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Monday, June 26, 2006

Copenhagen to Suomi

"European birds, they flew wherever their hearts took them. Wherever they landed they found themselves masters." --Minke in Pram Toer's 'Footsteps'
Brad and Inez verbally responded to my last blog entry and an interesting conversation ensued. We complained mainly about people's propensity for complaint. The essential point needing to be made was that despite Danish immigration bullshit, Brad, Inez, Emile, Freja, have carved out a beautiful and joyeous existence in Copenhagen. They are not rich but they have enough and gaming is constant: sword fights+peekaboo+is-the-dog-home? and art is everwhere, multiple projects ongoing, books of great thickness and depth, kisses and cuddles and hugs. Our 5 days there were extra-ordinairy, truly far better than an ordinary 5 days for us. We agreed though that despite our good fortune, there are too many not-so-luckies, the poor hungry sick, the middle classed mired in obsession with greater riches or slogging in the cubicle maze ratrace, the rich lonely unloved overcompensating tyrants - all live in the psychological slums and who can really tell which are truly happy? Surely not me, but I know too many are not in this world, and that's why I will keep on complaining and critiquing because I know we can do far far better than this. But perhaps the mission on this journey is to find hope and beauty and positive examples to follow, not just for those privileged with access andor money andor education andor whiteskin. Examples anybody can use. It's really not that hard.

All this talk occurred to the tune of Emile's occasional cheers of 'Skule!' at which point we'd dutifully clink glasses and drain some latte.
I rode the cargo bike with Freja asleep inside as I got used to its sensitivity to bumps and slight tippiness. Despite my rookie mistakes not a single motorist, nor pedestrian, nor even other cyclis, once got mad at me or experienced explosive behaviour disorder. The Danes were pleasant and smiled at my wobbles with the same amused fascination Freja shows when I turn my half empty Tuborg into a wind instrament.

Not only that, but they have a citywide bike lending system that works like shopping carts in North America: insert coin, use, return to any equipped bikestand and get your coin back.

When I start my own city bicycles will be the only form of transportation. Copenhagen has inspired me. Also, there will be Frankfurter stands. Sweet pig hoof chicken beak cow bone sausage. The best part is you get a bun that canät even pretend to hold the meat, it is too small, and thus merely accoutrement.
Lund Sweden

Jonatan is the Swedish me BobbyD. L.Cohen lovin wants to be a writer but plays guitar and is going to Med school. He hopes to combine political savvy with medical science to help people get better health care.

Cecilia will soon be a certified Swedish speech therapist or pathologist depending on the continent.

They gave us a walking tour of Lund, a stunningly beautiful small city, my sweet Halifax's European cousin with more green. The ivey university is the townäs centrepiece and draws half its polulation.

Idling through the botanical gardens we gave them a quick lesson on Canadian race relations: the aboriginal people gave Europeans the right to live on their land but never surrendered ownership now administration+residential schools+bands, councils, First Nations, reservations, Indian status+Chretian's 'white paper'+underground railroad+Africville+immigration and muliculturalism v. melting pot-ism+refugee hearings+blah blah blah, barely touched the labour market history but how we did go on, I hope we didn't bore them.

Trainzipped, schooling Swedes in Euchre and Canadian slang along the way, up to Halmstad's less than pretty but wonderfully warm beach. Expecting Altantic temperatures I hollered "speed is of the essence" and bolted into the water like a Baywatch Boy on the tail of a hot blonde drowning tomale. About 150 metres out I realized 2 things: 1. I was halfway to Norway and still not past my knees and 2. the water was Gulfstream warm. I shallow dove.

As we waited for Jonatan's dad to pick us up, Cecilia explained that in Sweden, sexual liberty is fine, but exploitation of women is not. Sounds about right. In my new town, which I am naming Christopia, there will be no exploitation, but lots of sexual liberty. People will also jump off bridges into clean deep gently flowing rivers whenever possible. This is not common where Jonatan was raised.

Those raising him, aside from the tremendous Swedish countryside rolling hills, were Lawrence and Irien, a country doctor who never rambles and a municipal administrator who takes excellent care of everyone. And about a dozen sheep.

We spent a glorious day in this homestead, frollicking Scandinavian style, high on coffee, fresh air, and freedom.

Trying to explain the hidden beauty of Toronto's ethnic and geographic neighbourhoods is never easy because on the surface it is once big congealed dirty city. Staffan, half our Goteburg hosts, said it sounded segregated, which I suppose it is to some extent, but largely self-selectedly so and that's not inherently bad. He politely agreed.

His other half, Monica, took us on a Disney-boat tide through the local canal and harbour during hightide, ducking under cheeseslicer bridges to escape decapitation, yet still we lost our eyes to the great bright wonders of industrialization, especially the star wars ships-builders, milehigh on the horizon dwarfing cruiseships and skyscrapers, casting lego shadows to the horizon. They were stunning in size and form. More spectacular even than Sweden's most beautiful weather-cock.

"I could use a little more historical context," Miia told me and I had to agree despite the lack of coersion.

"I could use a little less Robin Leach," was my only conceivable retort. Our trilingual guide was clearly a graduate from his school of linguistics; even her German sounded like 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.'
Thinking yet again about hierarchy, hated hierarchy. That awkward feeling of being revered for no reason other than your position, title, status, or being expected to revere someone else for the same. Working doggedly for something only to have it snatched from you, misdirected, or crushed from above by someone uninvolved, unrelated, and uninformed of your work. Or being expected to make decisions about things for which you have no relation, love or direct involvement.

It is culturally determined, yet part of every human society, even those more civilized than civilization. The question then is not whether there is hierarchy, but how much and how extreme. Do I need to crawl across the floor to my superior's desk, or merely pretend to find her interesting before disregarding her ideas?

In Paris, Swedish Monica worked as an aupair for an American family. The Mr. worked for a large insurance firm, exchanged his body, mind, time, and maybe soul for this family's physical comfort. Mrs.' job was to organize the time of their 2 children, a 13 year old boy and 11 year old girl. To help in this task she had 4 staff: a maid, a tutor, a woman who did all the ironing, and Monica, who was mainly responsible for driving the kids around to their many extracurricular activities. With the hidnsight of 4 years Monica still seems perplexed by the experience, which helped her perfect her Enlish and French, saying "it was just so different from how I was raised." Her and the majority of the humanity through the ages.

Contrast that privilege to most of the world and it is obviously unfair. There are so many examples to choose from. My own grandmother comes to mind. She raised 8 kids by herself while working a job and doing her best to protect them from her husband, as I understand it.

I'm reading now the story of the first native Indonesian newspaper, established c. 1907 completely by native talent. The founder was Tirto Adi Suryo and this story is part of a fictional account of his life. Throughout the story he is repeatedly frustrated by self-described supporters of his work who chastize him for failing to pay sufficient attention to protocol and sufficient respect to his superious, including the Dutch colonial powers who rule his country. By the same token, they admonish him for wasting time addressing the needs of lowly servants whom they see as being with honour, as if honour is a scarce resource that if shared will run short. It reminds me of how modern day conservatives view social spending - there just isnät enough dignity and basic human rights to go around. Backdropping the story is a series of Dutch-initiated wars with island natives desparately fighting to keep their land and culture.

These things tear at me, and maybe that's why I'm so serious, so dissatisfied with this world. All our gods have given us lands and seas of plenty and all we can do is self-aggrandize, compete, manipulate, screw and force each other out of it so we can get ours, again and again.

Yet I don't see huymanity as hopeless, or innately flawed...maybe I'll tell you why later.

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