the few religious paintings were interesting as well. The facial characterisitics of some of the saints and shit, were Nordic.

I’m thinking of registering the following term: cynomody, for cynical comedy. But after a week in gentle Denmark, I’m just not feeling cynical enough anymore. And next week I’ll be in Brazil where I’ll be samba-ing to a whole different tune.

Copenhagen, part 2

Christiania was boring. It would’ve been great if I was at least 20 years younger. The weather’s been gorgeous all these days. It only rained for a few hours on Monday. Yeah, I can picture myself, when I was maybe 18-19, just hangin out by the waterfront, with my buddies. The average age was, I’d guess, around 17, and 80% male. There was one “shrine” to Tibet which was interesting, but otherwise the “town” could’ve been like a miniature, less crowded, more dirt and less concrete, Camden Town. I’m sure there are some old hippies living there, and there is in parts a community feeling. I like to believe that is true. All the average tourist sees though is dope and alcohol. Is that what these sort of communities are all about? What is tolerance for alternative lifestyles all about? “You’ve got as much to hide as I do, so shut up and don’t say anything about my addiction/difference/appearance and we’ll both be just fine”?

What I’ve been enjoying most on this trip is walking around. I’ve been lucky with the weather, and there are great spaces for walking. So, after Christiania I walked to the Opera House, which I liked architecturally a lot, and couldn’t help but compare to that ugly piece of shit they’ve built in my “hometown” of Thessaloniki.

From there I took the river bus, which funnily enough is run by Arriva, the same company that do normal buses (in England at least), just for 2 stops, but it was awesome. I felt emotional, what a weirdo. The comfortable seat was great, the super friendly conductor working the boat, the little 5-year old girl who was fascinatedly watching the docking of the boat, which uses brute-force to dock, and reminded me of a scene from the Blues Brothers film where they park the car by slamming the breaks on against the curb, thus using the force of the immovable object (the curb) to swing the back (or the front, I don’t remember) of the car and bring it nicely and flush against the curb.

Then I walked to the Mermaids. Some of my friends think that all I do is go against the grain just to be different. Hating the stuff that the majority likes and liking the stuff that nobody else likes. Well, it’s not true. But, I loved the mermaid. She’s so inconspicuous. And looks like she was just made in a day, like a sand castle, by someone who wanted (and maybe needed) to spend some time by the water and didn’t have a crappy tabloid paper and caipirinha, so decided to make a statue of a mermaid. Busloads of tourists come there and everyone takes photos. The other great thing is that people can touch her. I think she enjoys it. I saw her eyes move with pleasure when one particular lady touched her. She’s a bit of a slut, and everyone’s gotta love her. A true femme fatale.

Then I went to see the genetically modified mermaid. That was good too, and made all the more interesting because there was noone around. She’s part of a bunch of biblical (and other I think, ‘coz it was in Danish), fictional characters.

And I ended up watching the whole of the champions league final and boy are they Man Utd. mad here. I guess it goes back to the Peter Schmeichel days. He was a pundit on the channel I watched it on. In their preview, they didn’t even mention Chelsea, who by the way, in my entirely biased opinion dominated the whole of the second half and parts of the first and should’ve won the game out right. I saw a lot of Danish Man U supporters on the streets of Copenhagen, and only yesterday did I see one Chelsea supporter, after the loss.

I’ll write more about yesterday, probably tomorrow or later today from the airport.

The Danbrush

In Denmark they don’t have sugar, they have dansukker, nor honey, but danhonning, and I’m sure if you live in England, you’ll have tried dancake.

And in every shower they have this all-in-one shampoo/shower gel combo dispenser. I say every, because both at my hotel and the swimming pool this is the case. But even in the toilets they have the same stuff. It’s great, ‘coz you don’t have to buy it. You just squeeze it and out comes your required dose of shampoo, or shower gel, whatever you want to use it for. This confirms something that I’ve suspected all along: they are the same thing. Shampoo, shower gel, bubble bath, bath cream, fairy liquid, soap, hand wash, fabric conditioner and any other soap in the form of gel or thick creamy liquid, is pretty much the SAME thing. So maybe Denmark is the best place for me to launch this idea for a product I have. It’s a multi-utility brush: hairbrush, toothbrush, toilet brush, floor sweeping pan & brush brush. I think I’ll name it the danbørste.

Today I went to the conference for the last time. I can only take so much of it. I attended one full day and two half days. And today I was asked to chair the morning session. When the organiser came over to ask me, I thought, FUCK, he wants me to chair one of the afternoon sessions, but luckily it was the one I was planning on attending anyway. And I chaired it quite nicely. I’m proud of myself. And my talk yesterday wasn’t that bad either. I think I made it a bit more interesting than I had done last year when I presented a paper in Greece. So I’m proud of myself for that as well. But WHAT THE FUCK’s with those nerves I get before the presentation? What the hell is that all about? I mean, what’s the worse that can happen? I hope one day I’ll be able to stand up in front of a crowd, say Maracana, and not bat an eyelid for nerves. It’s ridiculous. I KNOW it is, but I still feel the nerves.

Some of the stuff at the conference was interesting. Some of it too theoretical and you need to know alot of music theory, ontology (I still don’t know what it means), psychology and philosophy of music. There seems to be a 60-40 mix of musicians/composers v. computer people, but even the computer people have largely a musical background.

After the morning sessions today, I decided to get some lunch and come and eat it here at the hotel. So I went to the super market and got some traditional Danish fish cakes, a pot of fresh crab salad, some sliced cheese and some of that sliced brown bread that they eat up here which you only find in health food shops in London. And I paid using my Lloyds TSB debit card and even got cash back. Things have changed from the last time I was here, in Aarhus, in 1992, bloody hell, 16 years ago. I wonder what’s happened to those friends I had from Denmark, Soren, Kim and Klaus. It would be interesting to find out. Hey guys, anyone reading this blog? Remember me? We worked together at Cafe Pasta? They were quite a laugh and I remember Kim in particular as having a similar sense of humour as me.

We were working in the kitchen together as cooks and we used to drink soft drinks straight out of the can, all us cooks and there was a time when it became a fashionable prank to play on someone, make a hole in the can just below the pull ring, after the other guy (the “user” we would say nowadays, ha, ha) has drunk enough to get it below the level of where you’re gonna make the hole. You know what I mean? Then you work away, ignoring the other guy, but keeping an eye out for when he’s gonna take a slug from it, and… Oh man, I’m laughing just thinking about it now. Still funny after so many years… And what an environment to do it in. Especially on a busy Friday night. Would drive some people nuts. And Kim was the master. You’d get a bunch of tired cooks and dishwashers finishing their shifts with coke stains down their shirts.

But I digress, ‘coz all I wanted to say was that I felt particularly proud going into the super market and buying some of the local produce and then paying for it and asking the instore fish monger what is in the fish cakes and asking the lady at the till if she speaks English and if she accepts my form of payment. But I also feel proud ‘coz that’s my dinner sorted as well, since I’ve got left overs and will come back to the hotel room and eat it while watching some of that stupid champions league final (as far as I’m concerned, when Arsenal lost it to Barcelona a few years ago, that competition lost all importance… :-)).

So now for some serious tourism. I’m going to Christiania today, although the reports from some of the other conference delegates are a bit grim, i.e. they push drugs on you, including cocaine, everything is expensive… etc. Will see. Also the river boat and the two mermaids, because if you don’t know it, there are 2 now, one of which is genetically modified. And I ain’t joking…

And tomorrow I’ll pop over to Sweden. Up to now by the way, yes, I’ve been loving the place, despite my cynical comedy above. The cycling is crazy, so many of them. Looks great, but I don’t think I’ll be renting a bike or using one of those free ones, unless I don’t go to Malmo tomorrow. Skal!

Finally, a bit of respect

I’m getting excited about going to Denmark next Sunday. Copenhagen has had great weather lately, just like London, in the early to mid-twenties and it sounds like a great place to just walk around and get lost in. I was reading a few things about the country and came across this thing called Jante Law. Apparently, the average Dane lives according to this law, it is their belief system. Really? So how different is this from a Japanese belief system? It depends on your perspective, but I have the tendency to view it from the side that sees it as the suppression of individuality, of personality, of creativity, of independent thought. Smells like uniformity and a noble way of controlling the population. I always respect the culture of any country I’m visiting though and they usually fear respect me.

One of the things I like about traveling is comparing other places to London, which, I believe is way ahead in… security, CCTV surveillance and visible police presence; at least ahead in European terms. I wonder what it’ll be like in Copenhagen, and will there be Tesco’s, like in Prague and Budapest? I must visit Christiania, but other than that, anything goes. Just walk around and enjoy the city and the conference, which will be an arty, music and computers one. I also want to get the waterbus. I remember loving the river transport in Hamburg. I might pop across to Malmo, Sweden for a few hours as well, just to tick that country off my list. I was looking at online maps and came across a town named Dorotea in Sweden. That’s my cousin’s name, almost, and so I did a search for my own name and … there’s a town called Spiro, OK.

I’ve shaved my head again. Because of the heat and because my clippers were having some difficulty cutting at number 3. They’re shite, but, they’ve served me well for at least 5 years, so, can’t complain. I went to the sandwich shop, next to the college, and there were some young white rude boys there. One was on the phone and the other was being rather impolite to the eastern European lady working there, ordering, and at some point he sort of shouted at her (“I SAID, not toasted”). Then he turned around and looked at me and after that started using the word “please” a lot. He called his mate over, who was still on the phone, to get his order and mumbled to me and the lady: “he’s a donut”. He said to him: “there’s a queue here, what do you want to eat?”. I think that if I hadn’t shaved my head, they wouldn’t have been so “respectful” to the lady and to me… I remembered what a friend of mine said about her husband, who also shaves his head and how, when he goes into a shop, they are very polite to him, like respectful, but as she put it in her inimitable way, “it’s a fear thing”.

So, maybe I’m not friendly looking anymore, and maybe people looking for Tower Bridge won’t be asking me the directions to London Bridge anymore, but who cares? What good were they anyway? Bloody tourists.

After leaving the college I decided to enjoy the weather by going for a cycle ride, without a plan and without looking at the map. I ended up on what is the longest, fairly straight and continuous cycle path I’ve ever been on in London. I got on it at around Tower Bridge/Aldgate and ended up somewhere near Canary Wharf. But, going east from Tower Bridge, there aren’t many bridges left to cross to get me back down south, so I asked some other cyclists, who were extremely friendly to me, almost… fearful and they mentioned a ferry that could take me across to the Hilton. So I put my bike on it and went across. And after 17 years in London, I used water transport for the first time. It was fun and it feels good to have finally earned a bit of respect.