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Exploring Copenhagen by trailing a busy lady

Helen Ann is a Danish lady who is so busy that she had no time to tell me precisely how busy she is – until today. I do see her perform occasionally, for Helen Ann is part of the Copenhagen entertainment scene, singing is just one talent keeping her busy.

She ascends on the escalator – in blue jeans, a tiny white blouse, blond hair lively as a waterfall landing on her shoulders, sporty and fit, her beautiful face slightly thoughtful, no make-up at this hour. I know what her first words will be, “Let’s sit in the sun!” We are approaching October, blessed with a late touch of summer, Helen loves it.

We enjoy the sun from bar stools inside, with a view of the King’s New Square and the Royal Theater. Helen Ann could have been a ballet child there, but was not, perhaps her parents had no time to drop her on this address every morning. Her late father was an orchestra leader and her mother used to be a singer, often seen in the audience of her daughter with a smart cap and a striking similarity.

This family constellation could be one reason why Helen turned to psychology, she is an authorized psychologist, listens and understands easily, but inside her there is also an impatient performer waiting for new challenges. Multitasking comes naturally to Helen, it appears to be her state of mind, but she has things under control, for she is also a careful and vulnerable person. She opens up now, seems to trust me, as if I had passed a test.

2900 Happiness

Copenhagen has its posh districts, like Hellerup with the postal code 2900, in one revue text immortalized as ”2900 Happiness”. Helen lives there, but hardly any of the people keeping her busy Monday to Friday from 10 to 14 o’clock, most of them are immigrants and refugees. Together with a psychiatrist from Ex-Yugoslavia, she is promoting telepsychiatry in Denmark; the diagnosing and treatment of mental diseases via TV connections.

As a project coordinator, Helen negotiates with local authorities about installing TV-screens, one project aims at helping traumatized Tjetjenians. It’s a new approach in Denmark and has naturally met some resistance. Just think of the methods – psychologists relying on dialog, psychiatrists on medication. Examinations will be in the patient’s own language and waiting times reduced from 10-12 months to two weeks. The ongoing trial period ends at Christmas.

Today Monday, Helen’s next appointment is Zacharias, her 13-year son who divides his time between divorced parents. She is taking him to a new comedy series, “Rita”, where he is one of the extras, a category coordinated by his own mother. Helen also participates in another series, ”Lykke”, the Danish word for happiness, this time created by anti-depressants. The stage is a beauty clinic offering plastic surgery.

At 18 o’clock, when others bury themselves in TV chairs, Helen takes a seat at her hairdresser’s where she will remain the next four hours, coloring and styling for tomorrow night’s cabaret, ”Berlin 1930”. To destroy my illusion of a natural blonde, Helen thrusts her head forward, pulls her hair to either side and reveals her dark roots. ”Blondes have more fun!” she says, suggesting I turn around to take a look at the other ladies, claiming that age and wrinkles immediately catch your attention in a face framed by dark hair.

The next evening Helen and her team create an illusion of Berlin in the 1930’s with songs from ”Cabaret”, relocated to the ”Pinden” bar behind the main railway station. Accompanied by piano, Liselotte, Helen, Jane and Oliver wrap us into nostalgia where even the orchestra is beautiful. Again, Helen impresses me with the way she takes on a song as if it were made for her, while accentuating its rhythm, her voice clear and suitably strong. The four of them got to know each other at another Copenhagen waterhole with music, Cafe Intime.

The following day is where I come in, and I do feel welcome. I think she was sizing me up until now, to make sure I do not mess up her career. She is like that, not only a talented multitasker, she takes everything into consideration, often on a subtle level without your noticing. If it’s manipulation, it’s a charming form. She and Oliver are like minded, he very young, finished his hairdresser exams recently and continues to become an educated stylist, now he’s on Helen’s I-phone begging to use her daughter Victoria as a model tomorrow, coinciding with her 18th anniversary.

A Directing Hand

Rush, rush – bike, S-train and Metro, that’s how Helen gets around, now back to 2900 Happiness to practice with Stoney Street Stompers where she is the only lady among middle-aged men in an amateur jazz orchestra originating from the Pharmaceutical University. Jazz is the genre that touches Helen’s heart most. She and her band often play on restaurant ships cruising in the harbor of Copenhagen and Roskilde Fjord. Friday night she will go without the guys to the bar Sankt Peder over in the happy Hellerup, where a local waiter, Morten, accompanies her on the piano.

Today from 21 to 24 o’clock, Helen appears as an Open Mike hostess at Cafe Intime, the genre is ballads and a possible strain of opera. She feels at home here, jokes and laughs, encourages people to take over the microphone. She attracts a large audience, tonight very international. Her dress, jeans and a tiny armless sweater, suggests she is snobbing down – in order to make people feel good and just perform. She knows the importance of praise, her own shyness disappeared thanks to three little words and occasional taps on her arm, ”You’re good!”

Oliver sings his heart out, becomes a sailor going ashore to get another lady’s name tattooed on his arm, Helen acts as a choir. The two of them suit each other, they nearly work wonders together. I get my favorite chair for example, beside a man who turns out to be Erik, the saxophonist of Stoney Street Stompers, with Helen and Oliver right in front of me, their body language directing my camera to take pictures from an angle they fancy. There seems to be a helping hand in it – Helen’s.

The week proceeds – CD recording on Thursday of Helen’s own funk-techno ”Mistress”, shifting to ”When I was dead”; a country, gospel, hiphop mix by Allan Fromberg needing a choir with Helen, from 18 o’clock practice and prepare for a performance with piano on Sunday in the town of Hillerod, followed by a jazz jam at the White Lamb and La Fontaine in the city. A gospel choir awaits her to direct them, as preparation for a casting.

Does she ever go shopping, cook or clean – she does, in combination with other activities of course. She also goes out to eat with her band, preferably sushi, participates in birthday celebrations with karaoke, her sport combines hard exercises with a passion for Latin American rhythms – zumba. No travel, Helen Ann did that in younger days, as a tourist guide in Tuscany. Whether the question is talent, style, energy or discretion – the girl we like got it all – Monday through Sunday.

Photos by Helen Ann, Terje Raa, Zofia Hedvard.

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