Exploring Languages in Urban Spaces
Copenhagen Residency-720.jpg


the city of my imagination

It all started with a choc

Superkilen, Nørrebro, Copenhagen. Photo by Erinç Salor.

I flew to Copenhagen from Amsterdam on Friday 17 April 2015, to start a writer's residency at the University. I took all my languages, experiences and sensitivities to Copenhagen and there, I observed, learned, researched and gained even more experiences.

And emotions. I experienced lots of emotions. 

On my first day, I wandered through the city. Slowly. As I usually do in new places, I started collecting booklets, flyers, free newspapers and all sorts of promotion and advertising for artistic, cultural events. The Copenhagen Film Festival was on and the next day of my arrival, there was a screening of The Cut by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin. He's been a favorite filmmaker of mine for a longtime, ever since Gegen die Wand. I had been longing to see The Cut since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It was never released in Amsterdam. I felt so lucky to be able to catch it in Copenhagen, my new host city.

The film focuses on the story of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. One of many acts in the history of my country of birth where its State and its people seem to prefer remaining amnesiac about. Or worse, deny. I've been reading and translating works from Turkish to French and English - including poetry - dealing with this subject, and the ways we deal with memory as societies have always fascinated me. As I entered the theatre inside the Danish Film Institute, I've been handed a voting slip. Little more than two hours later, I handed in a very generous vote leaving the theatre. And I walked back home.

It was my second night in Copenhagen. 

As I stepped on the street in front of the Danish Film Institute, I experienced a choc.

I can't seem to write the word choc in any other language than French. It seems to me that choc includes the suddenness and violence of an "emotion" more strongly than the English word shock. So in my head, when I think about this emotional shock, I feel it in French. This of course doesn't stop me from rendering it in English.

Around me, people were talking - some very loudly, many drunk, it was Saturday night - in Danish. I was so immersed into the film, in the landscapes of my native country, deep within its languages - some I know by heart, some I don't, and its very heavy and disturbing history, that I, for a moment, had forgotten where I was. 

The city itself, its architecture, the streets, the cyclists or the unusually chilly weather didn't create that choc. I live in Amsterdam, land of bicycles, historic buildings, crazy architecture and yes, chilly weather.

It's the sound, all the sounds of the Danish language swirling around me that created the choc. 

It took me a while to remember where I was. Why I was here.

That initial choc reminded how central the role of emotion was as part of my exploration. I was going to search for stories behind the different languages expressed throughout the city, mostly through text posted on surfaces - walls, windows, floors, cars, bridges, boats..., but also told - in conversations, in music, in sign language... Sometimes making the invisible visible through sound and gesture. 

While visual elements remained at the heart of my exploration, my initial choc has reminded me that languages can come in many different forms and that they can render a whole range of emotions, depending on who are receiving them. 

As I started to move out of my state of choc into the night, I realised how unavoidable my personal history and the various levels of emotions I could experience were going to be as I was commencing a new journey in an unknown place.

Navigating the city while allowing myself to bring my emotions to the centre of the exploration is the necessary step in enabling imagination.