The Øresund Bridge was obscured by the lights of my train. I wanted to see it again. Alas, I could not. Well, at least not very much of it. That’s the curse of travelling trains by night. Still, I arrived safely in Gentofte and managed to find my way to Viking-type Chum’s flat. At my insistence he didn’t meet me at station. It seemed pointless to make him stand outside in the dank, cold Danish December night.
Sweden and Denmark are very different countries. Walking through Copenhagen reveals as much. Copenhagen is a red city – it’s a city of bricks. It isn’t north German; it’s not Hamburg or Lübeck. The Brick Gothic style of architecture, however, shows that Denmark has a much more pronounced German influence than Sweden – at least outwardly. Sweden, too, was influenced by Germans and not only in de gamla danska landskapen, the old Danish provinces: Skåne, Blekinge and Halland but Sweden’s aesthetics are less obviously German, save for parts of Gamla Stan.
The sounds of Denmark are very different. Sweden can be eerily quiet. Sitting in Swedish trains is an experience. There is little conversation and every effort not to be intrusive is made. People talk, of course, but not in the same way they do in England or Germany. Even Stockholm is a relatively quiet city. Copenhagen is, in contrast, a beehive. Copenhagen has a buzz and a frenetic pace that is almost shocking after the austere reservedness of Stockholm. One struggles to refer to Danish is a melodious tongue, but it has its charms and Danes have no reservations about speaking it in quantities that earn them the reputation of the chatter-boxes of Scandinavia. Danes are also less perturbed by direct eye contact. I managed to intimidate Swedes by making observations too direct. Danes are far more willing to be confrontational if needed. There’s little of that terrified uncertainty that marks the Swede.
This partially explains why I feel more comfortable in Denmark than I do in Sweden. Danes are for the most part straightforward and forthright people. Danes, unlike Swedes, are infamous – at least in Scandinavia – for being direct. That, and for being relatively honest. Denmark could be likened to a xenophobic drunk who puts no effort what-so-ever into hiding his views and bad habits. Sweden is the closet xenophobe with a hidden drink problem.
The Viking and I spent days walking the streets of Copenhagen – Christiansborg, Nyhavn and Frederiksberg. He obediently followed me to the University of Copenhagen’s Medical Museum. He seemed slightly terrified of me after I spent an uncivilised amount of time looking at examples of fatal injuries – accidental and homicide-related, studying them from every angle. I begged him to fear not. My mum, after all, is a theatre nurse and frank discussions of medical procedures – some very unpleasant, even gruesome, have long been part of eating supper. I very nearly became a museum specimen after failing to fall for Tivoli’s charms. It’s a twee tourist destination most famous for being one of the world’s oldest twee tourist destinations. I preferred Christiansborg. The ruins and royal chambers hold far more interest than theme park rides and over-priced tat. I may have saved my life from the Blood Eagle by comparing Denmark’s parliament not unfavourably with Westminster. Westminster is where the world was built and whence it was ruled. Christiansborg is an attractive parliament for a Scandinavian kingdom that punches well above its weight. They both fit their countries well.
I left Copenhagen for Skagen. For the first time in many years I could breathe correctly. Skagen’s air is clean and the light is beautiful. The Skagen Group, a merry band of painters, chose Skagen for its light for the same reason that Impressionist painters travelled to southern France. In the summer Skagen pulsates with life and is overflowing with Danes on holiday. That, and Huns. Huns invade Jutland each summer, pouring across the border with no shame but much reckless abandon. As in Sweden, German is ubiquitous. In the winter, Skagen is empty. I felt splendidly alone. I walked along the strand, stiff winds tousling my hair. It felt as if the sea was singing to me and to me alone. I adored that splendid solitude – alone, my only company being my thoughts or even nothing at all. Among the waves, sea grass and war-time bunkers I could switch off my mind. There was nothing but beautiful tranquillity – the sun setting lazily, dogs running past, birds flying above me. I want to die in a moment like that – but not quite yet.
I left Skagen for Norway. Norway is beautiful. It is dear, but it is worth every last øre. The cold cut through me, each gust of wind slicing through my terribly inadequate Hun jacket like an obsidian scalpel. I couldn’t be arsed to be vexed by this. It was a beautiful pain. The glow of the Oslo night blinded me to the protestations of my ice-pierced marrow. The gentle beauty of the Norwegian capital lulled me into a waking dream. I walked past the shops of Karl Johans Gate, past the Storting, the theatre where Ibsen met his doom and redemption, past the royal palace – the home of a descendent of a spare Danish prince.
I was awed by Viking ships – Norway’s pride, the three vessels best preserved. I couldn’t get enough of Norways long gone – Telemark farm houses and Oslo suburbs, a 13th-century stave church and tenement housing. Then there was Oslo’s historic core, the small group of 17th-century buildings centred on its first Rådhus. Norway’s light, transient as it is, was unbearably beautiful. I adored it and the good-natured chatter of Norwegians surrounding me. The water in Norway is indescribable. It’s softly sweet, it tastes faintly of lavender. My hotel bed was similarly indescribable. It felt like sleeping on a cloud.
I travelled to Gardermoen by train. Clean, new – sparkling. Norway has its quirks, but it’s remarkable. My flights were pleasant enough. Scandinavian Airlines aren’t the best, but they’re far from the worst and the things I disliked about my previous flight were sorted out. I spoke to the crew in Swedish. The filth, squalor and banality of the United States came as a shock. The brutality of the people – the lack of self-awareness, the inability of people with any measure of authority to behave sensibly appalled me. What happened to the glorious world that had only hours before been mine? Did I wake from a dream and into a nightmarish world, or was I having a nightmare?
19 thoughts on “Jeg er i live.”
Another tour de force, thank you.
I do think your description of the USA is a little over the top unless you landed in Detroit!
CO: Not in the least. You might see the USA with rose-tinted lenses, I certainly do not. Passport control was almost insufferable, customs were shrewish, the trains were filthy and run-down and I arrived late only to be informed that I had been robbed that same day. To hell with the USA. I will go home next month and have no plans to return for a very long time.
Where was this landing?
San Francisco. Can’t be arsed to see anything in the US. Swiss prices, Chinese quality.
Janus: Burgled, to be more specific. I lost no less than £5000 as a result. I wanted to return to SFO and fly back to Scandinavia.
There must one hell of a difference between California and Washington then. This place is clean, tidy, polite and efficient. i would not take yours and mines descriptions of the same country as to be possible, but I guess they are! I do not see this country through rose tinted spectacles. I have been here on and off since 76, like most places it has its good and bad points. Maybe it is the difference between semi rural and urban. I must say I avoid all cities like the plague these days everywhere. Anywhere above 50,000 people is pretty ghastly in my book!
Spousal unit has always been trying to get me to go to San Francisco, he always liked the place. I have resolutely refused, too damned alternative, liberal and full of sexual deviants for me, definitely not my milieu!
See the places in my Welsh landscape blogs below, far more my sort of places, you don’t have to bother with humanity at all!
Never mind you will soon be able to leave after Christmas! And I expect it will be nice to see your mother.
CO: I flew into San Francisco, I took the first train out. Can’t stand the place. Wretched city — filthy, run-down, expensive and full of insufferably smug tossers. Fifty, sixty years ago it was a pretty city by all accounts but it’s gone to hell in a handcart since. There are parts of the US that aren’t quite as bad. I quite like Minnesota despite the politics because it’s relatively clean, quiet and well-ordered. Still, hideously dull. Then again, I like dull. Dull simply means that few bad things happen.
You rely on your expenses, I shall rely on mine. I struggle to justify travelling through the US. It’s hideously expensive and most people make me cringe.
Try Motel6, cheap and cheerful, we always have to use it because they are the only chain in the USA where all their motels take dogs. Most chains it is up to the individual franchisee, with three canines in tow all a bit problematical! Plus you can still smoke in the dog rooms, brilliant. Very strange people but decent dogs! Just don’t drink the coffee!!!
Actually we rarely travel, can’t be bothered these days, getting old, just as happy to stay at home.
I agree, dull is good!
CO: I once told a Japanese-type chum that there’s nothing like hotel coffee to wake one up in the morning. He naively thought it would be good. After taking a few sips he said “this is horrible. How can you say that there’s nothing better to wake me up than this”? I told him: “Well, you’re awake, aren’t you”? It’s so beastly that it shocks one into alertness!
After next month I’ll stay in Europe when I’m not off to Japan or Taiwan. There’s just too much aggro in the US.
Well it certainly might be just as well to avoid the inauguration in CA! Any way have a good time visiting the few people you do like on this continent! After all you came to see humans not landscape!
From spousal unit to Christopher!
I’ve so far resisted the temptation to join Boadicea’s Chariot. To do so would be to court the danger of your actually being right when you claim that I spend all the time there is in front of “that bloody machine.” Instead, perhaps you might consider passing a few words from me on to your friend Christopher, just to set the record straight.
Regarding San Francisco, to quote you: “like most places it has its good and bad points.” It’s been some years since I was last there (although nothing like the fifty or sixty years of which Christopher speaks – I didn’t realize he was even older than I) and, if nobody objects too strongly, I’d prefer to remember it as I last saw it rather than as “filthy” and “run-down.” I wouldn’t say that I “always liked the place,” only that it has some sights worth seeing. Apart from wanting to show you those – assuming that they’re still visible at all beneath some layer of grime – the main reasons I’d like to go there again would be to (a) go see Alcatraz, which I’ve always regretted not having been able to schedule in previous visits, and (b) wrap myself around some really good Chinese food, such as is impossible to find in our neck of the woods.
I am in full agreement with you as to San Francisco being “alternative, liberal and full of sexual deviants” although, unlike some, I have the knack of maintaining a pool of Things That May Safely Be Ignored, the better not to spoil my enjoyment of such good points as may be. I agree with Christopher that it is expensive, but then what big city isn’t expensive? I also agree with him that it’s “full of insufferably smug tossers” but, given the extent to which most if not all of our West Coast cities seem to be infested by such, my attitude toward such people has become more relaxed: that they, too, may safely be ignored.
Response to CO’s Spousal Unit: In my younger years I didn’t mind San Francisco so much. In fact, I spent two years living in said city. These were the two years in which I stopped liking San Francisco. I have, however, known many who were born and raised there. The stories of the San Francisco of old came from them — not from my own recollections which,admittedly, only really start in the late 1980s. Even within my recollection San Francisco has really come apart.
Should you go to San Francisco there are, of course, still great sites. I’ve been to Alcatraz and would highly recommend it. I think even CO would find it at least mildly entertaining. Best to reserve tickets online and well in advance — it’s almost impossible to get tickets to it as there are only so many sold a day and it is a famous site. Should Chinese food be of interest to you I would happily tell you where to go with one caveat: San Francisco’s Chinese are predominantly Cantonese. Even if they claim to cook Sichuan, Hunan or North-Eastern cuisine it isn’t “quite” authentic. Whatever you do, don’t eat at Chinatown — it’s a tourist trap. There are far better Chinese restaurants elsewhere in the city, especially in the Outer Richmond and Sunset Districts.
You will have to contend with piles of rubbish and the potent, heady cocktail of urine and human faeces. Recently, the stench of marijuana has been added to that to extents unheard of only a few years ago. One must also contend with an influx from across the Bay — ne’er-do-wells from Oakland and Richmond bent on causing trouble for everyone. Even broad daylight doesn’t deter them. Best not to leave the main streets of the city, especially in the more heavily urbanised north-east, as what appears to be a decent neighbourhood can quickly become rather dodgy.
Please ask me any specific questions you have. I still know the city fairly well although I content myself with hiding in the countryside when I find myself in Sub-Canadian North America.
JM, one can feel ever so slightly sensitive about the absence of altitude. People here get excited about their handful of ‘high’ sea cliffs, all of a couple of hundred feet! But what do you expect from a sandbank for a country?
Janus: Wrong blog? The Viking grumbled about Sweden seizing Denmark’s most interesting topography in 1658. However underwhelming its topography, Denmark still looks positively Alpine when compared to the Netherlands.
Or is it? Hills, countries, life……. All the same. 🤓
Denmark, Norway and Wales have sheep, so…