Time Warp

Jun. 11 - After our eventful Saturday, the DMB and I slept in as late as we could on Sunday. There was yet another Danish tradition scheduled for that afternoon: an annual family picnic in Frederiksberg Haven ("Garden").

We live about half a kilometer ("a couple of blocks") from the Garden—and about 120 years.

I admit that my own experience of family picnics was limited to a few ill-fated outings in my prepubescent years, most of which involved rain, bee-stings, and food with the taste of starter fluid and the consistency of shale, but the DMB hadn't done a very good of overcoming my prejudices.

"It'll be fun," she insisted. But she immediately contradicted herself by explaining that our activities would include singing songs and reciting poems.

I kept trying to visualize such a family picnic in the big American cities I'd lived in: Central Park, Lincoln Park, Griffith Park, Boston Commons. A multi-generational cluster of 15 or so family members gathered around a checkered picnic blanket, occassionally rising individually or as a group to break out into song or verse. I could imagine it, but not without incoming projectiles.

I tried to be all smiles on the way to the picnic, but secretly I kept wondering what kind of family I'd involved myself with. My marrying into a family of singers would be like an arsonist marrying into a family of fire fighters.

* * *

The picnic started calmly enough as everyone spread out their goodies. I'd call it a smorgasbord, except that every meal here is a smorgasbord: the English word is derived from the Danish smørrebrød, meaning "smeared bread," which is how they eat practically everything: take a piece of bread, smear it with butter, then pile it with cheese and preserves for breakfast, or anything that occurs to you for lunch or dinner. (A lot of people call smørrebrød "open-faced sandwiches," but that's kind of like calling pizza "unrolled calzone." It's not completely inaccurate, but it misses the point. If you click on the link above, you can see it has more in common with sushi than sandwiches.)

Not long into the meal, our hostesses—two of the DMB's cousins—stood up and read a prepared welcoming address in Danish. The DMB didn't translate for me, so I have no idea what they said, but it seemed friendly enough.

As we ate, there suddenly came a melodious sound; a rowboat came around a curve in one of the little landscaped canals that weave their winding way through the Garden. The ten or twelve passengers were singing, softly and very nicely, from sheet music.

"That's a choir," the DMB explained to me. "It's nice."

Everyone stopped eating as the choir rowed by—or as their gondolier rowed them by—and either smiled and waved at them, sang along softly, or both. The choir disappeared around another bend, and everyone in our vicinity began applauding.

That's when I realized we had breached the space-time continuum. We were now in the nineteenth century. I looked around me and saw other family picnics like our own. I saw young lovers huddled together, groups of friends playing drinking games, parents strolling with their children, old couples walking arm and arm along the paths. . . there were singing voices, romantic murmurs, and excited shouts where games were being played, but not a single radio was playing. Not a single fight was underway.

Now, I don't mean to suggest we were in some enchanted land of innocence. The DMB assured me that, growing up, she'd spent many a night in the garden, sleeping off a night of drunken insanity with her friends. And yet, I suppose any park in which a group of pretty young girls could sleep in the open without fear of anything more menacing than the odd malevolent duck does have a certain fairy-tale feel to it.

The people in the garden were no better or worse than people anywhere else. The garden merely operates as some kind of environmental barbituate. You can see the same kind of thing in most American libraries or museums—except it's hard to get a tan at the library, and most museums frown on pick-up games of soccer in their galleries. Also, there aren't beautiful girls in thong bikinis lying around most reference sections (although it might do wonders for American literacy if they did).

And I can tell you from experience that they don't let you drink in the library—at least, not blender drinks (although you might be able to sneak one in if you left the blender at home).

Toward the end of the afternoon, which included some songs and poetry that seemed much less out of place than I did, we got up—leaving all our stuff out in the open where anyone could come along and grab it—and crossed the park for a boat ride of our own. As we were rowed through the quiet beauty of the Garden, the family began to sing again. I don't know if they were doing it because it's "what's done," or because they had a collective spontaneous urge to fill the overhanging boughs with melodious airs, or because they just wanted to freak me out, but it sounded lovely and appropriate, and everyone we rowed past smiled and waved at us. Not a single rock was thrown.

Afterwards the youngest of the bunch, a girl of about six or seven years, ran us through a kind of treasure-hunt through the park which called, at one point, for us to learn an "African Song" and sing it while performing an "African Dance."

The lyrics to the song were, exactly as you see them:

     Co-ca, Co-la,
     Who drinks Coca Cola?

* * *

Now, all of this was strange and charming enough on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but it must take on a still stranger effect at night—because the Scandinavian night isn't much darker than the Scandinavian afternoon, these days, and I've got the insomnia to prove it.

We're going to try to spend the shortest night of the year there, and I'll let you know how it goes.

Football Heroes

Today is an important day for American football fans and seems almost inevitably slated to someday become a national holiday. Today is the birthday of Vince Lombardi (1913) and Joe Montana (1956).

Mr Lombardi played at Fordham University and was a Latin and chemistry teacher in New Jersey before becoming the head coach of the Green Bay Packers at the age of 46.

They had won only one of twelve games the season before he was hired; they won seven his first year. Over the course of his brief career, the Packers won five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls (Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II, in that order).

It was Coach Lombardi's background in Latin that persuaded the NFL to use Roman numerals to number the Super Bowls.

"Winning isn't everything," Coach Lombardi famously declared, "but it's awfully darn important in competitive endeavors." (He was the first NFL coach to hire a publicist and his statements were often edited for distribution to the Green Bay press corps.)

Over the course of his career, Joe Montana completed 3409 of 5391 passes and threw 273 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he completed 460 of 734 passes and threw 45 touchdowns. As a starter, he won 117 and lost 47 regular season games.

Upon his retirement, the town of Ismay, Montana, changed its name to Joe. The town of Joe, Rhode Island, attempted to change the name of its state to Montana, but was prohibited from doing so by heavily-monied special interests.

Adrienne Barbeau was also born on this day (in 1945), along with Gene Wilder (1935) and Jacques Cousteau (1910), none of whom ever won a Super Bowl.

It's King Kamehameha I Day in Hawaii. Kamehameha is Hawaiian for "Thrower of tight spiral."

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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