29 April 2010

endless weekend

i went to sweden for the weekend (and already it is the weekend again - how did that happen?) to visit my host family and a best friend and when i came back to copenhagen all the trees were trimmed with green. that's right, the buds have sprung into leaves, some of them many centimeters long. and they smell good, too. there are also all these flowers, which also smell good. i am always tempted to scamper into gardens and pick the flowers to take them home to myself, especially the daffodils and occasional lilies.

a nest in bloom

h.c. andersen's boulevard, approaching city hall square and tivoli. around 8:30 p.m.
a view of knippelsbro, the harbor, and the black diamond library from langebro

urban wasteland/not far from the central copenhagen train station. full moon rising.

sweden is always a nice respite from the city. not that sweden can't be urban, but my experiences of sweden are scarcely urbane.

there is a reason the expression "the west coast is the best coast" exists, and it has to do with islands and late, late sunsets.

sometimes norden is more of a dream than anything.

this is my host niece, ellen, in church for a cousin's confirmation. she is very quick and mischievous. i like her a lot.

straight out of a jens lekman song.

the smell of fertilizer is oddly comforting.

i just went up to gothenburg for a quick visit, two days in the country and one in the city. it was short but perfect; it was so good to see all these people that i love so much, to drink dark strong coffee outside on the porch at my host family's house and to spend hours catching up with lotten in her göteborg apartment. she's one of the few people who will let me take close-up photos of her, even if i forget to set my camera to macro focus.

contrary to all appearances, we are happy people.

i've been running in the afternoons instead of in the mornings as i usually do. it's hard to say why but i have a couple of guesses: first of all, it actually gets warm now, so if i wait until the afternoon i get to enjoy the warmest part of the day with the least amount of clothing on. which is to say, for the first time in over six months, i've been able to go out without leggings underneath my shorts. and that feels amazing. apparently i've spent my entire life underappreciating the feeling of wind on bare skin. secondly, mornings prove themselves to be my most productive time of day, and if i don't do my schoolwork then, there is little chance of me making much headway on it throughout the day. and though i don't have many assignments (or really any at all), i have two substantial exams (in the form of free papers) coming up and lots of research to do. so i tackle the books before the pavement and then burn out all my leftover energy when i'm burnt out on studying. that feels good.

suddenly april is ending. i don't know how that happened. i've been listening to this diplo playlist all day. i'm grateful for temperatures finally far above freezing and the humidity that makes it feel even warmer. for friends who spontaneously make and share cakes and for danish poetry (namely naja marie aidt) that opens my eyes through language. it seems altogether unrealistic that i have exams due in a mere month. that i have been here for more than ten already. so it goes.

22 April 2010

vulcan ash sky
halts european air travel
life goes on

østerbro is all pastels and chills.
i never really go over there.
i have all these preconceptions about it - how upper-class and boring and bourgeois it is - but some streets have shown me what a cool part of the city it actually can be, quaint and calm, with a smattering of art galleries, curious shops, and people on the street who actually converse with you.

it's been raining here again. or, rather, more often than not, the big clouds threaten rain, blow down some sprinkles, and then move on.

i haven't been taking many pictures lately, and what i have been taking pictures of is mostly mundane. but these strawberries, although they came from spain - the danish strawberries won't be ripe until summer - were delicious (not to mention made with love and joy).

i wish american movie theaters were like this.
grand teatret, copenhagen.

have a coffee while you wait for your film!

other good things:
1. the short-lived flurry of big fluffy crazy snow yesterday that reminded us that summer is not quite here yet.
2. "people's kitchen", a public soup kitchen, in christiania. cheap vegan food, cozy, fun.
3. not needing to turn on the light on my bike until nearly 9 p.m.
4. local bands.
5. figuring out how to actually use the royal library to my academic advantage.

17 April 2010

mega bodega

my tongue is still burning from the hot sauce in that falafel last night. sometimes a strong dose of chili is exactly what i need, especially when combined with crunchy garbanzo goodness and juicy tomatoes... not to mention excellent company.

last night was really good. being art bums (awesome giant drawings and free beer? hell yes!), drinking white wine on bikes, getting kicked out of a bodega (um, dive bar/pub), getting stopped by the cops on my bike ("do you have red and green lights in america?") and finally making it home to crash in my soft cozy bed. we never did make it to the youth house for the cd-release party, got stuck in vesterbro instead. but that was much more than okay. in fact, it was super hyggeligt.

we started by biking through the wind to beaver projects, which isn't far from amager strand. it's the kind of gallery where you feel like you're actually allowed to be there and aren't just a hazard to their white floor and walls. the walls were covered in gigantic drawings. amazing drawings, maybe nine by nine feet square. it looked like collage but it was just ink. and maybe some paint, i'm not sure. lots of detail. easy to get lost in. christian finne, the artist, has a big ginger beard and lots of humility. we were wondering if he drew himself into his pictures but didn't find him anywhere.

detail on one of the drawings

there was so much going on, these are just little tiny fragments

rainbow-connected heads and egg people!

then there was the beer. and the strange german shots, sweeter than jägermeister. more mingling and looking at fantastical things. like jungles made out of cut-up paper complete with bejeweled parrots, for one thing. after christian yelled out THE EXHIBIT IS CLOSED FOR TODAY multiple times, we left. made a pit stop. got that wine. got on bikes and zoomed over to grotten for cheap beer that, unfortunately, was accompanied by a really bitter barmaid who threw us out of the place when she spied the rose in the ashtry. simon had chewed it up. maybe not the most polite thing to do but totally not worth kicking us out over, especially because we were really digging the music and actually buying drinks.

esther's a party dog!

bjørn and i are skeptical about something or other. i think it was the lack of sonic youth in the jukebox. and this is before any flower-mastication occurred.

simon is joyful! see the flag on the table behind him? yesterday was the queen's 70th birthday. maybe it has something to do with that.

so we crawled onward. onward to other bars. at this point it had been dark for a while, but really not that long. tivoli was all a-whirl and so were we, talking about music, love, and the world, and delighting in all sorts of things.

i like it when i feel connected to a place by knowing what's going on. it's simple but true. cycling all the way down holmbladsgade and then leaving my neighborhood for all the charms of vesterbro. passing the central station, DGI byen, halmtorvet, yes, i know this place.

when, at the end of the evening, we all parted ways after a mandatory falafel stop, i was thinking i'd just hang a right down to dybbølsgade (i still don't know how to pronounce that), roll over the bridge and be home in no time. well, it turns out i was on istedgade. after i made my turn (or was it two?), i was on vesterbrogade. how peculiar! but fine enough; vesterbrogade can get me where i want to go. except i go and go and go and finally meet a big hill. huh. there are virtually no hills in copenhagen. i'm doing something wrong. i'm headed in the direction of the zoo.

at the intersection, i pick another street. i make a right turn: they're the easiest and i needed to head south and east. no, this is not right, either. i turn around, blazing through crosswalks, and ride back up vesterbrogade. if it's not this end, it must be the other. things start looking familiar again. a tall and distant hotel shines its lights down towards me. kebab shops light the way. an unfamiliar voice calls, "excuse me!" i slow down carefully. it calls again. i say, "what?" and stop. pull my bike up onto the sidewalk, leaving the bike lane between myself and the cop car clear.

the guy driving gets out and crosses over to me. the passenger cop has his window down, just keeping an eye on things. it's not like i'm going to give them any trouble. driver cop asks me where i'm from. asks if we have red and green lights in america, and what they mean. like a child being punished with rote memorization, i give him the answers. red means stop. green means go. he asks why i chose to go at a red light. i tell him the light in the perpendicular direction was red and i figured it was safe. he asks me why i did that right when they were driving right next to me. i didn't have an answer for that one, but i told him that they're a lot nicer than american cops. he told me to stop at the red light next time.

i didn't get a ticket but since then i've been having awful traffic light karma, hitting all the yellows and reds all over the place. lots of stopping, lots of foot-to-asphalt action. i eye the people who run the lights enviously.

anyway, i took a long detour but coasted home over the bridge. there's always a tailwind coming back from the city over langebro. it's a hell of a lot nicer than the headwind on your way into town.

other things that have been catching my eye lately:

not-so-old but fantastically dilapidated bicycles.

what looks to be a very active graffiti scene in christianshavn

the backside of christiania

well, there's this big old volcano erupting in iceland that's stopping all air traffic in northern europe. all the people trying to return from/go on vacation are pissed. it would definitely be frustrating to need to travel right now and not be able to, but i think it's pretty rad that mother nature is showing us who's in charge.

13 April 2010


i walk into the kitchen that i share with twelve others, braindead at the end of a long day, in my pajamas. i take out a bowl of popcorn from the second drawer in my cupboard. add a little more sea salt. rune tilts his blonde head, a foot above mine, to ask me, "isn't cold popcorn boring?"

boring? i am unable to attribute the word boring to something seasoned, at least, with salt and herbamare.

"uh... no?" i flounder, wondering if he's joking. the danes, as a rule, take great pride in their "unique" sense of "ironic" humor. i survey the room. no one else is around to help me confront this question.

"you can buy it in the u.s. with spices and stuff," i continue. "i just made too much yesterday and have this leftover--" i try to justify my apparently wayward eating habits. i don't know how to convey the fact that my original goal regarding this popcorn was not to eat it cold, but rather than i had accidentally made way more than i wanted since i had forgotten to save the directions from when i bought the kernels. i remembered the "cook in a big pot with oil, lid on" part. i even got the proportions okay. the first time i made popcorn here, i even double-checked the danish word for "pot" in an effort to do it right. then i threw the directions away.

yesterday i - in the typical fashion that leaves me indelibly marked as american - improvised. and ended up with a little more of a snack than i bargained for. i tried to share it, but in the gap between lunch and dinner the only food people were interested in were their open-faced sandwiches on rye bread with butter and liver paté.

he nods as i falter and breaks out into a grin.

"so are you going to watch a film?"

by now i am used to hearing movies called films.

"nope." i can hear the next question dying to be asked: why are you eating popcorn, then, if you're not going to watch a movie?

"i'm just going to read," i tell him, and retreat to my bedroom.

this kind of thing happens nearly every day.

the small differences are really what makes being here a challenge. it's not the different language or the fact that it's illegal to have a gun or figuring out how to navigate the free healthcare system. no, it's the little things that add up: the dozens of small misunderstandings cultivated by the language gap that really isn't a gap but rather a shaky bridge, the social norms everyone else knows but you don't necessarily. take your shoes off when you enter a home.

anyways, the sun is back and shining with a vengeance. flowers are blooming, the bike lanes are crowded again, you can hardly walk down the street without a small child on a bike or scooter mowing you over, and ice cream is everywhere. it's practically summer! never mind that the highs are still hovering around a balmy 10 (50 F) degrees; the sun doesn't set until 8:30! this means lots of bike rides and walks and general exploring. finally!

10 April 2010

still digesting

i didn't write even half of what i wanted to about the trip to switzerland, probably because it still hasn't really sunk in that i've already gone there and come back. even though i returned to copenhagen five days ago, i haven't properly digested all my impressions from the trip. instead, i've been catching up with school (ahhh, epic exams are looming), a volunteer position as a barista at a nonprofit cafe, friends, trying to find a place to live next year, and such the like. also we've had lots of sun for the past few days so i've been happily running around in that.

but now, since i don't know how to say everything i want to say about the land of alps, clocks, and chocolate - i will just say that the stereotype of the swiss chalet in the alps, with square windows and cheerful shutters, surrounded by pines and firs and inhabited by a heidi lookalike, must exist for a reason - i will post some photos.

after a couple hours on a train from copenhagen to southern denmark, we - still on board the train - boarded a ferry for puttgarden, germany. imagine a train on a boat! a big, big boat with tracks for trains, yes.

in hamburg we had eight minutes to find our connecting train to zurich. it was a very harried eight minutes in the gigantic station, which is square and discombobulating, with no departure timetables to be seen near the tracks.

it was so good to see laura again. she welcomed us with dinner.


playing tourist in the rain in zurich. actually aside from this one morning, we had really nice weather.

land of clocks, indeed.

really quite a romantic city. my impression of zurich was clean-cut but quirky.

a truffe du jour from allegedly the best chocolate makers in town, sprüngli. their truffles of the day are made fresh every day and are meant to be eaten within the day. here i am about to devour a dark chocolate cream one. it was delicious, actually more for the texture than for the flavor.

laura, radiant in the sun after a long day of work (while johan and i were out playing).


classy. old town, zürich.

johan is excited to go on to lugano.

laura and i with the trusty interrail map. can't we just keep going south to milano? it was a three-hour trip from zürich to lugano during which laura taught me some survival italian, including "siamo arrivati?", the italian equivalent of "are we there yet?", and "devo pisciare" (i have to pee). i wasn't the only one relieved when we at last arrived at the lugano station.

hot damn.

we were welcomed to ticino with pasta, salad, local merlot, and three kinds of cheese: parmigiano (hard and dry), fontina (softer), and pecorino (solid). after three days of indulgent cheese experiences, i can say that my favorite wavers between parmigiano (classic, real parmesan) and pecorino. but maybe i am just saying that because i know i like sheep cheese. and really they were all so delicious, i don't have a preference.

we went to italy on saturday morning to do some grocery shopping at the weekly market after a breakfast of pastries and cappucino. nevermind that it rained; the produce was beautiful... and i got a red leather purse to boot.

johan and laura, walking into town from laura's parents' house.

i just love the shutters and the colors. i really need to spend some more time in southern europe.

lugano city center, hustling and bustling on the last day of business before everything shut down for easter.

pizza - mine with olive crust and prosciutto, although i also tried some others involving buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and speck (salty bacon?). we all got our own pizzas, and we all finished them.

easter mass. laura's choir waits patiently to sing while the bishop does his thing.


i feel really lucky to have gotten to go on this trip and see switzerland - especially the italian part - like a local, doing "normal" things like grocery shopping, running errands, taking walks, and going to cafes and bars and people's houses. however, i couldn't help feeling like an outsider when hanging out with laura, her swiss friends, and johan, not being european and all. johan, for example, delighted in different "swiss" things than i did, since he is from denmark. he was so excited about the mountains! to me the mountains were also indescribably impressive, but also felt familiar, as they vaguely reminded me of where i come from. no, the sierra nevadas aren't the alps, but they aren't, after all, so very far away. also the fact that we were drinking wine (and thankfully not much beer) was very comfortable and familiar to me; all in all my experience of southern switzerland was that it's much more similar to california - and therefore comfortable-feeling to me - than denmark is. denmark feels so alien in comparison: flat and homogenous. switzerland is diverse and bursting and international. i know i am just making broad generalizations now. i'm not saying i like switzerland better than denmark, just that it opened my eyes a lot wider, and i'm thankful for that.