Category Archives: Travelling

The Daughters of Copenhagen

I’m terrible at keeping up with the contemporary music scene, but I came across this song yesterday and really liked it:

The song is “København” (which is the Danish name for Copenhagen) by rock band Ulige numre (“Uneven Numbers”), and it’s basically an ode to Copenhagen. The song and video go perfectly together, I think. The video shows historic and recent footage from Copenhagen, and the song has a certain nostalgic sound to it, especially in the guitar riff, that makes it reminiscent of old protest songs from the 1960s and 1970s, like Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”  or this 1971 Danish protest song. Thus “København”  becomes a sort of hymn not just to Copenhagen, but to the side of Copenhagen that I’ve always loved the best about the city: The open-minded, progressive side that blossomed in the time of the hippie movement, but which has its root back in the labour movements in the city about a decade earlier, and which still flourished in my childhood years in the 1980s, when my parents took me to the city, and I would be gaping at the punks with their brightly coloured hair, hanging around outside the old buildings of the city, and somehow fitting in perfect with the once-progressive Jugendstil architecture. And which is still there today, I suppose, although it’s always so difficult to detect the shock of the new when you’re in the middle of it.

The song lyrics of “København” go:

You have danced with me
for twenty years
And you have taught me the steps that I know
but don’t understand
Copenhagen, you are nothing but all I have
When your thousand eyes close
And darkness colours you infinite
And your daughters
they have no good intentions with me
And your eyes
light the way home for me when I’ve had enough

I have a minor problem
that I can’t find
Before you’ve shown me where
you’ve hidden her
Copenhagen, I am your last son
When your thousand eyes close
And darkness colours you infinite
And your daughters
they have no good intentions
And your eyes
light the way home for me when I’ve had enough

The darkness wants more
the days grow shorter
And I’ve spent my last kroner
painting mine black
And your eyes, there are more and more of them
And your daughters
Tell them that I won’t be waiting any longer.

The song reached me about the same time as the much less flattering description of Copenhagen and its daughters by Roosh: Danish Women Are the Most Masculine in the World. The article is hardly accurate (as everyone knows I myself am a perfect example of absolutely charming femininity), and in some parts it’s vulgar and downright offensive, but then again I’m sure it’s meant to be vulgar and offensive, and I have to admit that this:

A big problem is that just about everything offends a Danish girl, especially if you make casual observations about her culture, whether positive or negative. She doesn’t believe in stereotypes or generalizations at all. She has the belief that everyone is a completely unique snowflake and any attempt to generalize is wrong and offensive. The irony of this is that Danish people are so incredibly homogenous and alike due to Denmark being a strong conformist culture that they’re the easiest people to generalize about.
(…) or example, it was common for a Danish girl to joke that Americans like cheeseburgers and French fries. She’s indirectly saying that Americans are fat. I get it, and I don’t care, because Americans are fat and I personally love cheeseburgers and French fries. I would counter her observation with one of my own by saying, “We love hamburgers, but you guys like the kebabs. Those places are everywhere.” Pretty innocuous comment, right? Wrong. The Danish girl gets offended and counters with, “No, Danish food culture is quite varied. You’re not looking hard enough to find other places.” Really, bitch? There would be no less than four kebab shacks within a stone’s throw.

This hit a nerve. Oh, yes. I do see myself in this. And several of my girl friends, though I love them dearly.  We do this, with the adamant, sometimes hypocritical non-generalisation, and I can see how we might be obnoxious about it at times.

So there you are, Roosh, you are right about us in some aspects, and I’m owning up to it. I’m taking it like a man, you might say. You may shake my big, man-like hand. I’m not going to sleep with you, though.

Tosca Tours and Opera Sequels

Alex Ross has done the Tosca Tour in Rome!

I was delighted to learn about this, as the lovely Annina Teatime and myself did that exact same thing when we went to Rome together some years ago. Sant’Andrea, Palazzo Farnese, Castel Sant’Angelo – we went to the locations of all three acts.

Here’s a photo of me and Annina’s friend F., doing a Scarpia/Tosca tableau in front of the Roman prison:

Annina and I came to the same conclusion as Ross, by the way, concerning Tosca’s jump from the Castel. I love Ross’ idea of a sequel. Jessica Duchen has since elaborated on the idea in a great post pondering the possibility of other opera sequels.

“This western courtship is beginning to bore me!” – Harem (1986)

The other night I watched a mini-series from 1986 called Harem.

"The loss of innocence". I imagine their working title for that tagline was "The western hymen".


Now, I had no knowledge of this series prior to watching it, but honestly, any series from the 80s titled “Harem”? Is bound to be awesome, so I thought. And I was not disappointed. A fantastic blend of pulp fiction romance, cheesy orientalism, over-the-top lines, stereotypes, a selection of has-beens in supporting roles, and many, albeit prudishly subdued, references to sex, the series turned out to be guilty pleasure galore, not to mention startlingly close to being a perfect television adaptation of Several Daydreams I Had as a 12-Year-Old. Same plot and setting, same simplistic character depiction, same lack of details about anything remotely complicated or multifacetted. Just the way I like it.

In the story, we meet Jessica (Nancy Travis), a lively, yet somewhat naïve young lady in the beginning of the 20th century in England. Her father is English, but her late mother was American and we get more than a few hints that this accounts for Jessica’s liveliness, because every Englishman and -woman in this series sounds like a Victorian-era neurotic old school marm at a girls’ school. Including Jessica’s fiancé Charles, with whom she is nonetheless smitten when we first meet her. He’s a diplomat of sorts and as he has to go to Damascus on business for several months, she decides to go with him so that they may be wed in Syria instead of having to wait until he returns to tie the knot.

Once there, her lively willfulness moves her to go on an expedition to Palmyra, where I’ve totally been, too. Unlike me, however, she has scarcely arrived at the site before she is kidnapped by what appears to be a tribe of bedouins. One of them, Tarik Pasha (Art Malik), speaks English fluently, yet is dashingly handsome in that so-not-a-stiff-Englishman kind of way. This will be important later!

Jessica is sold off by the would-be bedouins to the harem of the Sultan of the Ottoman Kingdom, played by none other than Omar Sharif. Once there, Jessica finds that the harem is filled with erotically provocative young ladies, eunuch waiters, and the Sultan’s very, very evil wife, the Kadin (Ava Gardner) who has made it her life mission to be jealous of any woman her husband might desire, which is pretty stupid if you ask me, considering that she lives in her husband’s friggin’ harem. If it’s come to a point where your husband has established a whole institution of sexual slavery in order not to have sex with you, it’s probably best to just accept the facts and move on.

Apart from being apalled by the Kadin’s creative ways of secretly killing off her husband’s harem girls, Jessica takes the whole having-been-sold-as-a-sex-slave quite easily. But then that may be because she knows deep down that she hasn’t yet learned to enjoy her body and not be afraid of what happens between a man and a woman. Luckily, the Sultan’s old favourite mistress, Usta (Cherie Lunghi), is there to open her eyes to these things, and we are treated to a series of more than slightly homoerotic scenes in which Usta gives Jessica a massage or teaches her not to be ashamed of her own nakedness. Those Eastern women are so wise about these things. So in touch with their bodies.

By way of her American willfulness and intelligence, Jessica graudally becomes the Sultan’s favourite, even though she still won’t sleep with him, because she wants him to “court her in the western way” as opposed to the eastern way,  which essentially means to not be treated like a victim of trafficking, Jessica informs us. Around the same time, Jessica is reunited with sexy bedouin Tarik Pasha who turns out to be a revolutionary, fighting against the tyrannic sultanate. Will Jesscia join him? Or will she be reunited with Charles who is faithfully using his every diplomatic skill in order to retrieve her from the harem? Or will she cave in and have sensual, sensual sex with the sultan, western courtship be damned (“This western courtship is beginning to bore me!” as a lustful Sultan says in one scene)? Watch it yourselves to find out! I won’t spoil it for you.

Anyway, the introduction titles of the series are a pretty good indicator for the mood of the story:

At its peak, the Ottoman Empire stretched from Algeria to Arabia and into Europe. It was equal in power and size to the Roman Empire. When finally the strength of the empire began to falter and the Sultan’s authority challenged, there was much internal struggling plagued with violence and bloodshed.

It was also at this time that there were reports of foreign women being kidnapped and sold into the Sultan’s Harem. Suddenly forced into a kind of life and culture they never knew existed, their safety always in question – these western women were forced to live on eastern terms.”

I love that. It’s like they’re basically saying: “Back in history, a whole bunch of complicated politics and stuff went down. But we won’t bore you with that. Instead, here’s a story we made up based losely on research about sexy young sex slaves! Interracial sex slaves! Wooo!”

The trick is of course not to take any of this seriously. And as long as you don’t do that, it’s a delightful series, full of cheesy goodness, and an excellent guilty pleasure. Omar Sharif is wonderfully ham-like, Ava Gardner is deliciously over-dramatic. Art Malik is a generic, yet satisfying fairy tale prince, while Nancy Travis is probably the weakest link in the romance. Not quite wide-eyed enough to speak to my mothering instincts, and not quite willful enough to be feisty, she just ends up being kind of bland. And Cherie Lunghi reminds me an awful lot of Jane Seymour, but I guess that’s not a problem if you’re ok with Jane Seymour (but I am not).

“Naht Euch dem Strande…”

That’s right, the sirenes are beckoning me once again. I’m going to the North Sea this time around, too, to visit some of my family on my mother’s family. And there’s no internet connection where I’ll be, so I probably won’t be posting for the next few days.

But in the mean-time, enjoy this: The 15 Creepiest Vintage Ads of All Time!

Syrian Impressions II – Palmyra

A few more snapshots from my trip to Syria: this time from our day-trip to Palmyra.

If you’re ever in Damascus, you should really make sure to take a short trip to Palmyra. A two-and-a-half hour-long drive through the stony desert will get you there, and you can even hire a cab to drive you if you’re feeling luxurious or just wary of bus rides – taxis are unbelievably cheap in Syria, and the drivers are fairly sensible and service-minded. A deserted ancient Roman situated in an palm-tree oasis, Palmyra is an incredible sight. We arrived there in the evening, and went up to this beautiful old castle to watch the sun set over the stone desert:

Palmyra sunset - and tourists busses

Palmyra sunset - and tourists busses

When I first saw how this photo had turned out, I was somewhat annoyed that I’d managed to include the not-so-aesthetically pleasing tourist busses in the picture. But to be honest,  the picture is pretty true to the actual experience. While the sunset was beautiful, the place was chock-full of tourists, and that cheapened the experience somewhat. Not least beacuse the tourists attracted a herd of local salesmen who were much more aggressive than the ones we’d met in Damascus.

But we stayed the night in a hotal in Palmyra, having decided to follow Lonely Planet’s advice and get up early in the morning to see the sun rise over the Roman ruins. We got up at 4.30 the next morning and staggered sleepily into the ruins, expecting to find as many tourists and salesmen as the night before crowding the place. But lo and behold, we had the place all to ourselves! And I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen; Palmyra in that pale blue morning light…

Ruins. And the moon.

Ruins. And the moon.

…the moon still hovering over the ruins….


 …while the sun rose in the horizon, phramed by ancient pillars…

Ruins - The Boyfriend poses

Ruins - The Boyfriend poses

 …The Boyfriend who is a big fan of the ancient Romans and thus was like a kid in a candy store the whole time we were there, bless his heart…

The view from one of the towers of the ruins
View from the tower

…the one tower that was so well-preserved that you could still mount its stairs and get to the top and which lent us the stunning panoramic view of the old city, betraying the infra-structure and inspiring in us an How the Mighty Fall-ish kind of feeling… 

Palmyra camel
Palmyra camel

…And finally, just to get our feet back on the ground, this cute, laid-back camel we encountered on our way back to the hotel, when the heat was starting to get insufferable.

Syrian Impressions

Okay, so one week turned into two weeks, and then some. I returned from Syria last weekend, but I’ve got an exam coming up, and I’ve been so busy catching up on my studying since I’ve been back.

And I still have a lot of studying to do. My initial intention was to write one or more essays about my trip to post here, because Syria was really a life-altering experience for me, but what with my busy exam schedule and all, you’ll have to do without my self-indulgent (“self-indulgent”? Let’s hope I’m more eloquent at my upcoming exam…) self-absorbed ramblings. Instead, I’m posting some pictures:

The Danish Institute

The Danish Institute

The Danish Institute where our friend worked. Court yards are big in Damascus, but this one is one of the most famous and most well-restored. I loved the fountain and the mosaic, and the yard was made even more heavenly by the fact that only a few walls seperated it from the dusty, chaotic souq where the Institute is situated, and yet the yard was somehow always a tranquil, quiet place.

Damascus souq

Damascus souq

What’s a souq, you ask? The souqs are roofed bazaars. You can see an example at the picture above. The salesmen were eager to sell, of course, but they were also very polite, like pretty much every Syrian I met, so there was a pleasant, albeit hectic atmosphere in the souqs. I bought a lot of scarves.

The Umayyad Mosque

The Umayyad Mosque

I’ve been told that the Umayyad Mosque is the third most important mosque in the world! Built way back in the year 751, and housing the relic of Saint John’s skull (Saint John being an important prophet to Islam), it was indeed an impressive sight. As in all of the Damascus mosques I had to wear a hooted frock to cover my hair, and both men and women were to remove their shoes before entering the sacred place. The picture was taken in the mosque yard.

The Barber of Damascus

The Barber of Damascus

From the sacred grounds of a mosque to a more prosaic site: Here’s a Damascus barber, and The Boyfriend’s and my friend M. getting a Syrian shave.