Tuesday, 31 August 2010

No mermaid, no murders, plenty of Aquavit

We’re just back from a long weekend with friends in Copenhagen. We liked the city, we liked the atmosphere, and we liked the Danes: friendly, warm and without exception fluent in English. That made me feel the way I do in Holland, acutely embarrassed at expecting people in their own country to communicate with me in my language, not theirs. The worst of it is that they do it so well: why, they were able to banter with us, for God’s sake.

Everyone who goes to Copenhagen naturally sees at least two things: the Tivoli gardens and the little mermaid. The Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park and I have to confess that none of us felt in the least bit inclined to try any of the rides. So we decided to save the entrance fee, particularly as my good friend Ronnie and I were of the view that the money would be better invested in Aquavit, from which we got a buzz much more suited to our temperaments.

Acquavit is one of those terms, like the French eau de vie or Gaelic usquebaugh (whisky) which just means ‘water of life’. Curious, isn't it, that we tend to think of strong spirits as an essential element for the good life? A waiter told us that Aquavit induced ‘a special kind of drunkenness’, which he presented as a desirable goal to pursue. Personally, it put me to sleep, but quite pleasantly, which suggests that whether or not it’s the water of life, it’s certainly effective as an anaesthetic against any of life’s pain.

As for the Little Mermaid, she simply wasn’t there. She’d gone to Shanghai for the world exhibition. I guess everyone needs to be able to travel away from time to time, and I suppose when you’re half a fish anyway, being stuck on a rock must get frustrating after a while.

Incidentally, the Danes had had the decency to set up a screen at the spot where she usually sits, with a live feed of the mermaid in Shanghai. You may find this hard to believe, but we weren't wildly keen to get across the city to watch a screen display of a statue some 8000 km away.
With such defenders, why should Denmark tremble?

So we didn’t see either of the key sights of the city, but we did see lots of other things. Soldiers in bear skin hats marching through the streets. Beautiful buildings. Lots of water, some of which we travelled along. We had plenty to enjoy. 

A city that takes spirits and spirituality seriously: even the church spire looks like a corkscrew

Water, water everywhere, but this wasn't the water of life we wanted to drink

We even had a day out in Malmö. I didn’t realise just how close Sweden was. There’s a fabulous bridge across to the other side and, though we took passports just in case, no-one even checked our papers. It’s like the crossing between Strasbourg in France and Kehl in Germany: it takes you between nations that in the past fought brutal wars with each other over territory, and now allow free passage across agreed borders. Why, one wonders, did they fight each other in the first place? And why on earth do countries like the UK and, even more tiresomely, the US, make their immigration procedures so difficult? I don’t believe that the security problems of Denmark or Sweden are any worse.
The bridge to Malmö

If we'd wanted to, we could have stayed on the train beyond Malmö and travelled to Ystad, but I was relieved to get off the train when we did. Do you watch the Wallander crime series on TV at all? The Swedish version is good entertainment (far better than the weak English version, where Kenneth Branagh just can't get the grim and unapproachable air of the Detective Inspector from Henning Mankell's novels).

The series is set in Ystad, on the surface a sleepy market town of 17,000 souls in Southern Sweden. It seems that it is in fact the homicide capital of the world. A new psychopath sets out on a trail of serial killing there every single week, leaving at least three bodies and often more. Fortunately, in Wallander and his team, the town also boasts one of the world’s most effective police forces. They successfully solve the crimes and arrest (or kill) the psychopath every single week, within the allotted hour and a half of the episode. I can tell you, it’s a tremendous relief each time we get to this happy resolution.

In any case, you can imagine that none of us was anxious to expose ourselves to the kind of risk that a visit to such a town implies. So we got off at Malmö instead, and had a good time there. 
Malmö windmill: sticking to safer places than the crime centre at Ystad
The danger to which over-indulgence in Aquavit might lead seemed quite thrill enough for one visit, without getting caught up in any murders.


Anonymous said...

Not one known for his attachment to all things English, I would still question you description of the English Wallander series as weak.

David Beeson said...

I intended to reply saying that it was probably unfair of me to call the English episodes 'weak'. It was really Branagh that I found weak in his portrayal of the character - I find Krister Heriksson much grittier and closer to the image I have Wallander.

That was my initial intention. Then last night we watched the latest Swedish episode and found it depressingly weak.

So now I feel even more strongly that my initial comment was unfair. You're right to question a slightly intemperate judgement on my part.