June 20-21, 2009
The Tivoli amusement park is sweet, cozy, European. I only went on one ride, a small roller coaster. No point giving myself a stroke with some neck-whipper. He had a late lunch of smørrebrod, that is, buttered bread with…you pick. I had fjordrejer on mine, local shrimp. The place was called Grøften, meaning Ditch. One of the guys I met the other day, Morten, told me that his grandparents used to take the train into town for a big day at Tivoli, ending with a great beer-drinking cigar-smoking dinner at Grøften.
Right now I’m sitting at a street cafe under an umbrella, rain showers taking turns with the sun. the cafe gives the customers blankets to huddle in. A steeple in front of me, church name unknown, but I’m tired of looking up names on the map. Just being here is enough, adrift in unnamed Danishness. The blonde women pin their hair in Danish pastry updos.
Earlier today, Sylvia and I saw a half dozen couples in the cavernous City Hall, with parent friends, grandparents and even children, Danish toddlers, brilliantly blonde—everyone dressed up for civil wedding ceremonies. It reminded me of Sylvia and I getting married at the City Hall in Geneva, some 42 years ago.
[Near the palace, Rosenborg Slot.]
The fountain on my left has big bronze storks, wings up, perched, beaks facing out. Illustrating a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale? Danish storks.
Score! I just a blanket to huddle in on my cafe chair—looking bumlike, I’m sure, in the striped Rastafarian watchcap I just bought on the street—sipping hot tea, this is the life. It’s quite cool here, June or not, although the Danes seem to find it summery. The younger women wear tights and T-shirts, always the leg-warmer-type tights under the skirts.
This square is tiled with polygonal stones in red and shades of gray, five shapes in all, a regular but unorthodox tessellation, deserving of an illustration in any comprehensive volume on the Tilings of the Plane. Here comes the rain again.
[It’s good to be King Christian IV of Denmark.]
The other day we toured this great palace called Rosenborg Slot. One room was paneled in wood, with an oil painting on each panel, good little Bruegelesque pictures. I can see this place as a model for the inside the castle of the King of Flimsy in my novel.
In the display cases of treasures, they had some nautilus shells that had been carved away in spots to reveal the inner surfaces, which were in turn pierced to resemble the iron lace of a knight’s helmet.
[Bruegel painting of the poor eating the rich at the Statens Museum for Kunst.]
Last night we went to a Baroque music concert in an ancient little octagonal wooden church. We went by bus and had dinner on the way, and arrived fifteen minutes late, so we had to wait in the vestibule with a lone Scandinavian usher, who looked like the frequent Bergman actor Max von Sydow. In a way, hearing the first song this way made it the most beautiful, as if we were waiting in the wings of Paradise, the musicians visible through the peepholes in the closed double doors, the walls pale green with dry flaking paint, the whole structure elderly and spindly, the music unutterably rich and sweet. Finally going inside it was even more like a Bergman film, so utterly 1910, a line of distance and idiosyncratic faces along one of the balcony railings, and I could imagine the skillful sequence of scenes that would unveil to me the inner passions behind these specific visages, the dark-haired woman with vivid eyes, the short-haired lean man with a striped tie, the youth in a windbreaker, the aging beauty with her white hair pulled back in to Danish pastry updo.
[A writing desk at the Danish Museum of Art & Design, dig how the writer controls the dragon of creativity by wielding…a red-hot poker?]
I didn’t bring my laptop—partly to avoid the weight and the hassle, partly to get away from computers. I have been checking my email every day or two on the hotel’s machine, although it’s a very expensive $12 for twenty minutes, and the rip-off lamers who run the system—www.wayport.net—(a) start the timer at 15 minutes instead of 20 minutes even though I’ve supposedly paid for 20 and (b) eat up two more minutes of my time with their login and their ads, and (c) only have Internet Explorer, instead of Firefox, and IE pops up a security warning every few seconds when you read webmail, a warning that you have to click on to continue, wasting more of your expensive time. I sound like a junky complaining about a short count…and that’s why, in fact, I’m glad to be away from computers.
We haven’t been seeing any English-language newspapers either—it’s great not seeing the ongoing media hype for the right wing and not be reading about the Middle East, health care, the recession, and the California budget crisis.
June 22-23, 2009
I feel heavy and slow today—I ate lamb for supper before the concert last night, something I normally don’t do. It felt good eating it, though. Before the dinner we walked in a gorgeous park called Frederiksberg Have, it was like an anthology of gardens, little walls and hedges closing in the short stories of flowerbeds and fountains. A wedding party was in full swing in a clearing. Passing a shadowed bench, I saw a bridesmaid (or bride?) lying on her back with her pale silk skirt hiked up , and an urgent black-suited groomsman (or groom?) lying on top of her. People go nuts at weddings.
“People f*cking!” I whispered to Sylvia, who hadn’t noticed them.
“Oh stop it,” she said, taking my remark for one of my random lies or Tourette-syndrome-like outbursts.
All day the sun and the rain squalls alternate. So far it’s never rained longer than half an hour. It’s like the rapidly changing weather you get on an island.
We unwisely got on a tour-the-town bus this afternoon, a bus stinking of diesel fumes, waddling like a crippled hippo, filled with numb or voluble tourists. It drove straight to a row of desolate souvenir shops along the cruise-liner dock, and then to…the Little Mermaid, a small and undistinguished statue, forlorn in a remote corner of the waterfront, surrounded by parking lots, and mobbed my tourists. Ugh. The Disney Version. Locals have twice sawn off the Little Mermaid’s head.
[We didn’t go to Legoland, but here’s a store with a cool display representing the infinitely regressing doctrine that objects are made of small replicas of themselves.]
Imagine if a town were to deliberately erect a lowest-common-denominator tourist attraction, well away from the city center—just to keep the more gullible tourists out of the way. When we have a cook-out at home in California, a certain kind of hornet or yellow-jacket often appears, aggressively going after the meat—and one strategy against them is to set an unprotected plate of meat scraps off to one side. The hornets will tend to gather at the scrap plate—at the tourist attraction.
[Concrete armchair at the Danish Museum of Design.]
We got off that bus for good after the Little Mermaid and walked to the Danish Museum of Design, a fascinating place with a great cafe in a big garden, hardly anyone there, a I felt like a guest a rich person’s city house.
I liked the Art Nouveau rooms in the museum—those gnarly, chaotic zigzag curves in the decorative patterns. Like the late Sixties, Art Nouveau didn’t last nearly long enough.
I hung out by the harbor for awhile, the waters alive with boats: water taxis, moored restaurants, kayakers, sightseeing barges and even a submarine. The first hot day we’ve had here. Did I mention that the sun goes down around 11:30 p.m., and that the sun is up by 4 a.m.? In between it’s like twilight. We’re pretty far north, nearly as far as Alaska.
On our last night in Copenhagen we ate in a cafe full of cute young people—the tables and chairs were mismatched thrift-store items, mostly pastel—I’ve seen this fashion in New Zealand but not yet in the US. Again it felt like being at someone’s house. After supper we walked along the river, with the sun still setting at 10 pm. As always, I long to paint the CAPOW-wave-rule patterns of the light reflected on undulating water. I remember admiring these sunset blogs in Maine, forty years ago. Pale whitish blue and pale beige-yellow.
[The Kong Arthur is a great hotel.]
I woke briefly at 3 am, and it was already light. The actual night is only a few hours long, and even then it’s not dark. Obversely, it must be the case that, around Christmas time, it’s only light from, say, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Now I finally understand why, in Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, they go to church in the dark on Xmas morning. I’d always imagined that for some strange reason they were going to church at 5 a.m. But it was probably closer to noon.
And now on to Bergen, Norway…