Posts Tagged ‘copenhagen’

Meanwhile, In a Fishing Village Outside of Copenhagen Called Dragor

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Town Square

In Copenhagen in winter, I try to escape. The amusement park is closed. The weather barely crests the freezing mark. The guidebooks tell of other islands, of tiny coastal villages. I want to get to them but don’t have the time to make the journey, and even then, the cold will follow along with me.

Dragor gets one line in my guidebook. The internet tells me a little bit more, but only a little. I take a risk and get on a bus in one of Copenhagen’s central squares. Trains in a foreign country are one thing. Busses are quite another. I mess up once, getting on the bus in the wrong direction. Once I get off and re-board, half an hour later, I’m not entirely sure that I’ve paid the correct fare. The gods smile. No one checks.

The bus pulls up in front of a red brick bus depot in Dragor, the end of the line, although it’s not very far from Copenhagen. The sun blazes as hard as it can, which is to say, not very hard. The bare, knobby trees with their stocky limbs don’t budge in the wind. I’ve written everything out – bus numbers, times, the current exchange rate for Krone. I have no idea what I’ve come to see until I see it.

I walk toward what I think is the sea and am swallowed by the town – by a village of little houses that only the very rich can afford to live in – that time left alone because it was too pretty. The buildings are low and thatch-roofed and sit on the neat cobblestone streets like a cluster of cakes set out for a party – all of them the color of butter cream, the orange and green accents like vines of icing.

I try not to stare into the windows of the houses, but so many things on the ledges and windowsills catch my eyes – ceramic cups, vases of flowers, glass bottles and spheres, statues of animals. Some houses even sport an ancient contraption on the outside – two mirrors angled in a V and attached to the house with a metal bracket, so the people inside could see what was happening up the street. Bicycles with woven baskets site idle in gardens. Watering cans wait on doorsteps. The slate tiles that lead to rounded front doors have not felt the pressure of footfall in hours.

The town is silent. It’s early and a Sunday, but still. My feet on the cobbles make the only noise. The fishing boats sit idle. I walk the entire village — see every winding street, every lonely, standing water pump — in 25 minutes. I cannot bear to leave the color or the quiet, so I sit down in a restaurant by the harbor.

The wood-paneled room is covered in nautical-theme movie posters – The Hunt for Red October, U-571, The Perfect Storm, Jaws. I order coffee, a Coke, a cheeseburger. I let the waiter refill my water. The whole time, I write. I stare out the windows. I give myself permission to be entirely outside of my daily life in New York. This is what it means to travel alone, to let yourself be something entirely other than your typical daily self.

The cheeseburger is perfectly cooked and enormous. I eat it, clumsy, with the fork and knife offered. In my notebook, amazing things happen. I glean new insights, learn stuff about myself, solve the entire universe of my problems, all on ten lined pages, with a blue Bic pen. Wrapped in my shawl, I escape Denmark’s cold for the first time in four days.

As I pay, I tell the waiter that the cheeseburger was really good. He smiles and nods and I leave and head back to the bus. I snap a few photos, but they don’t do the place justice, don’t capture the slant of the winter sun, or the perfect piles of thatch on the roofs. The only thing that can hold the memory of Dragor is the place itself. I make a note to come back, with company, so I have proof, an affirmation that it existed at all.

Christiania: There Are No Photos Allowed, So There Are None Here

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

The Swooping Angel

I find it by following the crowd, by keeping to an imprecise line on my map, and then suddenly I am standing in the midst of it, under a bright-painted mural, beside an enormous sculpture of a seashell covered in a mosaic of mirror shards. Like I have popped through the rabbit hole into a patch of ground covered in art, twigs, piles of firewood, hand-painted signs, and pale brown dirt.

I go to Christiania because I want to better understand how I feel about it. Because I cannot feel any particular way about it just by reading about it. I follow this same process for entire nations, so this tiny patch of land, in this tiny city, on the edge of this tiny nation, is no different. The only real difference is that a lot of people have a lot to say about Christiania, this ragtag squatter community in the center of Copenhagen.

Wikipedia details its political struggles, its years of on-again, off-again legal status. My tourist map labels it as “eccentric.” My pot-smoking friends at home think it’s wonderful.

The morning is so cold that I can feel the air seeping through my gloves and under my scarf—cold to the very bone. The sun tries to nudge beyond the clouds and can’t. I have no idea what I’ll do there by myself. The drugs hold little appeal and the coffee shops serving tofu dogs only look fun if you’re with friends, if the goal of the day is to share and participate, not to watch and think and make up your mind about things.

I head up Pusher Street because that’s the only straight path, the discernable way in. The little stands sell drugs in the open, but it’s more hash than pot, laid on in neat, amber-colored bricks. Oil drum fires burn high at the intersections, throwing off heat genies against the outstretched palms of dirty-looking teenagers. Signs painted on walls warn tourists against snapping photos. A banner hung across a building proclaims, STOP GLOBALIZATION; OUR WORLD IS NOT FOR SALE in bold English.

Before I arrive, I imagine that the dealers will look like California hippies with dreds and sandals and woven ponchos—old guys held over from another era who grow their own tomatoes. They don’t. Instead, the stalls are manned by tough young guys in dark hooded sweatshirts, their fists stuffed into the front pockets, legs splayed in defiance like soldiers. The army camouflage draped over some of the stalls—a holdover from the last government crackdown—doesn’t do much to soften the image. Instead of peace-loving hippies, these guys look like what they almost certainly are: Drug dealers who could really hurt you if they needed to. I don’t linger long.

In one of the coffee shops at the top of the street, a dreadlocked girl plays a guitar and sings in English. Crowds gather around the tables. Beers are served.

I reach the end of the street and hang to the right, wondering if this is it—some tables selling drugs, a coffee shop, murals. But the dirt path narrows and twists, and the ruckus on Pusher Street dies away. This is still Christiania, but another Christiania. The stalls and coffee shops give way to little structures done up with knick knacks—a pretty tile, a statue of a gnome, a pot of early-blossoming crocus. Neat piles of firewood sit waiting next to doors. Bikes lean against trees, unlocked. Some of the houses look like tidy little bungalows with arty affects like diamond-shaped windows and brightly-tiled walkways. Others look like heaps of kindling—the only evidence to the country, the only sign of life, being a single flapping curtain, or a feeble chimney poking through.

Away from Pusher Street, you can sense the brackish water all around, but it’s just beyond view, over the embankment. The only noise is the crunch of my boots on the pebbly ground. I pass a wooden fence with a half dozen ponies penned in behind it. They much grass, toss their heads, and eye me sideways when I stop to watch them. On the way back, a young family will pause before the fence, and a malt-colored pony with a spotted nose will wag its head in their direction. A tiny girl will squeal in delight, raise a hand to pat its muzzle.

On the way out, I walk on the elevated path above the streets. Everything smells like pot and wood smoke. I pass purple houses, back yards filled with unfinished projects. A dog trots up and barks at my ankles until I pass his property. The neighborhood below seems tiny and tangled. This is what absolute freedom looks like, how it shivers behind a wall, barely protected from the freezing sea beyond—and tax free. This is humanity left to be what it wants, the art of the collective.

To leave, I pass under a sign that says, “You Are Now Entering the EU.” I enter the EU. I take every inch of myself with me.

Go there: Christiania, Copenhagen’s squatter community, is located in the Christianshavn neighborhood. Walk behind the church with the twisting spiral, and you’re there. The photo, above, is from the interior of that church.