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.


  1. so well-put. it sounds amazing!! i can't wait to be there with you.

  2. truly charming, friend. reading this made me smile.

  3. Simon... that last bit was really sweet. <3

  4. i wish we didn't have this in common