28 March 2010

daylight savings time begins; it's called "summer time" in danish

Amagerturen, or, The Walk of Hearts

There is a grey way that bisects the island. At one end
it is boxed in by the urban elements: the university, gas stations,
railroads, streetlights, specialty shops and offices, all
right angles vying for city-limited space. At the other
Amager Fælledvej is defined by loose dogs, one-wheeled
bicycles, weary rushes, a stray swamp—paradigmatic
of the season—neon-clad Saturday evening joggers
and kids out for candy and pizza with bubbles on their lips.
Walking parallel to this road, you find yourself
on the path of heart rocks. When the concrete gives way
to thirty meters of dirt, look closely for the stones
beneath your toes. Some are firmly rooted in the mud—
to look at, not to touch—but others you can pick up
with a loose hand and keen eye, put in your pocket,
and bring home to show your boyfriend. When the
footpath is replaced by concrete—don’t step on the cracks;
you’ll break your mother’s back—the pothole you stumble into
will be in the shape of a heart, as if an obstinate child
had come around last Valentine’s day and uprooted the shape
from the unset muck to share with her best friend
over glittering chocolates. When the single-family homes appear,
keep walking past the mailboxes and numbered gates,
parallel to the hedges and kitty-corner to the towering Solvang Centret
sign taller than any nearby tree. In the ground-floor window
of a brick two-story, you might spy one white porcelain
heart-shaped bowl nestled inside its greater companion: yours
for thirty crowns, but only Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday
between the hours of noon and half-past five. When you turn
the corner, passing the ice cream maker’s, walking down
Landehjælpvej, and continuing by the rotten yellow cottage
with gaping wounds for windows, you
’ll emerge
on a manicured pedestrian path. This is where you’ll encounter
—ready or not, here it comes—the heart-formed oil stain,
token of trespassing, within a stone’s throw of a clutch of neighbors’
collective good intentions. It doesn’t stop there. You continue, now,
picking up the pace, through a stampede of olive and copper
leaves fallen like autumn, and are reminded of the impending spring.
With a lilt to your step, you lift your eyes to the horizon—
not a hill in sight to obstruct your view—and then lower them
where they are met with the earthworms beneath your feet,
one of them curled, among the o’s and w’s, in its own perfect heart.

i don't really know that much outside of copenhagen. i was surprised yesterday when i went for a walk straight out on amager towards the airport how quickly the city gave way to suburbia, sprinkled with combination kebab/hamburger joints, row houses, apartments with inhumanely (and incredibly un-danish) small windows, and fenced-in yards populated by bicycles and dogs. i'm going to have to go back to a camera. people looked at me funny in my yellow pants, which don't garner a second glance in the city. i think it's so typical that i live right on the edge, not really belonging to either.

things i do have pictures of to share, however, include a city moment just outside of rundetårn and my kitchen's "tour des chambres" party, in which everyone (there are thirteen of us) has a different theme and drink in their room and you go around from room to room drinking and generally making a ruckus. we started with a cozy dinner all together in the kitchen and things escalated (or went downhill?) from there.

each room had a game or activity to keep us busy while we got drunk. here nina is going to have to sing along to a song she may or may not know.

michael and johan are amused.

but drinking out of the bowl is awfully entertaining in and of itself.

pigs and irishmen and tigers, oh my!

a seventh-grader, an owl, a participant from a skanky t.v. show (paradise hotel, anyone?), and a painter, among others.

big blue tongues. andreas and i are stoked.

things got a little blurry by the time we made it to lena's room.

rundetårn (the round tower) is way cool, and totally worth the climb and the entrance fee.

and this is a good place to be when it suddenly starts to rain.

in other news, i have acquired a new bookshelf.

24 March 2010

talking about the weather

it's awfully nice to be able to spend time outside without gloves on and to walk off the sidewalk now that the snow is gone. the canals have finally loosened up, unfrozen, and all over the city people are emerging from the hibernation that the harshest winter in twenty-three years has warranted.

all throughout the city winter, my boots never got muddy. everything was frozen and what wasn't was paved. in the woods for a breath of fresh air, i slipped in the mud of a creek and fell back into love with a place. i am constantly surprised by how similar two polar opposites can be. take california's central coast and north zealand. denmark is mostly flat and the forests are mainly of birch and beech (which i always confuse). but there are also oaks, which are likewise plentiful in california. oaks and rolling hills. the rolling hills are lacking here, but there is something subtle in the way the country land waves under the spring wind, the grass up to your calves and horses at a close canter. the smell of horses brings me back to the u.s.a., as does the scent of the ocean - nevermind that it drifts from a fjord.

the saying "home is where the heart is", i think, rings true. after all, "home" doesn't feel far away here. home is my cubby on the fourth floor of this modern apartment building; home is the window i look into when i need to remember who i am and how i got here. and stomping in copper leaves, my feet are perfectly at home, at ease.

liv's red feet / debris


this is probably one of the oldest trees in denmark, an oak estimated to be two thousand years old. i love oak trees.

forest people (signe, rune, oumer, indigo, liv)

the road

feast - some raw, mostly vegan, all full of wishes and gratitude

this basically sums of my love of summer houses/cottages, places where you have everything you need and little more: a woodburning stove, shelves overflowing with books, a swing in the yard, ten sorts of tea, and excellent company.

danish media: "such are the royal children". see their personalities!

in danish, powder or hyacinth blue is called "dove blue." aww.

flowers, flowers, everywhere!

"at the post office"

so it's beginning to smell like summer again. or, to be more accurate, other smells besides ice and exhaust are beginning to be detectable outside. the thaw (the temperature's been hovering around 5-10/40-50 degrees) is releasing scents that i didn't notice were gone until they came back: the scent that blows in on the wind between the university and my dorm, the salt of the harbor, the smell of barbeques (or wood-burning stoves - i'll never know), people's perfumes now that you can go outside with a little skin showing without risking frostbite, even that most cliche spring smell of new grass. not to mention dog poop and piss and stale beer.

i guess we're already somehow in the middle of the semester and i need to start planning my exams, free take-home papers: one fifteen pages, and the other twenty-five. i've never written a twenty-five page paper or a fifteen-page paper based on my own empirical research, so this semester is nothing if not a little challenging. but i've learned - and am learning - so much here that it seems only fitting that i should learn a little in university, too.

20 March 2010

spring at last, spring at last, thank the lord, it's spring at last!

happy first day of spring, world - we made it through another nuclear winter! well, practically. this was, although not the single darkest winter i've ever experienced (that would have been the winter i spent in sweden, just a smidge farther north), but it was the coldest and most exhausting winter i have ever had the pleasure to endure. next time i go abroad for an extended period of time, i'm going somewhere where people don't torture themselves like this. like india, or south africa, or costa rica. although iceland lingers in my mind...

but as the days lighten up - have i mentioned that the sun doesn't set until after 6 p.m. now? - i become exponentially happier for my time in denmark. with three-quarters of my stay here under my belt, it is hitting me that i am really concerned about going back to the big old u.s.a.

one thing i really appreciate about denmark is that - and i don't necessarily think this is unique to danes, but bear with me - although the people have such a "good" state system in which every member of society is cared for from the cradle to the grave, where everyone is well-fed, educated, and has free healthcare (foreign residents included, surprisingly enough), the people aren't satisfied. they want better healthcare, a better political system (dansk folkeparti can suck it), more asylum, and better universities where 40% of the biology department doesn't get laid off. for a long time i was thinking that this is an awfully selfish mindset of the spoiled danes. "you have no idea how good you have it," i'd say. "what are you complaining about?" and they do have it a lot better than a lot of the rest of the world. but i think it really says something about the "culture" that people want to create positive change in their country. because of this drive, there are a lot of young people in politics. they have organic food in the discount grocery stores (with the slogan "organic for everyone!"). and, for whatever reason, they still have a royal family, but that's beside the point.

i don't really know where i'm going with that. back to spring: it's raining today (surprise, surprise) but i'm just full of joy because i'm going up to a friend's cottage in the forest on the coast to celebrate the equinox with flowers, bonfires, and friendship. i'm excited about the mini road-trip (we have to drive for an hour to get there) and fresh air.

signs of spring:

biking through christianshavn with baijie, basking in the sunshine

a burrito from the taco shop!! one of the stranger burritos i've had in my life (the inside was only chile verde pork, no beans or rice!) but it was deeeeelicious nonetheless. i was so happy - and overcome by the smell - that i almost cried.

rock'n'roll burrito time. esther and baijie. nørre farimagsgade.

fællesspisning, common dinner in my kitchen. one of my favorite danish rituals, four times a week.

rune, anna, candles. hygge isn't just for winter!

i made dairy-free risotto from scratch - my first time making risotto - and a salad sprinkled with strawberries. i was told it tasted like summer. in copenhagen i've had the chance to discover that i love cooking. i know my parents will be delighted to hear that and probably force me to cook for them when i finally make it home.

what's up, swans. they were just chillin' on the canal outside of my building. apparently this is normal for spring and summer. you know what that means? the warmer half of the year is upon us!

swans make weird grunting noises. i like them.

but it's kind of gross that there are cigarette butts and can tabs in the grass where they're poking about.

outdoor seating is back!

the tourists are back, too. it cracks me up to see people wandering around with maps when i'm going about my daily routine, like running by the black diamond or biking through christianshavn. my inner tour guide always wants to ask these people if they need directions.

13 March 2010

two wheels are just enough

i think the most beautiful thing i know in copenhagen is the chorus of merging bicycles during rush hour. on the wider streets, like h.c. andersen's boulevard, the bike lane is divided into three invisible lanes with the fastest riders passing on the far left, often while being narrowly passed by a bus just as crowded as the bike lanes. but unlike those passengers, we have fresh air in our lungs and the feeling of the wind on our cheeks, for better or for worse.

in the innermost bike lane, the slowest riders take their time, often taking in the view or texting. old people, women in fur coats and heels, people with heavy loads - like christmas trees, furniture, and oversized musical instruments - and fathers with children in tow cruise along, pedal-pumping, sentient machines. the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever built, and what could make for a more democratic mode of transportation?

in denmark, biking doesn't count as exercise. to get to your fitness center, you ride your bike. same with a party. you bike to work and then to work out, and then maybe to a game of soccer with your friends. in denmark you do see overweight men, occasionally in the rare jogging suit leftover from the 80s, a matching windbreaker and nylon pants divided into a struggle of hues unique to that decade (teal, electric purple, and such the like), on a casual ride through town, passing the tivoli gardens, city hall square, and the lakes. you also see businessmen with their pointy-toed leather shoes, ipods, full-length wool coats, and houndstooth scarves on three-speeds. you see girls on pale blue european uprights with wicker baskets and hipsters on hyphy fixies doing track-stands, waiting for the light to change from red to yellow to green.

there isn't really a problem with bikes being stolen here, nor does the competition within the american bicycling scene really seem to exist here. maybe that is precisely because bicycling in copenhagen is not a scene: it is ubiquitous, it is a way of life, it is simply what people do. everyone has a bike (this is a welfare state, remember?), so no one needs to steal one. i'm not saying that bikes don't get stolen, but a lot of the bikes that are stolen have been left unlocked and, shall we say, borrowed. it's common knowledge in the city that if a bike is unlocked (and really, what kind of owner who actually wants to keep his/her bike doesn't lock it?), it's up for grabs. it is equally common knowledge that people will often leave their older bikes unlocked so someone will take it and they can report it stolen to the police, collect the insurance money, and buy a newer, nicer model.

with the propensity of people to always want newer, better things aside, there really isn't much of a status quo attached to bikes here. sure, there are the subgroups who are really into road- or mountain- (someone explain this to me, because there are NO mountains in denmark) biking and have bikes that meet their needs specifically, but the vast majority of copenhageners just has a bike that will get them from one place to the next without breaking down and making them wait for the bus (which always takes longer than going by bike). i like the egalitarianism in that regard here.

here are a couple of views from my bicycle:

today it was a balmy 4 degrees (39 fahrenheit) and, for a short while, sunny. for the first time in over four months, i wore open-toed shoes and only one pair of tights under my skirt. it was also the first time since fall that i felt like taking my time biking because i wasn't totally freezing.

approaching rådhuspladsen. green lights.

and some photos not from my bicycle's point of view:

last weekend i went to louisiana, denmark's museum of modern art. this piece blew my mind, then the guard told me to put my camera away.

i guess the museum does have a sense of humor, though. that's a diving board traversing (there has to be a better word for it than that) a window, and sweden in the distance.

just a normal dog day afternoon at the bank.

i started biking really differently when i moved here, though. in california, i pretty much had to fight for my life every time i got on my bike. most of the bike lanes there are maybe a meter wide, if they exist at all. drivers don't respect bicyclists (and vice versa) and there are always doors to watch out for. in santa cruz i biked fast, hard, and anarchistically. i don't think i ever thought about using hand signals. the point was to get where i was going as fast as possible, preferably without being run over. i'm a cautious person, but even so, there was a lot of dodging obstacles - cars, potholes, pedestrians - and rolling through stop signs.

when i got to copenhagen i discovered that none of that really works. there are traffic lights for the bike lanes here, for one thing. rolling through an occasional red is still a possibility, but more a late-night treat than anything else. there is a pack mentality and atmosphere here, and biking in a hurry won't really get you to your destination any faster (unless you're really, really fast). you have to use turn signals so you don't cause an accident, and, worst of all, there are no right-turns on red lights allowed. so as my experience has been here, it's worth it to slow down and just enjoy the ride.

08 March 2010

who needs a narcissism barometer when you've got a positive thermometer?

things are looking up. the sun's back in a big way. march is looking fantastic.

today i went out without tights under my jeans for the first time since december. this month so far is just full of goodness: conversations under the stars, twelve-hour sunshine days, fake champagne, a squat party on the edge of town, swimming, art, birthdays of people i love, the vernal equinox, and a trip to switzerland for easter.

of course it's a shame, however, that there was another devastating earthquake, this time in turkey. what is with this year?! copenhagen feels like such a calm, protected bubble. which it is, i guess. happy international women's day!

05 March 2010

well, the city isn't the country

about a week before i left for denmark last june, i was talking the the librarian in my town (my town is so small that our library is run by one - extremely capable - woman) when an old man interjected in our conversation about copenhagen, saying, "you know, copenhagen isn't denmark." he didn't really explain what he meant, but he did repeat himself and tell me that i would see. at the time, i was kind of bewildered, not to mention a little put-off. i had, after all, been to copenhagen before. i'd seen all the red-and-white flags hanging outside of the ice cream shops, the massive quantities of carlsberg beer and aquavit in the 7-11s that dot every other corner, and i'd even ridden the s-trains and the ultra-modern (and, at the time, brand-spanking-new) metro across town. what could be more danish, i wondered, than drinking a beer on the train while on your way to get an ice cream on a sunny afternoon?

i catch myself - and a lot of other internationals - using the names "copenhagen" and "denmark" interchangeably far more often than i am comfortable with. every once in a while, something like "everyone bikes in denmark" will slip out of my mouth, or i'll hear a friend say, "everyone in denmark is gorgeous." and while these generalizations may ring true - as much as any stereotype is ever able to, anyway - in copenhagen, i think it is important to remember that they simply don't hold for the rest of the country. it's not that simple. a lot of the smaller towns (or even smaller cities, as i'm told by my friends who aren't from The City) don't even have bike lanes, and, when they were growing up and had to bike to school, it meant biking on the shoulder of a two-lane road, fighting cars for passing space. sound familiar? to me, coming from rural california, it does.

as for generalization number two - one that i myself made when i went to a concert in christiania as a seventeen-year-old way too excited to see of montreal - it's just as disputable. yes, there are a lot of beautiful people in denmark! of course there are lots of beautiful people in denmark - there are a lot of beautiful people all over the world! but as far as the copenhagen-is-full-of-scandinavian-beauties stereotype, i just have to say that that's because of who it attracts. what's that statistics word for it (i've never taken statistics)? pool? the subject pool has a high concentration of traditionally attractive - and clinically stylish - individuals, because virtually all the jobs in denmark that require looking good (national t.v. anchor, gucci salesman, designer, bartender at a club, you name it) to make a living are in copenhagen, and those are the people you see riding around town on seven-thousand crown (twelve hundred dollar) bikes in full makeup with louis vuitton bags on their handlebars. or on just a normal bike with a sweatshirt from wood wood and cheap monday jeans. it doesn't matter. the point is that copenhagen is a subset. it is a part that is lesser than the whole but somehow gets almost all of the attention.

denmark is an awfully rich country. but i think it's unfair to judge the merits (or faults) of an entire country on a few square kilometers where the majority of the country's wealth is located. the same goes for politics: copenhagen as a whole decidedly leans to the left, but that's because virtually all of denmark's political leftists are in copenhagen. consider the fact that a quarter of the country's population lives in the capital region, and you know where all those votes for enhedslisten are coming from... although you can keep wondering where the hell all those votes for dansk folkeparti come from. that doesn't mean that everyone in copenhagen is liberal (or left, or red, or however you want to put it). no. but most "liberals" are in copenhagen.

some people say that copenhagen people are more "tolerant" and "accepting" of "foreigners" than the country people because copenhageners are "used to" the "international environment." other people say that the people from the country - particularly west jutland, which is, i guess, to copenhageners what the midwest is to californians (use your imagination) - are kinder, more open, and more accepting of newcomers (be they foreign or not) because they're not caught up in the day-to-day performance art that life in the capital city entails engaging in (there isn't a narcissism barometer on amagerbrogade for nothing!) and, accordingly, are able to engage with people outside of their own social spectrum on a more genuine basis.

i don't know. i'm definitely not an authority on this. in the three-quarters of a year that i've lived here, i've only been out of the city for a couple days, in the north of sjælland. i've spent far more time in swedish small towns than i have in the danish provinces. but i trust my danish friends' opinions on the matter: after all, this is their life. but i have to say: i've met the nicest people from everywhere, and, honestly, it's not worth the mental classification it takes to make and hang onto all those generalizations.

whew. my brain is tired. i'm kind of translating from danish to english as i write some of this stuff. now here are some pictures!

for the last three days, we have been straight-up blessed with sun, sun, the glorious, magical sun. which means breaking out the spring shoes and swinging on tire swings just because. i hope the snow melts soon.

hygge and giggles with new friends kira and esther in nørrebro.

more sunshine, more bike-riding. same old, same old. except it will never get old.

happy weekend! (one thing i love about this place is that everyone, especially old people, always says "happy weekend" on fridays. yes, thank you!)

02 March 2010

in the kitchen

i can't seem to get out of this room. it is too hyggeligt.

this evening i made apple chips while working on a rather tedious assignment.

i have all this fruit that won't last that long if i don't do something with it, so i've been cutting up and freezing bananas and pears, but who wants frozen apples? not i. i do, however, always want apple chips. and now i have a plethora of them. they were easier to make than i thought they would be: they didn't need to soak in their own juice, or be doused with water and lemon juice, or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. no, just slicing them up and putting them in a 120 degree (that's centigrade) oven for an hour and a half was perfect. my homemade almond milk, more savory than sweet, provided a nice contrast to the apples' natural sugars. mm, happy tuesday night.

today was, like, the first day of spring. one of those crazy days that comes blowing in all sunshine and scattered fluffy clouds that all-too-soon are replaced by a barrage of grey and a flurry of snow. this happened multiple times today, but it all blew over in time for the sunset, thank god.