Rhapsodies in Rådhuspladsen

Dec. 15 - Trine and I watched the news over dinner, and for a change of pace from EuroCNN, which seemed to be running the same footage and reports in 8-12 minute cycles, we tried watching Danish coverage of the event. It wasn't much different, except that in the middle of the broadcast they cut to a scene of Rådhusplads ("Town Hall Square") in Copenhagen, where a crowd of Iraqi nationals were dancing and singing and shouting out their gratitude to George Bush and the United States. "We love you, George Bush," I heard one ecstatic Iraqi cry out in English.

"That looks interesting," Trine said.

I barely heard her because I was already scrambling for my sneakers and coat—and camera.

"I'm going in," I said. "I need to see this."

I would have invited her along, but she hurt her ankle Friday night and had been hobbling painfully along on crutches all weekend.

"Me too," she said, limping over to her coat.

Fifteen minutes later we were in Rådhusplads.

* * *

It didn't look like much of a crowd when got off the bus. In fact, at first we thought we might have missed the celebration altogether.

But as we got closer, we could see there was indeed a crowd—no less than a hundred, probably not more than twice that—celebrating on one side of the square, between the big Christmas tree in the center of the square and the facade of the town hall itself.

It was a magnificent sight, and the energy was electric. There were men and women, mostly Arab, of all ages, all of them absolutely ebullient. A group of young men in the middle of the crowd were holding hands and dancing in a circle to a drumbeat and chant. A throng pressed in around them, laughing and clapping and singing along. Around this second ring, other young men raced around the crowd with Iraqi and American flags.

(The chants and shouts and songs were mostly in Arabic, so I have no idea what they were saying. I recorded some of it on my camera, but have no way to transfer HP's embedded sound clips out of my pictures and into WAV files. Sorry.)

A little removed from the main cluster, a giddy and slightly dangerous man of middle-age was lighting off powerful fireworks—the highlight of which was a ten minute extravaganza of gorgeous blossoms in red, white, and blue. They were beautiful and thrilling. Then the wind shifted and they were beautiful, thrilling, and extremely dangerous. Later he switched to lower caliber pyrotechnics, some of which he accidentally shot into the fringes of the crowd.

The fire hazard didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits but the crowd did seem to edge its way upwind.

Trine and I spoke to one of the young men racing around with an American flag. When Trine told him I was American he expressed his gratitude and appreciation for all that my country had done for his. He expressed his admiration of George Bush. Tomorrow, he said, they'd all be going to the American embassy to shower it with roses. He said America was wonderful. I said I was proud of my country, and very happy for his. It was a good day for both of us, I said, and he agreed.

I remembered a conversation I'd had with a Danish woman Friday night. "How do you feel about your country going into Iraq?" she'd asked. I'd said I was cool with it. She'd stared back at me increduously. "Really?" she'd asked.

Pity she wasn't there with us.

I honestly don't know when I've seen such joy. I've seen cities go berserk over sports victories, but I never met anyone whose relatives had been tortured by the other team, or who'd come to Chicago to escape, say, the dread vengeance of Karl Malone. I admit to bubbling over when the Bulls won their championships, and when the Pats won the Super Bowl, but their losses wouldn't have meant more death and destruction for the people I love. To see this exultation, this magnificent joy, this unutterable relief, seems to call for poetry—which would in turn require a poet, which I am not. (Despite certain archeological exhibits from my adolescence.) So I can only note what I saw, in thin and inadequate prose, and move on.

But I want to be true to the event, and for all the high spirits there was still some understandable pain beneath the surface. This, too, warrants witness.

"Thirty years," one grave gentleman said to Trine and me. "For thirty years he is the most terrible fascist—yes, fascist—worse even than the Nazis! And no one cares. It is all business, money, and they ignore it, even though they know what he is. They know how we suffer."

"But he's gone now," Trine said gently.

"Yes," the gentleman responded, the vaguest hint of a pained smile pulling at his hard-set face, "yes, today is a happy day."

And so it is. Or, by the time you read this, so it was. It was a magnifcent goddam day for Iraq. It was a day in which the sunshine finally turned their bogeyman to dust. I think it was also a day that underscores the importance of what George Bush has defined as the free world's most important struggle: to put aside the ugly pragmatism of the past and deal squarely with the peoples, not the tyrants, of the world.

And maybe there'll be more happy days in the years ahead.

Here are the pictures. (They're not great.)

1. Respect for Denmark.
2. Crowd shot.
3. Another crowd shot.
4. Talking to the flag-bearers.
5. So nice to see it not burning for once.
6. Joyous Muslim Iraqis, an American flag, an Iraqi flag, and a Christian tree in the heart of Copenhagen.
7. Iraqi flag-bearer.

* * *

December 15 is Netherlands Statue Day, Constitution Day in Nepal, and Kingdom Day in Dutch St. Martin.

Tim Conway turns 70 today. He shares his birthday with Don Johnson (1949), Dave Clark (1942), J. Paul Getty (1892), Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (1832), and Nero Claudius Caesar (37).

Happy, happy, happy, happy Monday!

© 2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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