Some people say returning to Venice is like falling into the arms of an old mistress.
If that is true, returning to Copenhagen is like visiting your banker. In her office.
I am quite fond of the city. But it is not a place to arouse unseemly sentimentality. Like the Danes, it is orderly with classic lines -- and cool (both in the stylish sense and temperature). The type of city you could take home to meet your mother.
Not many of us would consider Denmark to be a major power. Sitting on top of Germany, it looks like a pencil eraser. But, Copenhagen was once the capital of a great empire that included the Kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden along with the territories of Iceland, Greenland, and a scattering of islands.
"Island" is an important concept for Denmark. It still rules the largest island in the world (Greenland). But a large portion of the kingdom consists of islands. The largest of the group, Zealand, hosts Copenhagen. Unlike most European capitals that are near the center of their country, Copenhagen is almost on the border with Sweden.
The island identity is re-enforced by its harbors on the Baltic Sea and the canals that cut through the city. Denmark has thrived on trade for centuries. The canals are the remains of a past where Danes grew rich on moving merchandise. And, of course, there was a bit of wealth derived from those Viking raids on the rest of Europe.
The Viking past seems ancient history when looking on the city today. Its restrained look is rather new. Very little remains of its medieval past. Most of that burned down in the great fires of 1728 and 1795. But, like most natural disasters, destroyed buildings made way for contemporary architects to show off their skills. And they did.
Copenhagen has some of the best examples of neoclassical and neogothic architecture in the world. And its modern architecture is just as stunning.
Like the opera house.
Or the national library's black diamond.
But not everything In Copenhagen is that staid. I suspect there must have been an outbreak of children being locked up and left in abandoned guard houses. What other reason would there be for this sign?
Or for this one on the gangplank to a Russian sailing vessel. What if something fit into both categories?
(I will hear from my mother about that one.)
But, my favorite Copenhagen story happened last night at the airport. After collecting my luggage, I hired a taxi to take me to the hotel.
The driver loaded my luggage without a word. I showed him the address of the hotel. And we were off. Both of us silent. Until his telephone rang.
It was his daughter. She asked him to bring something home. But none of it was in English -- or Danish. But I recognized enough words to understand what was being said. I just could not place the language.
Then, he spoke his first word to me. Kish? It was clearly a question, but I wasn't sure what he wanted to know. He repeated it with a slightly different accent. Kesh? While holding up his hand rubbing his fingers together in that readily-understood international sign.
"Ah," I said. "Dinero." Yup. I started speaking Spanish to a cab driver in Denmark.
As absurd as it sounds, it worked. He knew more Spanish than English. So, we stumbled through a conversation. The type of conversation that could only have taken place in a Berlitz world.
He was from Turkey. His daughter had asked him to pick up bread. He was from the fourth largest city in Turkey -- Bursa. Once the capital of the Ottoman Empire. He preferred cash to credit cards.
I make it sound as if we had the type of conversation two Spaniards would have over coffee in a sidewalk cafe in Madrid. It wasn't that elegant.
And here is my proof. Somehow, he thought I was from Spain and wished me a happy return trip.
When I told the story to my friend Nancy, she said: "Your Spanish must be getting rather good."
I responded: "As long as I am talking to a Turkish cab driver."
And that is how I hope this trip continues. Just as Henslowe informed us in Shakespeare in Love: "Strangely enough, it all turns out well. . . . It's a mystery."