Time Marches Forward

Did Daylight Savings happen? I could barely tell. The signifiers of early spring have appeared here regardless–something that’s shocked me after two months of winter deadlock. Bulb-shaped flowers, yellow and purple, pop up around the apartment complex grounds on the way to the train. Light lingers in the sky for just a few minutes after dinner. After spending some time working at the University of Copenhagen after my Kierkegaard class, I left the student lounge to find this:

Sunset at the south campus of Copenhagen University

Here are some other things, ordinary and not, that have happened this past first week-or-so of March:

Folkehøjskole Fastelavn

February ended at ROFH with a costume party for Fastelvan, a national carnival holiday. The festivities culminate with everyone coming together to take a crack at a hanging wooden barrel with bat (like a pinata!).

I had no idea what to dress up as; ROFH students who’d been planning for much longer showed out as Breaking Bad characters, Batman, and a cardboard recreation of the national folkehøjskole songbook. In the thirty minutes before the party, I pulled through, throwing my trusty beanie, a yellow shirt, tape, markers, and a cut-up old copy of a “Myth and Reason” reading together into a barely-convincing flower. (Alternate guesses from ROFH students: “a really cool Pokemon” and “a fire”.)

After we each got a turn at the barrel, which rained down sour lollipops, I bested the competition at Twister! Then I got whooped in a follow-up round and woke up the next morning with cramps in muscles that I didn’t even know existed…but that’s irrelevant.

Midterms, Coronavirus, and Other Looming Things

Downtown in Copenhagen, deadlines are nigh. DIS is different from my classes at home in that group projects are more prevalent than essays and tests, which fits with the importance of teamwork in Danish education. In “International Advertising“, we wrote creative briefs in groups for popular Danish companies, swapped them, and are now designing advertising campaigns based on our newly-received brief. After learning about the Finnish and Danish teacher education programs in “Learning in Scandinavian Classrooms”, we’ve been tasked with designing the perfect training curriculum.

The number one way to derail any of those project meetups? Coronavirus, appearing in dark humor–“I mean, now that we have the cards for free healthcare, would it really be so bad to get sick here?”–and nervous phone stat-checking–“Wait, it’s twenty cases in Denmark today?!” Things have intensified since last week; all independent travel to Italy is now off-limits for DIS students, and Denmark has shut down events with over 1,000 people. A football game that DIS had offered up free tickets for disappeared from the schedule, forcing me to spend yesterday afternoon confronting some more personal deadlines. (Internship applications and taxes. Fun!)

And, of course, there’s the ever-hanging threat that at any second, an email will shoot through cyberspace from our home institutions, calling us back to the United States. But this is uncertain, dependent in my case as a Dickinson student on a host of CDC advisories and State Department warnings. I guess I’ll just worry about my Danish midterm tomorrow for now.

Field Study: A Walk in Nørrebro

With so much to panic about, it was good to get some fresh air–and where better to do that than Nørrebro? This colorful Copenhagen neighborhood had been on my bucket list for some time. For my Wednesday field study, my Danish class met on-site to learn about its diverse residents and history.

Our tour guide, a friend of our professor Nan’s, took us around Assistens Cemetery, a sprawling green space with the graves of some of Denmark’s best-known luminaries (including Hans Christian Andersen and Kierkegaard!). Instead of focusing solely on the famous, he told us about the mix of characters that have lived in the Nørrebro area over the years: manual laborers, American jazz artists, community organizers, to name a few.

Around us, Assistens was being used like a park in the most literal sense of its Danish name, kirkegård–a church yard. (And, yes, that does mean the often gloomy philosopher Søren I’m reading shares his last name with a term for cemetery.) Mothers pushed strollers past our group, and we had to part frequently for cyclists. It’s different from the American suburban kid lore I grew up with, where any car ride past a graveyard mandated that you hold your breath or risk losing your soul.

Now that it’s a few degrees warmer outside, I want to continue wandering through Nørrebro–preferably on bike–since there were so many spots on our tour that I’d never heard about. Like the tiled soccer ground/meeting space, Blågårds Plads (center image)–it’s part of the Black Square area, possibly named for the former site of a foundry. The sculptures at its perimeter, all bent over at similar angles, were created by artist Kai Nielsen to represent the neighborhood’s residents at work on their trades. Also on the square’s edge: Sorte Firkant, a bar, cafe, and community space where we rested our feet and drank from foamy hot chocolate cups.

Two Mazes

The first maze: on Friday, my friend Renée introduced me to Paludan Bog & Café, the oldest joint bookstore/cafe in Copenhagen. It’s right across the street from the University of Copenhagen’s city offices, so it gets a lot of the student crowd, though there’s a good mix of all kinds of visitors. While Renée and I ate warm cookies, the vacant seats at our long table filled first with moms and their babies, then some Greek women who were very excited to overhear us talking about the ancient sites we’d covered in “Myth and Reason“.

Being huge bookworms, we had to step down to the basement, where used and collectible books are sold. We were impressed to find a multilingual trove covering everything from the classics (Homer in Danish!) to linguistics to crime novels. On the wall were inscrutable mixed-media sculptures (see left image) with baby doll parts, old handguns, and records. We were surprised at how deep down the collection went; it was much farther than the parameters of the cafe would seem to allow.

Saturday brought one of the most unsettling museum experiences–in a meaningful arty sense–that I’ve had in a while at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. To get there, I had to buy my first “extension ticket” for Danish rail. DIS covers my commute route into the city, but I need to pay extra to ride through the transportation zones outside of that. I went a half hour up the coast from Copenhagen, and could smell the brine and sea breeze when I stepped out in the town of Humlebæk–a scent close to my ocean-loving heart.

The museum grounds are home to an outdoor sculpture garden, which is so easy to get lost doing figure-eights in. I typically don’t think that there are “right” and “wrong” ways to go through art museums, but whatever I did on Saturday wouldn’t be recognized as “correct”.

Marble-esque sculptures of the planets in our solar system

One outdoor installation is a set of now-rusted steps, only a few inches wide in diameter, that you have to balance on ever-so-carefully to get down the slope behind the yard. At the bottom is the shoreline, and I spent good time sitting on rocky outcroppings, running my hand through the water. In my excitement to see the sound, I accidentally left through the one exit off the museum grounds, and had to reason how to hike back up the hill–the first of many times I’d lose track of a set path.

Shore of Humlebæk, with Sweden on the horizon

Besides the physical disorientation, there were the exhibitions themselves–like the dazzling reflections of the art in Hot Pink Turquoise. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to go inside artist Ann Veronica Janssens’s Red, Blue, and Yellow, an immersive cube of fog and light. The line went up and around the installation, and it had to close an hour before the museum did.

I also couldn’t find my place in the exhibition Bronze, with its endless slabs of grey sculpture. Every time I thought I’d seen them all, I’d descend a staircase and turn a corner, only to find yet another dimly lit, dead quiet room with similar pieces. This second maze was inarticulately eerie.

Sculptures by Per Kirkeby

For me, the most powerful exhibit–which I have no pictures of because I was so fully absorbed in it–was Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth. It’s a photography collection of decades of the artist’s work, investigating the often shocking ways people modify their homes, bodies, and clothing in pursuit of financial status and beauty. Some of the images jolted my brain for a while after I’d taken the train back from the Louisiana.

An example of the Louisiana’s twisted architecture at the entrance to “Generation Wealth”

It was freeing when I set off out of the maze and went back down the streets of Humlebæk, which seems to get a lot of traffic from the museum; the train stop even has “Louisiana” printed on all its signs. Everything seemed sharper and more real in the evening, outside of white rooms and hairpin-turn walls.

So was the beginning of this month–started with candy; closed with affecting art and a train ride into a dark wood; coursed with historical perspective. I’d say it was worth coming back from break for…except, of course, for midterms.

(Header image: passing the changing of the Danish royal guard, which has almost made me late to class twice now, at the Kultorvet fountain. Only in Copenhagen…)


Crash, Chairs, Classes, Cafe

“You made it through the first week! Did you do anything? Did you do anything scandalous? Well…you should!”

–one of my professors

I fell off my bike! Does that count?

This week started off with a bang–literally, alas–when, after a horrible skid into the bike path on the way to catch my train, my nose hit the sidewalk. While I was relieved to find out I didn’t break any bones or need stitches at the hospital in Roskilde, I had to stay home the rest of Monday–missing what was shaping up to be an exciting Hegel-Kierkegaard double-header of discussion between my two philosophy classes. (That’s not sarcasm. I’m a nerd with so many questions to ask.)

After yesterday’s naps and ibuprofen, I’m feeling fine. If anything, I’m grateful this accident showed me yet more examples of the kindness of my neighboring Danes–the man who drove me back to the folkehøjskole and gave me paper towels, the hospital staff who were able to check up on me in English–as well as from DIS housing friends who offered me help. I also now have a cool scar; my reaction to discovering this in my post-crash daze was not disgust, but wow, this is going to look so punk.

(NB: NONE of this reflects biking safety in Denmark–only my own clumsiness. If you’re here or coming here, PLEASE take advantage of the cycling culture!)

Chilling out in my room for the day with the curtains drawn gave me lots of time to draw bad comics.

Even a residual headache can’t dull the memories of last week–that first real week, the safety guardrails of orientation lowered down. I spent last Wednesday as a tourist, wandering in the area around Kastellet–a five-pointed castle fortress–in a rare burst of morning sunlight. I climbed up a hill at one of the points and looked down on St. Alban’s, an Anglican church; I left the other four (and the church itself, which was closed off for Communion) for another day.

Realizing I was by the waterfront, I walked out to the Little Mermaid statue, reasoning that there couldn’t be that many visitors for her on a chilly morning in January. I was very wrong–but angled my camera in such a way that no one could ever tell:

Right up on nearby Bredgade street is Designmuseum Denmark (free admission for students!). I hung around there into the afternoon, pacing through rooms of bicycles, pottery, accessibility devices, furniture, recycled materials imagined into new forms. And chairs–one long exhibit of chairs with flickering automatic lights in front of each model, like the back hallway of a spacecraft. I felt in over my head at some points–the museum’s collection stretches back to crafting from the pre-industrial era–and was happy whenever I ran into typography and image, my favorite touchpoints of design. Post-museum treat: a cinnamon snail (the Wednesday special) at St. Peter’s, the oldest bakery in Copenhagen.

Typically, Wednesday is reserved for DIS’s out-of-the classroom “field studies” for each of my classes; on that day, I lucked out with a free morning. From now on, though, the rest of my schedule is locked in–I bid goodbye to the pop-up sessions and 3pm jetlag naps of orientation. On Mondays, I take the subway to the south campus of the University of Copenhagen for “Kierkegaard’s Authorship”, a class which has already spawned some pretty heady conversations. In the words of our professor Brian*, Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish existential philosopher whose writings we’re studying, is the kind of thinker with ideas you return to “when it’s 2am and dark and you’re in bed staring at your hand. What is this hand? you think. What does it mean to have a hand? Who am I?

Not quite a 2am existential breakdown, but here’s what an evening walk home from the train looks like in Roskilde.

I also have Brian for my core course, “Religious Mythos and Philosophical Logos”–which, as of an executive action on the first day of class, has been shortened to “Mythos and Logos”, or “Myth and Reason”. (Cue a sigh of relief from us all, who kept tripping over the first name during icebreaker games.) We spent week one reading ancient Greek creation myths and excerpts from tales like the Odyssey, trying to piece together what relevance these stories had in the societies of the people who originally told them.

Last Tuesday, I went to the Ny Carlsburg Glyptotek museum’s weekly free day, and pored over their collections of Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. What new things, I wonder, will I learn about the worldviews of the people who made these pieces by the end of the semester?

*Keeping with a Danish practice of informality, all my teachers here go by their first names.

Spending dusk in the Roman statue hall at the Glyptotek.

Great, sweeping stories–ones that could be the backbone of a nation–also seemed to be the theme of the first week in all my other courses. In “International Advertising”, we watched promotional segments from around the world, talking about which cultural narratives they were made to reflect. My “Learning in Scandinavian Classrooms” professor said you can’t think about what makes a good education without also considering what makes a good citizen. (I want to push back on this a little–could there be education towards an even greater good than a “good citizen”?–but we’ll see where I stand at the end of the semester.) Between my increasingly less mangled attempts at pronouncing the “ø” in my Danish class, we began talking over where the language fits into the country’s national history.

A lot to mull over–but not too much. Last week closed out on Friday with a fun “cultural assignment” scavenger hunt for that last language class. My group researched and walked the Kongens Nytorv (“Kings New Square”) area, taking documentary selfies at important sites (including Nyhavn, the famous canal of the colored houses, at the bottom left). We each got 100 Danish kroner (around $10-12 USD) to use at the “best coffeeshop” we could find in the area. I’m no coffee connoisseur–I actually spent my kroner on hot chocolate–but I’m willing to vouch now for Cafe Ermanno, which kept us dry after the drizzly final leg of our adventure.

In between: I picked up flyers for Studenterhuset (a student union/activities hub for anyone attending college in Copenhagen), an international church, and DIS’s film club at Activities Fair night. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology re-tellings kept me company on the commute from Roskilde into the city and back. I had an involved dinner conversation with Danish and Norweigan ROFH students about California wildfires and Scandinavian fjords. I was selected to be a DIS student blogger! (Look for my face, sporting an action movie villain gash, on their website very soon.)

And tomorrow morning, it’s Wednesday again, and I do have a field study. I’m waking up at 6:45am to leave Roskilde and observe a Danish public school with my education class! Stay posted, and I’ll let you know if I scare any kids into always biking with a helmet on.