Friday, 25 July 2008

The Christening

On Sunday 20 July we had Tristan christened in the local St. Markus Lutheran church, with Ane’s three sisters acting as godmothers.

At over 7 months of age, Tristan was quite a bit beyond the usual baptism age. It was partly because we wanted to ensure that Ane’s “American” family could take part, partly because we were not quite sure whether we want him christened at all. In the end, we did what the majority of parents in Denmark do, and decided that a bit of holy water would do no harm – at least not on the head. The positive aspect of waiting so long was that Tristan was able to participate very actively, mainly by grabbing everything that came within range, including the priest’s robe and all his equipment. He also managed to confuse him to the point of losing his thread and starting randomly to repeat parts of the ritual. Luckily, he had much less trouble with the other child to be baptized that day, as she practically slept through the whole thing.

Of course, a christening is also a good excuse to get together with family and friends, and Tristan’s was no exception. The party, attended by about 60 guests, was held at a local community centre that we rented for the occasion. Everything was home-made (apart from the wine), and fairly low-key, with Ane in charge of the menu (and more or less everything else), while I took the role of the man behind a great woman who made it all possible (that is, playing with Tristan while Ane was slaving away in the kitchen). We received invaluable help from several people, first of all from Ane’s friend Pernille, who took full command of the kitchen during proceedings. In the end it all added up to a great day with a lot of fun, as evidenced by the pictures at the side. Tristan got an unbelievable amount of present, including a truckload of Lego bricks. If so far he mainly showed early signs for a great carrier as an optician (by grabbing everyone’s glasses), his interest is now bound to turn towards architecture. Or Lego-retailing.

See also our friend Orsi’s account of the event at:


Between 29 June and 9 July we were in Nyíregyháza, Hungary. It was Tristan's second long journey, and he coped with flying just as well as he did on the way to Madison (in spite of significant delays we experienced, courtesy of Sterling Airlines). We do hope that he will remain easy to travel with after he has learned to walk.

The main purpose of the trip was to present Tristan to his Hungarian family and friends, and as such, it was a total success – even though the short time only permitted us to see about half the people we would have liked to. The trip was timed to coincide with my paternal grandmother’s 80th birthday. She considered Tristan to be the best possible present, and the two spent long hours entertaining each other.

Because of the many social commitments and busy schedule, the whole trip didn’t really feel like a holiday at all. In fact, the only non-family related event was my participation in the christening of my friend Zoli’s daughter Gréta, in Miskolc.

For me personally, it was a very special feeling to be back in my hometown with my son; to walk with him the streets where I grew up, among the buildings that already stood there when I was his age. It felt like a closure and a new beginning at the same time, a start of a new phase in the ever-changing relationships with my roots - and in my life I can’t wait for the time when he will be old enough to take it all in, to listen to my stories and to form his own relationship to the place his father comes from.

Visiting Madison

Between 15 May and 16 June we were visiting Ane’s family (her mum Inge, stepdad Søren, and two sisters Alexandra and Natasha) in Madison, Wisconsin.

One of the north-central states, Wisconsin is situated between Lake Michigan to the east and the upper Mississippi River to the west. The area, originally inhabited by Sauk, Ojibwa, and Menominee Indians, was settled by German, Scandinavian and Polish immigrants. Between 1634 and 1763 the region was under French control, and subsequently acquired by Britain and, in 1783, the United States. In 1848 it became the 30th member state of the US. These days it is commonly known as the Cheese State, or, perhaps more favourably, the Dairy Land of America; it is first in the nation in the production of milk, cheese, and butter. Its landscape is not entirely unlike the south of Scandinavia, with rolling hills, pastures and arable land dotted with red farmhouses. Many place names hold witness to the Scandinavian and German heritage (Little Norway, Oslo, Rheinelander), and even though language shift to English was completed long ago, one often encounters signs in Norwegian or Swedish, such as in the little hamlet of Mount Horeb (below).

Madison, the state capital, is one of the friendliest and most European-like of the American cities, complete with a comprehensive bicycle path network, good public transportation, and a lot of alternative shops and slow-food restaurants. Add to it the beautiful location (on a narrow isthmus between two large lakes), the low crime rate and relative prosperity, and it is no wonder that Madison is widely considered one of the best places to live in the US. Somewhat uniquely, the town, or rather its site, was selected as the capital of Wisconsin before a single house was built there, thanks to the somewhat dubious lobbying activities of the local landowner J. D. Doty.

Central to the life of present-day Madison is the main campus of the University of Wisconsin. Founded in 1849, it is one of the largest state universities, with an enrolment of about 160.000 students. The Madison campus is also one of the world’s greatest research centres, and it is there Søren works as Professor of Human Oncology and of Medical Physics.

North and west of Madison agricultural land gradually gives place to more wooded landscape, with northern evergreen–hardwood forest and larger lakes. Most of Wisconsin is genuine ice age landscape, created during the recent Wisconsin Glacial Stage, and consisting at places of rough, boulder-strewn moraines.

Back to our trip: we had had no idea how Tristan would cope with the challenges of transatlantic travel, but in the end everything went fine. He apparently found it all extremely entertaining, and spent his time playing, sleeping, and charming the stewardesses and fellow passengers. Jetlag was not a problem, either, with the result that he was more or less following his usual rhythm, while Ane and I lay sleepless in the middle of the first few nights.

Although we spent most of our time in Madison, enjoying Søren and Inge’s hospitality, there was time for a bit of walking in the Devil’s Lake state park, drinking beer at the Memorial Union Terrace, and for participating in the famous annual Brat Fest.

Another highlight of the trip was our friend Jiyeon’s visit from Chicago. We managed to invite her just before she was heading off to Norway for a year to rejoin the Camphill movement. We could also test her impressive knowledge of Norwegian, all self-taught.

We also had our fair share of the Midwest’s extreme weather, with torrential rains, tornadoes and impressive thunderstorms. Several weather records were broken during our visit, and we were fortunate enough to witness it all. We also witnessed Tristan passing several significant developmental milestones while in Madison. He learned to turn from his stomach to his back (the movement in the other direction he had mastered for months), and began to stand with support. It was also great to watch him bond with his grandparents and aunts, and playing outside when the weather permitted it. If he continues to develop at the present rate, he will be running around when we next visit Madison at Christmas.

See also: slide show beside