22 December 2009

Reflections on Departure and Return

Previously written:
So here I am, 1:15 pm EST, just flying past Reykjavik on my way to Chicago (arrival sometime between 7 and 8 pm EST):  almost home(-ish).  The air temperature outside is -84 degrees F, and after a post-sundown take-off on the shortest day of the year (around 4:30 pm, CPH time), I could just barely glimpse the gradation of colors in the sunset as I head into younger hours for the longest day of my life thus far.  I just finished watching Julie & Julia and enjoying my last chance to pretend that I speak Danish whenever I inform the "air host" which drink I'd like. And maybe it's the hvid vin talking (so little does so much when you're at 34,000 ft.), or perhaps the fact that I had been eagerly eyeing the concoctions in the film, but the airline food did me right this evening.  Of course, this is only my second trans-Atlantic flight, and I was not all that impressed back in August.  But man, that chicken with a mushroom sauce (really rice and broccoli?) was just what I needed, and I told myself mentally that the chocolate mousse was divine.

But enough about food and airplane statistics.  I'm gone; finished with the physical, tangible piece of this adventure.  Teary eyed as I left  René, Kirsten, Nanna, and Jonas who had been kind enough to leave work early and drive me to the airport, I travelled down the corridor to security, worrying someone would eventually stop me from taking a carry-on bag AND claiming my full backpack as a "personal item."  I got on alright, but perhaps it's just bad karma that I was assigned a seat without room for my backpack underneath, and the poor guy next to me offered to bear that burden.  My next step is to brave US customs for my first time, but I don't expect that to be too big of a deal.

It was my plan all along to write as soon as the film was over, but now that I've watched Julie blog for two hours, I'm even more in the mood.  I felt a kind of ridiculous connection to Julie, who also blogged on a definite time frame (365 days, 524 recipes).  I don't really want to be done with my writing; I've enjoyed it too much for the past 4 months.  It wasn't an escape from reality, like Julie used, but a constant support, assurance that my reflections and memories won't die.  I've been much more diligent with my blog than my gratitude journal (assigned for Psychology of Happiness) or my notebook of clippings (which, trust me, I have a pile to tackle and glue down once I'm home).

At any rate, while I still have a few more entries up my sleeve, I wanted to take this opportunity to write a few remarks that bare some semblance to a conclusion.  So without further ado . . .

What I Didn't Expect to Find in Denmark:
  • A bizarre  sense of pride for the E-line to Køge
  • Two words:  flat farmlands (but this was my own lack of preparation)
  • Learning that 60's movies are more risqué than I had thought (thanks to TCM on the tv in my room)
  • Gratitude
  • While I expected some sense of humility as an American in another culture, I did not expect to find a greater sense of pride with my own nationality and to occasionally have a distaste for Danish culture.
  • To like leverpostej (liver paté), and more food that I won't soon forget
  • Different educational expectations
  • Awesome public restrooms
  • A greater appreciation for art
  • A sense of the character of an entire city and its different components
  • The wish to be farther away from a city
  • So many 7-Elevens
  • My American consuming habits dying hard
  • A failed COP15
  • The meaning of coming home for Christmas
  • An experience not yet defined
What I Expected and Did Not Find:
  • A third home (Bloomington being my first, DePauw my second); this is not a discredit to my host-family, but rather, a cultural disconnect I never remedied
  • Not being so broke at the present moment.
  • Somewhat of a utopia
  • A similar sense of pride/connection for/with my study program and its student body that I have to my own home university
  • More Danish Butter Cookies (though the ones Nanna made were EXCELLENT)
  • A routine more like at home (e.g. in regards to cycling, homework, etc.)
I like that the first list is longer and also that some of these are important, while others are a little mundane.  But still, where does this leave me now?  As I mentioned above, there is still a less tangible piece of my experience to complete.  I don't know how much re-entry shock will affect me or how I'll look back on everything after a month or four (my perspective certainly changed even within my 4-month journey), but I do  know that I still have challenges ahead of me.  In the short term, I'm faced with helping my family re-create a Danish Christmas back in the states.  In the long term, I must rise to the fact that I can't let all that I've seen, heard, tasted, or felt die.  These four months were too big of an opportunity to not let it consciously shape the future of my life experience.  I'm still 'iffy' on the details, but I accept.

21 December 2009

A Little About Hopenhagen

With one Goolge search, you could easily find hundreds of blogs that could help you piece together what exactly happened at the Bella Center in Copenhagen over the past two weeks (for those of you living in a turtle shell at the north pole: COP15, which attempted to ratify a replacement to the Kyoto Protcol).  I don't proclaim to be one of those blogs, because I don't think I could even begin to explain what happened to myself (if it's any clue to you, many have changed the slogan from 'Hopenhagen' to 'Nopenhagen'). Nevertheless, I saw how COP15 changed Copenhagen from the 3 months leading up to it to the raw, broken end, from the CO2PENHAGEN music festival to the clean-up of Hopenhagen Live in Rådhuspladsen.  COP15 highlighted the best and worst of the sustainability frenzy (which is a term I use quite lovingly), and it vastly affected my perspective.

I don't know at which point Copenhagen became somewhat of the epicenter for climate-change related actions, but from what I've seen, it started really kicking off around October with the launch of the Hopenhagen ad campaign to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) coming in December.  Before that, of course, the city had its own buzz with the world's first carbon-neutral music festival and a pledge to become carbon neutral itself by 2025.  By November, Copenhagen had been declared the greenest major European city, and its own faction of 350.org's International Day of Climate Action received a lot of press simply because, "hey, it's Copenhagen!"

And December?  That's when the madness started.  I've never had an easy time resisting the messages of good marketing, so I remained a total sucker for Coca-Cola's posters and the giant billboard in Rådhuspladsen.  Yes, even Coca-Cola, a well-known irresponsible water user (who I still adore and patronize, nonetheless), was a sponsor of Hopenhagen.  Then we were faced with the depressing feat that is the WWF's Copenhagen Ice Bear:  a polar bear ice sculpture that melted to reveal a cast of the skeleton.  Or the ads for Vestas that took over the metro and were featured prominently as the only ad on the Politiken news ticker over the two week period.  Their message?  That the world will end and the one solution is wind power.  Thank you, Vestas, for pushing only your own agenda and steeping almost as low as fear-mongering.

I guess I'm most surprised at my how my own opinions changed.  When the volley of marketing first came up, it was powerful, moving, and made me feel so excited to be in Copenhagen for this historic conference.  But I burned out by the end of week one.  This could be contributed to a parallel burn-out with school or just correlated with the obvious negative mood about the conference itself.  Either way, my attitude changed abruptly from Hopenhagen to Dupenhagen.

That being said, I'm still much more impressed with the marketing than the majority of the flood of people who invaded the city this month.  They produced one incredible thing (which I was unfortunately unable to participate in):  a 100,000-strong march for a deal on December 12, peaceful with the exception of the 700 arrested.  And then what?  You hung out at KlimaForum09 or the Climate Bottom Conference in Christiania and got all your aggravation out of your system?  Or maybe you were one of the violent protestors that continued to set the movement backwards?  Or you helped Friends of the Earth block delegates from the Bella Center because you were angry NGO's couldn't enter anymore?  This is what gets me:  everything is in disarray, and there are a handful of news articles or blogs complaining about the carbon impact of the conference itself and all the delegates' transportation, but what about the the carbon impact of the thousands who came here and did nothing productive?  I went to a presentation by the Will Steger Foundation at KlimaForum about the importance of the US Midwest in negotiation climate agreements.  I thought it was really interesting, except there was that one note about how we have to make 'fun' things like concerts to get youth involved.  I love concerts, but that's a little insulting, and I do think Hopenhagen Live was a bit of a waste (as much fun as it was to see Gogol Bordello one night).  The 'fun' is getting over-emphasized now, and democracy is overwhelming.  Power to the people, of course, but the people need to learn to chill unless they can rationally contribute, because we're now left with too many voices to be effective. 

Those of you who know me outside of this blog know I consider myself an activist, but I felt that in Hopenhagen, my only reasonable option was to take a step out of the melee.  This isn't the first time I've felt like this, and it's not a personal crisis about the purpose of life.  But it IS disconcerting and all-around disappointing.  I guess there's always COP16 to save the world . . .

19 December 2009

The Definitive Guide to Danish Christmas Pop-Culture (2009)

Every night from December 1st to 24th, the two national Danish television stations (DR or TV2) air Christmas Calendars:  24-part serials with Christmas themes.  Originally, these programs were targeted at children and correlated to a nightly paper advent calendar that kids could open at home.  I have to admit this is something I think is really cool.  It's not something you can really do in America because of religious considerations, but the concept is nice all the same.  The closest thing we have is the 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family, but honestly, who has the time to watch an entire Christmas movie each night?

So, using my limited knowledge drawn from various basic explanations by my host-family and neighbors (and help from Google Translate on the Danish Wikipedia), I bring you a definitive guide to three of this year's Christmas Calendar shows.  Get ready, because I'm going to give you so many details that you will feel like you were here watching them with me.

Pacten (The Pact)
Let's start with the basics:  this show airs on DR1 at 7:30 and is the only new Christmas Calendar this season.  But, I've only seen it once, so . . . that might be all I can tell you.  Really, I think I'd like Pacten, but I can't watch it on my own since I rely on Danes to translate.  Pacten is one of those fantasy-world, secular Christmas shows, with nisser (elves), an evil snow queen, and a LotR-esque soundtrack.  I get the feeling that Pacten is an attempt to draw the older kids in by veering away from the religious theme and actually having some really creepy elements.  I really have no idea what the plot is, but I know it has something to do with how only kids who believe in the nisser can see them (or the evil snow queen), and one of them has to go find "the pact" in order to save them:  or the evil snow queen will kill them all.  Also, creepy demons kept attacking one kid in a forest, and he could throw dust on them to make them melt away into the ground. 

Jul på Vesterbro (Christmas in Vesterbro)
Vesterbro, if you don't know, is the old meat-packing district in Copenhagen, and Jul på Vesterbro, on DR2, is an adult (comedy, social commentary with songs like "The Social Welfare Blues") Christmas Calendar, originally produced in 2003.  I know I have a biased perspective (since I've only been around for one Christmas in Denmark), but I get the feeling that Jul på Vesterbro is pretty famous.  When I was buying æbleskiver in Tivoli a few weeks ago, the guy in the kiosk had a song from it playing on his phone, and he proceeded to tell me how superior it was to the children's Christmas calendars; I heard some drunk guys singing it at the train station on Friday night, and, finally, the creepy animatronic penguins in the window of a shop on Strøget (the main shopping street in CPH) were singing it last week (complete with one penguin threatening to stab the other with an icicle).  One Danish comedian (Anders Mattheson, who apparently is friends with Ellen DeGeneres) plays all the parts:  from the pølser salesman on Strøget, to the salesman's junkie son (and his girlfriend), to the woman from the city who comes to help them out.  Unfortunately for both of us, I don't know anything about the plot.  But I do know that at the end of each episode the characters look up in the air, confused, as the narrator talks about what will happen next time.  The character also gets a "surprise" everday as  Christmas calendar (the surprise is always a beer hanging for the wall that he bought for himself).  The theme song--if you're interested--is here.

Jesus & Josefine
Before I start with this description, you need to pronounce the name currenctly:  "YAY-Seuss oh YO-sephina."  It just makes the theme song that much better.  Jesus & Josefine was also produced in 2003 and is a children's Christmas Calendar on TV2.  My host family watches it almost every night (sometimes I watch it with them), and so they've been able explain a lot to me.  I love it for its somewhat heretical plot (in some Christian traditions), and ridiculously catchy Europop songs. 
So, Josefine is a religion-doubting Danish girl living in Copenhagen with her family.  Her mom is a pastor, and her brother Lukas is . . . adorable.  I have no idea what he says, but I laugh every time he makes some humorous interjection.  Anyway, Josephine finds this nativity scene in an antique shop where if she presses her finger on the manger, she lands like a meteor in Nazareth, 12 CE, coming out of some coffin at Mary, Joseph, and Jesus' house.  She becomes friends with Jesus, and then somehow ends up taking him back to Denmark, where he is briefly trapped because Joseph closed the lid of the coffin in Nazareth.  In the meantime, Josefine's parents think Jesus is crazy because he says his dad is God, and taking Jesus to church ends up being a bad idea.  Josefine and her friend Oskar even make Jesus resurrect Oskar's pet rat, quoting the story of Lazarus in the Bible.  Eventually, Jesus learns he's going to die (and this it the possibly heretical part), so he decides he doesn't want to be the son of God and decides to become a gladiator instead (GENIUS, right??).  The modern world becomes Hell, and the evil old man who owns the antique shop tries to stop Josefine from going back to Nazareth to fix the problem (so ends today's episode).
However, the best part about Jesus & Josefine are the subtle cultural references that I may or may not be understanding correctly.  I mean, first the show is obviously an attempt at remedying the drop of Christianity in Danish culture, which is evident through the plot, the copious amounts of praying, and the scene where Josefine's mom is preaching to a big church with only about 10 people in the pews.  But in today's episode, I particularly enjoyed when the evil guy drew back the shades at Josefine's house to show her that the entire world was Hell.  Hell, apparently, consists of smoke stacks that shoot out flames and three nuclear reactor cooling towers.  Fabulous subtle message, there, TV2!   I also thought one scene where Josefine was pouring some non-descript pale yellow beverage from a bottle into cups for Jesus and Oskar was a little humorous, although Kirsten assured me it was "apple juice" when I made a comment about it.

On another note, I just spent the last hour watching a list of favorite Christmas songs on DR2 with Rene and Kirsten.  A little more than half of them were British or American songs, and I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that a large majority of the songs were from the 80s: Wham!'s "Last Christmas," Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," Mel & Kim's version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and, of course, the Danish favorite "Jul Det Cool" by rap-group McEinar, among others.  Rene and Kirsten then both observed that all the Danish Christmas songs are making fun of Christmas (especially the materialistic aspects), instead of singing about Christmas.  I can't give you any more names of songs, but, the videos spoke for themselves as Kirsten and Rene sat on the couch:  "I wish you could hear these lyrics!  They're so ridiculous they're not even really translatable."  I actually find this pretty interesting, for a country that loves both Christmas and shopping so much.

At any rate, there's more in my head to write.  Hopefully I can get it down before I leave, but who knows, at this point?

12 December 2009

På Stranden

I finally took René's advice and went a walk all the way around the little peninsula that was formed (along with an inlet marshland) when the sea receded about two decades ago.  I'd been to the strand (beach) before, but never as far as the waterfowl nesting reserve on the south end, since I always felt like I was too busy to take the time.  I'm so grateful I decided to use this sunny, chilly day to so, and my walk confirmed a feeling I've had for a while:  southern Sjælland (the island where I live and where Copenhagen is) seems so much more tranquil and beautiful now that it's winter.  Maybe it's the cold stillness of the air, or the way the sun shines on the golden earth and through bare trees, always either rising or setting.  Or it could be a trick of the mind, where any day with clear skies and sun feels infinitely phenomenal after day after day of darkness and grey.  It could even be partly influenced by the joy in the Christmas atmosphere.  But whatever it is, I'm glad I'm here for it, and it's time I stop analyzing the magic and just live in it.

A Second Honeymoon? (aka The 9-Days-Left Blues)

One of the hardest weeks of my entire life is finally, mercifully, over.  I realize that sounds dramatic, but it's also a logical statement for a week where I've had at least one sort of final assessment for 4 out of my 5 classes (6 projects total), and every "last day of class" there's at a handful of people I won't be able to see again before we leave. Not to mention the fact that while I worked, my consciousness was just incredibly frustrated and distracted, since one of the MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL EVENTS OF THE CENTURY is going on all around me, and I couldn't get involved.

I'm now in the home stretch, with one paper left and plenty of time for frolicking in eco-ecstasy, despite the fact that I've written myself one of the largest to-do lists I've ever made for myself.  And that's not to say, of course, that things aren't starting to get incredibly sentimental any time I ride the train while there's still daylight, and I have time to think about how those buildings will soon be removed from my daily routine, and how I'll soon be apart from this wonderful family I've been living with for four months.  I'm even getting sentimental over the Danish language, which has been a source of complaint from the start from almost everyone in a Danish class.  My final oral presentation was today, and while the memorization was a little rough, I was so proud of myself for being able to answer simple, non-rehearsed questions without being nervous.  I was even more proud when I was sitting on the train this evening and I realized that I might be able to have a small conversation with a ticket-checker if I'd needed to (I was out of my zone at the time, since the train decided to just pass right by my stop).  I wouldn't jump to conclusions that I'm 'falling in love' with the language, but I've certainly developed a connection to it.  This wasn't really a big concern of mine until today, after the minor catastrophe of possibly losing the Dansk-Engelsk dictionary I bought about a month after I got here.  Part of this is because I like to consider myself responsible and hate losing things that I invest any money or time in.  Well, I carried that dictionary around everywhere I went in Denmark, as if it was some sort of lifeline (although in reality I could get around just fine; I just wanted to be able to read signs).  Only now do I realize just how much I was counting on having it with me back in the states, both symbolic of the experience and as something that assures me what little language I picked up won't slip away (although it probably wouldn't have ACTUALLY helped that).  It's odd, really, like I'm starting to enter reverse-culture shock before I even leave Copenhagen.  I suppose I could buy a new dictionary to help whatever this feeling is, but now I just hate that I have to decide if it's worth the money.

At least I'm starting to let go of regrets of not going out and experiencing as much of city life as students who lived in the city or with other students were able to.  Though, it is a little sad that just today I discovered an amazing library to work in just outside of the hustle and bustle of Kongens Nytorv plaza (and actually, the buildings block out the sound from the square in an absurdly effective manner).  I went to Danmarks Kunstbibliotek (Art Library) with my friend Jill to look for some sources for our Women, Art, and Identity papers.  It's in what used to be the Royal Academy of Art, and the first part of the building is a warm, yellow room set up in a very contemporary style.  What's even better is the amazing old reading room to the side.  What drew both Jill and I to the room was the traditional "private library" set up:  high ceilings and two stories of books around the perimeter, with a tight corkscrew staircase up to the second level balcony.  But more important than its spacious charm were the wide black desks with double lamps and an atmosphere that promoted just the right noise level (quiet by lack of population).  I can't remember the last time I felt that at ease working in a library.  But maybe it's for the better that I didn't try it out earlier, since it has incredibly inconvenient hours anyway.

More pics are on fb.  For now you can see this one, which I took lying on the floor.  Yes, a librarian saw and probably thought I was a little over-excited about the stairs.  I can't blame him, since he was right.

07 December 2009

Danes and Happiness

I just came out from my very last Psychology of Happiness class, so I thought I'd share with you a short essay (and supplementary photos) I wrote about Danes and happiness as part of a portfolio mosaic that we turned in last week.  We were only asked to write two pages, so it's definitely a  topic that could be expanded on, but I also thought it would be a good way to briefly relay my thoughts on the matter to you, the blog readers.  Consider it a blog with references.

On another note, if you want to hear about what's going on with COP15, some of my friends from DePauw are keeping a great blog of updates here!

The Happy Socially Secure Danes:
A Reflection on How Culture Can Beat the Happiness Test

Aside from the original data in the Happiness in Nations report, my observational experience about Danes and their top-ranking happiness waters down to two types of sources: popular media reports with interviews that make causal speculations, and members of the greater internet community who angrily strive to prove the news wrong, listing evidence from personal experiences. On the other hand, my own observations indicate that the people in Denmark are no different from Americans in terms of expressing happiness. I cannot count the possible solutions to these discrepancies, especially with the debates over both the definition of happiness and the question of life satisfaction that the Happiness in Nations report is actually measuring. Nevertheless, we know that they are measuring some difference, and from analysis based on both research and my experience, I believe that Danes report higher life satisfaction ratings due in part to the values they have formed as a national culture—be it a sense of contentment rather than extreme joys, principles of unanimity and community, and even language that supports and emphasizes a pleasant mentality.

There haven’t been too many studies done to crack just why the Danes rated so high on the Happiness in Nations survey, but Kaare et al., who compared Denmark with its northern neighbors Finland and Norway, noted the crucial difference that “Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come” (1289). Theoretically, this mindset can keep people from becoming bogged in the disappointment experienced when one fails to reach his self-expectations. Plus, when the threshold is lower, increased instances of exceeding expectations might even improve self-image, however temporarily. It also fits well with excerpts from Knud Jespersen’s account of the formation of Danish national identity and culture, which I read in my Danish class. Jespersen notes that the loss of the German duchies in 1864 did not only whittle the kingdom to its smallest size, but also sprung a change in the collective attitude. Thus, when the Danes acknowledged they were not fit to be a world power with a strong military, the people began to reflect this modest mentality on themselves—working and farming to support the community that they all valued. In short, the attitude became “we don’t have a big world, but we do our best to keep it running, and we are happy doing it together.”

Although Denmark has a western, individualistic culture, this intense sense of homogeneity means that the people also take on characteristics of traditionally eastern, collectivist cultures. In an article on how the self and culture influence subjective well-being, Eunkook Suh explains that people from individualist cultures rate life satisfaction with a locus of internal emotions, while those from collectivist cultures tend to focus on social appraisal. Can the Danes, then, be getting the best of both worlds—satisfied not only with their own successes, but also with the roles they have secured within their tight communities? There is also the fact that the mutual understanding within the homogeneous community and the work to support it economically are two factors that have directly fed the welfare system (Jespersen), which in turn supports people with basic needs and allows them to devote more attention to eudemonic concerns.

Lastly, the Danish language has its own contributions to the Danish mentality. In 1928, when linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir first wrote about what would later be known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, he proclaimed that “the fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group” (qtd. in Joseph 72). In Danish, the existence and frequent use of certain words supports a positive outlook. From arbejdsglæde—which describes happiness in the workplace—to hygge—that cozy feeling of fellowship that is so emphasized both within the culture and as a selling-point for tourists—Danes use a language which puts a focus on happiness and contentment. But it should be noted that hygge also carries the connotation of a group wrapped up in their own fellowship and cares, excluding anyone from the outside. So although hygge’s place as the Danish social ideal promotes coziness, the society pays the price of promoting exclusivity.

As an American, the notion of a universally happy society elicits images of constant joy and elation. It’s an unrealistic ideal, and for the scientifically proven happy society in Denmark, the truth lies more in perception and values than it does in the emotions themselves. Like in any country, Danes are gleeful when they put themselves towards their passions, or they may be gloomy and sullen when they are less interested in their current activity. The mastermind behind their high life satisfaction is the strong sense of national identity and community with other Danes—trusting, respecting, and fostering their neighbors, socially and financially. Danes are not filled with happier emotions, but rather supported and supportive within their tight group. The question left now is if it can—or should—be a formula to repeat these results in other cultures.

Flying Colors

Helsingør, Denmark
29 August 2009

The Three Grouches

Køge Festuge
Køge, Denmark
29 August 2009

Still on the Honor System After All These Years

Samsø, Denmark
20 September 2009

Arbejdsglæde: Happy People Make Happy Beer

Samsø Bryghus
Nordby, Samsø, Denmark
20 September 2009

Works Cited
  • Jespersen, Knud J.V. A History of Denmark. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Joseph, John Earl. From Whitney to Chomsky: essays in the history of American linguistics. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2002.
  • Kaare, Christensen, Anne Maria Herksind, and James W. Vaupel. “Why Danes are smug: comparative study of life satisfaction in the European Union.” BMJ: British Medical Journal: 333.7582 (2006), 1289-91.
  • Suh, Eunkook M. “Self, the Hyphen between Culture and Subjective Well-being.” Culture and Subjective Well-Being. Ed. Ed Diener and Eunkook Suh. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. 63-86.

06 December 2009

Pre-Christmas Wonder Weekend

What is Christmastime but that 3-week chaotic rush until you're off from work and school, filled with the pressures of finalizing gifts, the semester's projects, and spending family time?  For a student abroad in Copenhagen Hopenhagen for the fall 2009 semester, there's the added tasks of worrying about packing, fully experiencing Danish Christmas culture, and the fastly approaching events surrounding COP15.  Although I remain incredibly optimistic about these final two weeks (*eek!*), the anxiety over my forthcoming demands kind of hit me hard today at the DIS Christmas lunch party.  My host-family had to leave a little early, but I decided to stick around people for a little while longer instead of getting to work. However, my plan was to leave before they started dancing around a tree and singing Christmas carols, which just wasn't an idea I was that into.  As you could probably guess, that plan failed, and I got sucked into the loops of people mumbling to Danish songs, skipping around the giant Christmas tree.

Yes, it was hokey in a way not unlike Christmas in Dr. Seuss' Whoville, but that didn't keep it from working its magic on even the most cynical in the group.  There were probably about 300 people in concentric circles around that tree, and while the dance started out a little forced, we soon became wrapped up in the music (in both Danish and English), the connectedness of us all holding hands, and in the movement to the beat.  I decided not to play by the rules, and three times attempted to create a new circle (by just breaking free on one side and pulling the other side forward with me) whenever I felt the loop I had been slowed by congestion.  This worked the first time, but the second time I had to rejoin the original loop after causing a runaway spiral effect, and someone I didn't even know was laughing at me as she passed-by:  "I think this is happening because of you!!!"  I guess I was kind of experimenting with mob-mentality, but I know I wasn't the only one.  After all, the third time I tried to make a new circle failed because it was simultaneous with the entire group breaking out into conga-lines around the room, speeding up and slowing down the the music and the traffic.  It was insane; it was joyous, and it was the type of Christmas spirit and fellowship that change how your day feels.  Well, that and baking chocolate chip cookies at a friend's apartment right afterwards.

The earlier part of the weekend had also been an adventure and a half.  I spent Friday evening back at Tivoli.  Now, you know I love Halloween and had a complete blast when I went to Tivoli in October, but my experience at Christmas Tivoli surpassed expectations and blew Halloween Tivoli out of the water.  Many factors contribute to this opinion:  it wasn't raining, there were less people, Tivoli has had more experience making a Christmas season, and my friends and I managed to find a part of the park that we had missed before (the lake on the north side of the park).  But most all, the Danes just know how to do Christmas.  I mean, they start the season in late October, remember?  The lights are fantastic, intricate, and glistening (much unlike the hideous, carelessly decorated trees at the Solrød shopping center), the food warmed us in the cold, and the plaza that had once contained a windmill and miniature straw maze now holds a building with a new kids ride and a village of animatronic nisse (gnome-like mythical creatures at Christmas-time). That building alone proves that Christmas Tivoli is, of course, just as kitschy as ever, but the spirit and traditions put into it creates an unforgettable atmosphere.

For the record, I also hopped in the front row of Rutsjebanen/Rutschebanen--the ca. 1914 roller coaster--with my friend Leslye.   The ride is somewhat similar to Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds in that it smells like an old coaster and is contained within a fiberglass "mountain," but that's where the comparison ends, since the track winds around up and down a pretty small space.  It's also operated more like we're in the early 20th century.  There are no recordings of safety warnings (only Danish signs that I couldn't really read) or miniature queues that line riders up for each seat in the train.  Instead, the trains pull in, stopped both by the breakman and the hands of riders getting on, who fight in an unorganized scramble for seats.  I don't remember if anyone even checked that I'd buckled my seatbelt: the next thing I knew, operators were just pushing the car down the track to be picked up by the chain that would take it to the first peak.  From there, it was up to the breakman in the center to control the speed of the car.  I must admit that I had no idea how incredible it would be to ride a machine where the uphills provide a bigger thrill than the downhills.

Finally, I spent all of Saturday on at trip to Lübeck, Germany, a cute and historical little city famous for its Christmas markets.  Teeming with tourists like myself who had come in packs on buses and were undeterred by rain or cold, Lübeck caters directly to their crowd with Santas on motorcycles and in boats and five or six different marketplaces with glühwein, bratwursts, fried goodies, marzipan, German nativity carousels, and some high-quality artisan crafts.  The atmosphere felt a little odd--like a cross between Black Friday and a county fair, except with German cultural items.  But I was also glad just to experience some of the rich German history, which ranged from a restaurant built for the sailors guild in 1401 to the forever resting fallen church bells of a WWII-era bombing.  I obviously don't know what the rest of the country is like, but Lübeck appeared to be a cross between the brick, medieval style of Roskilde (especially the churches) and the central European nature of Prague, which simply exemplifies the gradation of styles across regions. 

In other words, it was one busy weekend, and this week will not be any calmer.  But I'll be sure to keep you updated, alright?  Facebook photos from these two days are here.