By Dipika Kohli
Northwest Asian Weekly
Six weeks, all together, if I can manage to hold through December, here in Scandinavia.
I think the gut knows when it’s time to shake things up, and this time, I found myself at Kastrup with an immigration officer flicking through my passport—stamps from around Southeast Asia these last two years make it hard to make sense of, I’m guessing, which is why he asked, “Where are you going?” I said: “Here.” With that, I got a stamp, a smile, and a little wave.
So that’s how I got to see autumn turn to winter here, in Denmark. Me, popping out into the city at Copenhagen Central Station, showing up, like I said I would, but not knowing yet what I’d do or whom I’d meet.(A lot of people slowly back away when I tell them about this “pursuit of uncertainty” as my program. An art teacher had called it “the joy of confusion,” and seemed to imply that this was the whole point of making, in the first place. Some part of me translated that, in the years since, to “you gotta get lost to find center.”) Mapless, planless. Copenhagen has always been on my list of favorite cities, though, since a visit in 2007, and I’d been wanting to come back. This time, I’ve stayed with friends, tried out hotels and hostels, and even rented a boat, all to stretch my budget and examine the possibilities, and to be here long enough to watch a season turn. But the people and conversations are what always make a trip magical. More about those, next time. Denmark is a long step out from where I live in Asia, but like I said, I’d always been enchanted by this part of the world, and I suppose I wanted to find out why. “You should go to the south of Europe now. The weather is much, much better.” This is the usual advice. But I’m not interested in the south of Europe, I want to respond, though that won’t hit the right note, I’m sure of it. I’m here.
Sometimes people let me expand a bit on the “joy of confusion” stuff. They come back with nods, and empathy, and a couple of statements about comfort zones, and finding yourself outside of them, and looking for challenges, and pushing out past the edge. We talk, sometimes, about cliffs and other times about paragliding, about eagles, or about what makes a thing intriguing, or how to design the perfect experiment, the role of art in society, gradients and inflection points, and how digressions are good. It gets interesting, when there is a good pen, and an impulsive chart sketched quickly, and graph paper, and it gets winning when there is the underlining and circling of things that matter to us, both of us, despite our many cultural divides, and other invisible differences.
It’s always fun meeting people. This time, boat owners, community theater directors, game designers, artists of all types. People just out of “high school,” who inform me, when I blanch, trying to calculate their suddenly miniscule-seeming age, “It doesn’t mean high school, that’s just what we call it. I don’t know the word in English.”
Symphony orchestra directors on trains will talk with me about artfulness, and there will be couples sitting at tables adjacent to mine in restaurants, really close, because this is Denmark and they have many cozy, intimate venues that squish tables up together, who get chatting about philosophy and let me butt in. (“Excuse me. Did you say Heidegger? Or was that just a Danish word? What, really? You really were talking about Heidegger? Oh, cool. Did you read ‘What is Metaphysics?’)
The time it takes to work up to being in a place, to really noticing it, and getting used to coins, and the accent, and simple things like fluctuations in the pitch, all of that time is valuable. It makes the ending of a trip really good, if there has been lots of learning.
It’s coming up to that last part, for me. The ending. My last day is open, right now. I think I’ll go for a long walk around Copenhagen, if it’s not snowing or raining or the winds aren’t blowing at too many kilometers per hour. I will look for the quality of light in the December sky, see if it’s got something new. Meet magpies. Watch swans. Most importantly, I will look for the place in Assistens Cemetery that I’ve been saving. After all the learning, that is, by osmosis of what it feels like to be in Denmark, I’ll go to Neils Bohr’s grave. I love this physicist and sometime philosopher, who said, “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
The world is complicated. But there has to be, for all of our sakes, hope of making progress. (end)
Dipika Kohli can be reached at email@example.com.