Thursday, May 29, 2008

Airport funnies

I’m one of those odd types who loves airports. I make an adventure out of everything that happens, except narky Australian customs who can be very rude. I find airports the most fascinating places to watch people as they constantly bring out the very best and very worst.

This is now a couple of weeks old but when I think of it, I still get the giggles.

I was perched on one of those high stool and table set-ups at Schoenefeld airport, happily drinking German beers and scoffing down a baguette.

In walked a pimply, very young looking American kid of about 18 (I suspect) and a middle-aged woman, very well dressed with a ‘sort of’ Indian look and accent to her but not completely.

I have no idea what their relationship was, it was very hard to work out.

They sat at the table behind me and I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation. Something came up about smoking. I missed the next bit but then heard the American kid say:

“You know, like Sesame Street.”

No comment from the woman.

“Do you know Sesame Street? (In slow, baffled disbelief)

“No,” she said, adding, “Is it like Sex and the City?”

Long pause by American kid.

“Sort of. But, like, for three year olds.”

“Oh…” Said the woman. I guess trying to get an image of Sesame Street (as such!) in her head.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

She didn't do a runner - The Big Day

And it was – from the early hours of the morning. The streets were quiet and telecasts started some six hours before the actual wedding! It was a bit like Grand Final Day in Melbourne, but without any football.

I watched it, in between playing ball with Hamish outside and sending emails.

I caught one of the seemingly endless documentaries on the couple first. She seems very nice, complete with that sort of serious, intense way of talking about life the French seem to have. I don’t know that much about him, except he speaks English perfectly. Unfortunately for Marie, I don’t think she speaks Danish at all yet (good luck!) and already there are calls for the people’s preference for Danish to be the language of the house at Shackenborg Castle, their home. If that becomes law, I dare say it’s going to be a very quiet old castle for the next year or so. I read one report that said the Prince Consort (French originally himself) ‘speaks Danish’, as if to say there’s no reason for Marie not to. True enough, except poor Henrik cops a flogging over his Danish constantly – and he’s lived here for 40-something years!

About the wedding:

The village of Møgeltønder was transformed into a fairytale village (naturally, enough) for the day, and it did look quaint.

I admit there is something about seeing people done up in uniforms, medals and tiaras but I really did find it odd seeing women wearing them (the Queen’s sisters, I think) and waving from a big bus. Yes, they arrived by bus. It somehow looked like two polarised pieces of life coming together clumsily and one I won’t forget soon.

The groom was supported by his two young sons. Both handsome kids, although the elder one needs to have his ears pinned back or he could be in for trouble at school. They, with all their under 7 or 8 years of life, looked suitably calm, in control and serious next to their father who looked more and more nervous as time went on. He dropped down frequently to whisper in the ear of the eldest little boy who nodded his head in agreement over whatever his father was saying. This happened a lot, and I think it was more that Joachim had to do something other than just stand there, than actually had anything much to say.

I guess the key to a good wedding is romance and emotion and the Danes supplied. When the bride (I think the dress was nice??) walked in, Joachim’s face filled with tears and, indeed, he had to lower his head and wipe his eyes but managed to smile at the same time. It was one of those movements you couldn’t do if someone gave you instructions.

There was lots of singing and lots of (rather quick) Danish from the jolly priest but it was a bit too much for Joachim’s younger son who took a bit of a kip for a while.

Marie’s father wiped away tears during Ave Maria as did the Crown Princess of Norway. I spilt a glass of orange juice over the coffee table.

Before we knew it, the “Ja’s” had been said and we had a new princess.

They turned from the alter, gave a deep bow and curtsey to the Queen – in itself quite moving for some reason, and made their way down the aisle to bobs and bows from the congregation.

Most impressive was their exit into a vintage Bugati that let of the biggest cloud of smoke as it started up and moved away to start their endless fun-filled years together – providing Marie learns Danish, of course!

But I have a few questions…

Who was the haughty young, tall, very blonde girl in the, from memory, long blue dress? She was with the royal set but no one I recognised.

Similarly, there was an older, rather angry looking women, who walked in with two dark-haired young guys (also in the royal set)? I wouldn’t like to get on here wrong side! Who was she?

For some pics, click here

Dankort - the saga continues

Well. Where do I start? They sent me out the forms to sign, I signed them and sent them back. The card arrived in the mail yesterday. Fantasic! Except that it is another f--kng useless MasterCard WITHOUT a chip in it! I feel like blowing my brains out. It's like the quest for the Holy Grail trying to get a DanKort. [sob]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Look what we got! (og en bryllup)

Today is a big day. With this superb weather, we decided to get – yes, wait for it – a clothes’ horse!

Plus, this:

Yes, my new mobile phone!

Prepared to hit the horrendous crowds that appear on Saturdays who, like everyone else, have to get every item on the grocery or maintenance lists before the shops close, I was prepared for the worst. It’s true. It’s a battleground on Saturdays on the streets here.

But today was different. At Frederiksberg Centret there was barely a sole about and usually you can’t move. I couldn’t work it out until I found out why.


Yup, today Prince Joachim, like millions of others around the world, is going to have another go at tying the knot. This time it’s with a young Frenchwoman called Marie Cavallier. It’s almost spooky in a way because apart from sharing the Franco version of Crown Princess Mary’s name, Marie sort of even looks like her.

The oddest thing is the wedding isn’t even in Copenhagen. It’s in the town in Jutland where Joachim’s estate is but obviously Copenhageners intend to somehow be a part of it.

I stayed securely at home last night and thought I’d watch television, drink wine and eat lasagne and my favourite homemade ice cream. I could choose from three pre-wedding documentaries (one of them a royal quiz with Danish celebrities being asked questions, as the sipped on champagne and became even more giggly) or the Friday night movie, Runaway Bride, featuring Julia Roberts, which made me think the media might know something about Marie that we do not…

Now that I’m home with not only a new phone but a clothes’ horse, I can’t help but think perhaps I should have also bought one for Joachim and Marie. They’re very handy and help the environment.

Anyway, good wishes to both of them – that romantic honeymoon period of any relationship is fantastic and it also allows you to save energy for the ups and downs decades after that period finishes! ☹

I’m off to play with my new ‘phobile moan’.

Ich bin ein Berliner

Aren’t clichés great? You see this one everywhere in Berlin, where I spent last weekend.

What an impressive city. I fell in love with the magnificent parks and tree-lined streets, which somehow I obviously didn’t pay much attention to when I was there at the age of 18. Mind you, it was in winter then and still divided into East and West, so firstly, the trees had no leaves and secondly, my mind was more intrigued by those evil communists who had their trigger-happy fingers hovering permanently over the launch button. Looking back, that’s how I spent most of my teenage years: worrying about nuclear war.

This time for me it was a very poignant trip. Maybe it’s because almost the last bit of youth in me is shrivelling up, but I actually spent much of the weekend in reflective thought about the world and Germany and the war/s.

For anyone who’s not been to Berlin, let me tell you it’s a vast city, at least compared to Copenhagen. When you fly in, you pass over lush green countryside and as you come into land you can actually see how treed the streets are. On the ground, they’re even more impressive: flowering horse chestnuts, lindens, planes and oaks planted out along long boulevards and even the side streets. Quite idyllic and made even more pleasant by Berliners who were very friendly everywhere I went, even if they were a tad perplexed at my insistence in speaking Danish quite frequently. (Obviously, I will never make one of those sophisticated internationals who can switch from one language to another instantaneously.)

Of course, there isn’t a great many magnificent old buildings as most of those were bombed to buggery in WWII. Never the less, there is still considerable architectural interest and Berlin’s history is nothing if not interesting. It was that, that put me in a pensive mood.

I don’t have much trouble reconciling the Great War. For me it boils down to the Kaiser who was a despot with a huge chip on his shoulders. He hated his British mother and English relatives and kept the former under – more-or-less – house arrest, fearing she was some sort of spy. He had a huge chip on his shoulders about the might of the British Empire and wanted the same for Germany, devoting his whole life to trying to achieve it. I think what sums him up can be found in one of the letters he wrote to his grandmother, Queen Victoria, when he became sovereign. He began the letter with, ‘Dear Colleague’. What a nong. Anyway, he did such a good job on furthering Germany’s stance in the world he lost the throne and made the Hohenzollerns the laughing stock of the world at the price of millions of lives.

But what occupied my thoughts this time was Nazism. I was thinking of it as the plane landed which, rather bizarrely, saw us all packed into two busses waiting on the runway. It probably wouldn’t have affected me so much were I not the last on the bus, squashed against the door facing outwards, which given my thoughts at the time, and being in Berlin, immediately made me think of something else.

It went on from there and culminated in a trip to the Jewish Museum.
The museum itself is extremely interesting and insightful as it takes you through Jewish history since biblical times. It’s an impressive, unusual modern building that meanders over a few stories. The Holocaust doesn’t overwhelm the place but two parts of the building affected me deeply. The first was called the Holocaust Tower.

You walk into a concrete room with a heavy door closing behind you. Immediately you feel sort of imprisoned. You can hear the world going on outside but the effect is one of detachment. It’s only a small, oddly shaped room but stretches up three floors. At the top, there is a slit in the concrete that lets in a small amount of light. I guess (I can’t say for sure because the iPod I was using kept skipping) it represents Jews stuck in the camps, knowing some kind of ‘life’ was going on outside while they were imprisoned in one of the most awful to imagine kinds of hell.

What was even more sobering was another void called The Void of Falling Leaves. This is one you actually hear before you see. As I got nearer, I could hear this very grating chinking of metal. It was very disconcerting and irritating.

You enter a huge space covered on the floor with hundreds of circular shapes of thick metal, each with eyes and a mouth bored into them. The noise comes from people walking over them and the sound is utterly awful and jarring. It made me think of stomping over the wounded, sad souls. In fact, I couldn’t walk over the exhibition. I just stood their listening to the noise, feeling sadder by the minute. At the same time, I found it interesting that architecture could have this effect on me.

After that, I wandered down the streets and found the remnants of that other dark piece of history, the Berlin Wall. The last time I’d been in Berlin the wall had been complete and in full working order, but this time I felt a bit disoriented. The city had become one again and I found it hard working out which way was east and which way was west. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

As I continued my very long walk (I still have the blisters to prove it) I found it hard to reconcile that such a lovely city, full of what I found to be friendly and helpful people, had not that long ago been the seat of such evil. Almost incomprehensible evil.

I’ve never spoken to any Germans about that part of their history. It’s not something I guess I’d want to bring up but I wonder how they cope, knowing they have such an ugly history. Certainly it not the Germans of today’s responsibility or fault but it can’t be very nice, looking back at your own country’s past and being met by a black wall. To their immense credit, in Berlin at least, that history is not hidden. There are reminders everywhere and that, in itself, must be hard to face and see as you go about living your life.

Not long ago, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a trip to Israel and a speech at the Knesset, about Germany’s past. It must have been a terribly difficult thing to do – to know you must do it, but probably don’t want to be the one to do so.

A number of Israeli politicians boycotted listening to the speech saying they couldn’t bear to hear the German language in their House. Part of me understood that but another part of me thought it was a shame. I doubt Ms Merkel wanted them to forget – or even forgive Germany for what happened but I guess she just wanted a chance to speak for her country, today, about it. The boycott also made me feel sorry for all the German Jews who still live in the country and are no doubt understandably proud of their land as it is now.

She said: "The Holocaust fills us with shame. I bow my head before the survivors and I bow my head before you in tribute to the fact that you were able to survive."

They were words of the deepest solemnity and I’m sure she meant them. It must have been overwhelming for her, however much she may have wanted to do it, knowing who you were addressing and just why.

Personally, I wish I’d had longer in Berlin because there is just so much to see and do. Next time I’m going to tackle the Cold War. I missed out on the DDR Museum due to time but want to find out more about life in East Berlin back then. And the third time I go back I’m just going to relax and enjoy the fun Berlin is known for today!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Goodbye my old faithful

This is my old faithful mobile phone.

I am not a gadget person, as you can probably tell by the age of this mobile. It has served me well and been through the washing machine three times. Yes, three times, which is a good advertisement for the maker. The screen is barely readable because there’s a lot of lint stuck on it but the phone soldiers on.

Tomorrow, 12th May, my contract with ends. I can renew it and, at the same time, get a new phone in the process. I think I will do that because I’m in the mood for a change.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is a public holiday, all but the last until Christmas I’m afraid. So, because it is a public holiday, I went in to Telia yesterday morning to see what my options were. Yes, I could get a new phone. Could I perhaps get it today (Saturday) because Monday is a public holiday? No. I have to go in on Tuesday.

It would obviously have dire consequences for Telia if I got it two days earlier.

For George

Sunday morning 0800, 18C

Hi George,

I don't want mozz you (or me) but this is Copenhagen at the moment: the weather is superb and has been for two weeks and about 18-20C every day. It's light from 5am till 10pm and it's not even summer. Everyone speaks English - even when you speak Danish to them. The world around us has also literally comes alive with lush, brilliant green leaves and it rains every now and then just to touch it all up. The people are healthy, attractive and easy-going. It is, honestly, magnificent at the moment. So much so, my partner informed me on Thursday night, we may never leave. This is coming from someone who is always reluctant to travel too far from ‘home’.

Now, before you madly start packing, keep this in mind. Last year there was apparently no summer. Then, also take note that you will spend at least four months of the year in what feels like near darkness. While this is...dark, the Danes do have the skill of making life quite cosy at this time of year so it is still quite enjoyable, even though by the end of it, I had almost forgotten what sunlight looked and felt like.

Danish: notoriously hard, even for me who did Swedish back in Melbourne years ago at university. BUT, one does progress and my partner is literally flooring me with his ability at the moment and he's never learned another language. People sometimes look at me oddly when they hear me destroying their language but three people have said I look Danish so this confuses them. Try not to look Danish.

Danes: Not that dissimilar to Aussies - or Melbournians as far as I've experienced. They're, on the whole, pretty friendly, if a bit reserved but I haven't seen any signs of that aggro edge we seem to have developed in Melbourne. They are *very* family oriented and you will see fathers dashing off from work to pick up their kids on 'their day', which one never sees in Melbourne.

The down side: whatever you do, make sure you get a CPR number as soon as you get here. Usually, you can only get it if you have a job but, given that you're a lecturer and therefore on what they call the 'positive (visa) list', you may be able to organise one with the Consulate in Sydney before you come. You can't get a bank account without one usually nor even join Blockbuster.

Beware that outside the actual city centre, which amounts to about a kilometre square, very few establishments accept international credit cards and even, in my frustrating experience, Danish credit cards other than DanKort. DanKort can also be a VISA card but it has a microchip in it. This is important as it literally opens up Denmark to you and, without it, you feel like a stateless person after WWII. This situation has seriously nearly sent me to a lunatic asylum. But, I now have the papers to get one and I can't tell you how excited I am. I will be almost Danish when it arrives! Sleep with whomever you must to get one - god will understand!

Even if you find a job for squillions of Kronor, be prepared to wave half of it goodbye (although you may be eligible for a nice tax cut being on the positive list, which lasts three years). But, you do get much for it: free health care, efficient public transport and infrastructure and no poverty.

Finding somewhere to live can be problematic. My suggestion is to try this company: Hay4You as they offer the most reasonable short-term rentals and are very friendly. Speak to Sita or Jakob. A month in a short-term apartment will give you time to find a real place to live. I actually found a very reasonable re-location agent: Hands-on Relocation Her name is Louise.

Good luck! And, if you have any questions, let me or Crown Princess Mary know. She’s the only other 'Australian' I know here ☺

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Living the Guggenheim

(I've just been told this is upside down, so try and imagine it the other way up)

(Fields of canola. I thought this was from our train trip to visit friends near Roskilde on Thursday but apparently it's the Olympic Highway in southern New South Wales - which I've never seen)

(As yet untitled and causing the most grief for the artist)

There has been an absolute frenzy of artistic expression here in Frederiksberg for the last few days.

I shall preface this by saying our flat here is not exactly the most hygge residence in dejlig Danmark. While the Jysk furniture is adequate and not completely awful, apart from family photographs we don’t have much in the way of artworks or nice pieces of furniture; we left all that in Melbourne. You tend to miss those things that were special about where you lived and we have moaned about our bare walls since we moved in here.

But not any more. Well, almost.

Unlike what I imagine of most scientists, NQDII has a self-professed artistic streak and, as I’ve pointed out in an old post, I don’t.

On Friday, he had a brilliant idea. He’d buy some canvases and paints and de-bare our walls.

Back in Melbourne, he’d once before gone to work in a flurry of brushstrokes, madly slapping paint around and created two rather colourful, if abstract, masterpieces. We also used to have ‘painting days’, complete with instruction from the maestro for our niece and nephews, at the time 7, 4 and 1ish. Those days saw most of the house literally covered in what transpired to be a palette of near permanent paint. Those days were marvellously memorable and fun for the kids but also meant we pretty much had to renovate the whole house. I learnt you can lay most of the year’s old newspapers on everything but you can't stop kids from walking through the paint anyway.

On Friday NQDII bought not one, but three large canvases, paints and set about madly scribbling some roughs outlines on paper and set to work for the whole day. Now, I don’t know whether you have much experience with scientists but they tend to get a tad obsessive over everything they do and nothing must get in the way of the task at hand. Consequently, my walking up and down the hallway caused yells of, ‘Do you have to stomp so heavily? I can’t think! I must be able to think!”

So I was very quiet.

The rest of the day was filled with sounds of brushing and brushing, slopping and slopping, grunts and groan and lots of talking – to himself.

Unfortunately, anyone who does know what scientists are like will also attest that the obsessive bubble can burst and any manic episode of high concentration and intense effort can be quickly followed by collapse.

That was Saturday.

There was still activity but somewhat subdued and, with that, much hand-to-mouth action and despairing shakes of the head - and no small amounts of reassurance from me. Work carried on, if in a more sombre mood.

By the end of the day, the mood had improved and, while the works are not finished, we shall soon, I hope, have some pieces for the walls.

More holidays!

We have had four glorious days off work. Thursday was a public holiday here in Denmark and Friday my company was kind enough to give as a present, of which I was very grateful.

Ideally, I should have studied for the forthcoming module test in Danish but, sadly, due to attending one of the last five classes, I made a decision last Monday to pull the plug on Danish for the moment. Not getting to class was stressing me out and ‘affecting my mentality’, to borrow a phrase from Muriel’s Wedding.

I can’t deny I am disappointed but, at the same time, I’m relieved. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to go somewhere and still being at work. However, I really had to put it all into perspective. I have to work. I have no rich old Aunts or Uncles who can help me inherit a gazillion kronor, so work has to be a priority.

Anyway, making that decision has actually been a relief and meant I’ve been able to concentrate on what I must do for now. It also meant I’ve been able to relax and enjoy this mini-break.

We spent Thursday with friends celebrating three of the family’s birthdays and gorging ourselves on lagkager, hot cocoa and other goodies from a table beautifully decorated and complete with spring flowers and lots of little Dannebroger. I’d never been to a Danish birthday party before, so come the time to sing the Danish equivalent of Happy Birthday, I realised I was in dire need to learn a new Danish song. I guess it won’t surprise anyone that the song includes the word dejlig! If ever the Danes decide to produce an advertising campaign to promote tourism, it will have to include dejlig. It’s the Danish equivalent (not in meaning, of course) of ‘G’day’.

What did transpire at the party for we two English speakers was we are understanding much more Danish than we used to. There is, of course, a ten second delay which means as soon as you compute the current discussion, everyone’s moved on to the next but it does give one reason to hope.

You can learn something new every day...

(photo: Jon Sullivan)
This is not much to do with Denmark, but something I learned last week after reading about a dioxin scare amongst Italian farms producing milk to make mozzarella cheese.

In all my 40-ish years of chomping away on mozzarella cheese, I had absolutely no idea it was produced from buffalo milk. I had to read the line in the article twice, as I thought I’d just imagined seeing the word buffalo.

I think it threw me because, first of all, I had a hard time picturing buffalos in Italy and then I began to wonder about the process of milking a buffalo, envisioning groups of excited Italians milling chaotically around trying to get the big beasts to stand still.

And, I wonder who the first Italian was to wake up one day and think, “I’m going to import some buffalos and make a cheese called mozzarella!”

So there you go, you might be as surprised as I was to realise I don’t know everything.