Descending from Vikings


“Where are you from?” I’ve brought it up before. It’s an interesting question and one that I am as tempted to ask as be asked. I’m not off put or bent out of shape or annoyed in any way when I am posed this query. We’re different here. As Americans living in Denmark. It’s ok. Where we have lived shapes us. The cultures, norms and lifestyles play into who we are and how we approach things. What I have noticed is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends and readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to the “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his 3 siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said

What I noticed fairly quickly moving here is that the foreign perception of heritage may be different than that of an American’s. How many of my American friends or readers did a “roots report” of sorts in grade school? How many of us celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the like because of ancestral ties to a specific “old country?” My great-grandfather did emigrate from Ireland. We know this. Beyond that, we don’t know a ton about him because after moving to Kansas and marrying my great-grandmother, he left our family including my grandpa and his three siblings when they were quite young. But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that.) “You are not Irish. I know Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said

But if I were to say I was “Irish American” here in Denmark – I would be met with smirks, scoffs and genuine looks of incredulity. (I am used to that now living abroad.) “You are not Irish. I AM Irish.” or “Why are Americans so obsessed with who their ancestors are?” “You’re American.” Yes. YES, I am. But my ancestors were Irish. I never said was Irish. And I do like corned beef and Guinness. So sue me. (Please note: I never actually have uttered the words “I am an Irish American”, but the topic has been discussed with my local international friends. And I know how very American the saying “so sue me” is as well and living here in Denmark I do appreciate their non-litigious leanings.)

On the other side of the coin – my husband’s “heritage” has Swedish roots as evidenced by our last name – Gustafson. Having the last name Gustafson in Scandinavia instantly makes you a Swede. King Gustav was big there. We saw him in Stockholm. Somehow – we are his sons. Not really. But it’s fun to say. And having a Scandinavian name in Scandinavia is not actually a boon as it bestows higher expectations on your knowledge of local language and customs. Like my son who was taller than his peers from an early age – the expectations of his early development a grave disappointment when his size didn’t match his language maturation. But he is only 14 months old! Whew, that indignation came back quickly – sorry. Back to our story. When they hear our name, people ask us if we’re Swedish. I have been asked that more than one time in Denmark and in Norway. Weirdly, no one asked us in Sweden. 😉

King Gustaf the III
King Gustaf the III

Heritage it seems – where we are from – an important question. Not only historically, but a serious question in our modern societies. The issue of immigration a hot bed topic the world around. It was intruiging to bear witness to the question during the recent Danish elections. It will clearly be a popular topic in the upcoming American Presidential election. Where are you from and how are you different from us. It is so very interesting a topic to me as the one who is currently part of “the different.”

But apparently we aren’t all that different and ancestry is messy according to an evolutionary geneticist, Mark Thomas, who wrote a piece in the Guardian a few years back in response to pay-for-ancestry genetic tests that could determine your heritage. Thomas shows that the science can’t definitively say. He states that…

you don’t have to look very far back before you have more ancestors than sections of DNA, and that means you have ancestors from whom you have inherited no DNA. Added to this, humans have an undeniable fondness for moving and mating – in spite of ethnic, religious or national boundaries – so looking back through time your many ancestors will be spread out over an increasingly wide area. This means we don’t have to look back much more than around 3,500 years before somebody lived who is the common ancestor of everybody alive today.” ¹

So what does that mean to you and me? We’re all descended from Vikings! Or Celts. Or Jews. Or Masai. Or Zulu. Or… you decide. Anyway. Around here – I’m a Viking. It’s fun to say. Vikings are fierce. Snap. And we’ve learned a lot about them lately. They are very popular. We have been to three different Viking Ship museets in Denmark and Norway. Comparing and contrasting for your reading pleasure in the next post. Stay tuned. Cheers from Viking land wherever you are from! – Erin

Vikings in Barcelona
Vikings in Barcelona

Shock and Awe

I have mentioned before how hardy the Danes are. Many of them, anyway. My son hates gross overgeneralizations – reminding me that my initial perfunctory characterization that ALL Danes are blond, is in fact completely incorrect. Which is true. I stand corrected. Today my estimation of a certain segment of the Danish population ticked up a few notches.Charlottenlund Søbad

Color me shocked. Drawn to the rich, but muted winter tones of this beautiful building on the water in Charlottenlund, I pulled right on over and set outside to capture it for my Scandi palette collection. What I did NOT expect to capture was the pale flesh tones of stark naked bathers dipping into the freezing cold Øresund. It was 0°C outside when I took this photo. I do not even want to know what the temperature of the water could have been.That is KOLDT!

A wee bit taken aback, I instantly took down my long-range lens feeling very much more than slightly stalkery. I did a quick look about to make sure I hadn’t been witnessed “spying” like a common paparazzi and then snapped this quick pic with my iPhone, which is where I edit all my photos anyway. Not so unhurriedly, I scuttled back to my car and continued up the road to my original destination – Bellevue Strand in Klampenborg (Bellevue Beach.)

A popular swim beach (I’m told it gets PACKED) in the summer months, Bellevue Strand is quiet and peaceful in January. Could have sat and listened to the lap, lap, swell, lap, whoosh, lap of the waves on the shore for a long time. Caught ‘gramming (again) by a woman and her 20-something daughter moving out to the pier where I had concentrated, they smiled and I got up to move on down the beach to the next pier. As soon as I stepped onto the sand, the daughter gracefully removed every stitch of her clothing and went into the water. Need I remind you? IT IS KOLDT HERE! There is no warm sauna or steam room or hot tub with which to warm up into immediately following this Baltic dip. It doesn’t last long and soon she is dressed again and on her way with her mother. No way. Doesn’t compute.

Farging KOLDT.

I put my hand in to reach for a shell washing in and out with the soft tide. Mere seconds are required to freeze my skin to a perfectly painful and prickly state. I can not even process a full body dunk. The shock to your system must be intense. Apparently this is normal regular everyday behavior for a certain segment of Danes. Wow, color me impressed. I will say it again. These Danes are HARDY. I am in awe. Enjoy the photo gallery from Bellevue Strand and have a happy Fredag!

A Winter’s Expatriation

Today the temperature wavered between 0 and 2°C. That’s hovering at freezing for those who don’t automatically correlate to the metric system employed here in Denmark. Employed pretty much everywhere else in the world save for the United States and four other small mostly Caribbean nations (all of which I have been too weirdly – ‘cept not Palau.) Here in Denmark, the temperature is the only thing that I have not used an app, device, Google function, etc. to convert. I regularly convert prices in shops from Danish Kroner (DKK) to U.S. Dollars ($$$) to try and keep a healthy perspective on what feels like (and usually is) ridiculously high price tags for nominal goods and services. I convert street signs, parking signs, shop signs, directions, washing machine instructions, food labels, recipes, ingredient lists, menus, bank notices, post office announcements, furniture advertisements – basically everything… from Danish to English. But I don’t convert the weather. Why?

It is what it is. I cannot control the weather anymore than I can control the unwavering and inexplicable popularity of black licorice here in Denmark. Seriously – they put it in, on and with EVERYTHING. Licorice candies come in more shapes than you can imagine. There is chocolate licorice. Licorice ice cream. Licorice gum. Alcoholic licorice. Cocktails with licorice candies in them (I did not try that, but witnessed many being ordered.) Licorice cakes. Chili-spiced sour licorice gummies. Um, eww (those were on sale by the way, maybe I wasn’t the only one who thought as such.) I digress. Out of my control.

Weather is something you have to feel. Does it feel cold? What temperature is that? 2°C? 8°C? It’s all relative right? A Southern Californian comes north and wears her sweater on a summer eve in Oregon when we might be rocking our sundresses and sandals. Michiganders don’t stop when the temps dip into negative Fahrenheit parameters. Nor Minnesotans, or Kansans, or North Dakotans or anyone else who lives in those states where Polar Vortexes exhibit icy wintery tentacles of horribly long winter-ness. Nor Danes apparently for that matter. Upon initial assessment, I will admit that they are a pretty darn hardy bunch – biking in all sorts of weather. Although I have yet to see it get REALLY upper Midwest cold here yet. But, I may have just jinxed myself.

Vinter Swans don't mind the koldt.
Vinter Swans don’t mind the koldt.

My point is – how will you get to KNOW what a Celsius temperature is, if not by feel. So converting it all the time actually defeats the learning process. This is what 2°C feels like. This is what 20°C feels like (although I don’t know that feel yet – I’ll have to get back to you.) Does that make sense? Sure. So why all this about the weather? About as interesting as my dear Grandma’s annual birthday cards dutifully describing the latest in south-eastern Kansas weather along with my anniversary wishes. I can’t control the weather.

It’s vinter. Winter in Denmark. I know I keep saying that – but it is. It’s dark. Getting lighter everyday though – we can all feel it’s incremental progression like pebbles being dropped into the bucket. It’s cold. I don’t care where you are from and what is relative to you, but 0°C is cold. I know – it can be colder, wind chill, lake effect, tree-boring insect killing vortexes and such, etc. etc. yada yada… Bottom line, 0°C is cold. And it’s precipitous. At least today it was. Rain turning into snain turning into fluffy white puffs gently falling and all is quiet for a few minutes – BEEEEEP, repeat cycle. Rain into snain into fluffy white puffs. All day. Nothing sticks, but those few minutes of fluffy puffy are lovely. But koldt.

It's koldt!
It’s koldt!

Winter is a difficult time to expatriate. There is a reason bears hibernate in the winter. It’s cold. (Please just give me the simplicity of this example for sake of theorizing here.) Back home in Oregon (plus years spent at college and beyond in Seattle) we know winter has its propensity towards impacting one with a certain Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s truth ink. It’s called S.A.D. People have their own ways of combatting winter blues. Some use light therapy (I think that is big here too.) Some use drug therapy. Some use pre-planned vacations to warm tropical destinations as therapy. Myself – I always have allowed winter to be a down time. Keep schedules to a minimum, plans light. Consciously saying that it is ok to hibernate to an extent. It is ok to succumb to the down cycle. Knowing the up is coming, it is a veritable emotional hibernation of sorts. A recharging and recouping and renewing hibernation.

"Uuaah, the cold! Come in and get warm!"
“Uuaah, the cold! Come in and get warm!”

Why then – wouldn’t I do the same here in Denmark? Aha moment. Actual Edison light bulb went on yesterday near a lake near a palace alone with the birds. I have been feeling a self-imposed pressure to connect, to “get out there”, to recreate the social networks and circles I miss from home. I should be doing x. I should be doing more y. I should. I should. There is a lot of pressure in SHOULD. Yesterday, I gave myself an out. I will allow myself the space to internalize right now. Circle the wagons. Bring it on in to family-ville. Cozy up on the couch with Master Chef Australia and Cake Boss. Emotionally hibernate. This doesn’t mean putting all emotions on hold by any means – we are as a family definitely still all feeling BIG emotions. FULL of BIG emotions. Every day. Even on Lørdags. But what it does mean… is that it is saying it is ok to take this expatriation slowly. Adjust. Learn on our own terms. Experiences, social circles and networks will evolve. They always do.

Speaking of social, I’m no recluse, not in my nature. In fact – I had coffee with my one Danish friend today. It was needed, entertaining and delightful. While recanting my “aha” moment – she nodded and enlightened me to a lovely Danish saying. I wish you could hear her say it – because it rhymes. “Burde er lig med byrde.” It means Should = Burden. Exactly what I was feeling. What a validation and heavy sigh of relief. Now I SHOULD go to bed. 😉IMG_0018

Man what a dag.

Some days, life has a funny way of reminding you of important lessons. Things we should know, but often our requisite daily minutiae occludes access to the personal database. Today was one of those days.

It’s Monday. Mandag in Danish. Mandags are beginnings – love them or hate them. For our family, the beginning of this week was a wee lethargic after staying up late (Copenhagen local time) to watch the Seattle Seahawks clinch the NFC Championship sending them on to Super Bowl XLIX. (From hereto forward known as Super Bowl “CLICKS”.) GO HAWKS! Watching NFL with Danish commentators is always interesting. At least they don’t translate “TOUCHDOWN!”

I decided to take the beginning of this week by the proverbial horns. Got up, rallied kids, got myself dressed, actually put on gloss, made lunches, found socks, found shoes, found backpacks… found car (no parkering ticket!), deposited them at school and was on my way. I was going to get my kunst on today. That’s right peeps. Kunst. It’s ART in Danish. Those who know me, know that this is my happy place. If you don’t know me – two second background… studied Art History at University of Washington and more currently: was part of a team running the Art Literacy program at our elementary school back in Oregon, recent former member of public art committee in my “home” town. 2 seconds. I would love to become more involved in an art community here in Copenhagen, but for now – I will enjoy playing the student again.

Today’s lesson was to be in modern art. In Louisiana. WAIT. Record skips. Louisiana? The state? Oh no you sillies. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, in Humlebæk, Denmark. I had read about it – it looked amazing. Why hadn’t I been there yet? It isn’t exactly IN Copenhagen proper. It’s 35 km north of the city. They have an Alexander Calder sculpture that overlooks Øresund (where we went fishing). I am dying to compare it to his Eagle that stands bright red in the Olympic Sculpture Park overlooking Puget Sound (also known as “the sound” by locals) in Seattle, Washington. So. It’s Mandag. I am beginning my week with Danish modern art. Or so I think.

Lesson reminder #1. When venturing afield, remember to check the opening hours AND opening DAYS. I knew that Louisiana opened at 11 am. I had no problem with the 90-minute gap between repositing the children at their skole and finding my way north to the museet. I found a cute coffee shop in Helsignør, got my handcrafted double latté and enjoyed the wait. Watching rain turn into snain and then almost into snow from the window of the café; inside warm with candles and people and wafting coffee (dare I say – hygge?), it was difficult to leave. But – I’ve got art to see.

Parkering was easy. And FREE?!? Did I miss a sign? Nope. All good. Why isn’t anyone here? One of the largest modern art collections in EUROPE people… come see it! Oh. It’s lukket. Just my luck – it is closed on Mandag. What a beginning. Somewhat deflated, I debate returning to home and battling Fran or the parkering meter or the grocery store, all still requisite minutiae for today. But no. I came out to see something. I don’t have a sick child at home. My requisite minutiae is actually not too troubling today, and I’m already out here. I put gloss on, for Pete’s sake. I want to see something. How about that slot that I saw a sign for driving up here – that didn’t seem too far back. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go visit a slot. In my head already making checklist for slots that I can physically check off as I visit them. Yes. That is what I will do.

Meander through Danish countryside (which I can relate feels somewhat like rolling Hillsboro sans Evergreen trees); albeit the Danes are very nice at labeling all direct intersections – fairly easy to find my way to Fredensborg Palace (slot). I will admit that as an American, the Royals are still a baseball team to me. We ditched our king hundreds of years ago. Happy 4th of July. We’re independent. Sort of. Politics aside, I am beginning to understand the fascination with these Royals here. They have very lovely and very fancy houses with very gorgeous gardens and tons of sculpture. KUNST. Oh happy girl. So the palace is only open in July and August because apparently they use this one a lot. A lot. As I roll up, the Royal Guard is changing again. How many of these guys are there? A lot. Lucky for me – the Palace Gardens are open to the public alle dage. Every day. Sure, why not. Let’s take a stroll.

Fredensborg Slot, Denmark
Fredensborg Slot, Denmark

IT IS BEAUTIFUL. And seeing as it is the middle of winter truly might have made it all the more amazing. Really? I can hear you. Across the interweb. A garden in the middle of winter? Nothing alive, nothing blooming, no leaves on the trees? I feel your scrunched nose and questioning eyes. I’m telling you … it was BEAUTIFUL. Did you hear me? Like 300 acres of my own private baroque frenchy garden beautiful. I literally saw 4 people in the 2 hours that I wandered. FOUR PEOPLE. I could get behind this. I see why these Royals like to be royals and use this slot a lot.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
So… this is Esrum Sø

It’s on a lake. Esrum Sø. Sø means lake. So there. The snain had stopped and I made my way down to the Sø. (After watching another changing of the guards on the back porch of the slot. As if just for me. But don’t get too close. You aren’t allowed EVERYWHERE here. You aren’t ROYAL.) But the rest of the grounds – where you are allowed – are lovely. And quiet. And contemplative. Best to be experienced in the quiet I think. Solo. It was surreal. Like a movie set. Like a twilight zone movie set. 300 acres by yourself. Birds. Snain melting from the trees … dryp, dryp, dryp. Feet crunching on the path. Just me. (And the birds, oh and those random other 4 people.) Luckily I took a picture of the map at the beginning because I did have a destination for my wandering.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset“The Valley of the Norsemen.” Sounds epic doesn’t it? It’s about as far away on the map as I’ve started from. Good thing the snain has stopped, cuz I’ve also got a camera with the big lens, no umbrella and my new (vintage) fur on. (Remember I was going to a Kunst Museet to begin with.) After serene views of the Sø and a charming path along the lake, I find the path to the Norsemen. Nordmandsdalen is home to 70 sandstone sculptures of Norwegian and Faroese working class people – fisherman, bakers, teachers, mothers, shop keepers, farmers. You and I. Ok, I don’t know you per se – but I related to these life size (isk) peeps. More so than the palatial property up top with the furry-hatted-gun-toting-heel-clicking guards on watch. Norwegian though – did you read my last post? Norwegian Vikings were the enemy I thought? But this was commissioned by King Frederick V and Queen Juliane Marie between 1764-1784 when Norway and Denmark were a common territory. Hunh. Who knew? Not me. What I know is that I was really taken with this valley. Of common Norse men AND WOMEN. Not just a few women either. Every other sculpture was a woman. And with child some. Very progressive. And not nudes. This wasn’t idealizing beautiful female figures with art. This was real valid appreciation of their roles in the Norse everyday. I appreciate that. I appreciate that now. In my everyday.

And so I come to the second lesson (that I already knew, but needed to be gently reminded by the universe every once and awhile)… more than “one door closes, another opens”… But … be ready. Be open. Be willing. One says no. Another says – try this. And you do. And it is good. And valid. And worthy. Happy Mandag. Man, what a dag.

Enjoy the dag’s galleri (click on the first pic and a slideshow will pop up) – it was epic. Even though not as planned. Skål from Denmark.

It’s Fredag, Fredag – gotta get down on Fredag

It’s been a long week with a wee lass home sick until today. Freedom! Freedom! You got to give what you take. Wow – soundtrack to a blog today. Haven’t had much space to myself, but the sun has come out and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow – there’ll be rain. So going to go explore a castle or a slot or a museum BY MYSELF. (Oh, that’s a good thing.) I will leave you with a few pics. Everybody is working for the weekend – and TGIFredag. (My Danglish is progressing.) Cheers from Copenhagen!