Sunday, January 31, 2010

Revisionism in a post couch potato existential framework

Critical reflection is the epitome of human intelligence in its current state. Constant revision, revisiting and reformulation is the most honest form of scholarship or thought that humans have been able to conceive in the history that we created for this universe. Even something as simple as sitting down and thinking about what just happened to you, drawing analytical conclusions and planning future steps, perhaps -- and this is highly theoretical -- even blogging about it can be incredibly enlightening. It can show us more complex routes of analysis, elucidate tertiary points of view, enhance objectivity and provide cyclical reinjection of things learned in hindsight. What it can never do, under any circumstance, is make our problems any simpler.

So what does a tortured soul, up for hours too early to mention after a week of exhilarating emotional confusion, do to simplify his problems? The temptation here is to sit down with a guitar and an internet connection, try to simplify or circumnavigate these problems and learn some tabs for Deb Talan songs. There is nothing that a problem likes better than, upon besetting a hapless and usually unwitting individual, seeing that person sit down and think. The problem knows at that moment that it is winning -- all they have to do, being two-dimensional, is turn sideways while The Thinking Man scans the horizon fruitlessly.

The Thinking Man has a friend, whom he's known since birth, referred to here by the moniker The Running Man. They have been fast friends since before either of them knew it, and they often work together in professional and social capacities. Yet they have distinctly different approaches to problems. Where the Thinking Man pulls up a stool and orders a beverage for brooding over, The Running Man gets up, goes shopping for art supplies with his friends, gets a ristet hotdog from a polser cart and uses his impossible sense of direction to find an ice skating rink from a mental snapshot of Google Maps. The Running Man doesn't stop there, even up since 4 a.m. that morning, he continues running and gets a Steak and Kidney pie with a Guinness for dinner, breaks into the classroom buildings to take a nap before going back out to a Kollegium party being thrown by a hundred Danes that he was invited to by people he's only met twice before.

Yes, it absolutely was the most batshit insane party I've ever been to. Hyperbolic description treads here:

First of all, the setting. Kollegiums are generic post-secondary student housing, not affiliated with any one educational institution. Some kids stay for a semester, while others have been there for upwards of 5 years, heavily subsidized by the Danish government of course. So, you put a hundred Danes and two Americans in a concrete jungle gym for free and at some point, somewhere along the way there will be an absolutely mind-blowing party (I almost said "mental" there. Alastair, you brigand!). This particular one was a progressive party, split up among the 9 floors of the establishment. Each floor had a theme, elaborate decorations, shoddy drunken performances by costumed floor members and it's own special kind of mixed drink. There was the airline-themed floor, filled with pilots and stewardesses, followed immediately by the terrorist floor, full of nerf gun-wielding caricatures and handcuffed airline hostages. There was the circus floor, the murder mystery floor (prominently featuring ketchup smeared all over everything), the "morning after this party" floor, etc. This last mention was my favorite, because it mainly involved pre-emptively littering the already imminently filthy floor with pizza boxes, empty boxed wine and fake barf that they brewed with corn meal and chunky tomatoes. The rancid cherry atop the turd sundae that was this floor's theme was the convincingly unconscious students dressed in the likeness of a street bum littering the floors and tables.

The Danes, normally a very reserved people, use opportunities such as this one to let out all of their inner rambunctiosity, stopped at the neck with such force that it warps inside them until it takes root in their soul and turns them into inexorable machines of liquor, dance and promiscuity. We have costume parties at Grinnell all the time -- we have sketchy people there too, and we also play loud music and yell a lot. But the scales of magnitude on which these Danish parties reside are so incomprehensibly larger than those in our tame Midwestern town that the delineations aren't even in numbers known to this universe.

In that sense, that crucial paradox in which I can't even comprehend parties of this power and veracity, it was hard to get into it. But I watched, I socialized, I picked up scraps of costume and assembled a depressing suit of deflated balloons, and I had a great time. The real treat was getting to settle down after a bit in a smaller group and have a real talk with some Danes and my American hosts. "Have a real talk" in this case is actually a Danish phrase that translates to "Be more or less forcefed bitter licorice liqueur because it's quote 'the essence of Denmark.'" This traumatizing alimentary experience turned out to be a boon, because the system shock induced by this foul bastard of the Anise plant and sentient radioactive waste handily prevented me from being able to think about drinking any more that night and made sure I didn't overstep my abysmally impotent American liquor bounds.

Let's get back to our Friends, Thinking and Running. The Running Man has, rather than spending all his time searching, assumes that his problems lie incorporeally and directly ahead of him. He charges them, turning them to vapor in passing.

Ice skating was an hours-long train ride and 40 minute walk away, remote and uncertain in even its existence. I went out on a whim and a prayer that there would in fact be a rink comprised of ice and rent-able skates where the teardrop on the Google map said it would be. It was the first actually cold day since arriving here, with biting winds that punished us for every brazen step. It was still cold when I put on the shitty rental skates with misaligned blades and pinching insteps. It continued to be freezing when I first tried to crossover, learning that whatever Hindustani had rented me the skates out the back window of a trailer parked next to the rink had no idea how to use a sharpener. I did lap after painful lap for 40 minutes or so, and then the cold stopped mattering and my thoughts became clear as if focused through a monastery's meditative labyrinth.

Something that has never escaped my attention as someone with day dreams about studying religion is the incredible propensity for human beings to ascribe importance to spaces -- physical and metaphysical -- that are essentially empty. I think that this principle extends to Problems, capitalized to denote that this only applies to trivialities. When Problems become People, as addressed in an early post of mine, the situation becomes noticeably more complex. Sure, worrying about Problems passes the time, but all that means is that time is passing when it should be spent. Life has leased us dozens of years to spend as we please, but (pay attention AT&T-Cingular customers) the minutes have no rollover.

I'm not one of those twats who will say live every moment like it's your last, no regrets, no looking back or whatever other bullshit excuses chronically dissatisfied people come up with to justify their corrupt lifestyle. The point of every moment is that in all but one case, it isn't your last. Regrets are a natural consequence of any decision, and are largely imaginary, but nonetheless serve as an excellent reminder of the decisions we did make. And those decisions are what we have to look forward to looking back on, a point that brings me back to the beginning of this pages-long brain fart. If you can't look back, you will never reach the full cognitive capacity of the human mind, which to me is a cardinal sin and a violation of certain fundamental obligations possessed by our species.

Every experience is by human nature an intersection of the real and the illusory at the point of the mind. The difficulty of the matter is that there are times where the real seems entirely fake and the illusory seems all too real. The moral of the story is to get exercise and get the fuck out in the world, it will make you so much more sane on a daily basis that you won't be able to believe it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sometimes you walk the line

And sometimes it walks you.

I guess this is one of those cases where there's too much to say but not enough to talk about. Classes have been passably interesting, I'm starting to know my way around the area where the DIS classrooms are situated, and things are falling into a routine of sorts. I say routine, but no two days here have been remotely alike. I alternate between going to bed at midnight or 1 and crashing at 7, never really sleeping comfortably for more than 5 hours. I don't really know what that's all about, but it makes for very energetic parts of my day as well as dead tired ones.

In preparation for going out last night, I had a few drinks and promptly fell asleep in my dress shirt and jeans until people coming back in to their rooms woke me up at 4 am. Seven hours of sleep is a relative relief for me, but all things told being up at 4 hasn't been so great. I have been consistently unable to fall back asleep after I wake up, which I suppose is a welcome change to my normal schedule which pretty much precluded the concept of waking in general.

I feel way more upset about missing the festivities of last night than I thought I would. Normally I don't care about that kind of stuff, I have spent plenty of weekends hiding from parties at school, but this whole experience has endured on such a ludicrous time scale that I feel like one night missed is a critical hurdle I will have to step over awkwardly somewhere down the track. This is of course completely false, none of this will matter by the beginning of next week, but it is a stumbling block that I really didn't want to run into at this point. With such a whirlwind of an orientation to this place, I suppose I had to slow down at some point, but it isn't a welcome change of pace to be honest.

I dove into this experience like you would a glacial lake, eyes closed breath held flailing about and gasping -- a modus that is almost completely foreign to me. I'm not sure how long I thought I could stay in there, but it feels from last night and tonight that I have finally got out of the water and shivered for a bit. Thoughts arise that maybe this whole experience is disingenuous to my true character, a young man who doesn't make waves in any direction if he can help it, up or down. The me of the past 5 years treads with only his nose above water, breathing in the real world but never really being there. I just flipped my metaphor in a really problematic way, but I'm pretty tired and I'd prefer if you just overlooked that for now because I don't feel like rewriting it.

I had retreated completely, from fun, from fear, from anger, from sadness as much as I could. But most importantly I shrank from drama, from anxiety, stress, panic, exhilarating risk and that state of sublime catharsis that I don't know the word for. Now I'm on my way back out into the world, but if life is a horse race, this will be (in Deb Talan's words) a Slow Pony Home. So, yesterday I finally caught up with myself. My jokes weren't there, even my way of being tired and sarcastic just failed. And when that happens, the night is just over, so I went to bed. I feel more than just like I left myself out for a night, I feel defeated by an ordinary Friday.

This is a part of my mentality that has to change, the part that winds itself up before every encounter I have with another person. I close the drawbridge to my brain castle, as it were, and there's a funny face painted on the underside of said bridge, now staring out across the moat. Even right now, in my angstiest of angsts, I can't help but find humor in how poorly my literary devices are serving me right now. But there's no denying that I sense something fundamentally off about the way I approach people. It's beyond just being "awkward," a word that applies so universally to every person and situation that it has no empirically understandable boundaries of meaning. The problem here hooks neatly onto my habits of withdrawal, a picture frame of good humor and spontaneous musings to cover over the pitted realness of what I assume to be a stucco wall.

I hope I'm not being too obtuse here, but I hate putting things plainly because writing about my problems online is too much like all of middle school -- I need something here to remind me I'm an adult. The gist of this monologue is that humor, my greatest asset, is also something that I wield wantonly and without regard or regulation. I use it to deflect the things that are painful and genuine, intimate or uncomfortable. There's a measure of me that is terrified of taking things seriously, because serious things have serious consequences, something that I haven't wanted any part of since the 7th grade when I realized that being a class clown couldn't mitigate all of the unsettling and deeply fickle feelings that life can induce.

I have to finish these thoughts later

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mid-week Gallavantery, or Australien Encounters of the Third Kind

Yesterday was, unbeknownst to me, Australia Day, or probably "A-Day" (pronounced "Outback Steakhouse"). I'm still not really sure what it is, but they were buying the beers so we went along with it.

Tuesday night, considering that nobody in DIS has classes on Wednesdays, is a pretty big deal here when measured in quantities of cheap beer and tequila shots. The place to be is called, coincidentally enough, the Australia Bar, or A-bar (pronounced "shrimp on the barbie"), a facet of this story that becomes very important on this apparently hallowed Tuesday. Conveniently, the A-bar is located, you guessed it, in the basement of our classroom building. There's a troll in their employ who listens with his hobbled ears for the last class bell of the day so he knows when to open the doors and turn the taps on.

Unfortunately for us, many people had impromptu study tours around the city early this morning, so many of our friends from about the town were not out and about. But we were incredibly fortunate to run into a charismatic Aussie named Alastair out prowling for a self-described "tortally mental paahty" to celebrate A-day. Being that we were in the Australia Bar, one would have thought that festivities would already be underway, but alas he was the first we encountered. Certainly not the last.

Being that his name was Alastair, I immediately asked him how he enjoyed thrashing about the streets of Rome and Sicily assassinating medieval Italian dignitaries. The fact that he knew exactly what I was talking about, which is to say the video game Assassin's Creed, was a great way to start the night. We talked about rugby and about how nobody in America cares about his silly holidays, and as it turns out he's a true Patriot deep down in the doughy center of his Australian self -- he was born on the 4th of July (a-freedom ring, I said somethin on the surface it stings).

After a brief and (if I may say so myself) brave excursion to talk to some obviously American kids on the other side of the bar, which is upsettingly large considering its proximity to our hallowed halls of learning, we (Alastair) ran into some other Aussies who pointed us to a smaller but slightly more legit bar where the A-day celebrations were already underway and, in as many words, "sufficiently mental."

The minute we walked into the bar, I knew that it would be a distinctly authentic experience. The haze of unregulated cigarette smoke, the roar of some very coarse Australians and the blaring of the Swedish Hockey League on the omnipresent and, relative to the rest of the bar's decor, anachronistic big-screens were almost too much. I, immersed in my oblivious state that can only be achieved as a culmination of living in the best country on earth for 20 years and being significantly drunk, walked into this establishment still proudly displaying my nametag. Walking up to a random table with a TV above it, I was bombarded by remarks of a strange tongue, at once the King's English and something entirely more depraved. I don't think I've been called a queer so many times in such a short duration -- and in so many ways that I don't understand -- at any other time in my entire life. Given that, the smug knowledge that their country is rapidly being depleted of its renewable fresh water supplies, inevitably making the Australians the chronic hobos of the world, was reassuring enough that I just laughed along.

The best part of this night, aside from the opportunity to lambast Australians while feasting on the heart of their pitiful sense of national pride, was that I realized how easy it is to be an American in foreign bars. As long as you stay in small groups, look harmless and are open to approach, anybody and everybody will come up to you with something to say about America. It may not always be good, but given that I've been brought up on a very liberal view of America and pride thereof, it's not hard to draw sympathetic connections between even the most god-cursing Communist views -- at least for the purposes of bar conversation.

We took the natbus back to the hojskole, which was a strange experience for the brief moments I was awake, and despite times of inebriated paranoia it did eventually deposit us in the frigid bosom of Helsingor's train station. Walking home was a unabatedly unpleasant journey. They say that this kind of weather is abnormal for Copenhagen, and while rigorous training running around in paper-thin costumes amidst Iowa snowstorms on Saturday nights has prepared me to endure the cold, there are times where I certainly don't enjoy it. Honestly I'd rather this climate than humidity, but walking on the kind of strange snow they get here is brutal on the calves.

On the "educational" front, though I'm sure you've ascertained by now that the real stuff of learning in this land is of the people and places that are distinctly outside of the classroom, classes still prove to be hilarious and mildly interesting. Most notably, Esben the reporter came in and ranted about PR people more and gave us some good concrete examples on ways in which you should abuse/hang up on/string along the lesser 90 percentiles of PR-ers (Public Relatives?). He also detailed some very interesting cases as well in which journalists become a frightening conveyor belt of corporate muck raked up by competing corporations, a scenario the likes of which drive much of the "investigative" reporting that goes on in the news world today. While you could certainly put forth a purist argument that information supplied by those who stand to gain from having it known has only a limited and tenuous seat in the house of capital 'J' Journalism, you could just as easily argue that the weight thrown about in this arena functions as an extension of the over-arching free market mechanism that compels companies to go honestly about there trade. The essence of healthy capitalism lies in transparency, and there are few better ways of ensuring it than to incentivize it in such a discreet way.

More recently, I have finally reacquainted myself with the real reason I came to this country to study. After an introductory session which our professor was unable to attend last week, we had our first Nordic Mythology class on Tuesday, followed by a study tour to the Nationalmuseet (you can guess that one) yesterday. Now, when I first was looking at Northern Europe for study abroad, I thought: metal, vikings, viking metal, bombshell blondes. Let's be honest, the academics were only truly appealing in their direct abutment to these 4 primal pillars of Nordic life. Needless to say, 6 months ago I was overjoyed at the thought of being able to study the sagas of the Germanic peoples and their entirely too-brutal descendants. On the first day of class, having just completed arguably the coolest short text I've ever read for a class to date barring Hemingway, my glorious quest for epic knowledge came to an impossibly fruitful departure.

Two minutes before the class was due to start, settled into a quiet world of internet distraction, I was wholly unprepared for the lumbering legend of a man who would walk through the door. Easily 40 feet tall and wide as an ox, in stampedes our professor: Morten Warmind. Yes, it is indeed pronounced exactly the way you want it to be. For all we knew, he was there to either instill in us a greater understanding of pre-historic Germanic cultures and customs, or alternatively to sunder us from our spirits and lash together our bodies into a floating dirge of indescribable evil, ascending to the heavens to put out the sun. Concealed in his already impressive beard are actually extra jowls, a critical part of Viking physiology that allows them to break the will of animal familiars with their howling. In Morten's case, these are utilized mostly in a side-to-side shaking motion while pronouncing words in a heartily British manner of disbelief or sarcasm.

We read the works of Tacitus, a Roman scholar who grew tired of the self-fallating tendencies of Roman academia and sought other cultures to chronicle for the betterment of the social sciences in his era. While nobody really knows where he got most of his information from, it seems concurrent with what little else modern scholars have been able to exhume from that time period. My assumption has always been that depictions of proto-Vikings and Germanic peoples were highly exaggerated and largely miscegenations between actual happenings and accounts from myth. If Tacitus is seen to be the authority on the Germanic tribes of this time period, then I can say that if anything modern implementations of Viking themes are understated.

To illuminate this claim through example, take this one warrior custom frequently undertaken by amassed forces before inevitable battle. The entirety of one force would, in full war dress, assume their position on the battlefield and then proceed to yell at the top of their lungs in unison. They would cover their yells with their shields, which were constructed in such a way as to induce resonance and amplify these war cries. Depending on the pitch, fervor and demeanor of the surely terrifying sound produced, the warriors would either hold their ground and fight to the death, each man itching for their seat in the Hall of Odin that awaits a warrior's soul, or all flee. Depending on the hermeneutic of interpretation applied to this bizarre and impossibly brutal ritual, you could in fact infer that battles were won or lost by the character of one army's bloodcurdling screams. The best part about this ritual is that they would yell not at the opposing army but at themselves, in essence interpreting the sound of their own battle charisma. Undergoing another admittedly convenient but not to far-fetched leap of imagination, you could deduce that if the yell terrified even themselves, they would consider it as a sign that the enemy had no chance and charge into battle.

I really can't think of a better way to initiate violent conflict than that, and I defy anybody else to try.

In news more suited to my usual demeanor and less about personal fantasies, music has proven once again to be a tremendous force in yet another important endeavor in my life. I came here, leaving my guitar behind with the thought that, much like at school, I wouldn't be playing much. I really couldn't have done a worse job at estimating the value of music on this trip so far. It's one thing you can talk about with anybody, share with anybody, and most importantly it's an extremely good way to pass the time in public situations where you may not necessarily have anything to contribute to the conversation (i.e. it's in another language). Being able to walk into the common room and pick up a guitar has assuaged an untold amount of awkwardness on my part, made me more approachable and also re-instilled the sense of importance that I have (everyone has) always placed in some way or another on music as a mediating force in life. I have no delusions of music playing more than a casual role in my life over the years, nor have I ever. But the fact that it still persists with me throughout everything I do, despite my best efforts to avoid taking any vocal or instrumental endeavor I embark on seriously, is a testament to its raw, objective power. As I learned today, Rousseau famously asserted that music is the true voice of feeling. As a person who has strained for decades to pack away true emotion at any cost, its transmission, I think, will be critical in any transformative process I undergo.

Monday, January 25, 2010

WALK, do not run, to your nearest couch or armchair

Segueing beautifully from the title, the chairs here are magnificent. Even crappy chairs here have style, that classic fusiform mono-body wooden frame that epitomizes style and utility. There are entire stores and even art galleries in Copenhagen dedicated exclusively to chairs. Some have been artfully graffiti'd, others are just molded and stained. I think that's why IKEA is a) so big here and b) so cheap yet so stylin' back home (at least to my perception). The market here is so saturated with high-class chairs that they have become the new standard, and IKEA happily supplies that standard of design vision. With slightly lower quality and better prices, of course.

If the guy who wrote Freakonomics were writing this blog, he'd talk about marginal market forcing or something cool like that right here, but obviously he's busy writing popular non-fiction about the economy that's a smash hit among the laity and probably thoroughly scoffed at as trite by the academic establishment. "Shallow and pedantic. I don't know how you do it, Esmond. Such a noble topic, yet such a devilishly brash treatment." I don't know, my Econ teacher was a hack who taught us for the sole purpose of being able to take out his sexual frustration with how high his plumbing bills were because trees kept growing their roots into his pipes. The only thing I really remember from that year is how much he hates plumbers, and probably tree nymphs. Nobody really knows but him, and watching him try to articulate thoughts into words and simple diagrams is like watching somebody try to climb through their own mail slot to get into their house -- it's obviously incredibly painful to them, and there isn't a chance in hell that they'll succeed. Other similarities between the two situations include that very little brain activity is occurring in either scenario, and they both probably hate mailmen.

I've been sleeping vaguely but dreaming vividly these past few days. I'm not terribly pleased with it, but you could make a strong argument that some of these dreams were worth it. Notably:

I dreamt that we had to take my snakes on a jet. I'll pause here for dramatic movie-starring-Samuel L. Jackson-esque revelations. Blockbuster documentaries of the social ills caused by venomous reptile pheromones aside, it gets waaaaaaayyyyyyyy better. Turns out the jet was headed to, not just any place, but my fucking moon house. You might want to reread that, just to make sure it's awesome. K yeah it totally is.

This moon house was opulently furnished with used basement furniture (no classy Danish chairs), but more prominently a huge tv. The whole house was actually a basement, a two story basement nestled into a hillside. We watched Space MTV on the bigscreen for a while, but then decided that we wanted to play some sports outside. Convenient, because we're all super athletes on the moon. But since regular sports in space is for grandpas, we decided to take out our color-coordinated ATVs and go Space Muddin'. This is where the dream got really weird. Obvious physics oddities aside, more people started to show up as it dawned on me that I was not just living alone on the moon with friends, but that I was a veritable space neighbor in a space housing development. We were having a space potluck or something like that, and then suddenly I remembered my snakes. Keith had also brought more snakes over, brand new babies, but something wasn't quite right. Probably agitated that they weren't getting their fair share of spacetato casserole from the potluck, the snakes began to bite at people. Luckily, with Irwin-like speed I zipped in and picked them up to get them out of everyone's way.

Round about then was when the snakes decided to stop fucking around and start fucking multiplying. In a matter of minutes, we were outside on our ATVs watching the house literally burst from how many snakes were in it. Brutal.

Other dreams have been in kind but my memory tends to fail me if I don't write these things down right away.

My day yesterday was supposed to be short, but ended up being unreasonably drawn out and difficult. Pretty much nothing worked the way it was supposed to -- in an alarmingly consistent manner -- but just in really small ways. Luckily I wasn't trying anything too ambitious, mostly just trying to get to class and back home. I decided to leave early so I could take a look at some steadily worsening issues I've been having with my computer at the school's helpdesk downtown. I thought I was turning onto a familiar street and ended up walking in circles for 45 minutes until eventually making my way all the way back to the train station I got off at and taking the right route. This is the third time I've tried to go to the helpdesk, and each time there's some kind of problem with the cables that they have there. So this day I brought in all the cables I had, sure they would remedy the situation, only to find out that there cable was double wrong in a way that mine couldn't account for. In Danish language class, I'm beginning to get the pronunciations down. Hearing things repeated is the key -- I can say all the train station names flawlessly thanks to a certain pre-recorded friend on the S-tog commuter rail. So I guess that worked out, but that class balanced itself out karmically by making me stay after classes late and schlepp two zones on a packed bus to a cafe that night.

The first bus was so full I couldn't even get on it, the second one we were fortunate enough to be at the front of the line for. Not really having any idea where to get off, we were one stop too late in our estimations and ended up walking for too long in the already -10 celsius night. I also hadn't known that dinner would be included in this cafe excursion, in which we used practically no Danish despite learning how to order food earlier that day, and thus had already made myself slam down a shawarma sandwich while running for the bus I didn't get on to. Being morally unable to refuse free food, I had a sandwich anyway. It was quite enjoyable, but the lethargy of overeating soon set in. Now, in a strange place off the map of my usual train line, I had to find my way home -- an endeavor I was successful at, but not until two hours had passed. Thanks to the brilliant bus schedule at our local train station, I was somehow 36 minutes in between buses that run every 20. So, I set out that day at 12 pm to catch my 2:50 class, got lost at pretty much ever step of the way, still don't have a functioning external hard drive and winded up getting home about three or so hours later than I anticipated.

Needless to say, I ended the day with scotch and ping pong. Life may be incredibly arcane in its physiologies, ecstasies and defeats, but there's certainly something to be said about the overwhelming simplicity of its pleasures.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Remember that one time that I blogged about my Thursday night? You know, the one in short form? With the choppy sentences because I thought that nothing really important happened that night?

Well, as it turns out, there's no possible way in the infinite reaches of this universe I could have been more wrong.

Let me over-explain by supplying way too much exposition:

Last night at the folkehojskole we had what's called a Culture Night, which happens (as far as I can ascertain) every other weekend. A folkehojskole, essentially pronounced "folk high school" but with no consonants or discernible sounds that can be created with a human pharynx, is a post-grade school educational institution that students live at full time, learning because they want to be there. That is to say, there are no grades, no exams, and everyone can drink legally.

My particular folkehojskole, the Den Internationale, stands out among traditional hojskoles because it houses 50 students from over 30 countries, rather than all Danes. 12 Americans and I are staying on the hojskole's campus but attending classes at a different institution in the city, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS). Yes, I am aware that the Danes are awful at acronyms. It's a widely accepted cultural shortcoming, and also accounts for most of their insane tax rates.

Culture Night is a night where, in addition to spreading knowledge of any of the few dozen cultures represented here, groups of students get to put on hilarious plays and the kitchen staff makes free mixed drinks for us. Tonight, being the first weekend of the semester, the performance was done by the staff here at the hojskole. Not only was it hilarious, and every bit as brazen as other Danish comedy I've mentioned before, it was exceptionally well done and extensive.

But here's where the real magic happened:

After the performance, we went into the large common room to have drinks and socialize. Naturally, I topped of my whiskey flask and sat down with the guitar. One detail that I had foolishly omitted in my blag about Thursday night, and largely from my own brain, was that the man playing songs at the bar was the son of a teacher here at the hojskole. The Culture Nights are kind of a big deal here, so not surprisingly this man was here with his father. He strolled into the party and, lazer-like, locked onto me and the guitar. He said he remembered me and the harmonies I attempted to shout at his songs, and apparently I told him that night that I had a sweet second voice part to I'm Yours by Jason Mraz (THANK YOU ROSE). We sang that, and he happened to also know and frequently perform California Dreamin, to which I also know the second/third/fourth parts (NO SERIOUSLY YOU'RE A GENIUS). Turns out I don't suck at harmonies and he's been looking for a second voice for his musical acts and recordings.

Next thing you know, he's got my email address and I'm going to be performing with him February 11th. No fucking joke! I might even get a tambourine part! He likes great music too, including some sweet Danish Simon & Garfunkel tribute bands.

Now I don't expect to go platinum right away, it might take a while to penetrate the Swedish market, but fucking seriously I can't think of a cooler thing to have happen right now. I could run around and meet random Danes, sure, but this is over 9000 times more legit -- instead of just going to bars, I'll be performing in them. Perhaps bi-monthly!

Holy shit!


Addenda and further additionalizations

In the midst of all the chaos here and the unassailable nature of this task of bludgeoning my experiences into words, I had left out some crucial parts of my night. Here are some more things that are distinctly Danish that I've become aware of in the last 24 hours thanks to the fine people of this strange land.

The first is the Danish smash hit, Midt Om Natten, or "In the middle of the night," a pretty smart distillation of the social unrest, cultural movings-about and musical themes of the 1980s in Denmark. After a couple minutes of watching, you'll see just how 80s it really is, which of course amused me. The album by the same name is one of the most successful in Denmark's history, selling 500,000 copies domestically in a country of 5 million. This was such a remarkable number, in fact, that it, like so many other great things of its era, was made into a really bad 80s movie. The song recording below also contains clips from the movie:

Then there's the saga of the 1 am train ride back from the club, a surprisingly well-attended transit affair. We met a guy who works on the rails, in his 22nd year as an engineer, as well as some implausibly creepy middle-aged men and a young Icelandic hipster with 7 simultaneous rolling "r"s in his name.

At any rate, in the midst of a lengthy conversation I was engaged in with the engineer, some of my more impaired companions were extolling the sublime beauty of Danish women. He rolled his eyes and deflected questions about his opinion on their relative worth against the standards of other countries. About 15 minutes later, he announced out of nowhere "Here comes the princess of Denmark. Right here." Into our car walked a woman wearing what boils down to an open-ended blue satin tube sock and high heels. Her sashaying gate was marked by the sarcastic fanfare of the engineer's mock-trumpeting, to which she was, how you say, blase aloof. The incredible irony of his musical interlude had really just crossed the language barrier and begun to sink in at this point, and he concluded "That's what I think of Danish women. It's -5 degrees outside. There's no reason to be wearing that."

The biting honesty of his responses to the drunken questions we threw at him was a distinctly grounding experience for me, a kind of key placed on the map of this place that marks a uniquely un-magical part of this yet-new fantasy world for me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Further Discursive Analysis of Business Relationships and Danish Humor

I'm pretty sure that I, at some point in this already verbose affair, mentioned one of the first tenets of Danish society and probably the key to survival here: "Nothing is sacred." The second tenet, or rather the first corollary, which I have appended for your reading pleasure and comprehension, is this: The Danes have no shame. Or at least not the shameless ones.

The veracity and prevalence of this trend are alarming, and honestly I didn't expect to find such stellar examples of it so soon. These kinds of claims are often made, even in America, by people who claim to not be politically correct or what have you (a la Mencia), but really they just end up having a poor sense of humor or are quite plainly socially illiterate. In America, this line is usually delivered as a preemptive anti-inflammatory measure by people with no tact, as if to apologize for the imminent offense they will be unable to avoid committing. In Denmark, it's not just one or two people -- it's the entire bewilderingly forward cultural environment. Now that's not to say that you can walk up to every Dane and inquire as to the current affective state of their chlamydia and expect them to laugh about it. Quite to the contrary, chlamydia is a serious problem in this country, in many glosses of the term.

But for the majority of Danish people, the intimacy of a problem like STDs only makes it more hilarious. We were told in orientation that the best social weapons in our arsenals are dead baby jokes. They're like the nuclear option of the joke arms race in this country. And it isn't just that they aren't offended by topics like The Clap or dead babies, in the passive sense that we might imagine in the US -- the sense that if it happened to be brought up they'd laugh along. Many Danes actively pursue offensive comedy, and it doesn't matter if you're a close friend or a brand spanking new acquaintance, the humor is there to stay. Their way of breaching awkward or unfamiliar situations is with aggressive humor. Being made fun of is a compliment here, but in practice all of this is really hard to respond to. We aren't hardwired to casually poke fun at sensitive topics with people we hardly know, but even if you can manage to laugh along without retorting the situation will stay groovy. While it's a little off-putting at first, it also takes a lot of the burden off of you (especially when you're listening to somebody else get made fun of).

A great example of humor as an icebreaker is the introductory lesson to my Journalism and Public Relations class. I expected this to be more or less a journalistic style course or an introduction to news writing, but it turns out to be a much more grounded, practical and vocationally relevant affair than I had thought. Most classes here are team-taught, with experts in two different but related fields teaming up to alternate lesson plans. This comes into play in especially smart form in this class, where we have one PR guy and one full-time journalist working together. They have worked with each other before, and the PR/journalist dynamic is one of the most difficult to manage but also the most critical in both fields.

So, the two teachers are Rasmus and Esben (names not substituted to maintain anonymity). Esben is a journalist for arguably the largest paper in Denmark, and is every bit the newspaper writer. He has no patience for long sentences, most PR people or drawn-out blog posts on points that could have been made in three lines. Rasmus, like his name suggests, is the essence of corporate evil: he walked in today wearing a black suit with a black undershirt and black tie, missing maybe only the red horns and tail to epitomize the company dress code for his employer -- get this -- Phillip Morris. Yes, he is a PR person. For Phillip Morris. Not the Phillip Morris you used to steal Fruit Roll-ups from in the elementary school cafeteria. The Phillip Morris that wrote in a report to the Czech government that smoking was good because the premature deaths it caused would mean less of a burden on the state's health care and welfare systems.

These guys are sharp-looking, no-nonsense people -- hombres, more accurately -- and I have never heard so many curses or insults fly on the first day of class. They have known each other for decades and been working with each other for almost as long, each being one of the only other people in the business the other really respects. The banter between them about how stuck up journalists are or how sleazy and dumb PR people are was priceless and would have been off-putting if they project a clear sense that they knew what they were talking about. These are professionals who have to, on a daily basis, handle people approaching them the wrong way and going about their jobs poorly, and I don't think there's a more qualified type of teacher than that. The best exchange of the day, that far and away reveals what I mean by my tenets and corollaries, is reprinted below:

Esben: You know, the cardinal rule of business that applies in every situation holds true. "You can only screw somebody once." Well, twice if they're really dumb.
Rasmus: I've been screwing Esben for 10 years.
Esben: Good point.
Rasmus: It's great that his wife's been so understanding.

Let's be clear here -- he went out of his way to imply that they had a gay affair of more than a decade. He could have just let it slide and play it off as a hilarious lost-in-translation moment of some kind of twisted Danish-English game of telephone. But his cultural upbringing mandated that it be about buttsex, to which neither he nor his colleague (and the butt of the joke, PUN INTENDED) blinked an eye.


At the beginning of class, they explained themselves to what had to have been a cowed audience of underwhelmingly intelligent communications majors. Rasmus pulled out the classic Benny Goodman line: "I'm not sexist or anything, I'm equally an asshole to everybody." This is 100% a legitimate preface to a serious college course in Denmark, which made it so much more refreshing than any other class I've had so far.

Another hilarious classroom interaction was my Nordic Mythology class, which apparently the entire state of Ditzville is required to take by whatever shameless front for a nightclub they call their alma mater. The teacher has the wackiest accent I've ever heard, which I later realized is what a nerdy Dane sounds like, and is unabashedly geeky. In fact she started out the lecture telling us as much and more; not only was she a geek, but she was officially ranked as a part of the internet Hierarchy of Geeks:

When she asked if anybody knew what she was talking about, you bet your biscuitgravy I was the only one to raise a hand. Some kids from my hojskole immediately remarked "You would know, Simon." If anybody from The Internet is reading this right now, do I get any web cred for that? Any like redeemable goody-blags or coupons?

Didn't think so. Still, I felt like a boss. More ranting to come about how little respect I have for a select group of my classmates, once I run out of positively ridiculous stories to tell (read: August).

In short form: Highlights of Thursday night, an exploration of the bar scene in my now-hometown of Helsingor. Local bars, local music. Guy and his guitar, he played some classics, among which was California Dreamin'. He came off the small stage and complimented me on my vocal harmonies, which more or less made that night.

Returning to more prosaic modes of recollection, Friday night was also the night of the DIS Welcome Party. The program rented out an entire Discotec for the program's 660 students and over 100 Danes affiliated with the roommate, host family or buddy programs. We got there fashionably early and the group from my hojskole, astonishingly enough including me, were the first ones out on the dance floor busting moves and, quote, "clownin on these fools." It was sparse at the beginning, but a combination of the constant influx of more party-goers and free unlimited beer and blue champagne did a lot to grease the works.

The club we were situated in is called the Discotek IN, a combination of what turns out to be at least 4 different discotecs miscegenated into some neon-flavored club-bomination with free drinks. They had a full-on neo-hacienda for the DJs, an obelisk of beats rising from the center of the floor where two incredibly European guys controlled the music, lights and gratuitous fog machines. Bemusingly enough, I'm told that this is where all the losers of Copenhagen go to party -- which, if that is indeed the case, means that untold wonders of science and society lie beyond the hallowed gates of whatever establishment the cool people of this city choose to grace.

I had an alarmingly good time at the club, a surprising and reassuring fact that has made me feel totally OK with spending my Saturday largely indoors (blogging). I managed to have a couple of conversations with people I had only really seen walking around before, which was uncommonly brave if I may say so myself. I got out on the dance floor and strutted my stuff. Strutted, in this instance, is as a newborn giraffe would strut about as it transitions from a life of leisure inside the womb to a cruel, gangly existence peeping over (and grazing on) the neighbors' hedges. But I really didn't care, because seeing the other people around the outside of the room -- and more importantly seeing how anxious they were about cutting loose and dancing -- was wonderfully emboldening. Plus I was in good company, which is never a disadvantage in the field of public embarrassment.

The other best part of the night was that I stayed remarkably sober the whole night. Being in a club-like environment can be disorienting to say the least, and I know first-hand that it can soften the symptoms of drunkenness, or at least distract you from noticing them. The normal metrics of room spinning, slurred speech, etc. are muffled by the already delirium-inducing surroundings of heavy bass, low lights and churning masses of people. So, I took it easy, and had a spectacular time of myself anyway. As I said -- a surprisingly satisfying night on many fronts.

That being said, I do still feel a bit haunted in the manner I had mentioned a few days past, but I suspect it goes beyond just thinking I recognize everybody here from somewhere else. Long ago I came to terms with the fact that I have trouble letting some things go. I haven't really figured out the criteria for what those things are or why they seem to persist in my subconscious for so long, but they are indelibly there. I have trouble getting over stop signs I've driven through or curse words I did a catalog search for in the Highland View Elementary School library.

But even more than guilt, it's the spectre of change that seems to be the heaviest on my shoulders and also the most elusive to the touch. I think this sentiment proves to be a commonality between all human beings, since the fragrance of change is so acrid in the nose of a people who have evolved socially to stay put and stay comfortable. There are some parts of myself and of my manners, modes and dispositions that are so self-destructive but so irreconcilably hard to rid myself of. The parts that make me pause for critical reflection of relationships past in the middle of a packed night club, or the parts that make me follow the same girl around time after time. That's really why I can't avoid the term "haunted," maybe not in the sense of spirits and spooks (but then again maybe so), but certainly in the sense of a certain cyclic redundancy in the affairs of my life and, most prominently, the mistakes I have yet to take to heart. Luckily, I've got a lot of time to learn.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This is the Sound of Settling


Death Cab jokes aside, with the start of classes in but a few hours here, the settling has finally begun. Last night I actually did some readings for today (shocking, I know!), they have assembled quite a collection of texts for us. Classes here are an hour and twenty minutes -- also roughly the time of my commute -- which I suppose is a pretty good time frame considering I only have them twice a week at most.

I'm excited to get into a schedule of sorts, this past (almost) week has been so breakneck that I fell asleep with my clothes on at 8pm last night. Despite the fact that it's now 4 am, I'm lucky I woke up at all considering I didn't even stay conscious long enough to set an alarm. The trickiest parts of my day will involve getting back to dinner here on time at 6, which affords me ample time to relax, study, slaughter people in ping pong or even go back out into town again. Thursdays I have to be up at 6 am to get to my 8:30 class on time, which is hideously unfortunate, but with a week like this one I had no issues getting to sleep on time. The rest of the week I get to sleep in at least a little bit, though breakfast here is so good I'm not sure I'll want to sleep past 8 am.

Breakfast brings me to one of the most outstanding things I've experienced here so far, what I'll call the "Dual-Dairy Dynamo." Europe is full of hilarious contraptions and wingdings, especially in the toiletry department, where their variable flush technology (Gundam Wing fans read: Vernier toilets) is light years ahead of ours back stateside. But this machine outshines even the most water-conservative toilets by far, encompassing pretty much everything we're lacking in the US -- finesse. This device is comprised of a large threaded bolt in the middle of a round wooden platform, connected to a metal base. Branching out from the top of the bolt is an aluminum frame that spans the wooden disc in essentially a lightning bolt pattern, creating two corners. On top of that, capping the bolt, is a handle that lies parallel to the ground with a wire strung taut under it. Place two blocks of cheese on the wooden disc in the two corners of the frame, rotate the handle and experience the most perfectly sliced cheese you will ever encounter in the vast and interminable complexities of the cosmos. As the handle rotates, it turns the bolt, pushing the wooden platform up further to engage the next slice of cheese from the block, ensuring absolute uniformity in slice parameters. Simple. Elegant. Impossibly delicious. It's pretty much been solely responsible for getting me out of bed every morning.

I had my first course of Survival Danish yesterday, thrust into an awkward world of brutal glot-swallowing and pronunciation rules that I still can't quite grasp. In almost every situation, the Danish letter "d" has a soft pronunciation, which sounds something like the cruel bastard child of a Chinese person pronouncing a French "r" and a quiet "th." Nobody has really been able to explain exactly how it works to me yet, including the Danish professor herself, and even now it is apparent that even the pronunciation rules apply loosely and with a decent amount of exceptions. While it's tempting to acquiesce to the fact that I'll never pronounce things like a native speaker and give up now, I feel like enough of a fool anywhere I walk either blatantly talking in English or butchering their street names that I think I'll tough it out. Also, my grade in Beginner Danish probably depends on me actually trying.

Beyond being anxious to see what kind of workload I can expect from this semester, I am looking forward to this weekend a whole helluva lot. There's ice skating, tours of local castles (the town I'm in, aside from being the closest to Sweden out of any point in Denmark, is the site of Shakespeare's Hamlet and the famed castle therein), trips to IKEA (Jay Lidaka, if you're reading this, I'm talking about the original IKEAs -- you know, before they got famous) and all sorts of other shenanigans. After being pretty much compelled into the city and feeling such a strong drive to explore and get lost among its poorly labeled streets, I am interested to see how we as a group and I as an individual will handle all of the free time. I'm sure it won't be terribly hard, but staying active through this whole semester is my number one priority so I'm trying to be -- get this -- proactive about it. har har har!

What I'm trying to say is, it's only a matter of time before my engine of truly awful puns kicks in here. My comfort level with everyone around me is rising, but I can only imagine the complications that the language barrier will bring to my already confoundingly obtuse portmanteaus and "plays-on-word," if you will. The British accent has already been featured in the periphery, but I anticipate that it will make a strong showing this semester.

For the first time today I stopped into what I anticipate will be my staple food source this semester: one of the dozen Shawarma hovels dotting the weathered landscape of Copenhagen. For 7 USD (a pittance in the restaurant scene of this accursedly costly nation) you can get a pita heaped with spiced lamb and yogurt sauce. To compare, most pub burgers in this city are almost $20 a piece, excluding drinks. Tax and tips are already included in the menu price, to be fair, but the price difference is still unsettling.

This place is so full of ups and downs on an almost minute-by-minute basis that even if I didn't still feel the jet lag a little bit I'd be suffering from the same kind of emotional whiplash. I've devoted so much of my personal life to minimizing the painful parts of experience that I've missed out on how invigorating really living can be in the rawest sense. This trip is like sledding at Chelsea school down the street or gliding off of a cliff -- the fall is precipitous and scary and fast, but then I feel my mind racing and my heart pounding and snap my wings open and smile. I think it's true that we need the low points in our life to show us just how far up the high points are -- all we can really do is hope for a decent ratio. I think it's time to embrace this fact for what it is and revel in the sadness of life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The ghosts of people you love

Today was, yet again, a fantastic day in ways that were absolutely contrary to those envisioned. Being an hour out from the city, more if the bus and train schedules get out of sync, there's a strong aversion among my fellow students to make the trip for silly things. We had scheduled for today a "survival Danish" course and a scavenger hunt, and everybody got up and was ready to go despite last night's fairly rigorous and equally righteous partying. That is, until we all got to breakfast. Over the impossibly delicious and freshly baked bread and accoutrements, we got to talking between the two groups about the activities that the other had done the previous day. As it turns out, the survival Danish course that the first group had done the previous day was found to be stupendously useless, and we of the second group deemed it unnecessary to attend. We then summarized for the first group all the important points from the seminar we had taken in yesterday, rendering attendance again foolish. So here we had both groups agreeing that attendance was optional, and most everybody went back to sleep intending to wake up at mid-day to catch the second half of the planned excursions.

I opted not to sleep any more, and instead picked up the guitar in the common room of the hojskole. My voice happened to be in rare form, which was fortuitous, but I had the darnedest time remembering the lyrics to pretty much any song. It has been a while for most of the songs, and I still maintain that I've forgotten how to play more songs than I currently know -- an impressively pitiful feat indeed. This was an excellent opportunity to relax, and we got to lounge about and imagine the sun coming up behind the inexorable wall of clouds that permanently huddles this cursed land in a maddening shroud. All enmity towards clouds aside, it really was quite peaceful and, in a counterintuitive way, beautiful.

We left for lunch, realizing on the way that in order to do our next activity we would have had to attend the previous activity that we...circumnavigated. With no idea where to go to meet up with our respective groups, we decided to go to the main office and see if the receptionists knew. As it turns out, they had no idea or were too busy eating smorrebrod to help us further. So, we had essentially missed our second activity as well, leaving our day wide open. A key detail of this whole saga, which will play in heavily later, is that my phone can't, as of yet, make outgoing calls. I stopped into the phone office and the helpdesk to see about fixing it, but the visit was indecisive. Then ensued the best part of the day, roaming the nicest parts of the city with no agenda. My companions were Jess and Laura, and according to one of our orientation leaders told us that traveling in groups of three was, in so many words, optimal.

We decided to strike out in a random direction and look for the essence of Copenhagen, and we did indeed find it. Fair trade outlets, art galleries and jewelry stores are plentiful in this city, and there were some striking things to be found in all of them. Urban portraitscapes, vibrant abstractions of the Andes of Bolivia, intricate beadwork and Inuit walrus-tooth carvings. When I was a child such items were the stuff of travel nightmares, facilitating seemingly endless layovers at antique stores and galleries. But now the things I never understood are becoming the most important to me, driving me up narrow staircases to see artwork I know nothing about by people with no name.

After wearing out my feet and most of our sense of adventure, we met up with the rest of our group and headed over to an activity fair. They've got lacrosse, frisbee, cooking, fireside guitar and a choir scheduled throughout the semester here -- looking at my calendar for the pending months I don't see how I have any room left for dull moments. Then ensued the most impossible transit shenanigans that I've been unfortunate enough to experience. Outside the train station, I ran into a guy I'm on awkward greeting terms with from Grinnell. I said hi, chatted for 2 seconds and then continued down the stairs to get on the train. He had apparently followed me, after meeting up with another person, to ask if this was the metro stop he needed to be at. This is a question I don't know the answer to, and he happened to ask it as the train was in the station boarding. Right as he called my name and I turned around, my companions blitzed the doors, leaving me behind. After giving him an unhelpful answer, I whipped around to face the train -- just in time to fully experience the crushing intimacy of the exact moment that the doors to the train closed. After then subsequently getting on the wrong train and waiting 20 minutes for a bus that was to take me all of 2 miles, with no way of calling back the people who had asked after my whereabouts and wellbeing, I made it back in time to catch the last bit of dinner.

Drying myself off with a t-shirt after a shower (you better fucking believe I forgot a towel), I had some time to reflect after a very mobile day. I mentioned yesterday that I felt a little uneasy, as if I expected to look up and see familiar faces on the very unfamiliar personages surrounding me here. I can feel the cold breath of these ghostly personas following me around, pulling and pushing imperceptibly at any attempt to move. It isn't just events that inspire us and change us. It isn't just accomplishments, forceful instruction or divine inspiration that drive us to walk into a strange city and put our arms around strange people. It's the touch of the ethereal, the impressions left by the ghosts of people you love. It's about removing the impressions that persuade you not to progress and cultivating the ones that embrace you and stand at your back, hand on your shoulder telling you it's OK to move a little step at a time.

I remember my mom in the spaces that she left for me, emotionally and physically. I remember her in the handmade glass beads I browsed in the stalls of street vendors. I remember her in the place where I keep my anger, my stubbornness and my passion, things that bind me to the tremendous space she left for me to grow into and out from. For 19 years she pushed me into art classes, soccer leagues and early morning Spanish classes. This afternoon at 1:45, halfway across the world and from a place intangible and unkown, she pushed me into an art gallery and I saw her face in every painting.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Things are coming along quite nicely. This was the first day of real orientation, and while we spent a hefty portion of the day in lecture learning how to not offend or (far more likely) be offended by the Danes, the majority of the learning happened on the rails today. We got up at 6:30 this morning to be sure to catch all the proper buses and trains. The other study-abroaders and I at this hojskole were split up between two large groups for orientation, and while I in the second group didn't have to be anywhere until 11:30 I decided to get up and get going with the early crowd to get my bearings and get an early crack at the city. The transportation in this part of the world is ruthlessly efficient, and while I can't pronounce any of the places I'm going to (or coming from), everything is planned in such a manner that it's still ridiculously easy to get anywhere you're going.

The total trip for us was about an hour after subtracting time spent wondering and wandering upon our arrival in Copenhagen. This number is interesting -- it isn't that bad for twice a day, but any more than that and it can be really cumbersome. In other words, you really have to mean it when you go back to the city to hit the bars, because if you're tired or unenthusiastic when you get there it's a waste of two hours in transit.

On the upside, our distance from the school means we have been provided with unlimited travel passes for any and all public transportation in this part of the country, which is, in a word, "baller." We can either bike to the local train station or take a bus, though since it snowed a couple inches last night and there's still a bit of ice on the ground we opted for the bus. It picks us up right outside a gas station that we hit up for a snack run late last night, which was in and of itself an interesting experience.

Basically, when people say things here are expensive, they aren't kidding. Everything is roughly double what you would want to pay for it, even really crappy stuff. One of our early Danish acquaintances, Oliver, tells us that two medium fries and a 10-piece of McNuggets comes out to 20 USD. Let's just say there's no dollar menu here. Another interesting price comparison that shows some different price dynamics is of particular interest, as some may know, to me -- the price of whiskey. While everything is very expensive here, it isn't always in the same way and due to proximity some things are actually cheaper. Allegorically, the price of Jack Daniels, at this juncture an import, comes out to 50 USD. Meanwhile, the price of a 12 year old Glen Fiddich is 60 USD, which if I recall correctly is about the same as it is stateside. My thinking is that being a part of Europe drops the price on the scotch, only to be brought up again by the blanket price premium on every taxable product in this country. In summary, boggling to my American consumer sensibilities as it may be, scotch is incredibly cheaper than other kinds of whiskey here.

Last night we also had a chance to have our first meal at the hojskole where we'll be staying for th next 4 months. It was comprised of mashed potatoes and goulash with a delicious side of romaine and vinaigrette. I don't recall much about the food, I spent the whole meal trying to figure out exactly what a hojskole was from Oliver across the table. He's quite the character, but in a sort of contradictory way. I mean this in the sense that, as far as I can tell, he's a perfectly ordinary Dane, but even at that his presence and seemingly divine knowledge of the ways of this country make him bemusingly refreshing to me.

Copenhagen is an incredible city, and I've only seen about five square blocks of it so far. The number and breadth of independent shops peddling the strangest and, on occasion, most perverse goods I've seen in a while. The gas stations stock as much digital pornography as they do candy bars, and pretty much every store either sells fashion items, liquor or both. The 7-11s here contain fresh bakeries, yet nobody here has heard of salt and vinegar chips. The city buildings are incredibly old and largely beautiful, with basement shops and boutiques that are the spiritual predecessors to places like Adams Morgan in DC. We had our welcome speech in the hall of ceremonies at Denmark University, a building constructed in 1830 and absolutely filled to the brim with stunning frescoes of the most important moments in Danish history (alongside nearly innumerable naked guys and centaurs, apparently also very important in Danish history). These frescoes depict not only the most striking figures in this country's past, but also some of the most epic beard-tophat combinations seen around the world. Oh, to be old, rich and Danish 300 years ago...

And lastly, my disposition: I am incredibly tired. A full day like today, with still more adventuring to do before tomorrow, warrants more sleep than the six hours I got last night -- especially after 36 hours of unadulterated wakefulness. I'm getting along about as I well (overall) as I thought I would with the people surrounding me, but not in the same ways that I imagined. This hojskole isn't comprised of the people that I assumed would be here, namely cool Danes and lame Americans -- and is instead made up of pretty much everyone but those two categories. The Danes here, all three of them, are either Oliver or incredibly weird, while the other 50 hojskole students are from any one of a whopping 30 countries worldwide. Most of them have incredibly poor English and seem equally uncomfortable, which honestly isn't that surprising considering that nobody here shares a common background nor has anyone been here more than three days. There always seem to be people hanging about in various common areas of the hojskole building, which is really nothing to speak of in terms of architecture or furnishings but still houses a full compliment of social spaces, which means that it's only a matter of time before everybody sorts out who is going to be engaging and extroverted.

Out of all this, the thing that gets at me the most is that I keep thinking I see people I know from home, and it's uncommonly disconcerting. I remember this happening when I first got to Grinnell, as I remember finding that other people had the exact same experience. I think it's hard-coded into our brains to try and reconcile the people we meet with people that we're comfortable with, but the simple untruth of that artificial overlaying is beyond uncomfortable for me. I'm really bad at looking people in the eye some times, especially when I'm sitting next to them for instance, and the shock of hearing them talk for a while and then looking over to see a face that I expected to be more familiar than it actually is has been getting to me.

Also, I highly doubt I'll be able to keep up with this pace of blogging that I've set for myself here these past few days. Simply too much is happening in so little time, such that the text above describes only a fraction of this still young day and the unimaginable newness of the experiences bounded within. I choose to view this as a good thing. Plus, the more I forget to write down now, the more I'll forget later and thus the more I'll be able to embellish or patently invent later when I'm writing memoirs and such.

--simokant, as my DIS username reads, signing out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The first of many impressions

This is my blog!

I'm at hour 24, more or less, of awakebeing. Mental faculties are suffering. I napped on the plane briefly but I was so enthralled by sitting in the same place watching G-Force for 6 hours that I couldn't stay asleep after takeoff. I know, it's impossible NOT to be.

I had quite the layover in Newark, featuring me sitting as close to an outlet as I could and counting the number of people who disconnected my power cord from the wall by absentmindedly punting it or steamrolling it with their tremendously obese luggage. This was clearly a game I was losing, so I looked for other kids going to my program. This is the big arrival day, with some 660 students coming in from all around the world (read: New York, Chicago and a smattering of midwestern Nowherestons). I met with initial success, only to realize that one of the guys headed my way was a Bizarro Clone of Nathaniel Schroeder. Except Nathaniel's usual affinity for Jazz and slacking was replace with a razor-like obsession with Jay-Z's shoes and intense academic pursuits. He was great at asking questions, but even better at showing he cared very little whether they were answered or not.

Anyway, turns out all these other kids are on a flight directly to Copenhagen that leaves 45 minutes after my indirect flight to Dusseldorf, two gates down. I'd like to take a time out here to personally damn Travelocity to the pits of hell. This was after the very same website told me all of my flights were being operated by Lufthansa, which turned out to be patently false.

On the plane, I sat next to Anonymous Scandinavian Businesslady 247 (you may recognize her from such gems as "Generic Bank Commercial" or "Non-Profit Emphasizes Diversity During Primetime TV To No Apparent End"). The stewardess at one point, mistaking my rebelliously uncropped hair and devastatingly handsome physique for that of a non-English speaker, asked if I wanted water "with gas." Using my agile but at this point addled wit, I replied "no thanks, I have enough already," much to the chagrin of the stewardess and the utter non-comprehension of my Anondinavian companion. I spent a heft portion of this flight thinking of puns and portmanteaus involving bears, and I'm not embearassed to say it. Au Contraire, mon bear, I'm really beary proud of it. Bear in mind that I'm on an unbearably long flight, but I bearly had enough charge left in my phone to write my ideas down and really let them come to bear fruit.

Landing in Dusseldorf I had a much better time with the other DIS kids, who were easy to pick out of the startlingly German populace. I say startlingly because I knew what Germans generally looked like, at least several generations later in their Iowan incarnations, what they acted like (mostly from movies starring Don Taylor) -- stereotypically. I had no idea that I would find exactly the type of people I imagined in my head, from the voice to the ridiculous faux-hawks to the scrupulously trimmed von Bismarks. When the pilot came on the plane's PA I nearly burst out laughing because it sounded like a broadcast from 1933, crackly transistor interference and all, later finding out that I was not alone in this sentiment. It's not that far out if you think about it -- they sound as ridiculous as American pilots sound, with that trademark mumblegrumbling nonchalance, but with the added puissance of the already ridiculous German language.

After struggling to find out how to use just about every appliance in the German bathrooms, from the toilet flush mechanism to the door locks to the deviously ingenious infinite towel-loop hand drying...dynamo, I boarded a small flight to Copenhagen. I sat, by chance, next to another DIS aspirant who happened to be friendly and play video games, so naturally we talked far too loud about them. We got to Copenhagen, were instantly blown away by how suave their airport is, and then slowly agglutinated with like-purposed Americans until we formed a huge atheroschleroid in front of the spacious revolving doors. In the spirit of "build it and they will come (to ruin it)," everybody thought it would be prudent to approach these apparently over-accommodating doors by cramming as many people into each revolution as possible, therefore all but halting its circular progression. As the doors sputtered and jolted, spastically herding us into the waiting arms of that bitch the Danes call Winter, a lone native sat on the floor above us in agony as a frown was no doubt permanently affixed to his face by the whole affair. I had essentially already broken my vow to not be that American Tourist that every foreigner curses under their breath, if only by association.

An few hours of bewildered bus riding and luggage shuffling later, I've endured the pre-orientation orientation (orientation, I think there are 4 total if you include the "immersion fairs") and established a stable internet connection. I have a phone, supposedly a place to sleep tonight, several thousand kroner in transportation stipends and only a vague idea of where I am or what I'm supposed to be doing for the next week. My surroundings, what at first appeared to be a preemptively abandoned IKEA factory factory, have turned out to be a spectacularly designed and appointed Technical Institute 5 miles south of the city proper. This brief complex of glass hulks is flanked further by what looks like pristinely fossilized remains of several Soviet apartment complexes. There's also a frozen river (?) running through the middle of all this. I can't tell if I'm in Denmark or some futuristic and incredibly remote research outpost on the set of a French sci-fi Impressionist film about determining the sex of Pluto. Hopefully finding the city proper will reorient my cinematic compass rose.

In about an hour a bus of sorts is allegedly coming to whisk me off to my distant and, as of now, future abode. In the mean time, I'm going to Google "What should I Google about Denmark?!?"

P.S. The bar in this IT university is called the "Scroll Bar," featuring drinks named after classic Mario and FFVII characters. Flawless Victory.

--Count Truckula, hopefully counting sheep before too long.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How to Blag a Blag in 10 Blagoseconds!

This is my blog!

I'll be abroad in Copenhagen this semester, doing things like learning how to type the o with the umlaut above it and eating wienerbrod. I hope to deliver news of my adventures, pleas for rescue from the Danish authorities and startling accounts of ordinary things from all over Europe through this blog. Mostly though, it will probably involve me writing in excruciating detail why I dislike Lady GaGa or how mediocre herring really is, or even lamenting the lack of widely available fine spirits. With any luck, this will be a journey of tremendous whimsy and deep personal growth. With no luck, I'll still be able to buy liquor legally and I'll get more Omega 3 oils than I ever thought I would.