29 December 2012
My Dear Piece of Home,
I’m writing you this letter from a cozy cave.
Copenhagen is cold–a windy cold which creeps under your clothes. But the sky yesterday was a bright blue and the atmosphere is one of comfort and cheer. I’m on a “chill-out” couch in the lobby of Generator Hostel, surrounded by Scandinavian hipster decor: rough wood, modern furniture, and willowy drawing decals on the walls.
According to some studies, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. Our tour guide yesterday, who is a Czech studying in Denmark, introduced us to Copenhagen with genuine, rolling smiles. He told us the Danes describe themselves as ketchup bottles. You need to hit the bottle a few times to get the ketchup rolling, but once the affection starts flowing, it doesn’t stop. Indeed, the Danes have a little something called hygge, a term with no direct translation which embraces many concepts: coziness, hospitality, family atmosphere, generosity, abundance, overflowing… It’s pulling chairs together by the fire, sharing good food and comfort with loved ones.
Hygge. I can’t pretend that I fully understand it because I haven’t been in Denmark longer than two days. But hygge reminds me of the time I used to share with you, at home, with home-cooked meals and our little dog. I believe, dare I say, I’ve experienced hygge with the girls in Vienna, grabbing candy and wine and chocolates on our way back to the hostel every night, relaxing and eating and laughing into the wee hours. I’ve had hygge these past two days in Copenhagen. It gets dark around 4 here, so we’ve been spending our nights bringing food into our rooms and watching movies. Yesterday we guffawed and sang to Pitch Perfect. Today we felt moved by Struck by Lightning. In both movies we fell in love with the brilliant Rebel Wilson aka the weird sister roommate in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy. (“You call yourself Fat Amy?” “Yes, so twig b*tches like you don’t do it behind my back.”) Yesterday, GB was passed out sick and EC was knocked out too, so AK, NL, and I walked to get cheap Asian takeout down the main shopping street, Strøget. NL and I, both Californians who attend East Coast universities, walked at our East Coast city pace–eating up pavement in long, determined strides. Poor AK was the only relaxed Californian walking that night, so in her breathless words, uttered upon our return to the hostel room as she threw off her scarf and cried “I am NOT cold anymore!”: “we just came back from a light jog.”
Tonight we rushed down Strøget yet again (honestly we’ve traversed this 1111 meter solely pedestrian walkway, the longest pedestrian street in Europe, at least ten times these past two and a half days) to see the fireworks at Tivoli Gardens. (Tivoli, built in 1843 by the happiest people in the world, inspired Walt Disney’s later vision of the Happiest Place on Earth). We had a walking race of sorts, NL and I asserting our East Coast speed while the rest tried to surpass us.
All five of us have been consciously frugal in Copenhagen, an expensive city. We ate croissants and coffee from 7-11 (a sight for sore eyes) for breakfast and cheap Chinese for dinner. I’ve had hot dog wrapped in bacon (our tour guide told us the Danes are famous for their pork, and indeed the hot dog and bacon wasn’t salty and gross but full of pork flavor) + chocolate milk (called Cocio) from a corner stand. We avoided any activity with an entrance fee and consequently found ourselves pressing our faces through the fences of Tivoli tonight, like street urchins peering into an illuminated wonderland. We oohed and ahhed as the fireworks exploded to the time of the chiming Town Hall clock at 9 PM.
The exploding lights ended our time in Copenhagen with a bang, a time filled with the magic of Hans Christian Anderson, the glamor of Danish royalty, the personal bubbles of Amlienborg Palace guards (“FIVE FEET DISTANCE PLEASE”), the jaw-dropping stories of Thomas Sneum, a surprise meeting with a former White House official on vacation from Sweden, good food, good company, and plenty of hygge.
I remembered what Fat Amy said in Pitch Perfect to her choir mates: “Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what counts.” Being surrounded by so many fat hearts this winter, I miss your fat heart that much more.
I’m flying out on an early flight to Barcelona tomorrow morning, so I’ll sign off for now.
Lots of coziness,
P.S. Here are some pictures from our last day in Vienna (the day before yesterday). We visited composers’ graves in the central cemetery, an open-air market, and ran out of time for Belvedere. Vienna was home to the Vienna Secession, of which Klimt and Wagner were members. In other words, Vienna was home to some great Art Nouveau. I know how much you like Art Nouveau, so here you go.