Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Birds & fishes

As luck would have it, I didn’t have school or work today. So on this balmy afternoon, after washing away my sins and stains at the Laundromat Café around the corner, I curled up with a bowl of risengrød (rice pudding) and Book of Longing (by Leonard Cohen).

In the humdrum of daily life – negotiating a schedule of full-time school and a near-full time job – moments of pristine rest and rumination are rare. I looked down at my bowl of pudding, topped off with a dollop of pure butter collapsing into the cinnamon, and paused to thank the country that taught me how to enjoy it. I eat it like a child sucking on ice cream.

The short poem
The Sweetest Little Song floated like a bubble off the page.

“You go your way.
I’ll go your way too.”

My friend, the Danish writer Nils Thorsen, gave me the
Book of Longing on my 30th birthday. It was his own copy, making the gift all the more precious. A few of my – or our – favorite pages now have tattered edges. A brown smudge, likely from his two-year-old’s thumb, is streaked across Cohen’s bird on a branch.

“You go your way.”

Leonard Cohen is Canada's national treasure: a raspy-voiced singer/songwriter, and poet slash tortured artist. Every country has 'em. Denmark churns out more than you’d expect for a country of 5 million. The weather is just one cog on an assembly line of national demerits that spits out virtuosos of the written word: Kim Larsen, Jørgen Leth, Søren Ulrik Thomsen, and Mr. Cosmopolitan Benny Andersen, to name a few.

Hidden in their golden words are some answers to the familiar question I’m posed on a near daily basis.

Why did I move to Denmark?

Early on, I turned to glibness for an answer. Yet each response contained a breadcrumb of truth for the discerning listener to catch.

“I’m running from the FBI.”

Which is partially true.

“Being an American is tiring. I needed a break.”

Also true.

why Denmark,” they pester me to know.

It’s been said that Danes are a people self-obsessed with their own identity. Not in the grating, Narcissus way, but from a position of raw self-consciousness. Stunned, they ponder why or how anyone would ditch a palm tree-skyline in California for a cigarette-sky 6 months out of the year in Denmark.

What gets these probers every time is my final answer: that I haven’t a clue as to why I’m here. And that, perhaps, the absence of a reason is the reason itself.

Outside, I hear a young child squeaking “Moo-ah” to his mother. The sound grows on me. A pack of young ones are exiting a city bus, holding hands in pairs. Each fair-haired child wears a puffy one-piece that looks like a flightsuit. There’s magic in the way they float across the street, bundled up and still in love with the aquarium they were born into.

For anyone that’s been an expatriate and wandered the unknown streets of a distant land, listening, observing, imagining, and
not understanding… you know how I feel. Feeling timeless.

That sensation of being a fish-out-of-water. And realizing, that your lungs grow stronger and your skin stays soft. And that you can grow alternative means of breathing and staying alive.

Denmark has developed aquatic mood-lighting to fill interior darkness. Candles cast a nice glow that form strange shadows on the blue wall of my flat. It gets us through the chill of autumn.

On the days when I gasp and long to dive back into the warm Pacific Ocean – and swim among my own kind – I call a friend like Nils. He's offered to breathe for me when I need a break.

It's nice knowing I don’t have to run from my fatigue, or march onward to the next place – or to some unknown amorous agent to distill meaning into my grief. For now, I have risengrød, longing in my heart, and a way to split myself in two. Part American, part fish. I’ll go where the tides takes me.

“You go your way
I’ll go your way too.”

I just may get there later.

(The old life :)