Thursday, September 12, 2013


At the start of my fifth season with The Royal Danish Ballet, I have two thoughts: Madonna had absolutely no concept of how time really works when she sang Hung Up; and it's funny how unexpectedly a place can go from feeling wildly foreign to becoming your home without you even really noticing it. I have come to love Copenhagen more than I ever thought I would, or even could. I have a track record of getting Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to life in general, of always having a want for some unknown thing or place or situation; of never really allowing myself to feel at home in any one place. (Perhaps this is why I didn't own any furniture up until a year ago, and traveled like a gypsy for seven years.) The Germans have an excellent word for this: fernweh, literally "farsickness" or "an ache for distant places." But I seem to have found my Ritalin in Copenhagen. This cold, tiny slice of planet Earth, with its strange language and open-faced sandwiches and excellent interior design, has become a place I am always eager to return to whenever I have been away. 

It's difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is about this city that I love so much. Like everything in my life that is most important to me, I have a love/hate relationship with Copenhagen. Because there are certainly things about it that I don't like. The endless winters, which inevitably lead to a point--usually around February--when I decide that I must have missed a major news headline because clearly the sun died and will never return, and the sky will be fifty shades of grey forever. The McDonald's that replaced Cafe a Porta makes me a little angry on a daily basis. Banking hours are inconveniently exactly when I work. The general expensive cost of everything also isn't super conducive to me wanting things. There isn't really a solid affordable Mexican or Chinese takeout place, for those days when all I really want is a burrito, or maybe some General Tso's chicken and fried rice that I can then leave in the fridge for a couple days and do a smell test and decide they're probably fine to eat if I keep them cold. While we're on the subject of food: leverpostej, herring, Ga-Jol shots, the deadly Christmas schnapps tradition, whenever I see someone put the baby shrimp things with hard-boiled eggs together on rye bread--I can't. My phone company, 3, isn't really all that helpful, especially to foreigners; although I guess I can say they have a fairly good app for the iPhone, and their employees are impressively stoic and unaffected by crying customers. The lack of respect for the art form that is jaywalking, I find inconceivable. When the gay bar, Cosy, suddenly decides to be "Men Only": I love gay bars, I didn't have a choice in being a female, I just took what the genetic lottery gave me. Dealing with broken beer bottles in the bike lanes on Saturday and Sunday mornings isn't my favorite pasttime, either; I bike poorly enough without added obstacle courses. Danish cafe service occasionally makes me consider running into the establishment's kitchen and just making myself a sandwich and pouring my own damn beer. Also, you have a much better chance of getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery than finding affordable housing that isn't next door to Sweden in a short amount of time. The fact that the shops start pushing Christmas on the people in like, October, because there are no filler autumn holidays gives me agita. And this is a city of people who will bike anywhere, for hours, but as soon as a destination takes more than 30 minutes on public transportation or by car, it's deemed "too far." If I'm being honest, the Little Mermaid is a Little Pathetic. Danish rap is something I actively disagree with. Things that I struggle with include the doors in shops everywhere that you have to pull to exit, and I always forget, and then get embarrassed-pissy and make the "What if there was a fire?" argument. The general distaste for and judgment of wearing sweatpants in public means I get a lot of looks at Irma and Netto that I don't appreciate. Seeing Danes who bike while texting, with coffee, holding hands just pisses me off because I can barely handle making the proper signals. And to the Danish Immigration Service: I think I hate you most of all.

But these things, these little annoying things I say I dislike, are far outweighed by everything I really love about this place. I love the funny language, with actual vocabulary like fart and fy for satan. The fact that people will just hang out at the cemeteries, for fun, appeals to something dark inside of me. The bakeries, and their magical products, are worth getting out of bed for; in related news, Danish butter really is superior. The "inbetweens" of Danish architecture, something that's hard to articulate but beautifully seen from the rooftop of, say, The Royal Theatre, give me visual joy every day. Also wonderful: the random holidays that I don't really understand, but many of which are very intelligently placed in the late springtime; the random holidays I do understand, like J-Dag, which is a late November celebration dedicated to the launch of the Christmas Beer. (And on that subject, the beer is excellent.) Lighting design in this country almost makes up for the lack of natural light in winter; I never really paid much attention before moving here, but the Danes know a good lamp. Living in a little-big city means that after a while, you start to run into people you know all the time on the street, and develop relationships with your local kiosk lady where she knows your morning pastry order and that you take your coffee black; these things are comforting. The fact that "small talk", at least in the typical American sense of the word, doesn't really exist here is something I find outstanding. Danes are some of the happiest drunks I have ever met in my life; they might be reserved in working hours, but after a few beers they will be your best friend and illegally drive you around on the back of their bike, and eat late-night shawarma with you. (This isn't to say the language sounds any more graceful, but you will magically be more fluent, so it all evens out.) Biking everywhere: even though I bitch about it, especially in winter, I really do love it; also, bonus, when you bike in the winter, your face kind of freezes, which I'm pretty sure is why Danish people are so good-looking and don't really do the whole Botox culture thing. Every time I take the metro, I get really happy about the fact that it has no driver, and that it runs fairly efficiently. Then there are the amazing, quirky stories (true or not, I don't really care) I've heard about Danish history: narwhal tusks, at the time believed to be unicorn horns, were used in the construction of Danish thrones; the naughty king who had a drunken night on Istedgade and later had to have a resulting tattoo of a girl's name covered up; how my favorite street, Westend, was built for certain chosen women, in Parisian style, with balconies on every apartment and at an angle so that the king at the time could pick a lady to accompany him up to Frederiksberg Slot; en gang til for Prins Knud, ("one more time for Prins Knud") a saying in Danish that many people think originated from the fact that poor Arveprins Knud was a bit dim, but actually comes from this one time he was watching a ballet and because he had crappy eyesight, asked for it to be performed again, so one of his royal assistants was like, "En gang til for Prins Knud" and even though the dancers were probably beat, they did the piece again. Danish summers, though short, are magnificent; as soon as it is nice enough, I virtually move to Islands Brygge to soak up my natural vitamin D for the year. There is no better time of year to fall in love with Copenhagen. The Danish sense of humor is dry and sarcastic and dark, and I like it so much sometimes I think about smiling. Also, apparently skål ("cheers") comes from when the Vikings would drink from the skulls of their victims and this gives me morbid glee every time I hear or say it. There is a widespread approach to fashion here which is very "black goes with everything, especially black," which I am really fine with; it makes putting together an outfit--something I find incredibly stressful, since I'm pretty sure I lack major girly genes--a tiny bit easier. And of course, the whole hygge thing. The combination of coming inside dressed like an onion in a million layers from the depression-inducing weather, to candles and friends and drinks and food and warmth, is something that makes the entire sun-dying phase of the year really okay. It's also impossible to describe the simple niceness of this situation without actually being in it, and the English translation "cozy" doesn't really capture it. 

This isn't close to everything. But it's some of the things. I think it was difficult to admit that I was starting to call somewhere other than my birthplace "home," but maybe I am lucky enough to have found two places that feel like home. And maybe I'm just feeling a bit five-years-sappy or something--I will always love and miss my incomparable New York--but this city has been and continues to be a very bizarre, kind, beautiful host for this neurotic foreigner, in all aspects of life. For that, Copenhagen, I say "tak", and I hope you'll let me stay a while longer. 


Benedikte said...

Okay, you can stay.

Anonymous said...

I'm Danish and I would pick New York over Copenhagen anytime!