De Gæ Nok | 06-120420

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Sailboat

I call my brother on my Monday morning run, and sing him a Danish birthday song. He turns 31 today. Wow. I remember when he turned 3 + 1. He’s currently in a car with my parents. They are on their way to take our new boat for its virgin journey. I tell them all I love them, hang up, put on the newest episode of the FT’s Culture Call and opt for the hilly trails at the centre of the Heath, rather than the athletic track in Parliament Hill Fields which I’ve been running along over the weekend. It’s the first grey, drizzly morning in … what? … 3 weeks! But it’s still lovely, because all of those warm sunny days mean that the wet air of this morning is so, so balmy and fragrant. It’s like running in a natural perfume store. Which is such an idyllic image that I can’t help but smiling and feeling elated throughout the jog, a sentiment that’s only punctured by brief moments of sadness upon coming across old ladies with fearful looks in their eyes, their noses and mouths covered up in masks or scarves, pointing walking sticks protectively out vertically in front of them on the winding paths and meadows. Keep a distance! They almost look like weapons, those sticks. And so they are, in a sense; weapons to fight the coronavirus. Not other people, as such. I know that. And I want to protect the old ladies (and myself) as much as I can. So I run in big 2-metre radius semi-circles around everyone I meet.

Today, my parents and brother are navigating our new family sailboat from Haderslev, where it was built, to Juelsminde, where they all live. Sanoop and I were supposed to have joined, but our flight got cancelled. Thinking about it, I realise, is the first real sting of fomo that this entire strange situation has given me. It makes me circle back to thoughts of what ‘home’ is. It ‘should’ be anywhere I physically am. And where Sanoop is. And, to a large extent, it is. But part of the no-brainer-element in living in the UK has always been how easy it is to go home, i.e. to Denmark, from here. What now? When I frantically search for flights to replace the one that got cancelled, next week, then the week after, to Billund, and then give up, and try Copenhagen, not even BA delivers: ‘we’re sorry but we can’t find any flights matching your search.’ This too shall pass. I know. But WHEN? When can I go home? When will my non-citizen boyfriend be allowed into the country? Aaaannd … cut to feeling ashamed about that panicky stream of consciousness, which is. So. Embarrassingly. Privileged. I need to calm down. Inhale 1-2-3-4. Hold 1-2-3-4. Exhale 1-2-3-4. Repeat. At least I’m not desperate: I do feel very at home here in London, with Sanoop, for sure. I’m grateful for being able to self-isolate with someone sweet and caring (think about victims of domestic violence in this situation!) whom I love. In a comfy, light-filled flat. Situated right on the edge of a large nature reserve with a panorama view of the city skyline. A home that I chose myself. I’m grateful that governments have closed borders and asked people to limit non-essential travel to put as little of a strain on the healthcare system as possible and save as many lives as possible. BUT. Even if this situation, if any, calls for everyone to live in the present moment and count their blessings … I’m also excited for the moment when we get to join them on the water. That’s all. ⛵

The boat is called ‘De Gæ Nok,’ which, loosely translated, means ‘Everything will be ok,’ a sort of Hakuna Matata in the Southern Jutland dialect, in honour of my grandad, whose motto it was, and whose boats all carried the name: from his first small wooden dinghy in the 1950s (in which he and my gran spent their honeymoon) until the very last fibreglass yacht that he and my gran had in their more than 50 years of sailing together. They were both born in Southern Jutland, just like the youngest De Gæ Nok. The optimistic name has an extra sweet ring to it nowadays. On the trip today, my parents and brother sail right through Fænøsund, my grandad’s favourite spot, where, after his death 12 years ago, we spread his ashes across the calm waves. They salute him from the boat, knowing he’d be very thrilled, proud, in his own quiet, modest way. More about the boat here.

Pink Super Moon

Tuesday starts with a run, continues with work, and turns into an evening of walking and reading. No surprises in any of that, but still lots of things to be individually thankful for. After our home-cooked dinner, Sanoop and I head out for a naturally lit stroll to bathe in the magical moon vibes — the full moon appears larger and brighter than usual because it’s at perigee, the closest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit. Whether we’re thinking of the science behind this phenomenon or choose to focus on the balancing fact that the moon is in Libra, it’s definitely a fascinating, calming sight. We stand still in the long, flappy grass on Parliament Hill Fields and simply stare at it for minutes on end. Sanoop is meditating. I’m noticing how the moon is making the sky as light as the skyline it’s hovering above. Following its light cone down towards all the skyscrapers and domes of London, I think that the reason why I’m not missing city life that much these days is probably to be found in the fact that we can enjoy this panorama every day, albeit with less of a torch highlighting it normally. I’m so grateful to live where we do. The Heath is virtually popping with spring vibes; it would feel so desolate, sad, suffocating, confronting to be based in the middle of the normally so buzzing streets when everything around you is closed and deserted. So I imagine. As for the reading part, I’ve been dipping in and out of a second helping of my favourite weekend newspaper feature, Lunch with the FT, where various FT writers and editors have lunch with everyone from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Richard Branson, with the interviewee picking the venue, either based on affinity (which could signal they want to get personal) or convenience, and setting the tone in terms of level of abstraction/depth/rapport/intimacy. In most cases, the FT pays, incl. when it’s with Sheryl Sandberg at a FB campus cafeteria and with the media baron Richard Desmond (who famously orders a GBP 580 bottle of Bordeaux), but excluding the Trump Tower Grill rendezvous with the owner of the venue before he became president. And then there are plenty of particularly striking stories, like Hyeonseo Lee’s. The chapters are alluringly divided into — Power and Politics, Millennials, The Sybarites, Thinkers and Creators, The Art of Money, Stars on Page, Stage, and Screen, The Revolutionaries, and Sport’s Greats. I highly recommend it 🙂

High & Low

My favourite podcast in the world, The High Low, is back on the air after a 4-month break, at the, inadvertently, best possible time. I listen to their new wonderfully long episode while cleaning the flat, with Sanoop, and going for a run on the Heath, alone, 7-9am on Wednesday. Can’t remember the last time a piece of auditory — or visual, for that matter — content gave me that intense a rush of joy. I’m really, really happy they’re back, haha. The rush of joy is lingering somewhere in my mind throughout the work day, which is pretty productive, dotted with wonderful meetings with sweet, bright colleagues. And it continues throughout the evening, where Sanoop and I cook: steamed and pureed cauliflower sprinkled with black sesame seeds, a salad made from baked sweet potatoes, lemon-massaged kale, almonds and tomatoes, salmon jerky, and falafel. We eat, and then hop out to enjoy a glorious evening vista across the Heath: bird song, warm, fragrant air, LIGHT until 8:30pm … ahh. When we get back in, I send big bouquets of flowers to friends in Aarhus and in Singapore who’ve recently given birth. They are doing well, judging by their glowy photos and words, which is wonderful. Such an interesting time at which to bring a child into the world (but then again, which isn’t?). On Monday, I was lamenting the fact that we won’t get to see our ‘newborn’ boat, and my parents are postponing its ‘Christening’ till we can finally fly home. But, really, this just means that my family will have the opportunity to really make it ‘ours’ and trim it properly, so that by the time Sanoop and I see it, the boat will really feel homely, like a vibrant part of the family. For our friends, whose families have had to cancel already booked trips to go meet the living and breathing new members of their families, it’s a much deeper, more real, much more significant readjustment of expectations … to say the least.

Cod Blue Taco Thursday

Political Gabfest is the soundtrack of Thursday’s morning run. The most sensible, comprehensible, calm, and informed, and the least dramatic, American politics audio show — besides NYT’s The Daily — I’ve come across, recommended to me by my manager. A good resource for making sense of the current situation, and it even has a decent global outlook, as well. I run my usual round of the Heath, and then across the village to pick up fresh groceries and a freshly pressed juice from Artichoke, where they’re playing — and singing along to! — Three Little Birds, which makes me smile, and a takeaway coffee (such a luxury!) from Roni’s Bakery. 9am-6pm, approximately: work. In the evening, Sanoop and I make blue corn tacos with spicy cod, black beans, steamed corn on the cob, homemade guac, homemade salsa, and a few raw veggies. Drink wine in the kitchen window, our ‘balcony,’ overlooking trees that are growing greener day by day and a pond. Long, sweet Hangouts date with friends in New York.

Mornings

Birdsong and sunshine wake me up before 6am on Good Friday. The sky is a glorious mix of dusty pink, golden, and blue streaks, and I can’t wait to hop out for my morning run. Nothing is heavier than a duvet in the morning … the thought of yet another few hours in bed, where time is yours alone. Floating in and out of dreams, half-consciously, with your legs wrapped in white linen, and your pillow squeezed into a comfy bolster between your jaw and shoulder. A good book on the floor next to you, weekend long-reads on your phone, blogs and news within reach. NOTHING can make me move … or, well, quite a few things can, as a matter of fact. To me, there has always been something special about mornings. Of course I’m not always equally fresh every single morning, but the gab between the moment when I wake up and the moment when I feel an intense desire to jump out of bed, open a window or a door, and breathe in some fresh air is never giant. Sensing the awakening of the world; the rising sun casting its rays across streets and greenery, making each day dawn with excitement. It spreads warmth, light, and the hope of a new chance. Makes me want to write, draw, photograph, be creative. I’ve always woken early to, I tell myself, not miss out. There’s the life-affirming sunrise, for one, but you don’t always have to be up early to see it, and it’s not even always visible. More importantly are the concepts attached to this specific time of day. I always wake up filled with curiosity. I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to, in peace and quiet before the world starts rushing around me, slowly ponder which impressions, experiences, and encouragements the coming day might offer. The luxury of enjoying an early morning to yourself means having an unspoiled time period, during which to let your thoughts about the coming day flow freely. A magical moment, a clean slate, a new beginning. There are 365 mornings a year and a million ways and places to experience them. In Singapore, the streets are full of fresh folks in all ages even before the sun rises. Regardless of weather, biting frost, pouring rain or mild sun, they’re milling to the nearest green spaces to practice tai chi. In the Alps, the mountaintops are, seemingly, in flames, what with the red, orange and yellow streaks painted across the clear, blue sky by the sun. In winter, fresh snow is screeching under the first smooth pairs of skis and snowboards. In summer, goats and cows start moving around on grassy hillsides, ready to be milked by people dressed in dirndl and lederhosen. Most of my mornings start with a walk or run. All year round, wherever I am. I must go out. Regardless of season, the morning air always feels refreshing. It may be raining, storming, hailing. On some spring and summer mornings, such as now, the sun starts baking at 6am. The hope and possibility of a good day ahead — perhaps better than the previous — always makes me see the morning weather in a positive light. A good morning is important to me. On some weekday mornings, it’s not paramount to have oceans of time. It’s ok if my morning routine has to happen speedily. As long as it’s a constructive speed. I seek harmony. Rituals, stimuli, exercise. A single moment set aside to enjoy the morning. Room to breathe. Time to wake up.

Hampstead Joy

So, yes, after doing the 5 Tibetans, I head out for a run, up to Parliament Hill, down across the steep meadows of the Heath and around the Kenwood ponds. At first, I listen to a podcast, then to Taylor Swift’s London Boy, while jogging past dog walkers and masked elderly ladies, but then I stop, take off my headphones, inhale the addictively fresh, sweet air, take in the symphony of harmonious birdsong around me, and then put on a playlist of spring songs sung by the Danish girls’ choir. Every morning during the lockdown, the Danish broadcasting company DR do a ‘fællessang’ (communal song), led by the girls’ choir, which everyone can tune into and join via livestream, a glorious ‘together apart we shall overcome this’ initiative. I put on their classic spring tunes. The exact auditory representation of the joyful cherry and apple blossoms and green budding leaves around me, the only slight downside being the pang of homesickness it brings with it; there’s nothing like Danish spring. Well, actually, English spring is pretty damn dreamy, too. Thankful, thankful, thankful. I sprint through the village and back down to the Heath, check on the swan pen on her nest, circle back up along the pond, and home, where I shower and jump into bed to wake up Sanoop, who eventually rolls out of the feathers to make me a cup of chai to the sound of Edith Piaf’s greatest hits, while I make porridge with small pieces of apple, banana and strawberry thrown into the oats and water, stirring the concoction with generous sprinkles of turmeric, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon. Yum! Sit down and write for a while — until it’s time for Sanoop’s dose of fresh air. I can’t resist the temptation to join him, so we wander together to a particularly remote and long-grassed part of the Heath, where someone is sitting in a tree playing on some hippy happy percussion instrument. It all feels very idyllic — like something out of the Byron Bay hinterland. Every single day of the past three weeks we’ve been finding new paths, trees, fallen trees, budding twigs, ponds, meadows, forest areas, entire worlds, on the Heath. Last year, all my runs and walks here were extremely linear and efficient — these days, on the contrary, we’re really getting to know our backyard. Helicopters are circling overhead, checking, we assume, if anyone is breaking the rules by taking a break in their exercise. Back home, we scramble some eggs and eat them with toasted sourdough bread and a salad of spinach, corn, and fresh figs. Read. Drink coffee. Spontaneous overflow of freedom happiness feeling. Gentle uncertainty about anything besides the facts that the birds are chirping, the sun is baking, and the weekend is twice as long as usual. Chat with friends from a safe distance. Find a safe place to sunbathe — on the flat roof of our three-storied semi-detached house. Up here, I read the Danish poet Tove Ditlevsen’s intense autobiography, which I picked up in an adorable pink edition at Daunt Books a few weeks ago, and which gives a piercing insight into a life with art (she was a talented, famous poet already at 18 years of age),  an aching search for love (she was married four times) and mental struggles and drug addiction (she ended up killing herself) around about a century ago. It’s strange to read a translation of Danish, and strange to read in English about the streets and people of Copenhagen, totally playing with my concepts of familiarity and foreignness, but it’s a fine translation (maybe the flow is even better in English than in the original, dare I suggest?), and even if some things in the Danish society have changed since the 1940s-60s, when it comes to being young, societal structures, creative outlets, gender roles, and views on mental illnesses, some things are strikingly timeless as well. Friday is takeout day — today we order a bunch of small Thai dishes from a place in West Hampstead. Yum.

CamSnoop Day

Saturday is CamSnoop Day — our 58th monthly anniversary. We do yoga together, and go for a long walk on the Heath, coming across, for the first time ever, the zoo in the Golders Green bit. It’s called ‘the animals playing field,’ and that’s really what it feels like as well. Open, natural, and expansive, with no entrance gate, it just feels like a part of the park … each animal, everything from exotic birds, e.g. an Eurasian Eagle Owl and a Laughing Kookaburra, donkeys, wallabies, ring-tailed lemurs, and ring-tailed coatis, have their own giant wooden condo with lots of greenery and room to roam. There’s also a big deer enclosure, with the most adorable dotted and albino deer. I’m not normally a fan of zoos, but this feels so chill and nice. And there are almost no people in this part of the Heath. We walk through the beautiful walled gardens with their giant patches of fat, brightly purple, pink, orange, and yellow tulips, clusters of lilac bushes, and cherry trees. Meander back home, and spend the afternoon reading in the sun-drenched living room window. I’m reading Find Me, the Call Me by Your Name sequel, which is vaguely reminiscent of Before Sunrise and generally like gulping down a big glass of delicious full-bodied Italian red wine, followed by an even larger glass of French red, and finishing off with single malt for a night cap. Zoom afternoon date with friends, followed by an acrylics painting session, just the two of us, and a cornucopia of paint tubes in all colours of the pastel and neon and primary rainbows. Really fun! Then I go for a golden hour run on the Heath, soaking up every image and smell of pure bliss, and trying to ignore the police cars circling around on the meadows, and when I get back inside the flat, Sanoop has laid out our yoga mats for a soothing session with Adriene. Dinner: jackfruit biryani from Kerala and Deliciously Ella’s dahl, both bought as frozen dishes in Planet Organic. Red wine (French). Birdsong. Orange evening sunlight. Reading. Watching Cheer on Netflix.

Easter Hygge

Sunday. Morning run. Morning natter with Sanoop. Easter Egg Hunt — we both hide a Booja Booja egg for the other to find, and, as we search for our treasure, end up finding new storage spaces we had no idea existed, haha. I find mine first, hidden under my pillow. Sanoop needs lots of help to find his — in a small wooden chest at the top of my the built-in bookcase by the window in the living room. Chai easter edition has got dried blue cornflowers on top and lots of turmeric to give the frothy oat milk a yellow tint. Yin yoga on Zoom with our pal in Amsterdam. Her note on her beautiful, contemplative practice that, other than encouraging patience and calm as always, today focuses on releasing tension in and nourishing the superhighway of the body: ‘a neutral spine is a range of motion, a fascinating and a constant source of wonder, the spine protects the spinal cord, supports the head, helps to keep us upright, is incredibly flexible and strong, and acts as a shock absorber.’ And, a Rupi Kaur line, ‘our backs tell stories no books have the spine to carry.’ After that yummy restorative session, I squeeze in my other friend’s body sculpt class before Sanoop’s celebratory Sunday lunch. This friend, whom I met in Singapore just like the yin teacher, has graciously decided to do an Europe-friendly class on top of her morning class in Singapore, where she still lives, all on Zoom. I’m just stoked I finally get to join her class without being there physically. I know no one like her who can make a fast-paced full-body workout feel like a super calming experience, strengthening and energising in a non-stressful way. Already feel my quads starting to acquire that familiar 4-day pain, as I join Sanoop in the kitchen for roast potatoes, roast lamb (him), and smoked salmon (me) around a beautifully laid table with white tablecloth and candles. We listen to some of my favourite Danish Easter hymns and call his parents in Kerala to wish them a happy Easter, as they’re just finishing watching a streaming of a local Easter service. In Denmark, my parents are celebrating by cycling over to the marina and hanging on the boat, and in New York, Sanoop’s brother and his family are doing a socially distant Easter Lunch on their backyard deck, their guests sitting at one table exactly two metres away from the family’s table, all with a lovely view of a magnolia tree in bloom in the garden and the Hudson glistening in the distance. After lunch, I read, and Sanoop take a nap, and then we venture down to the canal and Primrose Hill for our daily dose of fresh air, and it’s one of those days where ‘I love you, London‘ sounds like a constant, automated mantra in my head. The sky is so clear and blue, the wisteria and cherry trees are so omnipresent, the pastel-coloured Victorian houses are so cute, people are so joyful-looking.

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