Tag Archives: Memory

Glædelig jul: Merry X-mas

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

I wish all my readers a merry x-mas and a happy new year.

This time last year, we celebrated a true Danish jul together with my siblings and their families, managing to serve up our own version of the x-masses we remember from our childhood home, complete with pork roast, ris-a-la-mande, live candles on the newly felled pine tree and Santa who delighted most, but terrified one five-year old. On x-mas day we walked through a bright morning with sparkling snow in beautiful, cold sunshine. All up we were 17 people together, ranging in ages from five months to 72 years. Continue reading

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5000 views: thank you!

imageWe are popping the champagne bottles. Firstly, because we are wrapping up our stay Copenhagen and are saying goodbye, farewell, see you later to the people we have spent time with while here. Secondly, because I have reached an important milestone for my Pied-a-Terre blog: Today it has been accessed 5000 times by nearly 2500 unique visitors. I am overwhelmed at this level of visitation, which surprisingly comes mostly from search engine referrals.

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From slow start to page turner

imageIt took me awhile to get into the swing of Siri Hustvedt’s What I loved from 2003, but I have now finally finished it, reading the last third of its nearly 400 pages in just one day.

It is a moving tale of love and grief and the devastating moments that change the course of your life and relationships forever. Its narrator, Leo Hertzberg, is an academic art historian residing in New York. The story follows 25 years of his life when he befriends an artist, Bill Weschler, and tracks their lives alongside each other. The story is bookended so we understand it comprises Leo’s reflections on his life as an old man.

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Joy and pursuit of unhappiness

Six grey cygnets are out. One egg remains. Swans at the Lakes in Copenhagen. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Six grey cygnets are out. One egg remains. Swans at the Lakes in Copenhagen. Photo: Lone. 2015.

The bird life on the Lakes in Copenhagen is surprisingly plentiful and diverse. Each time we walk around the lakes we notice new nests or – even better – new tiny baby birds in the coot’s nest, striped young ones on the back of great crested grebe or ducklings paddling with their mallard parents. If the weather is good, we stop to watch their funny antics and take photos. Today, mother swan was busy with six little grey cygnets, fussing to add feathers and other warm materials to the remaining grey-green egg. With spring comes new life, fresh and full of opportunities. It gives me moments of unbridled joy, following this happy addition to the abundant bird life in the middle of Copenhagen.

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Heart of pinkness

The river runs through a pink landscape - Richard Mosse: Platon (2012). Photo: Mick 2015.

The river runs through a pink landscape – Richard Mosse: Platon (2012). Photo: Mick 2015.

Colour blindness comes in a version where green and red are indistinguishable. I cannot imagine not being able to see the many greens that colour spring and summer or the reds of tulips and cherry blossoms that are starting to show.

Richard Mosse (1980) is an Irish artist whose work The Enclave (2013) is exhibiting at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art presently. This work explores the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, changing hues of green to hues of red and pink. Mosse used the now discontinued Kodak Aerochrome to film events in DRC – the US Army used this surveillance film to show invisible infrared light, turning green into red and pink to detect camouflage. This war is largely ignored by Western media and therefore largely unknown outside Congo and Rwanda, even though more than 5.4 million people have died in this war since 1998. Continue reading

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.

Memory and language

Do I recall this differently in Danish and English: Moreton Island with my sister and childhood friend - obviously a lot of Danish was spoken. Photo: Mick. 1992.

Do I recall this differently in Danish and English? Moreton Island with my sister and childhood friend – obviously a lot of Danish was spoken. Photo: Mick. 1992.

When my father was dying I started to write my memories of the childhood I had with him. I wrote in my native langauge, Danish, and gave him a long, long brain dump of everything that came to mind in the short period I had. He enjoyed reading my memories and my perspective of events he himself could recall to greater or lesser extent.

Together we wrote the story of his own life, illustrated it with photos and had it published in 100 copies. I put one copy, hot from the press, into his hands just as the ambulance officers came to collect him to take him to the hospice. Two days later he died.

With both my parents now gone there is no-one to remember with me the self that I was as a child. Of course I still have my siblings and a few childhood friends, but they don’t have the memories about me that my parents did. After 23 years of living with English language, it was refreshing to remember and write in Danish. A bit rusty perhaps (but I am not a best-selling author like Christian Mørk); memories flowed easily and my brain was filled with words, images, smells, feelings and sensations that were conjured up and remembered in Danish.

I have lived all my working life in Australia. When my mother first visited us I tried to explain to her my work in Danish. I found it really difficult – I could not find the Danish words for the particulars of my day-to-day working life, which itself was word and language based, working with policy, procedure and freedom of information decision-making, carefully reading complex documents, interpreting the statute, analysing precedents and choosing the right words to describe my decision, so it could withstand scrutiny. I was constantly using English words to explain my role to mum, who must have felt she was losing me in more ways than one.

My siblings can remember with me, but my parents knew me differently. My brother and I fooling around in London 1976. Photo: private.

My siblings can remember with me, but my parents knew me differently. My brother and I fooling around in London 1976. Photo: private.

A couple of years ago I found myself working up my cv in Danish – my public service profession was under attack by an incoming government and the villification of the public service was rife in the media. A public outrage was whipped up against an old stereotype of useless, lazy public servants – a stereotype I found difficult to reconcile with the commitment and hard work of public servants all around me. I lost my job in a restructure and I thought perhaps I needed to go back to Denmark to continue to support my family. Writing about my work experience in Danish was a difficult task and I found it hard to succinctly explain my responsibilties and achievements in a different language. I never sent the cv to any prospective, Danish employers. In the end, I won back my job and I stayed in the Australian-English life world.

Language and memory go together. The story of Nabokov’s three autobiographies is well known: first he wrote and published Conclusive Evidence in English. Then he began translating it to Russian, but found thinking about his life in Russian brought out much more memory worthy of documentation, making the English version seem woefully inadequate. Once he had finished his Russian autobiography (Drugie berega or Other Shores) he then translated it to English; yet he found it difficult to fit his Russian experiences into the ‘straightjacket of English’. So he ended up with three very different documented versions of the same life, the last being Speak, Memory.

We experience the world differently in different languages.  My Australian-English experiences are very different to my Danish experiences – not just because of different place and culture. How I remember my experiences depend on the language I use to remember.

According to Dr Anna Pavlenko, language and memory are integrated – language used during particular events becomes a ‘tag’ for memory of that event and when we try to translate to another language something becomes lost in translation: We lose the sense of a correlation between words and things and words and feelings. It is never quite the same. Our childhood language integrates words with our experiences, which can make the memory feel real. Words learnt in the class room or later in life do not integrate with our experiences in this same way “because by then we learn to suppress our emotions.”

When I reconnected and started corresponding with my dear departed uncle, who was in the business of story telling, he called my Danish language refreshingly crisp and uncorrupted by adulthood and work’s habits. He encouraged me to write more and to write in Danish.

When I joined the Queensland Writers Centre, I was advised to write in English – if I wanted to be a professional writer – because the market is much larger than the Danish market. And if I wanted help and support with my writing here in Queensland, this would only be possible if I wrote in English. Fair enough, but knowing what I now know about memory and language, perhaps this is not quite right for me.

I am currently writing in English – my writing would no doubt be different if I write in Danish. It would also be challenging. I love the Danish language and want to reclaim it for my future self. If I get to write my book when I am away, it may well be in Danish. That would be my writer’s pied a terre.