It took me an embarrassingly long time to meet up with Malle for lunch today because I still get a little turned around trying to find my way around via Google Maps. The sense of familiarity that I had found last night within the city streets had left me in my latest adventure. Navigating the roads felt like playing “I Spy” with the street signs. Maybe that’s my problem though. I should just cycle in the direction I want to go and figure it out from there because my sense of direction is good, but it’s difficult to find the roads that Google tells me to take.
We met at a street food court called Papirøen along the water. Oh the wonderful smells! You could find every kind of food on the stalls crammed in that building that looked like an old shipping container. From hot dogs piled with fixings to Korean fast food to indian masala, they had it all. I had a pulled pork burger with an iced mocha and crème brulee doughnut for dessert. I enjoyed the doughnut more than the burger honestly. They actually skimped on the meat compared to the display. Poor Malle had an awful experience trying to order just seitan and chips from a vegan burger joint because the woman hardly spoke English and could not understand what she wanted. It turned into a debacle when the other woman waiting in line laughed at Malle in Spanish while she tried to get her money back after they messed up the order.
After lunch Malle took me to Christiania. My housemate had told me of the place, but his description went, “You gotta check out that nation within the city where all drugs are legal and you can buy anything.” Not very accurate. If you were to walk by the city limits of Christiania, you might simply believe you were passing by a wall of an area under construction due to the layers of graffiti and posters covering the walls. Malle led me to an arched entrance sitting beside a huge mural of naked fairies sitting about a green pond.
We parked our bikes just inside the archway. She pointed out that the long building, which I had thought had been a wall when we rode by, was actually a complex that included a Thai restaurant, café, art museum, and notorious club called Loppen. Around us graffiti and billboards covered every square inch of every building, yet in the surrounding area lay lush green grass and trees. Truly an urban fairyland, indeed. One marking on the side of the building said, “Foreigners please save us from the Danes.” As we walked further into the city, brightly colored red and yellow booths started popping up like mushrooms where vendors sold anything from red and yellow souvenirs that said “Bevar Christiania,” which translates to “Preserve Christiania,” to slabs of hash oil. Apparently the city had its own laws and regulations because, in the rest of Denmark, cannabis was illegal. Malle told me that there were a lot of “Hells-Angels type bikers” that ran Christiania especially the drug trade there. An outside boy had been beaten to death for trying to sell weed inside the city. I listened to her as I glanced a full-grown pot plant literally growing out of the ground along the sidewalk. Like a weed.
The murals were spectacular. They had an impressive skate park with Buddhist flags strung along the roof that sported a huge painting of an anime woman in wolf skins looking majestically over a wall. Skateboarding must be a big deal in Copenhagen because I had seen so many skate parks around the city. I saw a woman with long black hair welding a skate ramp, and I thought how tourist reviews and blogs I read said Copenhagen was a “feminist city,” whatever that means. We also saw a women-only blacksmithing shop a few buildings away. Is this place for real?
Malle wanted to stop in a store to commission the owners to make her a table from a nice hunk of wood she has. We waked inside the shed. The place had stockpiles of iron stoves that depicted a uniquely ornate style ridden by flower imagery. I poked my fingers through baskets of skeleton keys and porcelain door knobs and sniffed rose soap from Aleppo while she conversed with the proprietor in Danish. Next she took me inside Den Grå Hal or “The Grey Hall.” Many famous musicians had insisted on playing at the famous music venue, including The Red Hot Chili Peppers. There was no security despite the road cases piled up outside. We simply walked in. The place could have been an old church with the way the criss-cross of wooden rafters came to a point in the ceiling. We weaved our way passed the metal grid of bleachers where a crew of young stage hands climbed a set piece, which she guessed was probably for an upcoming play. It turned out to be for “American Idiot:” the Green Day musical.
We circled back to where the bikes were and Malle and I parted ways because she had begun to feel tired. I continued on to the art gallery in that first building we had come to when arriving in Christiania.
I love how the entire city is like a DIY project builder’s wet dream: modern art everywhere, Buddhist temples, and even a community center for the indigenous people of Greenland. I left the multi-colored city and peddled towards one of the other sites that I wanted to see in Copenhagen. The Hans Christen Anderson Museum. I should have predicted how cheesy it was going to be based on the fact it was connected to the Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not. It was like a shitty ride at Disneyland: perhaps interesting to a kid, but the best part for me was reading the big story cards with his fairy tales. I could have read that online though.
I was actually surprised by the darkness of stories like The Little Match Girl, which is about a girl who sees better worlds in the flame of a lit match, but ends up freezing to death on the winter streets. My dear friend Jeana had once mentioned to me that the original Grimm’s fairy tales had been very dark as well, but were re-written to be more politically correct for puritanical audiences. At least the museum killed time before I went to the tribal fusion dance class that two of my dance friends and the woman at the Kulturhaven Festival had told me about. The teacher I had heard of was not there that day, but a friendly woman named Lisa welcomed me to the class. Part of me was really hoping they would teach it in Danish, but, as Malle pointed out to me, the Danes can easily slip back and forth between languages, and when it came to the intermediate class I was glad she taught it in English.
I had originally come for the beginner class, but when I decided to stay for intermediate I realized I did not bring any more cash with me. The class had already begun and I did not want to interrupt to say, “Oh, I have to get cash” so I felt distracted the entire time by anxiety of how I was going to pay rather than paying attention. We learned a lovely waltzing turn and a fun, challenging combo. Lisa played the Pink Martini cover of “Perhaps, Perhaps” along with some traditional belly dance music. At one point I felt so overwhelmed by my anxiety and frustration that I was having trouble learning because I could not focus on the steps. I decided to leave so I wouldn’t worry anymore about paying. Then as I put on my shoes I felt bad for staying halfway through and not paying, so I sat there completely paralyzed and wanted to cry. Oh anxiety, the sense you make is none.
Just then Lisa poked her head in and said I was welcome to stay if I wanted to. I told her I did not have cash. She offered to follow me to an ATM after the class so I could pay. Part of me just wanted to escape, but I stayed. Lisa works as a high school chemistry teacher as her day job, and I appreciated her silly visualizations for dance motions. After the class while we were biking together and I told her I was leaving tomorrow for a conference in Struer. She responded that she had once tried to be a hairdresser and went to a conference for stylists.
“Was it fun?” I asked.
“No, but it was interesting,” she said as a matter-of-fact.
I appreciate the way that the Danish talk with this direct level of confidence. No bullshit, and to the point, with a joke thrown in here and there. After stopping at an ATM, she was kind enough to ride with me as a guide back to Nørrebruten, or at least the main drag where we parted ways.
I decided to stay in that night and write out my postcards from Christiania. I wanted to be up early to get coffee, return the bike, and mail the cards out before heading to the train.
Ah, I forget! Here is a poem I wrote while driving the Ring Road from Reykjavik to Akureyri that I recorded on my phone and finally wrote down:
“The Stone Girl” by A.C. Rust
(A poem written, or rather dictated, while driving the Ring Road to northern Iceland)
I was born of stone and fire.
My father built me from circuitry,
and my mother lit me on fire.
Ever since then,
I’ve been trying to find a flame
hot enough to melt
the rock around me
so all I can do is burn
I eat wood every day,
but all it does
is make me burn hotter,
sweating from the inside.
They say I need to drink water every day
or else I’ll burn up,
but I keep eating sticks
getting them caught in my teeth.
I heard tales of a land
where metal melts in the heart of an island,
they call it a volcano,
but between us stands
an ocean of inhibitions
thick as a glacier,
vast and empty.
What hatchets do we bury
to give way for the unknown?
What parting gifts can we offer
if nothing is known?
The only way to float across that empty sea,
is to give up my thoughts
to utter uncertainty.
Then I will be lighter than air
and thicker than blood.
So I open my eyes,
cover my mouth,
and all the words leak out my skin.
The current quickens,
the riptide pulls me along,
and slowly the stream withers away
and smoothes my rocky bones
polishing me thinner
than the sticks that I would eat.
By the time I reach the island,
I am hardly more than a flame
and a rail of the girl
that I used to be,
I must scale the ridge of this crater.
as I rise and rise,
and for the first time,
I feel thirsty:
missing the stream and the water
that helped me move
to where I am now
in this moment.
I am a torch
when I arrive at the summit.
has fallen away.
swirling in the pit of fire,
a dragon stares back at me
with its big golden eye.
“You and I are one and the same,”
it says to me,
“But what will you do
now that you’re here?”
“Burn,” I beg, “Please let me burn.”
The dragon shakes its head,
I will show you
what fire dreams of.”