Is Christiania and Pusher Street Closed?

Christiania, one of Copenhagen’s most iconic tourist attractions, is on the cusp of a major makeover. The semi-autonomous “Free town” of Christiania sits nestled in the heart of central Copenhagen on an old military base and is most famous for Pusher Street and its Green Light District where Hash and Marijuana are openly sold despite being illegal in Denmark.  The story goes that a group of hippy squatters moved into the base in the 70s and took it over. Since it started Christiania has been largely left alone and currently serves as home to roughly 900 people living in a self governed democracy.

In recent years there has been increasing pressure for Christiania to re-integrate. In part, this has been due to an increase in crime tied to Christiania’s famous “Pusher Street” as the vendors have pivoted from casual and friendly sales by local residents, to gangs and outside groups eager to peddle harder wares and who have an inclination towards violence. Added semi-frequent raids by the Copenhagen police have only served to further the divide.

Over the last few years there has been an uneasy truce. Police would periodically raid Christiania, or set up stop-and-search stations in the nearby Christianshavn metro station, but would otherwise largely leave Christiania alone. The aim has been to focus on driving re-integration through economic and political means by working to normalize the free town, working with its leadership, without stripping away much of what has made the community special.

All of this changed August 31st when two police officers and a civilian were shot by an armed dealer mid-arrest. The dealer was later shot and killed. At the heart of Christiania and Pusher Street there has always been a simple unwritten rule: No guns and no violence. It is part of what has differentiated Christiania and made it stand out as an exciting and welcoming experiment. A casual hippie free town, that focuses on artistry, quirks and living daily life, Christiania has always been a safe place, full of families, and which served as a crossroads between people from all different backgrounds and trades from bankers to boat hands, CEOs to young children and their families.

2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Black and White Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the abandoned lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude in North Western Jutland. Upon the sand berm the individual posing is my younger brother. One of my goals this year was to work on my portrait photography and to add people into some of my shots. Hopefully you enjoy the result!

The San Telmo Market in Buenos Aires

Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Upon my return to Buenos Airies I immediately backtracked from the Airport to the hostel I had stayed in previously.  Located in the heart of the San Telmo District Tango Backpackers offered familiar/friendly staff, a good location, and excellent facilities.  The girl on the front desk, a Bulgarian who had temporarily re-settled in BA, recognized me immediately and welcomed me back with a warm smile.  I settled into my room, then set out to explore areas of the City I’d missed previously.  It was Christmas day and the world famous Sunday San Telmo outdoor market was taking place near by.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

After walking a few blocks to the northwest I stumbled onto the market, which shuts down the entire street and stretches at least a mile across the heart of the city. A narrow cobblestone street it’s lined on both sides with hawkers before eventually dead ending in the main square where the more traditional and established market vendors have their stands set up. There’s also an in-door area but more on that later.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The market is home to everything from small handwoven silver goods, to tango shows and gaucho (Argentinian cowboy) equipment and artifacts. It’s the embodiment of everything I love about outdoor markets, only missing one key element – the food! While you can find just about anything at one of the stands, apparently Buenos Aires has a law against streetside food vendors. As a result the only real food available along the market was fresh pressed orange juice.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Luckily, there’s an old turn of the century style wrought iron marketplace located just off the main square which serves as home to a number of great vegetable, fruit, and meat stands. Sandwiched between old antique shops, and an odd mixture of electric, perfume, and clothing stands they provided a chance for some fresh food. As you’ll note in the picture above, it’s not exactly the most airtight building, as the Pigeons made a strong showing and casually patrolled the space, not unlike local Police officers in their dark blue-gray uniforms.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The level of vibrant color constantly bombarding my senses in the market was absolutely delightful and a fun contrast to the more muted tones I’d grown accustomed to while in the southern part of the country.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s impossible to visit Buenos Aires without breathless mention of the Tango dancing, salivating praise for their steaks, and words of caution about the pickpocket scene. While I never had an issue with pickpockets, I was more conscientious than normal. The market isn’t just world famous for its size and antiques, it also has a reputation as a pick-pocket mecca. As I wound my way through the crowd I was always aware of my belongings, and regularly transferred my backpack from my back to my chest. Backpacks in particular are always an easy target and one we usually assume to be a bit safer than our pocket-based wallets.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The collection of People along the route is also a great mixture of characters. Some gorgeous…some colorful. All vibrant and full of life. Of the hawker’s wares some of my favorites included beautiful silver work done with hand woven silver wire often worked in beautiful patterns around polished gem stones and aged fossils. Some even included peacock and parrot feathers. Others created similar works of art but with a waxed, hemp like, multicolored type of thick string gator and jaguar teeth. One gentleman was selling beautiful leather maps, while another sold handcrafted leather bracers and bracelets. Some of the more cultural pieces – vintage Tango posters and the stands with Gaucho saddles, lassos, whips and spurs left me wishing I had the funds, space, and time to make a few purchases.

San Telmo Market - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Starving and a bit frustrated by the lack of any quality food stands, I eventually found a small doorway into a tiny, steaming hole in the wall sandwiched behind two large vendor’s tables.  The place boasted the standard open faced grill Argentinians are fond of with a smattering of meat thrown onto it. The place was dingy, the chef a rather hefty older man with sweat tracing its way down his face.  Near the door two old men sat and motioned me in as they relaxed and read the paper.  I dodged the young waitress as she barreled towards a nearby table balancing a load of plates, and pulled up a chair across from a group of federal police on Lunch break.  Slightly intimidating, there were at least 10 when I arrived and over the course of the meal another 6 or so piled in and quickly gobbled up the remaining chairs and tables.

Graffiti in Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The thoughts you have in a situation like that are always interesting.  On the one hand I took their presence as a positive sign that the food was good, and that I was in an extremely safe place.  On the other side a little paranoia set in as I processed that with that large a gathering of officers, if anything was going to happen, it would probably be targeting them.  If I had been in a place like Israel, or even more dangerous parts of Brazil or Argentina known for active terrorist/drug war attacks and bombings, I’d have probably been nervous enough to debate re-locating. As it was, I ordered the daily special and a coca cola, then settled in to read my book, watch the locals, and relax.

Plaza de Mayo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

I spent the remainder of the day wandering through Plaza del Mayo, where a group of mothers of vanished political protestors have maintained a longstanding protest. Then wound my way through the districts streets somewhat randomly before striking back towards my hostel.

San Telmo - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Once there, I set to the task of booking/exploring and researching the next major leg of my journey. It promised to be somewhat daunting and would be my first major introduction to long distance Argentinian Bus travel.

Stay tuned for a detailed break down of the experience, how to book it, and the costs associated with a RT ticket from Buenos Aires to Iguazu.

When Pay It Forward Meets Its Match

Several years ago I had a realization.  That realization wasn’t sudden, or abrupt, but it was profoundly powerful.  It was the realization that we as individuals are fundamentally responsible for our actions and the impact of those actions on the people around us.  That realization led me to re-analyze the way I interact with people, and what type of people I choose to surround myself with.

I’ve come to realize that there are effectively two types of people in the world.  Those who create their own luck and dismiss adversity/challenges and disappointments as part of the process, and then those who languish in their own bad luck.  This latter group seem constantly plagued by bad luck, most of which can be traced back to their life choices and fixation on their own poor condition.  The latter seem to always be pointing to others and claiming, “if only I had your luck, your skill, your opportunities, your good lucks, etc.” and who by that same coin refuse to create their own luck and opportunity.  These ‘if only’ personalities relish in creating missed opportunities and then pointing to and fixating on them as indicators of why they cannot get ahead or succeed.  While this world view isn’t the focus of this post, it is tied directly to an inner decision that goes hand in hand with it.  So, keep it in mind as you read.

Pay It Forward

The concept is simple.  When you read those three words, you probably immediately think of the movie which offered the ideology significant publicity.  Ultimately, however, it’s little more than an extension of the Golden Rule – that is, do onto others as you would have done onto yourself.

It’s a simple approach to life, but one which is surprisingly rare. Oh, don’t get me wrong, you’ll find small examples of good behavior in everyone, but in many ways it has come to be an ideology at odds with our culture.  Why help a stranger in a city of millions? It’s part of our nature to wonder, “What’s in it for me?”   and of course, “What’s the cost?.”  The answers to these questions don’t exactly give the most marketable responses.  What’s in it for me?  The chance of a better world. The chance to help people. It’s a vague answer, one which is general and initially seems insignificant. You can bring the concept of Karma into it as many do, but even then it’s somewhat nebulous.  The truth is that living a life which focuses on paying it forward does pay major dividends.  You live a happier, healthier life and ultimately end up surrounding yourself by other people who are sincerely willing to help, for no better reason than that they can, but in truth – that is the easy part of the equation.

The second question is far more challenging: what’s the cost?  Most believers in a pay it forward ideology will shrug off the question, usually giving a nebulous answer that implies nothing – that there is no cost.  The reality is, that there is a cost – and that cost can potentially be significant. A point I was painfully reminded of last night.

There’s a reason that one of the most widely recognizable adages in our culture is, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”.   It’s not that every good deed is punished, but rather that the sting of getting burned while trying to do a good deed hurts twice as much.  It’s not only fundamentally hurtful but carries with it a strong sense of betrayal coupled with anger and those emotions, especially combined are incredibly powerful.  So powerful in fact that they can do far more than just causing people to abandon a Pay It Forward approach to life, where they might do little more than revert to apathy and inaction.  It can cause a Pay It Backwards approach which leaves people bitter and aggressive and that’s the true danger.  It’s also why I started this article talking about how we deal with success and obstacles in our day to day lives.

An Example

I mentioned earlier that the reason for this post was an altercation I had last night. Without going into too much depth I came upon a car last night around 9:30PM in a parking lot commonly used by bar goers.  I was a bit early and the parking lot was largely empty. I immediately noticed that the car next to mind still had the keys in the door.  I faced a dilemma. The keys were not owned by someone I knew and none of my business.  They were a stranger’s keys and any theft/damage done would be to a complete stranger, and the direct result of their lack of attention. Yet, if they had been my keys and a stranger noticed them – what would I hope that they might do?  Ignore them and leave the car to the next, less scrupulous passer by (Keep in mind that the Phoenix area ranks in the top 10 for Automotive theft)?  Or take what action was available to help.

After a moments consideration I weighed the options – would they find the keys if i put them on the front tire?  The windshield? Probably not. Should I open the car door and place them on the car seat?  Maybe during the day, but not at night – that would go beyond just helping and risk trespassing.  The obvious option seemed to remove the keys and drop them on the ground immediately below the lock.  There they’d be easily found by the owners when they searched their pockets, but wouldn’t be readily visible to everyone in the parking lot. I dropped the keys, and began my way towards the bars where I was schedule to meet several friends.

I got about 15 feet before a large male (I’m 6’4/200 pounds and this guy was larger/more athletic) started shouting at me from ahead of me. I quickly explained the situation, what was going on, and encouraged the guy to calm down and talk to me. He wasn’t having it.  The back and forth continued for a solid minute as I backpedaled maintain my distance while he threatened me, demanded MY keys, and ignored what I was saying. I even went so far as to volunteer to call the police over, if he’d calm down, so that I could explain the situation.  The threats continued, even after I could see that the Girl he was with found the keys – right where I said they’d be – and had opened the car door.

Eventually he decided threats of putting me in the hospital were insufficient, and made a leap towards me. I know when I’m outgunned – and I retreated. Quickly. He couldn’t keep up, gave up shortly there after, turned and made a B-line back to my vehicle, which he proceeded to kick repeatedly leaving heavy scuffing on the trunk and denting in the rear passenger side door so badly that it won’t open.  Keep in mind, all of this has occurred AFTER I’ve offered to discuss the incident with the police and after the girl he was with had gained access to the car.

Still keeping my distance, I dialed 911 as soon as he headed back towards the vehicles and requested police intervention.  They arrived, but not before the thug and the woman he was with got into their car and burned out of the parking lot – unfortunately – before I could close enough distance to grab a plate number.

So, what did trying to help someone get me?  Very nearly a serious trip to the hospital, and at least a $500 deductible to get the damage fixed.

To Pay It Backwards?

The whole event left me feeling incredibly frustrated, angry, and disheartened.  Beyond that, it left me wondering what I’d do in the future when I find myself faced with a similar dilemma.  The thought do nothing of course came to mind, but it didn’t stop there.  What might I do in the future?  After all, helping someone had just been negatively re-enforced, so why not do the opposite?  Why not sheer the key off in the lock with a quick kick? Should I join countless other Arizonans and start carrying A gun? A knife?

As each of these thoughts floated through my mind over the course of the evening, I inevitably had to keep reminding myself that the cost still merited the greater benefit. That I was faced with a very clear opportunity.  I could stick to my guns and remain a “shit happens” person, or I could pack it in, throw up a white flag, and retreat to the “If only”,  “poor me” camp.

For my part I’ve chosen to stick to my guns.  In the future I may think twice before deciding to go ahead and try and help someone out in a similar situation, but I’ll still do it.  Why?  Because it’s worth it. Unfortunately, discussions I’ve had with friends in the last 24 hours left me feeling like these types of events have led a lot of people to abandon a Pay It Forward approach to life, which is a loss for us all. I hope if you find yourself in that camp, that you’ll re-consider.

At the end of the day, despite the occasional cost – it’s worth it.