Thursday, February 25, 2010

Frustratizations and turns in the weather

There are some things about Danes that are really getting to me, even though I know they shouldn't. I have always been one to accept cultural differences, at least in theory, but now I think in practice I'm finding it harder and harder to deal with the public demeanor of other peoples. None of the following is universal, but we'll just say that I've experienced it enough for it to really tick me off.

The first and least severe of the etiquette infractions I've experienced is that most Danes are not that helpful. There have certainly been some that were a great help, but people don't even seem to know or care about even the areas where they live, let alone seem willing to help you find whatever it is you're looking for. Danes don't like talking to strangers at all, especially not when they haven't been spoken to first. I can understand that this is just how things work in Denmark. However, there are two things that I absolutely cannot understand.

The gangsta aesthetic here is impossibly prevalent amongst Danish youths. It isn't difficult to see the appeal of hip-hop music and raiment to juveniles of any country. What is difficult to understand is the attitude that seems to come along with it. I guess sweeping disrespect for authority is universal, rough childhood or not, but this is a welfare state for christ's sake. These kids will literally never want for anything in their entire lives, yet they dress like assholes, disrespect people and violate their privacy in public spaces -- in a manner most atypical to the vast majority of Danes. They love American hip-hop music, yet I couldn't really think of a place outside of Asia that is culturally further from the environment in which the genre arose. This might stem from my tendency to listen to music that I understand and identify with, emotionally or otherwise.

The last thing, and the thing that makes me want to lash out in fury every agonizing instance of its existence, is that nobody here can understand a single fucking word of my Danish. Yes, you're saying, I can see how that might be frustrating, but I don't get how that experience could be as downright purgatorial as you make it out to be. Well, dear reader, let me tell you the rest of the story. I have a good accent. I know very few phrases, but the phrases I do know I have practiced again, and again, and again and again. I listen to native speakers say them on a regular basis and spend hours emulating the noises. There is no way on god's mostly-blue earth that I'm as bad at Danish as one would gather from the looks I get when I try to speak it. I don't even know how to describe this properly, so I will do so with the most ridiculous literary devices I can think of:

Yesterday a woman on the train wanted to tell me that this was the last stop on the line we were on, and as I was to later find out she said as much, very clearly in Danish. This would have been obvious to me already if I hadn't been dead asleep for the past 1/2 hour of the ride, but the bottom line is that the scene opens with some lady saying something to me in Danish that I clearly don't understand. The most helpful phrase I've learned here so far is "I don't speak Danish," or "Jeg taler ikke Dansk." This is not a long phrase. The pronunciation isn't even that strange as Danish phrases go. I said it out loud, in a manner of appropriate volume and enunciation, looking straight at her. From the look on her face, I seriously thought that in my sleep I had accidentally done grievous bodily harm to somebody very dear to her. She looked not just confused, but actually disgusted at my utterance of that simple yet essential phrase. Her reply was "What?!?" as if I had just insinuated that by night she sells her body to fat Swedes on the ferry.

I was literally livid with frustration. I know that Danes have a hard time with accents, but I simply WILL NOT accept that the level of mis- or total incomprehension I have been subjected to in this country is tolerable or even rational. I'm trying so hard and it feels like getting slapped in the face every time somebody asks me if I'm speaking German. I'm telling you guys, my accent is really pretty spot-on. It's obvious that I'm not a native, because to achieve that kind of proficiency in this language involves growing extra folds in your soft palette or fucking gills or something.

On top of this, today marks the first day of the rains and, in all likelihood, the last day of snow in any serious capacity. Most would rejoice at this painfully lackluster display of warmth, but I am more depressed by far. Aside from my freakish affinity for the cold, I really fucking hate rain, especially clouds. My only way of dealing with the weather here has been to avoid thinking about it as much as humanly possible. I can count two days where it has been sunny for even a majority of the day, let alone the whole thing. If I didn't have such a burning hatred of numbers, I would calculate a percentage of sunny days out of my total days here. The result, we shall say, would be mind-shattering.

So, am I going a little crazy over here? Yes. I haven't been getting out quite as much, I've been up later and spending more time recovering from said late nights than I usually would. I have a really long day ahead of me, tacking on to my already 5 hours of wakefulness at 11:12 am, but with any luck or vague sense of cosmic consistency it will end well. My plan for today is to get through classes and a Danish quiz, over at 5:45, and then grab drinks with the interns and staff of the IT helpdesk here. I have hit it off with them really well the few times I've been in with friends' computer problems or those of my own, and if nothing else we will have ridiculous customer service stories to swap over a few brews. Then, it's back to Mojo again to see their house jam band tear it up. My goal from now until that begins at 9:30 is to get as many people as I can to come along with me. I think pretty much everyone I live with is busy with work or other plans, but I can't spend another night sitting around on this infernal machine upon which I now chisel this cursed tome.

One light in the bleak and never-ending sea of greyscale of this country is that we are close enough to Sweden to get their major sports networks, which means Olympic hockey! Naturally, Denmark is terrible at just about every sport -- known or as of yet undiscovered -- so nobody here cares about the Olympics, and thus very little of it is broadcast. The up/downside to having to watch on Swedish networks is I've had the distinct (dis)pleasure of listening to Swedish commentary. I am in such a habit of tuning out the banal blatherings of whatever once-almost-famous stiffs they can resuscitate for long enough to draw Xs and Os on whatever hideous technological holdover from the 1980s they can rig up before going on air, that even in languages I understand, I get about the same value out of it. As much as I'm filled with xenophobic rage at the perceived rudeness I have suffered at the hands of the Danes, I don't think anyone can help but find the Swedish language anything short of hilarious. Listening to the Swedes, especially the old ones who have the real Nordic Lilt in their voice where our deepest caricatures of their language originate from, turn names like "Jack Johnson" into "Yak Yawnsoon" could make a hanged man grin. That being said, the prevailing inferiority complex that the Danes have in regards to Sweden leads me to believe that I shouldn't be happy about having to watch things in Swedish.

I will now take a moment to pay tribute to the United States of America's Men's Olympic Ice Hockey team, who are kicking ass and taking names in the true likeness of Uncle Sam and the rag-tag bunch of kung-fu hustlin' superdelegates that founded our great country. After brutally burgling the Canadians of the only thing their nation had (very intentionally past tense) to be proud of with the defeat of their supersquad of Canuck Puckslingers, the American team has done us proud as a nation and, it is my firm belief, will continue to do so until the halcyon wings of freedom have vaulted them to highest position on the winner's podium. Oh, say, I can already see that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the lands of the Canadians as we slowly but inexorably subsume their culture and territory into ours.

I myself tried to go ice skating for about the 6th time yesterday, figuring it would be nice to finally use the skates I had shipped over here, and after weeks of asking around (not surprisingly nobody had any even remote idea of where to find an ice skating rink) and searching frantically on the interwebs I finally thought I had found a place. I got the address, printed out explicit and detailed instructions on how to get there, had my watch synchronized with the atomic clock and my skates ready to go. I even called ahead to make sure they were open for public skating. The detail that I missed was that this ice rink was closed two years ago for renovations, and a temporary rink in a completely different part of town was opened and given the same number. So while I did call ahead and confirm, after almost 4 hours of stumbling around the public transportation system to the far reaches of Osterbro and back, all I came back with was an unpleasantly intimate knowledge of a dilapidated building that once held the object of my dreams and desires, where now only regret and shame remain. I did have a bitchin' chicken and jalapeno sandwich across the street, though, and I got to know that area better. So, as usual, all is not lost. Just a little disappointing.

Last night I got to take another crack at singing The Balcony with Jeppe, and besides the fact that we both keep switching the lyrical order in different ways (it's been a while since our last rehearsal), the piece is really coming together. We got some preliminary informal recordings of it, you can expect a video of the finished piece by mid-March after I get back from my long study tour. I love singing songs, especially ones that sound good, especially ones that sound good that have harmonies (which is all of them). Slowly I will master this craft of harmonizing, until I can harmonize with everyday speech and just totally destroy peoples minds when they talk to me. The song, which is realllllly good and should be thoroughly investigated by anybody who has remotely similar music tastes to me, is by a Danish band called The Rumour Said Fire as I have probably mentioned a dozen times before. Jeppe and I will be performing it for a showcase night on March 20th at my folkehojskole, and hopefully again at other venues after that.

Even in a land of dank, cloudy frustration and brusque natives, there remains opportunity and promise for an enterprising young fool like me. The question will slowly but surely come to be about how this will translate to my life at home, around which I have constructed convenient and very cloistering barricades that prevent new things from entering or exiting. I'm not sure how to answer that, nor do I think I will be until I can see first-hand how it plays out, but I have some idea of where to start.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Zombie Nation

When posting the link for my previous blog post on my Facebook wall, I had to do one of those character recognition tests to make sure I wasn't a robot trying to spam peoples walls with my e-filth. Normally they are pretty non-sequitur word sets that you have to identify and retype, like "bridging haptic" or "abandonment crustacean." This one made just enough sense to be kind of a thing, and it was hilarious, and now I've gone off and forgot it. Fuck me sideways. It was hilarious too! Something like Indigent Williams, like a proper hobo name, conjuring up the silhouette of a dirt-eating 75 year old panhandler in the grizzly heights of the Sierra Nevadas.

You may have noticed a sudden dearth in the normally verdant fields of verbiage that this blog purveys. Well, aside from the fact that I'm becoming less and less incredulous about the goings-on of this place as I adjust culturally, I've also been hoarding away my writings so that I could present to you this bumper crop of delightful prose. Two posts in one day! What I have to offer you, aside from my normal musings, is this:

Preface -- An Island Apart, A Fantasy As One

Even in foreign countries, sometimes you just can't help imagining what you would do if the zombie apocalypse were to occur. This is the second draft of a collaborative effort between myself and Taylor Woodward, a colleague here at my hojskole and a true patriot, who is featured prominently in this short piece. With any luck or motivation, this will be further revised and subsequently serialized.

Chapter 1 -- Dead Dread Deadening

Taylor sits quietly in economics class, his gaze catching at seemingly arbitrary points around the room. The teacher drones on about marginal revenue. The stapler, the heavy oak desk that looked so out of place in the sparsely furnished classroom, the hefty aluminum legs on the chairs. The pathetically unintelligent ask unintelligent questions. Taylor doodles and ponders how much time is left. A room devoid of interest but full of so much potential.
All of a sudden, a break in the monotony. A girl by the window screams in horror, the collective attention of the class focuses on her just in time to see her pointing out the window at the offices across the way. At the point where her gaze collides with the building's facade, the class fixates on a bay window awash with the blood of innocents. Students leap up from their seats, vaulting up onto the window sills to get a better view of a sight they know they shouldn't want to see.
Another girl shrieks and points, as girls are wont to do, in the next office over a woman is barricading the door in a desperate bid to buy time for her already fading existence. The weak door cannot withstand the pressure, snapping inward in an explosion of splinters. Four figures enter the room; clothes torn, skin gray, mouths agape and covered in blood...zombies. The walking dead. Not just walking – the limb-ripping, flesh-feasting dead that reside in the collective nightmare of every society. The class watches in horror as the vicious ghouls set into the woman and subsume her into their vile cohort. Down on the street people flee and run from the zombie foe as Taylor's econ teacher slams down the phone, cursing the absent dial tone.
Screams of terror erupt in the stairwell outside the classroom as zombies pour into the building. The teacher rushes over and locks the door, Taylor knows it is a futile gesture, some students begin to weep.

Chapter 2 -- Hurricane Stirring

The screams from outside grow louder, rising with a tide of crashing doors and frantic footsteps as zombies surge into the classroom across the hall. Some other students begin to panic, others faint from terror. Taylor walks calmly over to the coat rack and dons his jacket, zipping up tight. He feels the cool leather of his gloves at his fingertips as they slide effortlessly onto his hands, a sensation almost as familiar to him as that of taking a man's life. As the arms of his night-vision shades slip over his ears, the power cuts out, muffling the gory screams of the inhumanity around him in darkness.
As the zombies begin to bang on the door, students rush over to secure it. Taylor, having realized hours ago the futility of such a gesture in the face of a potential zombie attack of this magnitude, already knows what must be done. He kneels down next to the chairs his gaze had wandered across at the beginning of class, slowly unscrewing one of the metal legs; about 4 feet long and solid – perfect.
As the students continue to pile chairs and tables in front of the door, Taylor waits. Biding his strength for the dark harvest to come, he sheds a single tear for the imminent death of his classmates.
Just then, the all-but forgotten back door of the room slams open. Zombies. Students scream and try to run. Too late. At least 10 of the mutants rush through the door and attack the class now trapped in a brutal bloodlock they have no hope of winning by the very barricade they erected in a vain attempt at survival.
The teacher goes first, torn into a bloody mess, never to give horrible essay prompts ever again. Then the dumb students, caught trying to escape. Taylor waits patiently at the other end of the room. As the zombies devour what they believe to be all the students in the room, one catches a whiff of yet-fresh brains.
The creature raises its blight-ridden skull, directly into the path of the whistling chair leg, which connects with a sickening splunch – bloodying the undead mob already blanketed in red. The creature's zombie allies turn and roar as they face their undoing: Taylor Fucking Woodward.

They lock eyes for a moment,

and charge.

The zombies are slow, plodding. Taylor moves like the wind, swinging his weapon in magnificent arcs as he catches the first zombie In. The. Face.
Ducking, sliding, weaving, he eludes the outstretched arms of his foes, grasping fatefully as their instincts command, only to lose their . And after many strikes of his mighty weapon the dispatches the last of his enemies back into the fiery hell from whence they were borne. As he begins to leave he notices one of the zombies was a police officer, 9mm handgun still holstered faithfully at his side. Taylor commandeers the gun, cleans the zombie blood off his table leg, and walks out of the building as it is engulfed in a crimson inferno.

Taylor feels the heat. He never looks back. He can feel the bodies burn – but he senses no fear.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I got the blues...

...Wednesday night, at Mojo, a blues bar. There's is nothing quite like live blues, even if it is performed by foreigners with weird haircuts. That place is probably the best in terms of total entertainment value and legititude that I've visited while here. It's small, smoky and well-appointed enough that it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This bar has live performances nearly every night of the week, and entry is free on weekdays.

What an epic week. Full of Adventure! Scandal! Drama! This week has been host to a grand coincidence of both potential and kinetic brands of fun. They are properly correlated for the first time in a while, and I am reaping the rich bounty of this fun-harvest. These are solid plans that turn out to be better than already expected, which makes them pretty much the best kind of plans.

I feel like I have found the core to this whole experience, my social kernel, from which I can weather the shitstorm of gossip and snakkeligt that pervade my living situation. Really it's all you can expect when people of such vast difference in attitude and action are placed in direct contact for hours and hours a day without much in the way of reprieve. Every action and conversation is threaded through with a venomous strand, and the net it weaves covers the entirety of experience here. It isn't really that different from being at, in a purely hypothetical sense, going to a school of 1,400 in a town of 9,000. Not that I have much experience in that kind of situation. But still, at Grinnell people have the time and leisure to get settled in before the shenanigans really start. Also, living on a floor for a whole year at college impels your signature onto a sort of contract that forces you to care what other people think, in what turns out to be a really uncomfortable dance. Here, there isn't quite enough time to care about that stuff, and it really shows. On the bright side, the group size at the hojskole is just right such that there's breathing room between people.

So the band last night, a blues quartet strangely entitled Tutweiler, was comprised of 4 Danes who look like they could be a Weezer ska cover band that had a horrible lab accident involving the Dave Matthews Band and Chuck Berry's ghost. Short sleeve button downs, the SuperCoif slickback hair, cowboy-Europop pointed boots. The whole 9 yards (8.2296 meters). It was a truly awesome experience, drinking whiskey and listening to the "gammel amerikansk blues." I hesitate to call it authentic, but it sure sounded a hell of a lot like it was.

And so it was written in the book of Rage. Parts of this week just pissed me off. Couldn't really tell you why. Maybe it was my bipolar Danish teacher who told the class that I wasn't in good shape because I had not one but two grammatical errors on my homework. I think I've already belabored the point that the Danes have a different sense of what is public or private than we do. Maybe it was that we watched United Flight 93, a movie as cheesy (at times) and morally dubious as it is discomforting. Maybe it was the fact that it's been cloudy in this country since before human memory, or the 3 flakes of snow that managed to hit the ground without melting that prompted all buses to stop service. I fucking hate that bus so much I have dreams about it getting ripped apart by large machines with no remorse.

Maybe it was my bitch computer, which stopped taking a charge from the wall for about an hour this morning. I think that episode was the closest I've come to axe-kicking a piece of technology through a solid floor, but luckily I was able to restrain myself. Luckily, being a badass of unfathomably epic proportions, I happened to narrow down where the power failure was happening and -- get this -- have the spare part to fix it with. This is the second time this particular part of my AC adapter has failed, so this time I came prepared. Yae, and on this day it was acknowledged my dominion over all things technology.

Maybe it was this runny nose, which is pretty much a never-ending cockblock but for fun. Wanna go out? Sniffle. Were you thinking about being somewhere without a tissue box for more than 15 seconds? Drip. Had you planned on not feeling like shoving your head through a wall at least once an hour? Throb. What the fuck do sinuses even do? They just sit there all day, smug in their power over you and your olfactory senses, drizzling hideous slime out of two holes in your face. Why can't the cavities in our skulls be filled with something cool, like chocolate syrup? Why can't we just use it as storage space? It all just seems like a big sham to me, and the festering mountain of sodden tissues sitting next to me is all the proof I need.

Some days, you just have to be angry. Hell, most people hardly even need a reason. I haven't figured out how to get around it except to let it out. If I try to talk myself down I always just end up depressed. The good news is it never lasts very long, and there always remains my one true outlet for emotions that I have no clue how to deal with: humor. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is tonight's word.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rejection and Further States of Disengagement

It's challenging to stay as "in the moment" as I feel like I should be at all times. It's also hard to type on these goddamn European keyboards. Must they thwart my attempts to bring prosaic justice to this accursed land at every turn?

But onward I must press. My tactic so far has been to just get outside, and to that end I've been shoveling an elliptical path through the snow atop the frozen pond in the yard here. I may have already mentioned this before. I don't remember, I write too damn much on this thing anyway. I might be acting in a Sisyphean manner, as I'm certain by the time I finish the ice will be too thin to skate on -- not to mention the fact that it consistently snows right after I get done shoveling. Not a lot, but enough to irk me in a most irksome manner. IRK.

I really really don't want to fall into a pond of near-freezing water. That would kind of put a damper on whatever form of happiness I had going on here.

Today, instead, I will be playing soccer. Football. Whatever.

I crave buffalo wings with such consistency and visceral fury that I don't think I'll make it much longer in this alimentary climate, which is comprised chiefly of mayonnaise and weak curry powder. Any kind of food you could consider "Dansk," a distinction that many Danes don't recognize, can pretty much be boiled down to a sauce you can put on starch or meat. It still tastes pretty good, but I think it lacks a certain verve that food from places with real cultural pride has. The snack food is also severely lacking, which is really more of a blessing than anything. It's easy to see why our country tips the scale so obesely when weighed against others, especially Denmark. Not only is our food fattier, saltier and more artificial on average, but the portions are larger and the price is unimaginably lower. It would be interesting to map the prices of food over America's history and try to compare it to other countries. While I suppose lower prices allow more of our populace to eat to begin with, the food they are given in the quantities they are buying it presents a situation that is pretty universally reprehensible. And throughout all of this, the farmers and providers of America are being swallowed up at a rate comparable to that of the fruits of their labor.

I had a mildly exciting week. Between a strange illness, many late nights, a paper writing experience and a bar performance, I feel like I should have more to talk about than I do. I guess I can try:

I went out into Copenhagen on Tuesday, purportedly to sing some karaoke. What ended up happening was distinctly not like karaoke, but it was still legit. I met up with Bill Schoenfelder, aka Big Bill Money aka Billiam aka Billionaire, who I haven't seen in a coon's age, and he tagged along as the rest of the American contingency from my højskole and I ran amok through the city square and "hopped bars" as they say. I had some hilarious exchanges with very drunk Jews, who are always excited to see other Jews in such a strange land as this, you can imagine for yourselves how those went. When we actually got to the karaoke place, after our group splintered in a quintessentially inebriated manner, there was really not much going on. There was a guy on stage, we would later learn it was his birthday that night, holding the mic. Now, karaoke was happening, but he was decidedly not a participant. The words were scrolling by on the screen, and the instrumentals were blaring, but he was just holding a conversation that was completely unrelated...through the microphone. We left immediately and sang the whole way home, which was a long way. There is almost nothing good about the night bus to Helsingør. On it I gave my flash drive full of random music ripped out of my iTunes library to a girl, purportedly a friend of somebody staying at this højskole, so with any luck I'll see that again before May.

Thursday was exciting enough, I got to sing a song with that guy I mentioned a few weeks ago on this blog, Jeppe. In typical fashion, eschewing the always helpful step of planning ahead and, I don't know, knowing what time I'm supposed to be there, I just showed up at the bar at a random time hoping he would be there. Turns out I was about 80 minutes early, but also in typical fashion turned out to be a very good thing. I was one of 4 people in the bar for those 80 minutes, and two of the people were already fast friends and were decidedly against holding a conversation with me. Which left me and the bartender, a really neat guy named Kasper who was playing Kings of Convenience when I came in. Music really is the great uniter.

Long story short, we talked for a long time and I got the name of some cool underground music spaces to check out in the future. Then the drinks started coming in. By the time that night ended at 3am, I had payed maybe 70 kroner for about 200 kroner worth of drinks, not one of which I asked for but all of which I received gladly. The bartender was also a whiskey enthusiast, so of course I had to try some of his stock. Needless to say next Thursday will take place primarily at this bar, conveniently only a couple miles from my place of residence. The performance also went well, although they only had one mic which was troublesome. Once I get the parts down for more songs (slash make them up), I could be a regular.

After that, one of my companions and I decided to stick around and make some friends. We ended up meeting, in keeping with the truly ridiculous nature of everything, a bunch of professional bricklayers who were also on the same soccer team. Apparently they've been out of work for quite a while due to the weather, which not a single Dane fails to point out is unusually cold even for a country this far North. I end up randomly stepping in and winning a fusbol game, playing wingman for one of the bricklayers, hilarity did in fact ensue.

After singing so much and being around college-aged people for so long (you will recall I just came off of a short study tour with 30 of my contemporaries), there was no way to avoid getting a cold, specifically in the throat. The scary part was that my tonsil really hurt. Yeah, that's right. The one I had removed. So basically my throat is haunted now.

Friday I had a fun time of staying in and small-scale partying at the højskole, and I'll take this time to point out that I have danced more here than I have at any one other place or time, something that I didn't really expect but I suppose subconsciously knew had to happen. It can be fun! I introduced people to Tunak Tunak Tun, which as you know means virtually endless entertainment.

Saturday was a costume party, as a part of the Fastelavns tradition here in Denmark. It's like Winterween, but without ghosts. The tradition is to put a live cat in a barrel and then smash the barrel like a pinata until the cat is broken loose and, probably severely abused, flees the scene. This is symbolic of driving evil out of the town, but due to magical trickery they had to substitute cats for the witches they really meant to put in the barrels. Nowadays it's just candy in the barrel, but it was still funny. It was also Korean New Year, Valentines Day and our very own special made up holiday, wine day. Hooray! I dressed up as the 70s, but after a solid week of out-and-aboutness I felt like I couldn't muster the energy to put my all into it and really adopt the full persona. Pictures will follow

This was also unfortunately one of those nights that I fell asleep before midnight. Let's just say my night didn't go as planned, but it's really no disaster. If I've learned anything from being here it's that you are never out of options.

Soccer time. Football. Whatever.



I don't.


reading, reading....

yeah what the fuck is this.

I'll pass.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Real Story and other falsifications of factual events

What my dad astutely pointed out about a day after my last blog post is that I never really talked about how I learned to stop worrying and love the Gammel Dansk.

Aside from the fact that I really wanted to work a title reference to Dr. Strangelove into this blog somehow, the two major parts of that clause are definitely relevant to my journey here, or really to any journey I undertake. Let's break it down: First, I really don't like worrying about things. Second, raised on a culturally diverse diet and blessed by Odin with an "open-minded palette," I've developed a taste tolerance for just about anything.

Now, you're probably still scratching your head in a befuddled state. You want to ask me, "But Simon, what is Gammel Dansk and in what manner does it relate to your taste buds?" To answer this, we'll have to delve into some etymology.

Dansk is the easy part of this couplet, meaning "Danish." The first word is a little trickier but still doable, with Gammel glossing to "ancient," or, more appropriate to the vernacular of liquor naming conventions, "old." Old in the sense of, say, Old Crow. I think most of you will, from the resounding depths of that reference, be able to infer the terror that this word should inspire in you when placed before "Dansk." I'm looking at you, Greg Swanson.

Now, there's some context you should be aware of when approaching Danish liquors and food in general. The only real spice they have in this part of the world is Anise. For those who aren't aspiring botanists out there, this is the plant not quite responsible for unleashing the abomination known as licorice upon this world, but for then imitating its flavor for some probably Satanic purpose. I think it's one of the only plants that could withstand the constant yelling emanating from Viking civilization around the turn of the first century.

In all seriousness though, the Vikings, in keeping with their truly brutal nature, liked really bitter stuff. Lacking hops, the Vikings chopped up wormwood to brew into their beers. I don't know if you've ever bitten wormwood, I had a chance to do so at the brewery tour we went on, but it is true to what I'm certain its namesake would taste like. So really bitter tasting weird shit ended up in a lot of Danish sweets and treats, but most importantly in Danish liquor. They have licorice shots, menthol shots, schnapps flavored with dill leaves and soil -- you name something you would never want to ingest concurrently with alcohol, they've got it.

So now this brings us -- dramatic pause -- to Gammel Dansk. Gammel Dansk has licorice. It probably has anise. It has echoes of vermouth. It has the flavor sucker-punch of bitters. It has 40% alcohol by volume. It has it all. Gammel Dansk is an incredibly potent bastardization of more or less everything you wouldn't want to drink independent of some vast quantity of mixer, but all mixed together. And the flavors do not complement each other, except in the sense that it makes the true awfulness of every distinct stitch of this Frankenstein's brew really come to life.

The first time I had Gammel Dansk, at the ridiculous kollegium party I described a few posts ago, I thought that in the frenzy of the party somebody had also struck me in the torso with a 2x4 at the moment that I took a swig. The second time was a much more fitting occasion, standing on top of the grave of Gorm the Old, the first King of Denmark, where our teacher busted out a bottle and plastic shot glasses for the whole class to suffer under. Rational prudence would have led to me refusing to drink the stuff a second time, but we were on study tour, and the site we were at is literally as old and Danish as it gets. Literally, that site is host to a rune stone with the first recorded instance of the land being referred to as Denmark. Also, it's been my habit this trip to never say no to adventure, which this drink certainly qualifies as.

Somewhere in this tangled mess of words is a point I was trying to make about letting go and just rolling with it. The study tour was stressful, our group was full of really outgoing people that I have a history of being intimidated by. And it happened, but I feel like I got by alright, and I kept saying yes to adventure with maybe one exception, and it worked out fine. Maybe not ideal, but in truth it's not worth worrying about if somebody else had a better time than you. It isn't about having a really epic time all the time, in fact it can't be philosophically speaking. I had to fight those thoughts, tag-teaming me with my bizarre discomfort with travel, tooth and nail, but maybe I gained some ground. We'll see.

It always surprises me how my situation here never really stops changing, new people are constantly entering and exiting the scene. It's a Plato's cave of beer and people and bad karaoke, figures parading before my eyes -- some of which in a sense won't even be real to me in 3 months. In another sense, though, there are a tremendous amount of choices open to me here if I just take the initiative. Me inviting people out to parties or making plans is something completely foreign to my normal experience, I like to have things just coalesce organically. But it's refreshing to ask people to come out for a night on the town, it makes me feel more in control of the situation than I normally do. Confidence is fun.

I saw a couple of the kids from my tour out on the town last night and everything was groovy. I say groovy because I literally can't wait until this weekend's Ice Disco party (tagline: "The Shizzle on the Izzle"). I'm just gonna end it there, with the part about disco on ice. Because that is downright exciting.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Juttland Diaries, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Gammel Dansk

Seeing as this is the first time I've been in Zealand and sober since Wednesday, I figured I would blog about my short study tour to Western Denmark, otherwise known as Jutland to us and Jylland to them. Jutland is a mystical place, replete with planar landscapes, flat lands and hill-less countrysides. It took me a few days to really discover how without-height this part of Denmark is, mostly because of the oppressive fog that choked out the sun every hour of the day and night.

The drive, clear across the country, only took us something like 4 hours, which is ridiculous considering that you can practically drive any direction for that duration from my house and never see the end of anything (ok, maybe due East would take you to the shore by hour 4, but you get the point). I would use my school address as an example, but I feel like that's cheating -- everybody knows Iowa is 4 hours from everything, it's just a law of nature.

I'll take this time to note that after only 3 days without a computer, my hands have already forgotten where some of the keys lie. This marks about the 4th time that I've typed 5 instead of 4, and the third time that I've hit the = key instead of backspace. It's legitimately concerning, on two fronts: a) I would like to maintain my proficiency at computer use and b) WHAT HAVE I BECOME?!?!?

In Nordic Mythology we broke down the structure of pre-Viking poetry, called Scaldic poetry (epic). These poems were hundreds of lines long, written entirely in the heads of roving bands of poet-warriors, and had the most batshit insane rhyme scheme I've ever heard. The Germanic peoples hadn't hewn end-rhymes out of rocks and blood yet by this time, so everything was consonance and alliteration. Every line had to begin and end with words with the same beginning vowel sound, as did the middle word of the line, which had to be the same as every other middle word in the poem. I will reprint some more rules from an undisclosed online source:

"Each stanza has eight lines, and each line has six syllables. Three syllables in each line must be stressed, and the last syllable must be unstressed. The lines are linked in alliterating pairs, and the first line of each pair must have two alliterating syllables. All lines must have internal rhyme."

So ridiculous! Why would anybody bother making poetry like this, you ask? How would anybody even remember poetry like that? There are so many rules! Our teacher, Morten Warmind of the Bloodthirsty Blade, told us that to the contrary, these poems were hard to memorize at first but thereafter literally unforgettable. People in those times memorized all these crazy oral traditions and poems because they had nothing else to remember. Never was there a scene like

Mette: "Lars, did you remember to club the seal this morning?"
Lars: "D'oh!"

Because seal clubbing was literally all they did all the time, with some jewelry making or boar hunting in between. While this may be an especially narrow view of Viking life, the point still stands: they had more room in their brains back then.

The Jutland tour was a whirlwind of museum visits, delicious meals, attractive...monasteries and liquor. It was a great opportunity to both get to know other kids in the program and meet Danes, who are as a rule hilarious and awesome. We got a chance, on top of our excessive museum visits, to stay at the first folkehojskole ever created (by N. F. Grundtvig himself), furnished almost identically to my home hojskole and replete with same-aged Danes and a couple Czechs. We had a chance to sit down and mingle with them, which was really cool. I think that my conversation skills are really improving, and it's always fun to hear about people who had more or less a completely foreign upbringing (sans the absurd amount of Friends everybody in Europe grew up on). The only problem is that I'm now getting tired of asking the same questions over and over again, and you all know how much I hate repeating myself.

We got a chance to see the epic oldiocity of Ribe, the oldest sedentary town in all of Scandinavia (which is also, incidentally, the namesake of ScanTron automated answer cards from the Standardized Testing days of yore). It was cold, confusing and full of people who were probably holdovers from the town's first neighborhood, which is to say: ancient, crusty, territorial and completely non-English-speaking. I walked on a lot of lawns trying to get better looks at landmarks and buildings, and subsequently got yelled at in Danish quite a few times, presumably ushering me off of said lawns.

We went to a Viking museum in Jelling, ("Yelling," in keeping with my theory that everything can be made better by screaming things as loud as you can) the place where the first King of Denmark is buried and also home to the most epic runic stones in the world chronicling the spread of Christianity in the Viking kingdom.

Most importantly, though, we got to go out on a Friday night in a town with literally nothing to do but drink. We ended our "academics" on Friday with a tour of a local microbrewery, which I was reasonably excited about given that I spend a majority of my time drinking seasonal microbrews and discussing Proust (BRIGAND!). Now, most brewery tours you get a really long spiel about how it's made and then they give you a thimble full of their latest travesty and send you on your way. This brewery, owned by three ordinary schmucks who are probably brothers in a symbolic sense, began the tour with a tasting. In fact, the whole tour was a tasting, we never even moved. The distillery is in something like a 500 year old garage in the center of a 1300 year old town, and 35 of us crammed into this one room filled with beer and he just said "have at it." With that and the beer included in our dinner that night, I was drunk for easily 8 hours without paying a dime (50 øre). Not only that, but the beer was fan fucking tastic. Beer here is higher quality in general, but it's all the standard pale fare if you don't want to pay out the ears for it (incidentally, Vikings used to pay for beer with actual ears). Dark beer here is the closest thing to the godly nectar of (br-)Olympus that mankind has ever ventured, but comes at a correspondingly wallet-punishing price.

We then went to a bar that we heard was fun and reasonably priced, we being me and this guy AJ from Grinnell who I met here. As an aside, AJ tells me that he had an avocado tree on his street growing up as a kid in California. The fiery passion for jealous murder in cold blood burned brightly in my eyes. Anyway, needless to say there was karaoke, and also needless to say I have a throat cold, but I sang anyway much to my body's dismay. Karaoke is always a bucket of fun, but after a while I was utterly defeated by it. Walking outside, I saw a lot of Danes running around looking kind of odd. It didn't really strike me until I passed a guy and felt my mouth say "holy fuck, it's Ziggy Stardust." Apparently he didn't really expect me to say that as much as I didn't expect me to say that, and he whirled around and promptly hugged me for about 10 seconds. I was the only one who got that he was dressed up as David Bowie's alter ego that night, as this was a night that Danes in Ribe go around in costumes.

What I didn't know at the time, or did know but at the time forgot, is that this time of year Danes celebrate Fastelavns, which is pretty much a less eerily pagan Halloween where kids dress up and get drunk. Sorry, go from house to house and demand candy. Basically, Ziggy then invited me to go out with his friends, but some other people I was with were being difficult and much to my now dismay, I didn't follow him. Instead I went back to the hostel looking for ping pong tables, stumbled into the gym and cried "wtf, are they racing mini-horses in here or something?" What I meant to say was "My, there is a lot of equipment in here that would lead me to believe there's a dog show happening tomorrow." There were jumps, hoops, those crazy dog slalom post things, the whole shebang. Then I put dog and hoop together and realized that I had indeed seen an alarming number of well-groomed canines about the city that day. This would be confirmed the next morning when I awoke to frenzied yapping, surrounded by dogs. Not literally, but you get the point.

As usual, despite the highlights of this trip it was once again confusing and unsettling in some ways. I really don't like traveling and I get cranky if I have to stand for too long. Between walking everywhere, being on a cramped bus and the awful beds they had us on, my legs took a pounding this week. Keep in mind that this study tour was with 34 people I had never met before, so figuring out that dynamic was also a hassle. I got out-sarcasm'd many times over by some of the kids in the group, but I managed to keep myself socially engaged the whole time. Sometimes I felt a bit too much on the fringe for my liking, but I kept my chin up and had a really good trip. I also really like the guy who is teaching our class and led the whole tour, we had a number of really quality conversations that I would never expect to have with a teacher. The faculty-student dynamic here is completely different from that in the states, and it's really quite nice.

I'm not sure I have any major ontological conclusions to draw from any of this, and there's about a dozen more pages I could write about the study tour, but I think I'll leave it here for now. Today's adventure will be finding a place to watch the Super Bowl, and will probably involve me staying up all night until the trains start running again tomorrow morning. Details at 11 (a.m. tomorrow).


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Applications and obscurantist musings

Well, what I've learned from writing this blog is that as soon as I come to some sort of meaningful conclusion it pretty promptly proves itself incorrect. Not entirely, and I think there's still some good stuff in here, but's a bit much. You guys were skipping over the metaphysical bits anyway, it's not interesting to read and it makes me sound like an ass above all else. I don't actually know anything about philosophy, nor do I have any kind of real experiential platform upon which I can stand and pontificate. From now on, I'll try to stick to verbose descriptions of mundane cultural intersections and ridiculous things I may or may not have done outside of a bar called Wall Street when the Metro stopped running yesterday.

More importantly, I spend too much time on the internet as it is. As fun as these are to write, they also take hours out of my day that I could be wasting on equally frivolous pursuits with little to no discernible positive value.

Yesterday was a bemusing day. I decided to meet up with some people for a sushi dinner, meaning that I would just stay a few hours after classes in the city and then head to the restaurant. This was the night of "blizzard" #2 of my stay here, so things would get very complicated. I went out with the same girls who invited me to the kollegium party this past Saturday, and after finding one place (a real hole in the wall, in the literal sense that you actually stuck your hand through a hole and they gave you sushi) and deciding not to eat there we settled on a nice if expensive place near our classroom buildings. I had a Sapporro in my favorite uncrushable tallboy can, which turned out to be a dismaying 64 kroner, but hey, gotta live a little bit. And everyone knows that living and spending money are directly correlated, right?

We went to some bars, met a couple of dudes (and they were in fact dudes) from Tufts that my companions knew from somewhere and went on to more bars. One of these dudes, who I'll call Senor Stubble, had a significant amount of stubble. The other one looked like a young clone of John Stewart, though it took me about half of the evening to really realize it. We talked about dinosaurs and ogled at crucially mustachioed Danes, typical for a night's entertainment, and then due to the state of the train tracks (these people flip out like none other when the white rain starts to fall) I went and stayed at this kollegium again. That's about the time when the allergic reaction to seafood happened to the girl I was staying with. I can't imagine food allergies. I don't want to.

I'm leaving for a study tour to Western Denmark tomorrow bright and early, hopefully that will generate some blog-worthy experiences. I think I've thought everything to death enough, this will now be an exercise in doing. I have my work cut out for me.