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O My America: Nice White People

July 5, 2015

Tivoli Gardens and Middle-Class Pleasures

by Lawrence Bush

tivoli-gardens-fairground-ride_22486_600x450My wife’s about to take a ride on the “Himmelskibet,” the Heaven Ship, swings on cables that fly around a 250-foot tower at various levels of altitude and centrifugal force. She loves this ride, but has never been on one even half this one’s height. She’s a dancer and she loves to fly.

There she goes, legs stretched out, arms up and out, head back, hair hanging down. And me, the landlubber, I’m watching from below, here in Tivoli Gardens.

What does Tivoli say about Denmark, I asked her over beer (me) and champagne (her) after about two hours of walking around. Tivoli is a fairly modest place, not enormous, elegant in an old-fashioned way, not too run down, not too modern. You enjoy the place knowing that even the vendors and ticket-takers and ice cream scoopers are well paid. (Workers at fast-food restaurants in Copenhagen earn $20 an hour or more, with healthcare and pension benefits.) By contrast, I recall walking around the Ulster County Fair some years ago wearing a t-shirt that said “Slave to Art.” I was so embarrassed after feeling the class difference between me and the carnival workers that I turned the t-shirt inside out and got rid of it when I arrived home.

Tivoli costs $13 admission, $30 with unlimited rides. Most Copenhageners can afford that, at least once in a while. There are lots and lots of benches and chairs and small, pretty gardens. There are sweet little blonde kids, sturdy, handsome women, and tall, trim men. Nice white people, in crowds! Plus a bunch of brown-skinned folks from India and Turkey and parts unknown. I saw no one crying, scowling, or looking dazed in my four hours in the place.

If I were to analogize to an intoxicant, Tivoli is a nice, tall glass of good beer. Lots of websites describe Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world. I would add: happy in a beer-buzz kind of way.

Here’s what I like about it, and Copenhagen in general: It’s is non-aspirational, or only subtly aspirational. In America, so many buildings testify to Empire (especially in the Empire State); so many restaurants are so elegant as to intimidate, and so many entertainments are hugely expensive. Class differentiation is written all over the landscape. In Denmark, the motif is middle-class contentment for everyone.

Which makes me feel very relaxed — so much so that we did nothing today but sleep late, register Susan for her dance education conference, and then hang around at Tivoli.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents and is trying to have an amazing vacation.