Monday, October 31, 2005


Spain has been a lesson in the variety of human nature. People are right to warn you to be careful on the streets here - the hand slinking off with Lauren´s purse that luckily even my atrocious peripheral vision could catch, the barefoot beggar who takes shoes out of her backpack and walks off in them when she´s done for the day. Last night we saw the other side as well.

After dinner one of the girls I´m travelling with had a two-hour long seizure. We were in the metro station when it started, just her teeth chattering as if cold, and she insisted we go on. By the time we had decided to get her back to the hotel an hour away and made it onto our train, she couldn´t walk or talk. We took turns carrying her through the station and holding her like some kind of live-action Pietà, except Jesus wasn´t shaking and insisting he didn´t want to go to a hospital. Eventually a crowd of Spaniards condensed around us and took over the action - the train station security guard who radioed his colleage to have a taxi waiting at the next stop, the undercover police agent who called an ambulance instead, the man who carried her out of the train, the bald man who covered her with his jacket, his mother who kept patting her shoulder and saying comforting things in Spanish, the very attractive ambulance driver who took off his sweater to cover her, the woman and her boyfriend who drove the rest of us to the hospital and later back to our hotel in the next town.

In the end she was fine, and my faith in people has been recharged.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Things I love about Europe:
men in velvet jackets
14 cent oranges in Spain
the sadistic pleasure of watching women in heels navigate cobblestones and boardwalks
small children with cute accents
random French men who tell you you´re charmante
random Spanish men who address you as "guapa"
clubs with free entry and white couches and a lack of grinding, so you don´t have to spend the evening expecting at any moment a skeezy man to insinuate himself against your thigh
women in black tulle skirts
the way Spanish people walk you to your destination if you ask them for directions even if they´re not going there themselves, and if they don´t know the way hail other people until there are three or four people peering at your map and discussing how to get you there

Things I don´t love about Europe:
random Spanish men who try to walk off with your purse
pay toilets (particularly when they charge more for women than men. I understand, but it´s still irksome.)
feeling like a tourist for wearing sunglasses because I´m one of fourteen people in Barcelona without brown eyes, and eleven of those are tourists too

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Je mendierai ma vie sur les routes de France

After having spent the last six months talking more to boys than girls - mostly Simon and Andrew, and now Ricky - it's funny being around three girls of my own age suddenly. I admit it was fun trying on clothes in fancy-schmancy stores and discussing anorexia qnd gynecology over dinner, things which just don't happen much with guys. That said, the past days have made me truly apppreciate the beauty that is travelling by yourself.

Paris with Ricky was the anti-tourist experience - refusing to take photos of landmarks and speaking an atrocious Danish-French hybrid on the street to avoid sounding like Americans ("Det regner." "Oui, un peu, men det er ok.") Being with the three girls from DIS is the ultimate tourist experience. If I have to appear in one more photo or go into one more souvenir shop while they exclaim over light-up plastic replicas of the Eiffel Tower, I'm going to run away. This morning I made my excuses and have had one last day blissfully free of playing tour guide, not having to carry anyone else's lunch or speak English. I wandered the Quartier Latin all morning whistling and feeling very French in my wool skirt and giant black scarf. Men smiled and an old lady told me I was a good whistler. I love being able to pass, just love it.

Sunday evening on the metro I sat opposite an woman wearing a wedding band, ugly black shoes, and a scarf tied over her head. She looked old, but it was the kind of look that comes from a hard life more than actual years. She was holding two bouquets of beautiful white lilies that looked expensive. I was trying to copme up with a scenario in which someone had given her the flowers, but I just couldn't imagine it. I think she was on her way to church to leave them, probably for the Virgin - if I had been alone I would have followed her to find out. The striking thing was that she looked as if no one had ever given her flowers, or at least not in decades. Why did she choose that way to show her faith? Why the lilies?

One could tell a lot about Bryn Mawr students just from looking at the offerings we leave for our statue of Athena - chocolate, condoms (ironic gift to a virgin godess,) the first orange maple leaves, lipstick, cherry blossoms, bubble gum, pennies, tampons, origami. Things we have in our pockets, things we like and use. When I came upon the statue of St. Joan of Arc in Notre Dame, my childhood hero, my brave girl, my first reaction was to burst into tears and my second was to light her a candle. As Ricky pointed out, fire was probably the last thing she wanted, but people like light and warmth so they offer lights to their gods and saints. I think that woman loved the lilies, so that's what she chose to give away.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry of bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The road

Europe has been wonderful but all flavored and brightened by one factor: I've finally found a friend. I had decided weeks ago in Nordic mythology that Ricky was worth knowing because he sat in front and talked to Morton about the readings, but I never dreamed we would end up spending almost every waking moment of this past week together. While the other kids were smoking up in Asterdam, we were sharing felafel by its canals, playing on its playgrounds, trading parlor tricks with a Morrocan-Dutch 12-year-old we met in the street, and generally spending as little money as possible. At night we would go back to the hotel and tell each other fairy tales.

We were probably the only ones on the trip who knew we were just friends, but the fact that he has a girlfriend at home makes things simpler and nicer in a lot of ways. It's also proved a theory of mine, but that one can wait until another city and another internet cafe.

I can't describe how super the kid is, but I think I can illustrate it. I like asking friends what they would do with their lives if they weren't going to do whatever they're planning to do. (Answers from my favorite people generally involve living in the woods.) I was going to ask Ricky, but I couldn't imagine what he would want to do that he's not already doing or planning to do - he can read and write Nordic runes, cook, juggle fire, amuse children, tell wonderful stories, walk in high heels, catch arrows in flight. He's studying in Copenhagen now and next semester he'll be in India. Right now he's about to hitchhike to Brussells and across Britain. I can only think of a few people with such a strong forward drive, a sense that they can do and be anything. His next ambition is to learn to swim in a chainmail shirt, so hopefully the drive won't lead to a watery death induced by overconfidence.

Thinking about all this made me vow to do more with myself, to really learn the things like bellydancing and massage that I feel I ought to be able to do. I resolved to track down the woman who does occasional bellydance workshops at Bryn Mawr and find out how to join her troupe. This evening as I was wandering the streets of Montmartes alone I happened upon the street where the exotic dancers of Paris apparently buy their gear. I've never seen even one shop that sold hip scarves, let alone a whole street of them. The one I've got is made from aluminum pieplates and sounds terrible, and I've wanted a real one for years. This was like a sign. (I don't believe in signs, so it wasn't a sign, but it sure was like one.) I now have a blue hip scarf with gold jangly coins. We'll see where life takes me from here.

Friday, October 14, 2005

All I trust I leave my heart to

For a while I couldn't decide if I was less happy about the idea of bringing a third pair of shoes or going to the Paris opera in flats, but in the end packing light won out. Yes, gearing up for my three-week jaunt around this continent - Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, London. I feel like singing out of bus windows and swinging my suitcase around like Maria von Trapp.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

And still more education

When I came home tonight, Jørgen and a red-haired woman were in front of the computer talking and laughing. My theory that she had to be his girlfriend is confirmed twenty minutes later when he asks me to come have a glass of wine with them and she says she had heard "so much about me." I´ve never heard anything about her, but she must be somebody because I am never asked to come meet the rest of his friends who come through the house to play pool or sit on the patio with him.

While we drink the wine we watch Crocodile Dundee on TV, and I wonder what kind of a person would date Jørgen and spend her time looking at the computer and watching TV with him, just like he does alone. After I excuse myself to work on my history paper, I realize that the TV is no longer on and noises are coming from his bedroom. I had never heard people having sex before. Tina's boyfriend spends the weekend sometimes, but they're always quiet. I suppose when you're 62 you don't have to be quiet anymore.

Now he's snoring. Has she gone home? I didn't hear her leave. They didn't even go to the bathroom. How can she sleep with him snoring? Will she be at breakfast tomorrow, and why is this all on a Thursday night? I suppose when you're retired it doesn't matter if it's Thursday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The times they are a-changing

We have a fall break for the next three weeks, and since the cheapest way to get from one city to another is to fly through London, I'm stopping there on the way back for something of a folk dance and music pilgrimmage. The Cecil Sharp House is the hub of the anglophonic folk world, so I hoped to catch a dance there like Mom did when she went, maybe visit some folk clubs. As for who to see, I thought, who do I know in London? Morris dancers, of course. I don't actually know any, but I sent off an email to the local teams asking if they were performing during the first week of November. I was a bit nervous about this, since in England Morris is done much more traditionally than in the US - meaning that there are those who would rather not see women doing dances traditionally done by men. I understand their point of view, and I admit that I hate seeing women do the Abbots Bromley horn dance, but I think it's a bit extreme. In the 1970s when my mother visited London she wasn't even allowed to watch a men's team practice, let alone dance in with them.

This morning I got an email inviting me to a dance in at a practice of an (all-male) Morris side in the Cecil Sharp House. I feel like Virginia Woolf being allowed to walk on the grass.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The lure of the perfect teatowel and toy train

I've heard from several people that Copenhagen makes them want to be domestic for the first time because there are just so many beautiful dishes and linens and kitchen gadgets. My father's cousin actually decided that she needed to get married after visiting a Copenhagen department store because it made her want to set up house.

I've had the setting-up-house urge in full swing for years, but Denmark makes me want to have children and raise them here. The toyshops are amazing. Not like Toys R' Us, not full of plastic soldier figurines and emaciated dolls. Toyshops here are full of brightly painted wooden train sets, castles, cloth dolls, Legos, wooden swords and shields. When I walk by the bakery windows with the really fancy pastries on display, the big heart-shaped ones with chocolate and strawberry stuff, it makes me want to have kids so I can take them there on their birthdays and get them the biggest, most beautiful pastry in the window. (Unless we live in the country, in which case we'll go to the iron age burial mounds, of course.)

You can barely get on a train during the day without running into a class of schoolchildren with their teachers - they must go on an amazing number of field trips. And their teachers aren't the aged disciplinarians with the pumpkin sweater for October and the snowman sweater for January, either. Last week I saw a young elementary school teacher leading her class across Town Hall Square wearing cowboy boots, a denim miniskirt, and a white shawl. Their manner with the kids is so much more like that of an equal than what you see in the US. It's the one place I know of where I would feel ok about putting my kids into the public schools.

I won't, of course. If the US doesn't need me as much as Mexico, Denmark needs me even less. But it's a lovely fantasy.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Vor Frue Kirke

Today I went to my first-ever Lutheran service at Vor Frue Kirke, Copenhagen's cathedral. Understanding Danish hymns is a lot like understanding salsa music: you can get the gist of all the songs if you know the basic vocab. In salsa it's "heart", "bandit", "blood", "heat", "love," and "pain." The hymns also have lots of "love" and some "blood", but also lots of "heaven", "earth", "Lord", "law", and "word." Both got lucky with some rhymes: in Danish "blood" and "bread" rhyme, which is handy for communion hymns, and in Spanish "beer" and "headache" rhyme, which is just handy.

On Sunday nights there's a night church, where the place is all lit with candles and you can wander in and sit down for as long as you want in silence. I sort of like it better than the actual service because listening to a sermon in Danish is dead boring (in Denmark they say ass-boring), although I do like the singing. Church and football matches are about the only opportunities for group singing here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I mean, seriously, Ronald Reagan?

Today my Nordic mythology class had a day-long field trip seeing Viking ships and burial mounds and things. You wouldn't have thought burial mounds would be particularly cozy places, but 20 people huddled in a stone chamber holding tea candles for light is surprisingly friendly. Danish families go there on children's birthdays to enjoy the hygge. It was a lovely day despite the rain, and it reinforced my liking of the professor. Morten's a big tall man with a grey beard who's equally likely to quote Old Norse verse or The Far Side, and we all love him. On the bus ride we clustered at the front of the bus to talk to him instead of in the back like in fifth grade, and he brought us Danish licorice and a bottle of mead.

We somehow got to talking about how strange it is that Jørgan likes Ronald Reagan, which led to how strange it is that I feel like a stranger in their house because we talk so little. Morten said the same thing as Sandy, that assumptions about other cultures are fallible and that it was a learning experience. But he also said what perhaps I've been wanting to hear, that it was sad that I'm isolated like that and very strange that Danes would barely talk to a guest at their own dinner table.

He also thought some of my culture shock was from the fact that my family is "a microcosm of Danishness" because we eat dinner and talk together and rarely watch TV and turn out lights when we're not using them. Not so here. It's strange to leave home and find what you think of as unpleasantly American traits in your Danish family.

It's a silly thing to feel sorry for myself about, because some people live their whole lives like this. I am making an effort to meet people and make friends, and I am making an effort to bond with Tina and Jørgen. This weekend (like most weekends) they're out of town, so I'm going to go make pasta and put on my Irish music and read Tolkien's Book of Lost Tales. It's possible to make hygge by yourself.