10 April 2009 0 Comments

This is the life, Part 3: Denmark

Where better to send a bunch of crime writers and their fans than a prison? The Horsens Crime Festival in Jutland, the part of Denmark linked to mainland Europe, did just that last month.

Horsens prison was in use until three years ago. By the end it was a fairly humane place – this is Denmark, after all. But the museum set up in its old cells demonstrates how rough it was back in the mid-1800s. There are various implements for punishment, including a table with leather restraints for the waist, wrists and ankles. Walking through the upper galleries on my own, I looked out of the window and watched a car drive by beyond the walls. I felt a sudden pang of such desolating loneliness that I hurried down to the yard, where the crime festival was being held just to be among people.

(Not before I checked out the display of confiscated pornography from different eras and a rather horrifying pair of brown leather mittens to be locked onto the hands of inveterate Onanists.)

Almost all the authors were Scandinavian, which means that many of them were familiar names, as that sub-genre appears to go from strength to strength. (Swede Camilla Läckberg, however, wasn’t there, which was a shame because I’ve been wanting to meet her ever since I saw the picture of her taking a bubble bath on her website – you think I’m kidding? I bet it gets a lot of traffic.) Organized by the Horsens Library, the only other non-Nordic writer was Don Winslow. One to watch, from what I saw was a smooth and rather dapper Swedish writer named Mons Kallentoft.

My Danish publisher Gyldendal brought me to the festival, where I was interviewed by Niels Lillelund, culture correspondent with Jyllands-Posten. That’s certainly the most famous Danish newspaper where I live. You may remember it’s the paper which published the famous cartoons of Muhammad, which sent millions of Muslims into a rage. Niels, I hasten to add, didn’t draw the cartoons, but he did do a fine job of interviewing me at the book festival about my second Palestinian crime novel A Grave in Gaza, which is just out now in Danish.

Horsens is a quiet provincial town with a charming central section where the croci were just in bloom in the lush grass of the city park. We were there long enough for my editor Helle Stavnem to translate the names of some Danish pastries (one which has a large blob of yellow curd at the center is called “the baker’s bad eye.” Yum.)

The visit to Horsens was over quickly, however, and we were off to Copenhagen, where I stayed right beside the University library, around the corner from Tycho Brahe’s observatory. (There are various theories about Brahe’s possible murder by rival astronomer Johannes Kepler, which I was discussing only today with Tel Aviv University optical historian Raz Chen….)

The palace complex in Copenhagen is quite beautiful, particularly in the early morning fog that comes in off the sea smelling of lentil soup. The Royal Library was my favorite building, or more precisely the wide courtyard leading to it, grassy and empty but for a woman smoking a cigarette on a bench and a gardener pruning bushes. The lights from the red brick building were inviting in the overcast day and made me hanker for my university days.

Outside the palace, on the wall of the canal, a warning to boats: “Proceed with caution. Sculpture under water. Merman with seven sons.” Below the freezing water, eight figures, a man and seven boys. Eerily their heads were oxidized turquoise so that they stood out from their bodies. They seemed to be grasping for the surface.

Another highlight: the Frue Kirke, the cathedral of “Kooben-hawn” (as they call it). Very Spartan design and quite striking.

I dropped by my local agent, Eva Haagerup, at Leonhardt & Hoier. The office is in a neighborhood of central Copenhagen called Pisserenden, because – there’s no nice way to put this – it used to be a low-rent area where people would piss in the streets. Now it’s rather nice with a lot of bars and restaurants, but Eva says that at night there’s still some outdoor watersports.

On the way to the airport, I stopped at the national tv channel for an interview with an energetic, intelligent journalist named Adam Holm. Why can’t US tv people be like this? They’re all so blow-dried and empty. Adam and I arranged to meet in Jerusalem some time.

I picked up a couple of books: one by a Dane whose previous books I’ve enjoyed, Peter Hoeg (“The Quiet Girl”), and another a historical novel about Copenhagen by a Swede (“The Royal Physician’s Visit”). I’ll blog about them soon.

Leave a Reply