Copenhagen, Denmark – July 2008
I. A Somewhat Valiant Attempt at Tourism
A bruised sky over the Nyhavn waterfront. The cold, damp breeze whips my hair into a tangled mess. My husband and I sink deeper into our light jackets and shiver. We didn’t think to pack sweaters. And yet we move amongst smiling faces and boisterous laughter. In spite of our discomfort, we are also smiling. The merry atmosphere is contagious. In this latitude, summer is fleeting and every bit of light and warmth must be enjoyed before it vanishes.
We sit on the patio overlooking the water. We order lunch from a scowling blonde woman. A few minutes later she plunks our seafood dishes down in front of us and stalks off. My husband and I look at each other and shrug. This is why we avoid eating in tourist spots.
Late afternoon finds us at Amalienborg Palace. We have seen the Viking artifacts at the Danish National Museum and are seeking the Little Mermaid. The breeze is now a wind. Our ears ache and our throats are sore. Discomfort that’s more annoying than the feverish bliss of a full blown flu. My husband’s feet hurt. I am grouchy. We come to a halt in the middle of the courtyard and look at each other. The absurdity of this hits both of us. We’re going through all of this effort to see a statue and not even a large or elaborate one. The point of travel is to enjoy oneself, not to see something just because everyone else does. We join hands and go in search of a warm pub.
II. Counterculture Vultures
Christiania. Self-proclaimed autonomous commune. No photos allowed. Frantic, paranoid looks cast over shoulders and at obvious outsiders. A stroll down Pusher Street reveals stands selling Bob Marley t-shirts, patchouli oil, and handmade jewelry. A whiff of cannabis smoke in the soft breeze. The sun’s warmth penetrates the clouds.
We duck into a small bar. Lurid red walls. Tattered dart boards and vintage pinball machines. The smell of stale cigarettes and cheap beer. Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog surges out of the speakers. We take our beers outside and sit at a battered metal table under a tree. My husband listens to my nostalgic ramblings until fat, lazy raindrops begin to fall.
III. The Deception of Smiles
Our last day in Copenhagen. The clouds have vanished. We come across an army of Christmas warriors. Every July, Santas from around the world converge in Copenhagen for the World Santa Claus Congress. An almost sinister cheer permeates the crowd. Booming laughs and bright eyes. Who is the jolliest of them all?
My husband shakes his head as he watches. He tells me about how he learned that there was no Père Noël. His childhood was so calm that it’s one of the few events that he actually remembers. His voice is sad as he speaks. This was how he learned about disappointment and the lies of adults. I take his hand and squeeze. For the first time, I realize how cruel this tradition can be for children. Finding out the truth about Santa Claus wasn’t traumatic for me. I’d already learned that behind every smile lurks a possible deception.