Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

2014 was the warmest year in Denmark since records began to be kept 140 years ago. Autumn, all the way into December, were also quite mild, with only a few nights at below zero temperatures. But on Christmas morning snow fell, and we woke up to a white world -- as though to confirm that Christmas Day is the most peaceful day of the year. And so for the first time this year we had a few days of slight frost, and the blue skies and bright sun that ironically accompany them.

Once in a while the pop of fireworks breaks the silence, as people let loose a rocket or two in anticipation of New Year's Eve; in the living room stands a Christmas tree topped with a white star, hung with paper drums, flags, angels, tinsel, hand-folded paper hearts, and red candles now lit on New Year's Eve, the last day of the year.

2014 was an exciting one for me, with many welcome challenges in my professional and creative life.

In February I started work as a moderator at a children's social networking game / website. Although the community is in the United Kingdom, I work from home in Denmark; it is a job that gives me considerable flexibility in my schedule and reduces the amount of time spent on a long and expensive commute. The portability of the job was aptly demonstrated during a four-week visit to the Philippines in March, where I continued to work while able to spend time with my family (and applauded as my niece Fia graduated from elementary school).

In May I published my third work of fiction, the novel called Sweet Haven, which was released as an e-book by the New York Review of Books in the United States and Canada. I continue to write fiction, and this year stories were printed in a magazine in the Philippines and in an anthology in the United Kingdom.

We entertain quite often, at a table that my husband inherited from his father (and grandfather), at which two Nobel prize winners, Wole Soyinka and Bjørnsterne Bjørnson have sat. This year, we were visited by Valerie Coghlan from Ireland, director of IBBY's journal Bookbird, and Edwin Thumboo, Singapore's "grand old poet", and two of Brazil's children's literature stars: Ana Maria Machado and Roger Mello. In the summer, we visited two of Vagn's longtime friends at the seaside town of Bastad in Sweden, where world-famous tennis matches are held. And this summer I persuaded my husband to drive me all the way to the Louisiana Museum to watch a reading by Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite authors, and to get my copy of Handmaid's Tale in Danish signed. It joins the modest collection of signed books in the small room I call my office -- I have likewise a small piece of authors like Doris Lessing, Amy Tan, Toni Morrison and Richard E. Grant.

In the fall came another challenge, something I had been looking forward to for some time -- teaching two writing courses in English (intermediate and advanced) at Studieskolen, a language school in Copenhagen, as well as a course in beginning-level Filipino.

My health has not been perfect the last few years, and three weeks into the fall term I underwent laparoscopic surgery -- my first under general anesthesia; fortunately what was found and removed was not malignant. The procedures at the Danish hospital where I was treated were all impressive, and I amazingly it was free, or rather, paid for by the high income taxes (nearly 50% in some cases) that are a part of life in Denmark. Now I have every reason to pay them with gusto (insert smiley!) I recovered quickly and missed only the fall break and two class days out of the fall term.

This year, I travelled to Mexico for the first time to accompany my husband Vagn to the IBBY Congress in September. We spent three days on the Yucatan peninsula, renting a car and driving from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, then Valladolid, then the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, then the seaside resort of Tulum. Once we drove through a curtain of rain so thick we navigated only through the lights of the truck in front of us. We took a boat tour through mangrove swamps, and photographed flamingos, egrets and a crocodile that slipped sinuously out of its hiding place in the mangroves to take a whole fish from our guide. Flying to Mexico City, we visited the canals at Xochimilco (boatloads of mariachis bellowing "Cielito Lindo" etc), and, while Vagn was at the Congress, I ventured out into the city with map in hand, visiting the Zocalo, the Diego Rivera museum, and the amazing National Anthropology Museum. I took a guided day tour to the ruins of Teotihuacan.

Six years have passed since I moved to Denmark to be with my husband, and 11 years since I first set foot in this country. I speak Danish fluently enough, but I doubt will ever be considered "one of us," and so I am happy to have found jobs that make use of my English skills. There are many challenges in this adoptive country I have learned to call home, but many beautiful things besides, not the least some very special individuals I wouldn't have met otherwise. And thanks to the miracle of technology, we can keep in touch with the many wonderful people who have crossed our lives, so that if we choose, we can opt for a constant state of awareness of each other, making the state of foreignness that much more bearable.

Happy New Year, dearest friends!