How Fast Can You Settle Into a New Home (Or The Peaks & Valleys of Living Abroad). [Copenhagen, Denmark]

We have just passed the week mark in our new home of Copenhagen, Denmark, and though it’s *only* been 10 days, we’ve settled into a nice routine here. Wake-up; make tea (Earl Grey with oat milk and a spoonful of honey); work from home until lunch; take bikes to chosen coffee shop of the day (there are so many great cafés here!); work from said coffee shop; go to Butcher’s Lab CrossFit; have or make dinner; go home and chill before bed.

All of this feels very comfortable and very normal. I’m far more relaxed than I’ve been in weeks and actually doing all (or most!) of the things I’ve said I wanted to do — and loving it. Don’t worry, London, we’re not breaking up with you yet, but I have to say this vagabond life right now is pretty sweet.

Of course, there are ups and downs. I’d say the biggest challenge Nat and I have faced so far is the lack of social interaction. A couple of weeks ago in New York, we were talking with close friends about the fine line between being an E- or an I- (Extrovert vs. Introvert according to Myers-Briggs) and though both Nat and I are ENTP and ENFJ, respectively, we’ve often debated whether or not we should actually be INTP / INFJ. The clincher, we discussed, is whether ultimately we feel re-energized around others or rather alone.

If there was ever any doubt, we now know that we are most certainly Extroverts. A week in a new city with just each other is lovely, but it’s not a diss on one another to admit that we miss our friends and the energy they infuse in us. Luckily, Saturday was a big social day for us, where we hung out with a wonderful and inspiring friend of a friend who is half Danish, half Bahraini; we connected with a London pal who happened to be visiting Copenhagen that weekend for his last trip in Europe before moving back to the U.S.; and we met a group of 3 lovely Danish girls we convinced to play One Night Ultimate Werewolf with us at a board game café where we closed our Saturday night. They were impressively good at it and we’re hanging out with them again tomorrow. :)

What I want to spend some time sharing now is what we did yesterday (Sunday) and today. Since it was a Bank Holiday in the U.K. and Nat is technically still working that time zone, we took the day off and spent 24 hours exploring the rest of Sjaelland (Zealand). We took a bunch of our friends’ recommendations (if you’re reading this, you know who you are, and thank you!) and drove up to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, after lunch on the way at Restaurant Sletten, a very refreshing spot by a small harbor on what happened to be a perfect day.

Louisiana has a lot of hype around it. And here’s where I shyly admit that while I love art of many kinds, I am not the most avid museum-goer. I rarely regret it whenever I do go, but tend to prefer outdoor activities when visiting a new place. That said, Louisiana had a strong enough pull and it was everything it was made out to be and more.

In this stunning setting, the exhibits took us between its various wings and outdoor gardens in a very engaging way. A Literary Festival was also taking place, and though we didn’t attend any of the panels, the energy and liveliness of the crowd were potent. The two main exhibitions were incredible. On one hand, we had Tal R, a prolific Danish artist who has paintings, sculptures, books, collages, drawings, large installations and a video documentary. On the other, Marina Abramović, a performance artist from Belgrade with incredibly intense, disturbing, powerful work.

Tal R’s collages. Image found on the Louisiana website here.

I absolutely loved The Academy of Tal R. Maybe not everything in it, but the sheer body of work was astounding and inspiring. The sculptures were my favorite, particularly the setup. Lining a long dimly lit hallway and throwing large, ominous shadows against the walls, Tal R’s sculptures were brought to life in an eerie and profound way. I also loved his large “Habakuk” paintings created specifically for this exhibit and accompanied by a video documentary the museum made of the artist creating the work — all done this year! It was so cool to hear him talk about the project, see how quickly he painted these massive works of art and then enjoy each one in its full glory while noticing the details mentioned in the film. Last, and I promise I’ll stop there, I couldn’t get enough of his collages. He worked on these with his students over the course of 4 years from 2005–2008, and I could have looked at each one for hours.

Now… Marina Abramović. Her work, to quote her bio, “revolve[s] around the body, gender, energy, time, pain, presence, and identity.” The first installation we saw was of Marina using a collection of knives and recording the sound of each one hitting the table between her fingers as she stabbed between them. Each time she nipped herself, she switched blades until she’d used all of them once. She then listened to the audio of this experiment — which was playing out loud for our benefit — and repeated the process in time with the beat. I would have never thought of that, but just that first introduction to her had me hooked and bothered.

Other installations included her screaming for hours until she lost her voice; speaking random words until she couldn’t think of any more; and standing naked across an also naked man in a narrow museum doorway, forcing people to sidestep between them and thus to choose which one of them to face. This was actually re-enacted at the Louisiana with two performance artists.

Marina Abramović at the MOMA in 2010. Image found on the Louisiana website here.

One of Marina’s most famous experiments took place at the MOMA in 2010 over the course of 3 months, where she sat still across an empty chair from opening until closing, inviting museum-goers to sit in front of her and engage her gaze. The Louisiana had an area where we could actually try this, either with each other — familiar faces — or with strangers. Nat and I decided to go with strangers, and this was the most interesting, altering part of the visit for me, perhaps because of the thoughts around social interaction and vagabonding I’ve been having.

The rules were as follows: put your phone, watch and purse in a locker; take some noise-canceling headphones; when paired with a partner, close your eyes and take three deep breaths before engaging his or her gaze. Be sure to breathe slowly, try not to blink and remain as still as possible. I waited a while to get partnered up, and eventually, a museum employee sat across me. He was blonde with piercing clear blue eyes — a true Scandinavian.

Because my partner was a museum employee, my first feeling was that I had to “do well.” (Friends, don’t roll your eyes at me!) I noticed every one of my blinks to his unflinching gaze and even switching my view between his eyes felt like too much movement. It was. He was very still, barely blinked and after a while, I wasn’t even sure if he was looking at my eye or another part of my face.

gaze • 27th august, 2017 • humlabaek, denmark • background is from the @louisianamuseum cafe/garden • originally published on Instagram

Not blinking was a struggle. My eyes began to water, releasing a single tear, and my nose started to run. I felt embarrassed but resisted the urge to wipe these drops away. Then, I alternated between two states. In one, I truly managed to get into the experience and zone out. All I could see was his left eye and everything around it was a pale blur. In the other, I noticed his stare getting more intense, his eyes watering too. I wondered — was he seeing something in my gaze that was causing this reaction or was he in his own world? What was he reading in my soul? Did he notice my attention changing from my world to his; was my curiosity too nosy or intimate?

I don’t know if I let myself fully open up to him, but I did feel him lost in his mind and with it, the responsibility of not breaking the connection too soon. I thought we would both get up together in a mutual understanding that this should end, but several times, when I felt we had achieved this, he didn’t budge. Eventually, I stood — I have no idea how long I was there for… perhaps 20 minutes? — and he stayed. No words exchanged.

Kronborg Slot • 27th August, 2017 • Helsingør, Denmark

Part of me wanted to discuss the experience, hear his thoughts on it, get answers to some of my questions. But that’s not the point. So we left the museum in a sea of Marina’s voices and screams — appropriately we had a hard time finding our way out of her universe — and drove onwards to the beauty of Kronborg Slot — Hamlet’s castle — and the fisherman’s town of Gilleleje. We spent the night at the beautiful Hotel Bretagne in Hornbæk. They had the most amazing breakfast. And we drove back to Copenhagen this morning via Frederiksborg Castle — another stunner laced in history.

Frederiksborg Slot • 28th August, 2017 • Hillerød, Denmark

That concludes this (longer) blog post of our first 9 days in Copenhagen. I have been writing more poems for Midnight Plume, one about the dichotomies around this adventure and another about my experience with this deep gaze interaction. Please do follow my Instagram profile (or Medium page) if you like this kind of stuff. And if you’ve made it to the end of this, thank you for your time. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!***