29 September 2009

don't fight the darkness bring the light and the darkness will disappear

the title is from a song by a band called yacht. i think it's appropriate now that we have entered the dark half of the year and, suddenly, the days are grey, the nights are long, and bike lights and candles have become necessary items.

last night i had to bike to capoeira in the rain. well, i could have taken the metro and a bus, but why do that when you have a bicycle and can decide which roads to take yourself? anyway, it was already dark and raining by the time i left, and i was riding against a headwind the whole way. basically biking in the rain, wind, and dark on a semi-flat front tire is not my favorite way of getting around, but my danish classmates were totally unfazed by the weather, saying, "there's no bad weather as long as you dress right for it." at least it was an awesome capoeira class - we talked for a long time about the history and different styles of capoeira after class ended - and by the time it was over, it wasn't raining anymore, and i biked home with a couple of my classmates.
today i am sore. we had to do all these crazy kicks last night, in a pattern where you step closer and closer to each other as you take turns kicking, and today my thighs and butt hate me for it.

my time here is going really quickly. i have so much to look forward to: spain in just over a week, a costume party in my kitchen the weekend before halloween (thank goodness - halloween is my favorite holiday, and i would be sad not to celebrate it), my friend seekay probably visiting at the end of october, my mom visiting in november, port o'brien at loppen on thanksgiving (helllll yes), my friend cody coming in december, and who knows what else.

today the sun shined with a fierceness typical of cold mornings all the way into the evening. i swear, when i went outside at noon i was fooled into thinking it was 9 a.m. and i don't know if today was just a bad day for strangers, but it seems like people are getting ruder with the recession of the sun: i had a bunch of strangers practically walk into me on the sidewalk today, decidedly without making eye contact, and the woman in the post office was really rude.

i've probably mentioned that denmark is a really nationalistic country. let's just put it this way: in denmark, sparkling (mineral) water is called "danskvand": danish water.

copenhagen's lakes at night

hygge hos mig (cozy at my place)

tonight i made dinner for my kitchen. once again, it was accompanied by good conversation and finished with compliments; i felt capable of actually doing something useful, even without any recipes. it was, after all, just pasta, a homemade sauce, and salad. now, cozy, book-reading, tea-drinking, chocolate-eating time.

26 September 2009

it's a beautiful world we live in

the heavy wind rattles the sill
and the peel of an early clementine
in a dozen fragments
sour perfume blows in
through the open window

four stories below
a scattered generation worms its way
through the september deluge
each particle looking for its identity
some going so far as to borrow others

my heart wants more of a following
everyone is trying to make something
of themselves right now
which is just why we have to
stand up for one another

autumn! i had this discussion last night with some friends about whether the year starts in winter (january) or spring (when everything begins). who cares?! for now everything is falling apart. fantastic!

last night i hung out with my friend indigo and her friends. we went to someone's housewarming party, but better than the party was our bike adventure in getting there. we tried to take a shortcut to indigo's friend's house that turned into an hour-long detour through the rich suburbs of copenhagen and an itty-bitty forest. it was nice biking on uncrowded lanes, breathing the clean air and talking about everything with indigo. really hyggeligt.

actually, that party last night lent itself to some pretty good conversations. rune, indigo's friend, and i were talking about gay rights and danish politics and basically everything that's wrong with the world because we're in this transitory point right now: like all the big battles have been fought - the civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, etc. movements have already happened - but not everything is solved yet. and maybe by the time the next generation grows up, things will be better, gay marriage will be legal (not just in norway and sweden, but in denmark and the U.S., as well as anywhere and everywhere else, too) and universal healthcare will be a reality. but until then, our generation is just kind of wondering what to do. there are too many things to fix to feel like we can actually solve anything. where to begin? what to look at? who to go to for help? who's on my side here? so... it would be cool if there was, like, a movement for people who just want to do something productive. because i, like lots of my friends, am sick of sitting and waiting for things to happen. but i can't go out and storm the streets, protest during class, or participate in any hunger strikes because i'm too serious about things that may or not actually need to be done: getting A's in my classes, paying my cell phone bill, storing up my acorns for the winter that may or may not come.

so if i've learned anything in my three months here in denmark (besides how to ride a bike in a miniskirt and heels), it's that rich, developed countries with universal suffrage and cradle-to-grave healthcare have problems too. i'm not even going to start talking about immigration.


23 September 2009

how i spend my free time:

i got pretty good at standing on my head when i was doing yoga on a regular basis. i can still do it (admittedly not as well as i used to be able to), but now i want to expand my repertoire to walking on my hands. because of the capoeira thing.

obviously i have a lot of free time. i don't know if i've mentioned this, but i only go to school on mondays. i have class from 11 to 2 in the afternoon, and then again from 3 to 5. then i have capoeira, but that has absolutely nothing to do with university. my first class has a half-hour break, and my second has a fifteen-minute one, so i'm really only in school four hours and fifteen minutes a week, which is kind of ridiculous. and i am taking a full course load. it's kind of a dream schedule.

since i'm free six days a week, i've been doing a lot of reading, handstands, and tea-drinking (right now, earl grey with vanilla soymilk - mmm). the awesome thing about having all this free time is that i get to live the life: you know, the one in which the young, romantic expatriate spends all of his/her time in alternately in cafés, reading and writing, and drifting about the city, watching the sun set and rise. before i came here - okay, i like henry miller and ernest hemingway A LOT - i thought that would be it, you know? what more could a young, for-the-most-part-uninspired student need? well, as it turns out - in my head, anyway - spending my days carefree like this is fun, to a point, but not really fulfilling. maybe i have just been brainwashed by growing up in capitalistic new-millenium america - despite not watching t.v. as a child - to believe that life is meaningless without a routine that acts as a time-filler and source of income.

so i'm looking for a job, although no one in copenhagen seems to have much use for a fomer barista/flower picker/orientator of clueless parents of new university students. so i'm planning my surf trip to spain. and listening to lots of mazzy star. i can't get over hope sandoval's voice.

also, the cafés here are different from american ones: they usually don't open really early in the morning, but they're open late at night. most of them seem to not have that many pastries, but they have lots of food, like restaurants. to me, they seem more like bars that are open during the day than cafés that are open at night. and really the only negative thing about them: the baristas ask you if you want milk in your coffee, and if you do, they pour it for you. god forbid you want to choose how much milk goes into your coffee yourself ... or if you'd rather have half-and-half (or soymilk!).

22 September 2009

the equinox

on the second and last day of the year when day and night are approximately equal in length, it is only appropriate that it should be raining. at last i am ecstatic to be living here in copenhagen. this is difficult to explain: i've been in the adjusting-myself-to-this-new-and-on-some-counts-bizarre-culture phase of my exchange for the last month or so, and struggling with missing my friends, family, and pets, chickens included. but suddenly this doesn't matter anymore. i am here: a little speck in this small box in this famous donut-shaped building in a remarkable city in a miniscule country on the singular earth in this exclusive solar system...

today is not only the first day of fall - about which i am delighted; the chilly seasons make so much sense in scandinavia - but also marks the fact that a quarter of my stay in copenhagen (københavn, köpenhamn, copenhague - names alone are enough to limit me to studying only one language at any given time) has already elapsed. summer is always a happy time for me. i come alive in sunshine and saltwater. but i'm glad that it's over, because i'm entering a new phase here in denmark. slowly i am starting to make friends, form habits, even develop a personality in danish! i think the hardest thing about learning a new language isn't lacking vocabulary or not knowing how to use the grammar correctly (both of which are extremely important, and difficult in their own rights), but not having an established personality in that language; that is, not being able to express yourself in exactly the way you want to. not knowing the idioms, slang, and cadences of your new language means it's really difficult to be sarcastic, or ironic, or empathizing, or only slightly amused. it's like the grey scale of communication disappears and you're left with only black and white, only being able to say, "that's cool," or "that's bad." although i am perfectly conversational in danish, i still can't say, "man, that's a bummer."

but the cool thing is, yesterday i met a danish girl who had lived in france for some time and we were able to talk about these things - yes, in danish. and forming that connection inspired me, as does knowing that not only do i understand someone, but they also understand me. also yesterday, i got kicked in the foot at capoeira. capoeira involves a lot of kicking, so it was understandable, but still not super cool. but at least i just have a lovely bruise, and no broken bones.

it's clementine season (wait, does that exist?) here. apple season, too. somehow all the danes seem to know these things: it's common knowledge what fruits come when. i was surprised by this; i think that because i'm from california, where we have all sorts of fruits and veggies all the time, i've never really paid attention to the seasons before. in santa cruz, only foodies and farmers really know the seasons. but it's rational enough that fruits should be available when they naturally fruit.

and i'll leave you with this: the danish word for "fall" is "efterår" - "after-year." the part of the year that's after the rest of it.

20 September 2009

i am not looking to see things but rather to internalize them

the whisper of the approaching metro just reminds me of a marathon of muggy summer nights, before i decided it was okay to ride my bike drunk as long as i wore my helmet. i saw a pool of nearly-dried blood on the cobblestones underneath the bridge on my morning run yesterday. at first glance i thought it was beet juice, but beet juice could never coagulate like that. the chill, salty harbor air assuages the city, a city that reeks with stale beer, exhaust fumes, and the cold sweats of immigrants, the "new danes." there is nothing new about people. i don't actually want to know what the flag outside of my building stands for. when i look at myself, i see excess.

this term of self-imposed liberty has led me to realize a couple of things. first of all, ani difranco is both woman and genius, at least for that one song. secondly, i'm not much for parties. not used to drinking like a grown-up, i don't know what to do when the bartender finally makes eye contact with me, so i just order another beer. unlike ani, i am a wimp. although living abroad, i don't get lost often. i stick to direct routes, memorize landmarks, and carry a map and a headlamp. i blend in until i open my mouth. i was the last of my friends to make the leap to a city. when i got here i realized i was looking for nothing in particular and that made it hard to find anything.

the majority of the people you will ever meet are too nice to ever bring up anything ugly. my eyelids flutter but i can't keep them closed. it's darker with them open than shut, now that the sun has finally begun to keep itself on the other side of the world for some hours each night.

i went on a good bike ride today to find this

giant tuborg bottle, located in an otherwise-vacant lot in hellerup, a suburb of copenhagen. copenhagen was uncomfortably hazy today, but in hellerup it was clear and sunny. on my way back, i stopped for a scoop of the most delicious chocolate ice cream i've ever tasted, accompanied by a scoop of coffee that wasn't bad either.

it's been a nice mellow weekend, which i've spent waking up early

only to go back to sleep, cooking, chilling with my flatmates, reading, and ambling the city

to commit it to memory. i'm looking forward to starting my kirkegaard class tomorrow and a trip to spain in the works for the near future.

17 September 2009

so long to summertime clothes

i know that in a lot of the northern hemisphere, the it's still summer; that at home the santa anas are probably rolling in, bringing with them good surf and a few last beers on the beach, but here, fall has definitely hit, albeit a week before the equinox. you can feel the chill on your cheeks (and even creeping up your legs, if you bike in a dress) in the mornings, and the light is quickly changing. but i am glad to be wearing long sleeves and boots again.

i might add that the sun now sets around a quarter to eight and rises around a quarter to seven. the decrease in the length of the days has been rapid and unsettling; at the same rate, i am really looking forward to winter. i think scandinavian winters are magical for the same reason as the summers: their extremity. (also, i am pretty close to the arctic circle, and there is an ever-so-slight chance that maybe i could go up there and see the northern lights, which i've been wanting to do for years.)

i know i've mentioned that everyone rides bikes here. additionally, everyone uses hand signals, and they're different from the ones we use in the u.s.: either hand raised at a 90-degree angle means "i'm stopping"; to indicate that you're turning, you simply point a hand (or a couple of fingers) in the direction you're turning.

i'm still figuring out the danish school system. compared to what i am used to in california, it seems kind of disjointed and, well, confusing. i never know where to go or who to ask when i have questions, as the university doesn't exactly have a "campus" or an "admissions department." rather, everything is organized through your academic department, which depends on which classes you're taking - or vice versa. so i'm in the departments of spanish and danish, but i'm only taking classes in the danish department; specifically, in the institute of nordic studies and languages, or something. anyway, in the humanties department (of which danish is a subset, and INSS a subset of that), you don't register for classes until they've begun, and you register for exams separately from the classes themselves. so although you might be enrolled in a class, if you don't sign up for the exam, you won't get any credit for it whatsoever. i was terrified i would forget to sign up for my classes or exams, but i've gotten it taken care of now and am now registered for a six-hour exam (!!?) in which i translate a text from english to danish sometime at the end of the winter term. i don't think i need to say that i am really nervous about it.

things that have been making me happy recently:
1. i smiled at an old woman when we passed each other walking alongside a canal the other day and she smiled back at me. smiles from strangers in copenhagen are so rare - everyone has their own lives, is in a hurry, is afraid of each other, whatever - that that made my day.
2. the common meals in my kitchen. i usually go three times a week, and it's always really nice and the food is always different and delicious.
3. i finished another painting.
4. finding new shortcuts on my bike through the city!

5. this oven, which has a newspaper in it.

6. the contrasts of this affluent city: the expensive (and very desirable) apartment buildings right next to the dump.

7. "next stop ... nirvana." this guy's on his way!
(i almost got run over by a very angry bicyclist trying to take this photo. he yelled "good morning!" at me.)

unrelated to "things that make me happy" is strøget, otherwise known as "the stroll" and denmark's largest walking and shopping street. it's impossible to bike down it; in fact, it's practically too crowded to actually walk down, and every once in a while a train drives down it. go figure.

also: just in case you forgot that i'm in denmark, here is a friendly reminder. not my bike.

15 September 2009

just tryin' to get a can of beans and a bar of chocolate, man

so i found a bunch of nuts and dried fruit at netto today. i'm really excited, because almonds and dried apricots, as well as sunflower seeds and prunes, make for way better snacks than chocolate and sandwiches (which, by the way, are not at all mutually exclusive). i had previously found nuts and dried fruits in other grocery stores, but they were ridiculously expensive. $7.50 for a bag of dried apricots i could easily eat in one sitting? yeah, right. also, i wasn't really down with netto when i first got here, since i could never find the one in my neighborhood, and when i did eventually stumble upon some netto close to where i live, it was ridiculously disorganized, and i couldn't find a single can of beans in the entire store. but i'll the beans thing slide and admit that underestimating netto was probably the single-largest mistake i've made during my exchange thus far. maybe they don't have the chocolate soymilk that superbrugsen does, but they have everything else, like cheese, yogurt, chocolate, beer, and rugbrød (that dark, sour, thick, delicious danish bread. pumpernickel, maybe?) for way cheaper than anywhere else. the most expensive item on my receipt today? cheese, at $10 for a hefty block of it. cheese is so expensive here, but it's also sold in huge quantities. i don't know how to explain this except to say take a look at traditional danish foods.

for some reason, i've been cooking vegan for myself lately - not on purpose, just making food with whatever i have, which is usually rice or quinoa and some weird combination of vegetables. the other day i made this dank curry just with carrots, potatoes, garlic (is that weird?) mushrooms (weirder?!), coconut milk, and tons of curry powder. regardless, i put cheese all over practically everything i eat, so whatever.

i don't mind biking to the store to get groceries. i don't mind bringing my own bags or bagging my own food, although i am slow and tend to hold up the line. the difficult thing about grocery shopping here is getting all my groceries and myself back to my kitchen in one piece. i finally got a backpack, so now i can fill that with food instead of trying to stuff whatever i can't fit inside my grocery bags into my purse. then i have my basket, into which i put a bag of stuff, but it has to be certain stuff, or else i risk food flying out or my basket falling off. so stuff that is kind of heavy, but not so heavy that it makes my bike too front-heavy, goes into the basket: usually yogurt, milk, musli, and some veggies or whatever. last but not least is my back rack, where i strap a cloth grocery bag. this one is full of stuff that won't get crushed by the rack: beer, pasta, cans of tomatoes, etc. all in all, i'm getting a lot better at this grocery-shopping-by-bike thing. i have yet to lose any of my food, and i now only have to go grocery shopping once - maybe twice - a week.

also, i am getting a lot better at balancing on my bike going really, reallllly slowly. my seat is pretty high so i usually can't put my foot on the ground when i'm stopped (unless i'm wearing heels. hah!), so if i'm approaching a red light (i fucking hate red lights. i know they're good for the sake of safety, but seriously, whatever), i just go as slowly as i can in the last little stretch before the intersection. lots of the time it turns yellow before i have completely come to a stop, and i am able to continue on my way without dismounting. i still haven't figured out the step-through bike mount thing, though.

i just realized that i interrupt myself a lot.

13 September 2009

at the end of the week

i can tell the weather by the canal right outside my window. it's really convenient, because the weather often depends on the wind here. it might not be that cold outside, but it will be really blustery, and i know there's rain in the near future. the wind in this city is unbelievable. sometimes, everywhere you ride, the wind will be against you. up or down HC andersens boulevard, nørre søgade, nørrebrogade, the wind will be in your face the entire time. thankfully, this isn't always the case.

i love copenhagen. the quaint houses and canals are charming, as are the windows framed by hollyhocks and roses. i love smelling the delicious bakery smells drifting through the streets when i ride my bike home late at night (or rather, early in the morning) and the falafel and kebab shops (good thing for them, too, since there are no taquerias here). i love being able to get everywhere by bike and public transportation, and it's nice seeing the trees change color as fall approaches. i am gratified by learning danish and a new way to communicate with people -

i must be in europe.

i wish i had a boat to get around with.

so, so pretty.

dannebrog is the name of the danish flag. this, by the way, is a circus, which i almost accidentally went into while looking for a flea market on saturday. finally found the flea market. it was very good, and not in a circus tent.

- but i miss my friends, and playing banjo, and being able to get a decent meal for five dollars. with that said, i know i'll miss this place when i leave, but i've already lived so many places and met so many people that i am never not missing something. i think "love" is too strong of a word to use to describe a feeling i have for a situation i've only been in for two months. hanging out with exchange students, i constantly hear people gushing about how much they love this town, love being exchange students, and are having so much fun. and, i mean, i'm having a good time, but i came here to live my life, not to party for a year. the parties are fun, but they're kind of all the same.

with that said, i went to a really fun party on friday night. it was called "ladyfest" and held at bolsjefabrikken, this culture space on the outskirts of the city. the point was to support women's art and music, but it wasn't a man-bashing event or anything. it was just a cool event with lots of cool women (and men, too) making music, with a bonfire in the courtyard. it was interesting because the place was pretty anarchistic, in that there was graffiti everywhere and the kitchen was a mess, but it's also open to anyone and the people who run it do have a basic set of rules: clean up after yourself, no sleeping in the buildings, respect the neighbors (i.e. don't yell outside and don't graffiti the neighboring buildings), et cetera. i enjoyed it because it felt like the people there were relaxed and very non-judgemental, which is the opposite vibe from what i normally get in bars and whatnot.

is it still called graffiti if it's not illegal?

dancing with my friend laura at bolsjefabrikken

today is very much a sunday. i'm spending the day drinking tea and listening to ani difranco and bon iver.

09 September 2009

something (hopefully) not about school or languages (since that's all i really write about)

number one. i have begun a capoeira class. it's awesome. have i already mentioned that? this is how awesome it is: we spend the first fifteen minutes or so warming up, running as well as doing all sorts of crazy exercises whose point, i'm pretty sure, is to discover muscles you never knew you had: crabwalking across the gym in pairs trying to stop one another from gaining any distance, standing on the floor in a sort of downward-dog yoga position to have your partner crawl underneath you only to have to then switch and crawl underneath them, hopping onto someone's torso to climb completely around them, and more. after all that fun stuff, we stretch. this might be my favorite part of capoeira at this point, but just because i love stretching, i love not having to think about what stretch to do next, and i am not any good at capoeira yet. after the stretching, we do capoeira moves and drills for a while, usually in pairs. finally, we play in a roda, the circle. two people fight in the middle and the rest of the people stand and clap and sing, facilitating the energy for the fight. it's terrific and exhausting and i find it simultaneously nerve-wracking and relaxing to be fighting in the roda.

number two. i can feel that living in copenhagen is wrecking havoc on my self-perception. i hesitate to say "self-esteem," because i have plenty of that. what i mean to say is that i find myself constantly comparing my body to those of people here, which i don't really do at home. in santa cruz, i am secure, and anything goes. here, i feel like appearance plays a larger role in being socially accepted, and that factor is doubled and tripled by being an exchange student, new to the city and the school, and searching for a job, when i am immediately judged by the first person i ask at the counter if the place is hiring. almost everyone here looks like they could have just stepped out of ELLE magazine: stick-thin and effortlessly fashionable. not just the women, but the men, too. and the thing is, it's not like everyone is just conforming to a standard of what is currently trendy. it's more like they always look so pulled-together (in a way that i think we americans tend to have some difficulty pulling off) and confident that they end up appearing intimidating to us foreigners.

number three. i don't have to think about where i'm biking anymore, i just go. my bicycling issues now mainly concern stopping at stoplights (ugh) and figuring out how to make left-hand turns in the most efficient way possible. i am still too scared to bike with headphones on here - there is way too much bike traffic. i would definitely crash into someone. also, most of my dreams take place in copenhagen now. this place is sinking underneath my skin.

love from denmark-

07 September 2009

wandering is a step beyond wondering

the past week has been busy and both relaxing and exciting. last tuesday i went to sweden for my last week of holidays, where i visited my host family for a couple of days and then spent a long weekend with friends.

i will never not live by the ocean.

the road home

i don't think this is one you want to eat.

tiny ecosystems

property line

it was fantastic to come back to göteborg, a city that i know and am comfortable with, but at the same time have forgotten so much about. so walking through göteborg in the misty, light midnight rain after a university pub on thursday evening with a bunch of new friends (friends of my friend lotten who i was visiting) was surreal, like watching a film that you've seen long enough ago to forget the details of, but remember them immediately as the story unfolds. and when i walked the city by myself, it wasn't difficult to recall certain tram stops (brunnsparken, kongsportsplatsen, valand) and the locations of certain shops and cafés. however, i was wishing for a bike the whole time i was there. walking and taking trams (spårvagnar) is so inefficient in comparison to biking!

i love canals, which is a big part of the reason why i love copenhagen and göteborg so much. göteborg was origninally modelled after amsterdam, if i remember correctly, by dutch tradesmen. or something.

the train station is mighty inviting on a rainy afternoon.

göteborg, sweden's second-largest city, is famous for its pop star håkan hellström, amusement park liseberg, and the hot dog with mashed potatoes on top. which, by the way, i've never eaten (although i have seen håkan hellström play at liseberg).

after spending thursday night at lotten's apartment, i met up with my friend sofia for fika (coffee and chit-chat) on friday morning. it was great to see sofia again, and we had lots to catch up on, as we're both in the midst of starting new chapters in our lives: making a rented place into a home, cooking, school, boys, girls, parents, everything. we spent so long fika-ing that we got some lunch together, too. then it was time for sofia to head back to her city and for me to meet back up with lotten and some of her friends for the drive out to the countryside (an island, rather) where we spent the weekend kayaking, eating delicious food, drinking tea (and wine), swimming in the ocean, and playing uno, among other things. it was a really relaxing weekend, and although i didn't know any of the other 10 people i was with except for lotten, i had a really great time. we stayed at a summer cottage that lotten's friend lotta's family owns. it was one of the coziest houses i've ever been in, with plenty of windows, lots of wood, and a big attic. someday i will live in a similar house (sustainably designed and built, of course), hopefully.

playing uno while waiting for dinner

kayaking in the maze of islands that make up sweden's west coast

bare feet and sunshine!

we stopped on an island for lunch. there were horses. we played with them.

then they decided they would follow us back to our kayaks, leading us to frantically hop in them and paddle away.

i kind of wanted to stay and hop onto a horse instead of into a kayak.

summer feelings.

i think raspberries are my favorite kind of berry.

since it is september, it really feels like fall. i know i've been saying that for the past few weeks, but i really noticed it in the swedish countryside: mushrooms and berries were popping out of the earth all over the place, and the ocean has an unmistakeable chill (not that we didn't jump in it in the middle of the night anyway). another sign of fall is the beginning of school: my classes started today - one of them, at least. it is - i think - a master's level course in written danish, in which we translate texts from our mother tongue into danish. the first text is about copenhagen's theme park, tivoli. the class is going to be a lot of work, but i like the teacher and i am going to learn a lot, so i'm really happy about it. also, i'm the only american in my class, which is awesome for two reasons: first, i get to meet people with different perspectives from myself (although most of my classmates are from europe), and second, we all speak danish - not english, as is the case with so many other exchange students - with each other.