Love Letter to Copenhagen

On my way to work every morning I cycle down several tree lined streets – the lime trees are now in flower and the scent will always remind me of Copenhagen in the summertime. I wrote this piece last year and was reminded of it this morning by the perfume, so I dug it out and adapted it a bit, if I get time I’ll add photos later.

It’s mid June and after a baking hot May it’s cooler and humid in Copenhagen. The city is getting very quiet as the locals start to go off to their summer houses on the coast, or in Sweden, for the month of July, leaving the streets to tourists and musicians here for the jazz festival. In some ways it’s the best time of year to actually be in the city. The boulevards and streets are lined with sweet lime trees which has a very beautiful scent and the city is perfumed with it.

The parks and gardens are filled with flowers and in the evenings the remaining residents sit out in the parks with little barbecues. There are lots of areas set aside for sports and games and local teams spring up seemingly spontaneously to play street hockey, table tennis and football.

The zoo has a big elephant enclosure with an outdoor area open to the rest of the big Frederiksberg park, of which the zoo area is a small part. The elephants have a big natural pool and sandy beach and many of the park visitors outside the zoo spend time watching the younger elephants bathe and play in the water and throwing the sand over their backs, sending the ducks scurrying off in a panic with their ducklings trailing behind.

Cycling through the city is wonderful just now, especially in the evenings and especially if there’s no place you really need to be; the smell of flowers and charcoal smoke and grilled food all mixed in together, music being played in little bars and big open squares, even the careless tourists who forget to look for bikes before crossing the cycle lanes are tolerated with amusement, not everyone is so lucky to have a lifestyle like this after all. It really feels like a blessed place and a blessed time to live.

Update: I notice a friend, Kitty B. over at these sublime days has a post about childhood memories. I think the lime tree will be my memory of Copenhagen, and some day, when the Sterna family finally have a nest of our own, we will plant a lime tree so the scent will always remind us of this place.

Return to the Academy

The Sterna family are just back from a holiday at the Hay Festival. This is a wonderful event with a very diverse range of speakers, in fact it was impossible to see everything that interested me. One of events I missed was Bettany Hughes talking about her book The Hemlock Cup, which is about Socrates and his city of Athens, though I have listened to excerpts of the book on Radio 4. However, the subject of the talk led me to think that the festival itself could be considered as a modern form of Plato’s Academy, where problems are posed and discussed in a group of like-minded people. Though of course unlike Plato’s academy, all events were open to the public, even non-geometers (famously above the door to the Academy a Greek phrase ‘let none but geometers enter here’ was inscribed).

However, the concept that discussion of ideas, culture, nature, and the rest of the world can revitalise and refresh is central to the festival (along perhaps with selling books).The natural environment also helps, with beautiful green countryside all around. Sometimes it felt like wandering back in time to a lost world, or at least one I hadn’t thought existed anymore. And then along came the next talk on the secret mathematicians (Marcus du Sautoy),secular philosophy (A.C. Grayling), the smartness of the corvids (Nicky Clayton), the process of aging (Lewis Wolpert) or even the biography of the Ordnance Survey (Rachel Hewitt)  to bring us back to earth.

My other personal highlight was Dara O’Briain, surely one of the funniest people around today? I last saw him many years ago as a student, and now here he is talking about how old he feels when he’s talking to students and the problems of young parenthood. Dara – we’ve grown up together…

There is much more to be written about the festival, which is held every year in the small village of Hay – On- Wye that straddles the English/Welsh border, but frankly, it’s all been said before and like the Academy probably much more interesting to attend than hear about. See you next year.