DAILY BRIEFING
Cashing In

Sept. 22 - The Danish verb for "to marry" is gifte. Like almost everything else, this caused me a lot of confusion in the weeks leading up to our wedding, when everything depended on our ability to obtain a Danish wedding license—I kept accidentally referring to it as our "gifte certificate."

As long-suffering followers of my moronic escapades know, we finally did secure the license and managed to get ourselves married about six weeks ago. Among the many lovely gifts we received for becoming gifte were, inevitably, several actual gift certificates, most of them with a romantic theme.

Last week having been stressful for us on a number of fronts, we decided we'd shut out the world and cash in a couple of those certificates on Saturday. Specifically, we'd take the ninety-minute luxury spa treatment in the afternoon and the five-plate dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the evening. Afterwords we'd make our way to Casino Copenhagen, where we could gamble away the two hundred-kroner chips leftover from my bachelor party. It would be a lovely, relaxing day of self-indulgence—and it wouldn't cost us a dime.

In the movie Kissing Jessica Stein, which we rented a few weeks ago, the eponymous heroine is asked if she does yoga. Her reply sums up my own feelings about eastern relaxation techniques exactly (which is why I wrote them down):

"Oh god, yeah, no, you know... I don't think I could sit still that long and breathe. I think I'd panic."

So I was a little apprehensive about our spa visit. It was at a place called "Ni'Mat," right off Stroget in the center of town. The apostrophe set off my internal alarms. If it had been called "The Spa Place" or "Massages 'R Us," I don't think I would have been as nervous.

We began by making our way up four or five flights of steep and narrow stairs to a dining room. We were seated on a bench against one wall of the room, while one of the spa people went into the kitchen—just off the dining room—and filled two white basins with hot water, bubbles, and flower petals. We were told to remove our shoes and soak our feet in the basins. We did this, I think, with admirable efficiency.

The spa worker then went downstairs to deal with other customers.

The first few moments of foot-soaking were pleasant enough, but once my feet were soaked through I got a little bored. The purpose of the exercise was obviously to soothe our feet: mission accomplished. My feet were soothed. Did I really have to sit there until they were waterlogged?

Ah, but Trine was enjoying herself so much, and it was such a small irritation to me—surely I could find some way to enjoy the experience with her, or at least avoid diminishing her pleasure. My solution was to play with the flower petals floating on the surface of my basin, pretending they were speedboat racers. I might have gotten away with it if I hadn't stupidly started making engine noises.

Trine has developed an astonishing capacity for non-verbal communication.

I apologized and relaxed strenuously for another five minutes. Finally a pair of spa workers came upstairs to relieve us: a young man and a young woman. Thank God, I thought—the next part of our treatment was a full-body massage, and I'd been afraid my masseuse would be a man. Clearly I would get the woman and Trine would get the man.

So I tensed up a little when the man squatted beside my basin and began drying my feet with a plush towel while the woman dried Trine's. I remained tense as they led us downstairs to a little room with a couple of sheeted massage tables in it. They gave instructions to Trine in Danish then left the room and shut the door behind them.

"We have to strip down to our undies," Trine said, "then get on the table, face-down, between the sheets."

I lay there for a few minutes in excruciating intellectual discomfort: I was unhappy that I was about to get a full-body massage from a man, but I was also unhappy that I should be so unhappy about it. After all, I've had male doctors. If I can put up with a guy sticking his finger up my butt while I cough, why can't I let a guy give me a therapeutic massage? What kind of strange baggage was I carrying?

None, I finally decided—or, if I did have baggage, it was time to toss it. Let the guy oil me up and rub me down. I'd be fine with it. Hell, I'd enjoy it. Why not?

Thus myself to myself.

So you can imagine my relief when the masseuses returned to the room and took up their positions: his by Trine's bed, hers by mine.

Most of the next forty-five minutes were spent surrendering myself to the pleasure of the massage, with only several brief periods during which I was compelled to imagine Margaret Thatcher, naked, in curling irons.

Afterwards we were led down to a lush little patio garden where we were served fresh lemon-water, little bowls of fruit, and some lovely red wine. The wine went straight to our heads. Dizzy and disoriented, but utterly relaxed, we fought our way through the Saturday afternoon throng on Stroget and took the Metro home.

A few hours later, in evening dress, we took the Metro back into town to Era Ora, one of Copenhagen's finest Italian restaurants. Our gift certificate entitled us to a five-plate dinner with wine.

If that was a five-plate dinner, the Superdome is a five-seat stadium. Era Ora doesn't have a menu of meal selections: it has a set meal of five courses, each of which is accompanied by a fine wine selected specifically for that dish.

The first course consisted of a series of ten plates brought to our table one or two at a time, with a few minutes between each serving. Each plate was a different appetizer, with one serving for each of us. The first five were fish, and were accompanied with a chardonnay. The second five were meat, accompanied with a red.

Each dish was presented with a fluourish by the extraordinarily attentive waitstaff, and our wineglasses were never permitted to run dry.

We were especially impressed by the fried turtle in breadcrumbs. We were proud of ourselves for enjoying it, in the silly way one always prides oneself on enjoying something that might just have easily made one retch.

"The turtle was delicious," we told the Italian waiter who'd raised our eyebrows by introducing it as such when he brought it to our table.

"The turtle?"

We pointed to the plate where only a few breadcrumbs and a stain of cauliflower sauce remained.

"Ah," our waiter explained good-naturedly. "You mean the turbot."

It was a terrible blow to our pride not to have been as exotic as we thought we were, but our wounded vanity was easily assuaged by the subsequent meat and vegetable dishes—rabbit in almond vinaigrette sauce, duck in lentil salad, artichoke mousse... it just kept coming.

Finally we moved onto the next course: risotto with porcini mushrooms and "Trufie" rolled in a rabbit ragout, served with a chianti. Then the main course came along: three delicious little medallions of lamb in a potato sauce with mushrooms, and yet another red wine. This was followed by the cheese course. We were each served a plate with little chunks of cheese arranged like the marks on a clock: two of goat, two of sheep, two of cow—and a final little brown cube of what was described as "very strong gorgonzola." (I enjoyed it, but Trine's got up and walked off before she had a chance to taste it.)

There were two delicious desserts I won't even attempt to describe, served with the only dessert wine I've ever actually enjoyed, and the meal concluded with espresso—four hours after we'd taken our seats at the table.

There is no question it was one of the best meals of my life. Come to Copenhagen. Go to this place. Eat there.

Our bodies pampered and softened and fed and wined, our newlywed spirits were naturally soaring as we stepped into the lovely cool air of the pre-autumnal evening. Casino Copenhagen was just a few blocks away. What a lovely way to cap our dream day!

Long-suffering followers of my moronic misadventures will have recognized the preceding paragraph for what it was: ominous foreshadowing, thinly cloaked in my stupid optimism.

As you may or may not remember, the ostensible reason for our visit to the casino was my possession of two hundred-kroner gambling chips. Hold that thought.

Having arrived at the Casino, situated on the ground floor of the Radisson Hotel, we were immediately required to check our denim jackets. At 15 kroner per jacket, that was the first 30 kroner to fly out of my wallet. I was then told I would have to wear a suit-jacket, one of which was handed to me for a rental fee of an additional 30 kroner. We made our way toward the casino proper but a gentleman at the front desk called us back. There was an eighty-kroner admission charge. There was no turning back at this point, so we grudgingly coughed up another 160 kroner. It wasn't enough just to pay: we also had to "register:" we were required to show three forms of identification and submit dental records.

The mere act of entering the casino had just cost us fifteen minutes and 220 kroner... all so we could play with the 200 kroner in chips that had been gathering dust on my desk.

It was a marvel to see a casino impose so many impediments to gambling. Maybe it's a socialist thing. I don't know. They even charge you for drinks.

Trine and I are craps players at heart and the Casino Copenhagen doesn't have any craps tables, so we wandered idly from table to table wondering where to lose our money.

"It's going to come up red on that roulette table," Trine said suddenly. We rushed over and dropped the chips on red. The dealer shook her head at us.

"250-kroner minimum on outside bets," she said. We withdrew our bet and watched the ball fall into a red slot.

We found a table with a 50-kroner minimum and bet one of our chips on red and another on the first column of numbers. We won on the red bet but lost on the column bet, so the net result was that we broke even.

"This is stupid," I said. "I can't gamble without dice."

"I hate roulette," Trine said. "Just put it all down on something and let's get out of here."

I plopped both chips onto the middle column and we won. The payoff was 2-to-1. We cashed out, returned my rental jacket, claimed our denim, and tried to figure out whether we'd made or lost money. I'd brought 200 kroner in chips with me, we'd spent 220 kroner getting into the casino, and we were leaving with 600. It was a profit of 180 kroner, or about $28. Hardly worth the effort, but, as Trine observed, it was more than enough to buy a couple of drinks somewhere.

But we hesitated. Maybe we should go home. It was, after all, past midnight. After such a lovely and romantic day, having spent nothing of our own money, having actually made a profit, wouldn't it be the smart thing to call it a night and go home?

Of course it would. It was so obviously the smart thing to do that neither of us could abide it. We drank the rest of the night away at a couple of Frederiksberg bars and woke up this morning with hangovers and empty wallets—the two leading indicators of a Saturday night well spent.

They're also the leading indicators of a bad Saturday night, but trust me—

This was a good one.

Regular Briefing Stuff

Forty years ago today, U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I'm sure the American media will revel in an orgy of retrospection, so I'm not gonna touch this one.

Today is the first full day of autumn and, by happy coincidence, it's also the first full day of fall.

Many people are disturbed by the changes they see around them at about this time each year. It gets darker earlier, temperatures drop, leaves change color and die, and the Red Sox drop out of playoff contention.

There have been myths about the changing of the seasons as long as there have been children to lie to. Some primitive peoples believed that leaves changed color because Nature was pining for her abducted daughter; others blamed it on the seasonal absence of sunlight-fed chlorophyll, allowing xanthophyll, carotene, and antocyanin to determine leaf color. We may never know the truth.

The first day of autumn is sometimes also referred to as the "Autumnal Equinox." Don't be alarmed by the title. It's just fall. We can get through this thing.

Today's birthdays include Scott Baio (1961), Joan Jett (1960), Nick Cave (1957), Debby Boone (1956), and Tommy Lasorda (1927).

Today is Independence Day in Mali and Princess Martha Louise Day in Norway.

Enjoy the weekend.

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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