Thursday, August 16, 2012

Denmark diary - day 3

We got moving slowly today too – I guess we’re really finding it easy to sink into vacation mode. Once we did get outside, we largely retraced our steps from yesterday morning, including the same pastry shop (it all tastes good, whether or not you can pronounce the names) and then to the Grand Teatret movie theatre, where we saw the British film Weekend at noon. Although going to a movie might not be regarded as the optimum use of vacation time, it’s a "tradition" of ours to try to see a film in every new country, carried on ever since we saw Backbeat in Paris in 1994 – of course it only works if the local practice is to use subtitles rather than dubbing, and then we aim to find something on the quirkier side. Weekend worked perfectly – an acclaimed movie which for whatever reason never came out in Toronto, and it'll now join the list of memorable oddities that includes The Brothers Bloom (Jerusalem), Ripley’s Game (Amsterdam) and Two Days in Paris (Hong Kong). As always in Europe, the experience feels partially like going back in time – the theatre has a classic ornate quality, the tickets assign your seating, and the ads before the movie aren’t all for the latest gadgets (one of them seemed to be promoting a book, which I can’t imagine anyone trying to push to the The Dark Knight Rises audiences). No surprise though, attendance seemed very sparse, and mostly very old.

After that we walked back through a different combination of streets – I’m sure one could keep doing this indefinitely – and then crossed the river again to return to Christianshavn. We walked in the opposite direction from yesterday, sticking close to the waterfront, but it’s not that interesting – there’s been a lot of new development which I’m sure is economically transformative but not very visually striking. We did however stumble on the somewhat bleak location of Noma restaurant, sometimes cited as the best in the world – we’d put our names months ago on a waiting list for reservations, but unsurprisingly didn’t hear anything.

We then walked into the area of Christiana, founded in 1971 as a kind of self-proclaimed mini state within an abandoned military barracks, with the objective of creating “a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.” Forty years later it’s still going strong, although with fewer than 1,000 residents, and subject to constant argument and negotiation about its status, including varying external tolerance of its open hash sales on so-called “Pusher Avenue”: because these activities are technically illegal, the community enforces a strict no-photo rule once you're inside. It’s a ramshackle kind of place as you can imagine, with all kinds of small-scale commerce, and various kinds of occupier architecture to supplement what came with the barracks. There’s no way as a casual visitor to assess the merits of the project – a lot of people are obviously just there for the drugs and the grungy vibe, a lot (like us) to tick it off their Copenhagen highlights list; it’s hard to sense the deeper core. Certainly the arts and crafts store, the only one we entered, seemed much more conventional than you might have expected (filled with exactly the kind of pointless items you might regard as markers of psychological destituion).

We kept walking, mostly through further nondescript areas, until we came to the most imposing new structure on Christianshavn, an opera house on the water, very close to our hotel as the crow flies, but something like an hour’s walk away in the horseshoe-shaped route required of the non-crow. Which is exactly how we spent the following hour. I haven’t mentioned yet that Copenhagen does indeed have as many bikes as its reputation suggests – I’m not sure what the right of way is in all cases, but I feel it’s much more likely we’d be taken down by an unseen bike than by a car. People seem to leave their bikes against every available wall and structure, often seemingly unlocked, and a lot of the bikes seem in much worse shape than you tend to see back home, where I guess you ride a bike in the expectation of it being scrutinized (if you’re going to take sides in the war on the car, you’d better look good doing it). On a different note, we’re both certain we’ve seen more strollers than we have in years. I guess there aren’t many babies in our section of downtown Toronto – whether Copenhagen has a disproportionate number, I just don’t know.

We were going to try having dinner in a more traditional old-time Danish place, but we couldn’t find it, so we ended up in the Café Oscar (and doesn’t every European city have a Café Oscar?) where Ally had a veggie burger and I had pasta, which was all we really wanted anyway. Then we returned to the same waterfront spot as last night – it’s good to have your mini-rituals, even on vacation. The sailing ships were initially absent, but then a couple of them returned – one of them docked right in our eyeline and a group of partiers disembarked, then the ship slowly transformed itself into something completely different, with people turning up to set up lights, and others getting on board and seemingly preparing for an event, and others on bikes stopping alongside and talking to them as if asking, is there a party or what? However, even though we observed all this for the best part of an hour, they never actually launched into a performance comparable to last night. It was a bit chillier (it had rained a bit too while we were in the hotel), and several of them were heavily wrapped up, so maybe they just lost their nerve. Either way, the sense of collaboration and possibility, so late at night, seemed like further confirmation of a city with a young and active soul.

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