Darkness and dreariness made up my first real Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the first day of class, and the overcast sky hung quilt-ish. Rain came at 7:30 a.m. and never went. I myself biked, walked, and slumped through the torrent multiple times with a defeated, sodden slouch, dragging the slick spectre of mood a few feet behind me.
But then, something hilarious happened. I passed the threshold of misery and went into a state of absurdity. The city became Samuel Beckett’s stage. Nothing changed, while everything changed. It was absurd, this weather, and I began to walk around laughing like an insane person in an absurdist drama. A chord popped, and my mood solidified from a soggy mess into a resilient form, something that seemed not to absorb water and internalize its inconvenience, but take it in and re-tool it outward in a shine. I began to walk with a spring in my step, as if shooting upward to embrace the water. Biking became an exercise in how to make myself the slickest human cowlick possible: head and body bent, face sort of slackly open and grinning. I was, in effect, an insane person, but only if you can call my insanity liberating.
Are the Danish absurd? I don’t think so. They are congenial and svelte and healthier-seeming than the KFC frequenters and suburban slobs in the U.S. (Don’t worry, chauvinists, I’m still on your side, more or less). The city of Copenhagen has the charm of most European cities at night, meaning the things the streetlamps light up are subtler and more genuine.
But the weather, man! It’s everyone’s imaginary vision of Seattle, or the rainforest. Yet, after a time, it pushes through the depressive into the scene of the absurd. It is so constant, so ubiquitous, like some sort of innocuous stalker. You get used to its cadences, and like the innocuous stalker, the rain becomes, in a way, absurd, a part of life, yet not. A situation inescapable, a condition, a state, that is just something to be worked in, much like life. It has no inherent meaning, no attendant emotion, and indeed elicits nothing in specific, other than the specifics your day would already elicit.
Look, I could be wrong about all of this. The rain, after a month, may begin to depress me horribly and put me on the flip side of insanity. It could be Cuckoo’s Nest over here. But right now the rain is comedic and absurd, such a hilarious ubiquity I can’t help but chuckle as I soak. It’s sort of like the David Foster Wallace commencement speech, “This is Water,” which is a good analogy. A fish swimming the opposite direction of the stream stops another and asks, “How’s the water today?” The other fish responds, “What the hell is water?” I’ve been here almost two weeks, and I’m beginning to ask myself, “What the hell is water?”