Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why, God, WHY?

Internet, don't change too muchwithout me.

It's incredi-lonely out here without my laptop. My beloved PowerBook bit its last byte on Sunday night. I found it the next morning frozen, unable to make it past start-up mode, blinking a few life blinks. All that remains is a bright blue screen and a perfectly functional mouse that no longer has anything to open, highlight or drag. Of course this happens when I'm overseas and the Apple store is only open for five minutes a day. Meanwhile I have papers to write, plane tickets and hostels to book, e-mails to send, facebook profiles to check, entries to post and so much more. All gone. The laptops at DIS are dumb. All of the letters and symbols are moved around. They are also unforgivably slow. My little lappy was fast and shiny.

There was a "blizzard" today, my only fully free day of the work week, and I got on the train to take my little toppy to Vesterbrogade. I got to the mac store and almost went blind from the whiteness. I found the Servicekasse and the doughy man behind the counter had to go through four other pathetic customers before me. I could tell that each of their problems was stupid, so by the time he got to me he was pretty much predisposed to dismiss me. He immediately took points off when I spoke English, more when he realized I had no paperwork with me. He hit some keys, grunted and grimaced, annoyed as Nick Burns on a bad day. He took my information, unable to spell my name correctly despite my attempts to spell out the letters in both English and Danish. He took my address. He said they'd "send me a letter." IN THE MAIL. He smelled really bad.

Still, I'm probably jumping the gun. My computer is probably salvageable. I will pray, but it will be a long, hard, lonely 10-15 business days.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

My Dinner with Anders

It is a mystery to me how my body chooses to play its emotional chords. In a stunning turn of mood, I have been prone lately to bouts of irrational happiness, such as when I was watching The Deer Hunter yesterday at Dagmar in Vesterbro in a living room-sized theatre for 85kr. I was sharing a big bucket of popcorn with three other people, arriving at some kind of rhythm between reaching for the kernels and eating them from a stuffed fist. I sipped from a cup of black, black coffee and got to the sugar-dense bottom just as the lights dimmed and the movie started, shown in an exquisite print, throwing gorgeous, saturated colors on the screen. I love green street lights and red headbands. The muffled soundtrack made me strain to hear and kept me rapt for every click of the gun.

And the pastries, my God, the pastries. Chocolate croissants with Elizabeth on a bench in Strøget, fresh Kringles at Illum, 9kr. almond and toasted sesame Tebirkes at Sankt Peters Bageren. And 20kr. mystery hot dogs! The kind consumed while walking intoxicated in heels in bitter cold in heels in bitter cold on cold cobblestone streets in heels with clumsy frozen hands like blocks! And my delicious flødeboller, a chocolate covered dome filled with whipped marshmallow and sprinkled with coconut, that I ate while walking in Christianshavn and looking at the yachts in the canal. The marshmallow that got all over my face and the fortuitous turn down a street that led us to the architecture museum and an exhibit on sustainable urban planning for China. Justin said that everything looked like the future, to which I actually responded, "The future is now."

A happiness like when I read Heidegger on a seat with a butt mold, staring at hip black and white wallpaper and a mirror so close to my face that it exhaled my own breath steam back onto me. Or when I went to the orientation for this weekend's Odense/Ejsberg trip and my guide brought his little son along and sat him in a desk in the corner. Happiness like watching him watch his dad talk to big students. Happiness like his little hands holding onto the top handle of his backpack.

On Friday night I had the most awkward of awkward conversations. I ran to the train station only to find that I'd missed my train and would have to wait 20 minutes for the next one. I had my headphones on and was huddling with my music inside the station. I saw a dashing young man run up the escalator to the platform and sulk over to a spot inside near where I was standing. I looked at his face and recognized him as Anders, my rommate's boyfriend. Anders and I had talked before, though only under brief, introductory circumstances. The rest of the time, whenever he's over, which is all the time, I hide in my room until he and Elizabeth decide to close their door. I'm naturally shy, but manly men (or in his case, manly boys) really seem to bring out this quality in me. I thought I'd go over and say hello, but he seemed worried and was pacing by himself. I pretended I was off in my own little iPod world, pulled my hood down over the majority of my face, turned my head up so that my nose was pointed in the air, and did little dancey moves like I was having so much fun and didn't care if anyone saw. I played games with myself and walked in complex patterns over the station's dull tile. The whole time he just stood there. I figured if he at least recognized me, he would come over. But we just kept pacing, perpendicular to each other.

A train came and went and Anders ran out to meet it, returning alone. This time he caught my face and walked over to stand in front of me. I looked up and feigned surprise, mouthed an "Oh! It's you!" and pulled my headphones off. He smiled at me and asked if I was waiting for Elizabeth. I said I wasn't, that I was waiting to head downtown to meet some friends. I must have looked so nervous looking around and wrapping my headphones cord around and around my hand. He asked me how I liked Copenhagen and I said I liked it just fine, though I wish I had more time and energy to see everything. And then, because I was so flustered, I just started saying things that were blatantly untrue. I stuttered my way through a dissertation's-worth of words about the weather and how I'm not used to the cold, painting Washington, D.C. a balmy paradise, the whole while mentally stabbing myself in the belly button for sounding so obnoxiously daft. He was so tall and so angular and so pink from the cold that I couldn't look him in the eye. Eventually my train came in the middle of one of his sentences and I said, "Well, that's my train! See you later!" and ran away before he could finish.

I was determined to straighten this situation out. I thought I'd make more of an effort to be present in the apartment. Yesterday I did my chores out in the open when they were having dinner and had the door propped. Anders walked out of the room and said hello to me before entering the bathroom. When he emerged, he came back out and I smiled at him and then couldn't think of anything to say, so I just held the toothy asshole grin. He lingered expectantly for a brief moment in case I said something, but when I didn't, he looked confused and moved and then moved back and moved and left. I whispered, "Stupid, stupid!" to myself like in the movies.

I am determined to straighten this situation out. I am going to cook an amazing dinner for Elizabeth and Anders, the happy couple, and let them know it's okay to sit on each other's laps in front of me because I know what that's like and I know that they want to. (Answering my inquiry into their relationship story, Elizabeth said, "Only four months," adding, "It's very new.") I am going to say funny things that make wine come out of their noses and make them love me and scream things like, "Let's keep her!" I want them to want to pet me after every thoughtful and true thing I say.

Today I came home between classes to put away new groceries. Elizabeth was repairing the tile and had a drill and some special glue out on the counter. She ran in and asked me an urgent question: "What's the word when, like, you want to vote or something, but you can't do it, so you sign a paper so that somebody else can vote for you?" I thought for a moment and said, "...Proxy?" "How do you spell that?" "P-R-O-K, I mean X-Y." What a dumm I am. We were chatting about our days and she was gushing about her upcoming graduate scholarship interview with the University of Wisconsin-Madison when the phone rang. She said some things in Danish and hung up the phone. "Anders had a job interview today. He said he had a few hours before he needs to go back and asked if he could come over. Is that a good sign? Does it mean it went well? For me, when something goes badly, that's when I want to come over...what if it's bad?" I said that it's different with boys and that he probably just wanted to smooch her.

The buzzer rang and Elizabeth let him in. He was so tall and so angular and so pink from the cold. I was still mixing marmelade into my yoghurt, so I couldn't very well leave. Instead, I tried to converse, trying only a little to be funny and trying very hard to be a cool, confident member of the apartment. "How'd the interview go?" (Question accomplished, sense made.) He answered that it went very well and showed off his new official ID from Dansk Statistiks. Elizabeth and I ooh'd and ahh'd with wonder and jealousy. I told Elizabeth that Wisconsin would give her an ID, too, and she laughed. I sensed a shift in the room. Wisconsin meant she would leave in August for two years of study. Not in Denmark. Standing, she leaned back onto the counter where Anders was sitting, tall, angular and less pink. Still looking at me she reached behind her and held his hand in her hand, at which he stared. Only four months, very new. She said, "Yes, that's true." I'll make them dinner sometime soon.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The most widely traveled ballet star of her time, Elssler made quest appearances throughout Europe and was the first major ballerina to visit the New World, where her performances were received with wild enthusiasm. In Havana she was surprised when an admirer gave her a cigar box as a present; when she opened it, she discovered that all the "cigars" were made of solid gold. In Washington, D.C., Congress adjourned on the day of one of her performances. Her enthusiastic fans christened such diverse commodities as boots, horses, boats, stockings, garters, corsets, shawls, parasols, fans, shoe polish, shaving soap, and champagne after her. The New England intellectuals also fell under her spell. At one Boston performance, Margaret Fuller remarked to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Ralph, this is poetry." "No, " he replied, "it is religion." Nathaniel Gnawthorne [sic] seems to have agreed, for he hung a picture of Elssler on his wall between portraits of Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. Elssler's most devoted fans did even stranger things. Some drank champagne from her slipper. Others presented her with a cross made from the wood of George Washington's bier. And Elssler was not the only ballerina to receive such adulation: once, Taglioni's fans in St. Petersburg cooked and ate a pair of her ballet slippers at dinner.

-Jack Anderson
Ballet & Modern Dance: A Concise History

City of Doom

  • Someone get these yummy Digestives away from me! I ate my weight in (chocolate covered) Digestives while in Ireland, and now it looks like I'll be eating an elephant's-worth here. That's the scientific measurement, you see. In about two seconds I am going to test if I can fit an entire biscuit in my mouth. A result in the affirmative could be dangerous for all parties involved. The biscuit, my mouth.

  • At sunset, clouds here look like the "art" I used to create by smashing whole pastel sticks against paper. That is, mounds of color. Lumpy, cracked masses of pigment. That is, more than clouds.

  • Headline news today: Anna Nicole DØD.

  • Other news today: A group of 4-year old boys in Børnhaven (like Kindergarten) managed during outdoor playtime to dig a hole under a fence big enough for them to crawl through and escape. They were found later that day wandering the streets of Copenhagen. Authorities gently scooped them up and brought them back to school.

  • On the train a few days ago a teenage couple sat across from me. The boy had long dirty hair and the girl wore a black hoodie. They had their arms around each other and were kissy kissing for about three stops. At one point the girl pressed her face into the side of his head. The boy would move, but her face would stay glued to his cheek. He tried to push her off, struggling for a time before she bit his ear and he screamed. It's so hard to tell who's gonna love you best.

  • My Danish teacher was telling our class about parenting philosophies in the country. We were talking about how discipline works and she mentioned that Danish parents always believe in the power of negotiating with their children. They allow children to make their own decisions at very young ages, hoping that they will arrive at the most reasonable conclusions. After this she related an anecdote about a supermarket trip with her then 6-year old son. They were walking through the aisles and he was begging for something outrageous. To drive his point home, he bit her leg. She was so angry that she bit him back. I love Suzanne.

  • I was in this Finnish boutique a few blocks from my classes this afternoon, sifting through beautiful prints and finely cut clothes. The saleswoman was very nice and responded well to my questions in Danish. I was in the dressing room trying on a dress when I heard her ask if she could see how it looked. Feeling a little awkward, I emerged from the dressing area and she became very excited, saying if I liked that dress, she could bring out others in different prints. 20 minutes later I had tried on the dress in six different colors and fabrics, settling on a gray and blue one.

  • SOMEONE EXPEL ME. I made the dummest of dumm comments in my media class today. Seriously, it was so dummmmm. I thought I had a point, but as soon as I opened my mouth, my 10kr. coffee spoke the words for me so that I sounded like a flaming crazy person. I think at one point I was able to string together eight infinitives in the middle of a sentence. JEBUS.

  • Result: I can fit two in my mouth at once. Hm. Well, I guess it's not that bad. The more quickly I get through this one last package of Digestives, the quicker I can not run to the store and NEVER BUY THEM AGAIN.
  • Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Sha-La-La Family

    Wednesday, February 7, 2007

    Olive Branches, Rough Sex & the Lord's Prayer

    My friend Ben likes to meet new people. He also informed me last night on the train that he hates small talk, which I think is something to which most of us can relate. When we go out in public and we've had a little something to drink, it's almost a guarantee that he'll be chatting up our neighbors. He's an incredibly deft conversationalist, using wit and sarcasm to break down barriers. Sometimes this goes over well, as with a group of Spanish girls we met last night at a bar called "Floss", whom he engaged in a process of creating a secret handshake. (Despite my best efforts, I couldn't show off my Spanish skills with the Lord's Prayer...looks like that one's only good in mass.) He was eventually asked to take a photograph of the group, a favor which I'm likening to officiating an intimate wedding ceremony. So pretty much he's their new best friend. Sometimes he says things that make me a little uncomfortable, though, as when he shared with the snobby-looking Danish girls at the table next to us that I had learned the word for "rough sex" in Danish. It's true that I had, but as far as diplomatic gestures go, this was the linguistic equivalent, maybe, of planting a zerbit on their necks, farting and running away screaming. They laughed heartily enough and I could see how Ben offered himself gladly (he never really wanted to say "rough sex" correctly) as the misanthropic jester of the table. Our friends squirm a little when things like this happen. I was feeling bad about it this morning, but then I realized how necessary our visible discomfort is to the success of his conversational missions. We're the foil to his outgoingness, a legitimizing force that says, "Hey, he's not a creep he's our friend." And I'm really glad he's our friend.

    Monday, February 5, 2007

    Den Eneste Ene

    I went over to my friend Frank's kollegium late last night to watch the Superbowl as told by matching-belt-and-shoes Danish broadcasters. On the way there I chanced upon a urine puddle in an S-train car. In Albertslund I stayed awake long enough to achieve victory in three games of foosball, but I fell asleep after the first Bears touchdown, only to wake up two hours later with the daunting task of navigating the night bus system. I've learned that Frank and I, who are not snorers, are snorters. I missed the moment, but apparently he woke himself up.

    Last Wednesday I traveled with my "European News Media in Transition" class to the temporary headquarters of Berlingske Tidende, the oldest newspaper in Denmark. Our group entered the building and was taken into the cafeteria for our coffee talk. Accomplished Danish journalists dined alongside us. In my smart jacket and boots I fancied myself indistinguishable from the youthful, saavy regulars, but I was promptly put in my place when our host, Michael, politely informed us that we were not permitted to partake in the buffet. As soon as he said that, the colors and smells of the gourmet spread turned to high definition and I felt myself an Oliver in an orphanage, red-nosed and bottomlessly hungry. I asked some dumb questions about fact-checking and drooled myself two inches shorter in the quiet hum of the newsroom. I was disappointed that we didn't get to tour the archives, that branch of the human paper trail, but elated to be near people who wholeheartedly believe in the value of print and get deeply sad at the sight of a page three ad. Anyway, the free coffee was bountiful and Michael was so very handsome.

    I guess I like my classes. Besides Intensive Danish and the aforementioned News Media class I'm taking Modern Scandinavian Literature and History of European Ballet. It's not that I don't enjoy going to class, it's just that in the last year or so I've realized just how much I've checked out of the classroom, how uninterested I've become in classroom procedure. I'm that butt in the second row sweating with a comment that never gets said. For me the space of thought is a sleepless bed and a train ride, places where I can word out praise, plan my next dinner party, leave my understanding of texts at the level of intuition and wonder, in light of recent weddings, if I was ever meant to be a young wife. Who thinks these things that isn't awake, in flames and in transit?

    Saturday night I went to Det Kongelige Teater for a production of Svanesøen. The whole evening was beautiful from start to finish. My entire ballet class occupied the third row of the second balcony. High up, but there are no bad seats at the ballet. Everytime I go to some enlightening cultural event I get angry at my parents for not forcing me to be talented. In kindergarten I quit ballet after, I think, two months, and quit pretty much everything else I tried after that, from soccer to flute. When I have kids I am going to subscribe to a school of parenting that spawns a Lifetime movie about abusive gymnastics coaches and the slippery slope of discipline. But these thoughts only last a few seconds and the rest of the time I use my energy on being inspired. During Swan Lake I sat and wondered if only all stages of love could be denoted by the harp and why only the most beautiful things make you feel the loneliest.

    I think the world runs on magnets. On Friday night I went out dancing with friends of mine. I wore a treasured necklace with something flowy that felt heavenly against my skin. We walked all over the city center looking for our nightclub destination and finally found it. We stumbled in just in time to catch the last part of a popular band's set. The act was some sort of Danish reggae outfit and the crowd was really into it. We slipped to the balcony and watched the men in neon jumpsuits from above. After they cleared the stage, Vega turned into the promised night club. Strobe lights and lasers took over, along with some positively boring house music. Three of us tried to dance but were discouraged first by the lack of other dancers and then by the occasional swarm of eager goons zeroing in on our circle. Since we were tired of dancing in an airtight triangle and the struggle not to make eye contact at any cost, we pooped out after a while and resigned to the smokey, well-lit bar. This gave me a chance to catch my breath, whip out my camera and take a look around at the buzzed and buzzing club-goers. I saw fresh, fun 'n flirty girls like swans talking to well-groomed (or not well-groomed) men. I saw people making out and older men like sharks at the bar, sensing prey and promising they're not creeps. I saw the people who look, the people who look back, the people who keep looking and looking back and the people who get up and walk over. I saw attraction and repulsion in layers and second thoughts. They all looked like gaping question marks. I guess it takes one to know one.

    Generally what separates me from their questions is that they go to places like that to ask their questions and I stay home. Their Denmark is questions asked like strobe lights and lasers and my Denmark is whole plain yoghurt and candles and checking my e-mail. But on Friday night I was out there and the extra shimmer on my eyelids gave away that I was asking some questions of my own. I received a familiar answer. I think everyone wants to believe in the power of their own magnetism.

    Thursday, February 1, 2007