HURRIED BRIEFINGAnd Finally...
Sept. 9 - I ran out of time again yesterday. There wasn't that much more to describe about the remainder of our trip, but there were a few more pictures and I would have liked to incorporate them into some kind of quick, graceful, and visually engaging exit. Instead, I'll try to construct a whole bloggish out of them today. (Translation: expect filler. Rhetorical question: do you ever expect anything else?)
I was happy to see that no one sent me an enraged email or called the Danish equivalent of Child Protective Services in response to my bit about packing Molli in the trunk. It suggests either that readers are beginning to understand me or that my readership has dropped to the point where it's just you, mom. In either case, just for the record, of course we didn't stash Molli in the trunk for the whole drive.
Only when she cried.
For the rest of the trip she road in a certified baby seat in the back seat, her mother doting on her from the seat behind me. Our luggage rode shotgun. This arrangement obviously left me as the driver. I've done plenty of driving in Denmark, but never this kind of long-distance stuff. I didn't have any significant problems, but I did encounter some bewildering signs. The photo below shows one.
What's that sign supposed to communicate? Yield to colliding cyclists? Yield unless you're on a bike? Cyclists reflected ahead? What?
The town in which I spotted the sign was one of those nameless little drive-through towns you encounter in the middle of any rural area. We were probably about a third of the way down through Jylland and had decided to take a break to feed Molli and relieve ourselves. I pulled into the parking lot of a gas station about a kilometer off the highway. I was excited to go in and meet the attendant.
I was excited because I thought I might finally meet one of those Jylland people that Copenhageners are always making fun of. They joke about them the way cosmopolitan Americans joke about Mississippians. By "joke about them," of course, I mean they insult, demean, and degrade them. They say they're slow, they're stupid, they're ugly, they talk funny, they marry their sisters, and so on. There's even a joke about the first settlers of Denmark pouring up through the German border into southern Jylland. A big sign says, "Best location, this way!" It's pointing east. So only the people who can read end up in Copenhagen. Everyone else plods along up into Jylland.
Yet despite having spent 36 hours in Jylland, I still hadn't met a single stupid Danish redneck. The only "funny talking" people we'd met had been a couple that had stopped to coo at Molli as we sat on the terrace chairs in front of our hotel room. I actually understood everything they said, and remarked to Trine that maybe I'd learn Danish quicker in Jylland since Jyllanders seemed easier to understand.
"Maybe," she said. "But those were Norwegians and they were speaking Norwegian."
(The up side: I apparently understand Norwegian! The down side: I still hadn't heard any funny Jylland dialects. The other down side: what's the advantage in understanding Norwegian?)
So, to get back to my ever-so-slender through-line, I was looking forward to meeting the attendant of the little Danish gas station in the little rural town in the middle of Jylland. Would he have one eyebrow? Would he drool? Would I finally learn the Danish equivalent of "aaah-yep?"
I stepped eagerly into the store and beheld a young, smiling attendant behind the counter.
"Excuse me," I said in Danish, "where are the toilets?"
"Straight back down to the left," he said in what sounded like ordinary Copenhagen Danish. I was disappointed. I decided to pursue the toilets rather than any further conversation. I went back outside and straight back down to the left. I was staring at a pile of old pallets, some empty propane tanks, and a foul-smelling dumpster. There was a door in the wall here, but it was locked.
I glanced back at the main door to the store and the attendant was smiling back at me.
"It's in here," he called to me in Danish. "In the back of the store. Not behind the store." Indeed it was.
Afterwards I apologized to the attendant for the misunderstanding by explaining that I was an American and my Danish was still pretty rough.
"You're American?" he asked in English.
"Yeah," I said. He didn't even have an accent when he spoke English, for the love of God.
"I lived in America," he said proudly.
"Nowhere," he said, smiling. "Northeast Indiana. Ten miles to Michigan, ten miles to Ohio. Went there for a year of high school."
"Denmark reminds me of Indiana," I said.
"Yeah," he said. "Me too." And he made an ever-so-slightly sour expression that communicated, very delicately, his wish that it reminded him of, say, lower Manhattan.
We talked a little about the American midwest in general, the high price of liquor in Denmark, and the relative merits and deficiencies of each country's health care environment. (A bout of appendicitis in Indiana had cost him $14,000.) He probably would have been happy to move on to a discussion of literature, history, philosophy, or astrophysics, but I was too disappointed by his intelligence to pursue the conversation any further. It's annoying when strangers won't live up to the stereotypes you've built up for them.
So much for the rednecks of Jylland!
* * *
I'm never going to get through this goddam trip, am I?
* * *
We stopped for lunch in Odense. That's the major city of Fyn, the island between Jylland and Sjślland. The city is celebrated not only for its cozy beauty, but as the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen.
It's important to understand the place that H.C. Andersen occupies in the Danish psyche. He is a sort of heroic figure to them. "He wasn't merely a great writer," our Studieskolen instructor informed us just the other day, "he also made beautiful paper cut-outs." And so he did (scroll down). "He was a great genius," she added.
He was a great genius, we replied in unison.
But it isn't just his genius that's celebrated. Many men before and after Andersen have managed to write well and make doilies. But Andersen was also a strange and gangly genius who rose from an obscure birth to parade his weird gangly genius before the crowned heads of Europe. Such a man could not help but capture the Danish imagination.
And so this ugly, lanky, awkward man has become a sort of patron saint to Denmark. There are statues in his honor all over the land; his books (and books about him) take up whole shelves in every bookstore; streets in nearly every town are named for him. The only extraordinary thing about it is that the Danes haven't romanticized him in the process. Any Dane can tell you how he perpetually overstayed his welcomes when visiting those crowned heads of Europe, or how funny looking he was, or how awkward. It endears him to them all the more.
It can grating to the outsider.
When we entered Odense I asked Trine what we should do during our two hour visit. I didn't expect to much more than wander around and gape: if we took an hour for lunch, that only left us about forty-five disposable minutes to see Odense. Trine didn't hesitate in her response.
"You should really see H.C. Andersen's house," she said. It sounded reasonable enough, so I assented.
We took the main drag into the center of town. Signs directed us to parking for H.C. Andersen's House. From the lot we followed an arrow directing us to the house. It pointed down a cobblestone street lined with colorful little houses from bygone centuries.
After a single block we came to an intersection. We could go straight or left. Both options looked more or less the same. There was no arrow to direct us to Andersen's house.
Trine took a few steps to the left, looked in a window, and saw a sign that said the H.C. Andersen House Museum was that way, pointing further to the left. So we went that way. We followed more signs and eventually reached the museum.
The museum was expensive and we didn't have much time, so we decided to give up on Andersen and stroll through central Odense, which Trine assured me was a charming little downtown with a great pedestrian center on a par with Copenhagen's Stroget.
It may have been. We encountered this structure from 1420, "the oldest commercial ruin in Denmark," at one end of the pedestrian strip:
But we could go no further. A major running race was underway and the pedestrian streets had been roped off for the runners. There was no way we could navigate the suddenly narrowed pedestrian district with Molli's big stroller, and it didn't seem fair to Molli to leave park her on the curb while we explored without her. Meanwhile, more time had passed.
Trine remembered another Andersen house not far from where we stood. "It's not the house he was born in," she explained, "but it's where he actually lived as a kid. That's more interesting anyway." I agreed. Piss on his birth house: let's see the childhood home. So we did.
And for God's sake, let's just leave it at that.
Wait!—I'll close by pointing out that the sign Trine had seen didn't actually say "H.C. Andersen House Museum that way." It said, "H.C. Andersen House. Museum that way." The house in which the sign was posted was H.C. Andersen's birth house. I'd run out of batteries back at his childhood home, though, so there are no pictures of his birth house.
Like I said: piss on his birth house.
* * *
As we drew near Copenhagen, giant hot-air balloons suddenly loomed overhead. Maybe half a dozen of them, colorful in the early evening sky. I'd never seen anything like it in an urban area before.
A fairy-tale country. Really.
* * *
The first game of the NFL season kicks off tonight in the United States. It kicks of tomorrow morning at about 3am here in Denmark. I could probably have talked myself out of trying to see it if it weren't my beloved (defending champion) New England Patriots squaring off against the mighty, mighty Colts.
Seeing the game will give me a chance for some quality midnight bonding with my daughter, and help me synchronize my own clock to my mother's. She'll be arriving Friday afternoon and will be jetlagged for days—shouldn't a good son bite the bullet and knock his own system off-kilter for empathy's sake?
Whether or not he should, he's probably going to. So he's not going to be able to prepare a weekend Almanac. So he's going to give it to you right now.
* * *
But first he reminds you that you should be careful what you keep beside you in the hospital. Leave the salad dressing at home!
113 years ago today a little boy named Harland was born in Kentucky.
When Harland was six, his father died and his mother was forced to go to work. Little Harland did most of the cooking for his younger siblings. By the age of seven he was a master of the local cuisine.
There was no stopping the ambitious Harland, who had his own highway service station in Corbin, Kentucky, by the time he was forty.
He began cooking for hungry travelers who stopped at his service station. He didn't own a restaurant, so he served them at his own dining table. Word of his excellent cooking spread, and soon he moved across the street to a restaurant that seated 142 people.
His cooking soon became so well known that his state's governor, Ruby Laffoon, made him a colonel.
In an independent 1976 survey, Colonel Harland Sanders was ranked as the world's second most recognizable figure.
* * *
Today is the birthday of Adam Sandler (1966), Hugh Grant (1960), Michael Keaton (1951), Billy Preston (1946), Otis Redding (1941), Cliff Robertson (1925), Harland Sanders (1890), and Leo Tolstoy (1828).
It's Socialist Revolution Anniversary in Bulgaria, National Sports Day in Indonesia, Republic Day in North Korea, and Independence Day in Tajikistan,
Your Weekend Almanac, Early
On September 10, 1419, supporters of the French Dolphin murdered John the Fearless. John's brothers, Thomas the Prudent and Henry the Wary, lived on into old age.
On September 10, 1623, a cargo load of lumber and fur became the first exports in history from North America to England. This ensured the commercial success of the new world, as Europe had long been paralyzed by a shortage of sticks and hair.
Born on September 10: Ryan Phillippe (1975), Amy Irving (1953), Jose Feliciano (1945), Charles Kuralt (1934), Roger Maris (1934), and Arnold Palmer (1929).
The 10th is Battle of St. George's Cay in Belize and Independence Day in Guinea Bissau.
Saturday is September 11.
The Salvation of Western Civ
September 12, 490 B.C., looked like it was going to be a pretty bleak day for Western Civilization. The Greeks, who were not yet Ancient or Classical, were facing a massive invasion of Persians.
Persia was not yet part of the Axis of Evil, but was pretty nasty just the same. They had more soldiers than the Greeks, better cavalry, and better weapons. (They did not have ouzo or moussaka, however; it may have been envy of those quintessentially Greek achievements that drove them to invade.)
The General in charge of the Greeks was the Athenian Miltiades, also known as Uncle Milti. In addition to his own Athenians, he had been given Plataean soldiers and the promised support of Spartans. It was the first time the various city-states had prepared to fight together against a common enemy.
Despite his strong defensive footing, entrenched in the hilly terrain of Marathon, Uncle Milti was afraid that the superior numbers of the Persians would allow them to fight through the Greek defenses and destroy Western Civilization. In order to prevent this, he launched an offensive.
It caught the Persians off guard, driving them off the land, into their ships, and back to Persia.
This was the Battle of Marathon, at which Western Civilization was saved for the first time—ensuring a future for diet cola, fat-free potato chips, and pay-per-view sports.
(The Battle of Marathon is not related to the Marathon Bar or Marathon Man, but neither of them could have come about without it.)
Holidays and Birthdays
September 12 is Trine's birthday. She shares her birthday with Rachel Ward (1957), Barry White (1944), Jesse Owens (1913), Maurice Chevalier (1888), H.L. Mencken (1880). She's younger than all of them, and much more fun to be with.
The 12th is Day of the Nation in Cape Verde, Popular Revolution Day in Ethiopia, and Amilcar Cabral's Birthday in Guinea Bissau.
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac