Through books, I’d traveled the world a hundreds time over before I reached adulthood, navigating France (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin) like I navigated my middle school hallways, falling in love in Ethiopia (An Ethiopian Romance by Heliodorus of Emesa) like I fell in love with Miranda in my boyhood, and running through bushes in Vietnam (If I Die in an Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien) like I ran across train tracks near my grandmother’s house is summers. Truly, these books were passports and passport stamps and they opened doors to the world, allowing me to fall into every corner my body could find and fill.
Sitting on the beach in Daytona at 18, smoking grape-flavored tobacco rolled tightly in cloves, my friend and college classmate, Deshaun Snead, handed me a copy of Cecil Brown’s The Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger. This book was a visa to Copenhagen that I wouldn’t use for 17 years, but would fantasize about every time I was asked to recommend a book, every time booked a flight to Amsterdam, London, Paris, Oslo, or some place within a stone throw.
I suppose I could have gone anytime, but all the times I was within reach didn’t feel like the right time, and I was fine with that. Risha, my reckless and foolish friend went, knowing how badly I’ve wanted to see it, and refrained from sharing any information until I decided to make the leap. I appreciated her for that. Finally, though, something clicked, I purchased the ticket, fell asleep in Amsterdam, woke up in Hamburg, passed out and woke up again at Copenhagen’s Central Station, knowing this time was the right time.
I wasn’t around long, but I managed to jot a few notes in the journal I received as a birthday gift from Tonja while galloping through the streets of Barcelona and the souks of Marrakech.
Notes On Copenhagen:
1. The city is absolutely everything I imagined. Cold, but bearable because spring is attempting to enter. Beautiful but not gaudy, able to pose itself for color and black and white photos.
2. Foodies unite at Copenhagen Street Food Market. Korean, Greek, Dutch, Vietnamese, Chinese, American, and many other countries and cuisines are represented here for relatively low prices and great company. You sit out on the water in the chairs set up for the visitors, watching the people and the sunset until 9pm: Hal 7 & 8 Papirøen, Trangravsvej 14, 7/8, 1436 København K, Denmark.
3. Views! In each city I visit, I search for the most amazing views. Copenhagen is worth seeing from as high up as possible:
a. Vor Frelsers Kirke. A small church with a big steeple you’re able to climb and see the entire city. There are plenty of stairs, but worth every lost breath: Sankt Annægade 29, Copenhagen
b. Nyhavn. The 17th-century waterfront and canal with brightly-colored store and home fronts lined with boats and laughing people: Nyhavn 1F, 1051 København K, Denmark
4. A journey around the city, outside of the center, is amazing, and will give you a chance to see other lives, other art, other hustles. The architecture is amazing, from the functional to modern to what could be expressionism. There’s a palace for the Queen and a big beautiful church for the believers. The metro train will get you there, or you can find a tour guide on Couch Surfing or Tinder.
5. Tivoli Gardens is an old school, small amusement park just outside of Central Station with dope rides and most importantly, cotton candy.
6. Copenhagen is a place for writers, artists, and lovers who take up refuge in winters in warm, hidden cottages, and reveal their newest masterpieces in warmer months. Novels, poems, or children.
7. Christiana (Freetown). This was where I found the people, the lives, the loves, and the glass of chai latte I was look for. This is where the free spirits roams; the wanderers, the smokers, those who have no real concept of time unless it’s necessary. Photos are forbidden in most areas, and the energy, like the food, is good. This place is a piece of heaven I’m certain I’ll see again. I could have come to Copenhagen, only seen Christiana, and been fine on departure.
Copenhagen, nothing is owed to me. Cecil Brown, thank you for George Washington and his many aliases. Deshaun, I owe you as much as I owe my mother and my teachers, formal and informal, and all others who pushed books in front of me and said, “read this! It will change your life!”
I’m on passport number 3. The other two are full and sit on my bookshelf between Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner (Thank you, Solome), and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (Thank you, Kwame). They fit there. I suppose some of the greatest stories on my shelf of 300+ books are the ones told between the pages of those passports, hey?
Go to Copenhagen.
What are you reading? Where will that book take you?
Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea (Saudi Arabia)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)
So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ (Senegal)
Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld (Israel)