Unlike Kafka

There are moments where you find yourself between places that mean a lot to you, locations that coexist within you. Places that blend and blur. The warm air during a December night in Bangkok – takes you back to the taxi drive in the dark summer night in Ramallah and simultaneously to the time in Kingston, Jamaica – all moments replayed and overlapping when moving through cityscapes. Moments that become the sum of experiences and exist as traces left in you. Then there are the sites of reoccurrence – places that become home. They may be first, second, or third homes, but they all share a familiarity. Never being quite here nor there, always being between locations and moments. Traveling ceases to exist as real time, and only as relapse into mute moments awoken by the blurred images from several pasts – yet they coexist in the present. There is no glamour in lugging heavy equipment through endless airport corridors – only movement, and possibly sweating. Franz Kafka imagined the land of America vividly without ever having set foot there in his unfinished novel Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared), published after his death in 1927 under the title Amerika. The non-traveling Kafka depicted an actual place through the representation and subjectivity of others (inspired by travel literature about the New World) mapping an unknown site that served as a backdrop for the endless struggles of the main protagonist.

Unlike Kafka’s use of imaginary places, I dwell on images from memory – my own or that of others – yet they can be equally deceptive and fictionalized attempts on describing a city. The blurring of time, place, and pace creates gaps and in-betweens that have the potential to slightly shift the perception of an actual locality. Even places with close proximity to home become something else – neither here nor there. Places of otherness.

One particular place that I keep returning to, for shorter or longer periods of time, is the city of Copenhagen. There’s the city and then there are the sites of significance within the city. Often they are recalled when I am away for longer periods of time. Always upon my return, I find myself walking across the street to enter the gates of the eighteenth-century Assistens cemetery. From a distance it is always visualized with a soft breeze – not the strident wind that is tearing up my eyes on a January day. The cemetery was at one point a burial site for notables; today it continues to be a site of the eternal rest for a more diverse group of people ranging from freedom fighters to rap singers. It functions as an improvised park, a site for memory and recollection, as well as a favourite picnic spot for many Copenhageners. The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is buried here – so is the author Hans Christian Andersen. I bet they never had imagined people sunbathing right next to where they were laid to rest. The expectation created by the squeaky sound, when opening the iron gate in order to enter a green patch in the center of the busy neighbourhood, is never let down. Always offering a space of otherness between daily reality and past lives. Never providing quite the same experience. Neither here nor there, in a Kafkaesque sense caught in the passing of time, while movement happens around it.