torsdag, august 31, 2006

The Danish Dog

The Hotel Bethel, where I'll be staying through September 5.

I have a vision of one day opening a pub called The Danish Dog. This comes from a line in Hamlet.

Now, I depart this morning for Denmark. Two weeks of severe insomnia are enough. Here’s hoping the Copenhagen Cure still applies: two Danish beers = one long afternoon nap after which life is greatly altered in favor of the dour van Winkle who went under.

Exhibit A

Last August on my first night in Copenhagen, I couldn’t sleep. My brother and sister seemed to fall asleep at a decent time, but I found myself standing at the window all night looking out at the canal in Nyhavn. I watched the café and pub crowd thin. I watched the employees clear aside the tables and chairs at 1 a.m. so the street crew could come through at 3 to clean the place. I watched a young Danish man and American woman strip, climb over the railing on the low bridge—It’s low enough that one cannot stand on the canal tour boats when passing beneath many of the bridges—and leap into the waters. Twice. They may have continued or just kept on swimming and laughing had it not been for the four British louts with camera phones who came rollicking along and chased them into a public restroom.

(If there was anything to break the evening’s romance for them, it was the fact they were standing naked, and more importantly barefoot, in a public men’s room. Gross. Urban canals are themselves suspicious, but a restroom is never romantic.)

I saw the street sweepers. I saw the garbage crew. I saw men scavenging in the garbage cans for valuables. A man below my hotel window pillaged a boat-restaurant’s bin for cardboard. A sighing / yawning man on the boat across the way appeared on deck (with his erection, hello) as the sun radiated just beneath the horizon. His arc of urine twittered in the canal as the silhouettes of birds chased one another between rooftops and masts.

From time to time I put my head to the pillow and pretended sleep, but I went nowhere. The weight continued to build in me. I was in a fog. I was delirious with this new city.

I went out walking. I thought long of my great-grandfather walking these streets as a teenager while his family sailed to America. I thought of Knut Hamsun’s writing in Hunger : “It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves until it has set its mark upon him.”

I was in love with the city center’s cobblestones and closely packed six-story buildings. I loved the early day commuters, the endless stream of bicycles, the way walkers and cyclists observed traffic signals and designated crossing points.

I watched the sun rise from the waterfront along the Amalienborg Palace.

A gorgeous jogger appeared like a face in dream. She ran to where I sat on the wall with my notebook, smiled with the near-spiritual electric joy that only morning people know, tapped the stone lightly, and ran back the way she’d come.

Later, with the world starting to fracture in my tired eyes, with shapes being born in my peripheral and the meaning of conversation escaping me, I had two beers (Tuborg brand), and felt instantly sleepy. Back to the hotel. I slept heavily for two hours. I woke up feeling grand. The rest of the stay was golden and lucid…though I still managed to get lost. Repeatedly.

But how else does one really see a place?

Methods of Escape (set to Mogwai’s “Auto Rock”)

All these fitful nights must end. Beer or no beer. It does not matter. This year I’m going to learn Copenhagen’s subway. This knowledge will come in handy next June when I return for the Lights. Via the trains, I may visit Klampenborg. I may visit Helsingor (aka Elsinor for my fellow Hamlet fans). I’ll see more of the city, or at least see it more sensibly…though I’m determined to find the café my siblings and I stopped at when I was getting us lost between Nyhavn and Nørrebro. Must replicate that walk.

God, that was good coffee. And that cute bit of chocolate it was served with? Awesome.

Dear Denmark, I have missed you terribly. I wander your streets in my dreams. I wander them as my own doppelgänger. I hug the souls of strangers and draw claws to threaten the soil and stone. You will show me the face of a 100 years before. You will.

Thinking of you today, your energy, your gorgeous faces, and the love songs that my emigrant great-grandfather sang but which have been lost to this world as his language to the family, my heart hurts so much I border tears.
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