48 Hours in Denmark
The patio scene depicted below I have passed many times, at various times wandering through Adams Morgan. On my most recent walkabout I decided to snap a picture of it, as it so suddenly reminded me of the garden basement café near the Airbnb I had been a guest in some years ago, along the canal in Christianshvn, København. In the late July of 2015, I fucked off to Denmark, for all of 48 hours.
Three years prior to this spontaneous pilgrimage, an album called Piramida had appeared to me in a tweet by a local dude who photographed the early issues of Kinfolk Magazine. Piramida was recorded in an abandoned nuclear silo — the actual “Piramida” — in Greenland, by a Danish band called, Efterklang. I played the 10 tracks on that album sequentially and on repeat, daily, for what came to be the most difficult 6 months of my earthly existence that far. In 46 minute sets, a nostalgic and pervasive anguish ignited from the beginning of the album built in anticipation of its end, ameliorated by the comforting knowingness that the beginning could in fact be repeated, by my own devising, for myself alone, as many times as I had desired it to play. No hyperbole, Piramida saved my life. For those of you who regularly clicked the music links posted to the top of the invitations to dinner I had sent you, Efterklang was featured more times than one. In February of 2013, the band went on tour and played here in DC at The Rock n Roll Hotel. After the show I beelined to the frontman:
“Hi, thanks for making that album, it saved my life.“
“That’s everything we’d ever want to hear.“
His name is Casper Claussen. My mother’s maiden name is Caspare. We talked about other bands we both loved, and other albums that had provided us both a similar kind of solace in other tumultuous times of our individual lives. We fell in a kind of love for about 15 minutes, and then I went home.
Following that tour, the members of Efterklang found themselves in other projects. One of those projects was a performance art/rock opera called, Leaves. Leaves was to be performed as part of the Copenhagen Opera Festival in the summer of 2015. So, on July 30th of that summer, I jumped across the pond to see one of the final performances of a show that was likely never to be shown again.
The day before I left I had an appointment with a tattoo artist to finish two of three family crests on the inside of my left arm; the shield of my father’s father I had inked already years before, but my father’s mother’s and mother’s father’s were still missing from me. The heraldry of Caspare, from the descendants of Wise King Caspar, is an ornate cross atop a heavy, ornate crown. When I arrived in Christianshvn, this exact same crown was emblazoned on banners flying along the canal, all the neighborhood over.
Wearily, I stumbled about to find the home of my host. The summer sun was waning in descent from it’s perpetual daylight into perpetual darkness. The tense ache in the air of nature bracing to remain in its current season, the battle it had already lost but still appeared to fight, struck me from core to extremity and left me momentarily paralyzed on the stone walkway. The apartment was on the top floor of a brick, multiplex walkup, set about the circumference of a beautiful, hollyhock-ed courtyard. My host’s lovely daughter checked me in and I settled my things and cleaned myself up to venture out, unencumbered. København closes early, and as I walked across the bridge of the canal I wondered if I had already missed dinner.
Half hidden by the canal, the candle lanterns of Kanalen beckon patrons with hearth and comfort like a happened upon ski lodge discovered in desperation on a cross country trail. I was the last patron of the evening. I sank into my waterfront window seat at a table for one, took a breath and relished everything in sight about me — the kitchen ahead, the staging table adjacent, the rest of the dining room behind. Dinner service was winding down, but my time was still mine. I smiled at my server in anticipation of all that I was postured to consume: the plumpest of buttery, mineral-y Breton oysters on the half shell, crisply complimented with half a grilled lemon; a thick and flaky filet of turbot atop a velvety sauce of parsley and Danish butter and adorned with sweet-tart slices of fat gooseberries to round out the flavorful, textural balance. A natural and unfiltered White Burgundy crushed my spirit with a kind of bliss that was wholly unique to time and place and likely attainable never once more. I scooped marshy, Danish butter out of a crock I had found in the bread basket, with a spoon and ate it as was, even without the bread on which it was meant to be slathered. Everything presented to me, to care for me, was of that place, simply and without pretense. Elegance is a phenomenon of complexity without complication. I sighed again, paid the bill and sauntered home.
In my room with the window open, I ‘grammed a jet lagged snapshot of the moon half hung in midnight blue. A music writer friend of many years who lives in Nashville saw it post and sent me a message — what the hell are you doing in Denmark? Seeing a show that will likely never again be shown. He understood, completely.
The next morning was cool and bright. I tied myself into my robe and got familiar with the kitchen. Tekla came in as I brewed for us the coffee I found in her canister. We shared a continental breakfast of stone fruits and cheese from the market, some almonds, yogurt, and more coffee. Her family is half Polish with a post-war immigrant tale, half Danish with a Scandinavian stoicism discordant with Polish affection. Married and divorced with grown children with children of their own, she was living presently and in her new adventures. “Oh, I love Efterklang!” “Do you want to come with me tonight?” She purchased a ticket on the spot, and then planned an itinerary for the day to show me about the city.
Events of The Opera Festival speckled venues across København, throughout the days and nights of the month it ran. We commenced our city-spelunking through an indoor-outdoor market in Nørreport. Sunlight flooded the square filled with festival goers listening to a tenor and an orchestra perform at the plaza locus. Tekla and I watched the crowd for a bit while sipping Spanish wine. We strolled about the market, touching wares on display and smiling at people; cracking green hazelnuts from a farm stand, anointing ourselves with salves from the aromatherapy apothecary. We took to the main street through the neighborhood and stopped for a Danish sidewalk lunch of salty-sweet pickled fishes slaked with butter and sandwiched with tomato. Afterwards, we wound up the Rundetaarn and perched ourselves at the rooftop lookout to scope the city in its entirety, Sweden in clear view across the strait.
We hiked down the opposite side of the canal on the return home, and toured Freetown Christiania, just for the hell of it. The “town” is an anarchist community outpost claimed by squatters and functions arguably of its own accord, largely on transactions of contraband (“NO PHOTOS” said the signs). We purchased mineral water and snacks at a bodega and sat near the water, discussing Scandinavian Socialism, the Danish brand of that, and the disconnect between the Danish perception of the American nation (“capitalism is selfish and immoral!”) and the Danish experience of the American people (“they’re so generous and thoughtful!”).
We retired to the apartment to refresh and ready ourselves for the evening outing, the intended reason for my sojourn across the north Atlantic, to see Leaves: The Colour of Falling. The venue was across town — an abandoned hospital — the address for which we had but were not entirely certain of its geospatial positioning relative to our then present coordinates in the city. Off the metro we walked in the wrong direction for about 10 minutes before we reoriented and high-tailed it back on the correct trajectory towards… the abandoned hospital. Luckily, we were not late. More of a community residence than a decrepit sanitarium, the compound housed what seemed to be various wings of perhaps municipal offices strewn across a labyrinth-like courtyard. The entrance to the show was underground.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the prologue scene was that of a post-apocalyptic insane asylum. Guests were led through a blue-white, neon-lit corridor lined with streams of white paper and a bar that was tended by someone who appeared to be a patient at the hospital. Shots of vodka were dispensed from a water cooler into paper medicine cups for serving. A guest sat at the bar, and Tekla took a cup with her as we wandered through the doorway and into a series of dark rooms separated by stout pillars and corrugated partitions, the floor scattered in rubble, and sparsely filled with odd relics of iconic asylum paraphernalia, much of it resembling torture devices unearthed from dungeons of yore.
After a time spent meandering, some behind-the-scenes corralling ushered us all down another dark hallway that vibrated in familiar keys of a hauntingly comforting tone; the music grew louder as a curtain was parted to reveal a candlelit room with a live band playing for empty chairs. We streamed in, filling seats as the band members — haphazardly clad in black garbs of cloth, leather and lace, their faces painted theatrically in black kohl reminiscent of actors from turn-of-the-century silent films — played an elongated introductory tune. They creepily smiled at the crowd without welcoming them in, as if this whole spectacle was constructed to commence on schedule, with or without an attending audience to bear witness to it. When the last guest was seated and the doorway was blinded by the curtain cut across it, the show began.
Leaves: The Colour of Falling is a sort of allegorical tale, foretold in vignettes by characters solo and in ensemble, each one an archetype of human persona and personified emotional state. More of a performance art piece than an opera, it is seemingly meant to be understood in retrospect. During the experience, the point is to be both present and unsuspecting of all there is to see, hear, and touch (and taste, e.g., the prologue vodka). To suspend disbelief is to delegate an unspoken and perhaps even a kind of unknown trust between engaged parties — a challenging task to execute on, universally, and no easier in this piece. The show moved, literally, from room to room, often leaving the audience in one place while the next vignette commenced in another; we followed, sometimes finding the succeeding landing page and sometimes not, an invisible stage hand sweeping us up with corrective gestures when we were lost. Transition times between larger and longer ensemble scenes were waited out in netherworld holding pens — large, semi-partitioned spaces for a cellist cantata or an a capella peep. Through time spent with the characters, histories were revealed through repeated themes uttered in the tales they sang: a disapproving and defeated mother with an inconsolably depressed daughter and her rakish, forbidden lover do not understand the impasses they create for one another, but in very human bits, we come to understand them together.
Love is a cruel demon who takes us as possession, tricks our sensibilities and then leaves us whence we are sapped of essence, eviscerated. The Lover rumbled to himself in a deep baritone, pawing over a sacrament basin filled with charcoal holy water that he swiped upon my brow, “At the bottom of the third abyss lies my ash-gray, stone-cold, dark blue heart with its own abyss within.” The mother was tricked by Love, left crawling on the floor after or perhaps even away from her dignity. The actor portraying the daughter was pregnant, and though perhaps the state of affairs was merely coincident with the run of the show, the imagery of a cellophane vail trailing behind her as she sang, “I was stillborn in still water…” is implanted in my own belly, for all time.
We exited stage left.
The evening was setting to dusk as I stood outside. I had lost Tekla somewhere along the trail and when she emerged behind me, we both stared at each other in a discombobulated wonder. She was hungry, I had a thousand questions. She told me where she was going so I could catch up afterwards. Rasmus came out first, I asked him something pointed about the logistics and composition of the work and he obliged me. He seemed unaffected by the tension of this production. Casper appeared and I half smiled at him, still recovering from the experience. He half smiled back. I shook his hand. “Thank you for making that.” “Thank you for coming!”
And then I hustled off to catch Tekla. What I had wanted to say was more to the tune of, “Yeah, hi, we met 2 years ago when you came through DC, and I legit traveled over an ocean just to see this thing you made, and then go home, no joke, I’m obvi your #1 fan.” Clearly, I found no words.
Tekla grabbed a shawerma from a vendor on the way home and ate it as we walked and talked. By the time we entered the courtyard, the night had once again fallen into that midnight blue chill. Her neighbor friends had hauled a picnic table into the middle of the yard to share dinner some hours earlier, and now the scene was framed in candlelight like a Dutch Master’s still life. We sat with them for a spell; I spoke no Danish, they spoke no English. Tekla filled in the details of the day while I had a few bites of their leftovers and a glass of red wine, well-chilled by the open air.
We said goodnight to them, and then to each other, now friends. My flight was early enough the next morning that I would be up and out without her. I packed and slept, arose early and dressed quickly. I walked to the garden basement café and bought a coffee to have outside in the crisp morning, a moment with myself and the boaters on the canal, to settle into the 48 hours passed and take stock of time with which I am often at odds but that is always mine, nonetheless and still.
“The colour of falling is love.”
This is not Denmark.
It’s just Adams Morgan. BUT! You can find photo snaps of the Danish adventure, and make this blog an interactive tale, on Instagram — #48HrsinDenmark