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Warming Up: Street haunting is the greatest of pleasures

in Musings by

Like Virginia Woolf’s needed excuse ‘for walking half across London between tea and dinner,’ I want an excuse to roam Nørrebro, the part of Copenhagen I feel I know the best, this fine Wednesday forenoon. But I lack a purpose.

That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting in winter the greatest of adventures. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed.

I get out of bed and sip my coffee. It wakes me up and slowly reminds me that there is a world outside (yes, coffee can do so much). I flip through the online papers and read about Olympic medals as breaking news (in what world is that breaking news?) I wish all was crossed off on my to-do list, that I had a fresh piece of blank paper with nothing pre-written. The sun is shining, a smell of early autumn creeps through the windows. An early Indian summer, perhaps – it is August after all. If only one could find an excuse to join in on it, let the sun warm my body which has been cooled down already from the short amount of time I’ve spent out of bed. Like Virginia Woolf’s needed excuse ‘for walking half across London between tea and dinner,’ I want an excuse to roam Nørrebro, the part of Copenhagen I feel I know the best, this fine Wednesday forenoon. But I lack a purpose.

After a bit of work, I find myself out of coffee. Ah! Purpose! I will go out and get more, with breakfast. This gives me a mapped destination and saves me from the effort of planning a route while walking it. First stop: The bakery on Jagtvej, Brødhuset. And here I will stop, even though Kafka tries to teach me that hunger is the best condition for writing. Yes, Woolf’s purpose in ‘Street Haunting’ was to buy a new pencil, mine is this daily routine and activating meal. And it forces me out, exactly as wanted.

Cross your doorstep and I promise you, already then you will have put yourself on the line to be positively surprised.

The streets treat me as I hoped, with sun, warmth and a surprisingly smiley face from the woman I’m accidentally blocking the street for. I see a runner with an iPhone not running, countless countless bikes and a mother dressed in flowers carrying her child on her stomach. I see unused oneman-benches built into the curb, a Danish flag blowing in the wind, and a round Indian man waiting for the bus. I see people expecting it’s summer still and people thinking winter has already come. People who’ve been running and now long to be sinful. With a cream cake, preferably. On the pavement, I find an empty müsli box and a receipt for coffee bought more than ten kilometres away. Saying that the card was declined. And a ticket for the cinema (also more than ten kilometres away!) for the movie Suicide Squade in Kinopalæet in Lyngby on August 11th at 9:30 pm… and then I spot the longest type of cigarette I’ve ever seen.

Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it is worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass them on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing.

With Miranda July in the back of my mind, I will consider the woman dressed in flowers, the Indian man and the girl who smiled at the inconvenience caused by me as my creations. They are figures created solely by my own mind. The mind positively amused even before encountering these people, the mind excited about finally leaving the confinements of my room.

While walking, I try to memorize the city with my feet. I remember that right here, on the corner of Sjællandsgade and Guldbergsgade, I used to live. Here, I had my never-to-be-re-encountered daily walk from home in the morning and here, I dragged myself home at night after a long day. However familiar this corner is, I will never have the same daily experience again. I also remember the wine bar on Fensmarksgade, which I pass for a treat of nostalgia. I met my now ‘you’ for the second time here.

The streets treat me as I hoped …

Have you ever felt lonely at home? When inside, where you supposedly feel safe? Felt that you are alone in the world, that there is no one else, no one who’s felt exactly what you feel right now? When in that whimsy state of mind, I can only echo Miranda July – look out, look at the sky, look at the ground and look at the street. Cross your doorstep and I promise you, already then you will have put yourself on the line to be positively surprised.

Urge to readers: Rediscover your own neighbourhood and walk for no (particular, at least) reason and give yourself the absolute freedom it gives you to be carried only by putting one foot in front of the other. A city is best seen on foot. You might examine a good word while doing it, taste it, think about it, be the word you want to understand. And ask yourself who might’ve passed by the exact place you’re in right now.

Suggested, quoted and highly recommended reads: Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’ and Miranda July’s short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You.

An English scholar flaneuring the streets (and searching the store) to find out what to do with life. While asking herself such grand questions, Henriette writes harsh(ish) book reviews and tries to run the bookstore behind the scenes, where she keeps a stern eye on each volunteer and their workload to keep her love of systems and control in check. Perhaps she should rather be curled up in the store’s leather armchair with Virginia Woolf… With ‘Street Haunting’ as her favourite read, Woolf will be this ark reviewers main inspiration for future contributions and walking will be her preferred means to reach each end result.

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