Posts tagged: travel
(Taken with Instagram looking out on a friendly portion of Istedgade street)
Arrived early at the Hotel Ansgar in the Vesterbro district in Copenhagen and had the complimentary breakfast: coffee, toast and jam, slices of cheese, and the Dane’s equivalent of Dig ‘Em Smacks. The same sad breakfast you might eat at a Ramada outside of Indianapolis tastes exhilarating when you have it in Copenhagen at a hotel that sounds like the place where Thor lives. The hotel is on a street shut off from traffic at either side by a dead end and a green construction wall, sheltering it from some of central Copenhagen’s more sleazy bustle—more on that in a bit.
To arrive at the hotel you have to detour around the green wall past a small roundabout. At the mouth of the roundabout is a parking lot that hosts a street fair. The sellers are mostly old men with feral beards I imagine grown “off the grid” in a cabin amid pamphlets that support the arrest of the entire European Union. Their wares are the detritus of deceased estates: defunct military uniforms, tarnished jewelry, old phones and record players, and picture frames with spooked black and white photos of frozen faced little boys and scared housewives no longer with us.
Walking away from the hotel through the roundabout you eventually cross the street Istedgade at the corner of a hollowed out gambling house in a cheap hotel district. Catty-corner to the gambling house is an ashen brown church with a congregation of addicts at its feet. Across the street is Spunk bar, which, by the way, is not Danish for “Sports bar”. Turn up Istedgade and you pass the dim bulb facades of a few sex shops promising pleasure despite heavy evidence to the contrary and past them is the rest of Istedgade, which is a lot like the rest of Copenhagen: urban and modern and clean and safe.
Speaking earlier of dead end streets, Copenhagen seems to have a lot of them. More than Bruce Springsteen could add to metaphor. A traffic sign “Ensrettet,” meaning one-way, precedes them but without knowing this you will see the sign and think “Oh, a street!” And you will make a right to try to cut across to Vesterbrogade, an avenue running parallel to Istedgade and lined with boutiques and middle-class ethnic food and hotels instead of hostels.
But there was no next block—just Ensrettet—and so I circled back onto Istedgade and stood on the corner dutifully unfolding my map in front of what I can best describe as a sailor bar without any sailors. In fact, the men inside are navigating something more extreme than the sea—Asian transvestite prostitutes. The bar is nameless, smudged windows looking in, and outside is a heavy traffic of cyclists, pedestrians, and “working” women who are out all night selling for Krone. All of them are from Africa—Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal—where Krone buys spaceships. I eventually found Vesterbrogade, and the rest of my night: the slow service at an outdoor café; the girl in her pink hijab behind the counter of the ice cream parlor; the club with postings for live rock/rap/reggae/funk/jazz/jazzmatazz/feminist readings.
Walking back to the hotel at the end of it all there was a man across the street from me with a bald, pale slab of a face, like a Gerber baby all grown-up and running his own construction company. He was dressed mannequin-like in a pressed shirt tucked into a pair of stiff jeans the cuffs of which hovered a few inches above his loafers. He approached one of the African women then they walked along, one in front of the other, until the detour at the point of the green construction wall. I took a right towards the roundabout and my hotel; they went left then fell into the shadow of the side of a building like two vampires. To think I started my day off in front of the palace winter home of the Danish Royal family.
And that is the Istedgade part of Copenhagen, or at least 4 to 5 blocks of it. Everything else in Copenhagen is beautiful, which can feel pointless to write about. But Istedgade is its bald spot smack dab in the city-center of an otherwise flowing mane.
(Taken with Instagram at Scandilines Ferry Terminal)
*Today is my sister’s birthday. She died 1 month from now, a year ago. I wrote this about a ferry ride I took 2 weeks ago traveling by train from Denmark to Germany, except not really. This is about Carla.
To cross from Denmark to Germany the train has to board a large ferry that goes over the water where the Baltic meets the North Sea towards the Jutland peninsula. Once boarded, passengers are required to exit the train and move to the upper decks of the ferry. You take an elevator from the cargo deck to the host deck, which spreads out like a local mall after exiting the elevator. There is a duty free shop and a sun-drenched cafeteria that sells cheap coffee for euros or krone. An upstairs staircase, and then you step outside onto the ferry’s top deck where the sea wind grips like a firm handshake. On one side is Denmark, windmills fading to the back of your mind. Up ahead, the German shore. All around is blue.
Out on the deck, passengers were dutifully taking pictures, and after a few artful clicks of my own I walked back inside to buy a coffee and an apricot Danish. It occurred to me I hadn’t eaten one damn Danish pastry my whole time in Copenhagen, but at least I can say I’ve eaten one over international waters.
For the rest of the 45-minute ride I gazed out over the water at the large cargo ships crossing west to east dotting the sea with the slow moves of elephants. There were lanes of foam in the expanse, where ships had cut up the water, that lost their impression as we floated by.
I looked back at Denmark. The ships stack blew out a trail of black smoke that floated out on the prevailing Westerlies then a bearded man the fashion of a shipmate came jogging out of an engine room, across the deck, into what I assumed to be the ship’s steering room. A few minutes later a woman announced over intercom in German then Dutch then English that the ferry was experiencing a delay of several minutes, failing to mention why the smoke from Lost was suddenly blowing out of the ferry.
Not that I was concerned, too wrapped up in my own mortality. I was far away from home, alone in a world that felt more immense because of that distance. I watched the water chop up alongside the boat. It made me numb, fatalistic. The same way I get at the top of a tall building, and I thought about Carla as if she were there, next to me, by the railing. I thought about her cheeks lifting up at the view; calling out questions as they came to her in that loud, warm champagne of a voice.
But I always daydream too much. Reality is harder, especially when your head is where your heart wants it to be. Me and my sister—my only sibling—somewhere on a boat in Europe. The peculiar impulse to dream about the impossible. There would never be that moment. She never got to see so far away from home.
The woman on the PA announced in German (then Dutch then English) that the ferry was back on schedule. Whatever the reason for the delay, it was over. We were near the German shore; a granite horseshoe shaped harbor where we would port. When it was turn for English I heard her say, “The difficulty is over.”
(Taken with Instagram)
Two weeks ago in Berlin I was just like Napoleon, a well-heeled foreigner seeking the Brandenburg gate with nothing on me but my wits (and a digital map with fixed coordinates on my location calculated by global positioning satellites 500 miles above the earth that transmitted that data to my phone which was simultaneously playing Frank Ocean).
And while I was fumbling around with my nose pressed in a Frommer’s guidebook, I walked down a long avenue named Ebertstrasse that runs northward along the eastern edge of the Tiergarten and past the American embassy. Despite the global positioning satellites, I found the street purely by blind luck walking away from the roundabout at Postdamer platz because all the street signs there have the same bastard name: postdamer, postdamer, postdamer… like George Foreman walking around in a circle yelling at all his kids.
Down the luckiest of those paths walking past a former patch of the Berlin Wall’s infamous dead zone, and near Hitler’s bunker, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.The exact title. Someone had the perfectly German idea to name a thing what it actually is.
*side note out of curiosity: the U.S. has no national monument to American slaves. The closest is the Emancipation memorial in D.C., which is a statue of Abraham Lincoln standing dutifully over a supplicated Negro in an act of emancipation. A National Slave Memorial was proposed in Congress in 2003 but the legislation was not adopted; Congress elected instead to support the creation of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (and crafts!). And murdered slaves.
Back to the memorial in Berlin, almost 5 acres of 2,711 concrete slabs—“stelae” in German—arranged grid like across a sloping field. The effect of the slope means the slabs rise in height closer to the nadir. From the top of the slope you stare into pathways made between the rows of slabs and watch people walk in and out of view—in effect a labyrinth. Some of them were adults who wandered the maze listening to an audio tour and some were kids who ran around the slabs giggling and playing. It is peculiar that this sober reminder of the lives of Jewish victims of the Holocaust incidentally can double as a playground for oblivious children.
Near the entrance there are signs calling for respect and begging for restraint from treating the memorial like a playground which, like I’ve described, the kids do anyway because they are kids… inside a maze. Some of the kids who set out to play were more eager than others but even the one red-cheeked 12-year old boy who I saw carefully walk into the memorial like dipping a toe into a morning lake—even his reticence vanished as the stelae rose to the level of his eyes and his friends disappeared in and out of view behind each slab like they were LARPing through an Escher painting.
I don’t think the architect Eisenman or the engineer Happold had this intention in mind, or that they should have, but by accident it forms quite the juxtaposition. Absent-minded children with no malice playing inside of a grey maze built from stone as a statement against death and hate. Welcome to Berlin.
These are the German girls, right? Okay.
Bright, round-faced and curly-haired brunette singing ‘aloo’ into her phone pushing her bicycle around the tor, or the sunken-faced blond wearing black thick-framed glasses perched on an even more curated nose, or the steel-eyed mother with raven hair pushing a pram carriage wearing layers of clothes that come with autumn weather, or all the teenage eastern bloc girls in too much blush, tight jeans stuffed into tighter sneakers, or a beige complected girl wearing a silk hijab whose brow sees out like an eagle’s.
Sober ones who clop in their heels; the ones on the U-Bahn laughing a lot to themselves; all the ones in black stockings too efficient to waste time on a passing view.
Some study medicine or a social service at the University because, you see, the State gives a damn. They are the best conversation so long as you hold up your end of the bargain. And the one girl in the black and white polka dot dress with milk skin, pulled up wheat hair, and stuffed cheeks on either side of red, red lips—Hitler’s springtime—which is to say an ideal except not perverted. I hope this was not a perversion.
What’s cool about Copenhagen is that they fire off their cannons twice a day, and the roof of their parliament building has a peak with four stone dragons on top, and their Church of our Saviour has a spiral tower that you can climb to on an external golden staircase that runs counterclockwise—a direction thought to represent the devil at the time the church was built in 1752.
Can you tell I watch Game of Thrones?
I will be in Denmark and Germany for the next 10 days to head-clear, write, and lie to strangers that I am R. Kelly’s manager which has nothing to do with Frank Ocean except for the inevitability that I sing “crack rock, crack rock" to myself in the company of VERY blond people. Should be fun.