Sunday, May 18, 2008

Catching up

I'd like to fire off a few posts to cover the time this blog was silent. I'll start from last weekend in London and work back. Okay? Okay.

Some of you will remember Simon and Leslie who hosted me so kindly on their canal boat. Well they got married last weekend, and were again kind enough to invite me and Monica.

It was a quick town hall ceremony at the Camden Registry Office right around the corner from the British Museum. Then a great party down at the moorings. They covered most of the action I'd expect from Simon Tickner's wedding.

1. One guy fell in the canal when he decided the dingy pictured below was a good place to try and step. It's not deep but the water is about a 200 years of industrial gross. He was pulled out and promptly hosed off.

2. Someone broke their leg walking up the steep little path to the Chinese restaurant. This was, mind you, after an announcement Simon made saying "The path up to the restaurant is a bit treacherous, so ladies, if you're wearing heels, you'll break your ankle."

3. Then the following video happened. That's Knobby. He was described to us as a London tourist attraction. And apparently he prefers to dance alone.

That was around 6pm. We stayed until 3am and things were still rolling. All around great. Great party, great people, great time!

The next day we... um... recovered. Then we walked down through Hyde Park and on down to to the River to meet up with Sydney. She's an animator we met in Denmark, and who offered us her flat for a night. The weather was fantastic, and Londoners were taking full advantage.

We had a great dinner with Sydney and her husband Chris at the Mayflower, which supposedly where the ship of the same name set sail.

The next day we sought out the John Snow pub. John Snow has particular meaning for people in public health (like Monica). Seems he pretty much created epidemiology. Nice work John!

Portrait of a happy Public Health nerd

The rest of the day we wandered around the British Museum and finished up at Gordon's Wine Bar.

It's said to be the oldest wine bar in London, and possibly the world. Really casual, really dark, and really good cheese!

Again... an all around great time. More pictures here.

Thanks to Simon and Leslie once again and thanks to Sydney and Chris!

Next up... Lundø!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My First Diplomatic Mission

Things went better than this.

I've been back in Denmark since the beginning of April. I'd only been back for 2 or 3 days when I was asked to come to a meeting the following Friday morning. It was Morton Thorning who asked me first. I've written about him before. He's the director of the school here, and a great and very interesting guy. When I asked what the meeting was about he said, "The Ambassador is coming."

"The U.S. Ambassador?", I asked.

He nodded and smiled a little. "We're going to gather all the Americans together for him."

"Okay, sure."

Friday morning comes and the Americans (about 6 of us) are all gathered in a hallway. Within a few minutes the The U.S. Ambassador to Denmark is there. Along with two guards, a photographer, and the Vice Mayor of Viborg. It seems the Mayor couldn't (or wouldn't) be there himself.

James P. Caine is a pretty big guy, full of confidence and he seemed to be trying hard to convey a sincere interest in each of us. He reminded me a lot of Mike Huckabee somehow, except that he was wearing spandex pants, a bright colored spandex shirt and a Harley Davidson cap.


I can't tell you what diplomatic purpose was served by the Harley cap, but the rest of the gear was soon explained. See, the ambassador is bicycling across Denmark to promote, in his words, "healthy living and the need to conserve energy." It's the ReDiscovery Tour! I'm also not sure why the "D" is in caps. Another diplomatic mystery.

Yeah, that's him.

Those are laudable things to promote, of course. Still, it seems like there must be a lot of Danes who would feel that, as the most bicycle riding country in Europe and a leader in energy conservation, they could be spared that lesson from a South Carolina Bush fund raiser in a gimmie cap.

The meeting was about what you'd expect. He talked about his tour and we listened. He asked a few of us about our experiences living and working here, and we politely answered. It took about 15 minutes. Then one of his body guards let him know it was time to go. He gave Morton a coin commemorating The ReDiscovery Tour (a bizarre prize I covet greatly). He leaned back over his shoulder and gave us all a hearty "Keep drawing!", and then he was off.

I'm sure the cursory googling I'd done that morning didn't help my attitude. I found this that he'd written and the tone of it bothered me. Especially this part:

"You are curious about our religious faith. You wonder about a country where 40% of the population describe themselves as part of the "religious right", where 50% say, it's okay for religious leaders to espouse political views, where 60% go to church on a regular basis, and 94% say they believe in God. And although you are thankful for the moral resolve that such faith seems to give Americans, you worry that our moral high ground may be eroding in the face of the war on terror. (I think you are wrong, by the way.) And I have learned that you appreciate a self-deprecating sense of humor, and that almost everyone in Denmark has heard the story about how the American Ambassador got locked in the bathroom last September, on the morning of his first big public speech."

Okay, that last bit is pretty funny, but the rest of the text reads like a half sermon/half social studies report about Denmark.

It was strange to be in another country and to meet the person who, at least on a government level, represents your home country. I think it was also intense for me because I'm in a country I've come to love and feel so much a part of. I want them to like us.

Morton, who I gather was kind of a Left wing revolutionary back in the day, actually defended the ambassador when I complained about him. "I disagree with you, Sean.", he said. "I think it's important there's a dialog, even if we don't agree."

He's right, of course. It's just that I want to be proud of the person representing me in that conversation. I wasn't. What I felt was that this swaggering American was preaching to these good people; condescending to a nation that could teach us plenty. I felt embarrassed.

I'll say this, though...

That guy sure loves wind power!