Saturday, 23 June 2007

Cow mania

June has seen the arrival of cow mania. The latest art craze is called "Cow Parade", the world's largest public art event. It began in the late 1990s in Chicago and is spreading across the globe. London hosted a herd in 2002 and now it is the turn of Copenhagen. Cow sculptures are made for the local artists to "dress up" or paint, depicting events, cultural influences, cities or even individuals (or course there has already been an Elvis cow..). The cow parade is first and foremost a public art exhibit that is accessible to everyone.

Most importantly, Cow Parade benefits charity. At the conclusion of each event, the cows are herded up and many are auctioned, with a substantial portion of the proceeds benefiting charity. The Chicago auction raised an amazing USD 3 million for charity. The average bid price on the 140 cows in Chicago was nearly USD 25,000, with the top cow selling for USD 110,000.

Currently there are cows on display at many of the most popular places in Copenhagen including Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn and at the site of the Little Mermaid. Amazingly, not one has been vandalised yet!

Also happening tonight (23rd June), is the annual midsummer celebration, in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day (the traditional solstice used to be on 24 June under the Julian calendar). The solstitial (great word!) celebration in Denmark is called "Sankt Hans aften" (St. John's Eve). It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people. It has been celebrated since the times of the Vikings by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today the water well tradition is gone. Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although bonfires are built in many other places too (eg on the shores of lakes, parks, etc.). In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw and cloth on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church's witchburnings from 1540 to 1693 (but unofficially witches were lynched as late as 1897). This burning sends the witch to Bloksbjerg, the mountain 'Brocken' in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day.

Libby and I have been invited by some Danish friends to one such bonfire party in Frederiksburg (west Copenhagen) but with a dodgy weather forecast the witch might yet be saved from being sent to Germany (surely the ultimate punishment). There is also a rather pathetic attempt of a bonfire developing on the inlet outside our flat in Nyhavn, on a sort of floating raft. Given the fact that most of the ships in the harbour, the harbour itself and our building (!) are wooden I hope it doesn't get out of control!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Marsh Warbler

Marsh Warblers seem to be pretty common here. During an evening stroll around Amager Fjaelled (Amager Common) last night, I came across at least 6 singing males. They look very much like washed out Reed Warblers, lacking the rufous tones of their reed-dwelling cousins. The habitat was dampish scrub - one could almost say marsh - hence the name Marsh Warbler I guess! Although one sneaky individual was pretending to be a Reed Warbler by singing from a small reedbed but I had him sussed. They have a great song - it includes mimics of many species and listening to one for a few minutes it is fun to try to count how many other birds' songs and calls are included. I counted about 15 inlcuding House Sparrow, Lapwing, Swallow, Greenfinch, Magpie and Reed Bunting - quite a mix - before I began getting eaten alive by the resident mozzies.

The evening amble also produced a few THRUSH NIGHTINGALES. Their song is very loud, like a Nightingale, but not so beautiful (more like a series of clicks and whistles). Like Nightingales they are a b***** to see but I did manage brief glimpses of one last night, enough to see the lack of warm reddish brown on the back/rump and also the spotted undertail coverts. Danish total now stands at 139.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Owl stops play

Now, I've never seen this before.. obviously something in the stars for this week's round of football internationals. This time it was the game between Finland and Belgium. Referee Mike Riley has probably seen quite a lot of things during a career in the English Premiership, but I wouldn’t mind betting he has never encountered the situation he faced after 19 minutes of the first half. A majestic eagle owl (Bubo bubo), which apparently lives in the Olympic Stadium, clearly felt the Finns needed to play the ball out wide more, and flew down from its perch atop the main grandstand and sat on the grass. He was in acres of space, and in a sort of right midfield position. Nobody passed to him, but the game ground to a juddering halt.

Lest you think that one of the players should have trotted over and shooed the bird away, it should be mentioned that the eagle owl is not a pigeon or a gull, it is a BIG beast, nearly as large as a golden eagle, with a wingspan of up to two metres, and this one was playing at home, remember. I’m not sure any of the players DARED tangle with it, and Mike Riley certainly wasn’t showing it any yellow or red cards. Obviously Graham Poll would have done, but he wasn’t there.. :-)

The ref called time out, the players - especially the Belgians - stood and stared, the crowd roared in delight, and the owl responded to their cheers by performing a few leisurely low-level laps around the arena, with pauses in between when he perched on the crossbar at each end. Thirty thousand voices boomed out a new chant - “Huuhkaja! Huuhkaja!” - the name of the species in Finnish.

After making its point, the big bird sat down quietly on a wooden construction behind the Finnish goal and watched the proceedings for a while, as the press photographers snapped away at it. Security staff kept a wary distance. Play recommenced after a six-minute delay.

After Johansson scored for Finland a few minutes later the owl presumably figured the match was a done deal and disappeared. You can see the action at:

Apologies if you don't give a hoot...

A Danish hooligan

Saturday evening I was in Berlin (bizarrely having having dinner with a Swedish MEP, but that's another story) when the news came through of an extraordinary end to the European Championship qualifier between Denmark and Sweden. My dinner companion called his son who was at the game and couldn't believe what had happened....

In an exciting game, Denmark had fought back from 3-0 down to make it 3-3 when, in the 89th minute the referee, Herbert Fandel, sent off Denmark defender Christian Poulsen for hitting a Swedish player in an off-the-ball incident. He also awarded Sweden a penalty as the incident had taken place in the Danish penalty area. Immediately, a furious (and drunk) spectator ran on to the pitch and attempted to attack the referee. He was intercepted by Danish players and sent back to the stands but the referee was clearly stunned by the attempted attack and, after consulting with his assistants, walked off the pitch and abandoned the game with the penalty untaken. It is likely that Sweden will be awarded the game 3-0 which is a bit unfortunate for poor Northern Ireland who currently top the group - if Sweden get the three points, they will leapfrog N Ireland into top spot in the group.

The Danish fan who ran on to the pitch is quoted as saying at a court hearing that he had drunk 15 to 18 beers before the match and had little memory of the actual incident.

"It was incredibly stupid of me. I want to apologise to Denmark, Sweden and the referee for my inhuman behavior. People in Denmark hate me, but I have no feeling yet what the reaction in Sweden is, other than they of course believe I am an idiot."


You can see the incident on the YouTube webiste at: