Entries tagged with “Denmark”.


Lemvig N Clouds

Lemvig Looking Adorable

 

Before we continue, I feel I need to expound on L a little bit.

L is an eccentric artist/activist extraordinaire; kind of a Danish Auntie Mame, Georgia O’Keefe/Louise Bourgeois, and Angela Davis all rolled together.

Lisbeth N Sea

L & The Sea

She lives/works in Copenhagen but grew up around here. Almost as a lark she put in a very low-ball auction bid on a dilapidated old restaurant/bar complex near the North Sea coast about four years ago, and as fate would have it, won the auction.

It’s part of a little grouping of about six houses/buildings (like one of those tiny unincorporated towns you see in rural Wisconsin or Minnesota). Two years ago also she bought a run-down little house a few doors down from the restaurant. Now she’s the Mayor/Sheriff of “Country Town” (as she calls it). She’s trying to turn it into an Artist Colony, but constantly struggles with the billion things that need to get done (and the fact that she’s just one person).

She and I hit it off really well from our first meeting, so now I am her Deputy/Hired Hand/Assistant helping out with the billion things in Country Town and whatever else I can do to be of help. We cruise through the Danish countryside (it’s a lot like where I grew up except not as hilly & wooded) in her little car with a cargo trailer attached; me riding shotgun and gaping out the window at the bucolic scenery and both of us amusing each other with stories and crazy banter. As different as our paths have been, we have had several similar life experiences/adventures/tragedies and an extremely similarly twisted sense of humor, so there is much to talk and laugh about as we go about our chores.

Farm n Clouds 5

West Jutland Scenery

Clearing brush is one of the major things that I’ve helped her with, but hauling trash from Country Town to the Refuse Station is the thing that takes up most of our time. She and her helpers over the years have hauled tons of stuff out of the two buildings, but they were filled to the gunnels with various and sundry trash and weird-ass items, many of which remain. Dead appliances, funky nasty old furniture, random stacks of useless wood & moldy particle board, etc. etc etc.- plus all the refuse that comes from the gut rehabbing that’s being done little by little as her handyman-of-all-trades gets the water and electricity working in all the various rooms and L gets some of the bedrooms in a livable condition so people can begin to stay out there in a somewhat civilized fashion.

FieldOfDream

West Jutland At Dusk

She’s fast friends with the guys down at the Refuse Station and we usually roll in a couple times a day with the trailer jam-packed with a bouillabaisse of trash. Actually, she’s fast friends with half the area; being the Wild Local Girl Who Made It As An Artist In The Big City and who spends her summers back home making trouble and fun (simultaneously Famous & Infamous) and we are constantly running into folks she knows either from her wild childhood or artistic/activist adulthood.

She introduces me to people as her “Gangster Friend from Chicago,” which always gets an interesting reaction. Even when she goes on to explain that I used to organize people against gang members (she did some similar work in Copenhagen several years ago) a few still seem a little leery. I try to give a sweet smile, but that doesn’t do much good, seeing as most of the time I’m drenched in sweat and/or covered in dirt from my labors and with my hair all askew in cubist configurations.

GangsterMike

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Nice Man!

Many of the people obviously wonder if L & I are lovers (FYI- We Aren’t) and even though I don’t speak Danish, I can tell a couple of them have actually asked her point blank about it. Despite L’s assurances to the contrary, I’m sure that tongues are ‘a waggin’ about that and several other issues concerning this weird American who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I grew up in a small town and know how they work, but having also been a Wild Child from the sticks, I also know enough not to worry and to just let ’em all talk.

In addition to the Country Town properties and a little summer house near Lemvig (where we stay while we get C-Town into shape), L also has a wonderful little Art Museum in the nearby countryside that we spend a few hours a day manning (it’s where I’m getting internet right now).

Hard work, fresh air, sunshine, and good company are doing me a world of good. Since I don’t have any pressing business anywhere else, I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and the feeling that I am being of use to someone doing who is something worthwhile.

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Country Town

 

CountryTownBigHouse

The Big House

Country Town has incredible potential if L could just get over the hump with enough money/help. I’ve taken photos of the interiors but they can’t really do it justice. If it was all spiffed up it could house about 10-12 artist of various sorts who would have access to a painting studio, a ceramic kiln (someone wants to donate one) and a nice little performance space. The performance space has this crazy mural of various & sundry country/rock greats (along with L as the Sheriff) done by a local character named H (he’s continually stopping by to goof with L & to touch up his mural). There’s also a neat little grove with some apple trees on some land behind the little house and luscious scenery all around. It could really be something.

SunsetRedStripe5

Sunset From The Back Deck Of The Big House

L has been working steadily on it over the years as she spends her summers tending to the museum and visiting with friends and family in her hometown. She’s very careful not to get overextended financially in rehabbing the properties and also not to get too burned out with all the work, but she’s only one person and the help she gets is often spotty at best.

LittleHouse

The Little House

One problem is that many interested parties (especially in the Copenhagen/Aarhus Art Crowds) are enamored of the idea of having a place to make art, party, & cavort- but not so much interested in putting in the hard physical labor it takes to make something like this happen. It’s the old problem with the idea that city people have of country life; they think it’s all lemonade on the porch and fun in the sun and then they blanch at all the hard work it takes to maintain rural properties and rehab old dilapidated buildings. It’s pretty much what killed the hippie commune movement back in the 60’s/70’s IMHO; all the bourgeois suburban kids bailed as soon as they discovered that farm/country living wasn’t all skinny dipping and laying about getting stoned, but instead was an Imperial Fuckton of hard unending work.

Another problem is that there is just SOOO much stuff to be done (a serious Imperial Fuckton), and that the little bit that L and her peeps can do is often negated by the beating the place takes from the elements, especially over the winter. It sometimes seems like bailing out an old boat which has a big leak in it, and on occasion I wonder if I’m participating in a quixotic quest.

On the other hand, much has gotten done over the years (especially when I hear about the condition the places were in when she bought them) and continues to get done (a great carpenter just did some major spiffing on the exterior). And what the hell, Quixotic Quest is my middle freaking name. I’m on a HUGE one of my own, for gosh sake! Not my first and probably not my last. Actually, it’s kind of my Magnum Opus of Quixotic Quests.

There were also three delightful artists from further North in Denmark who just visited and really “get” what L is doing here, and seem like the type of folks who aren’t averse to some hard work. They want to come and stay in Country Town later in September, even though it’s out of season and L will be mostly back in Copenhagen. They could be the vanguard of a new wave.

So the Bottom Line is that I don’t care if my hard work was for naught because I have had a blast during my time here and it was just what I needed at this point in my life and my journey.

And who knows, stranger things have happened and L is as tough and dogged as they come.

_________________________________

The end of the season has come and L is closing up the Art Museum and heading back to Copenhagen. Circumstances back in Copenhagen are forcing her to do it a little earlier than she was planning to, so now I am scrambling to get back into my own quest and find the next place I’m going to visit (and the next friends who are ready to put me up for a bit).

We shall see where the path leads…

Aarhus view

I Bid Farewell To This View & Headed West.

The more E & P told me about their Artist friend up/over in the Wild West of Denmark the more I wanted to get up there as soon as I could, so E introduced us online and we began talking about when I might come up and visit. It seemed that Monday would be the best time for her so I began making arrangements.

I booked a ride to the nearby city of Holstebro through this really cool site/app called Go More, which paired up people who needed rides with people who wanted to give rides for a little extra cash. From there I would take a bus to Lemvig where their friend (L) would pick me up after she was finished with a meeting she had early that evening. I wasn’t sure whether my funky phone would actually work up there (it was barely working in Aarhus), so I would just chill at the harborside until she came to get me.

My excitement spiked over the rest of the weekend as I prepared for the trip and I learned more about the West Coast of Denmark & heard more stories about L. When this crazy world excursion/quest began I suspected that, as awesome as all the dear friends I was visiting were, the extreme magic would happen with the people I was going to meet along the journey.

On Monday I said my goodbyes to E & P, their roommates & others and grabbed an Aarhus city bus out to the near suburban office park where I would rendezvous with my GoMore ride. I was way early so I parked my big rolling suitcase and other bags in a shady spot at the corner of this corporate parking lot and waited for my ride.

I got a few quizzical looks from folks going to and from the lot (it was a major global corporation that shall remain nameless) but considering my ass would have likely been tasered by security in the US, I considered myself fortunate.

At the appointed time H rolled up in his car and we were off to Holstebro. He worked for the un-aforementioned company and commuted to Aarhus from Holstebro every weekday, saving some gas money and getting some company by doing the GoMore thang. We had a nice conversation about various topics as the scenery rolled by for the next 90 minutes.

Things kept getting more and more rural as we traveled and I kept getting more and more pleased by this, which amused H quite a bit. I had told him that I grew up in rural Wisconsin so we chatted about fishing, farming, and other country pursuits.

One of the coolest things about Denmark’s rural freeways is that they have these Green Overpasses (for want of a better term) every couple kilometers or so; where animals could cross over the roadway. They’re kind of like overgrown pedestrian overpasses. I coincidentally noticed the first one right after I was struck (no pun intended) by the lack of roadkill, and then remembered reading about them online a few weeks before. H confirmed that was what they were and was quite gratified by my excitement and interest.

He also (likely for his own amusement after finding out I was a standup comic) asked me who I thought was going to replace Obama, and relished the rant I went into about the Republican Clown Car and other American Political kvetches of mine. That led into the “What is up with America and guns and violence?” conversation I’ve had with so many Danes (and Germans & others as well)- but I already covered that ground in my last dispatch. Anyway, the time just flew by and we bid each other farewell at the Holstebro bus station. He was a fine fellow, I may grab a ride from him back south if I need to.

I managed to find the bus to Lemvig with the assistance of this extremely kind and helpful young woman who was also taking that bus. Things got even more rural as we headed north and my silly grin was about to split my head open.

After about 40 minutes we rolled into Lemvig, which is a drop-dead gorgeous little harbor town, and the bus dropped me off right at the aforementioned harbor. It was a lovely day and the bright northern sun shone upon this adorable tableaux as I arranged all my bags and sat on a little bench to await L’s arrival.

The sleepy feeling early evening vibe soaked into my soul as I munched a couple pieces of bread and sipped some water. My text to L went “undeliverable” (but that was expected, it seems I can no longer send, only receive) and the time when she said her meeting would end came and passed with no text from her. Not a problem, since meetings often go on longer than one expects, especially with creative folks.

The minutes continued to tick away and I began to wonder if something might be up. I’ve long had a tendency toward what is known as “catastrophization.” It was especially terrible during my 1999-2002 Post-Rogers Park PTSD Period, and this crazy adventure had brought a relapse of it (What am I going to do? Why the hell did I do this? What shall happen? OMG! OMG! OMG!) in Berlin, although E & P’s Aarhus Therapy had quelled it quite a bit. I began to wonder if something may have happened to her; car accident, health problem, emergency of some sort, etc.etc.etc…

Here’s where I knew The Danish Decompression was really taking hold:

I started to tell myself “OK, you’ve traveled to another part of the globe with no specific plans and very little money just on a strong personal hunch that it was somehow the thing you should do at this point in your life. Now you’ve made your way to a remote corner of a country you’ve never been to before and don’t speak the language; to meet someone you’ve never met before, do not know where they live, and whom you have no way of calling.”

Instead of going down the path of decrying my foolhardiness and obsessing that I was going to die homeless and Euroless/Kronerless on the streets of some foreign land… I just started laughing uproariously to myself. The remaining clouds seemed to lift off of me and I realized that somehow no matter what happened I was going to be OK.

I took out my camera and took a few shots of the pretty yellow building across the street and the bucolic marina behind me— and truly felt like I was finally (after years of trying) living in the moment.

YallerHouse1

Hard To Have A Panic Attack With This View

 

After another 20 minutes or so, L came walking across a nearby parking lot waving to me. We greeted each other and spoke for a minute or two as we walked to her car and figured out a way to cram all my various bags into its already crowded interior. Then we retired across the street (to the very cafe I was planning to get food and seek wifi to contact her if she didn’t show up) for some dinner.

As much as I had assumed/hoped we would hit it off, L and I almost instantly got into the groove that kindred souls tend to do and as we dined we had an extremely comfortable conversation about our lives and other various & sundry things. At a certain point I made a sardonic comment about something (the sort of comment that often puts “normal” people off) and she laughed so hard she almost hyperventilated- and I knew that I had found that first “well-met stranger” who would bring whatever the hell was supposed to happen on this adventure into a higher gear.

Then we left to go visit her Artist Colony In The Making out in the sticks of Denmark…

Aarhus, Denmark- August 15

 

Germanysconsin

Along The Road Through Germanysconsin…

HELP!!! I’ve been abducted by a couple of bohemian artists and am being held captive in an Atelier!

They are forcing me to eat healthy organic food, live in the moment, and lighten the hell up.

My dear friend E and her fantastic partner P have been trying their best to put some vigor and whimsy in my stride, and their treatment is beginning to take effect.

The tension is starting to slowly roll off me now that I’m in Denmark. Aarhus is a sleepy little college town right on the water, just what I need after the last five years of hardly ever leaving Chicago and three weeks in nice but still a bit urban and uptight Berlin.

As much as I enjoyed my time there (and want to return whenever I can) it was a great weight off my shoulders when the bus pulled out of the Berlin bus station. Some of the bad mojo was residual anxiety from my 1981 visit during the height of the Squatter’s Riots and the Reagan Cold War, some from the fact that so much of what I was trying to escape from in Chicago (gentrification, conformity, rampant capitalism, Americans) was fully in evidence there, some from the bad jam, and some just because I’d only been out of America for less than a month and was still very much “tightly wound.”

The vibe of Denmark feels great to me. I could sense it as soon as the bus crossed the border from Germany. The architecture changed and the atmosphere just seemed to lighten up a few shades.

The nine hour bus ride (actually longer than my trans-Atlantic flight over here) also helped provide a feeling of distance and of journeying to a vastly new land. Although I have to say it was a very nice bus (double-decker with a free coffee station downstairs) and the ride was no trial at all.

Northern Germany was uncannily like the part of Wisconsin I grew up in (which is not surprising since there was a huge proportion of Germans there), with mile after mile of neat well-kept farms and small towns. The only difference was the architecture of the homes (slate roofs are such a rarity in the US) and the large amounts of windmills and solar arrays interspersed with the crops & villages. At a certain point I woke up from a nap to a vista of tall corn and hay fields so similar to a stretch of I-90 near Janesville that for one odd disorienting moment I thought I was on the Van Galder bus to Madison.

The all-too-familiar scenery helped contribute to the feeling that I hadn’t really been able to leave anything behind, but the crossing into Denmark brought about a sense of optimism and newness that had been sorely lacking so far in my excursion. And when the bus pulled into the Aarhus Bus Station and I saw E & P sitting waiting to greet me I felt as if I were arriving somewhere I’d truly never been, but which also felt remarkably like home.

They greeted me with much joy and love and we strolled to their large flat on the fourth floor of a building overlooking one of the city’s panoply of adorable little mini-parks and my Danish Decompression Session officially began.

They are a couple of free-spirited artist/musicians and have been making me feel as if I am a long-lost brother. In a way I am; E and I met in Shanghai while each of us was in the throes of a great musical/creative epiphany and bonded like brother and sister from the first night at my cousin’s music club. She met P a couple years after returning to Aarhus and they fell into a deep and sweet romantic soul-mate situation. So it’s like hanging with Sis and Bro to be with them.

I’ve been spending my days exploring and taking photos (it’s a gorgeous city that also has some large wooded parks and cool beaches), then my evenings in their delightful company. We went out wandering one evening looking for a place to have some dinner, and I remarked how much nicer they were dressed than I— so they topped off my jeans & t-shirt ensemble with a bright burgundy bowler hat. Usually I would have been much too self-conscious to accede to that sartorial accessory, but with them I gave it not a thought- and we dashed into the Danish nightfall to find some sustenance.

They’ve been telling me how they would like to take me to the West Coast of Denmark, an area renowned for its beauty and rural charm. They have a friend who’s an artist (quite well-known) who is trying to create an artist colony in a little hamlet where she bought a couple buildings.

They are too busy to take me there right now so the plan is for me to just travel up there myself and meet her and see what I can do to assist her in her quest. Sounds like just what I need for the next step in the Decompression.

BTW- Aarhus was the traditional spelling for the city but in recent years it is more common for it to be spelled Arhus (the city officially sanctions the single A spelling), although there is still a bit of debate about it. I tend to use the AA Aarhus because I think it is WAY cool looking. Sorry.

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No Bang-Bang Chicago Really Nice!

¬†One of the many reasons I love Denmark is that there are virtually NO guns and gun violence is almost unheard of. Of course, my experiences in Rogers Park many years ago make me love it a lot more than most Americans, but it’s still quite a cultural revelation.

I’ll tell people here that on a nice weather weekend in Chicago anywhere between 10 and 30 people get shot and they look at me as if I’m telling a tall tale. When they realize I’m not joking they ask me what is up with America and Guns, and I really don’t have a good answer.

I sometimes talk about the NRA’s influence over lawmakers and how there are just so many people who are so afraid of someone taking away their guns that every time there is a horrible mass shooting they go out and buy more guns- or I talk about the REALLY crazy people who think that all the horrible mass shootings are actually faked by the Government so they can come and take away their guns (how they called the mothers of Sandy Hook victims to tell them their children didn’t exist). I tell them that there are many American people who know it’s insane and think that perhaps there will be a mass shooting so horrible that everyone will wake up to how crazy it is and demand something be done but each more horrible mass shooting just brings a stronger backlash from the Gun People.

But lately I’ve grown tired of trying to make excuses or explanations and I just say that America is an insane country with a National Death Wish. They ask me what I think will happen or what can be done— and I REALLY don’t know what to say.

All I know is it’s nice to not have to worry about getting shot on the street or in a restaurant or theater or wherethehellever. It’s a feeling I want to hold on to.

 

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Photography And Me

 

My photo taking has gotten a bit more serious. I have always been experimenting with composition (as those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know) but now I am trying to push myself farther and teach myself more about it. I shoot just as many (if not more) photos than before, but I am being more exacting about what I keep and/or post. If I came across a shot I found interesting I would usually just keep & post every picture that wasn’t completely blurry or askew- but now I’m being more picky about culling all but the sharpest and best composed, and asking myself what makes a certain picture “better” than another.

I suppose you could say I’m trying to find my own aesthetic- but that sounds a bit high-falutin’ for my rudimentary level of ability.

Also just started messing around with some of the features in the low-rent picture management program I have and trying to adjust color/brightness/etc. and have been cropping certain shots- something I should have been doing from the beginning. But it’s not like I’m trying to be Ansel Arbus here.

My Street Photography is always literally of the street. I suppose what I mostly do is Architectural Photography more than anything else, but even when I’m shooting at ground level I try to avoid having people in my shots at all.

There are several reasons, a big one being that it’s already been/being done so much better than I ever could do it by so many people. Another is that as much as I enjoy the Vivian Meier/Henri Cartier-Bresson style of Street Photography, I personally feel that on some level it’s a bit of an arrogant invasion of people’s privacy.

The few times I’ve been snapped on the El or elsewhere by some stranger, my first instinct (always resisted of course) is to go slap them upside the head and shove their camera up their ass. Of course, it always seems like it’s some snotty 20-something twit who’s probably going to post it with a “Look at the weird fat old guy!” caption on their Instagram rather than something that’s going to hang in a gallery somewhere, which contributes to my ire- but REALLY, who the fuck are you to shoot someone without their permission? I suppose in Art the end justifies the means to a certain extent, but it still rankles me on a fundamental level even though I often find the results to be fascinating.

Even if I wanted to do that sort of thing, I just don’t have the look/persona where I could get away with it. Vivian Meier was an unassuming old lady (she also shot with a camera that wasn’t held at eye level) but when I take someone’s photo on the street they wonder what the hell is going on. A women would probably think I was a stalker, and men would wonder if I was a cop or something with my broad build and foreboding brooding ways. And when I smile I just look a bit unhinged, so there’s just no softening it. Plus, to be honest, nobody ever seems to do anything that interesting when I’m walking about with a camera.

But the biggest reason I avoid people in my shots is because of an encounter with an elderly neighbor many years ago in Lincoln Square. He always used to engage my wife and I in conversation on the back porch of our building, and one time he showed us an album of photos he’d just taken on a trip to Disney World.

Picture after picture was almost completely bereft of people, and although I’ve never been there (Disneyland when I was 3 & 6), I know one of the hallmarks of the place is that it’s always jam packed with a sea of humanity. I was absolutely mesmerized, “What’s up? Did you go on some day when the park was partly closed or as a special excursion?”

Turns out that he went with his wife and Grandchildren, and since he didn’t do rides he had much alone time waiting for them all to get through the massive lines take the rides. So what he would do is find a shot/angle that he liked and waited for that brief moment when the tide of people had a break in it. Sort of the photographic equivalent of crossing a busy expressway.

The effect of his painstakingly patient style was unbelievable, like he’d been on some private tour of Disney World, and even those plastic cheesy vistas seemed imbued with a certain profundity without all the legions of tourists lumbering through the image.

Even after 15 years that memory sticks with me, so when I’m on the street or in a park and want to photograph something, I channel old Mr Ramos and (at least try to) patiently wait for that moment when everyone is out of frame.