Copping Out in Copenhagen (København), Day 5

It rained most of the day today (7.29.10). I briefly considered trying the Frederiksberg Metro again but headed to Christianshavn instead. There was a controller there who told me I wasn’t allowed to play in Metro stations when I asked and suggested to try somewhere around Kongens Nytorv – a vague suggestion but kind enough. Naturally there was nothing there and I hid inside the fabulously expensive Magasin department store for a while.

The rain lightened a touch and I remembered the colonnade opposite the Round Tower on Købmagergade. An accordionist was already there but was very friendly about relinquishing his spot – fifteen minutes, he said. I wandered up to the top of the tower in the interim – it was very cool how the archways amplified the sound so that I could hear it even at the top. When I relieved the accordion player I tipped him and we chatted briefly about busking. He was friendly and uncharacteristically skilled for an accordion player (most I’ve encountered have bothered the hell out of me) and despite coming from Hungary spoke brilliant English. He told me he’d been coming to København to busk for twenty summers now, but that this would be his last. Naturally I asked why, and how the money was. It was predictably horrid that day but his face fell when I asked about this year – the worst by far. He got this expression of the despair I felt two days ago, beseeching me – a pleading in his voice, “I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the crisis? People… they still like it but they don’t give any more, they just pass and pass and pass…”

I decided to try a tack of obstinance at that pitch. I thought people were unhappy enough with the rain so I’d counter that by singing cheery, upbeat tunes. I could barely poke the edge of my case out so it was visible and relied on the sound to be noticed – the columns cut my range of vision to just a few meters each way down the street. I like singing in the rain – people really appreciate it or are at least puzzled – the expressions on some hurrying passersby were simply priceless. There are fewer of them and mostly hiding away with dour expressions and my defiance always brought forth at least a laugh.

I began with “I’m Yours,” which is probably the cheeriest song I know (my other hundred songs tend to be a little more pensive if not downright depressing – I have a strong belief that the best music comes from less pleasant, more complex emotions). After the first set of choruses, a very strange thing happened. I saw a tall man coming down the street from the north, dressed in an orange hoodie walking, doing a double take and then heading towards me. He looked familiar. He lowered his hood and it was like a mirage materializing from the mist – Cameron, Trumbull ’09, in København. What!? It was even more surreal for him. He later told me just that morning David emailed him saying, “You know Terrence is busking in Europe” but thought nothing of it. What could be the chances I was in København? We chatted briefly and he promised he’d return in about a half hour. Crazy.

The arch ways and the covered passageway really helped. After a few of those happy tunes I ran out and began to embrace the more appropriate, slower fare like The Boxer and Your Song. During the second verse of the former a nice young black man lowered his head phones as he got in earshot and gave me an enthusiastic, “You have a good voice, man!” I got tips intermittently but generally people were too hunched over or too loathe to stop or remove their hands from their pockets. No less than five families alternately stopped just inside the Round Tower to watch and listen to me, all clad in bright ponchos but extremely ungenerous. As always the cameras appreciated me but not the wallets.

The experience that made the day, however, revolved around a single slightly drunk Danish man with halting english. Tall, blonde-haired and rather teddy-bear like, he tipped me with a pot of beautiful purple irises, rising high in their plastic wrapping – nearly a meter. He struck up an awkward conversation with me and then requested Hotel California – and just then Cameron returned, accompanied by his brothers. The five of us enjoyed a round of incredibly strange introductions and waitings for the other to depart. Cameron gave way first after I arranged to stay with him Monday night.

Sometime in those odd minutes Cameron asked how the money was and I laughed bitterly. The Danish man concernedly asked me if I made very much doing this after Cameron left, and I responded honestly. I had no light for a cigarette so he wandered off – I thought for good. A couple of songs later he returned and pressed me a one hundred crown note. Wow… I asked him “Are you sure” a few times and expressed my gratitude in spades. Hotel California time, I thought.

Just before I began, however, the man insisted on taking me on a tour. The rain stopped then and I acquiesced – his tip alone made the entire day, so why not? He explained to me that he was always very bothered that all the tourists never got to see “his Copenhagen.” It was a lovely tour. He pointed out the YMCA, the university and the dorms, the churches downtown. He took me to his favorite streets – Jorcks Passage and Strædet… Best of all, however, he taught me a lot of history.

København was firebombed by Admiral Nelson, he said, killing half the population. It outraged him that Nelson had a prominent statue in London – but he also blamed the bad kings of Denmark. He expressed disdain for the queen and for the trappings of royalty, pride in how the Danes saved all the Jews there – “It was like this: if you had a boat and a friend who was a Jew, you helped them get somewhere safe. Everyone did this. You can ask anyone on the street here and they’ll tell you we saved 99.9% of the Jews.” He showed me the stupidest part of København – the fake Italian “ristorantes” with their cheesy music. We walked through downtown in a way I hadn’t gone with side streets taking us to Amagertorv – he insisted we had to relax there and not just rush through like the tourists.

One thing he insisted on showing me has changed how I look at København completely. His absolute favorite part lies above our heads, but although everywhere, people hardly notice. Roofs in København are often copper – oxidized by time into a lovely green. He’s right: they are beautiful, unique… Nyhavn might be gorgeous with the multicolored fishing style buildings, Strøget might be the first pedestrian street, but the copper roofs are a feel, a permanence that like the strange paints they use make København not just another Scandinavian city in the look of it. So look up.

We parted awkwardly at Kongens Nytorv – I had to make it back to the flat before the denizens went to see Inception. I tried to insist on singing him Hotel California there but he just smiled, shook my hand and had me promise to share his Copenhagen with my friends. I hope I’ve done at least that.

Earnings: 150 DKK, 45 minutes
Song of the Day: Your Song – Elton John

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