Footnotes: rambling in Denmark

Updated 8 August 2015. Not anticipated to be an annual event.

Dansk Vandrelaug (DVL) is the Danish equivalent of the Ramblers. Now while I’m more of a solo flâneuse untrammelled by specialist equipment there’s no denying that both do good works. Somewhere I picked up that DVL published a book called Fodnoter: træk af vandringens historie in 2005, celebrating their 75th jubilee. The publication was supported by a shedload of worthy organisations and funds, including Friluftsrådet, BG-Fonden, Litteratur-rådet, Hielmstierne-Rosencroneske Stiftelse and Kong Frederik og Dronning Ingrids Fond – it’s this sort of support which makes specialist publishing possible in the tiny VAT supported Danish market.

Reviews: Information | Berlingske | LitteraturNu.

The Danish library service duly obliged. The book is a tribute to walking of all kinds, with a selection of writers asked to map a particular part of the walking universe in order to portray walking culture today as well as its role in art and literature. The first part of the book is made up of five chapters on walking from historical and practical standpoints:

  • the history of Dansk Vandrelaug – vandrehjem, fjernvandreveje and naturstier 
  • the latest research into walking’s physical and health benefits
  • Dyrehavevandringer by Jens Meulengracht-Madsen – surveying the oaks of Dyrehaven (in 1933 Christen Christiansen Raunkiær, an emeritus professor from Copenhagen University, had surveyed the oaks, dividing 2000 of them into 35 numbered groups over the years; JMM measured 300 in detail to determine how quickly they had grown)
  • foraging, with recipes
  • discussion of our relationship with nature, linked to the challenges we face in regards to the environment, sustainability, naturopretning and biodiversity

This is followed by seven contributions with the title Vandringsmænd, exploring the role and significance of walking in history and today for artists and writers:

  • translation of Thoreau’s Walking (1862)
  • psychologist Per Lindsø Larsen on engineer and philosopher Ludvig Feilberg (Wikipedia), possibly the nation’s greatest walker; see Denmark’s philosopher of walking
  • survey of other Danish walking writers by editor Martin Gylling, inc Henrich Steffens and Adam Oehlenschläger, whose 16 hour walk led the latter to write Guldhornerne, a classic of Danish Romanticism; also section on Kierkegaard and his menneskebad; another worked up kronik from Politiken, Litterære fodgængere (5 Oct 2003)
  • Dan Turèll’s Gennem byen sidste gang – see Last walk through Copenhagen
  • survey of the significance of walking for painters of Denmark’s Golden Age
  • Martin Zerlang on flanerie in Paris and Buenos Aires
  • Thomas Boberg on walking in the Peruvian Andes

Had to return it to the library well before I was done, but will re-reserve it at some point.

The cover includes this painting of Refsnæs, aka Røsnæs, the most westerly point of Zealand, painted by Johan Thomas Lundbye in 1844. A Danish version of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer?


Last walk through Copenhagen

Ooh, Copenhagen hipster Dan Turèll wrote a poem called Gennem byen en sidste gang, translated by Thomas E Kennedy as Last walk through the city – see the multimedia presentation, lacking only the thing på dansk.

Written in 1977, a version with composer Halfdan E was recorded shortly before Turèll’s death in 1993. Googling reveals that the poem is a school standard, a sort of Stop all the clocks for Denmark.

Re the translation, perhaps it’s because I know Danish and Copenhagen, but translating place names really grates. West Bridge? What? Only the fourth most hip neighourhood in the world (this week). And what is a serving house? Is it an American thing? I’d expected the Danish to be bodega, but it turns out it’s værtshus. What’s wrong with ‘pub’?

Update, 31 July: turns out that TEK translated the placenames as it took him four years to get his head round them. I have a certain sympathy with this as it was several years before I linked Vestamager metro station with Amager – I though it was Vesta-mager. Apparently American readers like the translations, although Danes find them hilarious.

Here’s Dan’s reading with shots of CPH before it got tidied up:

Exploring the #nordicnoir phenomenon

Update, 8 Nov: the CPH Post reports (via Jyllands Posten) that foreign sales of Danish literature increased 8.9%in 2012, with 394 titles to be found on foreign bookshelves. Much of the interest is tied to the success of Nordic noir, with other genres inc food and health also doing well. Is this bordering on overkill? The PhD was awarded to Ellen Kythor, aka @nellefant – see article.

It’s a bit of a shocker, I know, but the whole #nordicnoir thing leaves me cold. I’ve never been into krimi in any form, and I’m with the Guardian reviewer on Thomas E Kennedy (“doesn’t quite get the pulse racing”) rather than Emma Kennedy. But still, the level of current fervour into all things Scandi does bring up some things of interest.

As seen in my Kierkegaard 2013 post UCL’s Department of Scandinavian Studies held an event on Kierkegaard, the uncanny and Nordic noir on 17 May. They also run a Nordic Noir Book Club, which on 4 November held a meeting launching a translation of Dan Turèll’s Murder in the dark (see video; particularly enjoyed the comment re deeply disturbed Danish protagonists). I’ve managed to pretty much miss Dan up to now, but he’s big in Denmark:

  • Wikipedia | Turèll Samlingen | Facebook  | CPH Post
  • Thomas E Kennedy also doing translations
  • had a thing about Vesterbro, writing a series of crime novels from 1981-89, set in an alternative crime ridden version of the area – see article Fra Vangede til Vesterbro: i Dan Turèlls fodspor (2012) and a literary walk and festival taking place on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his death (15 October) in his home town of Vangede (Gentofte)
  • see Kenn André Stilling’s Alfabet TURÈLL (2011), commemorating Dan Turèll (1946-93), a play in rusted steel in the form of letters and punctuation marks surrounded by a 47m long bench, one meter for each year of Turèll’s life, in his birthplace of Vangede

I’m intrigued enough to move a collection of Dan’s writing about CPH (often in the I byen column in Politiken) owned by my partner to my drifts bookshelf. Update, Dec 2013: an article in Berlingske looks at Dan’s increasing popularity på engelsk.

UCL Scandi Studies is also setting up a Danish-English Translators network, part of a new Danish-English Impact Translation Studentship at UCL. The things that go on! Fomenting some ideas…

From Miss Smilla to Sara Lund: Danish-English literary translation in a changing media landscape 

The focus of the proposed research project is a literary-sociological analysis of the reception and marketing of Danish literature in the UK, in the context of the current wave of media and popular interest in Danish culture. As a UCL Impact PhD Student, the successful candidate will also be expected to undertake public engagement work in the broad field of Danish literature in the UK (including, for example, organising book club meetings and other events, attending book fairs and blogging), and to facilitate the development of a new network for Danish-English translators.

The research project starts from the assumption that the current wave of popular and critical interest in Danish culture in the UK is an unprecedented phenomenon which can only be understood by analyzing (a) how new business models and emerging technologies in publishing, television and journalism are interacting with social media; (b) how communities of interest around these cultural products are thereby produced and sustained; and (c) the interaction between a dominant genre (crime fiction/television) and other less fashionable genres (for example, short fiction, science fiction, mystery, romance and children’s literature).

The research project will thus provide a detailed account of the reception and marketing of a ‘small-nation’ literature in the UK, during a period of intense technological change.

Thomas E Kennedy’s Copenhagen

Update: article in The Murmur, May 2017

Thomas E Kennedy is an American writer who has lived in Copenhagen since 1976. He’s most known for the Copenhagen Quartet (2012 website), “four independent novels about the souls and seasons, the light and jazz and serving houses (?) of the Danish capital”, each written in a different style – see the introductory essay. All four were published by an independent publisher in Ireland, but are now being revised and republished by Bloomsbury under new names. Danmania at work? Kennedy hasn’t attracted much attention in the UK yet, however.

  • Kerrigan’s Copenhagen: a love story (2002) – spring; “Joycean-style tale of an American writer attempting to come to terms with his past through the help of Copenhagen’s many bars”, republished in 2013; I read this in 2006 when I first moved to Denmark and wasn’t overkeen, but will revisit can’t face it
  • Bluett’s blue hours (2003) – winter; “a noir novel set in the dark of Copenhagen winter and imitating the structure of John Coltrane’s jazz symphony A love supreme“, to be republished in 2014 as Beneath the neon egg (excerpt: Autumn wasps; Economist review); I think not for me
  • Greene’s summer (2004) – ” a novel about a Chilean torture victim being treated in the torture rehabilitation center of the Danish capital”; republished in 2010 as In the company of angels; great quote in the Gdn review: “the city is depicted in great detail, but it’s hard to get too excited: we tend to like extremes of exoticism or deprivation in our backdrops – the challengingly remote or the throbbingly metropolitan. Watery old Copenhagen in a decidedly temperate summer doesn’t quite get the pulse racing”); reading group guide; I tried this one in 2006, we’ll see nope, sorry!
  • Danish fall (2007) – autumn; “a satire about a downsizing Danish firm…juggles skillfully and entertainingly with a dozen fates whose Danish dream threatens to end as a nightmare…at once a beautiful and tragic portrait of the capital and its soul”; republished in 2011 as Falling sideways; reading group guide, Gdn review; will try this one ah well…

The quartet was the subject of a documentary produced by Harper College in 2004, and here’s a link to more Kennedy vids.

Frank magazine wrote, in awarding Kennedy the Frank Expatriate Writing Award in 2002:

Kennedy has done for Copenhagen what Joyce did for Dublin.

See his poem Continuing story of my life in Østerbro (A transportation from Ferlinghetti), which highlights the nice and quiet nature of life in DK. He also has a thing about the light, including the long yellow nights of summer – now these things tend to be about context, and having grown up in Edinburgh I have only one word for the light in Copenhagen – gråt.

Kennedy’s other writing includes:

  • The literary traveller (2005) – 24 essays on less traveled paths of the world, following in the footsteps of writers
  • The secret life of writers (2002) and Writers on the job: tales of the nonwriting life (2008)
  • Life in another language – an American’s eye view of Denmark