Coming Back to Aalborg

I took down all of my postcards. All year, I’ve been collecting post cards both from the cities I visit as well as random free ones they give out at Aalborg’s studenterhus. After striping my walls of the 160 postcards I managed to collect, I decided to stop the packing process because it was too depressing and could be put off some more.
Diary Entry from June 14, 2014

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Postcards are fascinating.

Mail is mail, of course. There is nothing special about communicating through the written word today, although it is slightly more quaint and artificial (artifactual) to do so through paper moved across the physical space between one person and another. Postcards, though, are unique. They don’t just move through space but highlight it. This is where you are; this is where I am (temporarily). Here is a blurb worth half the space of a picture of where you are not–and may never be–held in mirror image to your address from Elsewhere.

I am fascinated by the pictures deemed twice as worthy as anything anybody has to say about them.  Monuments, cityscapes, national cultures, stock images of cats and dogs on vacation pasted over a beach. Postcards are an exercise in idealism, reduction, and symbolism. How do you diminish an entire city/country into instant recognition from a 5.8 by 4.1 inch rectangle?

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I, too, am always trying to evaluate and reduce cities. Specifically those making up my life in its past, present, and future incarnations. Since birth, I have lived in ten different cities, spanning three American states and four countries. I have fucking loved it, but it also complicates the cities’ definitions.

Aalborg, Denmark is one such city. My sophomore year of university, at the bidding of a friend, I studied abroad in Denmark’s fourth largest city (population 200,000). I was nineteen, and I absolutely loved my time there. Although I came from a metropolitan area of almost seven million people (Phoenix), the European city was so condensed that it felt like a living, bustling metropolis in a way that Phoenix’s stagnant freeways and isolated, spread-out homes never did. I had a group of three friends that felt like the greatest sense of family a friend group has ever resembled for me. It was the year I learned to cook (the first year I ever tried coffee, hamburgers, eggs, avocados, etc.). Learned to have an apartment. Learned to drink. Dipped my toes in adulthood one painful fuck-up at a time (lost and homeless with no money or communication in the Southern French countryside on the winter solstice for example).

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When I reduce Aalborg to a compartmentalized identity, it has always been metaphorically enormous, proportional to its place in making me me and the quantity of memories it gave me.

Recently, though, at the bidding of the same friend, I went back for a couple of days three and a half years later.

And Aalborg was fucking dinky. It was cold and run-down and small and borderline-lifeless. My friend, who also studied abroad there and had even returned several times since, felt the difference too.

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Obviously, it is my friend and I who have changed and not poor Aalborg, but the experience has me obsessing over how exactly we categorize and think about cities in general. I recently read this amazing article  by a former professor of mine about a (stupid) experimental community in the Arizona desert where I attended my first and only music festival two years ago because it was free, highlighting the space between a city’s potentially idealist invention and the realism of what life makes in its execution. The city as idealism comes up, too, in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Brazil’s fascinating capital Brasilia (a city deliberately designed in the shape of a cross with zoning to encourage social blending but, ultimately, fostering strict ghetto and slum systems).

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What is the space between a city’s postcard image and its reality? How much of my memories actually reflect place and how much are associations with experience, people, and time in ways that do not allow physical return? Do others who stay put conflate this shifting sensation with time, and is this feeling the root of conservativism when we grow old?

Specifically, as I find myself at yet another crossroads of needing to decide what the fuck I’m doing with my life, this return to Aalborg has me wondering about my perceptions of every city I think I know. How have I drawn these postcards? What spaces must I travel between now and the future? Does space actually really matter at all in the end?

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The Libraries at Trinity

I’ve always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges

 

It’s not every day you live in a country whose list of main tourist attractions include a library. It’s not every day you attend the university in possession of that library. It is everyday, though, if you are a student at that school, that you can go to said library for free.

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It is never the day that you need to go to said library for any useful book-purposes. That day was built for the Berkley, the Ussher, the Lecky. Cement. Computers. Colorful rows of books whose smell is still bound between their covers rather than leaking into the atmosphere of heavy-handed old wood.

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Librarians who think their profession is to earn the library its ethos through making you feel inferior. Don’t ask them for help. Whisper, dammit. Memorize the Dewey Decimal System. Their spines don’t smell like old leather, but, rest assured, they are trying.

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Every day, they go to the tanning salons along the Liffey that most tourists look at and wonder, “Really? In Dublin? Who is sustaining this?” The tourists swim their way upstream through a river of fish-bellied Irishmen, and the librarians slip, quietly, always quietly, into sustaining this out-of-place practice.

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They want the Long Room. They want to bind themselves in leather. Stamp their faces in golden Latin. Climb a ladder nearer to Paradise. They stare at students with computers and phones and magnetized student identification cards, and cast out their days to sand melted into cement walls. They harden, every day, into cement themselves: sculpted busts like they knew they were always meant to be. Cold furniture along the edge of a living bookshelf.

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You go to school. You read. You wander into the Long Room. You do not look to the busts for anything.

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Black and White and Gray All Over

I got a roll of black and white film.

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I fell in love with a roll of black and white film.

And at first, I was caught up in a deep internal conflict, thinking to myself, “but, black and white film and I have only known each other for so long. This is too fast. Lizzy, you’re not in love; this is only a strong, fleeting crush.”

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But then they sat me down one evening– in a room filled with a thousand candles (I was worried about the fire hazard, but when I voiced my concerns they told me to quiet down. Ireland had plenty of rain, and they had something important and Romantic to tell me, and that I was ruining it, as I do with these sorts of things) and rose petals and such–and took me by the hands and told me they were in love with me.

And I told them I loved them back before I knew what words were coming out of my mouth.

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We got married last weekend.

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In a very tasteful ceremony attended by our closest friends and relatives, except for Aunt Sarah, of course, because you know how militant she feels about the patriarchal institution of marriage and how she wouldn’t be caught dead in a room with people construing “oppressive law for love.”

We bought a cottage in the countryside, because it was too difficult to find a place for a young married couple in Dublin. We’ve adopted a basset hound mix from the local pound. His name is Rupert.

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As a Christmas/New Year’s/Getting-In-To-Grad-School gift to myself back in December, I got a Pentax Spotmatic film camera off of Le Bon Coin and I absolutely adore it. Here are a few pictures from around the region, namely Pezenas (my town), Castelnau-Le-Lez, Mèze, and Montpellier. (These are pictures of the pictures taken by my digital camera woops).

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WWOOFing in Ardèche for Christmas

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I am pleased enough with surfaces — in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind — what else is there? What else do we need?

Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”

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Here are some surfaces from my incredible week WWOOFing with a (very) French family in the countryside at their chèverie (goat farm/butcher). The cast is: V, the goat farmer, T, her husband and the butcher, t, their three-year-old son, and M, my fellow WWOOFer originally from Lyon.

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  • Showing up nervous about letting the family know that I’m vegetarian only to be greeted by a pig cut in half and hanging from a tree with three grown men laughing around it. Unwittingly showing up on the traditional “tueaille,” or annual pig-killing/eating day/festival, and immediately deciding to tough it out and eat meat for the week
  • Being plagued with abdominal pain from said meat every afternoonimg_1808
  • Walking through the forest alone singing to myself and taking pictures all afternoon/ every afternoon while listening to the birds sing and the church bell from the village below keep time until V calls in the goats and their bells mean to go to the chèverie for the evening’s workimg_1661
  • t clasping my hand to take him back to the house at the end of a day and, after nearly 24 hours of hitting me and throwing caprices, saying “je t’aime
  • t farting on my lap while I read him storiesimg_1797
  • Petting Miel (“honey” in french) first thing every morning until, by the end of the week, he recognizes me and comes running and squealing for me every time he sees meimg_1669
  • One of the farm’s workers bringing a month-old puppy to the farm to play with a living-room baby goat and letting him lie on my chest to nap
  • Passing the time just after every lunch with bowls of coffee and reading the quotes about happiness from chocolate wrappers to each otherimg_1870
  • A baby goat being born and forgotten in the snow. Rubbing him with a towel for two hours to heat him up. Getting to feel life slowly creep into his small and lifeless body, starting with his humongous ears perking upimg_1835
  • The sadness on Christmas Day when, while babysitting the farm alone while everybody is away visiting family, the same baby goat dies after having just spent the afternoon cuddling my lap like a cat
  • Watching a baby goat take its first breath. Also on Christmas Day
  • The acute boredom that comes with only understanding and expressing the surface of conversation in a foreign language day in and day out with little to no perception of nuance or depth
  • Getting to see the Alpes from afarimg_1862
  • Giving a cat a piggy back ride along a country road
  • The smell of the wood-burning heater img_1815
  • Whittling away the scraps of meat and fat (in the end, 1.2kg’s worth) left on the remains of a pig carcass all evening with T and M, talking about how caring about cooking is a metaphor for enjoying the road to the greater ends in life
  • Taking long sunset walks with Laslo the dogimg_1715
  • Staying up till midnight on M’s last day on the farm talking about how to find happiness in the world (and how crazy it’s becoming) through groups of people that give us a sense of community and remind us that we are not aloneimg_1908