like how if slightly older men present something and you ask questions about it, they try, almost immediately, to write you off as a.) a woman, b.) a foreigner and if those don't work, c.) a bitch. you are present at the meeting on the same footing as they are and should therefore have the same rights they do to be part of the process and ask questions. in fact, that's the whole idea. the idea is to have a well thought-through decision made, based on good information and good arguments. and not just hand the design of the building to the chairman of the group. (or have i somehow misunderstood?)
i also have trouble understanding how someone can go on and on about the fabulous design of a new library/culture house in copenhagen and then when it's discussed that the group go to look at such buildings in other towns, and you suggest the much-praised building, the whole room recoils in horror. because it's in...(gasp) copenhagen. and that's (gasp) on the devil's island, which may as well be the moon, or possibly the very inner circle of hell.
and further, i utterly fail to grasp how someone can say, when you are in fact, an immigrant, that the aforementioned building (which he brought up in the first place) isn't relevant because it has to serve (gasp) immigrants. and i should note that the word "immigrant" - invanderer - in danish has taken on an extremely negative connotation in the past decade.
one more thing i fail to grasp is how you can fail to bring enough copies of a really important document to the meeting, when you know ahead of time precisely how many people will be attending the meeting. and how when you, in fact, are ONE copy short, you are entirely unapologetic about it and when asked, at the end of the meeting, if you're going to send a copy to the person who didn't get one, you refer to her as an "old witch" to her face.
so let's review - i'm an old witch of a damn foreigner.
welcome to denmark.
but to get serious for a moment, why on earth is it even still possible more than a decade into the 21st century, for men to be able to write off the intelligent questions of an intelligent woman and brand her a bitch for asking them? and what can we (and by we i mean me) do about it?
edited: this makes me feel so much better. thank odin for the new york times.
it seems i have only a limited amount of words at my disposal. and when they are going elsewhere, i have none to leave here. i've been editing a book. i think i'm actually pretty good at it (could it be i found my calling at this advanced age?), but it's pretty time consuming. and has filled my brain for days, leaving room for little else.
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i've also just reread murakami's wind-up bird chronicle. he always makes me feel a step apart from the ostensibly real world (if i even know what that is). his words are so beautiful it feels pointless to try to put any down on the page (let alone send them out into cyberspace). plus, he makes me think it would be a good idea to spend time down a well. too bad ours is full of water.
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polylingual poet cia rinne doesn't lack words. i wish i'd been at louisiana to hear her yesterday.
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not a whole lot of words here in sign: moa + holmberg
i'm fascinated by the spare, clean, modern, scandinavian aesthetic, even as i could never indulge in it myself.
i had no idea that my promise to share a list of good things about the US would cause such a fit of writer's block. i've found myself sitting at the computer, blogger compose window open, daily for a week and nothing comes out. in some sense, it's not fair, because there are good things about the US and it's not really for a lack of those. maybe it's just easier (and more amusing) to write about the negatives or the puzzling things (tho' frankly the positives can at times be equally puzzling). but here goes...
things that are great about the states:
~ target. i've had serious withdrawals from the bountiful variety at fair prices and which also gives back to their communities and isn't evil and contains a starbucks as you come in wonder that is a target store. tho' i wasn't that keen on what was apparently their $200 rule - as in, you can't leave without spending at least $200. the trick was to avoid spending the lot of it on nail polish alone. we didn't always succeed.
~ minnesota nice. i learned this term from my friend lisa. it describes those pleasant little conversations that you have with clerks in stores...whether it's about the odd-looking handful of coins you're pawing through to find some quarters or about how you're turning down their store credit card because they don't have any stores near where you live or about what exactly you're going to do with that quinoa or where you got those fabulous sequined uggs. it's a positive interchange and gives such a boost of energy in your day. of course, it's maybe not fair to credit it entirely to minnesota (tho' it IS a marked phenomenon there, even in the big city of minneapolis), as my sister and i had one of those uplifting experiences in our local grocery store right in our hometown in south dakota.
it was the day molly got her shots and her rather brutal ear mite treatment. her vet appointment was at 1:30 and i thought it would take like 15 minutes tops, so everyone was waiting for me to return with her so we could go swimming at the river (sans cat, of course). the appointment took much longer thanks to the ear mites, so by the time i got home, the three children were melting (literally, as it was 107°F/42°C) and whining like crazy. we stopped by the grocery store for snacks (and crisp, refreshing american light beer) and the sweet young girl at the cash register said, "how are you guys doing?" in her best local accent (think the coen brothers film fargo). we responded that no one was whining, no one was complaining, no one has asked 56 times whether we were going to the river and no one had begged for any junk food or candy. and in the process, those things started to be true...and we started to laugh and our stress melted away. all because the girl at the cash register acknowledged us with a greeting.
let me tell you, the danes could learn something from this.
i was talking to a canadian friend (who also lives in denmark) about this the other day. she's a sociologist, so she's thought about it a bit more than i had (hard to believe, i know). i said that i missed those light-hearted, surface conversations with clerks or others in line at the store and told her how much i'd appreciated them while we were in the US. she said she thought they were actually deeper than they appear at first. that when the young very pierced and tattooed clerk in the gas station's eyes light up when he sees your funny coin with the hole in the center and hearts around the edge and begins to tell you about foreign coins in his collection, he's revealing something more about himself...dreams of travel to far-away places perhaps, or a hint at the desire that despite having had ALL of his front teeth sharpened into vampire-like points, he wants something more from life.
which brings me to the next good thing...
~ believing something more is possible. i know that the american dream has come to be a bit ridiculed around the world in the face of financial crisis and political buffoonery. but that pie-in-the-sky belief that if you just try hard enough, you'll succeed and get what you want remains strong in americans. but isn't there something charming about it as well? and something optimistic and hopeful? i think (especially in the upper midwest) there are still a lot of people who believe that if they work hard enough, they can change their lives for the better. not everyone thinks they can take the reality t.v. shortcut to success (tho' it may seem like that sometimes).
however, the american dream is a double-edged sword and has resulted in the bewildering acceptance by the poorest for the concentration of wealth being in the hands of the few, some of whom apparently would like to be president (just not the ones one wishes would (say that three times fast)). it's because everyone has a core of belief inside them that they could make it too and once they're also there, they surely don't want to have to pay a bunch of taxes.
but i've digressed.
~ diversity. the states is BIG. there's a lot of space. and it means that everyone, no matter how wacky their idea, probably can have a little plot of land or a building or a place where they can have a chance to try it out. the mormons have utah. homosexuals and hippies have san francisco. wackos have LA. hutterites have their colonies in south dakota. amish in iowa (and moving into south dakota). there are organic farmers and big-scale farmers. there are snotty, organic grocery stores and there are everyday normal ones. there really is something for everyone. and people come in all colors, shapes and sizes. and it seems there's room for that.
whenever i come back home to denmark after being in the states, i'm struck by how much the same everyone is. the clothing choices, the food choices, the cars, the haircuts, the shoes. it's like there's a danish uniform (and sub-uniforms within categories - nurses, schoolteachers, business people, etc.). of course, it's a bit similar to that in south dakota, where i grew up, but it feels like there's more space (and there literally is) to unfold yourself and be a little different.
so there you have it. and i even went a little deeper than i did with the more negative list. and got past that spot of writer's block.
just a few observations from our time in the states. it's funny how time away makes what was once familiar seem strange, tho' i simply don't recall some of this stuff, so maybe it's new in the past decade or so...
~ there's a real obsession with anti-bacterial hand cleaners. in bathrooms, in the cleaning product aisle, on the dish soap, little purse-size bottles. apparently americans are really, really scared of bacteria. and i wonder if it's not contributing to illness and allergies.
~ there's a lot of fake stuff - especially fake sweeteners and fake creamers. i just wanted some ordinary half & half in my coffee and that was a rare commodity in many convenience stores, tho' 5 sweetened, artificial flavors of carnation wanna-be cream(er) were on offer.
~ waitresses introduce themselves, "hi, i'm shelly, i'll be your server." do i really need this information? do people actually take note of it and remember their server's name?
~ the lighting is really, really depressing in shopko, k-mart and even macy's. what's the purpose of that? wouldn't good lighting move more merchandise? how can these stores be so off on this important detail?
~ walmart's new logo doesn't hide that they're still pure evil.
~ enormous, chernobyl (as in possibly irradiated), giant fruit and vegetables - peaches bigger than a softball, same with plums and the leeks, as big around as my calves, i tell you. we also had a 50 pound watermelon. talk about having to pee after that...
~ only in the states could you overhear a casual conversation at the airport between two waiting passengers on the merits of the M16 vs. the M4.
~ struck by how people who have BEEN there, still pronounce iraq "eye-rack."
~ a shocking lack of recycling. i had a little shudder of horror every time i saw a bottle or can in the ordinary garbage can. this is part of why the US is consuming far more than its share of resources.
~ vodka that comes in bacon, marshmallow, cake or cookie dough flavors. i can see these are produced in france, but still, they apparently know what the american market craves.
~ direct marketing (long ads on television and in magazines) of prescription meds. man, that must drive doctors nuts.
~ no television show can be watched or enjoyed with any sense of continuity because it's constantly broken up with ads. i remember when i first came to denmark, it was agony for me to watch an whole episode of the x-files without commercial break, because i was so accustomed to the release of tension the commercials brought with them. now, i can hardly stand to watch television in the states. and don't even get me started on the shameful coverage of the olympics by nbc, i'm still not over that.
~ automatic-flush toilets. these possibly symbolize everything that's currently wrong with america, not to mention scaring the living daylights out of the user. apparently people cannot even be trusted to flush the toilet on their own these days.
~ interesting how with two acts of terrorism committed while i was there - one in a crowded movie theatre in colorado and one at a sikh temple in wisconsin - that i never heard them referred to as terrorism. it seems that word is now reserved only for acts committed by muslim extremists. if you ask me, both of those maniacs were also terrorists.
~ car design has truly gone awry. i talked about this a little bit after my visit two years ago, but it's only gone downhill. even old design stalwarts like mercedes have given up and started making what appears to be a chevy impala with a mercedes logo. it's sad, really.
lest you think i only observed the negatives, i'll be back soon with a list of positives. because there are also good things about the land of my birth. you just have to look for them a little harder.
one thing i can't get enough of when i'm back in south dakota are the spectacular skies. the sky just seems bigger there - it's farther to the horizon and the clouds are just spectacular. we don't have clouds with so much character here in denmark. i suppose it's the difference between continental clouds and coastal ones. they just get so much more time to form and have depth - whether they carry the foreboding of an approaching storm or the fluffiness of a summer afternoon - south dakota clouds are simply the best.
being in the states for a few weeks, i was struck by the visible increase in christian fundamentalism all around in the upper midwest. there have always been a few anti-choice signs here and there, and my hometown of 1300 has 12 churches, but there are more and more aggressive bible verses lining the highways and byways and christianity just seems to be much more in your face.
but i found this nail-studded cross west of the town where i grew up most disturbing. apparently, with 12 churches in a town of 1300, the youth groups have banded together into one and they erected this cross on the edge of a cornfield west of town. the large, rusty nails represent the sins of the young people in town.
and it strikes me as extremely violent and aggressive. and i wonder how a bunch of kids in small town south dakota can possibly have so many sins. what on earth are they? sex? drinking? playing hooky from school, the odd joint? hello, these are normal teenage issues - not giant nails on a cross. and to display them in such a harsh way, what good can that possibly do?
i'm more than a little worried about the aggressive tone christianity has taken on in the US in the years of my chosen exile. it seems to me not all that different from the sort of fundamentalist leaning of which all of islam is accused because a few choose to be extreme. when extremism comes to a small town in south dakota, what do we have left?
for more on this, read what frank bruni says about michele bachman and her ilk of the religious right here.
this abandoned house has a bit more family connection. or more accurately, it missed having a family connection. it's apparently a house that my grandfather considered buying when he instead chose what is known in our family as "the house on the creek" (pronounced "crick").
with nine children, this house is bigger, so i can imagine that he should probably have chosen it. but i can also understand why he chose the other one, as it was tucked away down a winding road in a most charming way. tho' i have always wondered how they all fit in those small rooms. i can still hear my aunt saying, "this was the girls' room." and "this was the boys' room." pointing at two small rooms upstairs.
i haven't heard any tales of this house being haunted, but when i walked over to it to take photos, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. it's easier to visit these houses together with others - if you're alone, your imagination begins to work overtime.
i stepped inside to snap some interior shots and heard a creaking sound upstairs. tho' it was the middle of the afternoon and sunny and bright out, a chill ran down my spine. then i heard little footsteps - it was likely just a raccoon. but i'll admit i stepped back outside, in case it was a skunk. or something else.
this one did have a slightly more spooky look than some of the others we visited. big, square, imposing, windows broken, holes in the roof, peeling paint. it just had a spooky air about it.
these old houses only whisper their stories and it's hard to catch those whispers. there is a sadness and a haunted quality about some (but not all) of them. i wonder what they think of being allowed to fall apart? i wonder if they care or if it makes them sad? i wonder if somehow they hold within them the echoes of those who lived there, even when they're long gone? i wonder if those voices can still be heard, if you listen in just the right way?
exploring these old houses was one of the high points of our trip. they fascinate me. i think i'm not done pondering why.
they say this house is haunted. nobody's lived in it for a couple of years, but it looks pretty ready to move into. there's furniture, quilts on the beds and it's generally what we'd call hyggeligt in denmark. but they say that come about 1:30 a.m., there is a scream in the upstairs bedroom.
that's the window to the room in question. did i catch a sun flare or is it the light of a ghost?
we went over one afternoon after a glass of courage known as a gin & tonic. the girls downloaded ghost detector apps and we asked a lot of questions, but didn't get any answers, nor did our detectors detect anything. apparently there are two sorts of ghosts - ones you can interact with and ones that are more of an imprint on a place - endlessly repeating the same event, like an echo. this ghost is thought to be that sort. they say a little girl died in the room and perhaps the scream is that of her mother in despair.
in daylight, the house looks so innocent and inviting. we talked about staying there, but it never worked out. there was one evening where i could have gone over by myself, but in the dark, that idea was less appealing. i would have gone with a group.
there's something delicious about the idea of a ghost. some hint that this plane of consciousness isn't all there is (i'm sure it's not). but i'll admit i also felt a bit creeped out at the prospect of going over over by myself. ghosts seem like something that should be faced with others by your side. i do wish our house had one, but alas, i haven't felt a thing.
i already mentioned that we fell in love with a kitten early on in our trip. she was born and raised here at the wonderful farm on st. mathias. when we asked if she was available, the owner said, "have you touched the kitten?" feeling suddenly slightly guilty, we admitted we had. he smiled and said, "then she's yours." and we haven't really looked back.
if i'd known how many cats my mom has at her house (don't ask), i'd probably not have taken her, but she's so delightful that i don't really have any regrets. look at that little face - who could resist her? she has turned out to have the most personality of any kitty we've ever had (and we've had many over the years) - she's packed with it.
it seemed on several occasions that the odds were against us being able to bring her home. i went straight to united's website, as we were flying with them (and swissair) home. their site directed me to petsafe, which was apparently continental's pet handling arm. i filed the request form there on their site and waited for a response. it didn't go through the first time, so i had to do it again (grr to adobe). finally, a reservation came through - to the tune of $413!! dang! i had taken my two cats - simon & abercrombie - back to denmark in 1999 and it cost only $75, so tho' i had anticipated that the price would have gone up, i didn't think it would be THAT much. it seemed cost prohibitive for a little barn kitty, so i decided to leave the cat with my dad, who had taken a liking to her.
then i noticed that tho' the reservation form had asked for my flight details and i had clearly stated that i wanted to fly with the kitten (preferably in-cabin), they had sent her on completely different flights (we were to fly minneapolis-chicago-zurich-copenhagen and they sent her minneapolis-newark-copenhagen). so i wrote back and asked why, as well as asking about the high price. it was only when they answered that i realized they were sending her as cargo and not in-cabin, as i had requested.
this time, i got on the phone with petsafe, where once i finally got through, i learned that they handle only pets as cargo and not in-cabin pets, so i needed to contact regular reservations (this is NOT at all clear on their petsafe form). i asked them to transfer me, which they did (a bit to my surprise). then, after waiting 30-some minutes on hold, i talked to a wonderful, service-minded woman who helped me arrange to take molly (that's the name she finally approved) in-cabin on both our united and swissair flights - for only $125, instead of $413. who wouldn't want to do that?
with reservations in place, i now turned to the vaccination requirements. another stumbling block, as a rabies shot is required and our kitten was only going to be 10 weeks old at the time of our travel and vets require them to be 12 weeks old to vaccinate for rabies. additionally, the rabies vaccination had to be 21 days old to count, so again it looked like there was no way to fulfill these requirements with such a young kitten.
however, on a long shot, i called the danish consulate in chicago and asked if there was any way to import a kitten that was younger than 12 weeks. a VERY helpful woman, who had clearly been in the US long enough to be service-minded, looked into it and even called me back(!) to tell me that it was possible to get a dispensation and even directed me to the link where i could find the necessary forms. so i filed two more forms (thank odin for electronic forms) with the danish veterinary authority, requesting the dispensation.
nearly immediately, i got an answer, informing me that a kitten could not be taken from its mother before it was 12 weeks old, so there was no way i could travel with the kitten (between the lines was a disapproval and possibly a few dark thoughts of me as an animal abuser). quick thinking caused me to respond that the kitten had lost her mother (technically not a lie, as she didn't have her mother anymore) and would they please reconsider. which they did! and the next day i had the dispensation. after investing another $100+ in divesting the kitten of ear mites (which may be why she was shaking her head at all those names we suggested) and getting her micro-chipped and vaccinated for distemper and treated for ticks and fleas (tho' there was no evidence of either), she was ready to come with us.
so on tuesday, we carried her onto our first flight in a little duffle bag-style carrier. we had food and water with us and offered it to her at regular intervals throughout the long day of flights. she handled it like an absolute trooper - as if she'd been traveling across the atlantic her entire life. she did sleep quite a lot today, so it was a tiring journey for a little kitten. but we're glad she made it. and she's already thoroughly charmed husband (who was skeptical at a distance), tho' lila, our elderly and slightly grumpy indoor cat is less charmed. we think she was definitely worth all of the effort. the best souvenir we could have brought home.