Thursday, September 28, 2006


This is a curious little shop that I pass everyday on my way to "work" (the dorm to get online). The name gives no hint at all about what it is, so as I usually do, I thumbed through my somewhat handy Danish-English dictionary and discovered that this was a place where one could feasibly purchase/consume/admire/play with/sketch octopi. And squid, too. Something tells me I'm missing the whole picture, though. Octopus? Don's theory is that maybe here in southern Denmark, at all of the county fairs, rather than giving away plastic bags with goldfish inside to the kids who win the games there, they actually give away little baby octopi for them to take home and put in a glass bowl, and THIS must be the regional supplier to all of the carnival barkers on the midway.

I can't say for sure, but I think he might be onto something.

Fresh-ground flour ANYTIME YOU WANT!

HOW COOL would it be to live INSIDE A WINDMILL?? This one is around the corner from us, and apparently people live inside of it. Wacky, huh?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The boob tube

My parents had some pretty creative child-rearing methodology, some practices so clever that I cannot wait to try them out myself (though I think I'm fairly certain this isn't the only reason why I hope to have kids someday). When, as a moody and sullen teen, I slammed my bedroom door in response to being asked, "Erin, could you please [fill in the blank]?", my dad's solution was to remove said door for one week. If I dawdled on the phone for longer than three or fours hours, the extension in the kitchen somehow wound up, off the hook, next to the radio with classical music on top volume. When my siblings and I started to resemble drooly flat-line robots from too much "Love Boat" and "The Newlywed Game," my dad spliced a negative (female) plug onto the TV cord, and then made a little adapter cord with two positive (male) plugs, making it impossible to watch TV without that dumb %@!*&#in' cord thing, which was always hidden or in my mom's purse, out of the house. Also, they made us eat WHOLE WHEAT BREAD and drink SKIM MILK and NO CANDY AROUND ANYWHERE EVER EVER EVER. How I longed for the day I could watch TV for weeks on end and eat double-stuff Oreos 'til it came out my ears...

Well, they don't have Oreos here, but they do have TV. Per, principal trumpet in Don's orchestra, gave us an old Bang & Olufsen TV the other day, and now we're trying to make some sense of Danish programming. Supposedly, there are three national channels, but we only get two, one of which comes in when it feels like it. I've heard watching TV in another language can be a pretty effective learning tool, and we've turned on the closed captioning to try to get a visual for this tongue, which to me sounds quite a bit like shouting while rubbing your face hard and fast with a big towel. But, every 49th word or so is recognizable, which is, I guess, progress. Babysteps...

This morning I sat in front of the idiot box for a bit of Danish language immersion. I learned about a gal (somewhere) and her garden, which contained a lot of plants. She was happy about the plants. And she liked to grow things from seeds. That's all I got.

And then there was an investigative story about how planeloads of Danes are popping over to Poland (MY PEEPS!!!) for all kinds of plastic surgery as it's about 1/3 the price, very quick and relatively anonymous.

This gal seems quite happy with her boob job. So happy that, five months later, she had no problem -- ZIPWHISKFLICK -- doffing her top for the cameras to show the audience the Polish surgeon's handiwork. Her boyfriend was also pleased with the results, and then he said something alarming that freaked out the interviewer, but I couldn't understand what it was. Maybe that her implants were full of herring.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Learning a new language is HARD. Especially when you spend six entire minutes on it every week. Here is one nifty little tool that truly understands the woes of learning foreign vocabulary and sentence structure.

It likes me and empathizes with me and validates me as a WHOLE PERSON.

Working stiff

In three and a half weeks in Denmark, I've had two job prospects. I may be teaching a couple of "applied grammar" courses to some German college freshmen here at the Southern University of Denmark -- back to the land of present perfect, conditional past, imperatives, superlatives, infinitives and participles. (I am a total scream at cocktail parties, believe me.) It would be a something of a hoot, and it would get me out from under my computer for a few hours each week, so I'm hopeful and awaiting official word about this possibility.

My other prospect came on our third day here in Sonderborg. We were at the grocery store, still fairly culture-shocked and nervous that people would actually SPEAK to us. Don got up the guts to ask a fellow shopper about a sign in the store, and she turned out to be British and quite helpful. We finished our shopping and made it outside, and Davina was still breathlessly at our side. A very kind gal, she quizzed Don on his musicianship, how he got hired, the audition, his background and take on Denmark thus far, and then she asked me about my workaday world. After explaining myself as a newly minted writer, she asked if I would be interested in working with her doing cleaning at the local psychiatric hospital. I thanked her and told her I needed to work on my writing. Like, constantly. She told me to contact her if I changed my mind and that the grounds there, a former castle, were very lovely, and it could all be arranged "quickly and quietly." Then she hopped on her bike and pedaled off into the Danish drizzle.

I am not making this stuff up.


We live in a quaint little harbor-side chateau that SOMEONE decided to mess up with neon royal blue paint on the inside. Add a red wall and a yellow bean bag chair and we'd be living in Ikea. So, we've been painting everything nice and white in preparation for maybe some sage green, or khaki, or something more Restoration Hardware, less Romper Room. We'll see. The rest of our stuff (dresser! bookcases! nail clippers! post-its and tape!) just arrived in England this past weekend, and it should be in our glad little hands in 10 days or so.

But in the kitchen, we may just keep the blue rafters. (They match the soap dispenser beautifully, Martha.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Welcome to the nighbourhood!

On Thursday evening, Don and I had some new friends, Jeppe ("YEP-puh") and Jorun ("YOR-roon") over for some wine and snacks. Jeppe plays French horn in the orchestra with Don, and Jorun plays flute. They've been married since April, and now Jorun is going to have a baby on or around New Year's Eve. They've been so welcoming to Don and me since we've been here, and I know they're going to become great friends.

When Jeppe and Jorun were leaving to head home, there were two orchid plants and a card sitting at our front door.

I was so touched by this little gift from our downstairs neighbors, Hanne and Marianne. Nice to see we have some Viggo-balance in place!

Min livret morgenmad

It was a rough nine days living without coffee at the very beginning. I didn't want to leave the happy warmth of the breakfast room at the Hotel Sonderborg as I knew it might be a while before I saw coffee again. I tried to love juice and water and milk as much as coffee, but I was unsuccessful. On the tenth day, we bought a coffee maker. And the clouds parted.

Though I've never been much of a breakfast person, I've come to love my little ritual in the morning here. For me, it starts with hot coffee and ends with Donna. You see, Donna is someone -- I don't yet know who -- of great talent, for Donna makes these yummy little cookie/graham-crackery things that make my toes dance. She has two kinds -- black currant and cranberry -- and for those of you who have not experienced black currant, well, boy howdy, you're missing out something awful. It's a pretty unusual flavor, and I go crazy for it. Also, Donna is something of a genius in that her cookies -- or, in Danish, "kiks" ("keeks") -- are LOW FAT. How does Donna do this??? I have no idea, but I must assure you, these things may very well contain heroin because I am now addicted and also, I cannot make much of the ingredients label. I don't care. You see Donna on the package there? Yes, she's dancing. Dancing Donna. That's what I do when I eat her kiks and look out the window at the boats on a sunny day and slurp my coffee in writhing ecstacy. Viva le morgenmad!

Monday, September 18, 2006

International Symbols, part 1

I'm not sure when a six-petaled cartoon flower became the international symbol for fabric softener, but it seems to be the case. Flower = soft, not clean (as in detergent). Got it? So, if you put detergent into the flower part in the washing machine, you're REALLY DUMB. Okay? (Just take my word for it.)

The morning commute

Well, I hate to complain... but... WHERE IS MY #@!* &%$*# INTERNET???? Apparently, Uffa the Loofah (our landlord) has become too busy to get this installed. So busy that he can't answer his cell phone. Which has no voice mail. But most certainly has Caller ID... AND I AM FEELING IMPAIRED!!! VERY, VERY, VERY IMPAIRED! (Can somebody please send us some internet? Please?)


So, off I go to my "office" everyday for a little daily dose of the ol' interweb. Yes, I hop on my bike and pedal the excruciating 12 minutes of uphill hell to get here to our sweet dorm room so that I can reconnect with my peeps back home. (And read I must say, however, other than the uphill part, the commute ain't so bad! It gets my thumper pumping and my thighs are right on the verge of becoming 100% pure steel. Here are some pics of my journey to the office...

Friday, September 15, 2006

All My Princes

When I was six years old, my family lived in southern England for a year. It was a fantastic adventure and education for all of us, and my parents did an excellent job of exposing my sister, brother and me to anything cultural, historical, esoteric or otherwise plain groovy. One afternoon, they took us to a polo match in which Prince Charles was playing. I remember I was in a big royalty/celebrity/autograph-seeking phase, and I was determined to get his autograph, or at least get near him, because, well, you he was a PRINCE and stuff. I didn't get the autograph, but I did get something better -- somehow I got close enough to him where Prince Charles actually stepped on my foot, horse dung and all. I think I was too stunned or embarassed to chase after him with my lame little autograph book. In hindsight, I probably should have just wiped my poo-sullied shoe on an open page instead.

Last night was Don's grand debut with the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra, It was also the first concert with the new conductor, a rather intense Russian fellow whose conducting seems part-marching in place, part Jazzercise. A solo violinist from Russia was also on the bill, and though I ain't no music player, HE WAS AWESOME. Brought down the whole dingdang house! The concert was held in a gymnasium (the new permanent is still under construction) with an aisle down the middle. Before the concert began, everyone rose -- I felt like I was at a wedding. Four people and a couple of photographers came walking in (was this the bride?) and were seated in the front row. I figured it was the mayor or someone like that.


Turns out he's the "protector," or official patron of the orchestra, and he lives nearby in a palace that's rather like a farm. And NO ONE was making a big deal about it! I felt compelled to nudge everyone around me to tell them that The Prince was HERE, among US, COMMONERS. They were so casual about it, like he was the photocopier repair guy or parking attendant or their neighbor (which, I guess he is). I was craning my neck to get a glimpse of this guy, though he's quite ordinary-looking. I'm not sure what I was expecting -- armor, or a chest plate, or maybe a mini-crown or some medals, but he seems like a cool enough dude. During the intermission, I thought he'd at least be whisked away by a security detail, but nope, he just hung out and ate some candy and chilled.

Anyway, after I told a bunch of musicians after the concert about it, their response was along the lines of, "yeah, so?" My flaming excitement cooled then, and I realized how relaxed Danes are about stuff like that. No paparazzi, no autograph hounds -- just a mellow night of beautiful music with a merry errant butterfly dancing over the musicians' heads as they played some Rimsky-Korsikov. No biggie.

Of course, after all this, I still got me a real prince...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Better than a TV

Okay, now you all might get tired of all these harbor shots, but we are addicted to looking out of our windows. There are constantly new boats coming and going, the bridge goes up and down, happy folks strolling the boardwalk with their dogs, ducks quacking their heads off at the passing swans. Don snapped this gal getting her hair touched up on the deck of a German charter boat. (When you gotta touch up your roots, YOU GOTTA TOUCH UP YOUR ROOTS, know what I'm saying?) The gulls are daintier here, and their manners are quite refined. No loud screeching and dustcropping for French fries a la Ivar's, but more a sense of, "you know, I'm happy to take some bread crumbs off your hands, but really, only when you're all finished -- I'll wait quietly over here, thanks." Alsion, the brand new building which will house the symphony, train station and the Sonderborg branch of the University of Southern Denmark, is just across the bridge from us. It will be a 4-minute bike ride for Don, maybe a mile from door to door. SWEET! Though it was slated to open in mid-October, the grand dedication will actually be in November, and Queen Margrethe will be here for the big wingding.


We've been adopted. Or accosted. Or a combination of the two. Our downstairs neighbor, Viggo, is a retired sailor who has taken a serious shine to Don and me. Pretty much every single entry or exit to or from our building means a 20-minute "chat" with Viggo, in, of course, rapid-fire Danish. So, our discussions are quite one-sided: Viggo talks, we smile and nod and try to splutter out something somewhat coherent, and then Viggo spits out another 9 or 10 sentences. Unfortunately, Viggo seems to be a pretty lonesome old gent, and so it appears that he is always on the lookout for us, wanting to start up another "conversation." On Monday morning, not long after Don had taken off for rehearsal, I was finishing breakfast and was about to get in the shower. The front door handle started jiggling loudly, and then a key went into the lock. This freaked me out as I was standing there in my bathrobe -- who the hell was this? Then the doorbell started going. Viggo. Wanted to know if we had painted our apartment yet, and if so, how did it look. I don't quite get it, but he's also said something to us a few times about men have to do the heavy work and I should not lift anything too big, and then he whaps me on my shoulder. Is this a Danish custom? I feel so terribly American when I see Viggo approaching and I just want to scream, "PERSONAL SPACE, VIGGO! BOUNDARIES! ME TIME!" But if I can't say it in Danish, I'll have to figure out how to mime it...

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Yesterday afternoon, Don and I moved into our new place, though we're still trying to learn to spell the street name correctly. (Clearly, Danes need to work on their spelling skills. Tsk.) We are the proud owners of the world's longest AND most narrow twin bed! However, if you shift too much in it, the slats come out and then your bum hits the floor with the most exquisite little bang. We're on the top floor (4th), so we are now in fabulous shape. Who's going to visit first??

From Don:
Hi everyone. Sorry all of the blogging duties have gone to Erin. She's a more interesting writer anyway, and she always hogs all of the great pictures that I take. So, sadly, I'm resigned to the fact that this tale will be told from Erin's point of view, with occasional interjections from me.

Just some quick notes: I played with the orchestra yesterday for the first time - to back up the 3 principal bassoon finalists. On Monday, I'll start rehearsals with the new music director. We're tackling a great program which includes Prokofiev symphony number 5, and other Russian "tunes".

The hunt for the apartment was not without its stresses, humor and frustrations. We looked at a total of 6 places, and both of us almost immediately chose the one we are now in. The almost part of that is because we are up 4 flights of stairs, and there isn't much storage space. The total cost for renting the apartment and paying all utilities in advance (we get back what we over-pay at the end of the year) is about $950 a month... which seems a little tough at first, but then you look at the view... I think we'd probably pay about $3000 or more a month in Seattle for this kind of place. Our landlord's name is Uffe, like Loofah without the L (Erin, knew this...NOT ME), and he would just as soon never walk up the stairs again in his life. This could mean we'll never be bothered, and will probably mean we'll never get anything fixed by him.

Hope all of you choose to visit us soon. We'll have something to sit on, cook with, and shower behind as soon as Wednesday night, and something for all of you to sleep on within a month. Regarding the narrow bed that Erin mentioned above, it does not work for two people, period. - Well, back to Erin's voice. Don

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A few sights from around town...

I know you've all been sitting at your computers, feverishly asking yourselves, "yes, but where do they do their grocery shopping???" Here you go -- we're Kvickly shoppers now!! Most Sonderborgers (Sonderborgians?) do their shopping on Perlegade (Pearl Way), the main shopping street. And you can see that country music is pretty popular here, as is licorice. And apparently Scandinavians go simply bananas for salted -- SALTED -- licorice. As the Danes say, "mam mam!" (yum yum!). As Erin says, "maybe later!" The photo of the yellow building is likely where we will be living, on the top floor. It's directly facing the harbor on Havbogade (Harbor Way). Looking out the windows, the water is across the road, the castle is 400 yards to the left, and the bridge is 600 yards to the right. WOO HOO!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Herringwatch 2006

We've officially reached one full week here at Herringwatch 2006 HQ, and we are pleased to report that we have remained 100% HERRING-FREE thus far. Though we have been encouraged to partake in creamed herring, curried herring, smoked herring, herring mousse, boiled herring, etc., we have held our ground steadfast during this time. YAY!!!

A few observations:

- Danish pizza is sold by the slice -- ham, pepperoni or "minced cow" -- and a slice is roughly the size of the seat of one's pants.
- Sonderborg is a very economically healthy city with construction going on nearly everywhere.
- When Danes are asked, "do you speak English?", 100% of the time the reply is, "of course." When Americans are asked, "do you speak Danish?", virtually 100% of the time the answer is, " you speak English?"
- Sales tax in Denmark is 25%.
- Coffee makers in Denmark start at 400 kr. ($70) on sale and go up from there, but you can buy a very nice teapot with 4 matching cups for 40 kr. ($7).
- The hottest fad among Danish men (age 30-60) is cropped (mid-calf) jeans and sandals.
- The Danish word for trombone is basun ("bassoon") and a bassoon is called a fagot.
- Danish spiders look exactly like American spiders.
- The current offerings at the local cinema are "Garfield 2," "Peter Petal (Curious George)," and a really dark Danish horror flick.
- In Denmark, clothes dryers are for wusses and line-drying is the way to go.
- All baby buggies come in one color -- basic black -- and people park them outside of cafes and stores...with the babies in them.

Overall, things are going better and better each day we don't eat herring. Today, we looked at a great apartment which is bigger than we need, and we're looking at another tomorrow morning, so hopefully we'll be moving soon! *My* greatest wish is that we could move by Friday, as that's the night our dorm holds a gargantuan booze fest which lasts until 3 or 4am. We've been enthusiatically invited by a group of four jolly neighbors to "come drink the beers and bubble-up (mixed) drinks!" Sounds enticing...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday afternoon

It was just drizzling -- "spitting," to the Brits -- when we went out for a wee walk this afternoon. Jet lag has hit us, especially me, full on, so rising at 1pm is a habit I must soon break. IT'S HARD!!!

The Danish word for castle is "slot," so here I am standing in front of our neighborhood slot. Grand, no? Don and I took a very long walk around town today, crossing the bridge to the other side known as Dybbol, where the Danes lost a famous battle to the Prussians in 1864. There's a huge windmill still standing on the battleground. So much history here...

The rest of the afternoon consisted of cheese and tomato sandwiches, setting up Skype, and meltdown #78 for me. POOR, POOR DON. He's earning some major karma points for assuaging my worries these days... We WILL find an apartment/house this week, no matter what, or else I'm storming the slot with my mammoth roller suitcase...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

So far, so good...

Well, it's day 3 in Sonderborg -- pronounced "suh-nuh-BO-ah" -- and we're still here! We've had lots of rain and lots of sun, as well as a good bit of wind, which draws tons of sailboats from Germany. Don and I spent our first night in one of the dorms of the university (Southern Denmark University) last night, and it exceeded all of our expectations. The room above us hosted a party, all girls screeching Kelly Clarkson and other terrible American pop at top volume until 4am. Apparently, it's something of a free-for-all with the dorms here as there are no RAs or any other sort of head-cracking officials around. Also, we're attempting cozyness in our twin bed, a foam pad on a bench that the university has provided. LOVE IT!

Today, we ran into the annual harvest festival, and guess what we were treated to? The regional line dancing club strutting their HOTTEST stuff on the pedestrian mall. The strains of John Denver's "take me road...where I belong...WEST VIRGIIIIINIA...MOUNTAIN MAMA" proved far too enticing for us to ignore...

Right now, we're facing a pretty tough rental market as most people prefer to buy and sell rather than rent, especially mid-to-higher end places, but we're still looking. But I did get a hair dryer!!! SUCCESS!! After miming "hair dryer" to a lovely Danish lady in a make-up shop, she brought me to the hairspray section before conferring with another clerk who sent me to another store. Hair dryers run $50-80 here, so I'm now the happy owner of one of those teeny tiny little screamers...for $42... But at least I can be beautiful every day...