Well. Denmark was…adjective defying. Beautiful. Old. Magic. And…great. except for the sexism, of course, which is everyfuckingwhere. I was, however, a bit surprised. Because, you know, Denmark is close to Sweden, which is the home of the Nordic model of law, which names prostitution as male violence against women. And Denmark colonized Iceland, which recently banned strip clubs. Nevertheless, women are for sale in Copenhagen. We had a day off from Summer School, and a bunch of us decided to go into Copenhagen. I went a few hours early to wander on my own, and immediately found myself in the “inner city” of Copenhagen. Two-to-four-hundred-year-old buildings with garish signs advertising strip shows, private parties with young women, brown women, big-breasted women, champagne girls…and others, ‘sex shops’–displaying in their windows things meant for women to wear to please men. corsets, garters, stilettos–any manner of garments of imprisonment. Also, things for women to use — dildoes, vibrators– (men don’t have the equivalent, because they can buy a whole woman for their pleasure). In fact, men can buy women right next door at the strip club.
I didn’t like being lost there. A woman sat on a door step. she was smoking. Her hair was long, curly and red. Norse through and through. She coulda been a Valkyrie. Powerful. Deciding who next would die in battle. She looked in my direction. Our eyes met, then her gaze slid past me, she didn’t see me. There were deep bags under her eyes. Further on, in a door well, three men sat on the steps leading down to the door of a business, not yet open. They shared a cigarette. One looked up at me. Again, his gaze met mine, then slid away. His beard was dark, his black hair wavy under a dirty ball cap.
Copenhagen is small, as cities go. Only 1.8 million people. And the ‘inner city’, the part I saw, was pristine compared to Vancouver. There are public toilets, so the streets did not smell like pee. Not like the Downtown Eastside. There was no one begging for change on the streets in front of the train stations, or the amusement park, Tivoli. I didn’t see women prostituted from the streets, either. Just the strip clubs. That doesn’t mean they weren’t. But then again, you don’t have to have even a glimmer of insight into the state of womens’ lives in Vancouver to notice women prostituted on the streets here. So, there were many fewer in Copenhagen. I did see men rendered incapable by drink, lying in the streets, or squatting with their bottles by the sculptures in the squares. I saw seven such men in my total of 15 hours in Copenhagen. In 15 hours in Vancouver, you can see scores of men, and women, too. This is not because people in Vancouver ‘choose’ to drink and use drugs in public to such an extent that they sleep on the streets. Though some will tell you “this is my choice”. Nope. They might choose it over the shelters, or over sleeping rough in the suburbs where there are fewer soup kitchens or other services.
The faces of that woman on the doorstep, and the man in the doorwell, they showed suffering and uncertainty. But they also showed something else.
They showed something like hope. I’ve seen people on Vancouver streets look at me, desperate people, in terrible trouble. Their faces do not show such emotion as the Danish woman and man showed. They showed nothing at all. A furrowed brow and glassy eyes. Maybe I’m making it up, though. Maybe I was so smitten by Denmark that I saw Vancouver as even more degraded in comparison.
Copenhagen, in fact, Denmark, in fact, the Scandinavian countries, are far more civilized than is the New World. There is a sense that there is enough for everyone. I know i was protected in my trip, it was short, I was there for a summer school, we were not much in the cities, and we didn’t have to fend for ourselves, really. But even there, people were astonished at the cost of a university education in Canada or the U. S.. They were appalled by what we told them about Reservations, and the inner cities of Canada and the U.S. There were parallels with the treatment, especially in Eastern Europe, of the Gypsies (I asked about calling that set of people “Gypsies”, my colleagues said the “Rom” are people similar to Gypsies, in history and social standing, but separate, not Gypsies–in fact, that name is not perjorative. I’m not so sure, but I told them that in Canada, people who are those people reject the “G” word…I have some research to do…), and there was some familiarity with the connection to the South African Apartheid system. I also talked about the strong political activity of Aboriginal people here, and how there are many nations, and increasing solidarity, it seems and the women especially are, as they are everywhere, the backbone of the resistance movements.
Anyhow. I really wanted to write about what home means. “home”. When I was in Demmark, I was with people from Turkey, Serbia, Portugal, Poland, China, India, Denmark, Sweden, Norway…Old countries. (My grandmother used to warn me, “Erin, don’t ever marry a man from the Old Country.” that was an entirely parenthetical comment)
I was moved and intensely interested by how much they KNEW about their homelands. The Turks and the Serbs talked together about the Ottoman Empire, and five hundred years of war between their people, and how Turkey tried to distance itself from the Ottoman Empire. and Tito in Serbia after the second world war, how he made Yugoslavia work for a while, and…I can’t remember all of the details, but these women could. They were from those lands, their histories were part of the history of their countries, rooted, embedded. Embodied. They carried their homes with them everywhere they went that way. And one of the Serbian women, she was talking about how the things she knew, things she and her friend and their families all knew, were not found in the history books. She said, “It makes you crazy not to read this, even things that happened in your lifetime or your parents, and it’s not there!” I can’t remember what she was referring to, (I said, ‘I will remember this, every detail’ and it’s slipped away from me), but it was a big thing, like an occupation or an uprising or…dammit. i don’t know it, and those who wrote the history books would have it that I will never know it.
The burly Dane who took us out on the Viking sailboat, he talked about the Norse House Gods, and my new Swedish friend, he talked about his movement from Christianity to learning about and turning his beliefs back to the old gods. They knew who was who in the worlds of those gods, Odin and Freya and Thor and Loki–
One weekend, we went away to a forest, “the dragon forest”, to have a focused symposium on methodologies and so forth. We were on a fjord, in a forest, housed in buildings that had been a naval station in the 2nd world war. but it was older than that, of course. the people had known of this place much longer. Magic of one sort and another was everywhere around. This land, after all, was the source of the elves, of trolls, of dragons and tricksters. The vikings brought them all from here to Ireland, and again to what is now Newfoundland. them and, possibly, blackberries. not the PDA things. the berries. Somehow, I felt at home. Home in a place i’ve never been.
What does it mean, to ‘feel at home’? I’ve been to Thailand, and to Northern Quebec; New Brunswick and Yellowknife; Sift Current and Long Lac–but home is still mostly Red Deer. Then again, there was something about the Dragon Wood, and the feeling of the water grasses of the fjord brushing my belly as I swam, and the sound of the thunder from my little dormer room at the station there–something even more ‘home’ than home.
I don’t know the history of this country, Canada, the way my new friends know the history of Portugal, say. Or China. Because this land is not mine. I am a settler. Here in this spot for only twenty years. And on the continent for three generations. not even a wink’s worth of time. the history of my people is over there, in the Old Country. Or maybe drifting in the Atlantic. Scattered bits along the railway, and turned into the soil of Southern Saskatchewan. Not whole. the roots are still over there. in Ireland, Scotland, Wales–and before that, maybe Norway? Denmark? Who were we before we fled to the New World? What was our story before we paved over the stories of the Original people of this land?
I think of home as where i grew up. And where my mom is. But her own home is eight hours drive away. But it’s also right where she is. And it’s in Wales where her father grew up. And it’s turned into the soil of a Manitoba farm, and scattered i the wind of North Dakota, and…the roots of home are composted now, dug into many many places. Why did i feel so at home there in that Old Country? what was it? Maybe it was the solid feel of the old bricks. Maybe it was the freckles on the arms of the woman who welcomed us to the school. Maybe it was the untamed grasslands all around, or the furious hot rain, or the vague memory of the old stories of Thor and Loki and…maybe it was the magpies. they don’t call them magpies there, it’s something else, “skulth” is the sound of their name, sort of. They are brats there, too. And they don’t live where I live now, so seeing them in Denmark made me feel at home, too.
Now i’m home again. where i live full-time. But home is not in the rain or the earth or the sound of the birds. Here, the home part is the people. My friends, my lover, the people who see me. This is home. Where people know your name, and so much else besides. The roots are not here, but the branches are. I wish…I kind of envy the embodied histories of my new friends from the various old countries. I feel insubstantial next to them.
I have so much to learn before I am home.