Thursday, August 21, 2014

the comfort of ice cream or why we're looking for a new school

so weird how one thing going wrong can weigh you down completely and drive you to crave ice cream, which is arguably better than driving you to drink. and by you, you may have guessed, i mean me.

we're well into the second week of school around here. at the end of last year, there was a a bit of trouble with her homeroom teacher (i wrote about it here). after the mail of the mixed metaphors from the principal, there was silence and nothing really changed. then came the summer holiday and the silence stretched on. then came the first week of school. on the first day, the same teacher was there in homeroom, tho' they announced that she would be moved to the special education class and a new teacher would be taking over the class. that teacher wasn't there yet for the first week (tho' it's unclear why), but the regular schedule wasn't in place yet either, so that was more or less ok.

but as the week progressed, the stories i heard each evening painted a more and more worrying picture. students being told to start behaving like responsible, mature young people in one breath and not being allowed to stand up and plug in their computer (which they are required to have with them in school since the school does not provide computers) without raising their hand to ask. which is it? do you want them to behave responsibly and act for themselves or do you want them to sit down and shut up? you can't have it both ways.

i also heard tales of a student who used to love math, but nearly cried in frustration during a long-winded explanation by a teacher who apparently didn't notice that all motivation and desire to learn was draining from the students as he droned on and on. and i heard stories of a young teacher who has reached a point where his back is so against the wall that the slightest question from students makes him defensive and he sends them out into the hall. it is, in short, a series of stories of a school in crisis.

on top of it, the school has fostered an environment where if you're the best at something (e.g. english), it's not ok to say that or show that. but instead, you have to hide in the crowd and pretend you don't know. i brought this issue to the attention of a number of teachers last year, but nothing changed.

and lastly, there are new school reforms being implemented, with longer school days and apparently, in the case of our school, less breaks - they have one break in the middle of the day, but otherwise, no breaks mid-morning or afternoon (tho' other schools seem to have managed to put together a schedule that gives kids a breather). odd, i take breaks during my work day, to go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee or just have a little breather, so why wouldn't kids be even more in need of breaks to help them refresh and be able to concentrate? you'd think people who work with kids would know this.

there are half-hearted attempts to supposedly make things better and create a better atmosphere, but they are too little, too late. for some reason, the bad leadership is convinced the class is the problem, not the teachers, tho' this same class was the most harmonious one with the best class environment when they left the elementary school at the end of sixth grade. six people have already left the class - moving to other schools and even going to efterskole a year early, but apparently the leadership doesn't see this as a big, flashing red light. and now, we too are looking for a new school for sabin, because this isn't good.  i don't want her to be demotivated and uninterested in learning because of weak teachers and bad school leadership which doesn't have the sense or ability or wherewithal to support their teachers properly in good time. i'll admit i find it very disheartening and tho' moving her is a big step, the situation is really that bad.

i do realize these are luxury problems compared to race crimes committed by police officers in missouri and journalists being beheaded by terrorists, but this does loom large in our little world.

what is danishness?

today's (yesterday's?) jyllands posten (you may remember them from a certain set of mohammed cartoons) had an article about a study suggesting that danes think the biggest problem with foreigners is that they don't understand and embrace danish values. i wouldn't have known about the article, not being a reader of jyllands posten, but i was contacted by my radio crush to be part of a radio program about the article this evening.

so i dashed into 7-11 and bought their last copy of the paper, which oddly, they had hidden in a back room, and i prepared for the program. what struck me about the article was that it was unclear what these danish values that we foreigners apparently reject are. that was completely unstated in the survey where people had come up with that answer and it wasn't until halfway through the second article about it, on page 6, that a list of values even was mentioned. they included things like democracy, equality, valuing work and the vague "personal freedom." those strike me as pretty universal and not exactly uniquely danish. western, perhaps or even protestant, but difficult to narrow down to a particular nationality.

after talking with the journalist, i decided to think about danishness instead and see if some values fell out of that. what are the things that strike me as so danish after all these years? a lot of workplace behaviors came to mind - like the fact that it's ok to have a conversation with the boss and to even grill him (and i do mean him, since that whole equality thing isn't as pervasive as they might like it to seem) a little bit during that conversation, regardless of your position in the firm. i've not really seen that outside of denmark. leaving at 3 p.m. to pick up your kids and having no one look askance at you. wearing a kind of monochrome (read: black) uniform for most of the year, outside of a few wild weeks of summer, where everyone breaks out the summer wardrobe they purchased back in the late 80s and which never wore out, due to the limited use it's had, and embraces a kind of retro madness during the warm weather. and then there's the full calendars which quash all hope of spontaneity because you need to book someone for a dinner party at least two months ahead, even tho' you have no idea if you'll be in the mood to have people over for dinner two months from now.  and then there's the design thing - it's important to have the right lamps (PH) and chairs (Arne Jacobsen) and couch (Borge Mortensen) and table (Piet Hein) (see, i even had so much respect i capitalized their names). of course, that design thing creates a uniformity in homes, that while it's in good taste, ends up quite sterile, impersonal and, dare i say it...boring. (yes, i dared to say it, tho' i myself have Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint chairs and some Tom Rossou lamps, plus the fabulous Triplex lamp). (i wonder if that means i'm integrated?)

and this sameness in design principles and clothing got me thinking about that supposed value of "personal freedom." if there were really personal freedom, we'd have the space in which to choose other chairs and lamps and you'd see more variety in the clothing shops (there's a great deal of black, i can tell you). so i wonder how much personal freedom there actually is. there is, of course, personal freedom in terms of one's right to be gay or to have an abortion and those are important things, but again, they are true many places and aren't uniquely danish.

so i'm still wondering what these danish values are that we foreigners are so reluctant to adopt...and why it's such a source of worry for the danes. perhaps if they got better at communicating and outwardly sharing their real, core values (and not just a bunch of stuff that could be from a UN pamphlet), we'd have an easier time adapting to them.

the ivy

there are no less than a dozen draft posts behind the scenes here on mpc. it's been like that lately. i sit down, start to write and get interrupted and don't come back for days on end. or when i come back, i can't get myself back into the mood i was in when i started the post and therefore can't finish it. so i thought i'd start at the simple end of the posts. with some beautiful food.

i ate this beautiful food (that's salmon sashimi in those top two photos) at the ivy a few weeks ago when i was in london. i'm not sure i realized the significance of lunch at the ivy at the time, tho' i knew it was a posh london club and i knew that a lovely two hour lunch on a friday was something special. and i fully appreciated the wonderful intriguing, interesting conversation that i had with my lunch companion, who is a person i met a few months ago at a conference.

the specialness started to dawn on me when i had to go in through a secret entrance through a flower shop. it was nice, a bit stiff upper lip in decor, but also comfortable. i probably didn't look around me enough to spot celebrities, as i didn't know that aspect of the place at the time. i was too absorbed in the food and the great conversation. but i suppose that's as it should be.

the food was just lovely and the perfect amount of chef-y. pretty presentation, delicate flavors, fresh flowers as garnishes and generally a delight to the senses. especially this delicate lemon dessert, a take on lemon meringue pie. it makes my mouth water all over again, just looking at this iPhone photo.

it was all rounded off by a lovely coffee with latte art. i'm a little bit glad i didn't realize the significance of being invited to lunch in the private club at the ivy at the time, as i might have been overawed and not enjoyed it nearly as much. as it was, it was a lovely, completely engaging experience. one of those where you're just fully in the moment, savoring it. every delicious bite.

and now there are only 11 more drafts to go...

Monday, August 18, 2014

capturing the spirit of the times

copenhagen picture - 1983-89 - even the frame was handmade by the artist, otto frello
i went on saturday with our local creative group to an exhibition of the works of danish artist and illustrator otto frello at the museum in varde. i'd never heard of him but i intentionally didn't google him or look at the museum's website before we went. i wanted to have a totally fresh, unbiased first experience of seeing his works.

he was, for many years, an illustrator for a danish publisher and didn't start painting until he was in his 40s. he's now well into his 90s and still going strong. while his works weren't exactly my taste and not something i'd want hanging on my walls, i do think they were very interesting.

perhaps his most famous work is the copenhagen picture above. the woman at the museum told us that he had once bragged that there was nothing he couldn't paint and so someone asked if he could paint the spirit of the times. and he embarked on this painting of amagertorv in the heart of copenhagen, depicting the many layers of people who had passed through it over the years and years it's been there. from 17th century fishmongers to an 80s punker, times are all mixed and melded and present there in the picture. so while i wouldn't necessarily want it on my wall, even in poster form, i think it's quite a fascinating depiction of the imprints and layers of history that are left behind, whispering in a place, if we were to just listen attentively.

and i very much enjoyed the experience of just letting the impressions of something new wash over me, without any preconceived notions of what i would be seeing. it feels like with all of the information we are bombarded with all the time, it's hard to have such experiences - where it's just completely something fresh and new and we get to experience it for the first time. i'm going to be looking for more chances like that.

malevich's black square (1915, tho' this one was a version from 1923)
it was interesting to contrast with the experience i had of malevich's works at the tate modern a few weeks ago. there, i knew a great deal about the works and the history and the whole era in which they were produced and i appreciated them in a completely different way. a way that was, admittedly, probably much deeper than my otto frello experience. but that could also be because malevich himself was much deeper. looking at the black square today, it doesn't seem radical, but it was truly radical in its time. and as i stood before it, staring into its black depths, and feeling for a moment a sense of vertigo, i caught some spirit of those times.

it struck me that the way in which we experience art matters - whether naively or in an informed way. the malevich moved me much more. it was partially a matter of taste, but also a matter of knowledge and yes, also of talent. but then, the black square was valued at $60 million not that long ago and for one of frello's paintings at the museum, which was for sale, they were asking 300,000DKK ($53,000). a pretty penny for a living danish artist, but ultimately frello is no malevich. and while both experiences were interesting, give me malevich any day.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

cats in scarves

she seems bent on taking our picture, but what are these things she's put around our necks?

are you kidding me? do we really have to have these scarves on, lady?

just go with it. it's like that thing with the crown.
she'll take a few photos and then she'll lose interest
and then we can go back to playing without any scarves on.

hey, wait a minute...

...i actually do look pretty cute with this thing on.

jamie, please bring your italian to denmark!

spicy pork cracklins
a few weeks ago on our holiday, we ate at jamie's italian in oxford. if you must eat at a chain restaurant, this is the one. relaxed surroundings, food served on chunky wooden bread boards and simple, delicious food. what more could you ask? i find myself rather longing for it on this rainy, grey sunday.

super food salad with grilled mackerel
i probably have most of the ingredients for this super food salad (minus the mackerel), but it's just not the same if you have to make it yourself, is it? avocado, quinoa, sprouts, quark (we call it skyr around here), pomegranate. it was delicious and healthy. and i'd like someone to bring one to me right now.

burger with polenta chips
the burger was on good bread, grilled perfectly and with plenty of fresh lettuce and tomato. polenta fries (or chips as the brits call them) gave a twist on the usual french fries. a bit of rosemary and parmesan on top - delish!

polenta chips
i didn't know what to expect with polenta chips, thinking that sounded awfully heavy, but they weren't at all, they were light and crispy and quite delicious. i'm not sure i could duplicate it at home, as when i make polenta it seems heavy and porridgy. i'll have to see if he's got a recipe on his website, because it could be fun to try it. but really, at the moment, i'd rather just hop a ryan air flight to stansted and find the nearest branch of jamie's italian and tuck in.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

scenes from the past week

if i'm honest, the past week has been full of flies and wasps, but thankfully, i have no photos of those. we have the warmest summer in 147 years, you see, and that means loads of flies and wasps (they're more bee-like than our nasty american kind of wasps, but totally annoying if you're sitting in the garden with a glass of wine). but i choose to focus on gorgeous baby bunnies instead.

on monday, our dear pigs, bacon and bacon, were sent to meet their fate. on wednesday, we scrambled to figure out what to do with 200 kilos of pork! yes, 200 kilos (that's 400 pounds for the metrically-challenged). we bought two freezers on the blå avis (our craig's list equivalent), if you were wondering. i made weinerschnitzel as the first meal. and yes, in denmark, that's made of pork, not veal (weiner means vienna, not veal). i think you can taste that they were happy and loved. so many of our friends and co-workers wanted pork that we have paid for the whole experience and are still knee-deep in pork chops (200 kilos is a LOT of meat, if you were wondering).

on thursday afternoon, some very good friends came to visit. the skies provided a double rainbow, just as we went for an evening walk. such a thing would almost make you believe in odin.

friday afternoon found us harvesting honey. 25-odd kilos, with one more round to go. this year, we have enough to get us through the winter and to sell a little bit. and man, is it good. and it's definitely helped me minimize my allergies. they're not gone yet, but they're much better than they were. the healing powers of honey are awesome.

gorgeous friday afternoon weather found us in the garden, building benny's spaceship and playing with our adorable baby bunnies. they're at their cutest right now. this was her very first attempt at eating a dandelion leaf. this photo looks like she succeeded more than she actually did.

unikitty in a spacesuit. is there anything more awesome? (if there is, please don't tell me.)

i got out my quilt book purchase from the V&A museum as i emptied the last of the suitcases from our trip (yes, i'm slow, so sue me)...even their bags are gorgeous, don't you think? the quilt exhibition was back in 2010, but the book is gorgeous (more about that another time) and thought-provoking.

sunday, we had another visit from good friends and exposed their daughter to bunnies for the first time. suffice it to say she wanted one, but we're not sure the bunny felt the same way, as her impulse was to grab it and squeeze as tightly as she could. by the end, she understood admonitions of "gently." she's a smart kid and is already a real charmer. i predict she will go far, but first, she'll probably put her parents through a bit of trouble.

the weather's been hot and so garlicky, cold, salty gazpacho has been on the menu. other than all that pimm's we drank in england, i don't think there's anything more summery than a delicious cold gazpacho.

my time of late has been taken up with this...the exo suit, a fan-created product from LEGO ideas. what a privilege it's been to work with an ultra creative group of people in rolling this out. i took this photo at the end of may and it's utterly unlike me not to use a photo immediately, but that's just how things are these days. i'm adjusting to it and it's expanding my spontaneous horizons. it's hard but also undoubtedly good for me to have to keep secrets.

this was another secret. i also got to play with the research institute ahead of time, since we needed photos for a blog post. it's the latest fan-created set from LEGO ideas. i'm truly blessed to be working with these projects. and how awesome is that magnifying glass that actually magnifies?!

Here's hoping your past week was lovely too...