Friday, December 25, 2009

Almost a week and merry Christmas!

Well, a week ago this time I was keeping myself awake all night to catch the 5:45am train out of Copenhagen to the airport on Saturday morning. After a bitter and miserable 21 hours of travel, I arrived at the international terminal of O'Hare to my wonderful parents and sister holding a Welcome Home sign (aww).

Since then, I've basically been hibernating.

I cut off all my hair (almost).

Saw some mediocre improv on Christmas Eve Eve with lovely old friends.

Caught a cold and slept for three days.

And woke up Christmas morning to basically everything I wanted. (Two books of poetry, the novel People of Paper, cute dresses, chocolate, House Season 5 on DVD, and an email that I got into a Creative Writing workshop at Oberlin for the spring-- one I'd been applying to and rejected from for two years-- AND into a single room in my old dorm. WIN.) The year is ending on a high note. I feel pretty lucky, as always.

Haven't missed Copenhagen too much, at least not consciously, but the last few nights have found myself dreaming about it. It's like my brain's way of getting used to the familiarity of home, to dream about the old. The glamorous, sparkling four months I spent away.

Friday, December 18, 2009

50th post!

This will probably be my last blog entry, since I'm leaving for the airport in approximately 8 hours and, hopefully, after 18 hours of travel, will be back in my homeland safe and sound. If I can avoid delays, storms, strikes, and swine flus, this will have been a completely successful journey.

I can't believe I'm leaving Denmark, though! As I remarked to my mother via the wonders of Skype, I was looking forward to going home so much the past couple of weeks that I kind of forgot it also meant I was leaving this beautiful city behind. I can be short-sighted like that.

Which is absolutely not to say that I wasted my time here or took my last days for granted! Quite the opposite. I enjoyed my last Danish today (the pastry) with the requisite gusto and went to all the DIS-sponsored goodbye events. (A blog award was given, which I did not win. It probably wasn't even close. You can read the winner's blog here: http://www.katebikeanddenmark.blogspot.com/ if you're interested in how "Christmassy" Copenhagen is right now.)

Saying goodbye to the group of friends I'd made was hard, especially because I have difficulty letting go and always assume everyone will stay in contact until that assumption is proven horribly wrong, usually with accompanying bouts of sadness and regret. What can I say? It's how I roll. Knowing this doesn't really enable me to prevent it, but I think it helps to say your goodbyes well, a talent I have yet to master but at which I get better every time. This is probably a life skill in development.

Tonight is all about throwing away the detritus of my life and trying to cram every material evidence of the last four months into two suitcases, a messenger bag, and a camera case. I'm bringing loads of Danish food and a few souvenirs home, too. I could spend all night and all eighteen hours of travel tomorrow imagining the happy reunions waiting for me at the end of the day Saturday. For now, though, I ought to finish packing and cleaning.


Tak for reading!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

http://music.todaysbigthing.com/2009/11/03

It was a good week, all around. A little too much work, a few too many finals, but altogether a nice week. A good last week.

On Tuesday night, I went to the free Gogol Bordello concert out in the middle of the town hall square (Radhuspladsen). There are already a bunch of videos from the evening on the internet. Here's a good one, if you're interested:

Yes, Copenhagen has been "Hopenhagen" for going on ten or eleven days now, due to COP15 optimism.

I had finals on Monday and Wednesday, and on Wednesday night was double-booked: a movie night with friends in Osterbro (East Bridge Borough) and a viewing of the BBC's "Bleak House" with my Literary London class out in the suburb of Gentofte.

At some point in the evening, it started snowing, hard, and by the time I arrived in the unfamiliar Hellerup, the buses had stopped running and the beautiful, big houses were covered. My teacher suggested I take a cab, which of course I tried to avoid doing, but ultimately had no choice other than to hail one. The driver spoke Danish and English but was pretty clearly not a native. He asked me where I was from first. "The States, actually," I said, which for some reason is the way I've been responding to that question recently, as though it ought to surprise everyone. He replied, when I asked, that he was from Afghanistan. I quickly and awkwardly apologized for the EIGHT YEAR WAR our country has needlessly, illegally waged there. He shrugged. "Everywhere. You know. It is messed up everywhere. I lost my family in the Soviet regime there. Then the Taliban. The whole world. Now the world is different. Still all problems."

Today, I've been packing and finishing up little bits of work yet to do. I met a friend who's here for the KlimaForum (alternative conference) from Uppsala, Sweden, but who normally goes to Oberlin with me back in The Old Country. Went to choir rehearsal, where we practiced "Don't Stop Believin'"-- which we're singing at the DIS closing ceremony tomorrow. What is there left to say? I can't think of much at the moment. Everything is going by in a very fast blur.

Let's have the Weepies say what I can't.


Left behind everything I knew
All the colors but bone-white and sky-blue
Hit the continent running

Engines were humming just to break through

Antarctica, my only living relative
Antarctica, I can't wait anymore
I can't wait anymore

And then there's morning
Each one feels like the first one
Ah, morning, so clean, so pure
Nothing so clear, now that I'm here

When I get back to the city
Everything's cluttered and pretty
I won't regret my return
I'll just remember the wind and the snow

And the howling so loud
That it alone drowns out the inside of me

Antarctica, my only living relative
Antarctica, I can't wait anymore
I can't wait anymore
I can't wait anymore

Tuesday, December 15, 2009











I went to the COP15 global demonstration on Saturday. It was a little intense. I was very close to being arrested, due only to my proximity to a group of rowdy (but, in my firsthand experience, completely nonviolent) anarchists. I heard later that perhaps one of them had tossed a rock through a window, but in all honesty, it was an extremely peaceful walk from Christianborg to the Bella Center until seven or eight police vans drove up with dogs and riot gear and sectioned off a huge number of protesters right behind my friend Caitlin and I. As a fairly seasoned protester, I was a little disturbed by the number of callous people (none of whom were Danish) who showed a remarkable disrespect to the streets of Copenhagen and Danish law, which in my experience heretofore had been an extremely non-invasive presence. In all honesty, I think the Danish police were terrified and caught a bit off guard by the vastness of the protest.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I'm making five playlists for next weekend: "Leaving Copenhagen in the Morning," Take Off," "In Flight," "Landing," "Going Home."

Here are some songs from each:

(Something to Sing About - the Buffy musical)


(Transatlantique - Beirut)


(Move On - Sunday in the Park With George)


(Cathedrals - Jump Little Children)


(Leaves That Are Green - Simon & Garfunkel)


(Chasing Pavements - Adele)


(The Book of Love - Peter Gabriel)


(Auld Lang Syne - The "When Harry Met Sally" version gets me)


(Chicago - Sufjan Stevens)


(Canadian Railroad Trilogy - Gordon Lightfoot)


(Both Sides Now - Judy Collins)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I had to watch "The Hours" today for a film class. One of the most resonant parts was when the Meryl Streep-Mrs. Dalloway character recalled her past and realized, aloud, that the feeling of possibility, of being on the verge or at the beginning of something, was happiness. She had thought, at 18, that she was at the start of happiness, and the rest of life would follow through. Instead, that was the happiest she'd ever been.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

let's do this in a list



Currently listening to: "Postcards from Italy" - Beirut

Currrently planning:  My first week back home
[first night - reunions, Hanukkah, hopefully "A Muppets Christmas Carol"
Dec. 23 - iO with high school friends and sister
Dec. 26 - "Sherlock Holmes" with Jude Law and RDJ comes out
...and so it goes]

and Winter Term 2010 - I'm interning with the Strange Trees (theater company), donating art and journals to my friend Christina's junior art exhibition, and hopefully taking my driver's test for the first time...

Currently avoiding: my actual, legitimate DIS work
[three serious papers, two field trips, many films to catch up on, tests like crazy]

Currently recuperating from: the DIS Julefrokost (Christmas lunch) and a fabulously frenetic weekend with my friend Christina, who visited Thursday-Sunday

Currently waiting for: my pictures from the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London to be developed

Things to do tomorrow: send out last round of postcards and packages

Days left in Denmark: 12

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 100!

I had an exciting few days in London this past weekend.  Went to the Sherlock Holmes museum on Saturday, which was a highlight of my life so far.  Sunday was spent at all the East End markets-- Spitalfields and Brick Lane and all that.  They were marvelous.  I found soap and souvenirs for much cheaper than I can find in Copenhagen, and the selection was massive and completely unique.  Unlike anything I've ever been to, except maybe the Wicker Park Craftacular held in Chicago every September.

London is a magical city.  Literally.  I can't wait for the pictures friends took of me at King's Cross Station to crop up online (they have a Platform 9 3/4 in honor of Harry Potter).  It was tremendous to see people my age (and a little older and a little younger) queuing up to take photos of themselves at the gate.

I may have said this about other cities, but honestly, London does trump them all in terms of how lovely it would be to live there.  Paris was achingly beautiful and Prague was bohemia personified; Berlin was punky and strange and Florence was chock-full of art and vistas-- but there is something so comfortable about being in a gigantic metropolis where you actually speak the language!  My god!  It was such a relief.

I'm grateful for every place I've been able to visit this semester, and going back to Oberlin will probably feel smaller than ever come February, but I'm pretty ready to go home.  By no means does this entail wishing my last days abroad away, but it's the holiday season now, and it was a little hard to miss my family's Thanksgiving for the first time ever and my little sister's 17th birthday.

Today, November 30, is -- if I counted correctly -- my 100th day here!  Well, not here (I think I've traveled outside of Copenhagen for almost a month total), but away from the US and everything familiar.  In just 19 days I'll be home in Chicago.  That is a bizarre realization, and kind of surreal.  I'm not sure I can tackle it except in abstraction for the moment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks!


Not gonna lie: I love getting emails from "President Barack Obama." Just got one today that wished me a happy Thanksgiving and expressed gratitude at his listserv. That's something I can appreciate! And before all you lovely radical leftists (with whom I generally agree!) attack me for supporting the American president, cut me a little slack: I'm abroad and a wee bit homesick for my birth country. I even miss its insane politics and worse politicians. And I owe Barack Obama a lot on a personal scale: his presidency has given the US a whole lot of international goodwill, and it would be callous to not recognize that as a temporary expat.

In the spirit of the holiday, here are 20 1/2 things I'm grateful for (one for every year of life and in no real order).

20. This semester abroad.
19. Posse.
18. Having a kickass model for my photojournalism assignment, Benazir-- a former fashion model who is leaving her current teaching job to paint full-time in India.

17. Getting to see an elementary school acquaintance, Caroline, perform in the Royal Danish Ballet's "Napoli" tonight-- on a comp'd ticket!
16.  Pie.
15.  Avoiding swine flu thus far (KNOCK ON WOOD)-- but can't I just express gratitude without jinxing myself?!
14.  My friends, for sending me letters and postcards while here (Monica, Niki, and Nora especially!)
13 1/2.  The people who read this blog.
13. The people who comment on this blog so that I know there exist readers out there.
12.  My roommate, Mira, for humoring me.
11.  Anyone who has ever in their life given me a compliment.
10.  Actually, anyone who regularly gives compliments to anyone at all.  Pay that forward, people.
8.  That old cities still stand so that we can see history and feel viscerally that it shouldn't be repeated (and this shouldn't just be in Europe; wars make a mess of things everywhere)
7.  HUMOR.
4.  Books in general
3.  My planned trip to London this weekend (Thursday afternoon-Sunday night)
1.  The ridiculously loving and supportive family I come from-- sure, it precludes one from being a crazed genius, as apparently only abuse and neglect inspire literary masterpieces, but I'm pretty sure I get a better life overall, thanks to them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JULIE BIEHL!

It's my half birthday today, which got me thinking a lot about legality and coming-of-age in different countries.  Last night, I went to a joint birthday party (pub crawl, really) of two American friends of mine from DIS, who had both turned 21 here in Denmark.  

What does that mean in Denmark?  Well, the Danes drink from a very early age.  I went to a dinner with a Danish family once in September where they let a two year old sip wine.  There are different rumors about the actual legal drinking age, and when I asked my roommate about it, she responded that she really didn't know, since it was generally so ignored.  It's in the early teens, she guessed, since that's when she and her friends had started going to clubs.

How bizarre!  When I go back to the States in December, it'll be a whole 5 months before I can legally buy a bottle of wine.  It's not an interminably long time-- in fact, I kind of relish it in a weird way, since it's the last time the government will care at all about what I do and consider me a kid in any way.  It's been a little disturbing to me to watch and hear about close friends turning 21, even though all of them seem to embrace it with characteristic enthusiasm and joie de vivre.  I'm less well-adjusted when it comes to the aging process.

In other news, "sveske" is Danish for prune!  Therefore, "sveske jus" is PRUNE JUICE.  No matter how much the picture on the carton looks like delicious, refreshing grape juice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On The Strand

strand
-verb  (without object)
1. to drive or leave aground or ashore
2. to be left in a difficult situation

-noun
3.  the land bordering the sea, a lake, or a river; shore; beach.
4.  the strands of a plot.
5.  a tress of hair
6.  a string of pearls, beads, etc.

-verb (with object)
7.  to form by twisting strands together.
8. to break one or more strands of 

This is the word of the day.  I'm reading a book called Literary London to prepare for my fabulous DIS class and trip of the same name.  Those who know me know already that I paged to the index immediately to look up every bit of Sherlock Holmes history to be found on the streets of London.

"The Strand" is a geographic location inside the city, but moreover it was the name of the literary magazine that published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories in regular installments.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the word "strand" and how it is very possibly my favorite word in all of the English dictionary.  What other words can mean such a variety of (at first glance) completely unrelated things?  We could be talking about a beach, baseball, a shipwreck, a missed bus, a necklace, a magazine, a street.  I love this crazy language.

We could be talking about wandering foreign countries alone and four inches of chopped-off hair.  The way the strands sit unevenly around my ears now and how there is no place you can go where you won't be.  Stranded with oneself.

If this sounds morbid, I promise it's not.  The hardest thing I've learned is that going somewhere else isn't in and of itself the exciting thing.  It doesn't change you if you don't want to be changed and it doesn't put broken things back together.  Someone who's been everywhere isn't a better or happier person than someone who lives in the same zip code where they were born.

You can be dazed by the strangeness for a little while, but traveling and living far away from home doesn't get you any farther away from yourself.  That's okay.  It's just a rather grown-up realization.

Copenhagen is situated on an island, Zealand, surrounded by water on all sides.  On this strand I have stranded myself, cut the strands of my hair, and stranded the strands to form a strand of pearls.  Or, at the least, found a few glass beads.




Sunday, November 15, 2009

Some pictures without a blog entry (see previous post):

This is the song that I had running though my head for most of the ten days I was traveling.  I think pictures go better with music of a sort. 




I really enjoy giving absolutely zero context for these, since there will be about a month between December and January where I'll be explaining all my photos and stories from abroad on a mind-numbingly-often basis (though I'm lucky to have loving people around who want to hear about it)...  So here are some pictures with minimal context.  The ones that are paintings are from Paris.  The ones that are of me are of me.  The ones that are blurry (sorry, Mom) are the best I have.  If you have a specific question, leave a comment or email me!  Otherwise, feel free to make things up about these photos as you like.  The imagination is so much better than the reality, I'm sure.



















Collecting People, Part 1

I have so much to write about, (and fiction has been calling to me in earnest and repeatedly since the trip), that I genuinely have no idea where to begin.  My first thought was to list some of the people I'd met, their relative craziness or sanity, or-- in some cases-- clear-eyed lunacy, their stories, where we'd met, what I'd said.  The truth is that I am always collecting people, but if I go too long without thinking of them or remembering what they said, they can get lost.  So I figure they're a good place to start in recalling the past couple of weeks.

Starting backwards: on the bus from Berlin ZOB (omnibus station) to Central in Copenhagen, I met a guy named John Nations.  Man is a professional street juggler.  No lie.  But actually, he's a perpetual traveler with what some would deem arrested development and others would call an enduring bohemian spirit.  I don't know where I fall on judgment, but at this point, it isn't really about criticizing my fellow backpackers so much as understanding them.




So I met this guy.  We rode a bus for 7 1/2 hours together up through northern Germany, crossed a corner of the Baltic Sea to Zealand (by ferry), and landed in Denmark, where I helped him catch his bus to a friend's in Amagerbro.  Quite a character, as you can tell by his videos.  On the ferry, he noticed some Danish 14-year-olds who had been at one of his street shows in Berlin, and made their night by doing an impromptu chair-balancing act in the middle of the boat's cafeteria.  It made them clap like kids, and their teachers, the ship's staff, and I were likewise delighted and revived with his self-confident whimsy.  Personally, I was just thrilled to find an American in the middle of Europe, after a good two days without familiar conversation.  Not that there weren't Americans crawling all over Paris, Florence, and Berlin, but cringing away from them in embarrassment isn't the same as finding a gypsy street juggler from South Carolina next to you on a Greyhound.

Still going in reverse chronological order, on Thursday night I stayed by myself at a strange little hostel (10 Euro!  Tell your friends!) called Lettem Sleep 7 in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin.  I had rented a bed in a 7-person co-ed room, but there were only four of us there that night.  There was Jaime from Gibralter, who had been an English major in Wales and who was more than willing to discuss the uselessness of the degree with me for hours while recommending Spanish poets.  

In the other bunk were Tina and Simone from Russia and Sicily, respectively.  And yes, I know that Sicily is a region/island and that Russia is a country, but I'm just telling you what I know.  I don't know what city Tina was from, and I don't know where exactly in the south of Italy Simone had lived before they had packed up for Berlin and rented beds in the hostel for months, looking for work and apartments.  These girls were fascinating.  

On this strange little half-continent, it's insanely difficult for an American to guesstimate the ages of her European contemporaries.  Tina and Simone looked my age, but Simone was a professional video editor with her own home back in Italy who had come to Berlin not speaking a word of German.  Tina was a new student at Frie Universitet in the city who had just passed her German proficiency exam.  Tina could have been 18 or she could have been 30, for all I know about the Russian education system.  Both of them were thinner and better dressed than most American teens I know, and to top it off, although they had colds (everyone was sick everywhere), fabulous hair and skin.  I don't know what it is about this area of the world, or what it is about ours that have made me passable for a 35-year-old since I was fifteen, but it's got to be something in the air.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Goals

A great many stories have happened to me over the past ten days, and it would be a loss to forget them by failing to write them down.  Fortunately, I did keep a journal (incomplete as it must be) of my time traveling, so some stories-- like getting stuck at the French airport and backpacking alone through Berlin-- are not going anywhere for the moment.  But I definitely owe the friends and family who bother to check in on this blog some good (bad, sad, hilarious, traumatic) tales from the travel break, and they ARE coming, but there is a whole lot of life to get together first.  I start school again Monday and have to get my head on straight for that, and catch up on every other responsibility I've let go of for the past blissfully unencumbered two weeks.

I made some headway today (did laundry), but I also slept in until 3:30 in the afternoon.  And have yet to drag myself out of the flat to grocery shop.  So one step forward, two back.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bon nuit from Paris!

This city is incredible. All I've done for two days is walk and look around and eat carbs. It's much more amazing than it sounds. The fact that I never studied French has finally caught up with me, though. Interesting that the only languages I ever studied were Spanish and Chinese, and yet I find myself visiting France, Italy, and Germany during this break. No background in any of it.

But honestly, Paris is so amazing that after a single day here, I decided to take French next year at Oberlin. There's only so long I get to be liberal arts undergrad, studying virtually whatever I want to, and so French it shall be senior year. I'll fit it in somehow.

I'm also really excited (wish I could think of more words, but these are the appropriate ones) for Florence and Berlin. Crazy excited. My life in Copenhagen has its quiet, Bohemian appeal, much more suited to the usual rhythms of my ways, but in this week and a half away I'm cramming in much more living than is normal for me. Tomorrow, an old friend of mine from elementary school is taking me and some friends to Monmartre and an absinthe bar. It's kind of mystifying: whose life did I suddenly drop into? Mine has never been so glamorous.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Multi-Media post + update

I finally uploaded many more favorite pictures from my trip to the Czech Republic in early October, just in time.  I'm off tomorrow for a 10-day trip to Paris, Florence, and Berlin, so will have many more pictures coming after.  Anyway, the Czech photos can now be found here (link).

I've also been obsessed with the song "Good Man" by Josh Ritter (an Oberlin alum, hey hey) lately.  I have no idea why, since I'm not what the song is describing or anything.  It's a great listen, though.



Later Edit:

I am just getting used to it here, really, used to what it is I like to do and how to spend my days and how to set up my apartment.  And just as I start to feel really great about living abroad (well, I felt great at first, and then it just felt like Regular Life again) and like I'm finally doing this the right way, it's off for a whirlwind ten days of travel.  I'm extremely excited, not to mention lucky, that I'm able to spend 6 days in Paris and 3 more in Tuscany with friends.  I'm so excited!  But this travel break also heralds the beginning of the end of the semester.

When I get back on November 13 (via bus from Berlin), it'll be a short two weeks before my final trip of the year.  I'm going to London with a DIS class for the long weekend we get off for Thanksgiving (no, of course they don't celebrate it here, but the majority of DIS students are American, after all, and so they are pretty sensitive to these things) at the end of November.  I'll be in London over my sister's birthday-- which probably means I owe her a British souvenir.

After that trip, I have three short weeks in Copenhagen before coming home to the US.  Crazy.  17 whole weeks will have been spent.  (About five of which will have been spent traveling, to be fair, outside of Copenhagen itself.)  I can't believe it, but tomorrow, when I leave for France, it'll conclude four and a half weeks spent consecutively in Denmark, and when I come back, I won't have that long here again.  It went by very fast.

I've been here 10 weeks and a day this evening.  I can't believe it.  My summer break in Chicago only lasted 13 weeks.  When I get home, I'll have some seven weeks before the ultimate return to Oberlin.  And when I get back to Ohio, it will have been nearly nine months since I left.  Now THAT is crazy!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Clustr Maps

I badly wanted to know who was reading my blog, and being completely technologically inept, I could not figure out how one would go about figuring such a thing.  I found an HTML code that logged, instead, the number of visits on a global map.  This is a tool made for people whose blogs receive A LOT of traffic, and I figured mine probably had two or four regular readers, most of whom would share some of my chromosomes.  At any rate, this is not a code made for blogs like mine, but I did it anyway.

Well!  Since October 19, apparently, I have received the following number of visits, broken down by country:

United States (US) 47Denmark (DK) 31Czech Republic (CZ) 22India (IN) 2Finland (FI) 2Iceland (IS) 1Canada (CA) 1Australia (AU) 1Sweden (SE) 


1This completely baffles me.  You can't really tell where, geographically, these visitors are from, except for some red dots on a very vague map, but it looks like I might have one or two readers in Prague and Los Angeles, and a healthy few in Chicago and Denmark.  That makes sense.  I do have friends in Prague and a cousin in LA, and family in Chicago and hell, a current LIFE in Denmark.  Even the lone Swedish visitor could make sense, given that my mom and I visited Malmo (just over the Oresund Bridge) this past weekend in Sweden.  

But Finland? Australia? CANADA?  I'm pretty sure I don't know anyone there.  And they don't know me, judging by their lack of repeat visits.  ALAS.  This blog is not huge.  I am not destined to become the next Diablo Cody (though I will never give up hope).  But it is a lot bigger than I thought.  It even comes up when I Google myself.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Get Hygge

Hygge is the word for a Danish phenomenon that really makes itself known around this time of year, when the cobblestones are sweaty with perpetual fog and the air manages to be both wet and chilly at all hours.  It's often translated to "cozy," but there is no English equivalent.  It's covering every available surface in both homes and restaurants in candles and draping blankets over every visible chair, and accepting that the sun has already begun to set at 3:30 in the afternoon (and will only set 5 minutes earlier every day until December) by staying inside, curling up, eating a lot, and, as my mother noticed, drinking heavily.  

It really felt like it started while I was in Prague.  I think October is when hyggeligt time really kicks into gear, and starting Oct. 30, it becomes Christmas Season in Denmark.  I've heard this takes hygge to the next level.

After dropping Mom off at the Metro station to the airport this afternoon, I didn't go back to my apartment. I thought of everything we'd been able to do together over the past week (lots of delightful cafes) and the way she had really noticed how hyggeligt things were and even mastered both the verb and noun usage of the word.  I went to Tiger, the local discount store full of what my dad would deem "useless crap" and that my mother and I find charming, and bought a couple of purple candles and glass dishes to put them on.  They're burning quite slowly on my desk now, beside a steaming cup of Gypsy Cold Care tea imported by my dear mother to Copenhagen last week, and narrowly avoiding burning my homework into a crisp.

It makes me a bit nervous, that there mustn't be as many smoke alarms in this city as in American ones (given the prevalence of burning tapers in tiny, enclosed spaces).  I'm absent-minded.  It's worrying to think I might forget to blow these out sometime.  But it's Danish, and it's so cozy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bastardizing the Bastardization

MEXICAN FOOD.  As an American, you grow up with it, you crave it, maybe it's even the sole benefactor of your B12 intake for the better part of two decades.

I was admittedly suspicious when my roommate first pointed out The Taco Shop, a "Mexican food" establishment a few blocks from out flat.  She was just so excited, and over the last two months, I've seen her get takeaway from there as a kind of special treat for herself.  You see, it's her favorite-- and she eats it with a knife and fork.  That was pretty much the first inkling I had that something was horribly, horribly wrong.  That and the fact a burrito costs about $10 more here than it does Stateside, classifying it as "exotic ethnic food" instead of... well, whatever Mexican takeout is to Americans.  Cheap late-night snack after an improv show?

My suspicion was justified.  If a Dane hasn't been to the United States (or, I suppose, to Mexico), you can bet your bottom dollar that they have no idea what Mexican food is supposed to taste like.

I had a Sunday night all planned out: the Copenhagen Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is going on, and I was gong to catch an Israeli movie at 9:30 and kill a few hours doing homework in a cafe.  Well, the movie was sold out by the time I walked in at 6:45, and every cafe within a ten-block radius is closed on Sunday nights.  The few bars that were open are not the kind of places you want to go alone, either.  

I consoled myself by deciding I'd get takeaway food for a late dinner-- for the first time since coming to Denmark (eight weeks ago today!).  I found myself outside of none other than The Taco Shop, and the IDEA of Mexican food was too hard to resist.  "It's probably not as bad as you assume," I said to myself, reminding her just how damn judgmental she can be, even in the absence of evidence.  Look, sometimes a girl's got cravings: I was utterly seduced by the promise of "smothered nachos, authentic California style."

My second clue that something was amiss was when, after ordering the "vegetar burrito," the cashier asked me if, for 14 extra kroner, I wanted it with cheese and chips.  What the heck else is in a vegetarian burrito if there isn't already cheese?  I splurged, still full of disappointment about the sold-out movie, and scurried home to discover what it is Denmark qualifies as Mexican food, California style.

You know, it really wasn't so bad.  It was actually almost good, just overpriced and slightly off.  The beans were kidney instead of black.  The cheese was mozzarella-y instead of cheddar-y.  And the burrito itself was simply a tortilla wrapped around beans and rice.  The sauce and cheese and lettuce and tomato were on the side.  And no sour cream.   It was actually a valiant attempt, and it satisfied.

It got me thinking about the way Mexican food in America is often not what Mexican people would recognize as their food (Chipotle comes to mind-- and I do occasionally love Chipotle).  I had a friend freshman year at Oberlin who insisted that tacos, burritos, and nachos of any caliber were "Tex-Mex," not authentic, and who am I to dispute that?  Just a fourth-generation American, about as Mexican as McDonald's.  All I can say is that Chicago, New York, and LA have spoiled me into believing in one delicious, greasy, imperfect incarnation of "Mexican food," and the permutation Denmark offers is reason #1 why I couldn't live here permanently.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reading the Right Book at the Right Time

I've been reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter since May.  Yes, that's right.  I have been reading this book in starts and stops for almost five months.  It's been a savoring technique, I suppose.  I don't even remember what initially drove me to seek it out, but right after my twentieth birthday, I dragged a friend with me to Ravenswood Used Books, (my favorite of its kind in Chicago), to find it.  We did, with some help, and I've been slowly making my way through it ever since.  It's too perfect-- one of those situations where you've found the right book at the right time.

One of the reasons I wanted to read it initially was that Carson McCullers got it published when she was just 23 years old.  After turning twenty, I realized the clock was kind of ticking on the whole "young genius" potential.  If I write something great at 70, which is a perfectly admirable thing to do, I'll be proud, but it's not quite the same as McCullers' early masterpiece.

Because I bought it used, I have no qualms about dog-earing and scribbling in the margins, which has always been my favorite way to read a book.  Many bibliophile friends (some of whom read this blog and will probably run away screaming from this entry) consider it desecration, but I don't feel like I've really read or really own a book until I can see myself, quite literally, in its pages.  This beat-up, stained, and tattooed copy of Lonely Hunter is a time capsule now, and I'll hang on to it for a long time.  Of course I'll want to remember which parts felt resonant now.  That says a lot more about the experience of reading than keeping it pristine forever.

"She lay on her stomach on the cold floor and thought.  Later on-- when she was twenty-- she would be a great world-famous composer."

"It would be in New York City or else in a foreign country."

"...in a foreign house where in the winter it would snow.  Maybe in a little Switzerland town with the high glaciers and the mountains all around [...]  Or in the foreign country of Norway by the gray winter ocean."

These are quotes from the book about Mick Kelly, a fourteen-year-old girl around whom much of the book revolves.  She spends a lot of her life daydreaming and inadvertently being cruel, which may well be the way all 14-year-old girls pass the time.   Throughout the whole book, she dreams about being twenty as if it's the finish line or the pinnacle of everything that came before.  Which to her, of course, it is.

Here I am, twenty and in a foreign country by a gray winter ocean.  And I can't shake the feeling that this book is somehow mine.  Finishing it will be a bereavement.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Bravery And Other Choices

"It's very brave to live abroad, I think."
-Mira's aunt, this evening

Every time the subject comes up, I laugh it off.  My cousin Jaime also said something about it, that living in a foreign country constituted bravery.  I remain unconvinced.

I am not, nor have I ever been, what anyone would consider brave.  My friend Niki was shocked when I posted photos of me crossing a rope bridge.  I am neurotic about hand washing.  I urge friends abroad to lookout for ebola and gunfire... even when they're going to Spain.  I will not ride a bicycle without a helmet.  I won't even climb the rock wall at Oberlin without one.

In Harry Potter terms, I am much more Ravenclaw than Gryffindor, and even that's flattering myself more than I should.  (For those rusty on their J.K. Rowling, Ravenclaw's motto is "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure"-- a sentiment the overall thesis of the books disputes by roundly proving love is the great conqueror, after all.  Gryffindors value bravery and loyalty above all else.  My personal verdict's still out on this one: you have to live longer than I have to decide which virtue to prize most.)

So living abroad for four months is not what I'd call brave.  Apparently, others would, and that's encouraging, but I can't ascribe to it just yet.  The biggest problem of my week was using the post office for the first time to send a birthday package to Los Angeles.  The only trial I faced today was slicing my finger while chopping an onion.  The grandest hazard of my time in Denmark so far was Monday, riding on the back of a bike (sans helmet-- for the first and only time in my life).

Studying abroad in Copenhagen is many things, but one thing it isn't is brave.  Those other kids you hear about studying in Cuba and Namibia are brave.  Going to Northern Europe for four months would, if I wasn't very much in school, constitute a luxury vacation.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Last night, Mira (Danish roommate) invited me out to a Danish play with some of her Danish friends.  Right.  So we got there, and it was sold out, which was just as well, as I would have been able to understand roughly 3% of it, anyway.

But it ended up being a REALLY fun night!  Mira has been so great, all along of course, but since I got back from Prague, she's invited me out twice with her friends.  They've been the most immersive experiences so far, since when I'm in school, I'm with Americans, and my interactions with Danes on a regular basis is pretty much limited to, "May I have a cup of coffee and a pastry?" plus a silent nod or two.

Sunday night, Mira had an extra ticket to a concert at the architectural phenomenon of Amager's Koncert Huset (pronounced like "con-CERT hoozlth").  We saw a French band called Nouvelle Vague, who were pretty good, and it was a great way to spend a Sunday night.  

So last night, instead of seeing this play, which was mystifyingly entitled "Texa$," Mira and I and a few of her theater school friends went to a cafe in Vesterbro and played pool and talked and watched as one of the students did fantastic magic tricks (I mean suave-- I couldn't figure them out at all: the best kind).  The two questions I got the most were, "Why did you choose Copenhagen for study?" and "What do you miss the most?"

With regards to the second question, when they asked, her friends made sure to exclude "the obvious, friends, family, etc.-- what else?"  What else, indeed?  

It gets very cold and very dark very early in Copenhagen these days-- as I write this, the sun is halfway set and it's a chilly 40 degrees out already.  I miss temperate autumn weather, but to be fair, Ohio and Chicago aren't exactly known for any kind of temperate weather themselves.

And aside from family and friends, what else is there to miss?  Do I miss the insane consumerism of America, the disregard for workers rights, the lack of socialized healthcare, our massive homelessness epidemic?  To be sure, these things don't exist here.  

Copenhagen-- and Prague, for that matter-- offer low-key, intimate nightlife through cafe cultures and jazz bars.  Do I miss Oberlin's Cat in the Cream, the one-room former gymnasium where Conservatory students cut their teeth and they serve weak, lukewarm coffee?  Do I miss the four block radius my life consists of there?  Knowing everyone I pass on the street?

Not yet I don't.  I could see how more time here might make me yearn for Oberlin, but so far, so good.  I miss the friendliness of the place and its altogether unabashedly off-kilter vibe, but I love being able to walk as far as I can in any direction and find myself somewhere, probably with a cafe in sight.  

Is it lonely?  Loneliness is only ever as deep as one lets it be.  I could walk out of my apartment right now and go see a movie at the Film Center with a hundred other strangers, call a DIS student for a study party, or I could stay here in my warm, hyggeligt ("cozy") room and write postcards and upload photos and read great poetry and make myself dinner.  That's a huge night for me.  I can't be this self-sufficient at home or at Oberlin, because it's not a necessity.  By December, I will be very ready to be taken care of, but for now, it's so good to know for sure I can do it myself.

There's a saying on the internet: "tl;dr."  "Too long; didn't read."  This post qualifies as one of the kind.  Have some fantastic Danish music as recompense:


Sunday, October 11, 2009

This entry is not as informative as the last, but a friend found a YouTube clip of Aqua playing at the Olympics announcement concert (way back on October 2nd) here in Copenhagen.  The friend (Ashley) and I are definitely seen dancing about 1:35-1:45 during this clip.  So...Now I can prove I was really there-- jumping around shamelessly.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


Last Saturday, a group of 35 DIS students (including me) departed by bus for Prague.  We arrived Sunday morning, spent a whirlwind four days there, and then traveled to several small towns en route to a city in southern Bohemia (of the Sudetenland region), Cesky Krumlov.

I took some 1100 photos, and my camera is having a problem uploading them at the moment, but they're just little captures of what was really a hectic and exciting week.  It was great to get to know some kids I've been going to school with for almost two months now better.  I had some hilarious conversations, like when my friend Andrea and I decided to take a cue from the Germans and "peacefully occupy" a slice of chocolate cake.  It went a little something like this:

Me:  Oh, man, that cake needs to be protected.
Andrea:  Yeah...we...we need to annex that cake.
Me:  Oh, yeah, uh, it's not an occupation.
Andrea:  It's a peaceful...takeover.
Me:  Let's...separate the layers.  I'll exile this white chocolate to my side of the plate.

IT WAS GREAT.  We laughed a whole lot and imposed the unhappy history we'd learned on random events of the trip to make everything a little bit-- well, funnier, to be sure, but actually it really was applied learning!  We were brilliantly exploring the living history of Europe through food jokes.  Yeah, that sounds...like a lie.  But honestly, great fun.  I think I'll want to do it every time I learn new and disturbing things about a nation's sordid past (that is, apply it to cake eating).

I also ditched dinner Friday night to go look for dirt to scoop up and save for my dad, as per his request.  Sadly, I forgot to kiss the ground, as he instructed, so I feel vaguely like I might have insulted my great-great grandparents.  Interestingly, "Josef" as a name showed up a lot (that's the name of a few generations of sons in my dad's family), and I'm sure that if I'd had the time to do so, it would have been possible to trace some family history in Opava (though the group never made it to northeastern Bohemia).

That's probably enough reflection and relaying to justify some more pictures.





Friday, October 2, 2009

Here's hoping Rio is less corrupt than Chicago.

If you'd like to just read about the outdoor concert/party that the IOC bid prompted outside of City Hall here in Copenhagen (and how I went), skip to the bottom!**

I admit it openly now: I was not supportive of Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid.  Why?  Some folks at the Chicago Reader articulated it pretty well, and to further blow your mind, consider this plea from the hip hop artist Nas.  The long and short of it is, my hometown is as troubled as it is fantastic, and I don't trust Mayor Daley with the fate of low-income housing (he would have used the Olympics to raze areas of the South Side, evicting and exploiting those that live there) OR my parent's taxes (Daley infamously promised the IOC that the people of Chicago could pick up the tab when the project invariably went over-budget).

Globally, people are questioning Obama's heretofore unchallenged star-power, wondering at the embarrassment he and the first lady may be feeling today.  I think they were caught between a rock and a hard place on this one, and am fairly certain were informed of Chicago's low chances (it came in fourth out of four today)-- meaning that Barack had to come to Copenhagen for a token appearance today, or else some in America would have blamed the loss on his absence.

If you've made it this far, you were probably more invested in this issue than I was, because a couple of days ago I just wanted to pretend it wasn't happening and try to keep my Chicago background quiet when the campaign invariably (and FREQUENTLY) came up at DIS.  But as of yesterday and today, I couldn't keep my mouth shut.  Lots of the Americans studying with me supported the bid unquestioningly, which I can't entirely fault them for.  The nuances of Chicago politics seem insignificant to these other Americans, who are away from home and were so relieved to see any major American city on the ballot that they showed up in droves, flashing their "Chicago 2016" tee-shirts and yelling "USA!"

It was uncomfortable, and I wasn't the only one who thought so.  I heard another Chicago resident yelling loudly at a group of kids outside of school this morning about how Daley just wanted to "[kick] all the brown people out" (this student is African American and from the South Side).  I immediately went up to him to commiserate, but he was so furious that he barely noticed my presence.  A group of (white) American students were standing in front of him, some nervously laughing and some struck dumb with the vehemence of his opposition.  But that opposition was informed, which is more than I can say of the support.




**The fun part of the story is that I was next to a group of Brazilians when it was announced that Rio won.  That was awesome.  I was definitely on camera behind them and in a few news photos, so be on the lookout for a pale, arhythmic redhead trying to keep the beat beside boisterous Latin men.  Mostly, though, I was behind a large green and black flag, so we may never be able to prove I was in fact there today.  There was a concert-- the biggest act of which was Aqua, the Norwegian/Danish group that had an international hit with "Barbie Girl" in 1997.  SO MUCH FUN to sing along with live!  And the lead singer was so charismatic I forgot to feel indignant.

Still, though, I couldn't help slipping occasionally into the lyrics of the Weird Al version my hilarious grade school friends were obsessed with at the time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I am only going to say this once, but if you'd prefer an actually factual account of what it is I do with my time, or some version of it, or at least a really similar outline...head over to my friend Alex's blog.  He's writing about what we ACTUALLY do here, and his entry "I Beat You Here, Obama!" is a much better story about the field study for our Copenhagen History class than I will ever write.

This is mostly because I consider (if you hadn't noticed) writing meanderingly about swans dying and the feeling of being an outsider better suited to my skill sets than documenting what happens on a daily basis.  Already, the almost six weeks of living here have become a generalized feeling, a sort of residual blur of Copenhagen and Denmark much more than a series of perfectly remembered events and outings.  The feeling changes many times a day, depending on how many times a Dane has bumped into me without saying "unskyld," how much coffee I've spilled on my shirt, and how many stairs I've fallen down, with my happiness usually proportional to the amount of time I've spent writing or reading in cafes about town.

Tonight, DIS "partially subsidized" (we'll see what exactly that means when I turn in my receipt tomorrow) a trip to the movies for my roommate and I.  We saw "Inglourious Basterds, which was an unusual experience on a few levels.  First of all, I had no idea what to expect, and had a surprisingly emotional reaction to the last half hour or so of the film.  Second of all, the scenes are performed in German, French, English, and occasionally Italian, and not always all at the same time.  Because this was a Danish theater, obviously, the subtitles were all in...Danish.  Meaning that I only understood, on my own, about a quarter of the dialogue.  

Fortunately, Mira was kind, and occasionally whispered translations to me-- she speaks all of the languages, and Swedish and Spanish besides.  I actually had a fun, if difficult, time trying to grasp at the situations where the spoken language was French or German.  I found myself reading the Danish subtitles pretty frequently, and to my surprise, I understood  a good 50% of the scenes through that-- and my rusty Spanish came in handy when I tried listening to the French.  I should mention that READING Dansk is a good dozen times easier than speaking it.  I understand a hefty amount of written Danish by now, but have yet to master the pronunciation, by Danish standards, of a single phrase.  I think Mira was a little taken aback-- and hopefully impressed-- with the amount I was able to glean for myself through the subtitles.  No offense to her native tongue, but Danish doesn't seem to be as nuanced or as direct as English, and that does make it easier to read.  I remember at one point, all Brad Pitt said onscreen was "No, you can't" or something, and the Danish translation was a good seven or eight words long to convey the same idea.

As for my thoughts on the movie, those are harder to articulate.  I've never seen something that so exuberantly revises history or so shamelessly eroticizes violence (except for other Tarantino films, naturally).  I was moved more than any other Tarantino film by the emotion of the idea, and I think a lot of the execution surpassed my own expectations.  The last third of the movie fell apart, in my opinion, but not to the detriment of the flabbergasting first two.  Overall, definitely worth seeing, and I don't think you can leave the theater without forming some strong opinion on it one way or the other.





P.S.  Since a few people reading want to hear my thoughts on the current/new season of "House," but even more people probably don't, I'll keep it short: still one of the best shows on television/not at all up to its own standard.  I more or less entirely agree with this short review by an enlightened TV critic.


Recommending and Otherwise

I am only going to say this once, but if you'd prefer an actually factual account of what it is I do with my time, or some version of it, or at least a really similar outline...head over to my friend Alex's blog.  He's writing about what we ACTUALLY do here, and his entry "I Beat You Here, Obama!" is a much better story about the field study for our Copenhagen History class than I will ever write.

This is mostly because I consider (if you hadn't noticed) writing meanderingly about swans dying and the feeling of being an outsider better suited to my skill sets than documenting what happens on a daily basis.  Already, the almost six weeks of living here have become a generalized feeling, a sort of residual blur of Copenhagen and Denmark much more than a series of perfectly remembered events and outings.  The feeling changes many times a day, depending on how many Danes have bumped into me without saying "unskyld," how much coffee I've spilled on my shirt, and how many stairs I've fallen down, with my happiness usually proportional to the amount of time I've spent writing or reading in cafes about town.

Tonight, DIS "partially subsidized" (we'll see what exactly that means when I turn in my receipt tomorrow) a trip to the movies for my roommate and I.  We saw "Inglourious Basterds, which was an unusual experience on a few levels.  First of all, I had no idea what to expect, and had a surprisingly emotional reaction to the last half hour or so of the film.  Second of all, the scenes are performed in German, French, English, and occasionally Italian, and not always all at the same time.  Because this was a Danish theater, obviously, the subtitles were all in...Danish.  Meaning that I only understood, on my own, about a quarter of the dialogue.  

Fortunately, Mira was kind, and occasionally whispered translations to me-- she speaks all of the languages, and Swedish and Spanish besides.  I actually had a fun, if difficult, time trying to grasp at the situations where the spoken language was French or German.  I found myself reading the Danish subtitles pretty frequently, and to my surprise, I understood  a good 50% of the scenes through that-- and my rusty Spanish came in handy when I tried listening to the French.  I should mention that READING Dansk is a good dozen times easier than speaking it.  I understand a hefty amount of written Danish by now, but have yet to master the pronunciation, by Danish standards, of a single phrase.  I think Mira was a little taken aback-- and hopefully impressed-- with the amount I was able to glean for myself through the subtitles.  No offense to her native tongue, but Danish doesn't seem to be as nuanced or as direct as English, and that does make it easier to read.  I remember at one point, all Brad Pitt said onscreen was "No, you can't" or something, and the Danish translation was a good seven or eight words long to convey the same idea.

As for my thoughts on the movie, those are harder to articulate.  I've never seen something that so exuberantly revises history or so shamelessly eroticizes violence (except for other Tarantino films, naturally).  I was moved more than any other Tarantino film by the emotion of the idea, and I think a lot of the execution surpassed my own expectations.  The last third of the movie fell apart, in my opinion, but not to the detriment of the flabbergasting first two.  Overall, definitely worth seeing, and I don't think you can leave the theater without forming some strong opinion on it one way or the other.





P.S.  Since a few people reading want to hear my thoughts on the current/new season of "House," but even more people probably don't, I'll keep it short: still one of the best shows on television/not at all up to its own standard.  I more or less entirely agree with this short review by an enlightened TV critic.