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.