Notes on a Small Island: The Castle and The Walking Street

Today I went to the magical land of Helsingør, a city of about 46,000 people on the north west coast of Zealand (Zealand coincidentally, is the particular island on which I currently reside).  There sits the castle Kronborg, which just so happens to be where Shakespeare’s Hamlet was set. It is an amazing building, centered on a sprawl of land that is a sight to behold – both from the ground and from above (See Picture). The thing I tend to forget about these amazing buildings is that they served not only as residences, but also as fortresses. While I am not sure about the beating the building itself could take, the grounds are built to ward off intruders from any direction. Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge stone building, but it has a lot more glass and ornamentation than the images that come to mind when I think of a medieval castle with arrow loops and such. This is a palace as well as a military installation.

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Kronborg is not a medieval production. The earliest fortress on the land dates back to the 1420’s, but the palace is clearly a renaissance affair. It was built originally and expanded upon through the 1570’s and 80’s. From the elevated position of the castle, you can see everything in all directions for miles. There are outcroppings for armaments on all sides of the building, and there are only a few entrances from inland, each designed to be closed off at a moment’s notice.   Probably all pretty handy features, as the building was constructed (and reconstructed) in a time when the Danes and the Swedes like to kill one another with what seemed to be a good helping of reckless abandon. Helsingør, and in turn Kronborg, held strategic value for the short distance it was from Sweden across the channel, though when the original fortress was built, Denmark controlled the land on both sides of the channel.

 

Helsingør: The city itself is beautiful. The central rail station is amazing; grand in appearance, even stately – though in truth, not at all large. It sure looks big though. I believe it serviced only 4 sets of tracks, which compared to the 20 or so in Copenhagen and the 12 or so in each of the “ports” of the city, this is not much. The walking street is lively and had many different cafés, butcher shops, bakeries, boutiques, and the like. It was an impressively sized street, especially considering the relatively low number of people who call Helsingør “home”. . . To compare, Birkerød where I live, there are approximately 25,000 residents and our business district (the retail center of town or “walking street”) is kind of sad and limp. It has a single bakery (that sucks), one nice café, a few pizza/gyro joints, and a smattering of other retail. The vacancy rate is approximately 25%. The bike shop and its staff is awesome, just so we are clear. I hear the movie theater is nice, but I really haven’t seen anything playing yet that makes me want to spend the money.  With a population less than double my own town, there is a business district that is easily four times the size.  Granted, I know that there is a much larger tourist draw to Helsinør, but the tourists are not really a year-round economic boon.  

 

The city again reminded me that there is something here that I have a hard time explaining. I have gotten an impression of a different sense of history, both here in Denmark and when I was in Amsterdam several years ago, as it relates to the environment in which we live. . . I do not mean“environment” as in the political issue “environment” (though that is VERY important here too), but the cities, buildings, and the lands around us. They seem to have lives too here. There is an effort to preserve history, and we live surrounded by it every day. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there were periods in modern times where amazing things were torn down in the name of “progress,” but I always get the impression that there is respect for the structure, and that we should somehow bend to the structure as we need the structures to bend to our needs.  Many things are repurposed here. Theaters that were once stages became movie theaters, stables became diners, staff quarters became shops. . . This seems to be a constant, at least it is the best I can tell from my relatively superficial understanding of the way of life here. The original notes from which I write these words were written sitting on a street that has been here since before there were white people in America, in front of a building that has stood since the American Civil War.

 

There is an amazing mix of the old and the new in Denmark. Modernness seeps from every pore, yet all in a setting that has been here longer than any of our families have been in the United States. Part of that is the circumstance of just how long Denmark has been populated, but a big part is Danes being consciousness of the surroundings.   Remove the street lights and the cars and there are huge swaths of Denmark that would be indistinguishable from that of a hundred, or even two hundred years in the past. I think about the tragic loss of the American “downtown.” We venerate small town America and yet we do little to preserve it. It has taken us 50-plus years of wrecking our city centers for us to feel the need to stop it from happening. Life is in these cities. It makes me very happy to think of the efforts going in to revitalize places like Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. While much has been lost to the wrecking ball, much has been saved. Slowly, business is moving in to the downtown and I really wish it the best, because there is nothing like the pulse of a living city. There is hope and purpose in a place where you live and work within reasonable distance of each other. There is a vested interest in the success of both your job and your home, as they are in a sense, connected.

Notes on a Small Island: The Circus and the Plumber

I have come to find a few things interesting in my adopted country. First thing you may ask? Plumbing. Something so simple that we as westerners take for granted. Well, like many things in Europe, plumbing isn’t simple either. A plumber in Denmark does what we would call plumbing, but also deals with heating and cooling, kitchen exhaust, (which I don’t know of a house or apartment here without a range-hood). We had a plumber out today to fix a toilet ( 1: I would have tried, but lets just say the amount we pay for this place means I ain’t doing shit I don’t have to, 2) There’s no tank. . . Just a bowl attached to a wall. All the innards are hidden, turns out, behind a panel in my closet) and to fix two drains that, even after cleaning, would potentially unseat a buzzard from its relative shit-wagon.

Susanna had cleaned the drains earlier, working them over pretty well. It would appear however, that we only cleaned the surface. With a turn on four screws, an entire apparatus containing filters and traps pulls from what looked like a hold that was the drain. This little wonder of technology would catch any large thing dropped down the drain (there was an earring in it). It also would prevent the rest of the drain from getting clogged by hair or any other unpleasantness. I was shown how to clean the device and how to reinstall it when done.

It really was an interesting experience to spend a little time with our friendly plumber.  It was also interesting to see the engineering that went in to something as simple as a drain.  It goes to show the amount of detail used here in many aspects of life and construction.   

Second thing: We went to the Cirkus (Circus) last night. The Benneweis circus is 126 years old and is still held by its founding family. It was wonderful. This is not a huge production like a three-ring job like the Shrine Circus or Barnum & Bailey from the US, but was a wonder nonetheless. There were a lot fewer animals than most American circuses, and I am really ok with that. For one, it smelled a hell of a lot better, and it didn’t take elephants and torture them for my amusement.

There was a single clown. He did the breaks between major acts. He was an Austrian man named Don Christian. He was a highlight to say the least. He was engaging and truly funny (and not creepy, like so many clowns are wont to be). On the whole, there were some really talented people. There was a contortionist, who managed to fold himself in half down what looked like a 18″ pipe. There was a tightrope walker and a juggler (and by juggler, he was juggling 5 soccer balls in his hands while juggling three ping-pong balls in his mouth), both from Cuba. There was a breakdance group that would blow your mind. There were trained camels and a pack of 40 dogs! It was truly a sight to behold. . .

Here were a couple more of the things I found interesting. During the intermission, the talent was manning the concession stands. How awesome is that? Every person played their roles and contributed to the show, even when not performing. The second thing I found really interesting was that they were packing up as we were leaving. This entire production is a mobile affair. It was a 15 minute walk home and they had the secondary (concession/lobby) tent broken down before we left the lot. By the time we made it home, there was equipment leaving the area. 30 minutes later, I watched the biggest semi trucks from the show drive by our house. It was amazing to see the effort that went in to the production and what oiled machinery it takes to make it smooth. . .

Amazing!

What I’ll not miss. . . and what I will

Upon reflecting the concept of leaving America:

These are the things I won’t miss:

10) Freshly waxed F-350’s that have never once had anything heavier than a meijer bag in the bed.
9) The NRA.
8) Sarah Palin, she is, in effect, illegal in Denmark.
7) The insistence on the viability of trickle-down economics.
6) Obvious and disheartening signs of poverty.
5) “Choose Life” bumper stickers.
4) Sport Utility Vehicles that have never left the road.
3) Church signs with terrible puns.
2) Questionable bums at off ramps.
1) Fox News being considered a serious source of news.

Things I will miss, aside from the obvious reference to friends and family:

8) Inexpensive gas. (Cry me a river at $3.79, it’s a third of what the rest of the developed world pays.)
7) What seems like limitless space.
6) Free refills.
5) Talking to strangers.
4) Unending beer selection.
3) Toilet paper crafted from trees harvested from virgin rain forrests. (ITS SO SOFT, that’s the soul of our planet caressing me as it gasps its last)
2) Pleasant waitstaff.
1) Being able to grocery shop at 2am.

 

How did I get here?

I just read a press release from Representative Candice Miller. She is supporting a block on proposed IRS rules regarding 501(c)(4). . . It is funny that it is somehow an issue of free speech, when 501(c)(4) are the home of anonymous donations. . . You have no idea who is behind the “speech” you are seeing on TV folks.

It would seem to me for something to be considered “free speech,” it should have some sort of name attached to the speaker. You are free to speak, no matter what. . . If money is speech, then we should see the trail. Your voice is yours, but you cannot raise your voice without showing your face. Conservatives love to harp on the administration for a lack of transparency, but it would really seem that the least transparent part of our political system exists OUTSIDE Washington. Political speech should not be anonymous. “Issue ads” are political speech!

Congress, why not doing something useful for a change? Make your owners public. Then the PUBLIC will know why you are so shitty at looking out for their best interest.  Gee, I wonder why all this “right to work” stuff is on TV?? Oh wait, union-fearing corporations are telling you that you don’t need representation. . . Oh wait, oil companies are behind those fracking ads telling you its safe and your yellow water is perfectly “natural”. . Look what lacking regulation does here folks. You are made to believe that everything is so tightly regulated. . . 300,000 West Virginia residents were exposed to poisonous water because a chemical company doesn’t get inspected but for once every few years. . . The financial industry DESTROYED the UNITED STATES economy because apparently it’s a good idea to give a $250k mortgage on a 3-1 arm to a person who makes $27k a year (I was offered $225k when making $38k/year) and then package those loans as AAA-rated securities with an average fail rate of 2% (ok, it was 20%, but who cares, right?  The taxpayer will just pick up the tab)  But yeah, it’s ok. Let’s worry about making sure people trying to hide can keep hiding instead of actual problems.

Good day.

Is it hard to be a(n) __________ in the United States?

So who’s being picked on in the Tragic Kingdom?  If you believe the Fox News and talk radio, there’s a “War on Christmas” and if you ask the left, there’s a “War on Women”. . .  While I have every faith that the wrong people in the world are making choices about women’s health (men, for example), it is the usage of the word “war” that bothers me. 

It makes me think an awful lot about the idea that people seem pretty put-on by everyone about everything.  Christians, according to Pew, comprise 79% of the population, but if the radio is any indications, it is impossible to be a Christian in America without the ever-present thumb of oppression pressing down on you.  That being said, it would seem, in my research on the subject, that atheists feel the same level of oppression from the religious majority. . . 

So, what is the source of this victim mentality?  I originally thought it was merely a ploy to increase revenue or was a function of religion itself, but in the light of all these “wars,” I have to think that there is something else behind the perception of oppression.  

Over the course of the year, I would like to re-examine the nature of the feeling of being oppressed.  I would love to have the feedback form all sides of this.  I would like to know why you feel that you are picked on, who picks on you, and what it has cost you to hold your beliefs. . . 

The Death of My Interest in Facebook. . .

I have long loved the time-wasting capacity of the world of Facebook.  I have loved to see the pictures of friends and their dinner (no seriously, I love food pics).  I have come to the conclusion however that it is also a place that I go to get mad.  I can’t stand the constant complaints, general negativity, and above all, the ability to hijack one’s home page whilst changing the subject away from the original thought. . . I also cannot take the constant sharing of misinformation, be it from the Left or the Right (mostly the right. . . Planned Parenthood isn’t forcing abortion on South American childred, and Obama is the world’s worst Socialist. . . No seriously, if he’s a socialist, he fucking sucks at it people).

So I have decided to take a break.  I frankly want to say what I want to say, and I don’t want to censor myself, and I don’t want my thoughts about waste to be turned in to an argument regarding the sanctity of life . . . . It is also the reason this is authored under a pen name.  I really don’t want my name associated with my own thoughts.  While I am in now way ashamed of what I think, I have learned from a certain Duck Dynasty Douche Bag that your words may be free, but your ass not covered from the consequences of your words. . . Employers look down on asshole employees with asshole opinions. 

So, I hope to see some of my old friends here. . . If not, oh well. 

 

-Robert Hume