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Crying at the Starbucks in the Copenhagen Airport

31 August 2011

Last week, when traveling through the Copenhagen airport, I decided to grab a cup of Starbucks coffee for old time’s sake (because there are no Starbucks in Norway). At the milk and sugar counter I removed the plastic lid from my cup and in an instant tears began rolling down my cheeks. I was stunned by the suddenness of emotion, not to mention that fact that a simple cup of coffee could make me cry. And it was going to be one of those gibbering cries, too, with lots of gasping. So I quickly moved to the cold and rational environs of the electronics store where I could pretend to look at cameras and i-everythings and say to myself over and over: I just cried at the Starbucks! A cup of Starbucks just made me cry!

I had been overwhelmed, stung even by that very recognizable, earthy and bitter smell, a smell that transplanted me in an instant to the Starbucks in the Indigo Bookstore across the street from our apartment block in downtown Toronto. There I stood, a coffee in one hand, the other pushing a baby stroller back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I wanted to stay there in that moment, to be back in Toronto, back at our meager apartment, back in the first year of my son’s life. With chest-tightening desperation I wanted to return to everything I had said goodbye to with such confidence. I will never miss this place, I can still hear myself saying as we drove away for the last time.

I will never miss this place – the place I called “home” for six years. Twenty-one floors of concrete rising straight up from more concrete. Dirty, crowded. Stifling. Impossible. In the hot and thick air of summer, the entire city sagged and dripped and begged for a breeze. The dozen or so dumpsters parked behind the building conveniently bordered one edge of the playground, filling it with bees and flies and the smells of rot.

Inside were cockroaches and mice. My mind spun through the memories. There was this tiny social fellow who used to come out when we were watching TV late at night. He’d scuttle to a place right in the middle of the rug between the two sofas and sit up on his back legs before settling down into a curl like a cat. While folding up the futon one day after a friend’s overnight visit, I found him, dead and dried, caught in the trap we’d forgotten we’d set years before.

We endured the constant crying of fire engines and police cars, the black dust of pollution that settled on our window ledges and across the tops of our beds, and the pigeons that had taken over, not just our balcony but the entire building. I missed it all. And I stood there crying over a paper cup of Starbucks House Blend. Crying!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written on “roots” and “routes,” and there are some good reasons for that. Part of starting this blog was to come to terms with living in Norway, of really living life here in this very present instead of bouncing between false memories and the chimera I like to believe is my future. I want to feel that I am at home instead of always away, ready to move on to the next stop, hoping it will be our permanent home.

The thing that really got to me as I stood there with blurry eyes, swinging that little wooden stick around and around in my coffee, was that I had actually started to like – yes, like! – living in Norway. And just at that very moment, it seemed, when I had begun to build a bridge between my lives, it collapsed beneath me.

It seems the problem was never about how to take root here, but rather how to stay rooted there. On 16 Sept. 2004 when our small plane landed on an airstrip surrounded by pine trees, and we stepped out into a building that looked more like a ski lodge than an airport, Toronto ceased to exist. The city itself became no more than a postcard picture that I can point to and say to my son, “This is where you were born!”

What do I really want? To be both places at once. To be all places I have ever lived at once. To make continuity out of discontinuity, and, more than anything, to find some space in our lives for the contents of the seventy-two boxes we shipped here last spring, most of which still sit underneath the staircase, hurriedly opened and just as hurriedly abandoned, oddly symbolic of so much.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie permalink
    31 August 2011 13:49

    Oh Jena, that’s just beautiful. Your apartment in that awful building was our second home and your baby was “ours,” too. When we finally had Luke, we would tell each other constantly “Thank God we had Christopher.” Matt and I look back on those Toronto days with a strange mixture of “how did we do it?” (live in such close quarters with a giant dog, have no car, live in that concrete jungle) and “what the hell did we do with our time and money?” Our whole life was such a strange mixture of austerity and extravagance. I get panic attacks when I go to downtown Toronto now–too crowded, too much traffic, too hard to manage my 3 unruly children who have no street smarts because they live in the American burbs. Our stroller isn’t urban enough to fit through the doors. Restaurants don’t have high chairs. The subway gives me the heebee-jeebees. But I miss those days so!

    • 31 August 2011 14:04

      A strange mix of austerity and extravagance — I couldn’t have put it better myself! 🙂 That was grad life in the roaring 90s.

  2. 2 September 2011 20:52

    I know that feeling. Back then when I was still living in my home country, there was a burning desire to get out, because I was quite tired of the way things were: the politics, the situation – and especially tired of the lying politicians, bastardly authorities that I had to encounter daily thanks to my previous job as a journalist. It was like having no more faith toward the government anymore.

    and now I almost (I said almost LOL) want to go back, feeling that I’m longing for the place where I know the people, understand the language and the culture, something that isn’t here. The only difference between me and you is that I haven’t quite accepted yet that DK is home.

    Well maybe I have, but then I got reminded daily by the media that this is NOT my home, hence my weariness :S

  3. Paul permalink
    3 September 2011 10:18

    Jena,

    Thank you for sharing you thought and emotions. Your writing is more beautiful than ever. You brought back memories for me which I had not visited for many years.

    Those days were pretty crazy… And all a bit of a jumble in my mind. Did the concrete apartment come before or after the one that was a tram ride away with the crazy neighbors. I loved both places and I used to think Toronto was one of my favourite cities. The first time I made it back there after you guys left I saw it very differently. It suddenly seemed like a dull, second rate city. I have been back several times since and my view of the city has not changed but I still enjoy going. I am always there on business but I always find time to walk around looking for things that I remember… A walk through a crazy memory lane. I have peered into Wilde Oscars when we drank martinis and sang karaoke, I have looked through the window where Aidan introduced me to all you van eat buffet breakfast (where I ate three plates of bacon), I had walked past the restaurant called Freds Not Here and remembered how glad I had been that here was not there the last time I had seen it. I found SAMs music and Ed Mirvish. I walked down church street and looked into Woody’s and the Eagle. I looked for the shoe museum. I searched for the pool hall that we went to a few times. I like being there seeing these places, but they all seem so empty and sad now. It is like walking around Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore. It seems colds, deserted and miserable but you can tell that it had it’s heyday. But it is somehow different from the Asbury Park experience where there is physical decay and emptiness. In Toronto it is was not about the city but it was about us. We were in our heyday! We were young with an endless path ahead of us and having the time of our lives. We complained about trivial things then forgot everything and had fun every evening. Those were crazy days and I have winced realized that Toronto could have been Gary, IN and we would still of had the time of our lives! I am so happy to have shared those times with you guys.

    Life is very different today and I am still very glad to know you guys. I do keep hoping that one day we will find ourselves living in the same town, city or country for a few more years. At least for now we are on the same continent! I will visit soon 😉

    • 7 September 2011 12:16

      Please do come visit soon! 🙂 Thanks for these thoughts. I sent you a response on FB.

  4. Bonnie permalink
    7 September 2011 03:24

    Thank you for your beautiful words and and a glimpse into your life. We have just started our adventure towards leaving our life in Canada to begin again, new, in Norway. There is so much trepidation and excitement about this move. My husband is Norwegian, so the move for him is about reconnection, but for me it is leaving the familiar in the hopes of giving my family a sense of heritage that they dont get here on the prairies. I look forward to working my way through your blog; for your insight (you have already given my much to think about) and hopefully some tricks on making the journey a smooth transition.
    ~Greetings from Alberta

    • 7 September 2011 12:23

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Bonnie. I wish you all the best in your move! I think the first 2-3 years are very tough, but then, out of the darkness of “Why did I move here?!” comes a reminding glimmer of everything wonderful about Norway. And some days I want to shout, “I LOVE NORWAY!” and others I find myself crying at a Starbucks. 🙂 Try not to come with too many expectations for yourself or for Norway — if that is possible! Allow yourself to hate it on some days. I promise you will love it on others.

      You might also find the blog “The Lille-Stanges” interesting as it deals with the experiences of the author’s first year in Norway. I think it is a very true picture of the ups and downs. Here’s one of her recent blogs: http://lillestange.blogspot.com/2011/08/one-year-reflections-bad.html#comments

  5. 13 May 2012 01:04

    Great post. I just read it to my wife, and she enjoyed it too. Brings back some good memories. Starbucks has done a good job of producing not just coffee but atmosphere as well.

  6. 20 May 2012 14:05

    I’m glad I came upon your story of coffee and homesickness. I’ve long been fascinated by our feelings of home and our attachment to place and your piece is a particularly evocative expression of these emotions.

    • 21 May 2012 08:31

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! I’m happy to know about your blog now as well! 🙂

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