Australia and Oceania, Europe · 38 Days · 27 Moments · May 2017

Phil's trip to Copenhagen & Europe, June 2017


27 June 2017

Flying out of Sydney on my way home, first thing this morning. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding fortnight... catching up again with Sigrid's Danish cousins, rediscovering Amsterdam, its scenery and art, and getting a feel for theense of angst and political crisis in Britain. Now, it's back to work, but in a very much more relaxed frame of mind.

25 June 2017

More on the Pink Floyd exhibition... a lot was about their partnership with the people who did their album covers, animation and stage lighting and props, called Hip gnosis. They come across as utterly brilliant. The first photo is from the cover of Division Bell. Then there's the famous cover from Wish you were here. They actually set the guy alight. They hired a hollywood stuntman, gave him an asbestos protected wig and suit and set fire to him 18 times to get the photo they wanted. I was also surprised at how much work they did for ballet, films, etc. The exhibition gave everyone a set of headphones and as you walked around, it played the interview or music that was relevant to that bit. Not surprisingly some of the surviving members were involved in the design of the exhibition.
The highlight of my trip to Britain: the Pink Floyd exhibition at the Victoria and Albert. At first I was sceptical, and it cost £24 to get in. But it was breath-taking. It had video interviews in which they showed how they played certain sounds and developed some of their songs. It had the band's instruments, contracts, personal letters about life as a musician etc, and some of the stage props of the band that more than any other created rock spectaculars. There was a mixer that allowed you to mix your own version of "Money". And it finished with a kind of short concert in the round (last photo). Things I found interesting. Where did the band's name come from? See photo 2. I didn't realise how far back they went; they recorded their first album in the studio next to the Beatles doing Sgt Peppers. They played and fine-tuned the Dark Side of the Moon album live for about a year before recording it. They were pioneers in making synthesiser sounds central to their music.

23 June 2017

If you've got money, London really can be lovely in summer. I found these wonderful blackberries on Portobello Rd. And that evening a nice little wine bar that has a sublime rose. I spent Saturday at a really interesting conference on Marx and Philosophy. No photos, unfortunately! Then, on Saturday night, as I headed into the local convenience store to buy a notebook, who should I run into but ... JED Collins from Dunoon, one of Dorian's best friends. The second I walked into the store, I heard this booming voice, "Griff!!" Pretty funny. I didn't have the presence of mind to get a selfie with him, but he's looking great. In Britain for a couple of years working and travelling.
I began my trip to London by visiting the area around Grenfell Tower, and finished it by going to the Charles Dickens museum. It was only afterwards that I realised how much they had in common. The sheer depth and breadth of official indifference to the concerns and complaints of Grenfell residence over many, many years was ... well ... Dickensian. And it continues. Residents in houses immediate next to the tower had their hit water supplied from boilers in the tower basement. The last I heard is that nothing was being done to fix that. Dickensian too is the contrast between the working class housing immediately around the tower, and the luxury terraces and flats within plain sight, a few hundred metres away, where a two bedroom apartment will set you back a cool £2 million. Does anyone still wonder why Jeremy Corbyn os so popular?

22 June 2017

For my last morning in Amsterdam, I decide to head for the Jewish museum, only to find that it only opens at 11, and my train for Brussells leaves at 12. So to plan B: the Amsterdam Hermitage; yep, the greatest Russian museum, the St Petersburg Hermitage has an Amsterdam branch. And they have an exhibition on the Romanovs and revolution. Could be great. Could be, but isn't. It really is about the Romanovs, and really, they aren't that interesting! But there are a few stunning items, including some Faberge jewels and some of the war equipment that the jewellery firm went into manufacturing. Here's some Russian war propaganda, showing Tsar Nicholas's cousin (the German Kaiser Wilhelm) as the devil. And this flag, the banner of the defenders of civilisation as we know it, the shock troops led by Kornilov to crush the Soviet in August 1917. It maybe gives us a hint as to why all factions of the revolution, from Kerensky to the Bolsheviks, united to stop them.
The cyclists of Amsterdam. They are the cultural link between China and Europe. They are legion. No-one wears a helmet, including kids, though there are large displays in the many bike shops. They are routinely used to transport kids to kinder or school. Some on kiddie bike seats, front and/or back, and some in specially-made carts, which had seats and go in the front of the bike, and can hold two small kids. And of course dogs are carried in baskets front and/or back. Listening to music through earpods or headphones is common; and I saw plenty of people talking on their mobiles, or even texting, while careering along. Like China, bikes are adapted and used for deliveries to stores in the narrow street section of the city. As riders, they are just as adventurous and dangerous as their Chinese compatriots, narrowly missing each other (and cars and pedestrians) at intersections, weaving past parked cars or pedestrians or any other obstacle. All at speed. Irrespective of kids.

21 June 2017

The most spectacular feature of Utrecht's St Martin's Cathedral was its tower, 111 metres tall, built from 1321-82. But in 1674, a tornado ripped through the city and destroyed the church's nave, leaving much of the church standing, but separated from its tower. Eventually the rubble was cleared, the church repaired, and there is now a square between them. Needless to say, I had to climb the tower (to 93 metres). That was "fun". From the top you could see Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and the church and city below seemed so small. Archeologists have also been digging away under the square, so I did that tour too. We could see the heavy granite the Romans brought down river from Germany to built their fortifications. The most interesting find: these balls were Roman projectiles, launched from giant crossbows against the enemy. Needless to say, that only worked for a while; the "barbarians" took the city and were eventually Christianised. Which proved so much better than barbarism...
Utrecht turns out to be every bit as scenic than Amsterdam, though much smaller. I planned to spend a few hours here, but stayed the night after Kröller-Müller and most of the next day (Wednesday). It's on the Rhine, so the Romans built a fort here. A bourgeois revolt meant it got independent city status in 1122. It has charming canals, canalside dining, and a spectacular cathedral, St Martin's, built on top of the ruins of the Roman fort and those of earlier churches, over about 200 years. The interior ceiling of the church is 40 metres off the ground, so it has an amazing sense of air and space. Utrecht was also a centre of conflict between Catholics and Protestants, who defaced catholic churches, destroying images of faces. A part of the spirit of the enlightenment that our rulers don't mention. Finally, for those who think that food is all I'm interested in, I stumbled across the most amazing coffee supplies shop, with nearly 100 varieties of tea, and of coffee, great cups, etc

20 June 2017

Some more of the fabulous modern art at Kröller Müller: Unovis: Supremacist Relief Mondrian. They had so much of his work, including the painting Sigrid had a print of... Georges Valmier: Geometric Still Life. Then there's two pieces from Jean Arp. I'd never heard of him, but Arp was their special exhibition and I'd just missed a bus, so I stuck my nose and and stayed another hour. There are very few galleries I've spent most of a day in: the Louvre, Medici, Hermitage... now KM. You can see Arp's influence on modern imagery: these items look so familiar but were revolutionary in their day. The exhibition was called The Poetry of Form. Arp was a poet as well as painter and sculpter, and I gather, a bit of an artistic entrepreneur as well in the heady days of the 1920s, in Strasbourg. This has totally aroused my interest in him. They also have a fsntastic sculpture garden. Here's just one piece, Marta Pan's Sculpture Flottante.
What a remarkable art gallery the Kröller Müller is. Once I tore myself away from the Van Gogh collection, I found an exceptional display of modern art, and modern art I really enjoyed. Here are a few samples: Bart van der Leck: Der Kat. They had a room full of his work, but this one is for Viv. Leo Gestel: Mountain Landscape and Houses (Mallorca). Cesar Domela Nieuwenhuis: Relief #8. Precisely because itmis a relief, it's brilliance is not as clear in the photo... Fernand Leger: Le Typographie Maria Blanchard: Man with Guitar. More to come....
It's Tuesday and I'm in the countryside, at the little-known Kröller-Müller Museum near rural Otterlo. As Sigrid would tell you it takes something special to get me into the countryside, and the KMM collection of 90 Van Gogh paintings is more than special enough (about 40 on display). Get a look at these (photos seem to be allowed!). All are so much more spectacular in the flesh (so to speak). There is also an outstanding collection of modern art which I'm about to go and enjoy now lunch is finished.

19 June 2017

Well, here I am in Amsterdam. I came here first in Jan 1976. In so many ways central Amsterdam, Centruum, is just the same--a giant theme park for tourists with its canals and ferries, 19C warehouse architecture, narrow winding streets, trams, food, and a smorgasbord of great art. Every streetscape is a classic image. There are some downsides. Many cafes don't open in the morning and you have to be 18+, presumably because they either sell or allow dope. The more interesting streets take time to find, and that's hard when the footpaths are hard stone. The bicycles are more dangerous and difficult to navigate than in Beijing. But hey, it's a place you can really relax into if you can afford the accommodation: I'm paying $130 a night for a room with a single bed that turns out to be extremely cramped, & that seemed good value when I booked it. The first photo is the canalside restaurant I eat at last night (Monday). Pretty cool. Dig the kerbside charging station for the two electric cars.
If there was one thing I came to Amsterdam for it was to have a second look, after 41 years, at the Van Gogh museum. It didn't disappoint. Fabulous collection, really well presented, and the crowd was manageable. I realised pretty quickly that I don't much care for VG's Dutch period--lots of peasants with one great if dour painting, the potato eaters. Most of his really great and famous paintings seem to date from 1886 and Paris (then Arles, etc). I started making a list of my favourites from the VGM: the Bedroom, The Harvest 1888, Seascape near les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-mer, The Yellow House (The street) 1888, Daubigny's Garden 1890, Self-portrait in grey felt hat (there is an entire room of self-portraits). No photos were allowed. Monday afternoon was spent at the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt's Night Watch is still stunning to me, as are his other paintings, and so too are many of the great masters, but the museum is dedicated to art glorifying the great and powerful and their conquests.

18 June 2017

Sunday morning and Bo took me to Frilandsmuseet, a massive open air museum of old farm buildings. Just by luck it was also the annual Mill Day, so all over Denmark, old mills were open and turning for peope to come and look. We went into three at Frilandsmuseet, including a working water mill which was grinding flour. Bo bought a small bag. The cousins all make some of their own bread, so I'm sure it will be well eaten.

17 June 2017

A couple of photos of Bo and Jette's elder daughter, Asta. As you can see, she managed to avoid looking at the camera. In the first photo, Asta and Nanna are talking via Skype to Asta's sister Clara, who is in Greenland on a research project. Asta is an accomplished cabinetmaker. The chair is one of a couple she made, from a famous Danish designer. She has also been in exhibitions of timber art.
My last evening in Denmark and I'm staying at Bo and Jette's home. They hosted a wonderful family dinner. Here we have Sigrid's three cousins: from left, Bo, Anders, and Margrethe. Then Jette with Anders' younger daughter, Astrid. And then Anders, Astrid and Bo standing, while Morton at left sits pondering the universe. Anders' elder daughter, Frida, was busy studying for her exams, and couldn't make it. Did I mention that Anders, Frida and Astrid are all coming to Australia this year, separately? Frida for study abroad at Sydney Uni, Astrid on a long holiday that starts in October in NZ and Fiji, before Brisbane and then a Greyhound bus up the coast to Cairns. And Anders...just to see us all now he is retired and has time. And the plan is for everyone to be together for Xmas.
Here is Morton and Margrethe's youngest daughter, Frederika. We visited her at her apartment, a tiny place with two rooms and a kitchen with a shared bathroom. Nanna lives in the same complex, which has a garden in the middle. Someone has a rabbit hutch, there are vegetables and greens in planter boxes, lines to dry washing, and a small playground for children. The kind of facilities that are far too difficult for modern Australian property developers to include in apartment complexes. In the next courtyard, a couple were celebrating their wedding with family and friends. I was unable to catch up with Kirstina, their eldest daughter, and her husband Nis. She is just out of hospital caring for Ingrid, her second daughter (after Ellen who is about 2yo), and who was born very prematurely. We are all thinking about you, Kirstina, and hoping for the very best for you and your new baby.
Now we jump back in time, to Saturday morning. We visited the Royal (ie national) Library and its modernist extension, called the black diamond. No photo!! Very impressive. They had an exhibition on Denmark's Caribbean slave colonies (yes, Denmark too!), today known as the Virgin Islands. A series of uprisings led first to the abolition of the slave trade in 1792 (before the British), then another to the immediate freeing of the slaves in 1848. The Danish governemnt sold the islands to the US in March 1917. The most interesting items in the small exhibition were from family papers: letters, and photos with their slaves in the household. After lunch we visited the Assistens garden, the most beautiful graveyard I've ever seen. So lush, and green, with lots of shade from the summer sun. This is also the final resting place for some famous people, such as Hans Christian Andersen and Niels Bohr, but we comcentrated on enjoying the park.
Saturday afternoon we had coffee (and pancakes) with two of Morton and Magrethe's daughters. This is Nanna, a seriously talented artist, her self-portrait from a few years ago, and another of her paintings. She is currently studying architectural engineering.

16 June 2017

It's Friday and I'm now staying with Morton and Margrethe (another of Sigrid's cousins) and their two dogs. It's time for lunch, and we're off to a traditional Danish bar, St Peter, which serves "open sandwiches", ie a very small slice of (delicious) rye bread with toppings to kill you. I've chosen one with herrings, and a second with liver paste, topped with bacon. They really understand their clientele, ie. middle aged men. Maybe they also regret that things aren't the way they used to be. The food is great, but a world away from New Nordic cuisine. We chat for ages; which is easy because they are interesting people and Morton is so cheerful. In the afternoon, we work off some of the calories by walking for ages around a nearby lake, and through the forest and get my new shoes just muddy enough to take the shine off. In the evening they host dinner, and Bo (Sigrid's third Danish cousin) and Jette come as well. I am getting very relaxed and comfortable.

15 June 2017

I had hoped dine last night (Thursday) at Noma, but they were closed. Weird. Outside, we met a Thai couple who suggested Manfred's in gentrified Noerrebro, exponents of new Nordic cuisine, pioneered at Noma. We had the most interesting, different & delicious meal: all organic, all grown locally. Green and white asparagus, rocket and other leaves, cheese and cream puree; then cabbage, seaweed, seaweed mayonnaise, slices of unripe strawberries; then beef tartare; then trout slices with marinated cucumber on anchovy sauce; then egg yolk in spinach puree topped with flowers and toasted rye bread crumbs; then the most amazing potato dish with a kind of caramel butter paste; sunflower seed risotto (b/c no rice in Dk), then finally slices of lamb shoulder and burnt bok choy. Three organic wines from Siciliy, Tuscany and a hot climate Syrah from Spain. The two whites were totally different from anything I've ever had. All were beautiful, fruit driven and flavoursome. Everything unforgettable.
Early Thursday evening, after Christiania, we went to see the new Opera House (no photo). A seriously tedious bit of architecture. Maybe they were scared of the trouble that imaginative Danish architects could cause. Then, across another canal to Papiroen, Paper Island, once the centre of paper and printing industries and just across a canal from downtown. The area now has an art gallery (anyone for a Yoko Ono exhibition?) and a huge warehouse full of street food stalls--probably 100 of them from around the world--plus small bars. It's just perfect for summer: buy some interesting, modestly priced food and wine, and sit outside in the mild evening air; soak up the super-chilled atmosphere and put the claustrophobia of winter behind you. Meric heaven. We had had a very late lunch and it was too early for us to eat, so we had a glass of beaujolais-villages (me) and beer (Anders) and moved on, passing this brilliant houseboat on our way to Noma...
Thursday afternoon, Anders took me into the city to buy a pair of shoes (Lloyds, a German brand, closed their Australian stores...) and then to the famous alternative commune of Christiania, military land and buildings in central cph occupied in 1972. You can read all about it in Wikipedia and elsewhere. There is an obsessive fascination with Pusher St, where about 20 stalls openly sell a variety of hashish and marijuana (which is illegal, but tolerated in this one place by the authorities). The people of Christiania have banned hard drugs. Elsewhere, it is a mixture of self-made housing, mostly from recycled materials, personal vegie gardens, artisan and art workshops, communal kindergartens, etc. The photo shows a couple of houses on the edge of Christiania, next to one of the lakes. In turn, it's communalism has had an impact on mainstream Denmark. I guess it's a bit like what Nimbin might have been if it had been urban, and accepted by people living more mainstream lives nearby.
It's Friday morning here in Copenhagen, and I've had two extremely pleasant days staying with Sigrid's cousin, Anders. The first photo is outside his home in the greater Cph suburbs. I was so tired the first day, so we basically spent the entire afternoon talking in his sunny living room (photo 2) and then in the evening he cooked a wonderful fish stew for dinner with some of his family: Frida and Astrid his daughters, Margrethe, his sister, Bo (his brother) and Jette, and Aster, their daughter. Sigrid and I stayed with Bo and Jette on our first trip together to Cph in 1993. Then they had the most wonderful, large, airy apartment in the centre of the city. I remember it was the first time I realised that it would be fun and comfortable to live in an apartment. It was such a memorable evening. We shared stories of what we'd all been doing and I gave the three daughters some little items Sigrid had asked me to pass on to them. But: No photo of the evening; can you believe?

13 June 2017

It's a LONG eay from Brisbane to Copenhagen, especially when you don't fly direct. But there are small compensations. Flying into Sydney I had a great view of the harbour, which I tried to capture on my iphone from the middle seat (to the annoyance of the poor guy in the window seat). And as you'll see I am still a fery clumsy iphone photographer. BA were OK; little different really from China Southern or the others I've flown a lot recently. Even less leg room I suspect. Compensation 2: we left Singapore for the long flight to London around half past midnight Brisbane time, which meant it was dark all the way to Europe, over 11 hours, and I actually got a reasonable sleep. Then woke to find we were flying over a large and spectacularly lit city, which the airline map told me was Baku in Azerbaijan. I have always wanted to go to this famously cosmopolitan (and often radical) city.

20 May 2017

Timeline: leaving Brisbane Tues 13 June, flying British Airways via Sydney, Singapore. London, arriving Copenhagen Wed 14 June. This will be a very short trip, just 14 days in total, but also a very special one. I'm visiting Sigrid's three Danish cousins, Anders, Bo and Margrethe and their families. She always had a great affection for you, your eight wonderful daughters, and her aunt Ingrid. It will be great to catch up and share our memories of Sigrid. On Sunday 18 June I head for Amsterdam. I'm planning to return to the Van Gogh museum, which I first visited in 1976 and which was the first art gallery to utterly captivate me. I want to see how it looks to me now, 41 years later. I'm also visitng the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, 100km from Amsterdam, which has the second largest collection of Van Gogh's art. I had never heard of it until Christine Dixon told me about its collection. Then a day in Utrecht, and the Eurotrain to London on 22 June, before flying home on 25 June.