Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Teaching Through the Baltic – Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle
I kept a journal as I visited ports, befriended people of various nationalities, and taught writing courses on sea days. My trip informed my writing. I learned a lot about people from the Baltic, an area of the world I’d never explored. True of all my trips abroad, travel exposed me to the authentic cuisines of other countries, important since I’m a food writer among other genres.   I conquered preconceived notions while conversing with post cold war Russians and two beer-drinking, twice-our-size brothers from Amsterdam: I wiped out a few stereotypes like discovering that few Scandinavians are tall, blonde, and model beautiful--at least in the cities we visited.

Crown Jewels
I learned that people on the other side of the pond are even more politically frustrated than we are. The Brits and Danes resent high taxes, welfare run-amok, national health care, and immigration of Muslims who don’t assimilate. The Scotts resent the Brit’s control over them “for the oil” and their disparity of wealth. Every country represented on ship and shore was crushed by inflation (9 dollars for a gallon of gas).

Rosenborg Castle
 Unusual characters in life might just inspire protagonists and antagonists on the page. We found super quirky in Copenhagen. Danes have a sense of humor. Or at least Christian the IV did. He covered his insecurity and paranoia with hodgepodge décor, a slapped-together art collection, pompous attempts to wow his visitors, and a penchant for practical jokes. Though St. Petersburg’s Church of Spilled Blood had the most remarkable building exterior of the trip, The Rosenborg Castle had the most memorable interior. Built between 1606 and 1617 it contains peep holes in the bedroom doors, as if enemies could somehow make it past guards. He added secret tiles in the floors that allowed music to mysteriously drift up from the orchestra the king relegated to the basement, all to wow his guests. He had deceptive tapestries woven to depict himself triumphant on horseback, leading Denmark as it won battles against their neighbors; we were assured by the museum docents that they won some sea battles but never the land battles and ultimately they lost.

Unicorn Horn Chair

Envying other royals the king had minions travel about purchasing random art. They trimmed them down to fit panels in his home, creating a mosaic of unidentified works on his ceilings and walls proving him to be a snob with bad taste. He claimed his ivory throne was really made of unicorn horn. An ornate tile restroom reminded us of the wanting hygiene of the day; a hole in a wooden bench led right out to the Castle’s moat. If the King’s bad taste didn’t drive them away the stinky moat surely would have. The four corners of a long hall had different corners of the world represented.  Europe with an owl, Asia with a camel, Africa with a lion, and the Americas with a head with an arrow shot through it.

The highlight of tacky was the king’s “wet pants chair.” He asked a guest to sit in a red velvet chair, anchored him in at the arms then poured water down a custom cut hole in the back. It dripped down and wet the pants of his victim. Then to add insult to injury, when the hapless visitor stood, the chair made a farting sound, a velvet whoopee cushion. This king was a piece of work, and if the portrait of him in a long hall was any indication, he was extremely ugly, too. So ugly Wen thought the painting might even be a joke, but I doubted it since his Majesty was insecure and wouldn’t likely allow anybody to depict him in this way without chopping off a head.

As writers we sometimes go on unexpected adventures. Copenhagen was no different for us. We hopped on and climbed to the top of an open-air bus to make our way past the famous Tivoli Garden amusement park (claimed to be the most famous in the world – Disney step aside). After several minutes and the departure of other tourists, Wen noticed we were quite a ways off the map’s route. Fun sidetrack? Not really since we were going to be late for the departure of the ship if the route wasn’t as advertised. I climbed down and heard the gasp of the driver as I approached with a map and asked where we were. He didn’t realize anybody was still up top and was almost to the bus depot! So he headed to the port, huffing resentment that his day was going to be thrust back on its usual schedule; he wouldn’t get to quit for the day an hour early.

Little Mermaid
We got off before the usual port stop a short walk from the ship to see the Little Mermaid who inspired the Disney movie but had a more European fate, having lost her land-locked love after giving up her tail for him. A forlorn wisp of a girl, she was smaller than I had imagined her.
Many things in Copenhagen weren’t as I’d imagined them. I like that about travels. I like that about writing fiction. What was the most unexpected thing you ever saw or did while traveling? 

- Inkpot


  1. I loved driving through Wales and having to wait for many sheep crossing the road. We were lucky enough to live in Germany for 4 years and England for 3. It was fun watching my favorite antique shopping barn being rethatched and talking to the workers about the process. Your trip sounds like a great time.

  2. Karen, Christian the IV does indeed sound like a piece of work! Jill's comment about sheep in Wales reminds me of a similar experience in New Zealand. A variation on that: bicycling from Houston to San Diego, through the Algodones Sand Dunes, thousands of caterpillars rolling over and over across the road in a sandstorm. Glad THEY weren't sheep. ;-D