We loved the Tower of London, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Christian IV's castle, of course, but the real pleasure of foreign travel is spending time with people and seeing their day-to-day lives. There is plenty of insight to be gained by a trip to a local grocery store, post office or muddling through another country on public transport.
Jeff and I were so fortunate to stay with friends in both London and Copenhagen. We attended a musical concert given by Jesper's 9- and 10-year-old students at the elementary school where he teaches music, and we cheered John in a local rugby match. (Looks like our football only without protective gear.)
The real impressions from the trip aren't from the tourist sites, although we saw lots, but from what we discussed with our friends. (Crayfish, navel-piercing, NATO, university admissions . . . all within about five minutes.)
The Internet has plenty of better photos of the sights of London and Copenhagen than I took, so here's my story based on what we talked about with Martha, Andy and John while in England, and Pernille, Jesper, Louis, Josefine, Oscar, Anette, Poul, Mads and Jakob in Denmark.
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Martha knows I love Stephen Fry, whose reading of the Harry Potter series for the British CD series I have yet to hear. He has a quiz show, of sorts, called QI. Hmmm, quite interesting. I wonder if the show is available here on DVD.
I am a fan of Neil Gaiman. I loved his book Neverwhere, which is about an alternative London, "London Below." His new children's book, The Graveyard Book, just won the Newbery Award, the highest American honor for children's literature. Gaiman was just a guest on The Stephen Colbert show here a few weeks ago. I also suggested the novel, Londonstani, to Martha. I characterize it as A Clockwork Orange meets Bend it Like Beckham.
The next big vocalist to cross the Atlantic Ocean will be 20-year-old Emma Deigman. Martha played me a few tracks. Wow! Look out, Duffy, Adele and Amy! You heard it here first . . . well, second.
Jeff was enthralled by the TV show, Top Gear. Celebrities, stunts, challenges and CARS! Very clever and popular with all ages in England. In the episode we saw, MINI Coopers played soccer. Available here on DVD, I hope.
The highlight of our sightseeing in London was the tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Aside from being an accurate replica of the original, it's a working theatre with performances in the summer months. Jeff got a souvenir Globe penny from Martha, a reference to the groundlings, or "penny stinkers" who paid one pence to stand directly under the stage for the play. Jeff has already assembled a model of the Globe.
I wanted to see a West End play while I was in London. Most of the musicals are New York imports, but we got last-minute tickets to opening night of PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL, based on the 1994 Australian film. We had box seats so we had an amazing view of the lavish costumes, but I had as much fun watching the audience and trying to read the critics' reactions.
I took both John and Jeff to the newly-reopened London Transport Museum. Lots of opportunities to climb in and around historic trains, buses and taxis. Jeff's great desire for this trip was to ride one of the iconic red Routemaster double-decker buses. Bus route 15 has a refurbished fleet of the old Routemasters, so we rode the top deck along the Thames from the Tower of London to Covent Garden. (Last time I was in London, you were still permitted to smoke on the upper deck!) Jeff is also an expert on London Taxis. I have learned how to distinguish the really old ones . . . the rear view mirrors are very far forward, the passenger doors open out like barn doors. Ask Jeff about them if you have a spare hour or two.
Martha also owns a MINI Cooper. It was a bit disconcerting to ride in a mirror-image of my own car, but Jeff had plans of his own. He wanted to ride in the front passenger seat on the left, and pretend he was driving.
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I learned some new Danish vocabulary, which brings my total to about 17 words. There is a word for the concept of waxing eloquent late at night when drunk, which translates as "fog talk." I understand the concept but it takes much longer in English to explain it. The same goes for a word that means playful, friendly insults among neighbors.
I told Jakob that on my previous visit, every time I saw the sign "Bøger," it made me chuckle since it looks like it should be pronounced "booger." It means "books," and is pronounced "boh-er" (sort of). Danish has lots of those linguistic "false friends" such as barf (veterinarian), slag (battle), slut (end) and fart (speed).
I was astonished that Jesper, a professional musician/songwriter and music teacher, had not seen the movie School of Rock. "It's YOU! It's your story," I told him. I was thrilled to find it in a video shop, so I bought it. Luckily, the film was subtitled so all of us could watch together. Rock-and-roll, the universal language! Jesper said he brought it with him to class to show the kids a few scenes to inspire their songwriting. Mads and Jakob turned out to be big Dave Matthews Band fans. He is not as big in Denmark as he is here, but they are going to Paris to see him. (I don't share their enthusiasm for DMB, I admit.)
Louis became a killer SET player, so I left our game with him. I had to relinquish my SET-playing status to him anyway. I brought SET along thinking that would be an ideal game, since it doesn't require English or any reading.
Even the Danish equivalent of dollar stores are cleaner and more elegantly designed. Jeff had a great time in Tiger. It's the same stuff as we have here, generally, but beautifully presented.
I was so disappointed that the Lindow Man, a 3,000 year-old bog man in the British Museum, was on loan. However, we saw lots of bog people and Viking antiquities at the Danish National Museum. Whew. I finally got to see Copenhagen's Christiania. The closest thing here in the U.S. is Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco.
It's been 24 years since I have been to Louisiana Museum of Art. It is greatly enlarged now. We enjoyed the special exhibit, a retrospective of Max Ernst. It was an amazing opportunity to see most of his work assembled in one place. (Note to self: review my art catalogs on Dada and Surrealism.) The Louisiana gift shop is almost a destination in itself, a showplace of Danish design. I bought miniature Margrethe bowls as a gift.
How can I entice our friends to visit us in the U.S? John, a serious shopper: Oak Street and the Mag Mile beckon. Jakob misses Big Red gum. (There is a store in Copenhagen that sells it for $5 a pack. For that price and airfare, you can get about 20 packs here!) Josefine has a university field trip to New York City next year.
It has been 18 years since my last visit to Europe, but now that Jeff is a seasoned traveler, there is no reason to wait so long. In the meantime, most of us are on Facebook!