Monday, January 29, 2007

I Took a Shower in Hope

Fellow blogger, ASCii artist and supportive friend who helps me fight insomnia, Danny Bowman, recently posted about a Brown Daily Herald article which explained the consequences of a water shutdown in Keeney Quadrangle. He was right to point out the inherent comedy in the image of hallways turned rivers of vomit. Since I read the article after reading his commentary, I knew what hilarity was ahead. As a result, even dry facts in the beginning of the article became funny. "Cold weather caused the pipe to crack, and a large rock located beneath the pipe caused it to rupture, said James Coen, director of maintenance services for Facilities Management. The pipe has been replaced by 12 feet of new pipe installed on top of clean fill to ensure that another rupture does not happen, Coen said." Ah yes, insurance against future ruptures. The article ends on a rather hopeful note, one that resonates with my current situation. "Despite the disturbance, most students found ways to deal with the shutdown. 'I just walked into a random frat house and looked around until I found a shower,' said Ethan Currens '10, who lives in Archibald House. 'I got some funny looks, but it was OK.'"

Friday night was my first night out in Copenhagen. We began at Den Glade Gris (The Happy Pig) for discounted international student drinks and appalling "grind dancing," as Ben called it. After the strobe light started to freeze my soul, we took off in search of a fabled karaoke bar. A reasonable walk along Stroget saw us to the doors of Sam's Place, a real goddamn karaoke bar. Filled with honest Danish folk taking their songs very seriously, we definitely stood out. A few strategic tables by the door eased our minds.

On Saturday I went on an alternative sightseeing tour of Copenhagen with our guide Lars. Lars is a big Danish man with longish black hair, a little gray by the temples. He is beautiful and married and works for a company called "CPH: cool". He took us to a few interesting pieces of architecture, dropping deconstructivist and Mies and other words like grapes to follow him by in the desert. Oh, Lars, you have me. The tour showed me some interesting sights to return to, like Copenhagen's smallest bookstore, adjacent to Copenhagen's smallest gallery and smallest coffee shop. And then also a little restaurant called Granola, tucked secretly away in an alley. The shop is modeled after a 1950s diner car, built by one of Denmark's premier set designers, and I could see the look of shame and dread on the patrons' faces when a bevy of backpacked Americans on a tour approached their treasured hang out, appearing poised to invade. But instead I went to Bang & Jenssen for the best breakfast ever.

Sunday saw my first successful accidental dinner party. I knew I wanted to have people over that night, so I texted the appropriate people in the morning and went about my usual routine of watching crap television, doing 8-12 crunches at a time, eating milk-soaked Weetabix and finishing half cups of tea. I got confirmation from a few and quickly returned to relaxing. Elizabeth gave me a call after lunch to ask if I wanted to find a nice coffee place to study. We agreed to meet one train stop over from our usual meeting place in the hopes of spicing things up. Frank also joined us and together we walked around Vesterbro looking for someplace open and inviting. We eventually settled in a Gelateria called Paradis and were the assholes who didn't order any gelatto. Instead, we purchased tea and coffee and I made a mess of all my coins. We chose a remote table by the window overlooking the rainy, steamy streets and I hit my head on the light above our table. Seriously, of all the places in the world in which I could have studied abroad, I had to choose maybe the only place that hangs its lights low enough for me to hit them.

At this point I've actually been in this apartment alone longer than I've lived in it with my roommate, who returns on Thursday. I'll be a bit sad to give up my unchecked reign on the sofa, but it will be nice to have someone around to exert social pressure on me not to take naps at 6pm and accidentally wake up 1am, completely rested and curious why the world isn't also up. To ward off loneliness this weekend, then, I organized the aforementioned dinner party. Elizabeth and Frank came home with me from the Gelateria and we chatted and watched YouTube while waiting for Kari. The dinner group was finally assembled so we started cooking right away. I had no idea what we were going to make out of the scraps for groceries I've been subsisting off of for days. We just dove into the pantry and fridge head first and hoped to come out alive. I must say that for an unplanned meal event, we pulled it together. Our table overflowed with pasta, Danish meatballs, sauce in a white gravy boat, sautéed green beans and carrots, a platter of salami, cheese and bread, and a platter of strawberries, grapes and bananas. I'm starting to be really happy here.

My friend Annemarie came a little late to the meal. She called during dinner to announce her arrival at my train stop and to ask for directions to my apartment. I gave her what I thought were good directions, but what actually instigated a game of lost and panicked. She called to describe her location, naming landmarks like the Shell station she was next to. I hadn't seen a Shell station in my neighborhood at the time and thought I must have directed her back to the States. Why couldn't her landmark have been something Danish, like a windmill or a pølser stand?

On Monday I got on the wrong train home. The sign informed me that the H train would arrive at Spår 3 in 3 minutes. Of course, the B train, which arrived in 1 minute, is the one I got on that took me to the wrong stop, Hellerup. I knew something was amiss when after my usual passage through Svanemøllen the landscape did not turn into rows of apartment complexes but into a neighborhood of big houses with lots of windows and red roofs. I got out of the train when I realized the mistake I'd made. Looking around, I noticed that I was in the middle of vast rows of train platforms, connected only through an underground tunnel. It felt a little like Animal Planet as I'd go under the earth to emerge on another platform, repeating the action until I made it to the right place. Don't let the first four letters of the name fool you; pulling out, the train passed by a muddy park with a row of empty strollers and I wondered if I'd just passed through heaven.

And then this morning on the train I had my headphones on and a lunch that I packed for myself in a plastic bag with a silver spoon for the yoghurt. I get to pass the north harbor on my way to class, see how close the clouds are and an office building named "Dong Energy". I had another music day where all earthly action collapsed into the song I listened to so that the two pigeons that walked for two blocks on either side of me were timed to the beat and everyone I passed on the street was mouthing Mama Cass, asking me to dream a little dream of them. On the ride home tonight I experienced actual Copenhagen rush hour. Everyone had to sit three to a seat and I was squished between a snorty old woman in a fur coat and a stern man in a trenchcoat reading the newspaper. Trained out of saying an American 'excuse me,' I silently gathered my things as we approached my stop and watched as the people around me coiled to let me pass.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Slow Fade Pictures

Desktop light play with my milk glass.

View from my bed into the kitchen.

Our bafroom. Tight 'n bright. My personal basket is the middle of the three. Behind me is the shower, which isn't a shower in the sense that I know. Rather, it's just a showerhead and a curtain to section off the area. The water (ideally) drains along the floor under the sink. When I'm finished showering, I have to squeegee the walls and tile.

My new second favorite coffee/bookshop I've found so far. I couldn't get a picture of my first favorite since it was more crowded and I would have felt dumb. That one has a top floor of seats along the windows, which make for excellent people-watching. The bottom floor is cavelike -- dark with many shadowed couches and flickering candles. Very romantic. A good place to copulate over lattes, or caffulate, as I like to call it (which then begs the question of what it would mean to de-caffulate).

Indoor vines at the Carlsberg Brewery. SMELLY.

A small stream (attractive, but perplexing) separating the lobby floor. I actually saw a dignified man run across by accident and then run away with his pant leg dripping. Hohohohoho.

On the walk to the old brewery.

The magic of fermentation.

Some beerz.

More beerz.

I made a new friend in the stables! Meet Ipoopedonyourfaceanddidn'tevenknowyourname.

FREE beerz and sandwichez.

Visual evidence of the bag I wrote about. Lest you think that my struggle was less than I made it out to be, and if the presence of the Advil bottle does not prove scale, let me remind you of an essential fact: I am weak.

One thing for which I regret being unable to furnish photos (seeing as it would be impossible) is the many jokes about my name I've heard since my arrival. Apparently we DIS students brought winter weather with us. Jon, I'm thinking of your Michelle Kirstin Avalanche?!

(My roommate and her boyfriend are up and about, preparing to leave for Egypt (read: abadoning me). I'm in my room typing quietly in the dark, doing my best impression of a mouse.)

Easy & Me

Strangely, I've been finding myself in bed at the end of the day with a bunch of little cuts on random parts of my body. Like right now, I found a new one on my left thumb. After careful consideration, I think these cuts may have to do with all of the sharp-dressed men I see in Copenhagen. OOOOOOOH. But seriously, the little cuts are one of maybe two things that are hard about life here, which is to say that life is, incredibly, not hard at all.

Let me begin by describing my last few days. Tuesday's commute went as smoothly as ever except that I accidentally parked my butt in the strip of seats dedicated to cyclists with their bikes and parents with their strollers. Afraid of appearing skittish, I try to feign a sense of deliberateness behind all of my actions. The story behind all of my behavior here is never ignorance, no, I meant to block that biker, he gave me a funny look. And, yeah, I wanted to sit next to an attractive father with his even more attractive baby girl, the latter wearing a puffy fuschia snowsuit (the former sadly not), and watch them both read the newspaper. Babies speaking Danish is about the closest I come to cute overload and I have a notoriously high tolerance. In other words: dead.

So far I've just been attending various orientation seminars, trying to find each of the many scattered DIS buildings, holding my paper materials in mittened hands while desperately holding my hood close around my ears (which will likely fall off somewhere in the next 48 hours). DIS likes to advertise itself as a roller coaster experience, replete with ups and downs, creaks, groans, excited screams and a certain rush of endorphins, which I find funny mostly because for a country so flat, they sure have to create opportunities for hills and thrills. This brings me to my first point: the Danes like life easy and so do I. Actually, if Denmark were, say, a man in tight pants with a strong jaw and a gold medal in cuddling, we'd probably be married and living in a blissful household where the only problems we face would be how we're having too much sex and being able to afford our zillion kids' appetites for gourmet food and beautiful clothes (answer: rob a bank, get away with it because no one has the energy to chase/prosecute us, the people whose money we stole simply go take advantage of the incredible public welfare here, living happily ever after, and really, they see where we're coming from, so they certainly don't want to hurt our chance at a steady livelihood, and hey, more power to us). Here, everybody wins because nobody loses.

Of course, to give credit where credit is due, it's not that nothing is hard, it's just that even things that would be hard for Americans are suddenly no-sweat for a well-adjusted Dane. For example, women here like to bike through the frigid streets wearing only stylish wool coats, colorful hats and high heels. No problem. Babies are out in carriages with or without windshields and lovin' it. In fact, I distinctly remember one baby sitting up in his stroller to look at me standing on a streetcorner in full epileptic shiver mode to say, "Suck it up." And this doesn't even begin to touch upon other ways it seems the Danes have of making life easy, like the fact that beer is quite literally cheaper than water (I'll certainly be carting my fair share of beer bottles in a hypothetical red flyer wagon to be recycled at the grocery store), and any variety of meats are available as pastes, many dispensed from tubes. It's worth mentioning that the sound I make when I tilt my head back, detach my jaw and squeeze the tube materials into my mouth is something akin to Danish. What I love most about these pastes is that they render chewing superfluous at best, almost obsolete at worst, a kind of outdated, novel activity, like cashing traveler's checks, manual plowing or riding a unicycle. While it may be inconvenient at times that stores open late and/or close early, I can't blame them. It's as if an entire country got together, decided they wanted to sell some goods, make some people happy, but, like me, didn't really want to wake up all that early and certainly didn't want to miss their baby's first words were they to grace our ears in the afternoon or on a Sunday (though I don't have a baby). All in all, the country seems founded on a sense of contentment and that is something I can certainly live with.

That said, this contentment-as-virtue state of life here makes the difficult moments stand out all the more. I should preface this by saying that I love that DIS takes care of us international students, gathering all of our paperwork in one convenient if embarassing official embroidered messenger bag, and holding our hands through the adjustment process. They have most if not all things taken care of for us. (I sometimes speculate that if I were to lose a liver or some organ, DIS would have a vault somewhere deep in Vestergade 10 with a perfect match liver waiting for a transplant, provided the need arise within the six weeks for which the DIS-issued health insurance is valid.) And on Tuesday, after a long day of orientation and survival Danish, it was nice to find that DIS employees had gathered every single one of our textbooks for us. However, it was not nice to find that these textbooks were gathered into large, bright blue IKEA bags. The basement of Vesteragde 7 was a virtual sea of giant blue bags, arranged alphabetically, sitting like sputtering masses of unfathomable girth, or something. Each of the students then had to carry these monsters home, which for some students meant an hour-plus commute, and for all of us meant walking side by side with graceful, efficient Danes. I personally did my best to efface my struggle, but it probably was more than a little pitiful to see my frame carrying a bag half my weight on my (now bent) shoulder. But I'm not complaining.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Second Day Photo Supplement in Chronological Order Part Two


A fountain with a name.

Christians Brygge.

Kgl. Bibliotek.



Hey, she kind of looks like me!

Second Day Photo Supplement in Chronological Order Part One

Let my goal for this semester resemble this delightful photo montage that greeted me at Kastrup Airport. Let me begin a baby -- innocent, disfigured, leaky -- and let me finish a man with reflective goggles -- inquisitive, focused, outstretched.

Taxi taxi, green light.

Welcome session for Family Stay and Danish Roommate students. At the end of the speeches, families and roommates stood outside the door of the auditorium with the name of their hostee(s). DIS officials read the names off one by one and each student descended the stairs to meet them.

My first morning bowl of cereal in a strange place. Special K, milk, spoon, counter.

Part of my room. Snow outside. Østerbro.

Snow in my courtyard.

The first leg of my commute, the staircase to the inbound H/H+ train at Ryparken.

Opening ceremonies at Ny Carlsbergs Glyptotek. In the words of my new friend Adam, seated to my right, "OHMYGOD EUROPPPPPE!!!" Chamber group + speeches heavily coded with words like "experience" and "cultural exchange" = WELCOME. Something about "Aha!" moments and having them.

Sliding Glass Doors, National Libraries & Other Reflective Surfaces

If there's one thing I've noticed in my short time in Copenhagen so far, it's the overwhelming number of sliding glass doors. I first encountered this design statement as I went through Passport Control at the airport. After checking my embarassing photo (think Nick Nolte's infamous mugshot) and shiny visa, I had to pass through a short tunnel with not one, not two, but four sliding glass doors of varying sizes. It seemed unnecessary, but also beautiful. The mechanisms involved allow for a smooth, graceful gesture. It truly is a pleasure to walk through them. Glass doors are also found on the metro here, with the platform of some stations completely encased by clear glass. Individual metro cars also have glass doors as borders and can be opened with the simple touch of a button. I see this as a way the Danes have of foregrounding modern technology's most fundamental and magical feature: its invisibility. Here I am, walking through glass doors that sense my presence almost intuitively. Each slide is a welcoming and a promise. Each successful entry of mine is a small victory -- something I hear the Danes appreciate more than most -- that allows me to count one more day that I did not smack into a wall and cry.

I think I've made quite the impression on my roommate, Elizabeth. I don't mean that I accomplished conveying a deep sense of myself in the hours we chatted sitting on the kitchen countertops drinking tea; I mean that when I woke up from a three hour nap to find that she had prepared dinner for me, I entered the dining room only to shout in my delirium, "MEATBALLLLLLLLLLLLS!" Really, I was thrilled. She seemed thrilled that I was thrilled. She'd prepared a full Danish meal with authentic Danish meatballs (patty-shaped, pan-fried), plus pasta, Bearnaise sauce and a blood-red shredded apple and berry salad. Elizabeth is a beautiful Danish woman. 25. Political science student. Saavy, sophisticated, yet grounded ("I don't understand how some Danish women can spend up to two hours in the morning getting ready. I believe in upholding other values," she said, adjusting her skirt). She lit candles for the dinner and told me about the history behind her furniture. (Most of the pieces came from her family's summer house.) She'd designated a full cabinet for my use, along with a metal shower rack and a wicker basket for my toiletries. She even got me fully stocked with groceries and laundry things. She makes me feel immediately at ease and she runs a laidback household. I imagine that the easy-going atmosphere here is what I would cultivate in my own apartment five years from now. While eating the very meatballs I so enthusiastically salivated over, she dropped the bomb that she is leaving this Thursday for a week to snorkel in Egypt with her boyfriend. What a woman!

My travel to Denmark over Saturday and Sunday was as painless a trip as I could have hoped for. Sleep and consciousness became virtually indistinguishable within the eight hour flight. In the airport I met a ton of DIS students, one of whom goes to Brown with me (just met!) and another of whom went to high school with me. It was a literal party in the terminal with excited American students running around. I floated from group to group, making small-talk and participating in the inappropriate, though requisite ticking unattended luggage jokes. There were some Danes on the flight with us, too, identifiable by what else but blonde hair and sharp outfits. I read some of my New Yorker on the flight, watched some How I Met Your Mother and a documentary about savants.

Everything is beautiful here. I understand that I am in the honeymoon phase where all sidewalks and all spaces become holy places. I also understand that in this phase any successful movement from point A to B without angering any locals or being crushed by bicycles is tantamount to winning the Nobel Prize. I got through my first night of loneliness and isolation, sleeplessness and nervous excitement. I think now my job is, among other things, learning to be the best pedestrian I can be. I believe that this will have something to do with rhythm.