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


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

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

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


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!