Monthly Archives: June 2022

I’m having trouble finding a way to stay, hold things together. This isn’t the place for it. Things are too close yet nowhere near enough. ‘The frantic abolition of all distances brings no nearness’, says Heidegger. The world is zooming into non-places. Pictures of everything from remote solar systems to the closest burger bar blend into a kind of uniform mirage, as if all distances have been conquered and it no longer matters what you look at.

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On a whim, while watching a new Faroese-Danish crime drama on TV, I buy a plane ticket to the Faroe Islands and book an Airbnb. I get the second-last seat on the plane. I imagine other Danes got the same idea.

Almost shocking to see the massive grassy rocks loom out of the Atlantic. I take a bus from the airport, get settled with my hosts and the next day, after a short ferry ride from the harbour, I’m finally alone on the fells of Nólsoy island, above a small village of two hundred souls, in the rain and wind. Quite alone with the sheep and the birds. No sounds but those nature produces. The wind blows to a gale, the rain comes down hard, and I retreat, sodden, to the village pub. The late ferries might be cancelled, the bartender tells me, you better take the next one. He tells me some local lore and we smoke in his garage until I have to go to the harbour, bent over against the storm.

Next day to Kirkjubøur, with its bare, fourteenth-century church and a path beneath the cliffs. The weather and therefore the landscape changes by the hour. Sunny now, misty peaks in the distance. There’s no point taking pictures any longer. The next view is always bigger, more indifferent, more present. You don’t have to work at being in the moment here, the place seems to do it for you. It’s overwhelmingly clear how little say you have, how small you are. I cup my hands and drink from the little waterfalls that tumble down the cliffs. It tastes of rock, earth and grass.

Everyone here speaks Danish, the colonial language that was imposed on them – Faroese was forbidden in schools – but no one seems hostile when I address them. I barely understand their ancient language. It’s a mix of Norse and Irish, I read on Wikipedia. There’s something very old here I don’t understand. The people are different too, not at all like Copenhageners. I’d need more than a week to begin to let it sink in. I go back to Nólsoy to see the cliffs where the European storm-petrels roost: nightbirds that migrate as far as Africa. On the way back to the ferry I stop at the pub to chat with the bartender again. I ask him what they really think of us. He says, They often come here in their suits, with precise instructions, project schedules, and so on. You have to be here and here at such and such a time. We listen politely, then go away and do things at our own pace. We listen more to the weather, he says.

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I’ve started seeing people on the street I think I recognise from Norfolk. A few times I’ve even stopped and looked back at them, puzzled. Sometimes a word comes into my head and I’m sure I see it straight after, on a sign or a passing van, say, or hear someone say it in passing on the street.

I’m glued to my phone, my laptop, the TV. A million words and images pass me by every day. Occasionally something stays, for a second. On the busy streets and even in the parks it’s the same. Only my crows, when they warily hop up to me when I walk up the hill, give me some grip on the day. It’s something quite different, I like to imagine: a silent little friendship. You take your scraps of nature where you can in the city.

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The new nationwide app for logging into all the social service systems is down. This makes it very hard to sort out all the admin things I have to do, which have all come at the same time. At the moment there are five different systems I need to log into using this app in a four-step process involving my phone and my laptop, both of which have to be regularly updated or nothing will work. Sometimes you just sit there stunned by the needless complexity.

It’s impossible to avoid being connected to every digitalised social system here. The Danes are proud to be ‘world leaders’ in do-it-yourself digitalisation. The average citizen spends much of their life administrating their taxes, healthcare, property, banking, pension and insurance policies online, signing into and updating apps, devices, logging into secure email accounts from different organisations, keeping track of their usernames and passwords.

In the ideal world that’s being created, one will rarely need to speak to another person face to face. The end goal is clearly total digitalisation: to seamlessly link up all of these systems. This end is already in sight. For example, the tax and banking systems are closely joined up (tax officers have access to your personal account), and the payment systems are centralised. It seems to be taken for granted that this is the direction to take, that this is a goal to be achieved as quickly as possible. But why? These systems don’t seem to make things easier; or only on the surface. They don’t create a sense of unity; or only on the surface. Haven’t our lives become more complex and fragmented? The elderly can’t keep up, the young are overwhelmed, the unsavvy poor get pushed out to the margins.

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Copenhagen in the nineties was a rather rundown place, full of skæve eksistenser, as we say here: misfits. But local. You have to go far from the centre to hear a Copenhagen accent these days. All the old monuments and sights are still here, but most everything else has changed.  Only the middle and upper classes, and internationals with good jobs or scholarships, can realistically afford to live here now: the result of a deliberate political policy to squeeze out the undesirables and bring in more tax revenue and investment. Small council-owned flats were converted into larger ones then sold to private owners; new builds had to be a certain size; crumbling warehouses were transformed into massive corporate buildings or apartments. Subsidies were given for renovations, investments were made in cultural attractions, food halls and the like, the dirty old trains with smoking carriages full of butts and beer bottles were scrapped and replaced with sleek, state-of-the-art versions. In the twenty years I was away, the city was upended while a Metro system was built. A total urban regeneration project was begun that’s still going full throttle. This is now the most expensive city in Europe.

People on benefits were paid to move to Lolland in the south, which is now a deprived area. The same happened elsewhere, so that there now exists what they call the ‘rotten banana’: poor areas curving down from Norwest Jutland to southern Zealand. In a similar manner, unwanted immigrants are shipped to an island off Copenhagen and soon to centres in Rwanda.

I’m part of the problem, as they say. I’ve sold the flat my parents transferred to me last year and moved temporarily to theirs. I should probably feel some compunction, but instead I’m starting to feel free, after twenty years of living hand to mouth.

Because the social-services app has crashed, I can’t register my move, which means I’m out of the system for now. It also means I’m incurring a fine with interest. There must be many who are genuinely desperate right now.