Walking along the streets of Copenhagen feels surreal up to this day and being in Denmark has never felt more far away from home than it does now. I’ve only ever traveled to a few countries at this point in my adult life. I arrived in Denmark by sheer chance, without any clue to the country’s culture but its Scandinavian origin, its romanticized castles (they were very romantic in deed), and the picturesque image of pretty, pastel-painted old houses that cast vibrant, bright-colored ripples on the city’s famous waterfront: Nyhavn. How nostalgic it feels just to be writing about my first impressions now that my memory has touched it.
So I let the memories return, for what feels like a lifetime, and the process of remembering proves itself to be the most beautiful at this time, when words usually fail to capture the original ambience of precious times in our past, fresh and quick as they come, long after they had passed.
I only had a day out in Copenhagen as I was volunteering in the outskirts of Farum, and because the best way to explore a city is by foot, I found myself with some friends in Strøget, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe. The satisfaction I felt in walking that day can be described in the degree of whimsicality that stretched out during the day where street performers played out their most authentic and bizarre roles. That tree wizard towered before me with so much majestic oddity, I was dumbfounded. The energy of the place became even more harmonic when I came across a tribe of Native American Indians breathing serenely into their bamboo pan flutes, a rare breed of culture rooted right in the city center. What I would give to gain access to this splashy artistry everyday. Musicians and artists of every kind, with their talents and twists, became the very aura of this richly cosmopolitan city.
The street, a sprawling 3.2 km, was alive with many acts happening just meters away from each other, yet my senses were the most relaxed they’ve been. As a performance artist, I felt right at home on the street, more than I would have in any of the luxury boutiques that lined up the path and attracted its own weird cluster of human beings. Here was a taste of diversity at its finest.
And it didn’t just end there, I had one day, and luckily enough, four years ago, I made it to the free town of Copenhagen, Christiania– a self-governing hippie commune that was widely known for their liberal attitude on the cannabis trade. One could absorb the sense of empowerment in the proud graffiti that advertised their freedom from the government and mainstream society; you could catch a whiff of it as marijuana flavored the air from the sunshine bakery- that’s what they called it; you could see it in the eyes of the children that ran around the neighborhood, in their playgrounds made of scrap and junk, not even noticing what it meant, what it all meant. The freedom, and the dangers it involved in living there. But the freedom was there, that’s what was important, and that’s how close I got to it all. Without even having to eat a sunshine cookie.
That for me is ambience. Little did I know when we were drawing lots for our country assignments that Denmark was to give me so much to aspire for.