Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Snapshots from... Copenhagen

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today Ola Saltin lifts the lid on Copenhagen, the Danish capital. 
Images by Ola Saltin.

What's so great about CPH?

As a Swede living in Denmark for some 22 years, I'd say the best thing is that you can buy alcohol no matter what day or time...ahem. That being said, living in a country that reportedly has the most contented people on earth (which comes from the plain fact that we here start with the basic supposition that all will be shit, and then find out when we get there it's pretty okay) what I appreciate is a very laid back attitude to things small and large. "Hygge" is a Danish word that is hard to nail in English: it means kinda "comfy", "neat" and "cosy": it is often achieved through a coffee on the corner with  good friends and a chat about last week. We bike a lot - everywhere, and in all weathers.

Tell about the Cultural life.
Culture, high and low, thrives and bustles in Copenhagen. From our huge (fairly) new opera house paid in cash for by the late Mr McKinney-Møller (Maersk shipping magnate) to crazed out techno street-festivals (Distortion), independent theatres, street-food to restaurants at the top of the list (NOMA) - Copenhagen is quite a happening place, and accessible everywhere by bike.  Out at the old naval dockyards, on the water, as is most things in central Copenhagen, a cluster of creative schools has put up shop in the old brick buildings: film-school, music academy, design school, etc are within shouting distance of each other and make the most of collaborations across the disciplines.

What's hot, what are people reading?
Naturally, we read what's on the international bestseller lists, in English or translated. In Danish, it's a mix of home-grown crime and some very good literary fiction writers. I would off-hand mention Kim Leine as the most interesting author right now in Denmark. His "Prophets of the Eternal Fjord" is outstanding. (As we Scandies basically share the same language, albeit with some tweaks, minor and major, I for one can easily read both Danish and Norwegian books in their original texts, and prefer to do so.)

As an example, one of the most feted Scandinavian writers of recent times, Karl Ove Knausgaard ("My Struggle") is Norwegian, lives in Skåne, (south Sweden just across the water from Copenhagen) and is read by many here in Norwegian. So it's all a big mix, basically


Recommend some books set in the city.
Ah, yes. Not so easy. As the whole population of Denmark is not even close to that of London's, I'll permit myself to range a bit outside the city, into the countryside and over the centuries.
Hans Christian Andersen is undoubtedly our most famous writer. Although he was originally from Odense, island of Fyn, he lived most of his life in Copenhagen. After that I'd say it's Karen Blixen (writing under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen), whose estate is just north of Copenhagen. Peter Høeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" is mostly set in Copenhagen, but typically ends on Greenland, a danisk dominion. The Danish crime-writers are starting to catch up with their Swedish counterparts. I'd personally recommend Jussi Adler-Olsens "Department Q" series. Outlandishly crazy crimes, but with a dry sense of humour.
If I'd recommend one single novel written the last ten years, I'd immediately say Carsten Jensen's "We, the drowned." It's an epic novel about Danish seafarers - from the 18th century up to the second world war. Epic, sprawling, crazy, happy, strong and vibrant. It's about Danes at sea, and humans alive or on the cusp of dying. I've read it in Danish three times.


Is the location an inspiration or distraction?
I'm very fond of my adopted home city. Its parks, waterways and inhabitants are a continual source of inspiration, infatuation and irritation (also good for stories!) I have the luxury of being a part-owner of a summerhouse an hour outside the city, by the sea.  As I've been visiting there and for periods living there, for some 30 years, I know the area, its inhabitants and villages well. It's a great getaway and also a source for stories and plots. (See below).

What are you writing?
I'm currently writing on a proposal for a TV series, inspired by and located out around where our summerhouse is located. Nearby is a big fjord that was pumped dry of water in the late 18th century and now is very fertile farmland, all of it some 5 meters under sea-level. Hence the title "Lowlands" that has now attracted a Dutch producer (with the obvious connection to the Dutch lowlands and being able to set it in Holland...). Let's see.



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