It is a beautiful summer day in Copenhagen. The weather is nice, and I am going for a boat trip in the harbour with a young Danish entrepreneur. I want to hear about life as an entrepreneur in Denmark, and why he chose to become an entrepreneur.
Copenhagen, Denmark continues to top various lists of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world, thanks to its culture of inclusiveness and tolerance, which is on full display at the annual Copenhagen Pride festival. The event takes place at the City Hall Square, which is renamed Pride Square for the duration for of the event.
History of Copenhagen Pride
Copenhagen Pride began in 1996 when the city was selected as the European Capital of Culture and as a result, hosted the Europride event that year. Europride is an event which is hosted in different European cities that celebrates LGBT pride– with various events throughout the city being organized, culminating in a huge parade and an AIDS memorial vigil.
Every year since, Copenhagen has hosted the city’s gay pride festival in August. In 2014 almost 21,000 people attended the parade, and even more are expected next year.
Copenhagen has long been an LGBT-friendly city. Besides hosting Europride in 1996 and Copenhagen Pride every summer, the city hosted the World Outgames in 2009. The World Outgames is a sporting event, similar in style to the Olympics, that brings together people from all walks of life. The event takes place every four years.
Copenhagen repeatedly been listed as one of the most gay friendly city on many lists. In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to recognise same-sex partnerships. In 2009, registered gay couples received the right to adopt children, and just a few years down the line, in 2012 gay couples could be married at City Hall and in a church.
In 1948 Denmark saw the establishment of the National Association for Gays and Lesbians (LGBT Denmark) by Axel Axgil, to fight for the rights of gays in the country. Axel and his partner Eigil became the first registered gay couple in 1989, after an engagement of forty years.
Copenhagen is home to Centralhjornet, the world’s longest running openly gay bar that dates back to the 1950s. Additionally, the red-light district of Vesterbro also offers many gay bars such as Oscar Bar Café, Vela (an exclusively Lesbian bar), and Café Intime. Other gay-friendly bars around the city include Masken Bar, Men’s Bar, Never Mind Night Club, and Cosy Bar, which has been in operation for the last twenty-five years.
In addition to bars and restaurants, Copenhagen has many cultural venues that cater to the LGBT community. Warehouse9, for instance, is an art gallery and performance space and Huset KBH is a cultural house that offers concerts, films, theater productions, and spoken word performances.
Gay House is a membership organisation that hosts parties, speaker events, exhibitions, theater and music performances, and various cultural projects. The city also has many gay-friendly boutique accommodations, and the square next to City Hall Square is named Rainbow Square in honour of the fight for LGBT rights.
In addition to Copenhagen Pride, the city hosts a number of events aimed at the LGBT community. For example, AXGIL GayGalla is an annual award show hosted by the Copenhagen Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose is to celebrate people and companies who have made a positive and significant impact in the LGBT community in the previous years: 2015 will mark the seventh show of the event.
MIX Copenhagen is an annual LGBT film festival and is one of the oldest in the world. It is the one of the biggest film festivals in Denmark. Since its inception in 1986 the event was known as Copenhagen Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, but changed its name in 2010. Every year Copenhagen hosts a number of events to mark World AIDS Day– a candlelight vigil, a church service, and a special Christmas concert included.
Freedom to Love
While being a leader among cities that are friendly to the LGBT community, Copenhagen, and Denmark as a whole have also embraced equality. The country generally has a laid-back open-minded attitude toward people of all backgrounds and many citizens, including artists and even politicians, have come out as openly gay without fear of reprisal.
Many people feel homosexuality isn’t even worth a mention; while the unfortunate hate crimes do occur, the police and the community as a whole take those crimes very seriously. The government and politicians take the issues of gay rights seriously and have continued to pass laws ensuring that equality prevails in all corners of the country.
To attest to their continuing support, many of top politicians participate in events and support Copenhagen Pride, among other LGBT events. Where many Western cities can only come to tolerate gays and the LGBT community, Copenhagen, and greater Denmark has come out in the open to embrace them. Copenhagen in particular has always been open, accepting and relaxed in their ways so it’s no surprise that Copenhagen Pride continues to grow year after year.
Long Days and Pleasant Nights
At a height of 848m above sea level, Father Andreas’ Shepherd’s Shelter – known locally as a Mitato -sits on the slopes of Crete’s highest point, Mount Ida. Getting there with a hangover was not fun, and my drinking companions from the night before were feeling similarly delicate.
As the privately chartered minibus / coach thingy slowly wound its way through the villages and up the meandering roads, we sat quietly staring out the window at the passing scenery. Some places looked perfect for stopping off for some cool shots, but sadly there wasn’t enough time to do so. One of the places mentioned was officially off the record, so I can’t say much more than that. The one stop we did benefit from was right by the side of the road on a blind bend, where we got to witness hard-ass mountain goats hopping from rock to rock like their lives mattered not. There was also yet another shrine dedicated to Jesus and his crew, which I thought was a bit odd this far up the mountain.
We arrived at the Shelter around two hours after leaving the villas and the crisp air was actually a welcome relief. The sun was starting to come out, too, and the view was pretty nice. The priest / shepherd came to greet us himself and led us straight to the barn where all the goats were chilling out with their bells round their necks.
There were some keen members of our little group who couldn’t wait to get stuck in, and soon enough a gaggle of writers had gathered over a bucket to watch an Israeli guy squeeze a teat or two. And just like the day before in the Olive Grove, I was more determined to get a good shot before the opportunity disappeared than I was to do the actual milking. I was starting to worry about my lack of getting involved, but I knew that getting a good picture was my priority. It was a challenge with all the others around, that’s for sure.
Back in the Mitato the goat’s cheese was boiling away and was almost ready to be tasted. We cut it with some vinegar and a bit of salt, and suddenly it was good to go. We each took it in turns to portion it out in to small cups before it was taken away to our al fresco dining area that was already overflowing with more Cretan dishes. The wine made a cheeky appearance again, as did the shots, and by the time the fried potatoes arrived I was back in some kind of semi-drunk state again. It was a perfect time for Gary and I to introduce the rest of the gang to good old Chip Butties, which totally horrified them all, especially the french girls. We wolfed it down with pride.
We’d spent most of the afternoon so far chasing the shepherd around the mountain – an act that had caused me to drop my camera, lens first, on to a rock. The bloody thing survived yet again, and it was only the lens hood that needed fixing / repairing. But the majority of us were quite tired when we found our seats in the bus and drove back down the mountain. But there were more items on the itinerary to get ticked off, so any thoughts of a bit of down-time to get pictures edited and blog posts written were quashed immediately.
Which is why we next found ourselves in an orange grove, helping to pick oranges from the trees. I was starting to feel a bit desperate for a decent picture at this point and became a little bit bossy with the rest of the group, as I tried to clear out the wandering bloggers from the background as promptly as possible. The owner of the orange grove, a woman named Eftychia Marathianaki, smiled and played nicely as I dragged her from one tree to the next, demanding that she stand “as natural as possible.”
I later found out that she had recently been made a widow and had become the victim of jealous rivals who wanted her removed from the competition. Her tyres had been slashed and water supply cut, in an attempt to stop her from continuing with the business. How lonely that must feel in such an enclosed town, I thought.
The food just kept on coming at our next destination as we settled down to another table of bread, fried potatoes, sausages, olives, cheese, tomatoes, vegetables and more of the Connecting People liquid (that’s Raki to those of you who haven’t read Part One). Before I could get stuck in I decided to slip away from the group to see if I could find any interesting people or buildings to photograph. The best photo op came in the form of a little old lady with the best-kept hair, sitting outside her shop doing embroidery. The light was fading fast by now, as I danced around her like a leprechaun with a lens. She was more than happy to be photographed, and I wasn’t at all surprised when she then tried to sell me a couple of bags for €10 each. They were very nice bags, but not really something I could imagine walking around with on a daily basis. So I promised to return with the rest of the group and wished her a pleasant evening.
With the Cretan cuisine sitting heavily in our stomachs, we were all a little surprised when we were asked “What shall we buy for tonight’s barbecue?” Looking at my watch I could already see it had gone past 7pm, and food was the last thing on all of our minds. A few members of the group started to grumble quietly under their breaths as we continued to towards our next destination: The Distillery!
Now I can quite comfortably admit that I was indeed one of those moaning about the situation. I was tired; I had a lot of pics to upload and backup, and I just liked the idea of sitting on the terrace with a few beers and having a laugh. But then something magical happened. As we entered the distillery we were watched by tables full of locals, and I remember thinking, “This is going to be a difficult night.” But, if there’s ONE thing I’ve learnt about being a photographer, is that holding a camera in your hands opens doors and channels of communication. So over I went to the grilling area and started chatting to the men who were preparing the food. Within minutes I was sitting with a small group of Cretans and being “forced” to drink wine and raki, whilst tasting their meat, so to speak. And for the third or fourth time in less than 48hrs, raki was connecting people once again.
The fun continued, as members of our group were invited on to the dance floor to learn some local moves. The music was turned all the way up to 11 and round and round we went, kicking our feet about in an uncontrolled and badly timed manner. The Greeks knew exactly what they were doing; the rest of us not so. Behind us on what appeared to be a stage used for making booze, a large man continued the process of distilling the raki, as steam bellowed out across the room. It looked like a scene from Dirty Dancing, but without any of the actual resemblances to the any parts of the film. Just steam and dancing really.
This went on for quite sometime, and our group had already shrunk to just a few. At least half the group had gone back to the villas to catch up on some work and rest, and I felt a little bit saddened for them. In my opinion they were missing out on the best part of the trip so far. But soon enough the rest of us were getting in to the bus and being driven back home for the night. Until my housemate, Gary, decided that he wanted to go and watch the Manchester United game in a pub somewhere, and there was no way he was going to watch it alone.
The bar was all but empty, but it gave us another chance to see how life was really like for the small population of Archanes. I also got the chance to talk candidly with our host, Victoria, who told me all about the Orange Grove widow. She shocked me further when she explained to me a so-called “Mafia Tax” that was applied to businesses who were doing “too well.” Apparently the owner of the distillery had taken quite some convincing to let us all in, as it could mean a hefty tax for him. Lots of stories, photos and articles about his business could effectively cause him to lose money, and he had been more than a little nervous at the sight of us all. It hadn’t shown. His warm, welcoming persona had made the night a complete success, and I tip my hat to the guy for making it so enjoyable.
Why a late-November trip to the Greek island was just what the doctor ordered
The first time I ever tried Greek cuisine – it was goat’s cheese I remember – I had a thumping headache. I was about ten-years-old and my primary school class were doing a project on Ancient Greece, so we were very lucky to be tasting such an exotic variety of salads in a relatively provincial school. But I’m afraid I’ve harboured a severe dislike for anything goaty or lemony ever since, and I blame it on my recurring memories of feeling very ill one day back in 1992.
Which is why I wasn’t at all surprised to be feeling exactly the same way whilst waiting to sample Father Andreas’ freshly-made fromage atop a mountain on the island of Crete. But, what took my mind off my throbbing head (which was probably more brought on by the potent Raki the night before rather than the awful memories of child trauma) was the delightful fact that I’d actually helped to bring the cheese to life.
As this is Part One of my Agro-Blog (Agro meaning Agriculture, I think, not somebody losing their temper and getting agro) then I should probably start from the beginning.
Two weeks ago I jumped on an early-morning SAS flight from Copenhagen and landed in Athens just a few hours later. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it was the first time I’d landed in a totally new foreign country on my own in ten years.
I was lucky to get there, to be honest, as I’d left my passport in my Check-In luggage, and I only discovered this as the bag was disappearing down the conveyor belt to the netherworld of the airport. As it was an unmanned Check-In desk I had to hop on the belt to retrieve my bag, which caused all sorts of people to react rather agitated. Thankfully it was a simple error on my part and everyone got on with their lives.
Once at Athens I had five hours to kill, and there was no way I was going to spend them in the airport. So I quickly surveyed my surroundings and discovered a Metro line that ran straight in to the city. Having never been to Greece before, and having always been fascinated with the Acropolis and so forth, I decided there was only one place for me to be, so that’s where I headed.
45 minutes later I was out in the sunshine and suddenly regretting not having packed any shorts. The streets back in CPH had been icy as hell (when hell freezes over, obviously) and full of snow, so I wasn’t expecting any kind of pleasant weather a few hours ‘down the road.’ Alas, I had to grin and bear it as I began the steady incline up to the heart of Ancient Greece.
The streets were surprisingly empty for such a touristy part of town and I remember thinking, why have I never been here before at this time of year? Dragging my bag behind me, still with airport labels attached, seemed to attract the attention of the locals, and some of them stared at me with jaws hanging low. At one point I actually stopped to make sure nothing was hanging out of my trousers, because I couldn’t quite understand what the problem was. Maybe it was the huge jumper.
With gusto I moved on, keen to at least catch a glimpse of the mighty abandoned temple of old, and soon enough I reached a staircase made of stone and occupied by a homeless man who had a brain tumour, apparently. Well, that’s what his sign said, anyway. “That way to the Acropolis,” he shouted.
What he failed to mention was that the gates close at 3pm, which was now only 20 minutes away. Regardless of the time, suitcases were totally forbidden anyway, so getting in was never going to happen. Tantalisingly close, but no cigar.
Time was against me now, as I rolled back down the hill and towards a place to eat. All I’ll say here, is that I managed to get a warm wrap, iced cappuccino, some crisps, and lots of refills of water for less than €10. My wallet was very happy at this, and my stomach was pretty chuffed, too. We moved on.
Back at the airport I checked in to my flight to Crete and went to meet the other bloggers, journos and photographers who were joining me on this trip. I hadn’t met any of them before, but instantly I got chatting to a few of them, in particular a guy named Gary from the North of England. He was a videographer who made holiday shorts for Sky, and it was nice to hear a familiar accent again. God how I’ve missed hearing Northern English!
The rest of the group were made up of French, Israeli, Czech, American, Polish and Dutch folk, so a nice mixed bunch.
Once in Crete we drove to the village of Archanes and up in to the hills beyond, where we found our accommodation for the next five days. I was expecting a hotel room somewhere close to the city, but instead we were presented with several private villas with kitchens and dining areas, and great views over the village and the rising sun in the morning. But no sooner had we dropped our bags and chosen our roomies than we had to hop back in the van and head out for our first Cretan evening meal.
For the next couple of hours we were served plate after plate of salads, olives, meats, breads and cheeses, not to mention the on-tap wine that kept getting poured in to my glass every time it was empty.
But, as most of us had been travelling all day, we declined to stay any later and we began the uphill walk back to the villas.
The next morning we awoke slightly later than was originally planned (thank God someone changed it to 6:45 instead of 5:30). And after a big breakfast containing yet more salads, cheeses, bread and greek yoghurt, we climbed once again in to the van and began our short drive to an olive grove nearby.
After being introduced to Stavros Garakis and his small crew of Olive Harvesters (sounds like a a band), we immediately set about gathering the olives ourselves using something known as an elaioravdistiko – which literally translates as an oil stick thingy.
We spent a good few hours soaking up the sun and bagging up dozens and dozens of kilos of olives, finally sitting down at the end of it all to eat lunch amongst the olive trees. I was drunk within the hour.
Our next destination was a factory where the olives are pressed. Believe it or not, this is called an Olive Press. It was pretty funny, actually, as most of the staff could be seen standing there with fags hanging out of their mouths as they dumped the olives and extracted the oil. I wondered whether these olives would be described as ‘Slightly Smokey’ on the labels once they reached the shops. Our friendly local guide, Victoria, kindly asked us not to jump to any conclusions based on what we were seeing.
Our third destination of the day was yet another Olive Press, but this time a family-run one up in the hills. The difference between the two was immense. For starters, the staff actually found the time to talk to us and tell us about their products, and we got to taste a few whilst being told what made them taste and feel so different. It was interesting to learn about the spicy after tastes at the side of the mouth; something I haven’t really paid any attention to before.
The day ended with a well-deserved shower and a brief lie down before rushing out the door to go and eat again. This time our meal was accompanied by a demonstration from a local woman who was making throat sweets using local herbs and spices. It was very random, but helped to liven us all up a bit. We were all feeling pretty knackered from the day’s events.
And then they brought out the Raki – a local alcoholic beverage served one shot at a time. Now, I’m usually a bit of a wimp when it comes to schnapps and the like, but this stuff fell just on the right side of tasty. So I had another, and another, and soon enough I was having ridiculously funny conversations with my new friends, who had been complete strangers just a few hours before.
Stavros, who had joined us for dinner, had noticed how well we were all getting along at the end of the table and motioned to a t-shirt his friend was wearing. Raki: Connecting People, it read.
How right he was, I thought.
We’ve come to the end of our revisit to the Danish Imports exhibition, and today we’re finishing off with somebody who I’m very fond of.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these interviews and the images that accompany them. A lot of love and time went in to the planning of the exhibition itself, and there were many people who DIDN’T get to see it. Friends and family back home in the UK, for example.
So hopefully this has been an opportunity for everyone around the world (because all of my subjects come from somewhere other than Denmark) to find out just how it feels to move to, live in, or work in the happiest country on earth.
We finish with Gabriella’s story; a story about love, gangs and singing in the opera.
“I feel very safe and free here in Denmark,” Gabriella Pace tells me. The award-winning opera singer was born in Palermo, Italy, but raised in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo – a city she describes as very violent and crowded. Just weeks after telling me her story, Gabriella’s father was abducted by Sao Paulo gang members and driven around the city for four hours. Meanwhile the gang stole his car, mobile phone and wallet, and withdrew all of his money from ATMs before leaving him in a deserted part of town with enough money to take a taxi home. Despite ‘surviving’ the ordeal unharmed and in one piece, Gabriella is understandably concerned that the trauma could catch up with her father at some point in the future.
Gabriella moved to ‘calm yet cosmopolitan’ Copenhagen in April 2011, after falling in love with a Dane and marrying him in July 2013. They now live together on Vesterbro and Gabriella is still very active in the Opera scene, particularly in South America where she has made a name for herself since starting out professionally back in 1998. She made her Ålborg debut back in March and wants to sing more here in her adopted Denmark.
The Danish language and the small cultural shocks of everyday life have been the biggest challenges for Gabriella, but she feels that she is integrating well in to society. According to Gabriella, her Latin views of the world differ from the Scandinavians’, and this, she says, is her contribution to Danish society.
Gabriella speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, English, basic Danish and French.
Getting the Shot
This one really was one of the easiest ideas to pull off. Ever! It was Gabriella’s wedding day (which is how I met her in the first place) and the weather was gorgeous. I had quickly figured out how friendly, happy and relaxed she was to be around, and there was nothing particularly traditional about her big day. So I suggested we hop on a bike and cycle down some cobbled streets. She loved the idea, so we got on with it as quickly as we could.
This picture required no fancy lighting arrangements or photoshop, just a long lens (70-200mm at f2.8) and a smiling bride in a white dress. And within two minutes we were done.