Monday, April 25, 2011

The Real Copenhagen

When I travel, I want to find out as much as I can about the country I’m visiting. I look for places associated with historical events or famous persons. I keep my eyes open and talk to people. I learn a lot about places that I never knew from reading books and newspapers – or from listening to guides whose primary purpose is to amuse the travelers.

People travel for various reasons. For some it is an excuse to get away from the routine of daily living, to “see something different.” When I grew too old to handle luggage or to search on my own for hotels and restaurants in strange cities, I took organized tours. Tour guides herded us around major “sights”, always beautiful, but usually places I had seen before. I was appalled by women who only wanted to shop, as if they couldn’t buy the same things for less money at the mall at home. I tried to find time to slip away from the group and do a little exploring by myself.

After the philatelic exhibition closed, the stamp collectors scattered. Most flew back to the U.S. Wally and I took a week to see more of Denmark on our own. Before the trip I’d arranged for a rental car and made reservations for places to stay, beginning with a few nights in a bed and breakfast in Copenhagen. That turned out to be a big surprise.

During the week Wally was at the stamp show, I wandered about the center of the city. I formed a mental picture of Copenhagen as a quaint old city of sidewalk cafes and narrow little streets lined with old buildings housing charming little shops. Yes, it is all there, along with Tivoli Gardens, a delight for tourists.

Wally and I got into that little Honda and drove out beyond the boulevard which marked where the old city walls had been torn down. We were in a modern city with strip malls and houses where ordinary, working class Danes live. We found our bed and breakfast in a neighborhood of little red brick bungalows. They looked amazingly like house Wally built in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

In most of the U.S. “brick” houses are wood-frames covered with plywood with only a veneer of bricks. After the great Chicago fire in the 1870's, the city passed strict building codes, requiring. all houses have solid, fire-proof walls of brick backed up with concrete block. No wooden frames in Chicago.

Also, Chicago has narrow building lots; in most cases only 25 feet wide. The typical red brick Chicago bungalow is long and narrow with the narrow end in front. A large picture window is off-center to make room for a front door. In newer neighborhoods you see block after block of almost identical houses. Copenhagen’s newer neighborhoods looked exactly the same.

We flew from Chicago to Denmark and found our bed and breakfast in a neighborhood which looked as if we had never left Chicago.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Murder at the Savoy

During our stay in Copenhagen, Wally and I were invited by two other couples to join them for an evening in Sweden. How’s that? The two countries are separated by a narrow channel of sea water.

Water from the Baltic Sea flows into the Atlantic through what amounts to a wide river, reminding me of where Lake Superior water flows from Lake Huron through a similar channel between the U.S. and Canada into Lake Erie. When we lived in Michigan, I drove over the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to take my children to Windsor in Canada. Wally’s secretary lived in Windsor and drove back and forth between the two countries every day,

One day in the public library in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb, while glancing through titles on a shelf of mysteries, I took down a book titled, “Murder at the Savoy.” I took it home, thinking the setting would be the Savoy Hotel in London. Instead, it was Malmo, Sweden. The authors were a husband and wife team who wrote a whole series of books whose hero was a Swedish detective they called Martin Beck.

I enjoyed all their books. It was serendipity, expecting one thing and finding something different – and much more enjoyable than anticipated. It happened again on our excursion with the other stamp collectors and their wives.

Since 2000 the Oresund toll bridge connects Copenhagen, Denmark, with Malmo, Sweden, but when we were there, we crossed the sound on a ferry. The leisurely crossing took over an hour. We had dinner on the boat, in a dining room with table cloths and waiters wearing starched white shirts with bow ties. Definitely more formal than the Staten Island ferry.

We disembarked in Malmo, showed our passports, and walked into the city. One of the wives said, “When we were here before, we found a charming bar. Shall we go there for a drink?”

The bar was in the Savoy Hotel. Here I was, in the only place I’d heard about in Malmo, the hotel which was the scene, admittedly fictional, of a murder. In a handsome room with dark wood paneling, six middle-aged and older people (Wally and I, in our mid-40's, were the youngest) sat on banquettes around a low, circular table and had a party.

On previous occasions the men talked about nothing but stamps, debating for hours on the number of perforations edging the stamps on particular printings. In the company of women the talk ranged over various other topics. Much more lively and interesting.

Someone ordered snacks. I nibbled on cashews and little rye crackers with cheese. I also drank two Scotch and waters.

We lingered for hours. I became tipsy. Wally was annoyed, as always when I talked to other people, but he kept up a congenial front in the company of people he wanted to impress.

I had a wonderful time that evening in Malmo, Sweden. The only hint of homicide at the Savoy was the murderous glances Wally gave me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Catching Up

David and his children were here for a week. Now it is going to take me two weeks to recover and catch up.

It took two days working on my apartment, leaning down on my creaky bones to pick up pennies, dimes, dollar bills, and rubber bands off the carpet. All their lives my grandchildren have been given anything they ask, done anything they want to do; they literally throw money around. Adams and Alle had a rubber band fight in the living room while David and I watched – or tried to watch – “The Civil War” on television. My four-room apartment, comfortable for one tired old person, is too small for four people, even if two of them are less than four feet tall.

Papers on my desk are now in five piles. When will I find time to go through them? I should balance my check book, write checks, file medical reports, and toss out the junk mail.

The World continues to collapse without my sage advice. Why don’t the Republicans admit that they cannot cut enough programs to balance the budget? Congress must raise taxes to meet basic needs. The rich get richer; they do not pay their fair share. I’ll write my Congressman. He is one of those rich Republicans who panders to the Tea Party. He will ignore my letter.

In between dialysis sessions I spent an afternoon with my dentist grilling into a molar in preparation for a new crown. As always, whenever he took the drill out my mouth, I talked. I found out that Dr. B. is a runner. He has run 30 marathons. Last week he and his wife, an M.D., were in Arizona, where they go every year to the Grand Canyon. For the past 30 years they have run the path that goes to the bottom of the canyon.

Sensible people let donkeys carry them down the narrow path to the Colorado River. It takes all day. They spend the night on the banks of the river, then spend another day riding to the top. My dentist and his wife run down and up in one day. Their best time was five and a half hours. This year took longer. Climbing out they were buffeted by a blizzard.

Can you imagine trying to find a foothold in five-inches of snow on a path where one misstep would send you over a cliff to be smashed thousands of feet below? And think of the experience as a fun vacation?

I remembered my Albuquerque lawyer. He jumps out of airplanes. He even went to Yugoslavia to take part in an international sky-diving event. The World is full of mavericks. Interesting, nutty people are everywhere, regardless of race, creed, or nationality.

This nut is going to forget the mess, personal and national, and escape to memories of Denmark.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Vacation

Since the first of the year I’ve been writing about my travels. Right now I am stuck in Copenhagen. This is my antidote to thinking about the mess the U.S. is in.

The economy is a disaster. Congress seems paralyzed, with the Republicans obstructing all the President’s proposals, and no one willing to compromise on anything.

Our involvement in the Middle East is a quagmire. Young men are revolting against dictators. In Egypt and Tunisia with some success, the outcome in Libya uncertain. In Bahrain our friends the Saudis sent an Army to kill rebels. Everywhere the Arabs wish we would leave and let them fight among themselves.

Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan. Tremendous devastation. Those countries are capable of rebuilding. The people of Haiti are still suffering – and will continue to do so until the population is reduced by 75% – and we don’t want a million or more ignorant, untrained, uneducated Haitian immigrants.

It is all too depressing.

I’m going to try to forget all about it for a while. I’m going on vacation.

Or rather, vacation came to me. My son David and his children, Adam, 11, and Alli, 9, flew from California to spend a week with me. I’ll escape from the monotonous food at Montclair’s dining room, as David always treats me to dinners at places like Red Lobster and Magiano’s. We’ll take the kids to White Rock Lake and to see spring flowers at the Dallas Arboretum and spend a day at Sally’s ranch.

After they leave, I’ll catch up on the laundry (all those sheets and towels). Then it will be back to Denmark. And memories of other happy times.