I – a wondering wandering Jew

I do a lot of wandering on the Camino de Santiago and its by-ways in France, and I constantly wonder as I wander. Wondering has brought me many an interesting experience, and being a wondering wandering Jew on the Camino is an experience all to itself.

Of all the things I wonder about, what I wonder most about is “what the…” I, a Jew, am doing wandering on the Camino de Santiago, being a pilgrim on this most Catholic of pilgrimages to a holy Relic.

A few years ago I was on the Lepuy-Santiago in France and we were very fortunate to arrive in Conque on the Saturday that inaugurated that year’s Sainte Foy “Black Madonna” celebration. The next day on Sunday the Statue of Sainte Foy all covered in jewels and finery would be taken out on procession, but alas we had a schedule to keep, and would not be around to experience it. However the evening before, Saturday, just as it was getting dark a Public Vespers is held in front to the church followed by a torchlight procession, where all of the citizens and tourist of the town would go around the narrow streets and passages from the middle ages. Everyone then carried a votive candle that had been lit at Vespers by one of the priests, followed by everyone in turn lighting each other’s candles – I did the same and it was quite an experience  being together with all the people of  this ultra-quaint town from the middle ages. But that was not the experience that made me wonder as a wondering wandering Jew. I of course participated in the public vespers (now held in the vulgate – French) in itself an experience fraught with strange feelings for me, when I all of a sudden heard the officiating priest dressed in full ornate recite the Hebrew Schema, the Jewish credo – “Hear oh Israel the lord our god, the lord is one” – which is always recited when Jews congregate in the synagogue and these are also the words to be said with your dying breath. That was a real curve ball there – here I was participating with some overbearing in what was for me an exotic catholic ritual when, bam all of a sudden I’m back in my childhood’s Synagogue hearing the Cantor recite the Schema.

As a wondering wandering Jew there is always much to wonder about the “dark world” of intensity, meaning, and solemnity on  this most famous of Catholic pilgrimages. Then there is that long line of well documented history – none of it is my history, except maybe as cautionary tales told me about the goyim (non-Jews) and their perfidy. Then there are all those town squares with their war memorials (I’m always looking to see if there are any Jewish names – sometimes there are)and most of all, all those churches –unholy churches my mother warned me against – all different but still all the same, all in one way or another a manifestation of the Catholic Mother church.

There is however a great difference between the French side of the Camino and the Spanish side. French Catholicism emphasizes the benevolent Christ and his Mother the Virgin Mary, La Vierge,  who is depicted in every church, at the entrance of many a town, and even at many a crossroads. Each French Church commemorates a common positive world depicted through statuettes of righteous persons, saints, and priests who had done good in the world. The Spanish Catholicism on the other hand, emphasizes the suffering Christ. Christianity all over the world in each country and culture has its unique face and mood, and the Spanish one has always seemed to me to be a somber one with its churches emphasizing the darker side of the passion of Christ, most especially his last sufferings depicting, plenty of gore and blood (sangre y arena) in painting sculpture and ceremony.

I am not completely unfamiliar with the Catholic world and the meaning and import of its iconography – any educated person who has read some of the classics cannot avoid some knowledge of Christian symbolism and metaphors. Even more important was that I grew up in the Bronx in the 1950’s when everyone you knew was either Jewish, Irish or Italian. My classmates in school were predominantly Jewish, with a mixture of Irish and Italian Catholics, a very few Afro-Americans and Catholic Porto Ricans. We were not by any means friends with each other across ethnic/religious lines, but in as much as we all came from families that were still, more or less, traditionally religious, we were on intimate terms with each other’s holidays, ceremonies, and customs. Each group also had its own stores selling religious paraphernalia, so I had already seen the St Christopher medallions and dashboard statues of the Virgin Mary, bleeding heart paintings and lamps, crucifixes and what have you. I was therefore not totally unprepared for the Crucifixions and Madonnas I saw in the churches on the Camino. Yet after having seen one-two-fifty churches their immediate aesthetic quality started to wear off, and instead the more primitive, almost in the genes so to speak, Jewish antipathies and fears slowly grew upon me.

No matter if it was the Spanish blood and pain, or the French Madonna and goodness, all these churches are quite an assault on the sensibilities of this wondering wandering Jew, as I’m sure it must be on any Jew entering this world of Catholic sacral iconography, that is after all the backdrop of and raison-d’etre of the Camino. The French Camino’s churches and their iconography do not frighten me though, not at all like the Spanish churches and their iconography – they are, in fact, meant to frighten their own believers, and for non-believing Jews with even only inkling as to what had all through history taken place in the Catholic (Spanish) world, they positively horrify – they actually made me shudder sometimes.

My own Conque experience upon hearing the Schema was in some sense reminiscent of the one described by Arthur miller in his short story “Monte Sant’ Angelo.”  Published in 1951, it is a semi-autobiographical description of a journey Arthur Miller took in Europe in 1947 right after the war and the holocaust. Traveling in Italy with a friend of Italian descent who is returning to the home of his ancestors, and is like a fish in his catholic Italian world, renewing his roots there. Millers alter ego Bernstein feels left out, lost , and constantly made aware that he had no such roots there in Italy (or anywhere else for that matter) – no, he belongs to a people and culture that almost disappeared just a few years ago. Thus how could Bernstein/Miller not feel a terrible sense of rootlessness in as much as it was so emphatically counterpointed by the rootedness of his friend. He is at a loss until one Friday evening in a café he meet Mauro di Benedetto (Morris of The Blessed, i.e., Moses) a traveling salesmen – a catholic – who yet by his entire demeanor, the way he dresses (he always wears a black hat while the local men wore beret) his involvement with his wares, his body language reflects that he cannot but be a descendant of those Jewish itinerant salesmen who used to walk across Europe in the Middle Ages. I know that demeanor – I have it – whereby one Jew recognizes what he thinks is another Jew.

The clinching evidence to his Jewish ancestry was his stating that: “I am doing just as my father had done, it is our custom…You see, my road ahead is marked for me. I used to go with my father, as he had done with his father. We are known here for many generations. And my father always returned home before sunset on a Friday night.  A family custom I guess.” And always on Friday night, without knowing why, they carried a fresh bread home.

Arthur Miller was therefore immediately convinced that Maura was a forbearer of his, and just as immediately he was filled with a new confidence – he felt for the first time the equal of his Italian  travel companion. His up-to-then unconscious quest for an identity with a culture that had so often been on the verge of total eradication, had left him with a feeling of inferiority which now turned into a feeling of great pride. Of what he should be proud of, he has not a clear idea; perhaps it is only that here a vestigial Jew had secretly survived, albeit attenuated and shorn of his consciousness, but still a remnant of a ”nation” and culture that not only predated Catholicism on the continent of Europe, but also had in some form or another been undeniably formative for European culture.

I was also once similarly affected by the Jewish cemetery in Prague. Most Jews I knew (including me) have very little genealogical depth in their knowledge of their families: uncles aunts, grandparents, perhaps one great grandparent or two, but beyond that all was lost somewhere in the vast hinterlands of Eastern Europe. Family consists of names and pictures you hardly ever heard of and most postwar Jews rarely if ever talked about them- many of us therefore grew up with the history, religion of Judaism, but these had no physical personal roots, with all now mostly destroyed and even hushed up. And in western Europe so few cemeteries have survived intact, and in any case families had moved and moved, time and again, and lost track of where their dead had been buried. But here in Prague is saw a headstone dating back to the 13th century, and just by seeing it, for the first time in my life I felt that localized, geographical, continuity which every French Italian, Check nobleman or peasant has shad with his forbearers.

That was what the hearing the schema in the square in front of the church in Conque awakened in me. It was a good feeling – that was France and anyway in the last 20 to 30 years there has almost been a Jewish renaissance and no Jew need to feel left-out rootless anymore. When Miller wrote his short story there still existed unspoken quotas for Jews at many golf clubs, universities and other educational institutions and top echelon jobs, all over the USA. They were considered smart but very very uncouth. That changed with the prodigious output of Jewish American literature and, yes, such types as Woody Allen, and above all the growing significance of Israel’s relationship to both American Jews but also American internal and external power politics. Being a Jew is not anymore being a member of a lost and destroyed people, rootless and persecuted: quite on the contrary a recent census of Jews in the USA is considered to be very imprecise just because in many circles even the slightest teint of Jewishness confers status: i.e. the person must be smart, creative…. So why not declare yourself as a being Jewish! Much like it helps being (or appearing to be) gay if you’re a designer, hairdresser, dancer etc.

Al in all Conque was an uplifting experience- beautiful town with a great ambiance and the inclusiveness vis-à-vis us tourists that night in the procession around the town was very heartwarming.

I will now relate an experience I had in 2009 in Leon in Spain: again I the wondering wandering Jew has an experience that underlines his own Jewishness, but this time it was anything but heartwarming – Not that the people in Leon were not very gracious and friendly, but there was something in their celebration of Easter that was a …well let me relate what happened.

My friend B., also a Jew of sorts, with whom I was doing the Camino in Spain, and I arrived in the city of Leon on the first day of the Semana Santa – holy week – that preceded Easter Sunday. There was a festive atmosphere in the air, and we enjoyed some of the traditional Semana Santa fare such as a sweet bread reminiscent of “French toast”, but did not imbibe the yellow stuff all adult Spaniards seem to be drinking in cafes and bars. Sitting in a café just of the Cathedral we got into a very pleasant conversation with a young Spanish couple who had asked us if we were pilgrims. As it turned out the man had also done the Camino some years ago. We asked them what that yellow drink was everyone was drinking to which they responded that it was made from lemonade and wine and people only drank it  during the Semana Santa and that it was called Mattar Judio – kill the Jew – and it is said that every time someone drank up a Judio mataran. Now our Spanish was not much better than their English, so I figured I must have heard wrong, but when I saw the way B. looked at me – I knew! This young educated couple continued to all giggly tell us of this “quaint” Easter custom, without batting an eyelid as to what they were saying.

And that was not all. Later that day and the next day we saw some kind of spooky procession of floats carried by people wearing cloaks and hat very like those worn by the Klux Klux Klan, only more colorful and sometimes we saw people dragging gigantic crosses behind them. And then one evening as we were strolling along we happened onto a square where lots of families in a very festive mood were congregating and lighting each other’s votive candles – very upbeat, until! In the distance we heard a very low rumbling which got louder and louder and we could hear them now as large drums beating a deep base rhythm not unlike a heartbeat and then a float appeared all lighted up by giant candles in the darkness carried by people in Semana Santa costumes…Then B. who rarely acknowledges his Jewishness, whispers to me “this is no place for two little Jewish boys.” And thus we leave, with (unnecessary) caution.

I’ve spent many an enjoyable evening in a French Catholic hostel, where the great food and wine was accompanied by grace and talk of the church and such, never hiding my background and with a good feeling of communitas. Yet Once in a while though, on the Camino, in France or Spain, I get a slight twinge, ever so slight, but it’s there, a slight twinge of the ghetto my forbearers came from. And when that twinge comes over me, I begin to wonder: I wonder what the…I am doing on a Catholic pilgrimage trail, but perhaps then that is the lot of every (wandering) Jew: to travel on the historic trails marked out by others.

I do, however, feel the call of the history of all those that have trodden the pilgrim path before me, and when I wander on the Camino and its many byways, after only a day or two I slip into the role of being a pilgrim: I act like a pilgrim, I am taken to be a pilgrim by one and all who live and go on the Camino, therefore I must be a pilgrim. How often have I not been asked “are you a pilgrim on the Camino”, and for each time I answer yes, I feel more corroborated in my venture. Being a pilgrim consists of a state of mind, a role to be played and an acceptance by the locals so if I fulfill all these requirements, who’s to say that I’m not a pilgrim – the wondering wandering Jew has become a wondering wandering Jewish pilgrim.

I would like to quote from,  Conrad Rudolph’s “Pilgrimage to the End of the World: The Road to Santiago de Compostela”

“A pilgrim is a not a tourist. You have a deeper experience precisely because you are not an observer in the traditional sense of the word. Something changes. You are not exactly the same person you were before. The locals look to you as a special experience, authentic. Despite the distance, you are a participator, an authenticator, even more than the locals themselves. You are part of the cultural landscape, part of the original reason for being and the history of many of the towns through which you pass. This is the pilgrimage route, and it is a deeply ingrained part of the identity of the towns and people along it. Yours is the experience of a fully reconciled alienation: the pilgrim at once the complete insider, the total outsider. This is why the pilgrimage is not a tour, not a vacation, not at all a trip from point A to point B, but a journey that is both an experience and a metaphor rather than an event.”

Ps. We did understand the young couple’s Spanish: Matar Judio, meaning kill the Jews, is the right word for that yellow lemon/wine drink. I is drunk only during Semana Santa: it was instituted in the 14th century by a king who was tired of the Easter pogroms when because as everybody knows the Jews killed Christ and the priests incited the people to go wreck their revenge on them. The king figured that dispensing this alcoholic beverage from all taverns at a time when because of Lent e alcohol was otherwise not available the populace would get so soused that they would leave “his” Jews alone. The saying attributed to king Ferdinand when he signed the decree of expulsion of the Jews from Spain , “Limonada que trasiego, judío que pulverizo” became then associated with this drink and hence the term matar judio.





Til hovedlandet og tilbavs igen

Sidste weekend tog vi til Jylland i bil. Vi sejlede med Odden-Århus færgen og kørte til Herning for at deltage i rejsemessen i MCH Messecenter Herning.

Jeg har boet tilstrækkelig længe i Danmark til at sådan en tur er, om ikke rutine, så i hvert tilfælde ikke noget specielt. Jeg er bare en af mængden. Og dog, jeg kan stadigvæk forundres over hvor stor forskel der er mellem landsdele, og hvor stor forskel der er mand (kvinde) og mand (kvinde) imellem, især mellem hovedstadens godtfolk og alle andre danskere. Og fordi jeg er lidt berejst (hvem er ikke det i dagens Danmark) og kan godt lide at lægge mærke til ting – jeg kan næsten ikke lade være – så er sådan en lille afstikker til Jylland alligevel en oplevelse der giver mig stof til eftertanke. Antropologen bliver atter årvågen.

Tage bare det der hvordan sådan en færge lastes og aflastes med alle vores biler. Jeg kan dårlig gengive den ro og orden med hvilket hundredvis af biler på kun nogle få minutter kører fra bord og om bord. Rederiets ansatte gelejder os på og af, men det er sandelig også den stiltiende overenskomst mellem os billister om at man vil samarbejde der muliggøre dette uden sammenstød og uden folk komme op at toppes – det funker bare. Jeg kan levende forestille mange mange steder her på jorden hvor det ikke vil funke så let hurtigt, og endda med venlige smil fra medbilisterne.

 Så om bord, og der hersker der den samme orden og god tone: nogle folk finder et sted at sidde i den lange time overfarten tager, og andre stiller sig pænt i kø for at proviantere sig til den lange overfart. Men det der virkelig slog mig var børnene (og dermed selvfølgelig også deres forældre). Hvor vel opdragen de virkede, ingen skænderier ingen hysteriske udladninger, ingen forvirrede optrin hvor børn skal op-passes af deres forældre – når man har set hvordan den kreative klasses børn ellers opføreres sig i København, så kan man ikke andet end forbavses over at der stadigværk findes børn der opfører sig som børn, og som tydeligt  føler sig som om de er en del af en samarbejdende familieenhed, og ikke som små enevældige hersker af deres familie. Det var en fornøjelse at se, især deres smil og glæde ved oplevelsen i hvad der ellers let kunne blive en meget stressende situation både for børnene deres forældre og os andre.

Det samme gjaldt bland de tusinde og atter tusinde deltagere på Herningmessecenter, både på parkeringspladsen, ved indgangskøerne, ved spisestederne, og ved standene – der herskede en ro og orden som ikke var stiv og afstandstagende, men venlig og imødekommende – folk var helt tydeligt fyldt med en oplevelseslyst, hvilket gjaldt både for de voksnes og de mange børn. Børnene så ud til at more sig, også sammen med deres forældre.

Der er en sødme og umiddelbarhed blandt ”folket”, som jeg synes er mere og mere fraværende i København. Først og fremmest, så er de ikke afstandstagen, og nemt at komme i kontakt med, deres jyske reserverthed til trods, og så virker det på mig som om folk her, langt væk fra hovedstaden, har en hel andet kulturel præg og fælleskabsfølelse – man er til hvis der er brug for det – og man morer sig uden forbehold. Jeg ved det ikke, men på mig virkede det som om jeg var dykket ned i en tidslomme der mindede mig om den Danmark jeg var kommet til i 1965.

 Hvis i kan huske min blog om at bo i udkants Danmark, så er dette ikke kun er et jysk fænomen – man skal bare komme langt nok væk fra København.

Jeg kan næsten ikke begribe, at der kan være sådanne et forskel mellem folk fra de forskelige landsdel i lille Danmark, og jeg forstå mig nu lidt bedre på hvorfor Jyderne kan finde på at kalde Sjæland for ”djæveløen”, men det er også nok fordi de ikke har besøgt Nykøbing Sjælland.


Ps. Jeg ved ikke om jeg skulle sige det, men jeg så ikke et sted i Herninghallen man kunne købe økomad – hvor befriende. Da har vi også nok den ”naturlig” forklaring, på hvem der havde fundet vej dertil, og hvem der ikke havde det!



One little sesame seed

Yesterday I baked a bread. I baked it just the way I like it with lots of crust covered by sesame seeds. And this morning I took a thick slice covered it with cheese and together with a cup of my favorite tea I had myself an altogether wonderful breakfast – I was tempted to take another slice, and of course I gave in to temptation.

Finally after some time a sesame seed that had gotten stuck between my teeth dislodged itself. I bit into it…an explosion of sesame smell and taste overwhelmed me: one little sesame seed turned out to be a much more intoxicating experience than the entire breakfast I just had.

There is a very profound lesson to be learned there, but I’m damned if I know what it is, and anyhow, I doubt I would live by it.

Two words about Denmark

Two words – ”trust” and ”perfection” – are all I need if I want to describe Danish national character, i.e. the way Danes are – mostly – when they are in Denmark together with each other. Danes tend to overwhelmingly trust each other (and because of this by extension to a large degree also the world at large). Danes tend to believe that perfection is attainable in all spheres of life and work, and perfection is therefore worth striving for.

Perfection and trust are actually quite complimentary: seeking perfection is trying to achieve something as you imagine it should it should be, which implies having enough trust that the world really can be as it should be – otherwise why bother. And trusting that the world  can be as it should be, implies that it is more or less perfectible – otherwise why bother trusting if we feel that things never will be as they should be.

Thus this is the secret behind why according to the UN’s ”World Happiness Report”  … Danes are among the most contented people in the world:  they trust each other and the world, because they are part of a fellowship and a country that is more or less as they want it to be. In this world of trust and the idea of the perfect there is a high level satisfaction with what is and little disappointment that what is not what it ought to be – it is as it is, and that is as it ought to be.

There are two quite large  flies in this ointment though:  the world which Danes inhabit is does not only exclusively comprise  Denmark anymore but has expanded and become globalized, so there are a great many influences that are not being in control by Danish consensus as to how things ought to be – what is perfect. And two, large parts of the Danish population are now in some way or another outside this common c Danish consensus, either because they have different cultural roots and cannot/do not want to be part of this consensus, or because due to the external global influences there are people who either feel that they have been left out of the consensus or do not anymore want to become part of the consensus – they feel this consensus stifling.  

Consensus implies towing the line, not rocking the boat, a minimum of free-riding, a very specific work ethic, awareness of duties as well as rights as members of the consensus, and thereby also feelings of commonality in maintaining the consensus. The consensus that here facilitates trust and the pursuit of the perfect, also has little tolerance for any and all divergence in individuals in almost every sense of the word,  be it habits, behavior, wealth, performance, excellency: the norm is king and the tyranny of the norm is ubiquitous in every aspect of living as  a Dane – remember, every coin has a reverse side:  either there is trust and perfection is imaginable, or there is not and perfection is implausible, and all of a sudden there is no trust and there is no contemplation of perfection.

Hobbes delineates a world without trust in the following manner

“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

How vulnerable is not trust and how necessary for well-functioning society and state. I have often seen the unbelievably high transaction costs of almost any human interaction both vis-à-vis each other and vis-à-vis any economic, or bureaucratic organization in countries and cultures where there is no mutual trust. In these the burden of proof that you are you, and that your intent is honest is put on the individual. This unnecessarily complicates any interaction with the government bureaucracy/banks/ telephone & utilities companies.The all therefore demand time-consuming often expensive documentary proof that what you say, and who you say you are, is the truth.

In Denmark the first  really critical attack on the consensus of trust can in my experience actually be dated to 1996. In 1996 Anna Castberg got a job as head curator at a new art museum on the basis of false qualification. Surprisingly no one had ever required that she presented proper documentation for the qualifications she claimed. The position was very high profile and she even had the Queen of Denmark as a museum guest. When the papers got wind off that she had fooled the all of the Copenhagen town hall politicians and bureaucrats, as you can imagine they had a field day like sharks in feeding frenzy. Unfortunately this has adversely and permanently affected the Danish consensus of trust. Where before that, when you applied for a job in Denmark there was rarely if ever and requirement that you actually had to document your qualifications, almost from day one after this journalistic feeding frenzy, I could now for the first time see that employment ads clearly stated a demand for documentation of education and previous employment to be included with applications.

Milena Penkowa who doctored her research data on the basis of which she had  quite a successful career as a scientist: she had it all, really great data, great looks – a scientist, a nerd with looks who drove a great car and listened to heavy metal and with the gift of the gab. It all came apart when the extent of her cheating and data doctoring came out. Again the newspapers went into a feeding frenzy, and the entire academic establishment had sheepishly explain and make excuses. Also again, that indefinable quality of trust that was part and parcel of the public image of the Danish academic establishment was irreversibly tarnished, and universities and funding agencies had to change and toughen their hiring and funding and research monitoring procedures.

So in today’s world trust has been attenuated, and though the idea of trust and the idea of the attainability is still part of the Danish ethos, I do see that they do not have the same import as they once had, and instead we now also see activities that go beyond the bounds of the old establish Danish consensus, especially among young people who feel that they should and must realize themselves even at the cost of the consensus (which true enough tends to stifle individuals). Furthermore there are now many people  in Denmark who have not been acculturated to the Danish consensus, but rather to another consensus, either by their parents or because they are new to the Danish consensus culture. They are often justifiably/unjustifiably accused of free riding on the extensively encompassing Danish welfare state. They’re not being a part of the Danish consensus goes very much against the grain of every Danes feeling of what is proper and equitable and just. Danes have worked hard to attain their consensus, and feel therefore extremely imposed upon if someone willingly does not participate economically, culturally or socially.

The consensus though it can be stifling to individual exuberance in one’s own abilities, is yet at the same time the stable backdrop (remember trust and the idea of the perfect) for entrepreneurship. Trust means that you dare take the chance and the idea of the perfect is a guide- however little room for failure, the culture of consensus allows you. Denmark has many small startup companies often concentrating on a unique niche product. Some of these companies have even cornered the world market – who ever in the world thought of specializing in thermostats for radiators (Danfoss) or rooftop windows (Velux). In Jutland there is even a stereotype of millionaires  who, usually with a blacksmith background,  having discovered some manufacturing process developed it into an industry: they are called “wooden clogs” millionaires because they have retained the clothes and demeanor of their humble beginnings (the wooden clogs of peasants) even though they have become extremely rich- often their only indulgence is owning many expensive cars

Another is “The Chair”, yes that’s what it’s called in America Wegener’s chair is simply called the chair and it became famous because it was used in the Kennedy/Nixon presidential candidate debates in 1960. It’s the quintessential chair almost the Platonic ideal of a chair. This is the type of perfection Danish designers, goldsmiths and architects have been aiming for since the late 19th century. I could list Hammerhøjs repeatedly painting the light that fell in in an almost empty apartment, Bindesbøl that designed everything from beer-bottle labels to entire rooms including every piece of furniture in it, George Jensen silversmiths, Kæhler ceramics, PH who continually sought to design the perfect lamp, Arne Jacobsen who sought the sublime in simple building materials and designed an entire hotel with every piece of furniture and fixture in it.

Consensus also means that one most often moves in circles of people who only particularly share this or that consensus about what the consensus is. Consensus and or trust are highly vulnerable soap bubbles affected by the slightest touch therefore it’s built in conservatism resulting in everyone wanting to only run with the pack that resembles them. Thus, though Danes tend to resemble each other to a remarkable degree in their world outlook manner of dress and life style, tiny markers of difference or similarity take on a totally disproportionate importance effectively fostering a feeling that one can only truly interact at ease with one’s own kind, be it a sub-group/consensus of Danes, or anyone foreign at all.

The reverse side of the consensus in trust coin is jealousy vis-à-vis any one that demonstrates that they have more, or can intrinsically achieve more, than what is the norm defined by the consensus.

There is thus an overall Danish consensus with a whole series of sub like eddies in a flow of air or water these form and stay alive for generations sometimes. The youth/hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s attempted to redirect the Danish consensus hoping to do away with these eddies of bourgeois culture for example, but the resiliency of the consensus was then still very strong, most probably because the youth/hippie movement was such an outside minority. However today this resilience has come progressively more under attack by the forces delineated above.

Being part of consensus means something – it meant life and death to the Jews of Denmark in October 1943! Denmark is justifiably famous for having been one of the few countries that saved almost all of its Jewish citizens. Everyone at levels of society was pretty spontaneously and without any sort of “master plan” involved in smuggling the Jews out of Denmark to neutral Sweden. Bent Melchior former Head Rabbi of Denmark also commented on this action that the amazing thing was not only that Danes Helped smuggle Jews out of Denmark – many countries were more than happy to get rid of their Jews – but that the day the war was over the Jews were welcomed back and in most case were able to continue their lives and jobs just as before.

Bent Melchior:  “The Danes considered us to be Danes. No one thought twice about the fact that I was Jewish, the son of a rabbi. The subject never came up. When we decided to flee, we knew we had to hide among our non-Jewish friends who would agree – and there were many who agreed: the community’s food vendors, our landlords, teachers, ministers and even total strangers. Everyone agreed to do what was necessary. No one dreamed of turning us over.”

And Bent Melchior also recalled that his father had said that the lasting proof of the Danes’ friendship for Jews came not in October, 1943, when the Jews were helped to escape, but rather after the war ended in 1945, when that same Jewish population was welcomed home with open arms.

I personally deduce from what Rabbi Melchior said, that it is not so much that Danes made an all-out effort to rescue  “their Jews”, but, rather, that Danes made an all-out effort to rescue their fellow citizen, who just happened to be Jewish.

This is beautifully depicted in the almost iconic TV series “Matador”, when the town’s Jewish bank employee that infamous October night in 1943 seeks aid at his employers house. Only the banker’s wife is home and she is dumfounded to learn of his dire position not realizing that he is trouble  because he is Jewish. Her son comes home and though he had known his father’s employee all of his life he first now realizes that he is Jewish. The realization comes to them when they pronounce his last name, “Stein” out loud to themselves. But no matter what, right away help is proffered and  few episodes later after the war ends he is heartily welcomed back to work by the his employer who is overjoyed to see that him back.

 Let me leave you with an image of two little girls about 4 years old walking along a residential street in a small country town. One of them is pushing a dolls baby pram and walking right at her heel is the sweetest little Yorkshire terrier. And as little girls do, they are deep in conversation with each other. There was a bit of traffic on the road, but no one else was to be seen on the street  – they were just walking by themselves absorbed in their conversation.

The charm an uniqueness of this little tableau struck a deep chord in me. I say uniqueness not because I had never seen similar  demonstrations of total trust. But, rather, because I could not imagine this little tableau taking place in any other country in the world. Nowhere else but in the Scandinavian countries will you find this all-inclusive trust and protectiveness by on and all.



There is a another word that’s missing in this description of Denmark “Feminization”. Now Geert Hofstede, the author of a five dimensions system used to describe and classify national cultures ranks Denmark as one of the most Feminine cultures. That is it put emphasis on good relationships and co-operation, charity and modesty. Safety and family are very important values. Gender roles often overlap, failure is regarded as an accident and not as adisaster.

Denmark also ranks among the cultures with the lowest score of uncertainty avoidance (23). Cultures with a high score will refrain from taking risk and trying new methods preferring the tried and tested paths. On the contrary a low score of this dimension indicates a culture willing to try new ways and approaches, where a high degree of innovation may be witnessed. 

This seems to me to corroborate all of the above concerning the first two words “trust” and “perfection” , where trust is a liberating factor allowing for the strive for perfection.

This is not what I mean by feminization. By this I mean that from day care to school to higher education to government employees  Denmark is if not quite ruled by women and female values , are definitely “manned” by women. So if you men want to get things done, win approbation, or succeed, they better know how to curry favor from women. It seems to me that this process of “feminization” quite nicely counteracts the more centrifugal divisive tendencies I mentioned above, reaffirming and maintaining the Danish consensus society. These last thoughts came to me because of a picture I saw in a Danish newspaper of two Danish army recruits who were helping each other with their unfamiliar uniforms. They resembled two kindergarden boys helping each other to put on their snowsuits before going out to play – there was such a sweet feeling in the picture. But then ever since they were 1 year old or so, they have spent a great part of their daily life in a universe based on female values of cooperation and dominated and controlled almost exclusively by women. It would seem to me that this fact in effect is nicely counters and can to some degree neutralize the increasing individualization I noted above. Perhaps then we need not worry too much about the consensus-of-trust’s demise, at least in the short term and perfection is therefore still something that can be striven for with the confidence that trust promotes. 

I do hope that modern “curling parents” in their striving for the best for their children do not throw this consensus of trust overboard by being too over-solicitous on behalf of their child’s welfare. In the final analysis the best for their children is the consensus of trust that facilitates the perfection they seek for their children 

Sometimes a joke is not such a joke

The following joke all of sudden took on a different dimension when I accidentally clicked on the link below

Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?” “On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!


Om blogs om at bo i Danmark

Jeg har i det sidste stykke tid moret mig gevaldigt ved at læse herboende udlændinges blogs om hvad de synes/ikke synes om Danmark. Især det der med kærlighed og hvordan man finder en partner her, og om parringsdansen og de erotiske spilleregler er en uudtømmelig kilde til misforståelse.

Når jeg skriver at jeg har moret mig, så mener jeg det faktisk, og jeg har mange gange grinet højlydt over deres synspunkter om Danskerne – så meget misforståelse og så meget genkendelig sandhed i samme udtalelse!

Tag for eksempel følgende:

“How do you know whether a Dane is sexually interested in you? The short answer (with few exceptions): you don’t. Flirting is not a phenomenon that has really caught on in the northern hemispheres quite yet, and if it had, it certainly has a way to go to develop into the art that it should be. I mention in earlier posts that Danes are extremely private and pragmatic people. First, flirting is intrusive. Looking at someone suggestively is just udansk(un-Danish). You’re violating their personal space. Second, flirting is not practical. Why flirt with a good-looking person on the bus just for the fun of it? It’s not going to have a tangible outcome, so why waste your time?”

Så er der de mange udenlandske kvinder der beklager sig over at alle de flotte maskuline danske mænd der, ifølge disse kvinder, bare ikke kan finde ud af det med kvinder – i følge dem, så forventer danske mænd at all initiativ komme fra kvinder: de forventer endda at kvinderne sidder ovenpå! Og så er det der med dating: igen ifølge disse kvinder, så er indstillingen her i Danmark at først sover man sammen, og så finder man bagefter ud af det sammen! For dem så er det er ligesom at bytte helt ud i rækkefølgen.

Mange af disse udenlandske kvinder har baggrund i anglo-saksisk kulturer, og der forventer kvinder at manden tager affære og bejler og kurtisere dem, er høflig og opfører sig som man nu som kvinde kan forvænte et høvisk mand opfører sig – eller som en af kvinderne skrev: ”Jeg gik ind i en restaurant med min ven, og han gik godt nok først og åbnede døren, men han holdt ikke døren for mig som jeg forventede en mand skal gøre – jeg fik den lige i synet”. De fleste udenlandske kvinder mener og skriver at ligestilling er gået for vidt her.

Jeg vil overhoved ikke referere udlændinges syn på dansk mad og festkultur, men bare sige at makrel i tomat ranger højt på alle udlændings antipati/ulækker rangliste. Og så er der det med at side i timevis ved bordet og konversere et vildfremmed person til et selskab, det kan de bare ikke goutere. Jeg forbigår i tavshed deres indstilling til den danske drikkekultur.

Alt i alt meget morsom, men også meget lærerigt læsning. Ja mange forstår os dansker, og det er ikke altid det der er problemet. Problemet er at de ikke er opvokset i vores tillids og konsensus kultur, og de derfor forventer et helt andet mere aggressiv pågående adfærd fra deres medmennesker. Det er også ligesom at disse ofte højt uddannet udlændinge fra vestlige kulturer har en underudviklet omsorgsgen, og slet slet ikke kan forså at i Danmark, så er der mange mænd der også har sådanne en. De er dog godt klar over det positive i at mænd har sådanne en, og flere udenlandske kvinder har skrevet ret så overstrømmende positivt om de der ”garderhøje tatoveret muskelmænd der skubber barnevogne og tager deres tørn i husholdning”.

Tænk en gang: Hvis oplyste folk fra så beslægtede kulturer i den grad kan gå forbi hinanden, hvor let det må være at misforstå hinanden, når man møder en der er rigtige ”fremmede”.






From Kitchen Utensils to World Peace

I have this thing about kitchen utensils – take me to a rummage sale or thrift shop and I inevitably fall under the spell of an espresso machine, a baking machine an electric juices or waffle iron, a chef’s knife or a wonderful thick cutting board – I just cannot resist them (seeing the quite large number of only slightly used kitchen tools and utensils that are always for sale, I feel reassured that I’m not only one who is so inclined). My wife who understood my passion only too well, would always tell me: “Why don’t you buy it if you want it so much” – If only, though, that was all she had said to me, because she always followed her approval of my potentially buying a new kitchen utensil with the words, “- if there is room for it in the kitchen, that is” (she was of course the judge of whether there was room in the kitchen). That was her “catch (22)”, and I then knew that if I really wanted that new espresso machine, I had to get rid of another machine standing on the counter (which I in fact had only used once or twice since buying it at another rummage sale). No two ways about it, I really learned my lesson each time – for every action there is a reaction – but luckily not for long.

A little allegory on the way to my beating a very dead horse, and letting my very own bête noire out of the closet again.

I also have this thing about intellectuals, experts, demonstrators, or even world leaders and presidents, who on the basis of hope and good intentions come forth with wonderful plans to cure the world of something that is wrong, be it rapacious banks, finagling stock markets, too much/too little government intervention, the poor status of women in India, without actually also having prepared an immediately implementable plan.

Whenever I hear such statements with lofty intentions, I inevitably ask myself the question: “What will the world be like tomorrow at 2 in the afternoon, if someone were to actually attempt to implement any of their intentions?” I’m sure that in most cases there would be nothing much new going on and we would hardly notice any difference for quite a long time if ever at all – that’s the best case scenario –unfortunately all too often the worst case scenario is the end results of when their more or less nebulous intentions actually become reality.

We all can recognize the problem, but which actions and activities will actually lead to some sort of positive change, or, in the best of worlds, a real solution, eludes most everyone, at least in the short term. These are is the eternal questions: Is there a solution at all? Is the solution found the right one? And has the solution been implemented according to plans? Finally and most important: Does it work, was it worth it, what were the costs and consequences? Maybe there are problems and situations for which there are no solutions?

There is, though, an one institution and its personnel, found in all countries in the world,  that are actually very very good at implementing solutions, notwithstanding the question if the solution they achieve is the right one. Many a film has used them in their plot line and often enough this institution and its personnel have attempted a solution in one country or another such as Chile, Turkey , Greece 1967-1974 , Burma, and of course any and every Banana Republic. You guessed it I’m sure: the armed forces.

If the armed forces were to attempt any solution to any problem, you’d be sure that they would know what would be going on at 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon – that’s the way they are organized and that’s their job. But if you remember a previous blog of mine where I mentioned the character Major General William Devereaux in the movie ”the Siege”, where he warned the President of the USA of the undesirability of using the army to achieve a solution internally in the US itself – the consequences would be quite unpleasant, and almost always the cure has been worse than the problem. In the US, for example where there does not seem to be a national catastrophe service, each time the army has been used to proffer aid in a catastrophe, such as Hurricane Katrina, the solution itself has turned out to be a catastrophe.  If this be the case when an advanced country like the US tries to solve an internal problem or disaster by way of its own army, how much worse are not the consequences once it attempts to implement a solution in another country through the use of its army – i.e. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia and Serbia.

 The reason that army solutions to civilian problems inevitably lead to catastrophe, is that the army only recognized two types of people: army people and everyone else, and everyone else doesn’t really count and is more or less considered to being part of the problem. Moreover the army is totally focused on immediate results – “quick in, quick out” – they are not geared to planning for long term solutions.  To my mind that is often how do-gooders and even experts see the world – those that count and those that they perceive as being in the way of a solution, and only those that count, that are on the side of (their) right, get to judge “if there is enough room in the kitchen”. All too often their solutions do not, therefore, reflect local reality, with the end result that too many have to pay the cost of good intentions accomplished through draconian implementation.

Once you let the genie (any attempted solution, not just the army) out of the bottle you can never predict the consequences of its actions, and you can rarely put it back in the bottle. There are many stories, fairy tales and myths about what happens when someone gets their wishes fulfilled- and the results of wish fulfillment are rarely good or happy (One of the most disturbing ones I’ve ever read is the short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs – the cost of wish fulfillment in this story is little less than horrifying)

Which brings me back to solving the world’s problems, whether it be the economic problems of Greece and Spain, the Middle-East-conundrum, or whatever. There is no free lunch! Once you try to implement a solution, even one that works, someone has to pay for it in one way or another. There are however, so many situations and problems in the world that demand some sort of attempt at a solution, so what to do?

I still want that new automatic knife sharpener I saw at the local thrift shop, but which kitchen utensil do I have to get rid of before I can get it? It’s been days now, and I still haven’t come to a decision -hope no one else gets it, because the one I bought last time doesn’t at all do the job as I had hoped.