Saturday, June 09, 2007

Getting Into It

Editor's note: I began this backstage before the show at Sweden Rock and don't feel like altering the narrative to conform to temporal sensibility. Complaints can be directed to my assistant.

Oh Sweden, what a lovely country thus far. I can see why Northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota proved comfortable places to land for those who decided to flee the homeland years ago. We're only here for the evening, playing the Sweden Rock Festival — right between Thin Lizzie and Black Sabbath. When we arrived, Quiet Riot had the stage, rocking not very quietly for a scattered crowd of lukewarm enthusiasm. It's hot, not a cloud in the sky, so overt displays of enthusiasm aren't exactly what comes easily to people today. Aside from the various Scandinavian flags flapping around here and there and the faint but indelible air of Swedish hipness, one could easily pass the scene off as a Midwestern state fair.

Yesterday (ie. Wendesday) busted through the gate around the time of the final lap. Losing an hour coming from Ireland plus a fit of insomnia that delayed sleep until somewhere around 5am the night before meant that I didn't get out of bed until almost 2 in the afternoon, and didn't leave the hotel room until 4:30. Only recently have I been experiencing anything I could confidently label as actual insomnia, and it's a real pain in the ass. But this isn't a posting about insomnia, so we'll leave it at that. When I finally headed out, I was grumpy over having lost a full day of Copenhagen exploration, groggy from the disrupted sleeping schedule (word used loosely), and hungry for lack of breakfast. Not the best of all possible attitudes.

After walking for about ten minutes, I found myself on the main walking street, Strøget — literally "street," I believe. Creative indeed. Like Grafton Street, all the usual suspects were present, plus some of the most carnivorous currency exchange places in all of the real universe. The quantity of Danish kroner I was given for $200 after a 12% service charge (wot!?) was just plain demoralizing. Like we don't have it hard enough already. At its southern entrance, Strøget is flanked by a McDonalds on one side and a 7-Eleven on the other. Great, I think. I make it all the way to Copenhagen just to be caught between the Golden Arches and a Sevvie.

I found a ham sandwich and a bottle of water for 60 DKK (about $11 by the current exchange rate), then meandered over to Højbro Plads, a square around the corner. Most of the squares seem to have a kiosk or two serving coffee, beer and wine, surrounded by chairs and tables. A perfect place for a sit-down and some good people watching. * Considering the all-too-recent waking, I opted for coffee and stayed for a while, pondering the next move and the inherent loneliness of traveling.

The latter is something I've had on my mind for a while. I seem to be the one who most often wants to venture the farthest from the hotel, and consequently find myself on my own for much of the time. It doesn't bother me, I'm free to go where I want when I want, stay here a little longer, wander over there, skip this street. As far as exploration is concerned, it's optimal. Traveler's loneliness doesn't source itself in solitude. It's the gap between observation and participation that feeds it, the feeling of floating blindly through someone else's community. At the same time that I enjoy engaging a city on my own, I crave that moment when you meet someone who says C'mon, let's go, I'll show you around, I just found a great restaurant a couple weeks ago, and there's a great spot on the river nearby to sit and take in the evening. Even better if she's cute, good-humored, sharp, and fond of beer but not too fond. But let's not get sidetracked so easily.

I'm sure there's more to it, this is just about as far as I've come in sorting it out. My sense is that this gap is about as illusory as it is real, if not more so. A good friend of mine would say it's as real as I believe it to be. What all fuels the gap itself? Probably just the wealth of insecurities and anxieties that fuck with everything else, and the hesitations they bring about. Isn't that maybe what makes up that gap between observation and participation, hesitation?

Coffee gone, I wandered towards Nyhavn, where a friend had told me I must go. Somewhere in there, I started thinking that I should maybe go back to the hotel and get my horn, see what a little stretch of busking might do for the day. Five minutes later, I was one rationalization short of convinced. While walking along the strip of Nyhavn between the restaurants and the canal, I came across a trio of saxophone, bass, and drums sounding damn fine and skimming the surplus kroner from a mirthful crowd of after-workers, tourists, and other errant locals. It was then that I was sold. The walk back to the hotel was brisk; it felt right, this was going to be one hell of an evening.

Half an hour later, I was back at Nyhavn playing a set with the trio, made up not only of excellent musicians but wonderful guys as well. It felt great to be playing the street once again, and to be playing in a style I don't have much of an opportunity to play these days. Sure, playing to tens of thousands of people is exhilarating, but the street has its own equally exciting feeling that one just can't duplicate when a stage is involved. It demands direct engagement with the community at hand: Observe, and forget about an appreciative crowd or plentiful tips. Participate, and it all comes together.

And come together it did from then on out. My first note with the group began a 12-hour adventure of epic proportions. After scoring some Thai take-out and eating on the bank of the Nyhavn canal with the drummer, I met a couple local girls. We hit it off right, had some beers, then they took it upon themselves to show me what a Wednesday night in Copenhagen can be. By then, I'm guessing it was somewhere around midnight, at the front end of the three hours during the day when it's actually dark. First stop was a nightclub popular with the late teens and early 20s crowd, then what one of the two described as the worst bar in Copenhagen, a place on the Nyhavn strip called Hong Kong. Pretty bad. Then back to the nightclub. Plenty of beer, dancing, and disgusting Danish shots to be had by all.

Way too much fun had throughout the entire night, from dancing amongst the sweaty 20-somethings to the grime of Hong Kong, but the highlight came around 5:00 in the morning. As I was leaving the club, the doorman saw my sax and convinced me to pull it out and play something. A minute or two passed, and I accumulated a respectable crowd in the atrium of the club. I snapped into street mode, milking requests from anyone who could think of anything they wanted to hear (from "Sweet Home Alabama" to "Supersition" to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to Bob Marley), playing it best I could, working the crowd, making them clap and sing along, blowing those classic knees-to-the-ground screech solos that would scare the shit out of a southern Baptist and make my college professors either proud or cringe. They eventually had to kick us out, so we spilled out onto the street and continued the game for a while longer until people finally started to disperse. After another half hour or so of talking to the guys who loved Stevie Wonder and flirting with the girls in the early dawn light, I embarked on the walk back to the hotel, stupid grin firmly in place. By then, it was past 6:00, and the sun shone with a NYC-9:00am intensity.

I'll be telling stories about that day when I'm 85 and can't remember the name of my firstborn. And that's what traveling is all about. Not necessarily staying out all night, but grabbing hold, taking the ride, and not letting go until the train finally comes to a halt. My deepest thanks to all those who enabled, encouraged, or otherwise contributed along the way: Jens, Nils, Madeline, Sarah, Guffi, Madsole, Anders, Camilla, Nanna, Lina, Sophie, Malou, Emma, and the list goes on. And a resounding SKÅL to days of equal caliber in weeks to come!

* Copenhagen is easily the front-runner for Most Beautiful Women Per Capita in all of Europe. So far at least. And I've never been to Italy or Spain or Prague, so it's a little unfair to make a final call anytime soon. But it's spectacular here, truly. They make my eyes hurt and drive me to slam my head in a door. Tom Waits' introduction to Nighthawks At The Diner comes to mind: beware ye, crack o' dawn. It's probably good that we're leaving soon.


Anonymous YDizzle said...

I enjoyed hearing about your Copenhagen experience very much, but I want those pictures NOW!

6:57 PM  
Anonymous YDizzle said...

And, what was the preferred language of communication, and how many languages were you using?

7:01 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Well-written story Hansel. Taking the industrialized world be storm, I see.

For your noting, allegedly the Icelandic folk are ze best looking in all of ze Yoorope. I imagine their genes are similar to the Swedes'. I also imainge it'd be hard for Meat to fill up stadium over thar. Do they even have stadiums? Hmm.


7:44 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Well... at least it's a fleeting case traveler's loneliness and not a persistent case of travelers' diarrhea, that horrible condition with the power to render even the hottest blond uninteresting.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous jjm said...

indeed, travelers' diarrhea is bad news.

the sis is right, icelandic babes are hot, but similar disorientation of the day/night situation

11:39 PM  

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