Here in Denmark there is a police show on television every Sunday evening between 8.00 and 9.00 p.m. called Anna Pihl. The eponymous Anna Pihl is a tall slender, dark-haired, beautiful woman whose very face – eyes, smile, high cheekbones – radiate pure humanity. Not sappy, sentimental humanity. Real humanity. She is (of course) a negotiator and helps reason people out of making fatal mistakes – jumping from rooftops and the like – but not only with reason, with her pure humanity. And being human, she herself makes mistakes sometimes, too, and when she does, she apologizes and looks really sad. She is uncertain, but she has a clear identity, too.
Her best friend on the force, a blond to Anna Pihl’s brunette and one of the most gorgeous Danish actresses of all time who has been in famous American films, too, here in this program is dirty. It was brave of this actress to play a policewoman who is dirty, someone who is not good, not wise as she is fair. The way she went wrong was that she got stabbed in the arm by a crook early in the series, and that scared her and that was when she started to go wrong. It sort of makes you feel like you could help her, help her out of the terrible situation she is getting herself into, but it just gets worse and worse. And really, the stuff she’s ruining her life for is not worth it – like designer bags and that sort of stuff. And finally, you know, you begin to kind of lose respect for her, even though she is still gorgeous. No, somehow, she gets less gorgeous by her bad behavior. She gets in deeper and deeper, gets involved with this East European mafia type guy, sophisticated on the surface, not brutal, but scratch away that layer of sophistication and you know he is a bastard, right? So he gets her sniffing coke and then she gets careless with her service pistol, and he appeals to her greed and seduces her and gets her involved in his world of crime.
And poor Anna Pihl, she’s torn, you know? She wants to be a good friend to this dirty blond (I mean this blond policewoman who is dirty) but there is no way that Anna Pihl is dirty herself. I mean, it’s just not in the cards. She’s an honest cop because she is an honest person. And when you look at her face, the way she suffers over this problem – her eyes, the sorrow of her lips – I mean, it really tears you up for her on Sunday evening between 8.00 and 9.00 p.m., you know. You would really like to help her.
And if you yourself were a criminal and Anna Pihl arrested you, you’d just feel lousy for being a criminal because her eyes, her brown eyes, would look at you and she’d have this expression on her mouth – sort of like a smile, but not really a smile, a kind of composite expression of sorrow and humanity but basic belief in the goodness of life, too, although she will never be wealthy or well off – she even rides her rattling old bicycle to duty at the Copenhagen metropolitan police station everyday, but a bicycle, that’s good enough for Anna Pihl, keeps her fit, you know, and she worries about her young son, too, and her brother – God, her brother, is no good really, he drives drunk, and it aches in Anna Pihl’s soul that he does this, and she even has to turn him in once – I think she turned him in or she refused to cover up for him, or maybe she covered up for him, but then he did it again with serious consequences, and it was a lesson for life for Anna Pihl.
And her partner is a half-racist, half male chauvinist pig little guy (he’s shorter than Anna Pihl), but you feel sorry for him because you know that he has fallen for Anna, he has, and she has to disappoint him, which makes her feel bad. And the guy she loves, another policeman, a really handsome one (just as tall as she is), a really good cop, he gets into trouble thanks to Anna Pihl’s dirty blond partner, and he gets stabbed, yeah! And then he loses his nerve and becomes a pencil pusher. It’s enough to break your heart because you see Anna Pihl’s career going uphill as a negotiator, and this guy who she really loves and wants to be a good woman for, he’s going down, and it’s wearing on them both, every Sunday night between 8.00 and 9.00 p.m.
You really wish you could do something for them. You really do.
So anyway, the other week, I gave a poetry reading at 2020 DesArtes at this community center in a place in Copenhagen known as Islandsbrygge, right on the water, and it was gorgeous weather and my reading went pretty well, but I didn’t hang around because I was alone – Lady Alice was away at the time, in Paris for a week. So I walked out of the community center to Artillery Way, and I looked around outside to see if there was a taxi.
And you know what happens? Anna Pihl comes riding up on her rattling old bicycle and she puts it into a slot on the bike rack outside this community center and she locks it.
And she stands there, and she has that same look on her face – kind of a little uncertain but both happy and sorrowful at the same time, her brown eyes are sparkling with that mix of sorrow and joy, and she has that look on her mouth, too – a smile, but not a smile, the smile of life it seems like, the smile of existence. And she just stands there by her bike for a few moments, and I think to myself, That’s Anna Pihl.
So I take a few steps closer, and I open my mouth, and what I say is, “Am I insane, or are you Anna Pihl?”
She turns that look on me, and it’s the same, it doesn’t get disdainful or smug or off-putting. It is the same look, modest but radiant and full of pure humanity, the real thing. And she says, “I’m not really Anna Pihl. But it’s true that I do play Anna Pihl on television.”
And my mouth sort of moves a little, my lips part. This is the only opportunity I will ever have to tell Anna Pihl what I think and how sorry I am for all the trouble she has every Sunday evening between 8.00 and 9.00 p.m. and how I admire the way she handles her life and does her best for everybody without being any kind of self-righteous jerk or anything. A real solid person.
And I say, “You are even more beautiful in life than on the TV screen.”
And she says, “Thank you.” And she walks into the community center.
Just then a taxi comes by and I wave it down and hop in and ask the driver to take me home.
And I think to myself, “God damn. That was Anna Pihl.”
Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy
See also www.copenhagenquartet.com for information on four independent novels about the souls and seasons of Copenhagen, each written in a different style and set in a different season and which can be read independently of one another or together in any order desired: Kerrigan's Copenhagen, A Love Story, which is a novel disguised as a guide to the bars of Copenhagen, each chapter unfolding in a different serving house; Bluett's Blue Hours, a noir tale about the deep dark of Copenhagen winter and the seamier sides of life in this beautiful capital; Greene's Summer, about a Chilean torture survivor who comes to Copenhagen to be treated in a torture rehabilitation center and meets a Danish woman who has herself survived a violent marriage; and Danish Fall, a satire about 12 people connected to a Danish firm which is being downsized.