I've been so busy these past couple weeks finishing up the Incredible Distance EP that I've fallen behind on my already-belated blogging! I was determined to catch up before leaving for Japan, but I ended up finishing this entry on the plane.
I left Bjerringbro early, in the dark. This was still my week of running in circles “like a ragged squirrel on a treadmill" ("верчусь как ободранная белка в колесе," as Kuzmin wrote). It would take a few hours to get to Copenhagen, and I wanted to see a few sights before continuing on to Malmö, Sweden, for my show that evening.
Fortunately, I had an excellent guide: Jacob, who had attended my show in Copenhagen two days earlier. We met at the train station, swung by his place to store my suitcase, popped into a little café for some tea, and caught a train to Helsingor, home of Kronborg Castle.
For some reason, when Jacob had asked me if I had been to the castle, I thought he was referring to Kastellet, a "star-shaped 17th-century fortress with ramparts," or Amalienborg, the palace where royal family lives. Both of these are in Copenhagen, so I was surprised at how long the train ride was.
Jacob got cozy on the train, sinking down and propping his feet up on the seat in front of him; I followed suit. It felt rebellious. On the buses in Eugene, the drivers sometimes make an announcement if they notice your feet are on a seat.
Jacob let me use his extra train pass, which you're supposed to scan before boarding the train and again after exiting. You have to check in and out. I, of course, forgot to scan my pass when we arrived at Helsingor. I was with Jacob the whole time, and apparently he scanned his, but I missed it somehow. It wasn't until we had already reached Kronborg Castle that we (that is, Jacob) realized what I had(n't) done. He very kindly went back alone to scan the card, giving me some extra time to look around. Near the bridge leading to the castle, I saw some Common Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Mallards, Black-headed Gulls, and my first Great Black-backed Gulls. After crossing the bridge, I saw some Mute Swans, one of whom was eating with great economy of energy.
I got our tickets — which turned out to be a good idea, as the line had tripled in length by the time Jacob returned. We joined the throng of people crossing another bridge leading to the castle. A Gray Heron skulked in a corner of the moat.
The courtyard was bustling and festive. It was difficult to know where to go or what to do. There was no obvious beginning or end, because the castle encircled (or ensquared) us entirely. A line was forming outside the closed doors of the chapel, where some sort of event was to take place. We weren't there for the event, so we went through the museum part of the castle. It was packed with people. The museum provided an overview of the castle's history and depictions of what life there had been like.
In the courtyard we had seen and heard a solitary caroling woman dressed in a dark, heavy-looking period costume, and she seemed to reappear at every turn, singing different styles of songs in different languages.
At one point, our route led us through the chapel on some sort of balcony-level walkway; the chapel itself was blocked from our view, but we could overhear the event that was taking place. A modest-sounding choir was singing "Operator". It was hard to explain to Jacob why I thought this was so hilarious. I think it was just a surprising song to hear performed by a choir at a castle in Denmark.
In a large, beautiful ballroom, Jacob pointed out Julehjerte (pleated Christmas hearts) on a huge Christmas tree. In another room, he pointed out a celebrity, the director of some successful film.
In between each segment of the castle, we inevitably found ourselves driven into the midst of a Christmas market. Some parts of the castle were temporarily closed, seemingly to drive more traffic into the markets. In any case, I already thought the castle was interesting and cool, and then we finally came to the gift shop, where I was surprised to see lots of Hamlet-related merchandise, much of it emblazoned with the quote, "To be or not to be."
I commented on the abundance of Hamlet swag, and Jacob said something like, "Well, yes, that's why we're here..." I was confused, but eventually, finally, I came to understand that this castle was the setting of Hamlet. Helsingor was Elsinore. Basically, my mind was blown, and I needed to rethink everything we had just seen. (Fortunately, the gift shop carried a handy little book with photos of the castle, inside and out, with corresponding excerpts from Hamlet. Jacob was so sweet as to get me this, and I read it when I got back to the US.)
We left the castle and Jacob starting leading us somewhere. As we walked along the docks, he talked about being a Danish folk dance instructor, and I told him about how I had danced at the Scandinavian Festival when I was a kid.
I had no idea where we were going, and I don’t know what I expected, but I was certainly surprised when a gleaming merperson appeared before us. Jacob knew I was interested in seeing the statue of the Little Mermaid, as well as the nearby Genetically Modified Little Mermaid, but both of these were back in Copenhagen. I hadn’t known there was yet another variation on the theme to be found in Helsingor.
A placard near this merfigure indicated the title of the work: the Danish pronoun “Han,” meaning “He”. Even statues are assigned a gender when they enter this world. I understood what the intention was – to create a male counterpart to la Petite Sirène – but under my queer non-binary gaze, this svelte individual exuded ambiguity. They were certainly petite, but this isn’t generally a characteristic associated with masculinity, or even necessarily with mermen. Was the pronouncement of a pronoun a coming-out? Or, on the other hand, doth the merman (or the artist behind the merman) protest too much? I have experience reading queer texts and reading texts queerly, but I’m an amateur where visual art is concerned.
In any case, this queer encounter (of the third kind, you could even say) was welcome after a fairly heteronormative week. (And it would only get queerer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
After this, we returned to Copenhagen, managing to squeeze in a viewing of the original (well, replacement of the original) Little Mermaid before it was time for me to hurry on to Malmö. The Little Mermaid wasn’t quite as tiny as everyone said, but it was true what I had been told – if you can’t find her, just look for the crowd of tourists taking photos. (And perhaps on a quiet day, look for the Mute Swans eagerly awaiting said crowd.) The sun had already set, but she and the swans were semi-illuminated by some dim spotlights, and probably blinded by the perpetual flashing of the paparazzi’s cameras.
At the train station, Jacob and I said goodbye and I hurried onto the train, which didn’t immediately leave. I was standing near the doors, and after a minute he approached and told me there were some seats open in the next car. I found a window seat, and it was still a couple minutes before the train departed. Jacob stood on the platform smiling, framed by the train window, people milling around him, and this became my parting image of Copenhagen.
Copenhagen and Malmö are separated by water, but connected by a tunnel. It’s one of those things that is remarkable to think about but altogether unremarkable to experience.
My Skyroam Wi-Fi connection took a minute to sort itself out after being underwater, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to do when we reached the first train station in Sweden. I had assumed I’d be getting off at the same place as everyone else, but from what I could tell, as many people stayed seated as disembarked. I hesitated, then took my chances and lugged my luggage out onto the platform. Passengers were filing through a gate in a fence, so I joined the queue. The friendliest border patrol officer in the world thumbed through my passport and said, “Single-entry visas… I don’t think you’re a risk for overstay!”
Outside the station, the wind was ridiculous.
I weighed my transportation options and took an Uber to Eli and Kim’s flat. As was almost always the case when I took a Uber or cab in Europe, we reached the destination and the driver seemed to expect me to say something like, “Yep, this is the place!” or “Just over there would be great.” But I had never been to any of these places, so I always just pretended that the perfect location was exactly where we had slowed down. Touring solo requires you to feign confidence, approach unfamiliar buildings, and waltz right in. Trial and error can be quicker than finding people who know the answers and figuring out how to ask them – if not only because some of the time, you’ll get lucky.
Anyway, it only took a few minutes to find the entrance, and a few minutes to be let in by Eli. He and his roommate Kim gave me a warm welcome. It felt affirming to be in the company of people who were vegan and queer and trans and used my pronouns. (Eli had even asked in advance what pronouns I’d like to use in Swedish, briefing me on the gender-neutral options in Swedish. I opted for “hen”.) I sat on a sort of bench along the wall of their kitchen/dining area, and they fed me delicious porridge with cinnamon. They also had vegan caviar, which comes in a metal tube like an ointment. This blew my mind, but apparently lots of condiments come in tubes there. (This only blew my mind to a greater degree.) It was interesting to try some of the Swedish options for vegan butter and cheese. There were also some festive, Christmasy Swedish foods and drinks, such as pepparkakor, which are sometimes like gingersnaps but n this case were very soft, gingerbread-ish biscuits. (Eli generously gave me a package of them, which I somehow managed to restrain from eating until I returned to the US and could share them with Adam.) Some of Eli and Kim’s friends arrived, and we had some non-alcoholic glögg. It’s mulled wine, but you toss some nuts and raisins into your cup and eat them with a spoon before drinking the liquid. We also had some of this non-alcoholic beverage that was invented as a beer substitute, to reduce excessive drinking at the holidays. (Apparently it is available two or three times a year, with slightly different labels for different holidays.)
The show was sweet and relaxed. The applause after the first song scared the dog, so it was decided that everyone would snap their fingers instead.
After the show, as always, I was exhausted, and, as always, I stayed up too late, and, as always, I had to wake up way too early.
While dragging my suitcase through the apartment complex courtyard, the top handle – the one most useful for lifting the suitcase – broke. I don’t remember why I was carrying it instead of rolling it – maybe to not make too much noise. I found the metal component that had popped off, but I was in such a hurry that I forgot to look for my luggage tag. Later, examining the suitcase on the inside, it appeared to be potentially fixable. But I never got around to finding a screwdriver, and the suitcase handle remained broken for the rest of my trip. Finally, a couple days ago, Adam fixed it in less than a minute.