Copenhagen, More Than Just A Brand Of Chewing Tobacco

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We are getting back up to speed around here, having traveled home for the holidays and now getting back into the swing of things here. Here’s my post from a trip we took back in December.

For Amy’s birthday this year, I got her the best present that anyone could ever give: me! She had to be in Copenhagen for a conference on her birthday and I tagged along to ensure that she wouldn’t be lonely and depressed on her special day. Her parents were in town for a visit, which meant we left Malcolm behind and visited a new place by ourselves. This is Copenhagen:

IMG_1791

They also like celebrating the holidays in Copenhagen. Why all the lights? It's 3:30 pm!

They also like celebrating the holidays in Copenhagen. Why all the lights? It’s 3:30 pm!

If  you are like me, you probably don’t know where Copenhagen is. It is in Denmark. If you are still like me, that probably doesn’t help all that much. After looking it up, I found that Denmark is the land mass that connects Germany and Sweden. If you can look at a globe, you’ll see that it’s about as far north as Alaska, which is about 1,000 miles farther north than I ever want to be, especially in December. It is far enough north that the sun goes missing for long periods of time. Seriously! In Copenhagen, the sun comes out at 9 and goes away at 3, meaning it keeps the same hours as a 20 year-old dog. Most of our visit there was shrouded in darkness.

Despite their unfortunate relation to the sun, we found the Danish (the people, not the pastries) to be warm and welcoming. OK, maybe the pastries are that way too. While the official language is Danish, most people spoke English. (Not that I minded. Danish is quite an interesting language to listen to, sort of a hodge-podge of soft German and other Nordic languages. Imagine Hitler hushedly doing an impersonation of the Swedish Chef, with less table-pounding and more fish tossing.) We went to dinner at a small casual family restaurant the first night and it felt less like a place of business and more like we had been invited over to someone’s house for dinner. The Danes are indeed great.

The only thing good about being dark at 9 am is that you get to sit in a cafe eating and drinking without remorse.

The only thing good about being dark at 9 am is that you get to sit in a cafe eating and drinking without remorse.

On our only full day there, Amy went to her conference and I set out to see some sights. I had coffee and a danish at local coffee shop, mostly because I had see what Danish danish were like. Anytime the name of the food specialty matches the name of the town, I have to give it a try. (Except of course, when I am in Dirty Pig Testicle, Texas. There, I skip it.) The pastries were good, yeasted, and therefore light and airy on the inside, crisp on the outside and deliciously sweet and cinnamonny all through. My pastry experience here was like waking up on Christmas morning, in baked-goods form.

Looks pretty crappy, exactly like it does in Bohemia.

Looks pretty crappy, exactly like it does in Bohemia.

My first stop was Christianshavn, a residential area known for its bohemian atmosphere. After seeing a lot of things described as “bohemian,” in my life,  I have come to the conclusion that this is really just code for “crappy looking.” From what I could tell, the chief attraction in this part of the woods was Christiana, a commune set up by squatters in some old army barracks. There, residents have attempted to set up an independent autonomous collective, complete with its own government charter and lax attitudes towards leashing your pets. As I wandered the paths of Christiana with 20 mangy looking dogs, I saw the “Green Light District,” which is where everyone in Copenhagen goes to score weed. I usually don’t like getting high, but, like urge to sample a Danish danish, I really wanted to see what it would be like to smoke out with squatters who thumb their noses at the rest of the country (pot is illegal everywhere else.) My curiosity only goes so far, though, and as the area was totally scuzzy and it was 10 am, I kept going. Half of the dogs in town followed me.

A twofer! Art and fancy writing in the same tiny book. How lucky was I?

A twofer! Art and fancy writing in the same tiny book. How lucky was I?

My next stop was the David Collection, the largest collection of Islamic art in Northern Europe. I discovered that Islamic art was quite different from other culture’s artistic expressions and mainly consisted of things like tiny picture books, clothing, pottery, calligraphy and coins. Mildly put out by the name, I filled out a feedback form telling them they should change the name of the place to “The David Collection of Old Clothes, Cursive Samples, Tiny Pictures, Pots and Loose Change,” so as to avoid any confusion. The “art” they did have was indeed interesting, although there were so many docents in the museum and so few patrons that the scene inside was pretty uncomfortable. The docents practically begged me to engage them on the exhibits, but I really had nothing for them. Every once in a while, I would note, “Wow, this picture book is really much smaller than the rest” or “I like the way this ‘T’ is crossed,” but for the most part, I was useless. The inside of that place reeked of desperation.

I decided I needed a little blood and guts. Anywhere situated this far north has to have a long and glorious history with Vikings, right? I made my way to the National Museum for what I thought would be an extensive history of the vikings in this part of the world. I was initially intrigued by the early Danish penchant for making tributes. Essentially, in the old days, if you had something you really liked, you tossed it in the bog in the name of good fortune. Got a really nice silver pot? Toss it in the bog! Hey, nice carriage, you should totally toss it in the bog! Where’s your sister? I threw her in the bog, and now my rash is nearly gone! Researchers have had a field day going into the bogs and looking for stuff that people threw in for good luck. I was amazed. I was not, however, amazed at the Viking displays at the museum. There were two rooms, and there was no glorification of violence anywhere. There was no carnage or tails of getting drunk and invading far off lands. I didn’t get to see stories of Eric-The-Red, Eric-The-Mad or even Eric-The-Guy-Who-Just-Tossed-His-Favorite-Shoe into the bog. I was quite disappointed.

One thing that I noticed walking around town was how trustworthy the Danish are. Everywhere I went, I saw bikes parked on the street without so much as a lock on them. Being from Oakland, my first inclination was to steal as many as I could, but upon a bit of reflection, I realized that 100 Danish bikes would not fit in our carry-on baggage. This point was really driven home when I saw a sleeping baby in a stroller parked in front of a store, its owner nowhere to be found. That baby would last 10 minute tops in Oakland before being sold to overzealous infertile San Francisco parents. Perhaps they should include stuff like this in promoting tourism in here: Copenhagen, a place so safe you can leave your baby alone on the street!

This is the National Face of Denmark. Everyone wears it. There really isn't any other face you can make when you are getting pelted in the face with small chunks of ice going 50 miles per hour.

This is the National Face of Denmark. Everyone wears it. There really isn’t any other face you can make when you are getting pelted in the face with small chunks of ice going 50 miles per hour.

One thing that did not disappoint was the weather. While we were there, we saw a steady stream of people getting the hell out of town. A major storm hit there area with temperatures plummeting and winds howling near 50 miles per hour. They closed all the bridges in town, the train station and the airport, leaving downtown Copenhagen a veritable ghost town. No wonder the docents at the Davis Museum were so hard up!

This dish combined beef jerky and bone marrow. Needless to say it was near the top of the list.

This dish combined beef jerky and bone marrow. Needless to say it was near the top of the list.

Of course, no birthday celebration would be complete without a crazy decadent meal. We booked a table at a Michelin starred restaurant and arrived to find that the storm had chased away all the other diners. We had the place to ourselves, meaning the entire wait staff and kitchen was there to dote on us. It was pretty awesome. We had 12 courses, complete with wine pairings, and it was one crazy dining experience. We ate cod skin, beef jerky, sweetbreads, deer tartare, burned artichoke and everything in between. They even made us a nice cake for Amy’s birthday. Amy didn’t remember it though, because we drank enough awesome wine to make us want to invade a neighboring country and pillage the shit out of it. While we normally prefer simpler fare, it was quite an experience to see what fussy food can look and taste like.

Copenhagen was definitely not on my list of places to get to while we are in Europe, but I am really glad we went. I can imagine going there in the summer, when the weather is nice and the sun shines all night long, and enjoying some good beer at a nice outdoor restaurant without having to worry in the least about where I had parked my child. We’ll have to go back.

 

My Christmas Wish(es)

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France, Paul is a Dork

I love the holidays. If I had to rank the favorite things in my life right now it would go like this:

1. Popcorn

2. Amy

3. The Holidays

4. Music from New Orleans

Needless to say, when we watched a Christmas episode of the show Treme the other night, just me and my baby and big ole’ bowl of popcorn, life was pretty good. (For those of you who who are wondering why Malcolm was omitted, he is currently on my shit list for putting me #5 on his list, behind  “Ipads” and his fantasy football team. Bah humbug to you too kid!)

Besides holiday music, which loops endlessly around our house during this time of year, the biggest reason I like the holidays so much is the sense of hope which pervades the spirit. Whether it’s New Year’s Resolutions that you fulfill yourself or the blind faith that a fat man in a red suit will bring you a slice of happiness, there is something in the air that reads, “Things are gonna totally get better for me.” It’s like a fortune cookie that lasts for an entire month!

So, without further adieu, here are my Christmas wishes:

1. I wish Malcolm would stop asking for his own Ipad. Seriously, the kid won’t shut up about it, even though he still has semi-exclusive use of the one we already got. He isn’t getting one because he there is a 100% probability that he would lose it if we got one for him. In the past 3 weeks, he has lost a pair of nice gloves, a nice hoodie, misplaced two library books and broke his nice glasses. The moral of the story is that he is cut off from nice things that are smaller than a dishwasher until he can demonstrate a certain level of ownership competence. I’m not sure it’s tough love as much as it is simple cheapness on my part. I hate replacing stuff for no good reason!

I am guessing there was some pretty good butter in here, but I want the good stuff by itself!

I am guessing there was some pretty good butter in here, but I want the good stuff by itself!

2. I want to find some good butter. The average, grocery store butter here is pretty darn good. I am still waiting, however, to have an experience where you sample some butter and then immediately slap the person nearest to you in the face. Fingers: crossed.

3. I hope to meet someone here who’d care if I died. You always want to feel part of a community, a group where, if news of your untimely demise hit, it would be met with wails and people muttering, “It was too soon.” I have met some people in Paris, but I have yet to forge any relationships where, if my hand got caught in the door of the metro and I was dragged through the subway tube and decapitated, someone would miss me. Sure it might get some people back int he USA roiled up, but, it’s pretty sobering to think that an entire town of 2 million people would all read my obituary and think, “Who’s that?” I gotta make some friends, and quick. The Metro is pretty dangerous here. Bonus points if that person was a) snarky, and b) liked sports.

4. I want everything to go smoothly during our trip home. We are coming home for the holidays for an extended stay visiting friends and family. We rented a house we on Airbnb.com and a car from relayrides.com. Both websites connect people who aren’t using their houses and cars to people who need their houses and cars. The upside for doing things this way is that they are significantly cheaper than a hotel and traditional rental cars. The downside is that the house could be infested with bats and the car has a body in the trunk. We had to try, though. After all, it wouldn’t be a Wilson-Schwartz adventure without the threat of rabies or an unexplained murder. Fingers: triple crossed!

5. I want my dad to feel better. He has been sick, it seems like, since the beginning of autumn. Sometimes they know what is happening, and give him stuff to make him feel better. Other times, the medical establishment scratches its collective head and says, “beats me!”  Through it all, he’s kept the same sense of humor that has made people groan at his jokes throughout his entire life. Enough is enough, get better pops!

I can't ask someone to slow down when they talk, but I can say "Père Noël" with the best of 'em at least!

I can’t ask someone to slow down when they talk, but I can say “Père Noël” with the best of ‘em at least!

6. I want to learn how to speak French. I have been working on it, but I have a long way to go. When the store clerk screams at me for messing up her display, I want to understand what she is saying. When the waitress tells me funny stories about Celine Dion’s husband and child, (who we ate next to a few weeks back,) I want to understand all the goofy details. When my cellphone rings and I don’t know who it is, I want to be confident enough to answer it. (Currently, I don’t. I let it go to voice mail and try to piece together things later.) It’s a bit humbling to get your ass handed to you in a foreign country on a daily basis because you don’t speak the home language. I would like for all that to stop. I don’t need to speak it as well as Celine Dion, mind you, just enough to know what her family is generally like.

7. OK, I’ve thought about it and that’s a pretty long list. Skip everything and just get me the butter. Sorry pops, good butter trumps all.

Happy Holidays to you all and as they say here, Joyeuses Fêtes!

Barthalona, It’th Thimply Fantathtic

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

We went to Barcelona last weekend. They talk funny there. Not funny-interesting, either, like,

“These cookies taste funny Malcolm, what did you put in them?

Chili powder and macadamia nuts.

Rrkay.”

I found the language spoken in Barcelona to be hilarious. Instead of the “S” sound they make a “TH” sound, making comic gold out of otherwise uninteresting sentences (“For thith reathon the Thpanith Empire wath thaved from dethtruction.”) Are you kidding me? I would watch C-Span all day if it sounded like this! (Thee-Thpan!) Most people sound like they have a handful of ham in their mouth when they talk, and I loved every minute of it.

Why  do they sound that way? Usually, it’s because they have a handful of ham in their mouth! Only, it’s no ordinary ham. While it’s called ham, it’s totally HINO (Ham In Name Only.) They call it jamón iberico. I call it Porcstasy.

Pork in a cone? You bet your sweet bippy!

Pork in a cone? You bet your sweet bippy!

The ham in Spain, the really good stuff, comes from special pigs with special legs that forage around the forest eating special acorns. They lead very pampered lives up until the point at which they are slaughtered. Those special legs are then left to cure for up to four years. (!) After curing, they are brought to a market and stuck in a special vice where artisan butchers slice off paper-thin portions one customer at a time.

Pig in a polk!

Pig in a polk!

One savory sample and your eyes roll into the back of your head while you exclaim, Mary Conchita Alonso Elizabeth Mastrantonio! The acorns give the jamón iberico a truly unique flavor, a rich nuttiness that even the Koch brothers can’t touch. The icing on the ham (mental note: invent icing for ham) is that it is surprisingly high in the mono-unsaturated fats that are actually good for you, meaning that each delicious bite makes your mouth, heart and colon all smile. With so much going for it, we enjoyed quite a bit of ham during our trip.

A blast even without the biggest star.

Forget Messi, Malkie was the big star this weekend!

The main non-ham related reason we were in Barcelona was to watch a soccer match for Malcolm’s birthday. It was supposed to be a slaughter: Malcolm’s soccer idol, Lionel Messi’s FC Barcelona squad was up against one of the cellar dwellers of the Spanish League. It turned out that Messi and several other stars on the team were out due to injuries, meaning a) Malcolm was really bummed at not seeing his hero play, and b) I was excited because the tickets were a lot cheaper. That probably means that I am a bad person, but as long as it’s only “probably,” I am fine with it. The home team still won 4-0 and Malcolm had a great time. He will forever be able to say that he got to watch FC Barcelona win on his birthday, and that is pretty cool. Later, after the game and dinner, Malcolm ate an entire dessert sampler by himself. He had quite the birthday, and will probably be talking about it non-stop, until he starts planning his next birthday (next week!)

Huh?

Huh?

By far the highlight, sightseeing-wise, was the church designed by Antoni Gaudi. It’s called Sagrada Familia, which translates roughly to, “You are not going to believe this nutty fucking church.” With it, Gaudi seemed to turn science, art and reality on their respective heads. You walk around looking at everything in/on the church and wonder what happened. It all just looked so … weird. (I imagine it’s the same sensation Lady Gaga’s OB-GYN has during her annual pap smear.) After we left, the three of us just let out a collective, “Whoa.” to what we had just seen. I think I liked it, but I couldn’t tell whether I actually enjoyed the aesthetics of it or just appreciated the different-ness. I loaded some pics to follow the post in case you are interested in seeing some more. Gaudi was an insane genius person.

I don't know why there are so many songs about rainbows, but thanks for asking!

I don’t know why there are so many songs about rainbows, but thanks for asking!

It seems like we spend the rest of the weekend asking our tour guide stupid questions. We didn’t know who defeated the Romans and the end of the Roman Empire. We didn’t know Spain was neutral during World War II. We couldn’t understand why, if the foundation behind the construction of Gaudi’s church was devoted to Joseph, the church didn’t have more Joseph statues. (The Paul society will be erecting fat-faced statues in every house I ever lived in, I guarantee you that.) I wish you could have seen some of the looks the guide shot us, they were quite amusing. There were times when she contorted her face in disgust at our ineptitude that she looked like a baby excreting in its diaper. The good thing about hiring a guide, though, is that you are paying them to answer all your questions, even the dumb ones. Our guide earned every cent.

When confounding the guide became old hat, we ate. We had a few unhammy meals, and they were pretty awesome. We had delicious paella, outstanding tapas and, after a trip to the Picasso Museum where I proudly announced, “I don’t get it,” we had a proper Spanish lunch. Lunchtime in Spain is a 2-3 hour saga in which the entire country shuts down to enjoy a multi-course meal. I thought it was for sleeping, evidently, it is for eating! Our Comida included the best pork dish ever. Pork shoulder was cooked in pork fat for several hours until until it had the consistency of pulled pork, then it was topped with some crispy pork skin and served with mushrooms and a red wine reduction. To eat it was to feel the sensation of hugging a pig in heaven. Malcolm and Amy had a delicious fish cooked in a thick layer of salt. I don’t remember the dessert because I was in a wine-aided bout of porkphoria. Our lunch lasted 2.5 hours and it made us miss our intended tour of some additional sights. We didn’t cram some more touristy stuff in because we’d rather eat than tour. Period.

You’d think that with all these cool experiences, though, that we would have been the toast of the town. Instead, we were hated in Spain with the fuerza normally reserved for members of the Inquisition, Franco’s secret police and people who don’t like soccer. People would ask us in questions in Spanish or English, and, after giggling about the “TH” sound thing, we’d respond in French. Then we’d correct it to English, translate it into shitty Spanish and then back to English. Then we would try to hide. This is a very difficult way to conduct simple business and generally made things intolerably difficult for everyone involved. We were not popular.

After trying so hard to learn the French way of doing things for the past month and a half, we found it very hard to switch gears. I have to admit, when we got off the airplane in Paris, and were welcomed with, “Bienvenue a Paris!” it was a welcome relief. Barthalona, you are thuper to vithit, but Parith ith where our home ith.

Here are some more Gaudi pics:

IMG_3338

Huh?

IMG_3341

Wha?

IMG_3351

Whoa

IMG_3363

This looked like a tiki hut, except with, you know, the son of god crucified underneath it.

IMG_3371

Look at that brass!

IMG_3347
Ooh
IMG_3374

Aah

 

Me thinks this quite the spectacle.

Me thinks this quite the spectacle.

French Superlatives

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

We went to the shittiest parade ever. I’ve been to some real doozies, too, (the Marlin Luther King Junior parade in Carson City, Nevada consisted entirely of the sole black family in town riding around on their bikes throwing Tootsie Pops to people who kept asking, “Who’s Dr. King, is that our pediatrician?”) This one, last weekend, was quite bad. It was advertised as “Armistice Day,” and described as a special day to commemorate the end of World War I. Instead, upset French citizens whistled at politicians while throngs of police officers in riot gear looked on menacingly. After, a car bearing the flag of each participating country drove down the Champs-Elysées while no one watched. It was like the Daytona 500 except without any rednecks or car crashes. If the combatants of WWI witnessed the sad “commemoration” of the cease fire they would have decided to just keep fighting. We commemorated the day by getting Malkie a well deserved pair of mittens. (It’s getting cold here!)

There are so many things right about this piece of bread.

There are so many things right about this piece of bread.

I have been eating ridiculously large amounts of bread. I assure you it’s been sufficiently large to require an internet search for any link between baguettes and big butts. (If you are ever tempted to recreate the results for such a search, and I cannot be more clear about this next part: never, ever looking at the image results. Seriously, you’ve been warned.) After moving into our apartment, I tried the nearby bakeries to see how good the baguettes and croissants were. Turns out the bakeries nearby don’t have the good stuff. Unwilling to “settle” in the City of Bread, I started expanding the search area and found a couple places that, while farther away, serve baguettes so good they make you crazy enough to post pictures of yourself on the internet doing unnatural things with loaves  of bread. One day, I ate half a baguette in my “sandwich” and spent the rest of the afternoon trying not to think about the remaining portion of the loaf hanging out all by itself in the kitchen. I have become a painophile. (Don’t google that one, either.) At some point I am going to write a whole post on the qualities of a good baguette. I just need to do some more research first, like maybe 50 or so loaves. I should be done by next week.

I think the morning Metro ride may be the quietest public transportation experience in the world. Getting on a cramped subway car, you’d expect that the interior of the car would be bustling with the sounds of life. Not so here. This is true even during rush hour, when the cars are completely full and every part of your body fits snugly into the body parts of those standing around you, like we are all just human-sized Lego blocks. Want to try something weird? Go stand next to someone on the street, placing your nose in their ear and don’t make a sound. It’s unsettling. I’d apologize for all the unintended bumping and grinding I have been doing, but I get the sense that verbalizing at all on the subway here would be an even bigger transgression. I would never have guessed it, but I miss the drunk homeless people on BART who mumble constantly about the impending attack of the alien vegetables.

Malcolm and I took the weirdest path ever to a baseball practice last weekend. I think we found a team for Malcolm to play on, but things got off to quite a rocky start. We took a (very quiet) metro to a commuter train, which after driving for 40 picturesque minutes through the French countryside, dropped us off in a village. Neither Google maps nor my innate sense of direction were able to get us to the field easily. So, there we were wandering through a village in rural France, looking for, of all things, a baseball field. Plus, it was around 38 degrees. Not your average Sunday morning in the Ile de France! Things got really bad when the road we were on promptly ended. One simply cannot give up when difficulties arise, however, so we continued on down a muddy path leading through a pasture. Certainly, there were times when I thought, “We are in a fucking meadow! This isn’t going to end up like we want it to.” I kept my game face on, though, and reminded Malcolm that the tastiest chickens are often the hardest to catch. Our perseverance paid off when the muddy path in the meadow eventually gave way to a dirt baseball field! I hadn’t told the coach we were going to attend the practice, I can’t imagine what he must have thought when we appeared out of the wilderness with a backpack loaded full of Malcolm’s baseball gear. We must have looked like aliens falling from the sky. Malcolm likes the team and I think it will be a good fit.

I just licked my screen uploading the picture.

I just licked my screen uploading the picture.

We live across the street from some of the best desserts in France. Turns out that, while the bakery around the corner from us doesn’t make memorable baguettes, it does crank out desserts that could end World Wars. We started with a chocolate cake whose name escapes me because when the clerk was explaining what is was, I was lost in its impossibly shiny chocolate exterior. We had the cassis tarte this weekend and it wasn’t so much a dessert as it was a love letter from the Michelin starred owner’s brain to your tongue. They even serve their desserts at a neighborhood restaurant and we had raspberry religieuse that was so beautiful we hated to eat it. (Every luscious bite!) The desserts are almost perfect. They look stunning. The taste is perfectly balanced, not too sweet, not too rich and not too far that we can’t run over there after dinner and quickly grab a perfect last bite to end our day, good or bad. And with the days that we have sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.