Tuesday, April 26, 2016
THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part two.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
The story began yesterday, as I explained how two hicks from somewhere near French Lick (Roger and Barrie) toured the USSR in 1987 and made the acquaintance of two Danes (Kim Wiesener and Allan Gamborg), who began conspiring to introduce us to their friend, Kim “Big Kim” Andersen.
Once the canalside vodka bottle was emptied, we stumbled back to the hotel, which was a tall concrete monstrosity located in a 1960’s-era suburb of Leningrad. One of the tour participants named Nick had packed a full-sized American flag, which we proceeded to unfurl on the building’s roof after bribing an elevator attendant to take us there, against the dictates of common sense and all prevailing regulations.
Miraculously, even after it flew in full view all night, we were able to reclaim the flag without any difficulty, and there were no disciplinary repercussions. In fact, Nick subsequently traded it to a Soviet railway employee in return for a huge tub of first-rate Black Sea caviar. Still, when I recall allowing vodka to dictate my behavior while passing through a totalitarian country, shivers go down my spine.
Brief stays in the oppressed Baltic lands of Latvia and Lithuania followed, and then the group proceeded to Warsaw and Krakow in Poland.
There are too many anecdotal tales to coherently relate: An elderly fellow tourist mistaking the liquid in our vodka bottle for mineral water and gulping it down on a scorching hot day at the Polish-Soviet border as we waited for the train’s wheel carriages to be changed … building the “Leaning Tower of Pivo” from empty export Carlsberg cans in a Riga hard currency bar … the well-endowed Danish lass Metta’s provocative push-ups at a meet-and-greet with Lithuanian students … wild going-away parties in Warsaw, where Barrie and I drank Bulgarian wine with Bozena, our leggy blonde Polish tour guide, alongside a few of the tour group’s stragglers … and a cab ride to Warsaw’s cavernous train station and desperate, futile foraging for food and drink prior to the long overnight ride to Prague and our ultimate redemption, otherwise known as Pilsner Urquell on draft.
Kim Wiesener, an amazing, hyperkinetic tour leader, was right in the thick of these occurrences, and a sort of wartime kinship was born. At the conclusion of the Soviet bloc tour we exchanged addresses with him, promising to keep in touch. Barrie and Kim agreed to meet later that summer, when Barrie would return to Copenhagen for his flight back to the United States. You can bet your last black market ruble that even then, Kim’s cerebral wheels were spinning: What could be done to bring Barrie and Kim Andersen together in Copenhagen?
In the meantime, Barrie and I embarked upon the beer-based itinerary we had plotted far in advance for the remainder of our time in Europe, first traveling from Prague to Munich, where we met Don “Beak” Barry and Bob Gunn for three epochal days of Bavarian beer hall carousing, and then pressing on with Bob to Paris and the D-Day beaches. After Bob’s departure, Barrie and I crossed the sea to Ireland aboard the “Guinness ferry,” meeting up with Tommy, a newspaperman and good friend of Don’s, and later watching U2 perform at the Cork soccer stadium, before experiencing the operatic wonders of Brian and his “High-B” Hibernian Pub, also in Cork, all the while marveling at the classic pleasures of the Irish countryside.
As the revelry continued, I didn’t think there would be enough time for me to accompany Barrie to Denmark and then double back to Brussels for my own return flight, but at a pub somewhere in Ireland, after my tenth pint of Guinness, I changed my mind. I had a rail pass, after all, and what better was there to do with it?
We began concocting a plan to surprise Kim Wiesener with my delightfully unexpected presence, refining the insidious plot over smoked salmon and Bailey’s Irish Cream (both charged to ever-groaning credit cards) while aboard the ship back to Cherbourg. Once in Paris, we hopped an overnight train to Copenhagen, and contrary to so many failed plans made over the years, this one came perfectly to fruition.
Soon after debarking in Copenhagen we were reunited, burrowed safely in Kim’s tiny apartment with chilled Tuborgs in hand and Monty Python songs in our hearts. Following opening toasts, our devious and conniving host divulged his own surprise: An evening with Big Kim already had been arranged, and so finally, Ottersbach would meet Andersen.
Fortunately, so would I.
The world was advised to forget Ali’s and Frazier’s “Thrilla in Manila.” Instead, onlookers were to gird for the “Battle of the Titans,” to be held in the quaint beer venue called the Elephant & Mouse, or Mouse and Elephant, where we were informed there would be copious quantities of draft Elephant beer, Carlsberg’s fine, sturdy and strong lager.
It was to be our first visit to the M & E, a small and dignified pub near the main square, where the only sign of identification above the front door was a small sculpted plaque depicting – what else? – a mouse and an elephant. In the wake of the pub’s sad closing in the late 2000s, let’s hope the plaque now resides in a museum of cultural history somewhere in Copenhagen.
On the second floor of the pub, up a narrow flight of ancient steps, a handmade elephant head adorned the wall behind the wall. Draft Elephant Beer poured from the snout, powered by a clever tusk acting as the tap handle.
Big Kim arrived along with Graham, a British friend who chose to follow the lead of Kim Wiesener and me, nursing just a couple of half-liter glasses during the session. At $7 a pop, these were somewhat financially burdensome at the time, and anyway, we wanted to watch the spectacle unfold with faculties intact. As predicted, Big Kim and Barrie proved to be perfectly matched humans, perhaps separated at birth, both with a fondness for alcohol of any sort, hot and spicy food in large quantities, impossibly tall tales and jokes, and endless, infectious tsunamis of irresistible laughter.
Big Kim and Barrie approached the high-gravity Elephant Beer at full throttle, and much merriment ensued. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth one, Barrie stumbled; accounts vary, but we can gently infer that some of the Elephant Beer didn’t stay entirely down.
After several hours of Elephant consumption, and with monetary reserves reaching dangerously low levels, we decided to continue the match at a nearby establishment where Metta (of Lithuanian busty push-up fame) worked as a bartender. As we stood on the street corner contemplating taxi strategies, Big Kim suddenly broke free of the group and staggered wildly into the middle of the street in a doomed effort to hail a taxi home. We quickly subdued him, dodging passing bicycles and cars, and loading Kim into our own hack to proceed to the next planned stop.
With this unforced error of Big Kim’s, Ottersbach had pulled even.
Now this Battle of the Titans devolved into a brutal battle of attrition, with the clock ticking and everyone involved thoroughly drunk and fatigued. Both Barrie and Big Kim made it through big export bottles of Pilsner Urquell at the second bar, after which we returned to Kim Wiesener’s apartment for obligatory nightcaps, the outcome still very much in doubt. Barrie and Big Kim both opened their green label bottles of Carlsberg. Barrie finished his, but Big Kim stole away, ostensibly to use the toilet, and was found a short time later sleeping on the host’s bed.
Seemingly, it was a last-gasp victory for Ottersbach, but as all those involved were physically unable to tally points in their besotted condition, the Battle of the Titans was fittingly declared a draw and passed into legend.
29 years have passed since that epic summer of 1987 and our first meeting with Kim Wiesener, Allan and Big Kim. Certainly all of us have changed, but the friendships carries on, and I cherish them. We five have met many times, in many places, and they’ve all been special.
Just like the next one, whenever and wherever it may be.
(The Curmudgeon's spring break starts NOW. I'll be back some time before Derby)
April 25: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part one.
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March 14: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Two decades of Beer Corner barrels.
March 7: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Can I get a “do-over” on Naughty Girl?