Strange Normalcy.

Ethereal, ephemeral. Those two words encapsulate life. We go through each day with a confident assurance that we exist, that everything around us exists. All that is tangible must, surely, exist. If one were so inclined, it would be possible to walk up to everyone around and touch her, touch him. This act would prove beyond reasonable doubt that they exist. I would not recommend this course of action, though. People can get odd when strangers walk up and touch them. Explaining that one simply wished to see if they were real would only remove and lingering doubt that you were utterly mad. It would be safer to touch buildings and inanimate objects if you really wanted to prove the point that the solidity of all that is around is proof that all is real.

Let’s assume, so that we don’t get bogged down in these minutiae, that all around us is tangible and, thus, real. This doesn’t change the fact that all is ethereal and ephemeral. So long as the world around us changes gradually, we adjust, relatively painlessly, with it. Kjøbenhavn became København, Malmö was once Malmø. More drastically, Christiania became Oslo. New buildings were built, old buildings were torn down. People moved away, passed away. Others were born, others moved in. Now try to imagine yourself as an expatriate, an emigrant or even someone in self-imposed exile returning after many years. Astrid Larsen is no longer working at that café on Godthåbsvej. No one even knows who she is, nor do they know anyone who might. It doesn’t matter that she took your order most days when you lived there for a couple of years.

You didn’t think about that, though, did you? Day after day you almost relied on Astrid taking your order in her direct, curt but always competent style. There was no reason to say much. In fact, there was little reason to even order. Sometimes, a quick nod was all that was needed. You always had the same, kaffe med mælk, café au lait. Those days you did need to speak were the days you wanted something extra, a romerske snegle – Roman snail – or a romkugle, a rum ball. That was life and as tangible but, it’s gone. That world no longer exists. What happened to the owners of that coffee shop? What happened to Astrid? One would like to think that the owners retired and that Astrid moved on to greater things.

It’s not important, really. You can go elsewhere. Let’s try that. Imagine that you’re at Risteriet, that trendy coffee shop on Studiestræde that gets plugged in the papers and by the Danish tourist board. They roast their own coffees, too! You walk in. It’s busy, but there’s just enough place for you to squeeze in. You have waht you always had, kaffe med mælk. It’s a more disconnected world now. You don’t care what is on the radio, not the way you did when you nodded your order to Astrid. In those days, you had a clunky Sony CD Walkman. Now, you have a Samsung Galaxy S8. You open your Spotify App and start to stare into space. Nu tændes himlens dybe glød og natten kommer fløjlsblød. De drømmende går snart til ro på mælkevejens stjernebro Now the deep glow of the heavens turns on and the night turns velvety. Dreams come to rest on the Milky Way’s bridge of stars. The barista brings you your favourite coffee, made with ethically sourced, organic Ethiopian beans.

Outside, on Studiestræde, the buildings look like you remember them – the way they’ve always looked. Well, at least since the street was rebuilt after the fire of 1795. Three teenage men walk past you. You don’t know them, but their names are Peder Larsen-Møller, Emil Madsen and Asger Nguyen. Somewhere, in the back of your mind, Peder makes you think of Astrid, his auburn hair, just slightly wavy, his slightly pointed, but still elegant, nose and the blue eyes, not quite sapphire, but certainly a deeper shade than the faint, blue-grey of a spring sky.

You can’t, you won’t dwell on this. A warm wind blows and the sun is shining. Life goes on, people carry on. With the self-assured knowledge that everything around is real, is tangible, is permanent people walk down the street on their way to appointments, home, gyms or nowhere in particular – like countless millions who’ve walked these same streets.


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