CHIMICHANGAS IN COPENHAGEN

I thought about calling our short trip to Copenhagen something like ‘Crazy in Copenhagen’ but that just seemed a bit lame.  When it turned out that our first meal was at a Mexican restaurant, where I had (of course) a chimichanga, there was no other choice for the title of this bit.  We had walked up and down a longish street and, not being one who tolerates hunger very well, we decided that we’d try this place rather than continue to look for what we might expect to be a ‘typical’ Danish restaurant.  Plus, I’m always curious to see how other countries interpret the types of food that I consider more or less my own.  It turns out that the Danes (at least in this instance) came closer to getting the Mexican flavor than the Germans have (at least so far).  It was spicier than the German interpretation (and, did not contain peanuts – which for some reason Germans believe to be a key ingredient to Mexican food).  But, alas, it had no cilantro or cumin, which is the true differentiator for genuine Mexican food.  Although they did add a few bites of potato as a way of making amends for this omission.

 I was trying to figure out how Mexican food may have arrived on Danish shores when Harvey said he thought Diego Rivera had been here while he was in Europe, evading the Mexican draft (which was probably as much for the benefit of the Mexican army as it was for Diego himself).  Truly, I can’t imagine Rivera as a soldier; but then, I can’t imagine this chubby, frog-like person as a Lothario, which he apparently was.  I can confirm that Rivera (whose full name, just in case anyone asks, is Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez) was heavily influenced by a Danish painter Georg Jacobsen, whom he met in Paris.  Who knows?  Maybe Diego introduced him to the delights of Mexican food and he subsequently brought the cuisine to Denmark.  After all, the key differentiator for Italian food – pasta – was brought there from China by Marco Polo.

 WHO WOULDA THUNK?

 Fifty years ago, Ruby and I were marching down the football field at C. O. Wilson Jr. High, wearing thick, scratchy, wool band uniforms, sweating in the October heat, and pretending to play ‘Under the Double Eagle’ on our clarinets during half-time.  Little did we dream that, 5 decades later, I would be making a trip from Berlin (where I had moved because my son married a German girl) to Copenhagen to see her daughter (who lived there because she had married a Danish boy).  We’re a long way from Nederland, Texas, (which, of course, was founded by a bunch of Dutch).  Which tangentially leads me to another thought – our son is now fluent in German, so much so that (after 11 years) he sometimes has difficulty recalling an English word for something.  Nonetheless, it’s still apparent to most native speakers that he’s not among them, even though he looks German rather than American (partly owing to his genes, but more likely because the way he dresses).  Native speakers can’t quite put their hands on how his German pronunciation is a little bit different, but, more often than not, they think he’s Dutch, which in German is Niederländer.  He can, in all honesty, respond to their query as to whether or not he’s a Niederländer by saying, ‘No, but my mother is.’

WATER?

 The flight between Berlin and Copenhagen is short – perhaps 45 minutes – so even before airline meals started to go the way of the dinosaur, you wouldn’t expect to have a meal.  You may, however, expect coffee, tea, or a soft drink.  Well, such expectations were not to be met on this trip.  The announcement came on noting that passengers in first class would be served their choice of coffee, tea, or other drinks, while passengers in economy would be served water.  Not that I didn’t enjoy my ½ cup of cool water – but really, water???  What’s next?  Maybe an announcement that ‘Passengers in economy will be served complimentary air.’

 SHOPPING MALL

 The Copenhagen Airport shares a feature with London Heathrow Airport – it’s not so much as an airport as a high-end shopping mall with access to airplanes.  In London, you can’t even go to the gate until about 30 minutes before the flight departs; this allows you to spend your time resisting the charms of over-priced stuff you couldn’t imagine ever needing.  In Copenhagen, about maybe 30 yards after you leave the gangway, you are immediately (and unavoidably) dumped into the middle of the shopping mall.  Contrast this with Dulles Airport, where departing passengers must go through security to get to the shopping area.  Although expensive, the Dulles ‘mall’ is not nearly like Copenhagen or Heathrow, where the shopping mall is dominated by brands such as Hermes and others so exclusive that common folk have never even heard of them.  And, when you leave the plane at Dulles, you have to go out of your way to hit the shops.  Of the European airports I’ve seen, you could actually go shopping at the airport even if you weren’t flying anywhere.  I have my doubts as to whether or not that’s a good idea from a security standpoint, though.  But, I don’t get paid to worry about that kind of thing anymore, so I won’t!  Copenhagen offers one feature that a lot of US travelers may appreciate having – a place to shower and to take a nap, which takes some of the misery out of long lay-overs.  Imagine how much more sanguine flyers might be when they’ve had a shower and a nap during their 8-hour layovers or unexpected delays.

 TRAIN STATION

 You can get to the train, and from there into the middle of Copenhagen, without so much as leaving the airport (another convenience sorely lacking when it comes to the airports in the Washington, DC, area).  After a 20-minute ride, we arrived at the train station, where we found a number of other luxuries we’ve not experienced in our travels in the US.  For example, if you missed the chance to shower at the airport, you get a second chance at the train station; even better, in the lady’s room, you can buy yourself a fresh pair of panties!  Alas, the selection is limited to thongs, which I regard as a torture device (although, in all fairness, I’ve not tried them – and never intend to), but they have all sorts of exciting designs and messages on them.

 WHERE AM I?

 Within 10 minutes of leaving the train station in Copenhagen, I saw three 7-ll’s, a MacDonald’s, a Burger King, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It’s a shame to go to the trouble and expense to visit a foreign country and see a bunch of stuff you could have stayed home to see.

 ELEPHANTS?

 Kansas City has lots of statues of whimsically-painted steers; Berlin has its bears.  But Copenhagen has its elephants.  OK.  Cows are indigenous to Kansas City; bears are the mascot of Berlin.  But elephants in Denmark?  It turns out that some Danish monarch just took a fancy to elephants.  So, when you’re a king and you take a fancy to something, others take you seriously (unlike me and my fascination with frogs and armadillos, where folks just laugh at me).  In fact, the highest medal you can get from the Danish government is something like the Order of the Elephant.  And, I don’t know whether or not this is in any way related to the Danish monarch’s fondness for elephants, but the Danish beer, Carlsberg, is also associated with elephants – the entrance to the brewery is a gate with a tower resting on four elephants.  So, we just enjoyed all the great Danish elephants!  And, of course, the Danish beer!

 DANISH CURRENCY

 I suppose there’s a story behind the Danish coins with the hole in the center.  Don’t know what it is, though – Wikipedia didn’t enlighten me about that.

 FORGET INEXPENSIVE

 Copenhagen is extremely expensive.  For example, our hotel was very basic.  It was clean; we had our own bathroom; it offered a great European breakfast (e.g., lox, breads, fruits, cereals, boiled eggs, cold cuts and cheeses).  The carpets were stained, worn, and wrinkled.  I’m pretty sure they were clean, though.  It wasn’t quite as nice as an Econo-Lodge in the US (where the motto is “Spend the night, not a fortune”) and it was $300/night.  Imagine what you could get in the US for that (or even here in Berlin).  It was, however, only about 2 blocks from the train station and smack-dab in the middle of town.

 TIVOLI GARDENS

 Tivoli is close – it’s across the street from the train station.  It’s charming and especially fun if:  (a) you like rides that scare you to death; or (b) have kids.  Some of the kids’ rides are just like the scary adult rides, but toned down a lot.  For example, there’s one ride where they put you in a seat and pull the seat up about 3 stories, and then let it drop (controlled, of course, so you don’t crash).  Well, they have a kids’ ride where the range of the drop is maybe 3 or 4 feel, so 10-year-olds just love it!  The park itself is rather small – maybe 5 city blocks – but has enough stuff to keep you busy for several hours, especially if you have kids.  We met the daughter and son-in-law of my aforementioned high school friend, Ruby, at Tivoli for dinner, and got to see their two daughters—one about 3 and the other about 10 months.

 TEXAS – THE LAND FROM WHICH YOU CANNOT ENTIRELY ESCAPE

 And no matter how hard you try to escape Texas, it always finds you.  There was a cafe at the Blixen Museum, and, of course, they had tables outdoors.  In addition, they had a BBQ grill, which had a cover on it that said “South Fork Texas BBQ.”  Nope!  Not making this up!  I, of course, had to take a photo.  When a Danish guy noticed me taking it, I felt obliged to explain why I was standing there in the middle of a bird sanctuary taking a photo of a hunk of metal.  He recognized ‘South Fork’ and knew about ‘Dallas’ and its successor, ‘Dynasty’.  In fact, you can see quite a bit of American TV in Denmark.  Our room had a TV so we watched a few familiar shows, including ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘The Streets of San Francisco.’  Almost everyone here speaks English.  Since Denmark is so small and their language is a bit odd, they use English to deal with the rest of the world.

 And in the middle of the huge ‘Avenue of the Tourists’ I was reminded yet again of Texas.  (I doubt that this is the official name of this street, but I’ll bet if you speak with anyone who has ever been to Copenhagen and used this name for the street, they’d know precisely where it is!)  There were a bunch of folks from Dallas, doing some kind of folk-dance and singing, in an effort to bring attention to their religion.  Oddly enough, they didn’t have a sign.  Everyone was wearing T-shirts with the name of the religion on it, but, with all the dancing, I never got a clear view of the word.  Hmmm….wonder how effective this publicity effort was for them?  I managed to capture a few syllables, though, and through the magic of the Internet, deduced that they were publicizing the Neocatechumenal Way.

 NAP:  1; LITTLE MERMAID: 0

 We didn’t go see the Little Mermaid.  Harvey saw it when he was here years ago.  It’s actually quite far from the main part of town and not really near anything else of special interest.  After the trip to the museum, Harvey asked me, “Do you want to take a nap when we get back to the room?”  My response was, “Oh, hell, no! When we get back to the room, I’m just gonna run in place for a few hours until it’s time to go to dinner!”   Somehow, after taking a 1 hour train ride (and back) and walking a few kilometers to and around the Karen Blixen Museum, the idea of a nap had far more appeal than walking another couple of kilometers to see the Little Mermaid.

 Alas, there is something that, had I known about it at the time, I would have traded the nap for – a visit to the Museum of Modern Glass.  Have a look for yourself at what we missed.

 http://changehere.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/cisternerne-copenhagens-museum-of-modern-glass-art/

 WHAT IS THIS?

 On the way to the Blixen Museum we saw some device that was apparently in the ‘cycle’ family.  It had a small wheel (not a lot bigger than a dinner plate) in the back, with 2 even smaller wheels (about the size of large donuts) in the front.  It also had a seat.  It had no handlebars, however, which may well explain why it apparently had been abandoned.

 By the way, if you don’t recognize the name ‘Karen Blixen’, she often wrote under the pen name of Isak Dinesen.  If you still don’t recognize that name, undoubtedly you have heard of the book/film ‘Out of Africa’ – she wrote that and ‘Babette’s Feast’ as well as lots of other books.

 CONSPICUOUS IN ITS ABSENCE

 Across the street from the Blixen Museum, there’s a marina, with the standard marina shops and at least 8 restaurants.  Given that Danes are fisheaters, and given that this was a marina, we nurtured some expectation that we would be able to find a seafood restaurant here.  We were soon disabused of that notion.  Sure, you might find a tuna steak or grilled salmon on the menu, but by far these were all steak houses (except for the Thai restaurant).

 Elsewhere you will, however, notice a rather high incidence of sushi restaurants (at least in Copenhagen).  I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Danes know of at least 47.5 different ways to prepare raw herring.

 DANISH MODERN

 Another great place we saw was the Danish Design Museum.  (Lots of places here seem to have Danish modern furniture – go figure!)  Seeing some of the designs here reminded me of our trip to Chicago to see saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and a few other buildings he designed.  When I walked into his living room and saw things like built-in book cases, I thought, “Well, this isn’t so rare – I see this everywhere.’  Then it hit me – umm, his design has made such an impact that today it’s considered normal;  it wasn’t so ‘normal’ when he was creating it.  Felt the same way about the Design Museum.  In fact, they had the same high chair that we bought for Noe and Milla.  They’re very simple.  First they’re a high chair for babies.  As the kid gets older, you take off the ring that keeps them in the chair.  Then as they continue to get bigger, you put the board that is the seat in different slots, progressively lower, so that ultimately it’s just a regular chair that they can use at the table or a desk, even as an adult.

 LOTS OF LEGOS

 Hmmm…..Everywhere you look, there are little Lego stores.  How many hours of parental peace and quiet do we owe to those wonderful Danes who came up with Legos?  How many instances of child abuse were avoided?

 GOOD USE OF SPACE

 Maybe the Danes’ careful use of both visual and physical space is inherent in living in a small country.  One clever thing we saw was a building that extended over a street.  There clearly was enough space for fire trucks and other essential vehicles to pass through, but the building extended above the street for at least 6 floors, making great use of otherwise wasted space. Undoubtedly you can go too far with this idea and turn your city into nothing but tunnels, but doing this every now and again is a great idea.

 BLACK NAPKINS

 Sometimes chic just doesn’t work all that well, at least for me.  Many eating places have black napkins.  Sure, they don’t show stains and also just look cool.  However, they’re not really a great idea, especially after you discover that your napkin has slipped off your lap and you’ve been wiping your greasy paws on your black slacks.  Grease stains on black pants – not so chic.

 SKIN CENTER

 If you saw this name on a building, mightn’t you think that it was either a dermatologist’s office or a spa of some sort?  Well, you’d be wrong in this case.  It’s a place that sells garments made of leather and fur, which is actually dead skin.  But I don’t suppose ‘Dead Skin Center’ (although clearly less ambiguous) would have much of an appeal for the average shopper, would it?

 UNLIKELY PAIRING

 Danes seem to have a particular affinity for licorice.  It’s as prevalent in shops there as salt-water taffy is in Ocean City, Md.  We came upon an unlikely pairing of licorice – with Habanero pepper!  This is all the more unusual because, at least in our limited experience, the European palate doesn’t much care for the burn of strong peppers.  (Perhaps this is yet another bit of evidence of Diego Rivera’s influence here.)

 SIGHTS

 Anyone can go to Copenhagen and see the Little Mermaid (or, rather, anyone except myself).  I, however, with my weird-dar, can find really remarkable things.  Such as seeing a car with this sign on the door—‘Dong Energy’.  Presumably this was the name of a company.

 I also saw some of the world’s most unusual mannequins in a store window.  Aren’t they typically supposed to be attractive (in a Ken and Barbie kind of way)—or otherwise represent beauty?  Well, not always, at least not with the quirky Danes.  I saw 3 male mannequins, one of whom had male-patterned baldness and a beer gut, which was almost bursting through his shirt and made it impossible for him to button his britches.  The other two were equally unattractive, particularly with respect to their coiffures and dental work.

 GOTTA HAVE ONE!

 I have no idea what this is, but I absolutely must have one!  There are several sculptures of this beast surrounding the City Hall in Copenhagen.  It is generally reptilian in nature.  The head looks like a turtle, as do the four claws, and the skin looks like that of a turtle, but there is no shell.  It has a medium-sized tail, with a dorsal fin running the length of its body all the way to the end of its tail.  And, oh, yeah.  It has 6 breasts.

 BIKERS’ HEAVEN

 Now that I’ve become the Grandma Moses of bikers, I’ve begun to notice things like bike lanes.  Denmark is wonderful in that regard!  Of course, I can only speak for the parts of Copenhagen that we saw, so I can’t assume that it’s like this everywhere.  The street, the bike lane, and the sidewalk are each on a different level.  First you have the sidewalk for pedestrians.  Then there’s a small curb and, at a slightly different level, you have the bike lane.  Then there’s another small curb and, at a slightly different level, you have the street.  How cool is THAT to be protected from cars by a curb?  And these bike lanes are nice and wide!

 But every trip must come to an end.  So we boarded our plane—eagerly anticipating our complementary water—and returned home to our awaiting felines.

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