Saturday, August 18, 2012

Denmark diary - day 4

We started moving earlier today and took the train to Humblebaek, about forty five minutes away; from there it was a ten minute walk to the oddly named Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (I think the name comes from the founder’s wife). It’s a beautiful place, completely worth the pilgrimage, with the original 19th century building having expanded over the decades into a series of modern galleries, built around a large sculpture garden in the middle, and with great views throughout of the water and of Sweden on the other side. We nearly always include a modern art gallery in our itineraries, and it’s always entirely stimulating and even thrilling, and always a bit overwhelming and quasi-depressing because you’re always forced to acknowledge how inadequately you scratched the surface of it all. It’s easy enough to absorb the familiar material – the museum had its appropriate quota of Warhols and Rauschenbergs and so forth, and almost as many Henry Moore pieces as Toronto’s vaunted collection – but you pass by the unknown (to you) artists so quickly and randomly that it verges on feeling disrespectful (regardless that we’re being less quick and random than most of the other visitors). Still, we did pause at several pieces in particular, including a huge installation by US artist Ed Kienholz called Five Car Stud, created in the early 70’s but mostly kept out of sight by a private collector unil recently. It's a life-size casting of a group of masked white men brutalizing a black one, lit by the headlights of their surrounding cars – as you walk around it, you momentarily confuse the figures with the other visitors, and become scarily disoriented about your relationship to the work (and thus your implied moral culpability). Throughout the museum actually, the curatorial notes on the walls were unusually complete and stimulating (even in translation), even when the piece involved, for instance, Scrooge McDuck.

We returned to the station and continued on to Helsinger, where the landscape is immediately dominated by the 15th century Kronberg Slot castle, also known as the castle of Elsinore, in which Shakespeare set Hamlet (Laurence Olivier once performed the play within the castle itself, as part of a continuing tradition of annual performances). We walked up there and went through the royal apartments, furnished as they would have been in their active 17th/18th century heyday, and explored just about as much of the interior and exterior as is possible; the castle has an active history, of being partially destroyed by fire, conquered by the Swedes, and other setbacks, but has emerged from it all in remarkable condition. After that we walked back through Helsinger itself, also very well-preserved and full of life – the main shopping area was extraordinarily active. It seems to us that Danish people really enjoy walking and enjoying their environments and the fine weather and the whole experience of being alive, although of course it could be that we’re just being distracted by visiting Finns, and the Danes are all huddled inside watching TV.

Unsurprisingly, all the trains today were impeccably clean and all ran precisely on time. Ally is reading Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask, which she started back in Toronto. For years I stockpiled magazines in the weeks or months leading up to a trip because I hate being caught with nothing to read, and magazines are ideal for vacation downtime, but on the last few trips I seem to spend less time getting through them (through a combination I guess of easier Internet access and of better scheduling to minimize such downtime, as well as perhaps sleeping a bit more), so that by the end of the trip I’m scrambling not to bring unread magazines back home, which would the ultimate annoyance. Anyway, today I got through most of a New Yorker, including a long Bruce Springsteen profile which just made the time fly by.

We arrived back in Copenhagen around 5.30 and it was just teeming – it felt like the whole place was gearing up for a big party (sure, it’s Friday night, but even so, you wondered how everyone could be that excited). It’s Pride week, although from what we’ve seen so far most of that action is confined to a single performance space – on our previous walk-bys it was moribund, but today it was crammed, with a lot of joyous open air dancing. I don’t know whether young Danes like dressing up, but after seeing  a large group the other day in sailor hats, we today saw several groups in Viking headgear, as well as a possibly rival group in Braveheart face paint. Music was erupting over the city – everywhere you go you come across if not quite a flash mob, at least a flash trio. Even at this early point in the evening, it was all a little dizzying. We’re not exploring this side of it, but it really looks like you could plunge into the energy and conviviality and never want to come out: the city certainly ought to be exhibit A in any defense against charges of the Scandinavian psyche being chilly.

It was very boisterous by our hotel too, where the series of evening performances continues. We went out again later to pick a restaurant, and it surprised us that a group of guys was drinking beer in the vast guard-patrolled royal square I described the other day; I guess the guards don’t care about people lowering the tone, as long as they don’t try to break in. But actually Denmark is a good test case for one’s views on the subject – you can buy booze just about anywhere, and in some areas people were drinking on just about every other doorstep, but it never seemed particularly raucous or threatening…maybe it was still too early, or maybe the Danes have an innate sense of limits. We ate in one of the places on the always bustling Nyhavn strip – the Els restaurant, which dates back to the 1850s and claims to have had Hans Christian Andersen hanging round outside on occasion, and although it’s one of those tourist-angled restaurants which are almost pre-wired to be disappointing, it was actually pretty good, and moderately distinctive. We went back to our favourite spot on the water, which we seem to have established as our nightly habit, and encountered disaster - all the tables were full (Friday night!) But a place soon opened up and we stayed for ages. Re our ongoing project of observing the ship performers, it looked like they might already have been performing out on the water, because they were in costume when one of the ships came in, so after that they just seemed to spend  a low-key evening. Which may have put them in the Copenhagen minority.

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