Sunday, September 30, 2007

Floody Friday

Bella and I forgot our swimcaps when we tried to head out the front door the other morning...

Hmmm. Maybe it's a little better down the street...

No tiptoeing to dry weewee ground this way, so out the back door for us. When I biked home from Rebekka's the night before, I saw the roadblocks up on our street, which only means one thing: Floods, dey is a-comin'. Though it was as dry as a Danish joke that night, the next morning was, of course, far wetter -- a good foot deep of mucky brown harbor water. Oh, the aroma! Maybe the city worker guys are all tide experts, or maybe they sleep with almanacs under their pillows, but they ALWAYS know when these floods will come, blocking off the street to cars hours beforehand. The only real tragedy about this is all of the hundreds of starfish and jellyfish who perish on the road, wondering how they hell they got there to begin with. I've tossed a few baby startfish back into the harbor, but it always feels kind of futile. Besides, who am I to play God, right? Maybe I'm robbing the next seagull Jonas Salk from the meal he needs to gain the strength to cure cancer? Or the next seagull Tchaikovsky the opportunity for another tomorrow to compose a brilliant new opus? SIGH. Circle of life, circle of life. So much to think about these days. The water's gone now.

(Did you know that the Danish word for jellyfish is "vandmand," which literally means "water man"? Don't you think that is just nifty??)

Uh oh...

The natives are getting restless:

Remember this sweet li'l billboard? The one that says "Tolerance. ... We stand fast to our Danish values." (Translation: "Boo! Go away, Muslims and other non-Danes!")? Seems that a person disagrees with those there contents of it. Last week, someone spraypainted "Ret til forskellighed" on the Danske Folkeparti sign, and that means "Right to be different." YAY! I'm waiting to see how long it takes to be replaced. And the best thing about the picture is that I actually waited for someone else in front of me to finish taking a photo of this board.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn!

It's not all that often when I wake up in the morning, walk outside and try to remember if I took quaaludes very recently. Those are special mornings. Like, take Monday. Walking Miss Bella Sue around the castle, as we normally do 364 days of the year (Don does it the other day), I saw a groundskeeper mowing the lawn. Normal activity; check. Except that THERE WERE FLAMES SHOOTING OUT OF THE FRONT OF THE MOWER AND HE SEEMED ENTIRELY OKAY WITH THAT. Also, the lawnmower was not on the lawn itself, per se -- it was on a gravel trail. Did I mention the mass of orange flames covering the pathway? I think I stood there for several minutes until Mr. Satan Greenjeans waved at me and gave me a hearty smile. Then I felt so embarrassed at my quick jump to judgment. Why NOT torch your gravel walkway if it helps things? I waved back and looked to Bella for the answer. She shook her head in puzzlement, shrugged and sniffed some pee.

It's been almost a week and I STILL cannot quite get my head around this one.

(NB: I have seen said groundskeeper waving a blowtorch over a rock wall to, I presume, burn off little teensy weeds who dare take up residence in the cracks. And that's all I got, folks.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Magical Marimba Ponies


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The People in Your Neighborhood

Sometimes the coolest little experiences come when you least expect them. A couple of days ago, Don and I went grocery shopping and were trudging home with heavy bags (IN OUR HANDS) and one very sniffy and disobedient dog. We started down a long flight of stair, where we saw an old woman slowly, slowly making her way down the many steps, clutching the handrail. We said hello, and Don mentioned something about "so many stairs," to which she replied, "so many stairs for such an old lady." She asked us where we came from (Mars?), and then we just started talking (all in Danish, mind you). We told her about where we were from, what we were doing here (people are always very curious about that and not shy about asking), what we thought about living here, where we lived, etc. She started telling us about learning English in school when she was a young girl here in this very same town, and she recited the first thing she learned in English: "See me hop, see me run. I can hop and I can run. Oh, how it is such fun, fun, fun!" Margit was quite proud of that, and it was a real treat to see her laughing out loud that she still remembered it. Turns out she's 82, and she told us all about living through WWII -- the American soldiers who came here in 1945 after liberating the concentration camps ("ah, I remember Jimmy and Joe! They were SO nice!"), and how loads of refugees came here and lived on the boat docks, the same docks out our windows, just sleeping under the stars and so happy to be free. Our jaws sat on the groud for quite a while listening to her, and it occurred to me (again) how rich in history this place is. I still can't quite believe that we live across the street from a castle (A CASTLE!) built in the 14th century. I hope we see her again.

There are all kinds of neato people in our neighborhood!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Stuff Is Back!

Hey, so, do you guys remember that time when I moved abroad and then I had all these problems getting residency and so I was all, "I am SO outta here," and then I took off with, like, two suitcases, and then all of my other stuff was packed up and moved out and driven to London and then it was all ready to be loaded onto a ship there to come to me in Seattle and then I was all thinking about it all serious and then I go, "Well, maybe I *will* live on Denmark after all!" and then I go, "Wait! Mover people! Stop my stuff!" and they were all, "Okay, weirdo, we were just about to put it all on the boat to you. What's up?" and then I go, "Okay, thanks, you guys. TOTALLY DO NOT SEND IT TO ME IN SEATTLE, OKAY?" and then they go, "Whatever," and then I go, "Right on! Can you send it BACK to my original address where you guys picked it up?" and they're all, "Okay, cool," and then I go back to that place and I wait and wait and wait and try to remember what's in the boxes of my stuff that has already traveled around the planet once or twice before and then I start to get really excited to wear something warm other than my one navy blue sweatshirt because it's getting all cold outside and stuff and then one day all of my stuff shows up again and it's the same moving guy as before and he's all confused and goes, "So, didn't I just move all this stuff up all these stairs before?" and then it's all back in my living room AGAIN, all totally wrapped up just like old times?

Yeah. I totally love that story.

(See? I *did* learn something from teaching 10th grade English!)

O Gardenburgers, How I Miss Thine Rapturous Ways...

I miss Gardenburgers. The staff of life, the bloodline to joy and health and all things wondrous and good. I also miss granola bars and jalapenos that are actually hot, and not just sad sliced pickled bits. Anyhow, I've (somewhat) successfully recreated the former here in Siberia, and they turned out not too bad! Did you know there's a recipe online for pretty much every single kind of packaged food or famous restaurant item? (And did you also know that Oreo filling is just shortening and white sugar?)

Start with kidney beans, oatmeal, onions, red peppers, bulgur wheat, cottage cheese, mushrooms, carrots and stuff:

Whirled in the food processor for a wee spell:

Shape into patties and broil. NUM! MERS!

I also made granola bars, and they were pretty darned delicious, too, although they did lack the all-important cohesion factor. However, I have deduced that eating granola "bars" from a pan with a spoon is just as tasty as the real thing.

Young Scandinavian Engineers

I love this Norwegian ad...

Being Driven Crazy

If there's one thing I've missed woefully these past several months, it's having a car. I arrived a little late on the car ownership scene with my sweet little 1984 Toyota Tercel purchased in 1994, but I can assure you it was extremely cherry. I've since owned two fabulous Hondas, and all were my tickets to freedom. No more clutching grocery bags on my lap on the crowded bus for me. The convenience factor couldn't be beat, and the fact that I could just GO wherever I wanted, to another city, across that field, to the beach, to Target or the Statue of Liberty or to the Yukon or to check out that giant crucifix on the hill in Rio de Janeiro, just like that, was pretty awesome.

It seems that just about everyone here has a car, so much so that people are surprised that we don't have one. A bank teller looked dumbfounded recently when we said we didn't have a car. " do you get around?" Bicycles. "Yes, but when it is raining?" We walk, with hooded jackets on. "And shopping bags?" We carry them. With our hands. I think she stopped herself before asking, "But why?", though I'm sure it was perched on the edge of her tongue.

And that's where I'm at: But why? Why don't we have a car? WHY???? Two reasons: Cost, and the insufferable tribulations involved with getting a Danish driver's license.

First, some math: I saw yesterday that gasoline here costs 9.75 kroner per liter. (They're all metricky here and stuff.) There are 3.8 liters in a gallon, so a 15-gallon gas tank is 57 liters, and to fill that gal up will cost you 556 kroner, or $103.50. My last Honda cost roughly $32 to fill up, bone-dry to tippy-top. This amount seems so mind-boggling to me that I wonder if there is an error in my calculations, but I don't think so. So, how do Danes afford this? I have no idea, especially when you think of doubling it for a two-car family. Sheer wackiness. Why haven't they figured out a smart way to get cheap oil? Sillies.

Other than the simple task of buying gas, there looms the daunting challenge of convincing the police that we are actually fit to drive. When we arrived here last September and Don took care of all of his temporary residency set-up stuff at city hall, he was assured that once he became a permanent resident (after one year), he had two weeks to come in and swap his U.S. license for a Danish one. Easy peasy, even trade, smiles all around. Until then, our U.S. driver's licenses would work a-okay, especially since we were conscientious enough to have gotten international driver's licenses through AAA before we left; not necessary, but certainly helpful. Gold stars and smiley faces next to our names for being so proactive!!

Fast forward to two weeks ago: Don goes back to city hall to inquire about the jolly license swap, and was told, "oh, no, the law has changed." As of January 1st of this year, American driver's licenses are now obsolete for permanent residents, about as effective as a broken rubber band. No trading. Sorry. Okay, so now what? "Well, you will need to first take a written test at the police station, in Danish, then a driving course consisting of about 8 consecutive lessons with a private teacher, then a driving test through the police (and you must rent the driving instructor's special car with the brakes on both sides), paying for translators chosen by the police and the driving instructor, and then there will be a licensing fee as well." The whole package will cost about $2500-3000. Each.

I think we will eventually get our licenses, but we'll have to do it one at a time. We've kind of stopped talking about it between ourselves, because our discussions usually end in one or both of us going mute, not being able to locate any words to express the lunacy of it all, so now we just talk about happier subjects like Paris Hilton being free and how pretty windmills are.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Going Postal

I think the ladies at our post office have been reading my blog. They still take every opportunity they can to be scoldy, but they are being much nicer about it these days.

A couple of weeks ago, Don and I took a very large stack of thank-you cards to the post office, all going to the States. Most had been stamped, but we still needed about 10 more stamps to get the whole lot out of our hair. (THANKS, EVERYBODY!!!) They're these cute little notecards, roughly 3"x5" -- you know, thank-you card size. Well, these dimensions rang some alarms at the ol' post office. Fru (Mrs.) Post Office Lady frowned. "This is too small. You cannot put this in the post." I see. Out comes the Official Danish Postal Policy Manual, then the ruler. Measure, measure, measure. Frown, frown, frown. She conferred with her cronies. Was it too small? Hmm. Yes, it is too small. Are you SURE? Very tiny puffs of smoke come out of Don's ears. Can you check again? Please? Measure, measure, confer, confer, sigh. "Okay, we think it MIGHT be all right. But we cannot guarantee it. Please follow the postal rules next time."

Right. Yes. Absolutely.

A few days ago, we received a very nice letter from the Post Office. It seems we had sent a bill to the States in a standard U.S. business envelope, and there was a problem. It was too large. There was even a digital photo of our envelope placed next to a ruler. Clearly, it was approximately one centimeter too long, and that was not cool. This time, they would let it go, but if we plan to use these envelopes in the future, we must put the appropriate postage on it. Instead of the standard 8.25 kroner ($1.50), please affix 44 kroner ($8.20).

I think it will be cheaper to stop paying our bills.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

MORE Love Is in the Air

Aw...more double happiness! We went to another wedding last week, and this one was uniquely special because it was a Chinese wedding here in Denmark. Sai, principal oboe in Don's orchestra, married his longtime girlfriend, Yao (a classical pianist), and we were lucky enough to be invited. Although they were actually married in China last year, they wanted to share their wedding celebration with their friends and colleagues here in Europe. So, along with their families travelling all the way from China (that is one ridiculous travel intinerary, believe me), they had music conservatory friends coming from Germany and Austria, too. It was quite the international bunch. The wedding ceremony (including really touching speeches from both fathers, one of whom talked about reading and loving Hans Christian Andersen stories as a child in China, and how thrilled he was to be here in the land of Andersen himself) was done in Chinese, with Sai's sister-in-law interpreting to everyone in perfect English. The ceremony was held in an elegant historical hotel, after which we had a spectacular lunch in another room. SO GORGEOUS. The food was unbelieveable, and it kept right on coming. (They really should have noted "elastic waistbands strongly encouraged" on the invitation.) Danes have several very interesting and funny wedding traditions, including cutting the toes off of the groom's socks and cutting his tie in half, and they also do the throwing of the bouquet and the clinking of water glasses to make the bride and groom kiss. My absolute favorite is when the groom leaves the room at any time, all (and I mean ALL) of the men immediately jump up and run over to the bride and line up to kiss her, and vice versa for when the bride steps outside. It's quite hilarious to witness, and it was especially funny to see Sai and Yao's parents reacting to the rowdiness of it all. Sai caught on pretty quickly and was gracious enough to start announcing that Yao was gone. Cheeky boy!

The Faces of a Danish Tomorrow

One thing that I love about living in Denmark is the relative absence of pervasive advertising. It's all pretty civilized -- you can choose to either have a snappy red sticker on your mailbox stating "Ingen reklamer, tak!" ("No ads for me, thanks!"), or you can opt to have the standard supermarket circulars popped into your box every Tuesday. Commercials on radio stations are very brief and come on maybe twice an hour. Even billboards are sequestered to certain areas and are generally pretty mild and few in number.

Well, it's coming up on election time here on our groovy planet, so guess who's bought our town's few billboards this month?

So, this gang, Denmark's Conservative Party, says, "We're keeping Denmark on track." Okay, simple enough.

And this crew, Denmark's Peoples' Party (and the current incumbents), takes it up a notch. (Incidentally, the DPP is a super right-wing group, the rightest of 'em all.) They say, "Tolerance. We hold fast to Denmark's values." That's nice. But isn't this kind of a paradox? I thought social tolerance was about including, validating and generally celebrating differences.

There was something about these posters that stayed me as I walked by them every so often, asking Danes to commit to their vision and image of the future, deciding what Denmark should strive to be. It didn't hit me until I saw this photo in the local newspaper the other day:

School's back in session, and these kids seem to be the real faces of Denmark's tomorrow. Maybe some politicians could use a little kindergarten refresher.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bella Update

Good morning, everyone. I'm Bella the Dog, reporting live to you from my living room carpet.

It all started a few nights ago when I was enthusiastically informed that there was going to be a surprise that evening. I do love surprises, folks, especially when they look like this:

Mmmm-MMM. Indeed, you will never see me turn down a meat tube, hot off the tall smoking thing. Stupendous. Unfortunately, the surprise turned out to be this:

Simply put, ladies and gentlemen, no me gusta. I did not gusta this one teeny tiny bit. It was deafening, smelly, people were shouting -- it was complete chaos, folks. Apparently this was a staging of a historic battle between the invading Germans and Dutch and the defending Danes. (So they were maybe short a few dozen ships that night, but this was a DRAMATIC RE-ENACTMENT, people. Please try to not be so literal.) I was quite upset, understandably -- there were numerous explosions in the air, the water, out of ships and cannons and it was all so frightful and terrible that I will stop here for now. Please take my word for it: I hope you never have to endure the misery of a summer maritime festival conclusion such as this.

Still, sometimes life's greatest struggles yield the sweetest of rewards. Like some cozy time with my bewitching Nylabone Liver Flavor Bone for Powerful Chewers.

When God created liver-flavored plastic, He really got it right. Absolutely sublime, and I highly recommend keeping one on hand for stressful situations.