vintage travels – greetings from denmark

June 21, 2009 at 5:53 am (travel)

Greetings from Denmark!!!

I’ve put this together from the scraps that I was forming in Denmark, but never managed to put together and send. I hope I haven’t republished chunks from the last one, but I’ll read it over later to make sure. meanwhile, it’s here:

It’s saturday and I’ve just gotten back from doing some emergency shopping before everything closes for sunday. Walking back from the metro there were a few spots of snow flying around, but in the last five minutes that I’ve been watching, the sky has filled with puffs of at least a centimetre wide. In front of my window there’s a path and a row of bikes, then a leafless hedge with a leafless tree sticking out of it, a row of cars and a patch of grass. When I turned on my computer there was no snow on the ground, but now most of the grass is covered in white, with a few spikes sticking up here and there. The paths are absorbing it like rain, but the hedge is blooming fluffy white, and the tree has gone graphic, with each branch and twig becoming a stripe of black, topped by an equal stripe of white. It’s a perfect time to sit down and write to you all.

I love the way the city is set up. There are lots of old buildings around the place, not just churches and palaces, but real residential and commercial buildings, which are still in use. There’s a long row of stately five storey buildings, overlooking 20m of park before the water, which were built for the merchants who first made the place into a city (Ko/benhavn translates as Merchants’ Harbour). Nearby are the oldest terraces in the world, single storey houses, each row sharing a single low pitched roof, they are still painted the original bright yellow and fulfilling their original purpose of housing the navy. King Christian IV had a great impact on the city. He lost land in every war he was involved in, but he built lots of extravagant buildings, so everyone loved him, built statues of him and named things after him. From some points you can see a dozen green-roofed buildings, turrets and spires of all different shapes

Walking through the latin quarter is fun. This is where my department is, and the Royal library which looks like a church, but has always been the library. It all makes sense that a Latin Quarter is where all the students were, who used to speak Latin! Streets here are a glorious jumble of shops, at all different levels. There are windows at ground level, with little steep steps going down to the door, and a separate flight somewhere else, going up to the next level which has its windows starting at head height. On one side will be a normal shop, and on the other a covered driveway, with gates or doors, leading to a substantial courtyard and various other buildings inside. I went past a driveway today which had wallpaper, wooden floors and some kind of a greek frieze running along the top.

The Institute of Political Science has its own fantastic building. It’s brick outside, laid in fancy patterns with greenery creeping over one corner, but inside is all wood. It’s like the Labyrinth, with things changing each time you try to find something. There are at least four staircases, and they all go different places. I once had to find my way to the fourth flour to see my lecturer, and with the help of someone who knew the place better than I, we took the main staircase one floor up, went through some doors and rooms and halls, all with different floor levels, until we came to another staircase. This was steep and narrow, with wooden stairs and fancy baulstrades, but white walls, rather than the heavy wood paneling of the grand main staircase. At the top we came to a locked door, so we climbed back down one level, and luckily that door was unlocked. So were the next three, which separated off three successive rooms, small, dark, empty and on different floor levels. Through the fourth door we came to another staircase just like the last, and this time the top door was open and I managed to reach my destination.

Finding a queer scent’s taken some perserverence. People came round to all the introductory sessions to advertise the International Cafe wednesday nights at Studenterhuset, and each time they would also announce that thursday is jazz night, friday is rock night, and tuesday is gay day, if you’re into that sort of thing ha ha. I was annoyed at the treatment, but at least I got some information. The first tuesday night we all went to dinner and then sat around some boring pub making boring conversation about where we all came from and what the nightlife is like here. When someone mentioned studenterhuset I opened my mouth for the first time in hours to ask how I could find it. ‘What, from here? but it’s gay day tonight…’ and even though I said yes, I want to go, they ignored me and went on to tell me about the great array of suitably straight bars we could go to if we don’t want to stay here. Half an hour later I got some vague directions from someone, stopped waiting for the people who were just going to have one drink and leave, and embarked on my very first, mapless expedition through the city. By the time I found the place it was pretty late (at least by my standards) and I was too exhausted to even go in, especially when it looked like it was all boys.

I went back the next week though, straight after my first Danish class. It was frustrating how my classmates were all very anxious to misunderstand ‘no, I’m not going home, I’m waiting for the other metro to Norreport to go to Studenterhuset’ as ‘I’ll see you tomorrow night at the International Cafe’, but I achieved my destination – only to find the whole place was dark and there was a note on the door. I perservered until I was fairly sure that it said there was a student meeting on, so I took a deep breath and walked in, relieved since a meeting is much more my style than anything else I could have expected in such a place. But the dramas most certainly didn’t end there. From inside the door I could see people sitting with their backs to me, watching a film in danish. There were at least a couple of women there, which stopped me worrying that there really was a good reason why people didn’t want me to go. Someone came over to me and told me that it was a private function and I should go away and come back on a wednesday. When I didn’t turn around and walk out, he took me to the bar and gave me some leaflet, which I studied hard to find some relevance, but it was a general ad for studenterhuset. He was doing his very very best not to frighten the poor confused foreigner, apologising for his very existence, saying that I shouldn’t worry, it’s only once a week, referring to them as Blus and ‘a student meeting’ and carefully ommitting any reference to gay or queer, taking the gay magazine I picked up out of my hand and substituting the generic leaflet, until I said ‘but I’m here on tuesday ESPECIALLY’. He stopped mid sentance with his mouth open for a second, then proceeded to apologise for his apologies. Finally I got to sit down and watch the end of the first danish gay film, which was so incomprehensible that I only figured out who the gay character was because he jumped in the river and drowned at the end. Finally even that was over, the lights and music came on, the bar was opened, and I was in the thrilling situation I had run away from the week before, of knowing noone where everyone else knows everyone else.

I was finally spotted by someone who didn’t assume that a stranger surely wouldn’t want to talk to them, and a woman came over and welcomed me. I was introduced me to their other new recruit who couldn’t speak danish, a pleasant if very nervous boy from france, and we were sent over to sit with the only table of boys who were talking in english at the time. My new friend immediately resumed an intense conversation where someone was explaining how you really can stay friends with your ex boyfriends, and I asked the first woman if there were any girls I could meet instead. I’m interested, if a little embarrassed, to see that even here, where the most political activity seems to be watching movies in a bar, such a question, even innocently, is not really acceptable. She laughed, said she didn’t really know any, leaned over to the woman working behind the bar, and told her what I had said so they could laugh together. Then she more or less walked away and left me with the boys discussing their exes.

Well that’s the story of my first timid step into that world. It has gotten better, I’ve been back a couple of times, met more boys who are all lovely, but it’s still obvious that, as much as they are happy to talk to me, their attention is liable to wander from even the most serious conversation as they have one eye looking right over my shoulder. I’ve even met some girls who are also very nice and greet me charmingly when we’re formally introduced. Everyone assumes each week that it’s my first time there, though when it actually was, I was ignored. I guess that’s a ‘scene’ for you. There is a more serious side to the organisation, holding lectures and things like the film before they open the bar most weeks. That’s much more my style, but of course the language barrier means that of the last few lectures, the only one I could understand anything of was the one with endless diagrams of male anatomy.

The other night I went bowling with them, and the whole atmosphere was different. People were friendly and ready to talk to me without needing someone to introduce me to their notice. There were only two women there, but they took me under their wing, translated for me and made sure I was included. afterwards we went to a couple of bars which was as exciting as usual. The international students had organised a party at the politics department that night, with a belly dancer, so a couple of us went off to that for a while. We turned up just in time to hear the applause, but I had made my appearance, and with all the little straight girls who keep on yapping about their boyfriends all the time, it was a very amusing environment in which to have a loud conversation about elevator looks and picking lesbians by appearance. She picked out two likely suspects, but I never got her opinion on the rather gorgeous woman who keeps greeting me very attentively with these wide-eyed smiles I have absolutely no idea what to do with!

After a while we rejoined the others at Pan, the biggest gay nightclub in scandinavia. It’s not big. And there were droves of straight girls, some with their gay male friends, and some quite obviously dancing with their boyfriends. Tiresome, especially on a dancefloor of maybe four metres square. There was karaoke, which was amusing. About half the songs I heard were in danish, mostly eurovision entrants, and everyone joined in singing them, clapping and all, even while they were grimacing at the cheesiness.

I have now attended two danish classes, which have demystified a few things, but not a lot since they insist on teaching us how to say Hvor komme du fra? Jeg kommer fra Australien. Jeg er australier. I always knew it was going to be bad, but we’re working from an exercise book with scribbly cartoon drawings all through it, like you’d use to teach an eight year old.

the hedge outside my window is getting greener and greener every day, there are tiny little green dots all over all the plants which have looked dead all winter. Round the side there are daffodils growing in the grass, patches of little blue flowers, bigger white and purple ones and a few beautiful red flowers which positively glow in the sunlight. Rows of big wicker armchairs with blankets in them are popping up out the front of cafes.


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