Copenhagen Surprised Me

It was Donna’s idea to start in Copenhagen and work our way south to Paris. She wanted to check out her heritage since she’s an 85% Denmark DNA match. I was neutral about the place until I started researching, and once we landed I was met with friendly people, a fast running tram, utilitarian architecture, muted tones, and bikes: the blood in the veins of the city, pumping the place full of life.

Copenhagen-15

Donna got a tip from a friend about inexpensive flights to Scandinavia on Norwegian Air. Out of Oakland, round trip air for two, including a checked bag and four vegan meals (which we might pass on next time) was $1,260. We flew on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It’s a pretty nice airplane with long skinny wings, big windows that can be dimmed with a button, lots of free entertainment, and leg room for a 6 foot 1 inch guy.

Our home for the first five days was an AirBnB on the top floor of a three story residence in the borough of Fredericksberg.  “Frecksberg” is how it’s pronounced if you slur the middle bits. It had lovely white floors that creaked in a nice way. The place was once the studio of our host’s mom Jo Selsing, a professional photographer.

It’s hard to do the place justice. It wasn’t fancy, but it was spacious, clean, and had the artist’s touch. Plus a Bosch toaster that we used every morning. I did not want to leave.

We started the day just like at home, with me getting up first, doing my morning core exercise routine, a little stretching while my tea water boiled. Then into wake Donna and start our chatter about what was going to happen next.

We bought local groceries and ate breakfast like love-crazed hippies. Eggs, cucumbers, smoked salmon, red onions, avocados, cheese, snap peas, toasted almonds, and tomatoes. The bread turned out to be my favorite. Dark rye, full of seeds and nuts.  A small loaf weights over a pound and it just made me smile. Organic produce in all our stops was labeled biologique.

Copenhagen-22

We did the walk from the Norreport station, past Nyhavn, and on toward Paper Island, which was mobbed. It felt a bit like Fisherman’s Wharf except the buildings were older, and of course the cobblestone streets.

Copenhagen-9

We kept walking to Christiania where it’s kind of legal to smoke pot. There were colorful buildings, many gardens, and a sense of Berkeley or the Haight in the 60s. Vendors on both sides of the foot path selling bud, like a farmers market. There were multiple restaurants and lots of people sitting at tables, chatting, laughing, and nibbling on their food stuffs. While it seems quaint as I type, it felt a little dark at the time. Not the people at the tables, but the vendors selling bud. Perhaps my 6 foot frame, black clothing, and grey hair brought police to mind. We’d heard not to take photos, so I didn’t take one until we were out of the neighborhood.

christiania

One of our goals for the trip was to find spiritual places. We didn’t plan when or where we’d find them, but as we poked around Christianhavn Donna spotted a steeple, and asked if we could go in. We walked up steps and were greeted by a stern looking man in his sixties who I thought would turn us away. He explained that an orchestra was practicing inside and that we were welcome to go in. This orchestra was rehearsing for a performance that night and the lead violinist had us by the ears and would not let go for the next half hour, though Donna I’m sure would say that it was more like 15 minutes. The maestro was barking out commands as the group went through their paces. It was the last time I’d witness extraordinary sound and not record it. I can only tell you that it was my awakening that this was a special trip, that something different was happening. I left the church with a smile in my heart and a warm glow on my face.

For more about Copenhagen check out “No Time” in Copenhagen.

Peace, Love, Out.

 

Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brugge, Paris

My wife and I get a lot of mileage out of our vacations. From pre-trip planning to the embrace of each city as we’d get to explore them, and then basking in the memories through photos and story telling after we’re home and back to business.

This year, as part of our pre-trip planning, we dove into WordPress Reader posts every morning, before going to work. We continued looking at Reader posts during the trip. We discovered things like the giant wooden sculptures outside Copenhagen, or how best to get to Chatres to visit their famous cathedral.

We booked all our rentals through AirBnB and enjoyed getting acquainted with each city through their photos, maps, descriptions, and tenant critiques. The units got smaller as we headed south. The Paris apartment was very small but what it lacked in size made up for in efficiency, proximity to services and the metro.

I’d say the world is a better place than it was 10 years ago though there is strife, in our own back yard. But we found plenty of heart, plenty of light. Now Anaïs Nin might disagree, since she did not like this image displayed in the Irving Penn exhibit in the Grand Palais, but I found the photo engaging, personal, and it was my favorite.

paris-30.jpg
Anaïs Nin

But how on earth did we get to Irving Penn? We stumbled upon him in Paris, the same way we found ourselves in Chartres, laughed with Chinese tourists in Amsterdam, and got a museum recommendation from an Iranian in Copenhagen. Our guides were out there and we kept running into them.

Even in Paris, where it’s big and fast, guides would materialize with a regularity that we started to expect. Paris was the only destination where we saw signs of terrorism. Not terrorists, per se, but the vestiges of anti-terror. Police patrol in groups of four, machine guns at the ready and no-nonsense looks.

Paris-7

The Eiffel Tower was completely fenced off. If you didn’t have a ticket and cleared security, you didn’t get in. At train stations, large parks, and Notre Dame we saw baret-clad police patrolling the grounds. In Chartres and other prime terrorist targets there were large stone slabs around the perimeter to prevent cars and trucks from getting too close.

I just love train stations like Amsterdam, Antwerp, Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon. The symmetry and size of the old stations is worth a coffee and a few photos. The vanishing lines, the repetition of simple themes to adorn large structures that house the likes of all electric trains that can travel 170 k/h. They leave the station, rolling smooth, gaining speed as the city shrinks from view, and accelerating to love-on-a-fast-train speed through the countryside.

Brugge-2
Antwerp Train Station

I wasn’t prepared for Copenhagen, but I say that in a good way. I’d done research to find attractions like Tivolie Gardens, Nyhavn, and Paper Island for food choices galore. We walked through Nyhavn and it was a vibrating place with boats and outdoor cafes.

Copenhagen-7
Nyhavn

We never got to Tivolie Gardens, and Paper Island was so packed that we just kept walking.

The day after we arrived we decided to let our senses guide us and what guides they were. We found photo ops everywhere, a metro system that connected us with lots of exploration, and a city that has made bike riding an art form. There may be more bikes in Amsterdam, but there are more bikes on the road in Copenhagen, and the bicyclists move along as a well-oiled machine.

I had issues with Musee D’Orsay. People with smart phones and cameras were getting selfies in front of Monet, Renoir, and Manet. But it’s still a feast for the senses with all those impressionist paintings in one place. I had an awakening there a few years back, when I started to cry and couldn’t stop. It started as I approached the Renior painting of Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.

dance_at_le_moulin_de_la_galette
Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

I started to get emotional, like the work meant more than paint on canvas or a name on the painting. I’d seen it in books during college, and never thought I’d see it in person. When I walked around the corner there was an enormous painting of a woman on the hill with a white flowing dress and parasol. It overwhelmed me, in a way that I could not then, and can’t quite now, explain. I’ve recounted the story of seeing this painting many times. When I entered the room this year, I found the painting smaller than I’d remembered and there were two, like it had been a study of the same woman in the same dress on the same hill and then I thought that there’s probably more to the story. BUT, this year, after looking over paintings, I was shocked to find that they were not Renoir paintings, but Monet. MONET.

Monet painting
Woman with a Parasol, facing left

We spent three weeks on this trip. A good amount of time to be gone without breaking the bank, or overdoing my capacity to play from late morning until ten or eleven at night. We walked between three and seven miles a day. We’d keep my injured  knee happy with a stop for a coffee or a perusal in a charming shop; there were plenty of both.

Brugge-19
Pidgeon House, Brugge

In the countries we visited, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, and France we felt a sense of unity; like we belonged to each in our own way. In each country I was mistaken for a local. And it was fun to fit in. But as with all our vacations, it came to a close, and we came home to jet lag, stacks of email, and colds. Tune in as I traverse those steps again, with photo and motion pictures. Let me make my vacation last a bit longer and perhaps give you a short one in your office or home.

 

Peace. Love. Out.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

A friend of a friend lives in Copenhagen. We invited her to join us for art at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. We met at the Metro, took a 40 min train ride up the coast, a short walk to the museum and spent the next couple of hours engaged with Rineke Dijkstra’s portraiture exhibit which almost demands you attention. 

Our host sitting with Donna at museum cafe
 
Park and ride in Copenhagen.
Metro station

Iris Awakening

A friend gave me a beautiful yellow Iris a few years back. Each May, it bloomed and brought me a smile. His did the same, on or about his birthday. But our Echium (Pride of Madeira) grew to overwhelm the Iris. The Iris leafed but wouldn’t bloom from under the spreading Echium. The image below was its 2015 bloom. 


This year the Echium got leggy, branches broke, flowers dimmed. On a lark we had our gardener pull the sucker. 

Now hundreds of baby Echium fight each other for space as our patient Iris is strutting its stuff. 

Rushing Water Held Tightly in Place

This is flash-fiction-sort-of-memoir prose that I wrote after a fishing trip with my brother a few years ago.  We try to hit the Owens Valley every year or so for fishing, coffee, and sometimes snow. Aren’t all fish stories fiction?

allen-1

We paused at the rim. The chill air was alive with spring sage. The water below, a dark ribbon. A lone string of fog, floated by, as we scouted our descent into the Owens Gorge, some 500 feet below. It was carved by years of river flow. Just water, gravity and time. Allen pointed to a bend in the river, maybe 400 yards from us on the far side of the gorge, his voice, waxed paper on a gritty floor said “Let’s try there?” I’d follow my brother just about anywhere, especially when there’s fish at the end. We picked up the pace, not a race, just a quickening heart-beat, our feet knew what to do. It was slow work. We watched our steps, lest we tumbled or jumbled our gear on a crag. And we’d heard there might be snakes as the gorge warmed up.

We turned the first bend and heard the kingfisher before we saw its streak of blue and white flight. The bird’s cackle brought a sparkle of light, as the first trout rose and splashed, just ahead, where the river turned. We looked back up. Why did it always look steeper going down than from the bottom?

The water made its own music as it flowed free. Loud and boisterous, then a meandering melody that always seemed to slow me down. We walked carefully on rocky river stones. My brother was a bird sitting on a branch, just watching. His clothing all tan and green, straight out of a fly fishing magazine. This stretch of water ran clear, over smooth rocky bottom, golden green, mossy streaked, and then there was a flash of tail, and another. The sound slapped our ears. The fish were out. They were feeding on the surface.

Allen was the first to assemble his rod. I wasn’t quite ready to fish, still too much in my head, so I got my camera out and made a couple of test shots to check aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I’d ease into fishing this way. He started with a look around. What would catch him? A branch behind, the reeds in front? He started in close, with a short roll cast, barely upstream. The fly tangled on a reed and with a flick of the tip of his two weight rod, the fly flipped over backward and landed softly in a tiny eddy just downstream from the reed. Schwack! A solid 14 inch German-Brown trout flung itself against the parachute Adams, but left the fly unscathed and still floating. Allen looked my way and laughed.

He took two steps, and casted again, just ahead of the reeds. I managed to get a shot of the fly landing softly right behind a rock. It looked perfect to me, but he picked it up for two short false casts, to dry the fly. Then fluid poet on a rocky river, he slipped the fly into the seam at the head of the pool. The current curved the fly like a crescent moon as a tail flashed, a mouth grabbed and the rod tip pointed instinctively to God.

The trout reared its head and exploded from water, turned gently and seemed to hang in the air, then came down with a splash. It sent spikes of spray. It landed hard a wet crash. The line ripped off the reel spraying Allen’s glasses and face. A quick swipe from his sleeve and he sees the fish heading down stream. The fish, heavy now with the weight of the current, headed straight for a log. Allen ended it. He pressed his palm against the reel. Pulled the fish to a stop, a moment before the log. Will the line snap? With one power move the fish could set free, but the line held, the fish tired. He reeled it in quickly for a moment of fame and an upstream release so this fish could meet another day.

Daily Prompt: Fishing