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This report is taken from PN Review 163, Volume 31 Number 5, May - June 2005.

A Letter from Copenhagen Peter Davidson

The roofline was so delightful, seen from my attic window, that I spent ten minutes each morning watching the frosty sky colouring and clearing behind the neo-classical cathedral tower, with the fantastical Borrominian helter-skelter of Vor Frelsers Kirke in the distance. As the colour changed from yellow to dusty rose to cold azure, small vermilion clouds sailed up into the space between that spire and the prodigious spiral which crowns Christian IV's Bourse, the tails of four lead dragons swirling up into the air like a unicorn's horn. The Absolute Kings of Denmark were lords of the unimaginable territories of Finnmark and Greenland - the lands towards the pole, lying under the constellations of the Bears - and they reigned from a throne of narwhal ivory. Never in Copenhagen are you in any doubt of this element of renaissance splendour, never in any doubt that this was once the capital of a great, strange, absolute monarchy.

But this is balanced by a delight in the pleasures and dignities of the quotidian, grounded in the early nineteenth century: the world of the Copenhagen pleasure gar-dens and of the modest manor-houses of rural Denmark. The breakfast coffee was of that world, in that only cream was offered with it, neither plain milk nor the condensed 'coffee-milk' of Germany and the Netherlands. The lavishness of the break-fast itself went far beyond the abundance with which the Protestant north usually rewards those who get up early and do their eating in ...

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