Invincible summer |||

Cultural differences

Gravity’s Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon

‘Beethoven was one of the architects of musical freedom – he submitted to the demands of history, despite his deafness. While Rossini was retiring at the age of 36, womanizing and getting fat, Beethoven was living a life filled with tragedy and grandeur.’

‘So?’ is Säure’s customary answer to that one. ‘Which would you rather do? The point is,’ cutting off Gustav’s usually indignant scream, ‘a person feels good listening to Rossini. All you feel like listening to Beethoven is going out and invading Poland.’

Morten & Gitte’s son works directing traffic on the ferries that run between Elsinore and Helsingborg; his personal work schedule, neatly printed by the office computer, is pinned to the family notice board in the hallway. God arbejdslyst! it wishes him at the end. I can’t think of a translation. God is simply good; but arbejd is work and lyst is pleasure. In English it’s either an oxymoron or freighted with an irony absent from the original. As Gitte remarked this morning, you’d think English and Danish cultures so similar… But the Danes grow up knowing work is a source of pleasure, while the English know it a burden to be escaped as early as one can manage. If the English ever come to think it normal for work to be a joy, to spend one’s life working on matters one cares about, we shall have a second English Revolution at least as profound as the 17th century’s.

Similarly, Danes grow up knowing most problems have solutions that work well enough for everyone involved, and that they can be found by negotiation and collaboration. Each Englishman grows up knowing every problem’s solution produces a few winners and more losers, and that he will spend his life mostly on the same side of that divide. (Compare the lesson of Hollywood, which teaches that every problem, no matter how subtle or complex, has a violent solution if you are only determined enough to find and use it.)

Hammermøll, Hellebæk, Nord Sjælland, Denmark

So out on Morten’s road bike today, up the coast to Hornbæk for a light lunch, back through the coastal forest, with a stop outside Hellebæk for coffee and hindbærtorte at Hammermøll. My first use of cleats that lock shoe to pedal: great for road trips; hopeless for stop-and-start; hilarious for walking – cykeltræskoer – bike clogs – is my assessment.

Denmark’s a prison. — Hamlet

Well, no, but it is very orderly, everything tidy and in good condition. Perhaps American films taught me to associate prisons with exception to public squalor. Much to admire here. No real poverty visible, houses well cared for, an inclusive, mild and stoic culture. I admire it, I admit it frankly; but personally I prefer England’s excesses. We may yet have that Revolution, but it will devour its children, me first, no doubt.

Up next Feeling employed One of the subtle pleasures of growing older is exploring one’s own pathologies. This month I am once again employed, after a decade of Pynchon and paranoia Fascinating rereading Pynchon after 2-3 decades. The density of the writing, the allusions. Images flying off at tangents. Writing about the
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