Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An impressive set of brass bells

I can't decide whether the bells are ringing more today or whether they always ring this much, but I am not normally home to hear them. I live across the street from a rather large church, so when the bells get going, they tend to be hard to ignore. Today it seems like they are being rung by a hyperactive monk with the memory of a goldfish. Crap, did I ring the bells? Better go ring them again. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ring the bells! Ring the bells!

So here we are, Christmas day in Copenhagen. I've been trying hard to get into the holiday spirit the last week, with rather limited success, I'm afraid. Although I have become a big fan of glögg - that is the traditional hot spiced red wine that Danes drink around Christmas. On Saturday, I went to the last day of the Nyhavn Christmas market. I perused the tat in the stalls, odd assemblies of random leather goods and animal skins, wool sweaters and viking regalia, not to mention the mystifying fairground-like collections of stuffed reindeer and santa clauses. Failing to find the inspiration I was looking for, I picked up a bag of roast chestnuts and went across the road to watch the ice skaters in Kongens Nytorv for a while.

For an atheist, I am, rather oddly, a big fan of Christmas. It's mostly because of the aesthetics - the scent of pine, the colors green and red, the association with sleighs and skates and snowball fights, a hint of vintage, a dash of goodwill towards fellow man, the feeling of tradition. Plus, no one ever pushes the whole religious aspect too hard, so it's easy to celebrate if you're a non-believer. It seems more akin to the worship of capitalism than any kind of omnipotent god, if we're honest. Which makes it the quintessential holiday for Americans, I suppose.

So yesterday I made my traditional Christmas roast duck, and today I'll do my just as traditional pierogi making from the leftovers. Perhaps it's impossible to truly feel the Christmas spirit when you are far away from everyone you love, but I am certainly going to give it my best try.

So merry Christmas, happy holidays, lovely Kwanza, joyous Ramadan, and a very happy Chanukkah (even though I think it's over).

Sunday, December 23, 2007

the daily show does Denmark

OK, this is old, but it's the first time I've seen it, and it's kinda funny. (If you only watch one, part two is funnier than part 1.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

the anarchists ride again

So I was on my way home from work and ran across another young anarchists parade. Two flatbed trucks blasted bad punk ear-splittingly loud as an endless sea of early teens marched with torches and bonfires in wagons like the scene when the villagers storm the castle in Frankenstein. It was close to the center of town, and I remember being surprised as I'd never seen them there before. Frankly I was just glad they decided to go someplace other than outside my window. Of course, I spoke too soon. Turns out they were just taking a tour before heading back to their spiritual home - the square across the street.

They've apparently upgraded their sound system since last they were here. Plus they've found some sort of firework that bears a striking similarity to a sonic boom. And they are interspersing the music with speeches this evening. I can't decide which is more annoying. There will be no sleep for me tonight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

stuck on my itunes

Vermillion Lies "No good for you"

Click the link above to download it free.
(Because I am too lazy to learn how to post music right now.)

Roadkill toys

Limited edition - they come complete with bodybag and toe tag.

I confess. I want one. Does that make me sick?

(Spotted on Something Rotten - nice one Aaron)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

too old for this crap

Think it's time for another self-imposed Ruby's ban.

For those of you who don't know, Ruby's is the default agency bar. A night that starts at Ruby's usually ends up at this after-hours bar that I never remember the name of, which I think has some association to jazz and which closes well after the night before should have become the morning after. I always tell myself I won't end up there. I am always wrong.

Some people can carry off the hard-partying lifestyle well into their 30somethings (JB, this means you.) However, for others of us, this is not such a good idea. I am definitely in the second camp. For me, this means I will crawl into bed Saturday morning and stay there, reading and sleeping alternately until Sunday.

Lost weekend, indeed.

For those of you who can booze happily until the sun comes up, be sure to check out JB's DJ set Thursday nights at Liar's club next time you are in Chicago.

JB, it's up to you to carry the torch for the rest of us. I think I am turning mine in.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

an unexamined life and such

Tell someone rather vehemently they look great today.

One kind of person will smile and say thank you.

The other will wonder whether they looked like crap yesterday.

I am apparently the latter.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

when jellyfish attack

Dear lord, masses of jellyfish going on an inter-species killing rampage. Beware the rogue jellyfish.


Hello Christmas

Only three days after dragging myself back from a lovely week in Chicago, I was back at Copenhagen airport. Yes, it was the soon-to-be-infamous Hello Christmas party in Berlin. Things I've learned from the trip to Berlin:

If you go with the right people, everywhere you go in Berlin looks remarkably like Ruby's on a Friday night.

Champagne is the true breakfast of champions

Everything you've heard about Danish Christmas parties is true.

You can go a remarkably long time without sleeping, even if you probably shouldn't.

I love the people I work with - every single one of them. It's obvious we all deserve each other. If you're reading this, I love you guys.

(Dreadful picture of me on no sleep and too much champagne courtesy of Jorgen Juul)

Monday, November 26, 2007

crispy fried me

Just got back in from a lovely week and a bit in my homeland of Chicago. I'd tell you all about it, but I've got that strange acid fogginess you get from visiting three airports in a 24 hour period and being too tired to do the time zone math to figure out when you slept last. You can stick a fork in me, because I am doooooone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yeah, I totally jinxed myself

Yep, you guessed it. First bike crash. Was on my way to work, doing the bike thing in a skirt and heels and doing just fine, thanks very much. Anyway, I was in the left side of the bike lane and needed to get to the right because my turn off was coming up, but no one would let me in. If you know Copenhagen at all, you know the bike lanes can get pretty crowded of a morning, and Danes, while very nice people in general, can sometimes be a little weird when it comes to lines or rules of the road. Anyway, no one would let me over, tried passing people in front, tried slowing down, finally I saw an opening just big enough and I went for it and the women in front of me hit the brakes. Hit the back of her tire and wham - total wipeout. Grand total: one scraped and swollen knee, one ruined pair of tights (one hour before a big client meeting, no less) and one case of badly injured pride. Could have been worse, I suppose.

On being the ugly American

So went for dinner to a friend of a friend's house to watch the election. The hosts were kind enough to give me a thorough rundown of the Danish political process, which was definitely very interesting. However, the number of parties and the niceties of percentages of seats is pretty much lost on the child of a two-party system.

Everyone wonders why Americans tend to be more inclined to view things in black or white. Perhaps it is our political system that is to blame. Heck, we can't even get a third party together, let alone 6. That's just too many shades of grey for us to comprehend. And everyone sharing power? Mmm, don't think so. Winner takes all and condemn the losers to four years of suffering. That's the American way.

What was seriously insane was hearing that something like 80% of the people vote here. Think it's around 40% at home. This might be a symptom of the widespread apathy about politics in general that seems to affect the American consciousness. I'd tell you more about the issues at stake, but I was too busy critiquing the hair and outfit choices to pay much attention. (What was up with that leopard print the Prime Minister's wife was wearing?)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

life's little victories

I bike rode home today. It was snowing. I was in heels. And, no, I didn't kill myself.

I may be getting the hang of this city after all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

overdosing on quaintness in Hillerod

Decided it was high time I did something that didn't involve working, drinking or going to the gym. So on a Sunday the week before last, I set out with Rico, the master of all things cultural at my agency, to check out Frederiksborg castle.

To be honest, Copenhagen isn't always the quaintest of European cities. Don't get me wrong, it definitely has its moments, but in terms of mainland Europe, you get the feeling that the Danes were too busy raping and pillaging to really put their hearts into interior and exterior decoration. Well, someone seriously let loose their inner metrosexuals when it came to Frederiksborg. Yet even in their wildest bits of architectural abandon, there is a masculinity to it. You would probably never dare use the word confection to describe Danish decor, even at its most ornate. Much like Scotland, you rather feel you'd get a swift kick somewhere unpleasant if you even tried.

Heck, even the naked guy on the top of the fountain, surrounded by cherubs and precious water jets looks like he's strutting around in the middle of a mosh pit. This can be kind of refreshing if you've ever spent significant bits of time in France. I've always kind of dug that hunting lodge look, and this place seriously ups the ante. It's supposed to be an art museum, but the art is passable at best and seriously awful at worst, so good thing the surroundings amaze. They had a self-portrait by Lars von Trier that makes one rather glad that he went into directing instead. I'd torture you with it here, but I rather think I do him a favor by not posting it. Better you always remember him as you know him now.

Luckily, the older pieces fare a bit better. This ship was made by a prisoner out of his dinner bones. Apparently, this was common practice among prisoners who made ornate ships and then sold them in order to get the money to buy things. Perhaps better meals with bigger bones to build more ships to buy better meals with bigger bones? Maybe Lars should have taken up carving instead.

the bag saga is officially over

So it looks as if I will have to find something else to get all cranky about. Out of the blue a few days ago, after their lawyer telling me they would not issue a refund without receipts for all my possessions past, present and future, as well as the blood of ten virgins and a good quality stake to drive through their cold, dead, corporate heart, I got a crisp check in the mail from my good friends at SAS. While it only covers about 1/5 of what was actually in the bag, I am just glad to have it all over.
Three words: Never, ever again. Enough said.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not only does SAS still suck, their planes are death traps

I was overdue for an update on the bag situation. In short terms, SAS is still screwing me around. To date, I have no bag and no settlement. Their limitations don't even come close to covering what was in it, and now they want receipts for everything in the bag to even give me that.

So, I was getting ready to write a long rant about this, when a friend happened to mention they have crashed four planes in the last couple months. Well, to find sources for this, I did a quick google search on SAS crash. If you are even remotely thinking about getting on an SAS flight, I suggest you do this first. And then take a real airline.

You can find information about their recent crashes here and here.

So now I can say, for both your safety and your sanity, don't fly Scandinavian Airlines.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

While I am posting animation, here's another one I love

Seedy Gonzalez

Those kooky Japanese

photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Not sure about how effective it would be against muggers, but it might make a useful Halloween costume. Click here for details.

strange dreams and more drunken anarchists

Last week was a good week. I was in Sweden to see a periodontist. It was an appointment I'd been dreading. Just before I left the States I was told by my dentist I was going to need major dental surgery, pretty much immediately. He scared the living heck out of me, so it was with a heavy heart and fear in the depths of my soul that I took that little journey. My Swedish specialist is a kind but slightly nervous man, which seems a pretty common personality type for the dental types - I wonder why. Anyway, after an examination with many verbal notes to the transcribing nurse (in Swedish, of course), he looks at me. "So your dentist, he told you you need this?"

"Mmm, yes, rather vehemently."

"You are fine. There is nothing not normal here.", he said, looking at me like I might be slightly off my rocker.

I won't go into details, but the last few months I've had a surgery hanging over my head that makes me shudder to think about. It's not an uncommon thing, but it is an intensely painful one, and knowing that I don't need it makes every day a whole lot easier to get through.

A few nights later, for some reason, I dreamed about a woman I'd known in grade school, who'd apparently become a dentist, and who was doing something really terrible to me with dental instruments. I awoke to the anarchists, who, from the sound of it, had erected a complete club with a professional sound system in the park outside my window. In most countries, police with batons and clubs and all sorts of implements would have been on them within a few minutes. Here, they let it burn itself out. You've got to admire the fortitude of these kids. They managed to keep it up until about 7am. The last 6 or 7 songs became a group sing-along that would have sounded kind of good, were it not 6:30 am on a Saturday, I suppose. Wow, have I become a curmudgeon or what?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

3 hours in Sweden

Today I went to Sweden. I left from Copenhagen station.

The train was nice enough, but it's the attention-to-detail that made it perfect. After all, how many times have you gotten on the train and wondered where to put your schnauzer? Thankfully for the rest of the world, the Swedes have some helpful advice.

Oh. That's where that schnauzer goes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

currently on repeat on my itunes

"stepping out in front of cars" by Morning Bride.

Download it free here:


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Those kooky kids

Last Saturday, or maybe it was Wednesday, the anarchists decided to have an impromptu music festival in the square across from my house. They had a stage that was rolling through Copenhagen with a live band playing and ear-shatteringly loud speakers. It was kind of like a parade, if you took all the color out, replaced all the baton twirlers with drunk 14 to 16 year olds in black hoodies and changed the happy parade music to death metal. Anyway, since I didn't get any pics myself of the riots, thought I'd take one of this, so you can all get a taste of Norrebro on a Saturday night (for those of you who don't live here).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lance Armstrong congratulated me today

One of the results of SAS's complete incompetence in terms of baggage handling was that I lost all my workout gear - shoes included. As all running shoes are equally insanely expensive here in DK, I was finally able to justify buying into the whole nike + ipod thing. (Particularly since I already had the nano - a gift from an old client that was lying around unused.) I've never been much of a street runner - generally preferring to get my cardio on the much-easier-on-the-knees cross-trainer while enjoying the climate controlled comforts of the gym. I have to say though, with the nike + ipod, I am rapidly getting addicted. The lakes where I run are quite beautiful as the sun comes up. And there's something innately satisfying about uploading the details of your morning run to a site online where you can compare it with other mornings. Sure, the system doesn't give me any information I couldn't get on cardio equipment at the gym. In fact, because it doesn't work with a heart rate monitor, it's missing a piece of what I normally consider vital information. However, it adds a whole different dimension getting that information from real world training. And today, when Lance Armstrong piped up to congratulate me on hitting a personal best mile time, the cynic in me played it off with a "how hokey". But deep down, I admit it, I was as giddy as a little girl in her first princess dress.

I took some pictures of this morning's run, just to bring some color and life back into this blog. I've been slacking seriously in the photo department lately, I am well aware. I was going to use them too, but then I saw this image by Flemming Bo Jensen:

That is a lot more like my morning run looks than the crappy blurry shots I took while trying to keep up to pace. (Multi-tasking and photos don't mix strangely enough.)

Anyway, that's how I spend my mornings. Guess life could be worse.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Danish trivia

A while ago, I posted on my complete inability to name any famous Danish people. I would love to say that in the past three weeks, I've studied up on Danish history and have come up with the following list based on hard work and diligence. Instead, I frittered away my time getting boozed up, working too much and going shopping. Good thing I have some of the most amazing friends in the world. So, courtesy of the always awesome (and fabulously Danish) Cristina, the following list should get you out of trouble if you are ever at a party and get asked the dreaded "name some famous Danish people" question:

Niels Bohr
Hans Christian Andersen
Karen Blixen
Soren Kierkegaard
Hamlet (he counts!)
Minna Gaarn-Larsen (OK that is my mom, but she IS well-received)
Brigitte Nielsen
Helena Christensen
Arne Jacobsen
Vicktor Borge
Tycho Brahe
and of course

In the future, I solemnly promise to mend my wicked ways, visit some museums and generally stop being such a ne'er-do-well. Which reminds me. Next update will be on last weekend's drunken insanity.

In other news, Scandinavian Airlines still sucks

Some of you have asked me how the bag thing ended up. It didn't. Still no bag. Still no compensation. And no response to my e-mails for the past week and a half. Think they are hoping I'll forget about it. (Haha. Very little chance of that happening.)

In fact, I am happily transferring unnecessarily and paying a pile extra just so I can fly Air France when I go back for Thanksgiving. (Plus skipping out on United air miles, to which I am addicted.) That's how much I hate SAS.

If you had ever been in their lost luggage room, you would probably never fly them again either.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

What's there to do in my neighborhood? Riot, apparently.

(photo courtesy of Reuters)

"Where are you living?"


"Oh yeah, where all the riots are."

That's generally what you'll hear when you mention my neighborhood in conversation. Why there are riots here are pretty simple. The police tore down a vacant building the local anarchists were using as a community center. They've been rioting and trying to take over other buildings ever since. What's particularly amusing to me is that they publish a web page with the exact location of the building they are going to take over a month in advance. I find this a bit mystifying. Of course, the police, who apparently also have internet access (surprise, surprise), are ready for them and a big riot ensues. Anyway, there was one here last night. I didn't hear much other than a few sirens from paddy wagons and 100 people drinking and singing and breaking bottles in the park across the street, but from some news reports, it's sounding like it was a big one:


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

random acts of loveliness

So I decided to make another attempt at grocery shopping this evening. This is much more difficult than it sounds. Trying to figure out what things are when you don't speak the language can be a bit of a challenge, and even things you feel you should recognize are completely incomprehensible. The "what is that large hunk of meat" game is considerably less exciting when you eventually have to try to cook and eat the thing in question.

On my second to last attempt, it took ages to fill a basket with something that I could vaguely be expected to make dinner from, only to reach the register (after a queue of soviet era proportions) and find out they don't take non-Danish credit cards. And then (after another wait in a queue that made the first queue look non-existent in comparison) the atm machine across the street decided to freak out and go out of service with my atm card still in it.

Tonight I wanted to make a salad. I had bought anchovies and dressing at the heaven-on-earth grocery store a few days before - all I needed were vegetables. SImple, right? Well, not quite. I went to three stores without finding the vegetables I need in the sort of shape that I'd purchase them. So I am getting increasingly frustrated and it is getting later and I was feeling a bit raw anyway for no good reason and all this is making it worse when I end up at this one mom and pop market. They have the best veg I've seen yet, so I load up a cart. I get to the counter and the guy asks me if I would like to try some of what his friends and family were having. It's Ramadan and they have a big meal going. He ends up loading me up with Lebanese food. I get back home, put all the veg in the fridge for tomorrow and had some of the best food I've had since I got here. Amazing how one random act of kindness can make your whole week. (Plus he sells kick-ass vegetables too, so I know where I am going next time. I think I may bake him some banana bread to return the favor.)

art discovery of the day

Ed Kienholz


Monday, October 1, 2007

My odd odd life

So I moved into the new apartment today. Well, the new temporary apartment anyway. I also found a grocery store that not only has lots of different kinds of meat, it even has pheasant, boar, deer and antelope, so things are definitely looking up in the personal happiness department. Anyway, this evening I decided to reflect on my life since leaving Chicago, and what I found surprised me a little. It's been just under three months since I left the States. In that time, I've been in three different countries, have mauled four different languages and have found a job that was just what I wanted. That's pretty amazing, when I think about it that way. I get so caught up in the little hassles sometimes that I forget to see things in perspective. I can't deny that this was absolutely the best decision for me to have made. Sometimes you just have to take the risk.

Saturday, September 29, 2007



Another bit of loveliness from Joel Vietch.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

At some point in the future, I am sure this will all be very hysterical.

However, today is not that day.

But I’ll get to that bit in a second. So, when last you heard from me, I was in Paris preparing to embrace my new future. Let’s begin there.

After a fitting Parisian goodbye consisting of a long drawn out meal, a whole bunch of wine, a walk along the Seine and martinis until who knows when, I woke up in just enough time to stuff the last of my possessions haphazardly into my already overstuffed suitcase and do the usual mad dash to CDG, my lateness compounded by the vagaries of the French rail system, then further compounded by a personal search that would have rivaled the migration of icebergs in leisurely pace. This culminated in the security woman’s decision that the climbing caribiner that held my keys was a decidedly deadly threat and must be confiscated with maximum theatrics. Her acid-tinged glance told me she didn’t think too highly of me either. In short, after the usual Herculean effort it seems to take for me to board a plane at CDG, I arrived just in time. Unfortunately, as I found out on arrival, my bag was not as lucky.

I decided to try and look on this as a positive thing. After all, now someone else would have to drag it to the hotel. Then I arrived at the hotel to find out that someone had canceled my reservations. How interesting. I jumped online to see if I had any messages to indicate to me the plan had changed. Nope. Nothing. Luckily, the hotel had space, so no problem at all. Reservation reactivated. So here I was in Copenhagen on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Might as well enjoy it. Off I went for a walk and to do a little scouting for dinner places.

It was a beautiful day. I passed a picturesque canal where fishing boats bobbed at anchor. The water smelled of the sea, and people lounged on the patios of neighboring restaurants, enjoying a leisurely drink on a Sunday afternoon. I walked down to this large circle, sort of a park where many roads met. Turns out there was a street exhibition taking place. Clear plastic spheres were scattered throughout. Each one featured an award-winning design concept created to make the world a better place – shelters for refugees, computers cheap enough to give away in the third world, biodegradable packaging – that sort of thing. Very cool stuff. An ornate theater on an adjoining street was apparently at intermission for their Sunday matinee performance. Well-dressed people lounged on the second floor balcony overlooking the circle, sipping wine and champagne. Opera, design, architecture, water - I think I might like it here. After a decent dinner and a couple glasses of wine, I retired to the hotel to get some reading done for a meeting the next day feeling pretty positive about life.

One decent night’s rest later, I was ready for the first day of work. Coffee was the first order of the day. Copenhagen has tons of coffee houses, shouldn’t be a problem, right? Mmm, wrong. No one gets coffee on the way to work here. A million coffee houses in this city, and couldn’t find one that opens before 9:30. While it is refreshing not to have a Starbuck’s on every corner, I would have given my eyeteeth to see that little green awning that particular morning. Eventually I was able to get a sandwich counter to take pity on me and give me my black beetle fix.

My first day of work was fantastic. The people I work with are smart, passionate and full of ideas. It’s a great environment to be in. I consider myself very lucky. It’s exactly what I wanted to be doing. I couldn’t have picked a better agency. It would have been a perfect day except for one little thing.

The dubiously-rated “four star” hotel I was staying in inexplicably decided I’d checked out, removing the few things I had in my room and putting them into a clear plastic bag in the lobby. This bag was then unceremoniously handed to me by an unbelievably rude hotel employee in front of a long line of American business travelers like I was some homeless person asking for handouts. In addition, my bag had arrived from the airport, but they’d sent it back. Luckily, my work had already booked me in somewhere else, so I went back to collect the two bags that I had thankfully sent ahead through FedEx (ah FedEx, how I love you) and went to my new home.

Two days later, after receiving no response to the countless e-mails, and a “we’re busy, go away” message every time I tried to phone the SAS baggage people, I headed back to the airport. After waiting about an hour for my number to be called, a friendly looking guy called me up to the counter. The confused look on his face did not bode well. Neither did the “that’s strange” that burst from his lips. It seems my bag was in electronic limbo. As far as the system knew, the last time it had been spotted was the super evil Phoenix hotel. Together we looked through the hall of lost luggage with increasing desperation. My sad little overstuffed bag has been swallowed by the valise Bermuda triangle. Vanished without a trace. This has never happened before, he assured me. For some reason it didn’t feel like much of a comfort.

So, I have a confession to make. I’ve been kind of wallowing in self-pity the last few days, feeling like life was peeing on me repeatedly and being rather disgruntled about it. Then tonight I was reminded of the fact that the clothes, shoes, skin care, make-up – they’re just that - stuff. They can be replaced. I have a job I love in a city I am growing fonder of ever day. Everything else is unimportant. So, while I am not quite to the point I can laugh about it, I am at least over letting it get me down. Anyway, I now have the perfect excuse to go on a serious shopping trip. I guess there are worse things in life.

Although if any of you should feel like going on a few review sites and helping me take down the Phoenix hotel in Copenhagen’s user rating…

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Brian Dettmer's book autopsies

See more here: http://centripetalnotion.com/2007/09/13/13:26:26/#more-550

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quote of the day

If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?

Scott Adams
(taken from longorshortcapital.com)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I see dead people

I’d been feeling a bit out of sorts lately what with the impending move and leaving people I’d just started to get close to and a place I’m rather happy. So, I decided to do something to cheer myself up.

No room in my bags, so that was out.

Hair appointment?
Just didn’t have the energy to have to chat to stylist and a colorist for hours on end in my crappy French.

Visit to the catacombs to meditate on the brevity of existence?

This translates to "Stop. This is the empire of death." in case you're curious. I'm thinking of putting it on a welcome mat. I'd never be troubled by religious wackos or avon ladies ever again.

The catacombs are actually a pretty good place to go to pull oneself out of a mental funk. They are full of all sorts of interesting opinions and observations:

(Sorry for the blur - long exposure. Anyway, it translates to "Happy are those who always have the hour of their deaths in front of their eyes and who ready themselves each day to die." Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one.)

They are a definite reminder that, no matter what minor little thing is causing you unease, life can always get worse - much worse. The whole thing would have been quite peaceful were it not for one small thing. The living. From heavy-footed Germans to frat partying American college students, the catacombs are one crowded place. Who would have thought death would be such a big draw? No matter how much I hung back, getting more than a few minutes to think was proving a tactical impossibility. And I thought the Louvre was bad.

But in the few minutes I was able to snatch here and there, I got a sense of what it must be like to be down here when everyone is gone. The sound of water dripping from the ceiling echoes through the caverns. The air is that clammy chill you always get when you’re deep underground. And even without the homilies spaced throughout, the bones are eloquent in their silence. Each one of the skeletons here had a life like mine once - fell in love, worried about their livelihoods, hoped for the future. But in the end, we’re all reduced to this. (Well, hopefully not all stacked in a vault being gawked at by tourists, but you know what I mean.) This idea of “as I am so you shall one day be” was a big thing in the Medieval period, and I’ve always been a bit fascinated by it. Because, morbid as it sounds, it is a comforting thought. It all gets resolved in the end.

So, feeling a bit better, I picked up the pace a little. An American college student struck up a conversation with me on the way out, and we talked a little bit about philosophy and a little bit about home. As we approached the exit, the guard asked us to open our backpacks. It took me a second to come up with a reason why. People don’t try to actually steal the bones in here, do they? For an answer, he pointed to a table with a few skulls in a neat pile. Good thing I don’t have much faith in humanity, because if I did it would be in tatters right now. Ah well, as I am you will one day be. And with that thought in my head, I headed out of the darkness into a perfectly sunny day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In the land of pickled herring and sex shops

I was allowed two drinks to limber up before the dreaded question surfaced. “So, how many Danish celebrities can you name?” Hmm. Who would have thought the toughest part of a job interview would be the drinks session afterward? Feeling rather proud of myself, I immediately responded “Lars von Trier”.

“OK, and?”

(Insert slightly uncomfortable pause here.)

There is more than one? Now I was in trouble.

I have to admit, I’d never really thought about Denmark. While I’ve met a few Danish people in the course of my meandering existence, they really didn’t speak about their country much. Now here I was racking my brain for Scandinavian pop culture icons and coming up empty. Good thing the Danes have a sense of humor.

Danish people are friendly. Really friendly. They smile at you in the street and say hello. After Paris, this is a bit unnerving. And this general goodwill is particularly amazing considering they pay some of the highest taxes in Europe, a whopping 65%, all while living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. And yet, while graffiti is absolutely everywhere, even the most expensive bikes lean up against buildings with nary a lock in sight. And Danish people are bikers. And joggers and walkers and boat rowers. This is one fit city. Almost everyone you see sports a healthy glow and a killer sense of fashion. In short, Copenhagen is cool. One might even say idyllic.

So idyllic in fact, that it even features a semi-autonomous free state in its environs. Christiania is an independent collective that was started in the late 70s. Basically, it’s a commune that decided to secede from the EU in the late ‘70s and has rather remarkably gotten away with it ever since. Well, to a certain extent anyway.

And Copenhagen is unique. People wait for the light for the most part to cross the road, but there's a red light district that rivals even Paris's, although it's not as flashy. Even the public statuary is rather unusual. Take these two things I found while walking one day:

I spent at least 5 minutes trying to figure out what on earth this cow was doing. If you have any theories, please, I'd love to hear them.

I didn't even want to begin to think about what these guys were doing. Note where he seems to be hiding his sword... Perhaps the rather large paragraph underneath will tell us.

Oh yes, of course, it's in DANISH. Never mind.

Weird to be in a country where you can't read the food labels, road signs, maps or even explanations attached to bizarre statuary.

You will be hearing more about Copenhagen in the near future as I did, despite my complete failure at the Danish pop culture quiz, get the job. I move on Sunday. Am I sad to leave Paris? You have no idea. I’ve loved my time here. I don’t know how I will manage to cope without snails and quail and rabbit and duck readily available at every street corner butcher. (I walked into the grocery store the day after the interview and I almost cried.) And I love the grey and the grumpiness of Paris, the skeletal thinness of its inhabitants, the fact that I can trot out my atrocious French anytime I want to torture someone – or get a good laugh. If my French is still this sub-par after years of study, how am I going to cope with Danish?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Getting the fear at the Louvre

I was passing by the millionth statue of some small-penised Greek god when it came out of nowhere and landed on me like an Osakan sumo troupe – museum fatigue. While I’m all about antiquities, I’m afraid I’m not much for the tourist life generally, tending towards the extremely claustrophobic when it comes to crowds, so perhaps I should have been better prepared. And yet, trapped deep in the clutches of the mindless herd-like masses, I could feel panic start to set in.

The Louvre is big. You probably know this. However, you have no idea how large the Louvre can truly be until you are caught in the grips of a full-scale art overdose while trapped behind a sea of vacantly milling Germans, Italians, Japanese, Americans and Koreans, all of whom seem almost homicidally intent on getting ahead of you, just so they can stop without warning directly in your path in order to photograph a blank bit of wall or fragment of stairway.

It was this morning that it occurred to me. Today is the first Sunday of the month – the day when all the municipal museums of Paris throw open their doors, forget their entry fees and welcome all and sundry. I’d been making excuses for not having done the stations of the tourist cross since my arrival, but I was running out of reasons. It was, I decided, time to pay my dues at at least one of the populist altars of culture.

One short hour later, there I was. Yeah, it was the Louvre. Looking like, well, the Louvre. A lot has been written about this particular institution and the wonders contained therein, so I will save the overview in favor of a couple things that struck me as worth mentioning.

The short-bus Madonna and child.

Why does every ivory statue of the Madonna and child (and believe me, there are enough to make one seriously amazed that the elephant population wasn’t rendered extinct sometime in the 16th century) seem like both are afflicted with Down’s syndrome?

How did the French go from generally kicking ass during the period of Charlemagne to living in the sort of place my grandmother would feel right at home in? No wonder the French lost the Franco-Prussian war if this was the sort of place they were planning it.

Apparently you checked your balls at the door in the 19th century France.

This is not to say that the collections in the Louvre aren’t incredible as well as incredibly and exhaustingly thorough. However, once you abandon all hope and enter here, just make sure you always keep an eye out for potential escape routes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A few days in Normandy

I looked up from unpacking my suitcase to see my roommate Andrea standing in the doorway of my room. Turns out she was off to the beach in Normandy for the weekend. Would I like to go? It’s been a cold and rainy summer in Paris, so the possibility of a weekend on a sunny French beach was intriguing, to say the least. And so it was I found myself two days later on a train traveling north through the French countryside in pursuit of one warm-weather memory to carry me through the depths of winter.

As the train traveled north, the gray of Paris gave way to the sunny brightness of summer. Sun at last. Seemed an age since I’d seen it. I met up with Andrea and her friend Gregory, a Greek musician in a gypsy orchestra, at Eu. Faced with a day that was sheer perfection, what else was there to do but head to the beach for a picnic?

Lying on a beach in Normandy can be a strange experience. No matter how idyllic the weather, or how blue the sea, it’s impossible not to imagine what it must have been like for the thousands of troops that fought and died landing here over 60 years ago. Even at beaches that didn’t see landings on D-Day, the ghosts of World War II are almost palpable - incredible that their presence stays so fresh all these years later. It’s a sensation I hadn’t experienced before while living in France, the sense of history making its presence known with a capital H. Then again, this is the first time I’ve visited a place where the loss of life was so massive and so recent.

The beauty of the setting makes the sensation even eerier. And Normandy is beautiful. Sheer cliffs, called falaises, rise dramatically from the shore. Vibrant blue water dominates the horizon. Rolling green hills peel off into the countryside. Seagulls make that seagully noise.

Other then haunted beaches, the Norman coast boasts a network of trails called the Chemin Vert that link up the various towns. Once upon a time, it was a railway, but the railway fell into disuse and the local municipality turned it into a series of walking paths. Andrea is a great fan of randonée, which is the French word for traipsing through the countryside. So the next day, we set off on a branch of the trail to see what we could find.

To my absolute delight, wild blackberry bushes line pretty much the whole path. For me, that was definitely the main attraction. I’m an inveterate wildcrafter and gathering blackberries is one of my favorite pastoral activities. Other than that, the walking is mostly through a tight green corridor of trees, enlivened by a rare view of countryside here and there. Pretty and worth doing if you have the time, but not one of the more dramatic trails I’ve been on. Several hours later, sporting very blue hands and a very full bag of wild blackberries, we stumbled off the trail onto a beach to meet up with Gregory who’d elected to stay behind and swim.

A few more hours on the beach, and we headed off to a perfect little restaurant in Le Treport. While the area is known for mussels, in my opinion it’s the sea snails and the oysters that really dominate, requiring only a hint of lemon to make you want to thank whatever god you believe in that you were born with taste buds. It’s weekends like this that make endless weeks of gray rainy summers all worthwhile.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Process Enacted: by Jordan C Greenhalgh

This is something I sent out to everyone a while ago. However, it's so incredible, I wanted to preserve it here. Can't believe this guy did this for his student film. 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You take the high road, and... oh sod it. (Edinburgh festival)

Sunday August 12th:

The fact that I am still vertical is due to a highly complex interaction of one can of red bull, one very strong b complex, a ginseng tablet and about four cups of very lethal espresso, but as I sit here waiting for the last and final show of my night to begin - a vaudeville cabaret act that lasts until bar close at 5am, I feel myself fading fast. Me awake on three hours of sleep is precarious at best, me still awake at this point is nothing short of an herbolgy-induced miracle.

The festival is brilliant, by the way. Mental, insane, overwhelming and overloading, but absolutely brilliant. It's been a good day, but an odd one. The day began with my almost missing my flight despite leaving two hours early (and, sadly, I am betting few among you will be surprised by this), a flight that concluded with a pasty-faced not-quite-teenager being rather vocally sick in the front of the plane just before doors opened - apparently the quick drop into Edinburgh was a bit too much for what looked at best a fragile constitution. And since then it's all been a bit of a blur.

Street musicians, performances, people shoving flyers in your face, stiltwalkers, fire jugglers, comedians, actors and bagpipes, bagpipes, bagpipes all the livelong day.

No idea what date this was, was all a blur at this point:

I am staring down at a rather large plate that is, by my rough estimate, 80% full of mounded meat products. However, viewed in purely nutritional terms, the breakfast in front of me weighs in at 95% protein, the only non-protein sources being a tiny corner of hash brown (deep fried) and a tiny bit of pita (also deep fried). Looking at this plate, it's easy to understand why the Scottish are the girthy Europeans, no boney bobble-headed men here. You can also see why, with this much protein raging through their systems, they felt the need to invent games that involve tossing a 50 lb stone as far as you can, or seeing who can chuck a tree trunk the farthest. Not to mention the other common passtimes of drinking until someone pukes or at least falls off their chairs. If it were not for these diversions, I am convinced the Scottish would have lain waste to the rest of the world long ago, leaving only piles of cigarette ash, crumpled lager cans and plates of untouched vegetables in their protein-fueled testosterone-overloaded wake.

Yesterday was a blur of conversations with dead 20th century writers, brilliant music, more brilliant music, even more brilliant music and a late night pub crawl with some heretical Christians (don't even ask). If you haven't heard the Luminescent Orchestrii, Orchestra del Sol or Mikelangelo and the black sea gentlemen, you should correct this shocking cultural oversight immediately. Today was a brilliantly odd play by a small Australian theater company, involving mole people, machines fueled by cow blood that drill to the center of the earth and a homicidal butcher with a spelling problem. I'm swearing off the booze today in the hopes that I can get myself together enough to get out to the countryside for a bit tomorrow. Tonight's Amanda Palmer's solo show though, so no promises.

Sunday, August 19

My room stares accusingly at me in a state of obvious neglect. A half-open suitcase lies in a state of complete dishevelment in the middle of the floor. I’ve had three hours sleep in the past thirty-six, most of which occurred on the flight home or upon arrival at maison, douce maison. (Apparently, this is the magic number that allows rooms to stare sullenly at you. I hate it when inanimate objects give you guilt trips.)

Yesterday evening started off innocently enough. I trudged through the ever-present Scottish rain to a performance of Sweeney Todd then met up with Mikel from Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen for alcoholic libations. Mikel is a truly lovely human being, deserving of fame, fortune and whatever else his Baltic heart desires. He possesses a laugh that carries clear across a room, and quite possibly through five-foot-thick stone walls. He is, besides the count from Sesame Street, the only person I can think of who laughs with an accent. The type of person who always draws an audience, the table became a revolving cast of characters, which segued into a pub crawl which segued into my realizing I was not going to get any sleep before my 6am flight home. By one in the morning, I was in a performer’s bar talking to some guy who was in some show performed entirely in old Scottish and another who was in something Norwegian. It’s an odd thing being a in a bar entirely made up of actors and musicians and musical actors. Everyone talks, but no one listens. When they lose the floor to one of their companions, they just stand sullenly about, rehearsing for the chance to speak their next line. This is why I never date actors. They are certainly fun to drink with however.

Dawn found me trudging through the rain listening to my suitcase bouncing along the broken cobblestones, dreaming of curling up with a good book and finally getting some rest.

Things I have learned while in Scotland:

If you can forget that it’s made from sheep entrails, haggis is actually quite good.

There are more types of animal-based fats and cholesterol than one would ever have believed possible. Scottish cuisine uses all of them, often all in the same dish.

Surprisingly enough considering this, the Scottish are considered the least healthy Europeans.

It is impossible to walk around Edinburgh without feeling at least once like an extra in a Harry Potter movie.

It is impossible to walk in the hills around Edinburgh without feeling like an extra in Braveheart.

If you give in to this and yell, “they may take our lives, but they will never take our freeeeeeeeedom” at the top of your lungs, you will get a 20 minute lecture on the similarity of Mel Gibson’s Scottish accent to various bits of animal excrement. Or you may just get pelted with a 50lb stone.