Travel Writing: Colorful Neighbors

One of the classes I am taking this semester is travel writing. It’s a very popular class, taught by the wonderful Tommy Heisz. Due to such high demand there are three different sections of this course being taught this semester. This class is about capturing what I experience while abroad. I highly recommend this class to anyone with even a mild interest.

I wanted to take this class because: A) it sounded fun B) It’s a different kind of creative class compared to my studio and drawing courses and C) I thought it would not only help me with this blog, but also help me capture my trip in a new way.

Below is the first assignment for the class called Flesh and Blood. Our task was to find a person in Copenhagen with an interesting story to tell. We have to capture both the person we meet and our surroundings. I decided to write about a coffee visit I had with my wonderful neighbor Per. Enjoy!

Colorful Neighbors

“And the next time they opened the door, nothing was there! Everything gone. Furniture, lights, even the door handles!” I listen to Per tell stories of past neighbors he has had over the past decades. Specifically the ones in the house my host family currently lives in. Sharing his near encyclopedic knowledge of the past residents historys, his face is animated as he tells each tale, “eventually we learned that they were involved with stuff and had dropped everything. Completely disappearing!” While listening to his stories my eyes start to wander around the warm living room we are seated in.

The room captures the senses. My nose is filled with the smell of old books and a well loved home. A fire burns, cracking at the freshly added wood. The walls are lined with bookcases overflowing with years of curiosity and knowledge. In my hand I hold a glass that was likely designed by a famous Dane. The feeling of hygge settles into me as I sit on the comfortable, high backed sofa. Sinking deeper into the worn leather couch I notice the various candles spread around the room. On top of the piano, next to a small sculpture, below a bright painting. Burning slowly on top of beautiful candlesticks, the candles highlight key spaces.

I have found myself in this comfortably cluttered living room after being invited to coffee with the neighbors. Before arriving I can hear my host family planning something as I put my coat on to walk next door. “What time do you want me to call to say dinner is ready?” someone asks. “At half past,” is the coded response. I wonder why they are strategizing an escape plan, aren’t we just going next door for coffee? Before I can ask we are out the door. Walking down the quiet street, lined with white houses with white Christmas lights. We stop at the gate of a small yellow house with multicolored Christmas lights glowing in the yard.

“Hej! My name is Per. That is P-E-R.” A well dressed character in a dark herringbone suit and kerchief welcomes me into his home. Hustling my host mother and sister into the small house behind me. We enter into a tall and narrow entry which is painted a bright, canary yellow. A staircase disappears among two walls covered in a collage of pictures and paintings. In fact the entire house is decorated with a mix of framed patterns and colors that one imagines are collected over a lifetime of travels.

“How do you like Denmark? It must be odd to be away in a foreign country”, Per says as he guides us through the house. I think for a moment about the whirlwind of the past two weeks. Of all the places I’ve visited, people I’ve met, and food I have tasted. “Comfortable”, I respond with a smile. He looks at me with a smile, I feel as though I have passed some sort of unknown test.

Walking into the living room Per’s wife and mother in law great me. The resemblance is easily seen between the two. In both face and dress. The pair are matching in their patterned shirts under a colored vest and matching pants. The only difference was the color, one in bright red, the other in an equally bold blue. I wonder if this was done purposefully.

Suddenly my ears perk up, bringing my attention back to the groups conversation, “You know if you ever lose your key you can knock on our door, we have a spare”. “But, it might cost you a bottle of vodka”, his mother in law piped up. Now this sounds like a story I thought.

“There used to be a single man living in that house. He didn’t talk much. We rarely saw him,” the disappointment rings clear in his voice. “One day this man sheepishly came to our door. He was acting a bit strange”, with each sentence Per’s animated face lights up. “The man seemed really nervous. It so happens he had lost his keys. What you don’t know is this,” Per leans in with a knowing smile, “this man happened to work at the Russian embassy”. He knows he has our captured our curiosity, “I’m sure you can understand the issue he was having, beyond trying to get into his house”. Smiling, I start to be carried along with the story. The rhythm in which Per talks is accompanied with his movement. Fidgeting, the story flows out of his entire body.

“The man quietly asked to use the telephone. I brought him in, he talked for a few minutes,” Per hands move, seeming to rest on a table in mid air, “then we sat in the kitchen drinking until he was picked up. And that was it. Mind you, this was during tense times with the Russians”. To emphasize the last sentence to his story Per stands up, straightening the grey vest under his suit jacket, “and a few days later a nice bottle of vodka showed up on my doorstep”. I wonder for the first time if he dressed up for our visit. “Funnily enough, the Russians actually prefer Swedish vodka over their own. Or at least the neighbor did”, Per shoulders relax with the end of his story, like the curtain closing at the end of a show. The embers glow softly in the fireplace.

After saying goodbye, we step out into the cold. Back on the stairs of my house I look back at the yellow house. Based on this conversation over coffee I had with Per, I can’t help but wonder; what exciting story will he tell the new neighbors about me?

2 thoughts on “Travel Writing: Colorful Neighbors

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