Copenhagen in Three Acts

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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45 thoughts on “Copenhagen in Three Acts

  1. Your sadness when you were young must make you appreciate a happy partnership now all the more. 🙂 I was only in Denmark once, and briefly. Certainly not enough time to find the Little Mermaid, or even get to Copenhagen. But I liked what I saw.

  2. I love your pictures as always. Your writing ability blows my mind. I feel like I’m there experiencing the sinister cheer of creepy Santas. I also agree with the idea of not seeing things just because you’re supposed to when traveling. I always start out thinking I will and then change my mind and go wherever the day takes me. Those are the experiences we remember.

      • They’re very creepy. My sister’s boyfriend is from Germany and he said that growing up he was told that Santa sought out the bad kids and hit them with switches. So he’s never been a fan of the guy. Plus, who climbs down people’s chimneys at night?

        • The whole Santa Claus thing is pretty twisted. I’d never really thought about the whole lying to kids thing until my husband told me how it had affected him. The German lore is disturbing, too.

  3. Another exquisite post – “A bruised sky” … love it! You show such a poetic sense of style and grace when you write. Not only do I feel like I’m there, but that I want to stay immersed in the scene. Thanks for the trip.
    P.S. – When in doubt, the pub always wins out. 🙂

  4. Every time I think of Copenhagen, I think of two people, who experienced lies, deceptions, and disappointments. And yet persevered with the same passion and hope as you demonstrate with every post. You live with expectation of possibilities.

    “Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.”
    ― Hans Christian Andersen

    “The shortest distance between two people is a smile.”
    ― Victor Borge

    Thank you for another excellent post!

  5. Love the photos!
    That man dressed as a gnome (or elf?) riding with santa is a little unsettling…

  6. Hi there J, good to be reading your posts again… finally I am back! Well, for the first part I smiled so big about that scowling lady server, she must be suffering quite a lot huh? ;). I like those pubs with so much character on the outside. And lastly I am so glad my parents didn’t tell me that Santa was for real, they’d often rationalize that Santa is for the westerners, but then as I grew up I realized that they did it for a reason too, so they won’t be bugged by their children of getting them presents all the time. hahahah… funny though.

    • Hi Prem – Nice to see that you are back. Scowling ladies are often found in touristy places. You know, we are so difficult. 😉 As for your parents – they had the right idea, but they could also get away with it because you grew up in Asia.

  7. The World Santa Claus Conference looks plain creepy … and I’m a big fan of the jolly guy!
    Your photos make me want to visit there and I completely agree with the sightseeing decision you and your husband made. That’s the way to truly see the world.

  8. Very pleasant city… been there twice! There’s no papa Noël?!… really? no kiddin’! 🙂 Have a great weekend & my very best…

  9. Lol! There’s a Santa Claus convention in Copenhagen? Who knew. I must visit one day during that time. I am a big Christmas nut. Did you end up seeing the little mermaid statue in the end?

    • You’re not that far from Denmark, so you can head up there in July if you’re still in Europe. I think the parade is around the 3rd week of July. We never did get around to seeing the Little Mermaid, but I totally don’t care. 🙂

      • Cool maybe I will. Only to laugh at the people dressed as Santas haha.

        Yea I would be like you too! I wouldn’t care much for seeing it either especially if it led to annoyance with my bf. 🙂

    • Both cities have that Scandinavian look, but their atmospheres are different. They’re both worth a visit if you ever get a chance. Cheers!

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