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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

I miss touching S., having her body near me, the private pillow talk of couples. I’m far from other people these days. I’ve started seeing people on the street I think I recognise from England. I’ve even stopped and looked back at strangers. Sometimes a word comes into my head and I’m sure I see it on a sign or a passing van, or hear some passerby say it.

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

My whole being cries out for love, for something different. Nothing in my face or movements betrays it: I’m Danish after all. Denmark is considered one of the world’s happiest countries. That’s always confused me. It seems too real to me, with its lifeless suburbs and perfectly sensible people. So real it’s dreamlike. Happiness here means nothing and no one out of joint: no cracks, no one out of the system.

Hayfever, brainfog. Despite the discomfort it’s a relief to have an excuse for not being able to connect things in my head. It’s a bit dreamlike, walking through the park – which is full of blooming flowers these days – but not like the grey dream of the past couple of years. I feel better.

I told myself before I left Vienna that it would take two years to get over it. Now how would I know that? I didn’t think it when I walked past the building sites in the North Harbour that winter day when she told me the Russian had moved into our flat. I hoped a crane would drop a breezeblock on my head, or the wind would sweep me into the freezing water. It was a pleasure to imagine.

In dreams, as everyone knows, things and events are often out of joint. Yet sometimes there are lucid moments when you can almost see through the dream and have the power to change it, for example when you can suddenly fly where you want. I’m starting to think one can sense one’s future in the same way. You sense where the dream is going and bide your time until the right moment.

The only real question I’ve asked myself in these past two years is whether it was fate or chance that led me here. But now the question seems wrong, and unsolvable, it only led me in circles.

The difference between writing, say, an email and typing in this journal, even if you write the same sentence; there’s an abyss between them.

And from the depths of falseness God answers, and my world seems vanishingly small. No matter where in the world I am.

*

Yesterday I went to see the building where Kierkegaard wrote The Sickness Unto Death and his autobiography. It took me a while to spot the plaque. His flat was above a tanner’s business, and he was bothered by the stench of entrails in the gutter on the street below. His solution was to move to the neighbouring building, where the smell was just as bad. Today the tanner’s business is a skincare clinic.

MAY

The North Harbour, where my flat is, is a massive construction site, with half-built corporate buildings, a metro station, ugly modernist apartment blocks – and behind it hundreds of shipping containers stretching out to the Sound. When I stick my head out the window I count five cranes. On the street are two scaffolds and stormwater protection works. I hear the tok-tok of a train pulling into the station and an underwater thudding: they’re building another artificial island to make room for more buildings and prevent flooding when the rising water comes.

I go to the Aldi by the station, walk past the Little Mermaid and around the ramparts. I last about a week at a time here before I pack my rucksack and cycle to my parents’ place in the posh part of town, near the city’s biggest park, my crows, and the zoo, where I walk about looking at the animals in their cages.

*

My mind’s muddled after all this time alone. I don’t know if I’m good or bad, how or where I should live. I’m starting to think in Danish. Unnerving as always to live among Danes and listening to how they think. I passed an ad for a political party on the side of a bus stop today:

Community.

Community.

Community.

That hasn’t changed, I think to myself. But it rings extra hollow now.

*

Now a quiet evening sinks over Copenhagen, with that sweetly melancholic Danish light the old painters captured so well. It makes me so uneasy I have to go out and bike halfway around the city.

*

A dream last night. I was in a sort of compound: a mix of a festival site and a slum. Someone took the food I was carrying and threw it up a stairwell, where rats swarmed on it behind a corner. I tried to get it back but had to retreat. I left through a gap in a fence, where I saw my wallet, which had been trampled into the mud. I hadn’t realised I’d lost it.

*

Please God, I said when I walked by the church yesterday, out of nowhere. Please God. It made me feel better for the rest of the day, even if it seemed false as I said it.

A few words come now and then as if from far away. What a relief it would be to speak in proper solitude rather than in this lame dispersal. Rilke said to write as the first man. What did he mean?

I take the laptop to the park and sit at a bench, open a bottle of beer with my lighter, and look at the artificial pond with its spurting fountain. Pink-footed geese graze on the lawn around me, which is covered in their droppings. There’s a palace on the hill on the other side of the pond. I write a few lines of a translation I’m working on, then click over to this journal. What to say?

This park was constructed in imitation of the French and British styles, with tree-lined avenues and little Romantic touches: pagodas, a waterfall, grottos. All carefully manicured. Danish poets walked around here waxing lyrical in the nineteenth century. Now it’s full of tourists and lycra-clad joggers.

*

Malinka Stalin, they called him, his Russian friends in Vienna: Little Stalin. He turned up at her dancing class. During lockdown he invited her to the park to dance. She’d be gone for hours. He gave her Russian delicacies. I cycled over and watched them dance. How naïve I was. She watched me let it happen. I thought about fighting it, but what was there to fight for, exactly? I was always elsewhere in my head. Can I blame her?

After I left and he’d moved into our flat, into our bedroom, I became convinced he was a Romeo spy. It gave it a sort of logic. Now I have no idea where they are. I’ve learned that these kinds of convictions tend to get blurred over time. I’ve missed her terribly, but I guess those feelings will get blurred too.

APRIL

Woke up at dawn as usual to pee and lay trying to sleep for two hours while the mind turned and played its usual sordid tricks. I must have had a hundred little thoughts, memories and fantasies.

As soon as I’m idle – which I am much of the time these days – the first thought is about S. and her Russian in Vienna. Amazing how the mind bites into things and just won’t let go.

*

On my daily walk in the park to give raisins to the hooded crows and jackdaws I went through the little wood instead of around it. Still the pair of big hooded crows that always find me first flew up to me. It was the highlight of my day. I know to turn away while they eat; they don’t like to be looked at. Some of them will hide their raisins in secret places.

Sometimes I go through the place at the other end of the park where people take their dogs, and watch the dogs jump at each other and their owners. They seem stupid compared to the birds, who can easily do without me. It’s the only place where I see Danes chatting freely to strangers, as if they can only do it through their dogs.

*

Every day these past two years the mind has liked to imagine their various scenes together: S. and her Russian. The mind loves imagining that. Lately it’s come up with encountering them in one of those pretentious Viennese cafés. What happens next in these scenarios is usually vague, as in a dream where whatever you do is ineffectual.

*

When I’m not at the mercy of the mind I try to think about fate and chance, but I’m never sure what I’m trying to get at. Why exactly did I end up here? It’s hard to see beyond chance. Fate always seems to trump it. You understand backwards and live forwards, they say. But my memory’s getting unreliable.

*

Took my bike on the train to try to get to Havreskoven forest. Cycled through a typical dead Danish suburb and got lost several times along a motorway, as usual. The strong headwind blew my cap off. It’s still cold here. Ended up on the outskirts of the forest. The ground was still covered by dead leaves and needles. Almost nothing had sprung out. Even the evergreens looked wan. A couple of stagnant ponds. No waterfowl, hardly any birds. I wondered if the ground had been polluted by the nearby factory I’d seen on the way. I did see some ravens by the side of the motorway picking at rubbish on a grassy verge on the way out. It’s the first time I’ve seen them in the wild. The way the sun brings out the purple in their feathers. I should have stopped there and gone back. But one never knows exactly what to do.