Celebratory Snap shots—The Party Is Over Here SDiane Adamz Bogus/Shariananda 6/30/2013

Celebratory Snap shots—The Party Is Over Here    SDiane Adamz Bogus/Shariananda 6/30/2013

In the USA, on any midnight dance floor, when the juice is flowing, the sweat is popping on the rhythm infused bodies, when the crowd is buoyed up by the boom boom, boom of the disco beat, augmented by the disc jockey’s hollers and scratching, there is usually a call that goes out, “ooh–oo -ooh-oo” and punctuated by the chant “There’s a party over here!” Chains and trains of people connect and follow the energy in a lengthening line of revelry and unselfconscious relaxation. When I was able to be in such a setting, enjoying the boogie, I always loved it.

 

Well, since my arrival in Denmark, I have come to believe that the entire country is nothing short of an on-going party, though not always as raucous as the American disco scenes I have visited, but entirely given to fun, exuberance, sharing the moments of life, and embracing “celebration” as a feature of daily life. I have spoken about this before, explaining the concept of hyggelig:  as much as (and as often as possible), a good and mellow time with loved ones and friends; fun with a capital F.

 

The warmth of summer with a growing intensity for heat has eluded Denmark so far this year. It was a late and prolonged winter that we have just come through, and the trees have only just reached their full bodied leafy bloom. The wind blows in from the north and north east, chilling the day, and clouds convene in alternating bluster, first darkening, then lightening when the sun can force through beams. The Danes take every second they can in the sun. They throw together impromptu picnics and soirees on the stroke of a sun beam, and they gather in intense groups at open air cafes and small sandwich or specialty eating shops to drink beers, sodas, coffee and schmooze as if there is to be no tomorrow. And I suppose, they are to be commended for living for today, for tomorrow the sun may not shine. They suck up their fortitude, throw blankets over their legs or wraps around their necks, maybe even a light jacket, and face the gray of the day with the insistent hope that the sun will return shortly. And it does– like a sea change–which often is the cause: evaporation and condensation from local and distant bodies of water.

 

At the beginning of June, one would think temperatures would rise, and the swimmers and runners, strollers, and sun bathers would be delighted and greatly visible, but this season, as I understand it, the percentages of people enjoying the bold outdoors is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, that did not stop one man, from celebrating the joy of summer in the square at Norreport, one of the main commercial areas where the bus and train stop in central Copenhagen.

 

SNAP SHOT 1

 

As Vivi and I were en route to the cafe Flottenheimer, owned by a Turkish friend whom we had previously met at the department of immigration, we passed through one of the large areas where there is outdoor seating and large numbers of people eating, drinking, chatting, and just hanging in the merciful light of day without rain or gray skies. It is really a sight to see. It feels like one is in a Monet painting, part of the many dotted pattern of the scene. Framing this surreal moment are pubs and convenience stores, clothing shops and specialty businesses for various ethnic and cultural groups. Tables are round or square, full of glasses half full, half empty–your pleasure to imagine. Passing through the utter energy of it, I found myself gaping and giving Vivi my usual   running commentary of wonderment and appreciation, to which she always smiles and says, “We enjoy every clear day, every sunny day we can get because summer is so short and winter so long.” Just then, a naked man steps into our path. He is singing, and smiling, his privates dangling, his suntan marked by the light places where clothes had defined their shadow. He was bald headed, and had an earring in his ear and a beer in hand. He was in a bliss and his friends who sat at the table where his piled-up clothes lay partly in the seat and partly on the ground, were clapping and smiling and hooting him on. For my part–I was shocked. I was not quite ready for this level of freedom of expression. I have seen it on TV, nakedness in commercials and in television programming. I have even seen film of the naked swimmers of winter here in Denmark, but to come upon a naked man among crowds of dressed people took me by surprise. I blushed–and yes, I can–brown skin or not. It did not faze anyone except me it seemed. Everyone else, whom I could see, just smiled or laughed or ignored him and kept to their own enjoyment.

“Vivi!” I said. “Shari,” she said. And that was that. We passed on taking in all the mass of Danish compatriots enjoying the summer day.

SNAP SHOT2

The 20 or 21 of June is the longest day of summer in Denmark. They call it Midsummer, and they have a tradition of celebration around it. I do not have the history, but the tradition is to go to the edge of the sea (or nearest beach) and build or be a part of the burning of a substantial bonfire. If you are in the right place along the beach front or water’s edge, you can look down the length of the beach and see the other bonfires burning, and it sets up a kind of connection between the groups of people. Viv and I went to Skodsborg   Strand in Skodsborg. This was the night of that great, full moon that was reported to be nearer the earth than usual. We drove out along the coast near dusk, and found ourselves at a modest gathering of people where tables and chairs had been set out by the owners of a mobile cafe. There was a silence to the celebration that I did not expect. Couples in various configurations strolled slowly to and fro, some watched the modest bonfire at our location; others seem to be like extras in a film, in place, but without purpose except to people the scene. Some of the people sat inside the tents having coffee or drinks; still others sat on the pier brick wall, eating ice cream. Others sat at the picnic tables or along the wooden pier itself. There I noticed a group of teens huddled at the far point edge of the pier, smoking cigarettes, and clustered as if up to something secretive. They were quiet and respectful, and I appreciated getting a look at the teens of Denmark here. I have seen some on the S-tog commuter train and on the bus, but here they were participating. Smaller kids, of about 8 years or so, played on the bolder breakers–one leaping from one to the other with mountain goat facility. He liked my attention and got bolder, without a slip. His sister or slightly younger girl companion followed with the same alacrity. Older couples were arm in arm, and mothers and children, groups of families also strode by. It seems everyone of all ages celebrates Midsummer. Yet it was quiet for an event meant to celebrate solstice; but what do I know? I just got here. It seemed to me that music was missing. What’s more the fire was burning too low, and there was no extra wood to flush it; the signal fires further down the beach seemed fitful as well, burning high for a time, then disappearing, down to just above ember blaze. I said to Vivi, “This is mighty quiet. They need some music.” She said,” We usually do have some, if we had gone to one of the larger gatherings at other bonfire locations. There the people sing favorites and dance, and make noise.” But I knew that she had not wanted to go to a great crowded location because it would have been too much. She had had a full work week, and so had I online. Mellow, easy, and cozy ruled the day. So, I satisfied myself with a double scoop of chocolate and banana ice cream, called ” is” and we cuddled close under the canopy of  a blue tent with a blue glass candle holder where burned a candle as the huge moon rose before us, alternately falling under the dense, dark clouds and reappearing when we least thought it’d come back. We stayed until the wind changed to cold and whipped us to chills. The cafe owner started to put things away, and asked us to move to a picnic table, handing us our candle to take the romance with us. So much for the Midsummer celebration. Still, it seems to me, one has to take the good times as they come, regardless of the weather. Sadan er det. (So it goes).

 

SANP SHOT 3

 

Vivi works for a company that fund raises for large charitable organizations. Her company is in start-up, and she is a skilled and experienced fund raiser who brings managerial expertise to the effort. Earlier in the week, she invited me to come out to have a beer with her and her co-workers and colleagues when their work day was over on Thursday. This seemed like fun, and it was another chance to see how workers enjoy hyggelig together. Gaining more and more independence as I learn the bus routes and the train schedules, I took the 6A bus that runs on Frederiksborgvej toward Norreport, and got off at Jagtvej and Tagensvej. This was bout 9:30 PM, and it was still daylight, as it would be at about 6PM in the USA in most cities in the summer. I was not sure how to navigate once I got off the bus; so standing at the bus stop with cell phone in hand, I took in the Dogn/Netto grocery store, the florist shop, the cycle shop, and the business building in each direction starting with my corner. I rang Vivi, and she came out from the bar, where they already had gathered. She instructed me to cross the street to the northeast corner. Soon, I could see her on the avenue (vej) and we waved to each other. I felt like I was in a movie where two lovers see each other for the first time, and are about to be united after an interminable, longing separation. We met mid-block and embraced as if, indeed, it had been a long time since we have been together or seen one another. We kissed briefly–not to make a scene–(not that anyone would care, stop and stare), but we are private. Then we walked arm in arm as we often do to, Zorro’s. What a name! This is the name of a Mexican liberator, “the fox (“so cunning and free–who makes the sign of the ‘Z'”) and the name of a TV series as well as more recently a three-film American movie. Denmark never ceases to amaze me with its American pop culture assimilation.

 

Once inside, I met Kenneth, Runa, Maria and Ben. Kenneth, Vivi designated as a colleague, and the three others as co-workers. I am told by a tourist book that Danes are not big on titles or designations that place one above another, but they do make distinctions in the work hierarchy; the distinctions are relational. The place was a little small for dancing, as it had just one long open room of about 30 feet by 20. At one end was the bar and beer taps, at the other a raised cul de sac with a recessed DJ stand, low tables, and several chairs which varied in construction and comfort. I took a covered arm chair. Vivi sat across from me on a leather booth like bench with the two female co-workers, and Ben sat to my left in a wooden chair. Kenneth, King Edward cigar cool, sat on a wicker love seat, with his legs crossed, and with big self-important attitude. I liked him. I started by saying hello in Danish, and receiving the greetings of each, along with names that Vivi inserted. The music was playing low, and though we were right next to the DJ stand, I was able to hear fine with my left ear. You may recall that I have reduced hearing in my right ear from an unfortunate lightning and thunder strike seven years ago. So transformation in stride, being a newcomer to Denmark, I was all ready for a nice, coffee house chat with new people. Well, for a short time, while daylight still streamed in, Ben and I talked about the gay and lesbian achievements in America as well as his activism in Denmark. Seems he was among those fighting for “marriage equality” which was only recently passed. Before that, legal unions were civically sanctioned or church blessings were attainable if the church was willing, but not “marriage” as it is performed for 1 man and 1 woman. Because he was sitting to my immediate right, I chatted with Ken a while, too, about books, and philosophies of human development, spiritual and cosmic views. I could not get within ear range across the table to Runa and Maria, but we smiled a lot. Then the DJ came into the area and stepped behind the stand. He asked if he could turn the music up because it was his birthday, and he and his friends would be partying. Ha! Did he ring my bell or what?! No sooner had he put on a deep drum rhythm, than I was out of my seat, moving furniture and dancing, just a little time keeping and swaying, but with enticing energy. Soon, Ben and Maria, Vivi and the DJ and a few of his friends were in that little area stomping and romping too. We all just hooted and I called out–“Ooh-oo,ooh-oo ,there’s a party over here.” They copied me, and we just had the best time for the rest of the night. The DJ was celebrating his 27th birthday. In between we were all swilling Tuborg beers and wiggling and bumping booties, and howling like boogie monsters. We forced a circle, and different ones stepped in the middle while the others touched them or did one on one dance moves. I stayed out of the circle. After all, I am a married lady–and so did Viv. But man, what a good time! I met several more people, three of whom I gave quick (wrist) touch readings, and they were amazed. One of them extended me an invitation to an event that is up-coming in which I may come as the oracle and read for his guests. He said he’d call. Vivi and I took a taxi home, because buses were running an hour apart, but we were quite pleased with ourselves–two old ladies out partying with the 20 and 30 year olds. Denmark, Nu slapper du af! ( You are besides yourself.)

 

SNAP SHOT 4

Yesterday and the day before, June 29 and 28th, there was lots of alarms and hooting going on in the street, sometimes followed by police sirens. I learned from Vivi that the trucks I saw going by were groups of graduation youth, who were moving from gymnasium (high school) on to college or vocational education. The completion of the three years at gymnasium is an achievement and big celebration for all of a week may go on with truckloads of howling young people waving and being saluted by the proud and encouraging populace. Vivi explained to me that the youth rent the trucks which look like farm trucks with wooden slats rather than Ford or Toyota or Chevy working pick-ups. They are decorated with the school and school colors and they transport 20 or more students from the same school all around the city from open neighborhood to the other. Something like the prom limo for high school grads, but much less dignified and less glamorous, but much more fun if you account for the wild hooting and yelling and the stops by each student’s home, where all on the truck is invited in to each the other’s homes to eat a little snack, drink a refreshment, and receive congratulations. They start early and ride around all day, stopping, celebrating, and moving on. That’s phenomenal. I am sure everyone is stuffed to the gills by the time they come back home from all that rebel rousing. It just makes me so happy to think that the youth are encouraged to blow off all that energy in this chauffeured and socially accepted way. Det er rigtig dejlig. (It’s right on.)

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“Tak ,Ska’ Du Ha'”(You have my thanks)

“Tak ,Ska’ Du Ha'”(You have my thanks)    June 1, 2013  Shariananda

I am watching a lot of  Danish television to improve my apprehension of the language. I watch commercials, documentaries, rebroadcast of American programming with Danish subtitles, and miscellaneous movies. Last week, I caught the tail end of an emergency rescue program for the elderly.

It seems an elder woman of about 84 or so had taken a bad spill in her apartment, and had broken her ankle or foot. She was down and could not get up. She was in a great deal of pain. I did not see how she called for help or if someone else had done so, I did see the paramedic team that showed up in heavy rubberized and stripped yellow coats,driving a van that looked more like a delivery truck for a checkerboard company. But the matter was not laughable. It was serious and tender.

There were two attendants. While one, handled getting the woman comfortable, and calm, the other readied her for transport. One of the two was male; the other female. They surveyed her position, and then began to talk to her, naturally in Danish, and I strained to understand even a few of the words, but I did get the gist of what they intended to do, they told her it would be uncomfortable but they would examine her leg and give it a prosthetic support for travel to the hospital. The elder lady was crying and moaning, and this news did not make her feel better. Fact was, she cried out so piteously when they moved the leg and foot in an attempt to place the right foot in a  leg-length plastic support cup. But this they did, gently and with as much care as possible. The young woman attendant, perhaps about 25-30 years old, stroked the lady’s hair, and arm, and soothed her. She was not business as usual or hurried. She was attentive and intimate. The other attendant was busy in the background but no less intent on seeing to this elder’s care.

Once, the task of getting her ready for travel and giving her a shot of something for pain or nerves, they were able to lift her onto a gurney and raise it to roll her outside. Just as they put her into the the ambulance, the elder lady whispered in a broken croak, “Tak sku du hey” (The literal translation being, “Thanks you shall have.”) And in what I have come to perceive as an unsettling  Danish modesty, because of it’s customary reply, the emergency lady, answered the elder lady’s gratitude with, “Det var sa lidt.”  It made me cry. For all of that drama, crying out, and tense handling of an elder, the emergency paramedic, simply said, “It was so little.” Not by a long shot, I say. Not by a long shot.

By contrast, two weeks ago,Vivi and I were travelling to Svanemollen to see a chiropractor. I had a kink in my neck that I occasioned by sleeping crooked. It was bothering me for a time, and I had done release work and Vivi had done massage and Reiki with no complete relief. So, we set out on a easy trip by the S-Tog train from Emdrup for Svanemollen. (Pronounced S’van e mon) As we were walking back, we encountered a woman whose legs were stiff and crossed, like an X.   She had two arm crutches to help her walk–if that is what one can call it—for she was making her way only a few inches at a time down the street. She was holding up the traffic in the busy intersection, as she minced along.

We stopped her to see if there was something we could do. At first she said she was hungry and wanted to eat because she hadnot eaten in two days–she said she had a terminal disease, but  didnot say what or how she came to be this way.  We talked to her, she began to describe the hell she lives in because she is unable to walk, unable to feed herself, shop for and buy groceries, unable even to open the door for welfare workers to come and delivery care, food, cleaning or other services. It was difficult for Viv and me to imagine how she could possible be on the avenue this day in such a wretched condition. That is, how she could she have dressed, come onto the street, and attempt to reach a destination inches at a time. Her  ability was so severely restricted that she may as well have been blind-folded,feeling along without being able to see pitfalls.

What impressed me so deeply was how her legs ,long, as she was tallish, were frozen in a hard X and it was so heart-wrenching to see. Dressed in beige slacks, and a short coat to match with a scarf wound around her neck, we stopped her in her tracks offering our help, aid, or intervention with the Denmark state agencies.  The more Vivi and I tried to offer suggestions for how she might use us to help, the more excuses and defenses she put up. She refused to give us her name. She would no longer accept our offers for a meal, nor listen to the options we presented. She just kept saying, “Nej,nej” (pronounced in English as “nie”) which is the word “no” in Danish.  “”Nothing will help. I can’t. I can’t.” To her nothing would work, nothing could be done. She had already lost public assistance. She was really quiet defeated and in great despair.

We were stultified. It occurred to me that she may be frightened of us both assailing her with our intense concern and questions. So, after offering to pray for her and having her reject that, I stepped back from crowding in on the right with Viv on my left. Once we allowed her space, she started mincing away again. Vivi followed after her trying to get her to take our phone number in order to call us if she changed her mind. That she accepted. As we watched her go on her way, inch by tortuous inch, we both stood crying. We felt terrible. First because she was in such a terrible state; second because we had not been able to think of an immediate way to get her the help she needed. We came home very down about it.

There was no good end to this story. It was just not our red banner day. We did not see a cop or a cab to call nor did we think to do so. We could have sent her home in a “taxa” as they are called here. We could have flagged the “politi” as the police are called, but we were so distressed for her, we just could not think straight. Later, Vivi gave me some money to buy a prayer candle for the sacred prayer bowl at Grundtvig’s kirke (church). I also used my own kroner to buy extra candles while there. I lighted a candle for the X lady and for all who suffer from disabilities. For it seemed that day, all I could see was those who had physical challenges: in wheel chairs, walking with double canes, limping or hunched over in bizarre contortions of the body. These people (mennesker) the state has a program for, and it seems as long as those with physical disabilities can get around and do for themselves, then they are allowed to. I suspect that many feel more self-sufficient, and perhaps, the services are limited by stipulations. The X lady seemed to have run out of support. If I had it to do again, I would call an ambulance to take her to the hospital–that is if she would go. That way she could be reintroduced into the system and get the transportation she really needed by wheel chair. I was not sure what the spiritual message for Vivi and me was.

We may have both have had the experience of the X lady, but perhaps we both were given different  messages.  For me, you can help only those who are willing to receive it. Free will is an imperative. And prayer may not be the key to every closed door. For Vivi, the message may have been you gave what you could,if you are what she needs, she will call. It will be so. You both were compassionate and willing to serve ,as light workers, that is all God expects of you. Tak ska’ du ha’.

Reprinted article–Reader Supported News–What Can We learn from Denmark?

This article is widely published on the Internet but is offered for reprint at Reader Supported News. I appreciate the opinion. Shariananda

What Can We learn from Denmark?

Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen spent a weekend in Vermont this month traveling with me to town meetings in Burlington, Brattleboro and Montpelier. Large crowds came out to learn about a social system very different from our own which provides extraordinary security and opportunity for the people of Denmark.

Today in the United States there is a massive amount of economic anxiety. Unemployment is much too high, wages and income are too low, millions of Americans are struggling to find affordable health care and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider.

While young working families search desperately for affordable child care, older Americans worry about how they can retire with dignity. Many of our people are physically exhausted as they work the longest hours of any industrialized country and have far less paid vacation time than other major countries

Denmark is a small, homogenous nation of about 5.5 million people. The United States is a melting pot of more than 315 million people. No question about it, Denmark and the United States are very different countries. Nonetheless, are there lessons that we can learn from Denmark?

In Denmark, social policy in areas like health care, child care, education and protecting the unemployed are part of a “solidarity system” that makes sure that almost no one falls into economic despair. Danes pay very high taxes, but in return enjoy a quality of life that many Americans would find hard to believe. As the ambassador mentioned, while it is difficult to become very rich in Denmark no one is allowed to be poor. The minimum wage in Denmark is about twice that of the United States and people who are totally out of the labor market or unable to care for themselves have a basic income guarantee of about $100 per day.

Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high quality. Everybody is covered as a right of citizenship. The Danish health care system is popular, with patient satisfaction much higher than in our country. In Denmark, every citizen can choose a doctor in their area. Prescription drugs are inexpensive and free for those under 18 years of age. Interestingly, despite their universal coverage, the Danish health care system is far more cost-effective than ours. They spend about 11 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.

When it comes to raising families, Danes understand that the first few years of a person’s life are the most important in terms of intellectual and emotional development. In order to give strong support to expecting parents, mothers get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. Expecting fathers get two paid weeks off, and both parents have the right to 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care, more for lower-income workers.

At a time when college education in the United States is increasingly unaffordable and the average college graduate leaves school more than $25,000 in debt, virtually all higher education in Denmark is free. That includes not just college but graduate schools as well, including medical school.

In a volatile global economy, the Danish government recognizes that it must invest heavily in training programs so workers can learn new skills to meet changing workforce demands. It also understands that when people lose their jobs they must have adequate income while they search for new jobs. If a worker loses his or her job in Denmark, unemployment insurance covers up to 90 percent of earnings for as long as two years. Here benefits can be cut off after as few as 26 weeks.

In Denmark, adequate leisure and family time are considered an important part of having a good life. Every worker in Denmark is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. The United States is the only major country that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time. The result is that fewer than half of lower-paid hourly wage workers in our country receive any paid vacation days.

Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the Danish people rank among the happiest in the world among some 40 countries that were studied. America did not crack the top 10.

As Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen explained, the Danish social model did not develop overnight. It has evolved over many decades and, in general, has the political support of all parties across the political spectrum. One of the reasons for that may be that the Danes are, politically and economically, a very engaged and informed people. In their last election, which lasted all of three weeks and had no TV ads, 89 percent of Danes voted.

In Denmark, more than 75 percent of the people are members of trade unions. In America today, as a result of the political and economic power of corporate America and the billionaire class, we are seeing a sustained and brutal attack against the economic well-being of the American worker. As the middle class disappears, benefits and guarantees that workers have secured over the last century are now on the chopping block. Republicans, and too many Democrats, are supporting cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition, education, and other basic needs — at the same time as the very rich become much richer. Workers’ rights, the ability to organize unions, and the very existence of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are now under massive assault.

In the U.S. Senate today, my right-wing colleagues talk a lot about “freedom” and limiting the size of government. Here’s what they really mean.

They want ordinary Americans to have the freedom NOT to have health care in a country where 45,000 of our people who die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should. They want young people in our country to have the freedom NOT to go to college, and join the 400,000 young Americans unable to afford a higher education and the millions struggling with huge college debts. They want children and seniors in our country to have the freedom NOT to have enough food to eat, and join the many millions who are already hungry. And on and on it goes!

In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means. In that country, they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.

The United States, in size, culture, and the diversity of our population, is a very different country from Denmark. Can we, however, learn some important lessons from them? You bet we can.

 

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May 27, 2013