Pictures of an Exhibition

Feb. 10 - I went touristing yesterday with a friend, U., a Dane who's lived at least as many years in the states as the DMG (and happens to be her ex-step brother).

We decided to visit Rundetårn, the Round Tower, an observatory built in 1642 by King Christian IV.

Inside the Round Tower

Nearly everything old and cool in Copenhagen was built by King Christian IV. That was the signature of his reign: he built stuff. Or rather, he ordered other people to build stuff that he paid for with other people's money. You can't walk two blocks in the old city without stumbling across something built on the orders of Christian IV. Victor Hugo called architecture a kind of literature; if that's so, Christian IV was the Random House of his day.

The tower is only tall in the sense that it's higher than anything in its immediate vicinity. It's also round, rather than square. The way to the top is by means of a steeply winding ramp that coils upward into the tower, as you can see in the photograph above. (U. tells me there's an annual unicycle race down the ramp; we marvelled at the ruts and grooves in the brick flooring and talked about the importance of shock absorbers.)

When you reach the top of the ramp you go up a flight of winding iron stairs and step out onto the roof. This gives you one of the best views of central Copenhagen you'll ever get. I took about fifteen pictures up there. Here's my favorite:

View from the top: the bridge to Sweden is just visible, center, and the spire in the foreground belongs to Nikolajkirken, where the DMG and I were married.

It's a lovely view, and we were lucky to have been up there on such a clear day. (There are apparently only about seven clear days per Danish winter.) But when you get right down to it, it's just a damn tower. You go up, you look around, you come down. End of adventure.

Or so I thought.

On our way back down we noticed a door leading off the tower into a big old room that was being used as some kind of museum. Peering through the glass door, we couldn't make much sense of what we were seeing: it looked like a bake sale in a big church basement, except instead of all tables being laden with pies and muffins and cookies, they were covered with—well, the kind of useless crap you accumulate a lot of in your twenties, hold on to through your thirties, then start throwing out as you get closer to forty. (I speak from extensive personal experience.)

I'm talking about things like bobblehead dolls, little plastic toys, painted metal firetrucks, kitschy posters, colorful matchbooks, stuff like that. It didn't make any sense. We stepped into the exhibition room a little doubtfully.

The first "exhibit" we encountered was a riff on Noah's Ark: a couple of podiums of different sizes shoved together and painted to look something like a boat, upon which were displayed hundreds of stuffed animals, plastic animals, bobblehead animals, paper cutout animals, painted die-cast metal animals, and the like. I wouldn't have paid more than fifty cents for a single one of the animals in the display, but I would have paid a considerable amount to have the display removed from my home.

Noah wept.

But at least there was some thematic unity here. Boat. Animals. Noah's Ark. Got it. Unfortunately, the rest of the "exhibit" was less understandable. What, for example, were we supposed to make of this?

Eat your spinach, Buddha!

One doesn't see Buddha and Olive Oyl together very often. Why here? Why now? That was the real problem with the exhibit: it wasn't explained anywhere and it simply didn't make any sense. Dozens or hundreds of strange, useless trinkets were just lumped together in unlikely arrangements for no apparent reason. One wall, for example, was covered with plastic masks, all of which were arranged around an advertisement for a Danish brand of cigarettes, circa 1940s. In one corner was a pile of briefcases, suitcases, travel bags, hatboxes, and trunks. Some glass shelves supported meticulously arranged dioramas in which, for example, red firetrucks raced through plastic palm trees while wobbly hula girls and painted metal porpoises frolicked in their wake, or drunken young men in a doll-sized bar lay sprawled amid a pile of tiny champagne bottles while bipedal badgers looked on with amusement.

Badgered to drink?

From the wall of masks.

I can't remember the name of the exhibit, but U. and I worked it out to something like "Attic Storage Clutter" in English. But that wouldn't make sense in America. I don't know anyone with an attic full of bobblehead animals, or figurines of African tribal warriors, or little wooden penguins. A better English translation might be, "Resting Place for Crap You Bought When You Were Drunk at the Fair," or maybe even, "Stuff Your Grandparents Couldn't Sell at Their Yard Sale."

It was the stupidest, most pointless exhibit I'd ever seen in anything with the chutzpah to call itself a museum. I have therefore chosen to love it.

I wouldn't urge anyone to fly out to Copenhagen to see this exhibit, but I would urge my fellow Copenhageners, expat or natural, to cough up the twenty kroner to get into the Tower and take a peek next time they're wandering around Strøget.

It really doesn't get any weirder.

* * *

Afterwards we wandered around aimlessly. We went up to the queen's residence at Amelienborg, glanced across the harbor at the construction on the impressive new opera, and ended the afternoon with a drink at a little bar off Nyhavn. It was all very touristy and magnificent.

I stand enriched.

Bleak Month

Tensions are running high around the world right now, and rightly so. February is a bleak month. And yet I feel compelled to contribute to the general anxiety by reflecting on February's dismal history in drenching detail.

Bad Endings

King Richard II of England, who had been deposed in 1399, died "mysteriously" on February 14, 1400.

Timur Lenk (also known as Timur the Lame, Tamerlane, Tamberlaine, and Mister Tambourine Man) died "mysteriously" during an expedition to China on February 18, 1405.

King James I of Scotland was assassinated on February 21, 1437.

George, the English Duke of Clarence, was convicted of treason against his brother King Edward IV and murdered in the Tower of London on February 18, 1478.

On February 13, 1542, Henry VIII of England's Vth wife, Catherine Howard, was executed for adultery.

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546.

On February 12, 1554, Lady (and former queen) Jane Grey was executed for high treason in England.

Michelangelo Buonarotti died on February 18, 1564.

Roman philosopher and mathematician Giordano Bruno was betrayed to the Inquisition and burned as a heretic on February 17, 1600.

Celebrated French dramatist and comedian Moliere collapsed on stage and died on February 17, 1673.

Captain James Cook was murdered in Hawaii on February 14, 1779.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant died on February 12, 1804.

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky died on February 9, 1881.

On February 13, 1883, German composer and posthumous Hitler idol Richard Wagner, best known for writing the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now, died. Almost exactly eleven years later (February 12, 1894), German pianist, composer, and first husband of Wagner's wife Cosima, Hans von Bulow, also died.

A bunch of Al Capone's thugs killed seven members of the Bugs Moran gang in a Chicago garage on February 14, 1929. (The infamous "Lupercalia Massacre.")

Nobel laureate Andre Gide died on February 19, 1951.

Congo's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was "mysteriously" murdered on February 12, 1961.

Malcolm X was murdered in New York on February 21, 1965.

The father of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, died on February 18, 1967.

Theolonius Monk and Lee Strasberg died on February 17, 1982.

On February 22, 1987, Andy Warhol died.

Supreme Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping died on February 19, 1997.

Bad Beginnings

Michael Romanov was elected Tsar of Russia on February 21, 1613, beginning the oppressive Romanov line.

Napoleon Bonaparte established himself as the first consul in France on February 19, 1800.

On February 22, 1862, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America.

The U.S. battleship Maine blew up "mysteriously" in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, beginning the Spanish-American war.

Emperor Pu Yi of China's Manchu dynasty abdicated on February 12, 1912, allowing the establishment of a provisional republic under Sun Yat-sen, eventually causing Red China.

The German army launched an attack on Verdun on February 21, 1916; the battle would last nine months and claim over 970,000 lives.

Friedrich Ebert was elected the first president of the German Republic on February 11, 1919. President Ebert brought about the Weimar constitution that eventually resulted in Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy announced on February 9, 1950, that he had evidence that there were Communists in the State Department.

Fidel Castro was sworn in as the prime minister of Cuba on February 16, 1959.

Misplaced Optimism

On February 16, 1918, Lithuania proclaimed its independence from Russia. On February 9, 1929, the governments of Poland, Romania, Estonia, and Latvia signed a pact with Russia renouncing war. Exactly five years later, Romania signed a mutual defense agreement with Greece, Yugoslavia, and Turkey.

Total World War II death toll for these nine countries: 7,107,200.

Mixed Bag

A bomb exploded in the dining room of St. Petersburg's Winter Palace on February 17, 1880.

Tsar Alexander II survived.


George Stephanopoulos turns 43 today. He shares his birthday with Greg Norman (1955), Mark Spitz (1950), Roberta Flack (1939), Robert Wagner (1930), Lon Chaney (1905), Bertolt Brecht (1898), Jimmy Durante (1893), and Boris Pasternak (1890).

It's St. Paul's Shipwreck Day in Malta.

Happy Tuesday!

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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