Friday, November 2, 2012

The Copenhagen fairy tale

It's 1 am and in the last day I've only had about four hours of sleep. So forgive me if the words that come out of my head and travel into my fingers fail to impress or move you. They will, hopefully, amuse you. And hopefully that amusement won't arise simply because of faulty grammar and an inability to express myself coherently (therefore creating a sort of ridiculous jumble of words that sound like something Lewis Carroll might've come up with).

Lewis Carroll, not a very fitting reference to be making considering I am in Copenhagen, land of the Danes. He lived in England, where I'm from originally (if you count studying abroad as "originally"). Anyway, as an American turned Brit turned Danish traveler, I will try to amend my error. Rather, my jumble of words might resemble something Hans Christian Andersen would've come up with.

Which brings me to the actual point of this blog today.

I came to Copenhagen with the express purpose of enjoying the cultural offerings of the city. For years it's topped my list of places to go in the world. It always seemed like such a clean, friendly, beautiful and magical destination. I say that without the slightest hint of irony. Because I've always associated this place with a sense of fleetingness and whimsy.

Why, you ask?

Well, Hans Christian Andersen of course.

I don't think I ever quite grasped the amount of pride this little (not literally little, he was pretty tall) fairy tale writer from Odense had inspired within the Scandinavian country of Denmark. But after coming to the city and literally only being here for a day, if it wasn't clear to me now then the only reasonable explanation would be that I haven't been looking.

As my friend Denise showed me around the city today, we went past Tivoli, a theme park that is situated within Copenhagen and allegedly inspired Walt Disney in his creation of Disneyland. Right near Tivoli stood a statue of the man himself - H.C. Anderson as he is called here - sitting with a book in his hand and looking over the magical land that is this brightly lit park for childhood romanticism.

Not my photo, but it gives you an idea of the statue.
It seems appropriate, that the guy responsible for creating some of the most beloved fairy tales of all time, these pinnacles of youthful romance, would sit facing a literal encapsulation of the dreams he possibly had every night of his life. Andersen represents more than just an author behind some of the greatest stories in history. He's an icon, an allegory, representing something far greater than himself. A feeling.

I think that's why I love him so much. And why after all these years, I've continued to hold Copenhagen at the top of my list of most important cities to eventually visit.

This place is more than just an idyllic and quaint city within a greater cultural expanse. To me it's greater than any other part of Scandinavia. It has a particular significance. And that significance is Hans Christian Andersen.

When I waded in my grandparent's pool as a child, my Poppy swimming laps and looking/admitting to being a walrus on one end of the pool and my dad playing shark (or was it dolphin? I can't remember) to my Little Mermaid, I had a feeling of the carefree beauty in life that gets lost somewhere between the massive piles of homework, the budgeting off of finances and eventually the most daunting of choices in life when you become an adult.

The problem with me is that I refuse to ever lose that child that resides deep in my heart. In fact, I do nothing to hold her down. She often forces herself to the surface and takes over, dictating my passions and my needs even when my mind tries to take the reigns and steer her in a more responsible direction.

She's the one who gives me these hopeful ideas of beauty in a new place. The little girl in my heart wants to believe that Disneyland isn't just an imaginary world contained within a theme park in southern California, but that maybe a real magical fairy tale land exists.

It makes sense that in a place where Hans Christian Andersen lived, a place that helped him to become the renowned creator of so many beautiful fictional worlds, this kind of idealistic vision of fairy tale life might actually exist.

Or that's what I've convinced myself of. And after a full day in Copenhagen, while it's not Disneyland by any stretch of the imagination, I can see where the two collide, where my visions of the wonder of fairy tales and magic and childhood and romanticism collide. Because they're all present in Hans Christian Andersen. In the way he looks out over Tivoli Park. In his grave site which tonight was surrounded by little glittering plastic butterflies and flavored with a taste of incense in the air, burning at his figurative feet. It may not be a literal fairy tale, but it feels just as beautiful as one.

And I'm satisfied. And I'm eager for more.

I didn't know what I was in for coming to Copenhagen. And certainly there have been bumps along the way. But it's these little bits of beauty that make it exactly what I expected: just perfect.

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