5 July 2018

Sweden 2018

England: some;  Sweden: too..... 




I know it's a bit of a thingism, but the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize comes from the inventor of dynamite seems to me to be one of those life ironies that ranks alongside Donald Trump being in any way involved in the presidency of the United States or that Sven-Göran Eriksson was once the England football manager.... What if he held that position today?


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I first met Sweden on my twenty-first birthday, when, in Morecambe, Lancs, I took my girlfriend to see I am curious (yellow).  This was way before Travis Bickle, but, if you have ever seen Taxi Driver, you will recognise that perhaps he and I have something in common..... 







Sweden is the third largest (after France and Spain) European country, but has a population of less than nine million.  Which means that it has 46 million fewer people to choose from for its football team.  Which is to say that if I were Swedish I would have a much better chance of representing my country for the game this Saturday.....

Which has no bearing on which side will win.

Or lose.....




I was in Malmö when Sweden went ahead in their game with Germany.  The drunken Swedish sailors I happened to be with were delighted at half time, and the Mello Yello Bar & Restaurang, at Lilla Torg 1211 34 Malmö, was dancing....  It didn't end that way, the Blagult going down two to one.  But it wasn't the end, and Janne Anderssen got things back together for the team to better the Mexicans by three to nothing  and to best the Swiss by one....  I mean....


My (limited) experience of the Swedes is positive.  They are a little bit like turnips, perhaps....  But much sweeter.  This is Marina, who runs the bar on the beautiful, antique ferry boat to and from Vaxholm from Stockholm, and who loves it when it is frozen, cold and icy.....  You can see it in her eyes.





Though, if their literature is anything to go by, not everyone has a sunny disposition.....  Enter August Strindberg and Miss Julie, stage left....






But the Swedes clearly know where to place their trust.  I didn't notice any bars named after Boris 'Stig' Johansen, or Michael Gøve....

but it can only be a matter of time.....




In the meantime, having followed Saga over the Bridge to Malmö and burnt her memorabilia in sight of the Twisted Torso,





I crane up at the torso,




And gaze at the mighty Øresund Bridge, which I flipped over almost unnoticed....





And then, after a brief visit to Lund and its Romanesque Cathedral,






And a quick Wallander wander round Ystad, where the burghers are just a tad old-fashioned,







I proceed to the capital, Stockholm where everything is much more cosmopolitan and bipolar (sorry, bicyclical)...





Here there's no pretentious vaping.  No clouds of Rainbow Sherbert polluting the streets.... People are quite happy to smoke properly.  I guess the climate is so bad most of the time, life expectancy must be reliant on Max von Sydow and his scythe....





On the other hand, they love their dogs sooooo much......







They probably text them when the lead runs out....






So what can I tell you about Sweden?

Well some Swedes (the peasants) live in old houses with limited wi-fi and not enough seating:







While others (the Royals) live in vast palaces with special corridors for skate-boarding or perhaps curling practice (this one was shown to me on a private viewing):






These large homes are equipped with staircases.  Peasant houses may have ladders.







According to museums, the greatest Swedish achievement was building a huge ship which sank almost immediately after being launched on August 10th, 1628.  The Vasa.... is so called because they didn't even finish naming it before it sank  (apparently it was to be called the Vas Deferens as an homage to Gustav Vasa, Gustav the First, founder of the House of Vasa....)







It has been rumoured that it may never sail again, though IKEA are currently trying to find the keel.....


Other Swedish achievements include building unfinished bridges across lakes:






And looking hauntingly into the distance, as if Video Assistant Referees had not been introduced.....







Or looking very seriously at someone else as if they were really listening (while waiting for their phone to vibrate):






Or wondering where to plug it in.....




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But they have some great half empty glasses....








Some lovely windows, which are useful for at least half the year.....







And some wonderful galleries, where you could dream of giraffes, and such, for hours,







Or take your children to appreciate Picasso and Modigliani, 








Or, in Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, a place I really liked, you can spend a little time wondering at clouds, and just how difficult it must be to get them to stay still long enough for you to paint them properly.....








What I think I liked about Sweden (and I still need to think about this) was how people seemed so positive - so confident.  Apart from the unimaginably delightful Marina, everyone I met was very serious, as if they were building up for some great confrontation and they had to muster every nerve and marshal every hair.....  The young,




And the old, deep in rehearsals of things that Janne Andersson has said recently: We know we are a good team. . . . What other teams and countries think about this, that’s not terribly interesting, really. . . . Here’s my thinking. I’m a little bit crazy this way. I don’t think I’ve dug deep down to find out how I feel. . . . I don’t think I’m taking it in. I’m not taking in any of this right now......








Me?  I am easy....  Thinking about what Sweden has given to the world:  ABBA, Anita Ekberg, Jenny Lind, Henning Mankell.....  Do I really care?  They wanted me to pay to go into the ABBA museum!  Excuse me!

I am just happy to have found Tennstopet, at 50 Dalagatan, where I can sip beer and akvavit, eat matjes herring or meatballs.....  




I am a simple soul.  I just hope everyone enjoys the football, and, whoever, wins or loses, there's no hard feelings.....

How about a Nobel Prize for Football?  Awarded to the team that is nicest to everyone else?

Excuse me while I take my clothes off, and squeeze this fish.....






And then retire to my dream house under the clouds.....









3 July 2018

Denmark 2018

Prints of Denmark.....

Or, 

Wonderful, wonderful, Ugly Duckling.....






Is it coincidence - or is it one of the ironies of my fate? - that this week's Observer Magazine has a travel article (by Ms Joanna Moorhead) about Copenhagen....?  Whenever I see these pieces I think I should have written that, or, Why wasn't that my piece?

Of course the answer is that I could have written it, or it could have been my advertorial, except that I don't actually play by the rules, so usually (these days) there are good reasons why my articles aren't published in prestigious papers....  And that is why, dear reader, as I have recently returned from Denmark, you have this before your eyes now..... 






Ms Moorhead travelled as a guest of Visit Denmark and her sub-heading refers to startling architecture and world-beating food.....  Needless to say I was nobody's guest, I didn't stay at the Radisson BLU Royal Hotel, and I didn't eat at Noma, nor at any of its off-shoots.  




Like Ms Moorhead, however, I did arrive at Copenhagen's Central Station with fragments of Danny Kaye in my head, as, possibly like Ms Moorhead also, I really hadn't much idea of what to expect of the Danish capital and environs.  I had seen the brilliant historical drama 1864 and an episode or two of Borgen, and I do have a soft spot for Saga Norén (The Bridge) but more of her anon....




Thing is, I had more of The Ugly Duckling in my mind than Wonderful Copenhagen, and that may be because although I could have seen the film (I was approximately one year old when it came out) I definitely heard the irritating duckling song again and again on Two-Way Family Favourites on many a Sunday lunchtime....  Thank you Hans Christian Andersen, Sam Costa, et al.....





I appreciate Ms Moorhead's article, but her experience and mine seem to differ.  Like the difference between the wonderful and the ugly.  I see the Blox building, though I prefer its near neighbour the Royal Danish Library, with its reflections of the old warehouses across the Interhavnen,





I see the Tivoli gardens, but don't go in.  Instead I watch the wrecking ball across the tracks, demolishing what cannot have been very old concrete blocks to make way for new ones....






I also meet Bjørn, struggling home with his shopping down the busy Strøget, his pale blue eyes sadly not reflecting the capital of all things Danish (rather recalling the Fear and Trembling of local philosopher Søren Kierkegaard).  His (Bjørn's - Søren never tied the knot) wife died two years ago, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune continuously plague him through his days, poor fellow..... 




No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without a barge ride from Nyhavn, the colourful 17th-century canal waterfront district.....  Ms Moorhead is probably right, as the quarter-mile of dockside rip-off tourist bars constitutes the icon of Copenhagen for all travel agencies, and I do visit, briefly, but I don't take the barge ride, and I don't see the Little Mermaid either, having had quite enough of that from Disney when my daughters were growing up.  

Instead I visit Freetown Christiana,




where I unwisely nearly forget that photography on Pusher Street is not welcome,




I also explore the district of Nørrebro, where I am made very welcome in Kind of Blue, a bar, owned by Claus, who serves me a marvellous Porter, plays Tom Waits, and has two copies of Elliot Landy's 1969 sepia photo of The Band in the countryside near Woodstock on the walls.  This, my dear Ms Moorhead, is what I think is probably hyggeligt, and it is much more up my street than Radisson Blu.




We also have a very fine fishy meal in the Nørrebro Bryghus, which is both brewery and restaurant, and is, by Danish standards at least, affordable.....



Pace, Ms Moorhead, Copenhagen is great. We both agree on that.  It's also a good base for trips.  I only have three days, but still manage to pay my respect to some great Danes in the cathedral of Roskilde, thirty minutes by train from central Copenhagen. The first church here was raised by Harold Bluetooth; a stone replacement was then built by King of England and Denmark Canute (or Cnut, as the locals will have it, with their propensity for embarrassing misspellings) the great, as a penance, because in 1026 he murdered his brother-in-law here....

As one does.....

Then in 1170 the present brick construction was started. It is one of the earliest major ecclesiastical buildings in brick, paving the way (sic) for the spread of builders' cleavages all over Europe for almost a thousand years.  This singular achievement (which I suppose completely ignores such Roman edifices as the Basilica of Massenzio, the Terme di Caracalla, and the Aula Palatina at Trier, to name but three....) resulted in Roskilde Cathedral being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.  Around forty Danish Kings and Queens are sealed in their coffins here, which makes it an exciting day out for Danish school children at the end of the summer term.....


Also in brick, about five million of them, is Grundtvig's Church, in the outskirts of Copenhagen, on Bispebjerg Hill.  Along with a kind of model new town, on the lines of Letchworth Garden City, this was built (as you no doubt knew) in the 1920s, in memory of Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872), whose domestic appliances and consumer electronics are legendary..... 


It's a grand monument, with 1,440 seats, and and two organs, the larger of which has 55 stops, four manuals and a pedal, with the largest of its 4,052 pipes being 11 metres long and weighing 425 kilograms.  

Just such a pity there is no one at home when we enter.....


Another thirty minute train ride (or, in our case, a thirty minute train ride, a complete soaking in a cloudburst and a thirty minute replacement bus service due to a broken down train on the line) out of Copenhagen is Kronborg Castle, on the sea at Helsingør, which bills itself as North Sealand - Hometown of Hamlet..... Yes, apparently Shakespeare was inspired by impressive banquets held here by Frederick II.  Since the castle was built in 1585 and there was an early version of the play in existence in 1589 (Shakespeare's version of Hamlet was probably first performed in 1601) this is a possibility, though, kinda remote, don't you think?  Also, without wishing to offend the good people of Elsinore, the first connected account of the hero whom later ages know as Hamlet  is that of Saxo, called Grammaticus, in his Historiae Danicae, written at the end of the 12th century.....

Be that as it may, I meet a very well preserved Gertrude (O, most pernicious woman!) in her well-arrased chamber....






And I catch a glimpse of a figure gazing out of a turret who I momentarily take to be a ghost (though when I ask if he is such, he replies, in suitably lugubrious Danish tones, Not yet....)






And, just to complete the picture, as it were, in the castle grounds I stumble upon a fellow (alias poor Yorick, sic) who has no feeling of his business that he sings in grave-making.....







It being thirsty work, this tourism, I retire to Copenhagen, and stoop again into the Café Halvvejen, where beer and akvavit restore the spirits.  This, too, is my kind of bar.  This, I guess, is kinda hyggeligt, (though not necessarily any more than The Flowerpots at Cheriton, or Whitelock's Ale House in Leeds City Centre, or, for that matter, A La Morte Subite in Brussels.....)








Hamlet may have been a moody chap.  My acquaintance Bjørn, with reason, is not the cheeriest of chappies, but I sorta agree with Joanna Moorhead that Copenhagen is at least in part about enjoying the good life.....  Or, after a couple of beers and a few centilitres of classic akvavit, that is how it seems.....  

Until, that is, I have to follow Saga's Porsche, and cross the Øresund Bridge....






More Scandi blues to come.......

Watch this space!