This is the third in a new series of pieces that take a look at a channel and its broader threads, themes, and ideas through a few of its blocks. The first was Clemens Jahn "On Tables," and the second William Pan on his channel “Orchid Pavilion Preface.” All of these will appear in essay form in our forthcoming
Are.na Annual (December 2020)
A couple of years ago, my friend Jessi and I went on a trip to Copenhagen, where we stayed in our friends’ allotment garden, a community garden plot just outside the city center. The little blue cabin on the plot didn’t have electricity or running water, so each morning we would get up, slide on our shoes, and weave our way through the gridded gardens to the shipping container that acted as the community canteen. We’d charge our phones and make our coffee, and while waiting for the water to boil, browse the bookshelf opposite the kitchen, where books would be left or taken or exchanged.
We got into the habit of reading aloud to each other from a book about Nordic women authors. We liked the tone of the book, which was honest almost to the point of offense. We’d both been reading Dorthe Nors’ Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, but knew little else about the topic. We’d often return to the section on Karen Blixen. Karen Blixen was the one name we already knew.
After breakfast we’d walk back through the gardens until we got to our own, passing hawkweed and goosegrass, trellises of roses and clusters of marsh orchids. The tulips and irises were already gone, but there were blankets of white goutwort, purple shocks of bellflower, and pockets of pink, star-shaped lilies. We’d pick the berries off the bushes that pushed through the neighboring fences, and then we’d leave our miniature garden city and head into the real one, walking along a four lane road and through a shopping mall to get there.
But for Karen Blixen, bouquets were meant to reflect the recipient, not the florist. She would choose each flower from her garden precisely, arrange them so that each bouquet was idiosyncratic. She’d put them in her tureen or white milk vase or an Amethyst-colored goblet. If there was something that she lacked—a particular yellow color, a tuft of lamb’s ears—she’d bike over to her neighbor’s garden with a pair of shears.