Thursday, October 22, 2009

Words Fail Me

As I've been blogging our trip, I feel like there's an essential quality of Copenhagen I've failed to convey here. I kept getting flashbacks to other cities - the island skies are England; the classic architecture reminds me a bit of Paris, but without its formality and fustiness. The charming squares are Roman or Florentine. Randy confirms my suggestion of Amsterdam, although I never been there. I got flashes of Austin, Texas and San Francisco in the pocket pleasures of luxurious parks and cute shops. The appreciation for both clean modern design and child-like whimsy evokes Japan. But there's an unapologetic pleasure in comfort and company that seems at odds with what I think of as typical Scandinavian austerity and is perhaps uniquely Danish.

At Valbyparken, I saw an unfamiliar structure with open walls and a steeply high roof of dark shingles. Once inside, I saw the benches ringed around a fire pit and the hole in the roof. I saw other smaller versions of this in the backyards of houses next to the canals and I could imagine the heat and light on snowy nights. Bonfire culture is big in Denmark. So is that of the cafes, where coffee drinkers hang out in the late September chill, wrapped in blankets printed with the restaurant's name and warmed by overhead heat lamps. I can find nothing of Lars Von Trier's anguish here, but the life-affirming portions of Swede Ingmar Bergman's films come to mind - the happy celebrations of Wild Strawberries and Fanny and Alexander.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sunday afternoon, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark

I left an exhausted Nora with Randy to sleep together in the hotel and put Mia in the bike trailer to find Valby Parken. I'd found an article on the web (your first clue this will not go well) that raved about the park's natural playground and the fun sound of the name was making the place bigger in my mind than it probably needed to be.

Mia in the trailer and I huffed and puffed up that beautiful Frederiksberg Alle to the lovely park Frederiksberg Have, once the palace grounds. Mia ran down the steep grassy hills behind Frederiksberg Slot, a yellow stucco palace that she refused to believe was a king's castle - no moat, I suppose fueled her doubt, nor turrets. I ooed and ahed at the ancient alle of perfectly groomed lindens. Once we were at the zoo next door, my map ended and the man I asked said it was a distance.

"A kilometer?" I asked, all Euro.

"More like three or four," he replied.

But the days are long here - dusk doesn't come until eight and Wonder the rental bike still feels great so we head out.

Mia was a trooper with few complaints. Whenever the neighborhood looked a little sad, (we were far from the ye olde tourist district) we would pass a beautiful furniture design store or a cozy pizza sandwich shot or a home with a sweet garden. Industrial suburbs and enormous soccer fields, a few wrong turns, but I was determined to make it. After the second time I asked for directions and had to turn around, I started to think of the Youtube video of the man who runs Ironman triathalons with his son - who has cerebral palsy and must be carried and towed the entire way. That tear-inducing image was hardly helpful; I replaced it quickly with a more cheering memory of carrying Mia on my back in the Tetons when she was nine months old.

We approached the park from the opposite side of the playground, I was steering sort of by instinct, but once we sighted the overgrown hills and child-sized towers, we cheered. The nature playground here was designed by Helle Nebelong, a Danish landscape architect and artist.

Mia ran across a soccer field to reach it while I rode parallel to her down a gravel path lined with narrow trees. Although she was 50 yards away, I could see her laughing, like I was, at our race.

The playground had teepees of reeds and willow, canoes roughly carved out of logs in sand lakes, climbing poles and ladders and rope steps to help you up the steep hills. A tower of light with slots of colored plastic that let in cathedral light and feel inside, an aluminum two-story tower with a slide from the second floor. One tower with a tree growing inside.

I wish I had my bird book that Kristen gave me. Strange black and white birds and the largest dove I've ever seen - it that what a rock dove is?

Squirrels with pointy upturned ears and shaggy brown fur.

We played until nearly dark and the ride home, of course, was much shorter when you know the way to go.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, John Adams!

Born today in 1735.

"I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States--Yet through all the Gloom I can see Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph...." John Adams, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1776

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Day the Wallet Was Lost

Sunday afternoon, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Yesterday morning, Saturday, Nora kept sleeping as Mia and I puttered around the hotel room, taking baths, eating breakfast and playing with her new paper fairy treehouse. My little blondie radiated heat and slept on as I changed her out of her diaper and jammies, gave her a sponge bath and put her in warm clothes.

Our room has a four poster bed with beautiful Balinese details, pillow-like white feather duvets that housekeeping fluffs and makes into long rectangles, one on each side of the bed. At the foot of the bed there is room for a tiny desk, which sits against a room divider, hung with a beautiful silver-framed mirror. Beyond the divider is a futon on which the kids sleep. We have a sweet balcony with table and chairs, an enormous armoire for clothes and a small fridge packed with organic sodas.

I checked my handy map, already well-used, put hats and gloves in my backpack and hoisted Nora to lug down to our rental bike.

The trailer was left overnight in the courtyard. We were lucky with clear skies last night. Next time I'll fasten the plastic cover in case of rain or heavy dew.

Nora slept on on the lobby couch as I struggled with the trailer lynchpin on the sidewalk. Mia stood by, then volunteered to go back to watch Nora. I let the girls out of my sight. What else to do, honestly? The women at the front desk have all been very warm and helpful. I am steps away.

We finally took off down Frederiksberg Alle, a lovely street tree-lined that was once a private drive to the king's palace, then east down Gammel Kongevej, a street of beautiful shops and restaurants, then turned at the dramatically brickworked Planetarium towards the lakes. (Or are they canals? I've heard these lovely lakes were dug as water reservoirs, but another more romantic story says they were a means of hiding ships during take your pick of the Danish-Swedish wars.) Swans and ducks.

Left turns are still difficult. Friday I nearly got caught in a stream to traffic while trying to negotiate a crossing.

A man passes me on the left in our narrow bike lane and says something in Danish, his hand weaving like an unsure snake. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I call and try to keep evenly to the right.

I count no helmets yet but for one woman and an adolescent in a German soldier style one.

We pass the Botanic Gardens and there's Staten Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery. Nora's still groggy, I carry her as much as I can up the entrance stairs. We get tickets and wash up and deposit my backpack in a locker in the whitewashed catacombs below.

I put my wallet and map in my pocket.

Lunch is in the beautiful Republic Cafe. The "kid's menu" offers fish cakes with remoulade or dark bread with pate. The room is part of a modern glass walled addition built on the back of the old brick building. They retained the old facade, so you walk out the old doors to an atrium of light, huge glass walls facing a lake and tall trees.

Nora put her head down on the table and Mia picks out chocolate milk with me. When the beeper chimes, we approach a counter where the man smiles and begins to explain our brunch, served on triangular plates and in tiny glass dishes.

"Cheese?" is all I can say.

"Oh, sorry," he smiles and explains again in English. What a country. They apologize for not recognizing your Americanness.

The girls' plate is a little man made of brown bread and butter with cucumber spear arms and legs, carrot stick hair and a cucumber bit face. When I cut off his head to eat, Mia says, "Give him a sad face." I turn over his cucumber curve of a mouth and we laugh.

Nora eats nothing and lays in my arms while Mia jumps on a blue and white striped platform in a kids' playroom on the same level. No cushioned walls.

On a chalkboard platform, Mia draws and smiles while a little nearly one-year-old in cords, vest and shirt climbs on her to touch her face. "I have to teach him woman like some conversation first," says his friendly father and we laugh.

Upstairs is an art workshop with hot glue guns set out. Mia glues beads and matchsticks to a square of cardboard and uses pastels to make a garden. Nora sleeps on.

When we go down to get my backpack from the catacombs, I throw my wallet in the pack instead of carefully zipping it in my purse as usual. It's the last time I'm aware of where it is.

We bike south to the Nyhaven district where Randy is working. I wonder at how compact this efficient city is. We pass through tiny St. Anne's Passage, a twisty bricked bike and pedestrian street laid between beautiful doorways. Dad's workplace, Duckling, is a warren of locked doors, alleyways and passages into a dim room of computers where he sleeps on a couch. Before this nap, Randy had been up for 56 hours. The film has been cut down to 5 minutes from 15, then back up to 6. Audio has it now. Dad can't give us much - he's a zombie. We only wanted to say hi, so we leave after a few minutes.

We reach two deadends as I try to leave with the girls - I need to reach through a locked gate and ring inside again to ask to be let out. It's fresh air outside where a playground in the middle of the graceful Saint Anne's Place waits for us. Nora sleeps on. Mia is sad I am too tired to be lively but more children appear and cheer her. The kids here stare at our strange talk but have the universal language of play. "I think this will work, don't you?" I asked the boy who stopped to watch Mia attaching a mini car to her tow truck. "Ja," he replies.

I return to the playground at Skt. Anne Plad in my memory, trying to realize some important detail that might give me more information about the wallet. But the pack in the park was on the bench next to the sleeping Nora. Did it bounce out of my pocket as we rode home down charming narrow streets parallel to the Stroet? (I have no Danish keys on my keyboard so you will need to picture struck Os and As with haloes littered here and there in the Danish names.) Did someone reach in and take it from the bag that I left on another bench in the late afternoon gloom as Nora slept on in the trailer and Mia played again at the Castle playground - her favorite, the one I had promised her? It was dusk now and this neighborhood, Vesterbro, is a tiny bit rougher than Duckling's by the Royal Family's residence. Again, I picture Wicker Park - there's graffiti on the back of the churches and boys running with jeers away from their friend walking his pit bull.

It's the only opportunity, the only time I turned my back and if I wove the story in this way you would stop wondering before I did. But I had no funny feeling. There were only families at the park. I never felt jostled or bumped. And this is Denmark. Incredibly helpful, kind, good-humored Denmark.

The bus driver essentially said, "your money's no good here" and waved us to sit down. And when security at Staten Museum for Kunst carries the wallet to me today around noon, two hundred dollars and five hundred Kroner, the three credit cards and my driver's license are undisturbed. I'm glad the man at the travel store at Old Orchard taught me "magna tak" (many thanks) before we left.

"We take care of each other," said the woman on the bus who offered help when she saw my map. Perhaps she has been reading about the 43 million uninsured Americans and the reluctance to reform. Perhaps Obama will get a breath of relief when he comes this week and meets some of the sensible Danish with their matter of fact shrugs, "Of course we take care of each other."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Disasters in Baking

Have to interrupt our thrilling tale to show you the punishment for my baking hubris. I can make pies like nobody's business, and had plenty of confidence when I planned making cakes from scratch for Mia's school carnival. Oh, Joy of Cooking, you let me down.
Swamp monster boy and girl. Their recipe was the Blitztorte, or "Lightning Cake" which tasted delish but failed to retain the face detail from the boy and girl molds. Then I made the dubious decision, based on limited ingredients, to cover them in a brown sugar icing.

Not only did the icing resemble so much drippy mud, its recipe called for adding raw egg yolks to a simmering sugar mixture. I removed the pan from the heat and whipped like crazy, but the bits of scrambled egg in the icing cooked to a hard consistency that felt like flecks of plastic. Or baby fingernails.

So I let Mia eat the boy and tried again. This monstrosity is the 1-2-3-4 cake which I'd love to say referred to some cutesy ingredient mnemonic, like "add one cup of sugar, two teaspoons vanilla, three cups of flour and four eggs." Nothing so simple. There was egg separation involved, and whipping of the whites to soft peaks and adding of the cream of tarter that I did not have on my shelf. The cakes looked pretty good, but the clock was ticking, I had to pick up Mia in half an hour and Joy didn't mention that their "quick" powered sugar and butter icing would have major lumps.

I can't blame the cookbook entirely. I splashed in some extra milk when the icing looked too thick, rendering it just drippy enough to ooze off the still warm cake. Here you see my attempt to doll it up with organic sprinkles. When I tied the plastic wrap above the cake with a little red ribbon, you could hardly tell there was a hot mess underneath. And in the hot gym that hosted our aptly named Fall Frenzy, no jazzed up grade-schooler cared.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Setback and A Rescue

Sunday morning, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark.

This morning's breakfast in the room is carrots scrubbed in the sink, cold miso soup, the end of a chocolate bar and a few bites of the tart apple we started yesterday.

I'm sure we could go downstairs and ask for breakfast to be billed to our room (there's no room service but there's supposed to be a buffet breakfast in the lovely lounge and courtyard - we have yet to get out in time to see this.)

People have been kind and generous - the woman at the sushi restaurant where I discovered my wallet was gone last night asked if I wanted to take the food and bring the money back later. I should not have refused her kindness but I was struck low and dull with shock. Aware that panic and tears may be on the way.

I avoided the panic but explaining our situation to the girls was hard. I probably shouldn't have referred to the Little Match Girl again.

Dad just walked in like Christmas with 7-11 donuts and apple juice for the girls and purple tulips and a passion-fruit (our wedding cake flavor!)/orange yogurt for me. He brings his red laptop with the time (2:39 a.m. Chicago time) and email and the news.

And happy relief just to see him, alive, handsome even with red eyes and four days' beard, my helpmate and husband. (Remember that my cell phone was dead?) He had worked straight through for four days and nights, catnapped on a couch at work and now just walked the 2.5 kilometers home, my romantic husband, his first real look at this beautiful city at dawn. He stopped for coffee at Hotel d'Angleterre in the beautiful Kongens Nytorv square and followed the Stroet to Radhuspladsen, past the shuttered-til-Halloween Tivoli and down Vesterbrogade to our hotel. Reminds me of a walk from the Gold Coast to Wicker Park - from tony shops to working class artsy 'hood.

Left, right, left, right, my soldier back from the wars.

Dad stepping on the ubiquitous cobblestones on his way home to us.

Dad stopped for coffee at the Hotel d'Angleterre on the way home after his last night (of four!) at work.

They give you cookies with your coffee. What a city. What a country.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Story Thus Far

On our way! There was not so much smiling on the trip home. That sad story later.

Did you know these days you can watch a view from a camera mounted on the front of the plane? Either terrifying or reassuring, I suppose.

What was most disconcerting was how the view of the runway swayed back and forth in the a way undetectable from the side windows. I always pictured commercial landings to be straight in, like on a train track. Apparently there's a deal of aiming involved.

On the ground. We're in Denmark!

I loves me my maps.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, Randy went right to work.

While Randy slaved away, this was the kind of thing the girls and I were eyeing. Town Hall and statue of men blowing an Ur horn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Made This Poster So Funny

was that she was so far from the typical serene Danish mom I'd see. Which makes Bitter Fissen's stand-up routine a riot to the Danes, I'm guessing. For my observations of a different sort of Danish parenting, see my latest post on Chicago Moms Blog, "An American Momma in Copenhagen."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting our Sea Legs

Copenhagen, Denmark. Friday, September 25.

The sunset clouds were pink over the pitched roofs of our courtyard view. Nora slept on. She'd conked out this afternoon while Mia played at the utterly charming playground in the utterly charming Orsteds Parken (curvy lakes nestled in curvy hills bordered by mature willows.) I pulled a Danish momma and let her sleep while Mia climbed and played with the park-supplied tow truck with tiny working winch. There was a whole assortment of funny pedaled vehicles for the children - some hand cranked, some with tiny seats for a passenger. Mia climbed a science tower worthy of Tycho Brahe and jumped off a springboard that catapulted the kids onto a padded section of the blacktop.

Who knows when Nora will wake, chipper and hungry and eager to chat or craving a rub on my belly and a restless foot on my back? "Looking outside can tell the time for kids," reassures Mia. Perhaps she'll sleep all through the night.

Jetlag plays funny tricks. Early this morning I woke in the dark and thought, "I don't feel too bad - we're going to have a great day," but when I got a drink and checked my phone, it was one a.m. Oy.

Luckily, I went back to sleep. And sleep. My phone died overnight.

Here are the important tools I left behind and had to live without:
- my deodorant
- my cell phone charger
- my camera battery
- one of my purple gloves (more, too much more, about this later)

Here are the important tools I brought along:
- a new pair of Naot walking shoes from Israel with cork inserts "that mold to your feet" said the salesman at the Walking Company store. New true blue friends.
- a warm enough purple coat with deep pockets
- four guide books. The map that lovely Christina at the front desk handed me the first day was well-worked and well-loved by the end of our trip.

No phone, no 'puter (Randy took the laptop to work), no watch (I always use my phone), no camera (I'd have to wait for Randy's iphone.) We are traveling light! I feel like a pioneer woman! (Says the woman staying at the four star hotel.) But it's really my favorite thing to make my own way - figure out the bus fare, ask strangers questions, find the bike rental.

"I have no helmets left," says the rental guy in his subterranean bike cellar next to the train station. "Anyway, they will be safe with the seat belts."

He gives us a US style trailer. It's functional and fairly clean, although the ripped screen sheds threads the whole time. I had been hoping for one of those rounded child capsules carried in front with a tinted plastic sunshade. Or an old school wooden box, also pushed in front of the bike.

The rental guy's casual attitude is everywhere in the helmetless bike crowds but I believe him - the cars share respectfully on the narrow streets and strangers go out of their way to offer help and advice. A man turned back after translating "bike parking only on racks" to add "no one enforces this!" with a big smile. The woman on the bus asks if I need help when she sees my map.

Once I get the bike and trailer up the ramp from the basement rental store, get the girls buckled in, pick the bike up after it falls (the trailer doesn't flinch but Mia starts saying, "hold onto the bike!" every time she climbs in the back), we set out. I'm squealing "Whee!" and "Away we go!" at the ease and power of my single geared bike - it seems to float uphill.

We ride first to the City Hall Square, the Radhuspladsen. Plenty of action - street performers, tents for some kind of festival, statues of long snouted dragons plus an amazing sculpture of a bull wrestling a giant fish creature.

We visit The Wonderful World of Hans Christian Anderson where Nora shivers in the shadowy halls. Apparently Anderson's grim details (the little mermaid's new feet burn when she walks; the soldier hero of The Tinder Box cuts off a witch's head with little reason, steals her dogs and uses them to attack his wife-to-be's parents, the King and Queen) weren't deemed thrilling enough for visitors - they had to add a giant rat that leaps out at you from a sewer pipe during the Steadfast Tin Soldier section.

Last night in a jetlagged delirium I had sobbed while I recalled the entire unabridged story of the Little Match Girl to the girls before bed. In the morning Mia said it had given her nightmares and made her cry in the night. I'd felt the tears on her cheeks without understanding them and kissed and hugged her in the dark. Goddamn Hans Christian Anderson, Goddamn Mommy for scaring the kids.

Here in the museum, they do the story of the shoeless hungry girl who freezes to death in an alley on Christmas Eve in full horror movie style. We see her huddled figure bent over the match, but her face is invisible in her dark cloak.

More Danish matter-of-factness toward violence - the children play with community provided rubber swords and shields in the park; the toy stores display knives and cutlasses.

Back on the bike and up tiny Vestergade to KREA toystore (we just browse - beautiful but expensive $100 dress up princess gowns and a $50 princess coach), then on to the charming Nytorv Square. Just past the square on Verterbogade is Hey! Bagel where the sweet clerk proudly touts his delicious salads. "All vegetarian, all from Cyprus!" The girls won't eat the fresh cream cheese bagel because of its raw oats - I'm happy to scarf some couscous, sweet steamed broccoli and ratatouille. Nora puts her head down on the high counter and falls asleep. I carry her to the trailer where she snoozes on.

The street ends at Kobmagergade and here we find Boger til Born, a children's bookstore with lovely postcards of illustrations from children's books for 6 kroner (about a dollar) and beautiful books by HCA and Elsa Beskow translated into English. Nora sleeps on as Mia and I shop.

Steps away to the northwest is the Round Tower, an observational wonder with a steep bricked ramp instead of stairs for horses to haul up Tycho Brahe's viewing apparatus. Nora is too tired. We'll come back.

We pedal by the man made canals on the way home.

Dinner is Hing sushi by the hotel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Is Where I Take You To The Movies

We'll get back to our Scandinavian trip in a moment, but first we interrupt our travelogue for a few words about Jonathan Tropper's novel, This Is Where I Leave You. The Silicon Valley Moms Blog Group is featuring Tropper's new work for their book club today. Discovering that the book's topic is grief and family dysfunction nearly opened a big can of dread for me. You see, the particular SVM style of discussion is for the bloggers to write about how a book speaks to our own personal experience rather than to review it.

Not being able to hide behind the critical distance afforded by the position of a reviewer NOR being able to enthusiastically gush about a book I really loved is tough enough; now I had to go to the hard and thorny place, too?

Tropper's comic novel takes place during the seven days when the four adult children and mother of the Foxman family sit shiva (think a week-long Jewish wake where the family is expected to live together for the duration) for the father. The narrator son, Judd, has recently discovered his wife's affair with his boss and gets the news that she is pregnant on the heels of hearing of his father's death. Mayhem ensues as the family members fight among themselves and with their spouses and lovers, as ancient resentments are brought back into the light and a family "brand of irony and evasion" gets in the way of healthy grief.

Let's do a little checklist now, shall we? Let's see how the themes of this book can be related to my own familial "personal experience." Um, unresolved grief issues? Check. Adult siblings with communication "issues"? Oh, big check. Cute kids running around for sweet comic relief? Thank goodness, check. Clever and chatty characters who work their way through rivalries with fisticuffs, humor and big dramatic gestures? Uh, no, not really.

So as I read and laughed my way through Tropper's novel, I actually found myself relieved not to be reminded as much as I expected of my own dear troubled family. Rather I found myself thinking of some other families - people you may know as well. The Fockers, for instance.

Perhaps it was the cinematographic spectacle of scenes like the dinner when a grandchild proudly displays and then tosses the results of his potty training. Perhaps it was the complicated and smart quartet of siblings who bait and riff off each other in hilarious dialogue, throwing off lines like "That was great. Can you tell me another story about your period?" and "Let's face it, you're a little scary. You're actually scaring me right now. Your face looks very red. Are you even breathing? Is he breathing?" Perhaps it was Judd's recounting of the plot of a chick-flick he sees on a date - a perfect skewering of the current trite trend in Hollywood romantic comedies. Or probably it was the combination of all these, but something in Tropper's book kept bringing me back to memories of movies I've seen about dysfunctional families.

I was reminded (but not in a reductive way) of the messy families in movies I have loved, like Meet the Parents and the friggin' brilliant and underrated Flirting With Disaster (if you have not seen this movie, please, please, go out and rent/Netflick/Tivo it RIGHT NOW, whatever you need to do - you will laugh all the way through and marvel at the comic brilliance of Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda and Richard Jenkins who goes on an LSD trip that has to be seen to be believed. Sorry, let's get back...)

And thinking about great movies about dysfunctional families then started me reflecting on family movies I wanted to like but hated: Dan in Real Life nearly nauseated me with its airless and unreal family reunion, the whole pretty family enjoying games together and putting on a (gulp) talent show. Away We Go took the usually adorable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph and made them smug and judgmental as a couple facing first-time parenthood.

But I'm not evaluating TIWILY's suitability as a screenplay here. Instead, I'm thinking about how art helps us get through imperfect life and get beyond overwhelming emotional pain. There's some awful stuff that the characters in this book are facing: ruined hopes, infidelity, betrayal, infertility, loneliness. But our reading experience is a happy one - we are buffered by the pleasures of the plot, the cleverness of the dialogue, the amen truths of a wise narrator.

"People need someone to blame. I had failed her in some fundamental way, and she simply couldn't bring herself to forgive me....So now we've each done something unforgivable and the universe is once again in perfect balance."

It makes perfect, crazy sense.

For most of my life, books and movies have been the way I've been able to face pain that was too extraordinary to touch in real life. Movies were my emotional education: People cried on the screen, families embraced, couples had arguments that cleared the air. The experience of watching Ordinary People was like watching a documentary about real lives, not an abstract and fictional entertainment. At home, silence, closed doors and small talk were the way to push away the mess of emotion.

When I was thinking about this post, I asked my husband to brainstorm dysfunctional family movies with me.

"Ordinary People," he said.

"Oh, that's a good one. Of course. But I'm trying to think of comedies."

"They're all comedies."

Oh my wise husband. It's so true. You have to laugh at the horrors families inflict on themselves; it's the only way we can go on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday, September 24

Remember that scene from Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander on Christmas Eve (and by the way, Bergman's name was everywhere we turned around in Sweden, in bookstores, on posters - I had to remind myself that he was gone) when the grandmother sits on a sofa in her formal dress, accompanied by a samovar of coffee and an old friend? And she says it's so late I'll need to get up to go to church in a couple of hours; we might as well stay up and talk?

It's kind of like that. When I first saw the film, I couldn't imagine the feeling of giving up beautiful sleep. Today, I only catnapped on the overnight flight but joy held the fear of a bad day at bay.

It wasn't the roughest day I've had by a long shot -- the fatigue sat on me, but the skies were glistening. The skies (when not a solid overcast which truthfully does often have texture and a burnished sheen of its own) have that English sea quality -- limpid light, great clarity in the unclouded sky and beautiful colors. It's the ocean air, the absence of smog, the deeply angled sunlight that looks like morning all day.

"We get between ten and thirteen percent of our power from wind," the taxi driver proudly informs us. We could see wind farms in the Sweden-Denmark strait as our plane approached the airport and there are enormous modern white windmills near town.

"I hope Daley sees this," I told Randy, marveling at the clean smell in the air.

Our hotel Bertrams room was as tiny as I expected, but a little more shabby. Its appeal will grow while we are here. We lucked out with a big deep tub in the bathroom. No shower, just a handheld nozzle in the tub.

Randy went right to work. I plotted a walking route with the girls that took us next door to Emery's, a pastry shop next door for some phenomenal hummus and pumpkin seed rolls. Nora tripped on the doorstep - I was sitting on the doorstop, holding my crying girl in my lap as the cab arrived to take Randy away. "Don't worry, we'll be fine!" I urged him and I meant it. I do fear her getting mowed down by one of the speedy bikes that whisk by in their own designated lane between the street and the sidewalk. The cobblestone streets confound the girls' feet too -- we haven't yet found our sea legs.

Everyone speaks excellent English and legible signage is everywhere. "I may be a BITCH but at least I'm good at it" says a sticker in a car window.

We hiked through the "formerly working class now up and coming" neighborhood of Vesterbro and found the tiny toy store past the addict park. The kind clerk explained kroner coinage to me.

On past succulent greenmarkets - I had to stop for some incredibly fresh carrots and apples for the girls. The smell of the strawberries and raspberries was as intense as their color.

We walked west, into a kind and shiny sun until Mia cried, "my violin bow!" She'd dropped the world's smallest bow for the world's smallest violin that we had bought along with some tiny worry dolls and a red tin Danish mailbox. We searched around the sidewalk bricks and scaffolding until I spied it! It was that kind of a day.

The playground was behind an amazing 40 foot brick fortress wall topped with turrets and revealed through a tiny door cut in the larger wooden one painted with stars. A beautiful spot with swings, a pirate ship and a rope swing. Later I'll learn this is Shooting Gallery Park. The Royal Shooting Society practiced here and the wall protected the neighborhood behind.

Pizza dinner. We'll eat much pizza on this trip and it is always freshly made, the dough hand tossed before our eyes.

Mia plays with her worry dolls while Nora and I fall asleep.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why We're in Scandinavia

Simple answer: I'm in a hotel room in Malmo, Sweden because Copenhagen is just about fully booked and Randy and I wanted the girls to see their great-great-grandparents' homeland while we were in this corner of the world.

More complicated answer: We're in Scandinavia for Randy's work. His company, Optimus, has been working a grueling schedule for weeks with an ad agency and the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee to create video pieces for the final Copenhagen presentations that occurred before the IOC today.

Weeks of work, 100,000 feet of film, false starts, dead ends, progress, overhauls, plans changed again and again and again, all down to the final product this morning.

The two videos that were created and cut by hard-working teams in Chicago, then recut over and again during a marathon of four sleepless days and nights in Copenhagen played around 8 a.m. local time, one after Mayor Daley's speech and the other immediately before Michelle Obama's introduction.

I'm so proud of my husband's work. I'm so proud of Tex, who worked with humor and diligence alongside Randy in Copenhagen. I'm so proud of the whole crew behind them.

And despite the vote, the work stands alone. "Together We Can," parts one and two, are beautiful, moving films. Children read letters to the international committee. A teacher tells the story of a student transformed by joining the wrestling team. The films are about the strength and beauty of our city and about the best parts of sport, the parts beyond personal honor, where community and understanding are created.

We may not have an Olympics to call our own, but we do have our hometown, the beautiful city by the lake.