Category Archives: HF’s Pen

“Hygge!” (Wherein I learn a new word for comfort and coziness)

There are lots and lots of things I believe to be true that I later discover I was partly or utterly wrong about. You may think me odd, but the realization that I could be wrong fills me with something like (but much better than!) hope: a sense of possibility.

Imagine how many of my limited (and limiting) ideas about such and such might not be true? Conclusions I’ve drawn about people I don’t like? Interpretations I’ve made about what something means? Decisions I think would turn out in disaster? Thoughts that have started solidifying into beliefs about who and what is wrong and who and what is right? Whew! What a relief, not to mention a fantastically surprising and possibility-filled turn around, to realize I was wrong.

Similarly, and possibly in a slightly easier way to understand, there is an endless number of good, remarkable, surprising, comforting, life-enhancing or all of those creative things I’ve yet to discover, things that at this moment I don’t even have the faintest idea exist. Whoa. Realizing the vastness of examples I’ve yet to discover of where I’m wrong and amazing things I don’t even know exist, fills me with an eager, yet effortlessly patient (because: I don’t know what I don’t know!) and welcoming sense of anticipation. This means that even getting up on the darkest of days and foulest of moods, it is possible for me to say:

Wait! I don’t know. I just don’t really know.

How about you? Imagine all the fantastic songs you’ve never heard, let alone knew existed. Same goes for books. For paintings. For poets. For encounters. For gadgets. For new variations in paint color. For places. For hilarity. For foods. For ingenuity. For ideas & concepts. Imagine!

Two days ago this time, there existed a word in the world that I did not yet know until my sweetie told me about it, explaining that it’s a Danish word that doesn’t have any perfect translation in English but that it’s about coziness, comfort and connection. “Hygge!” he kept saying. (It’s pronounced “hoo-guh.”)

And now I can’t get hygge out of my head! 

Hygge is about sensual pleasure in simple, gentle, soothing things. Oh my. What’s not to love? It’s also a form-shifty word that can be used as a noun, adjective, or verb, or compound noun, “like hyggebukser, otherwise known as that shlubby pair of pants you would never wear in public but secretly treasure.” (From The New Yorker, 18 Dec. 2016: “The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy,” by Anna Altman.)

Multifaceted that it is, hygge can also be used to refer to a state of mindfulness, which allows you to enjoy that sweet little thing you might not otherwise give a second thought, even though it is and always was oh so worthy of a second or even third and fourth…

On Saturday, after watching “Abstract,” the design show on Netflix that taught my sweetie, and me by extension, our new word, he and I went thrifting. And for everything we looked at, we considered whether it passed the “hygge muster.” Then we came home with a set of The.Most.Delicious.Bowls you have ever laid your eyes upon. And later we made coconut milk-cherry ice cream and ate it from our new-to-us blue bowls. Nothing was wasted. Afterward I warmed up two rice pillows, one for his freezing hands, and one for mine — rice pillows like the ones I use in my office and the ones I sleep with all winter, rice pillows that always were all about the wonderful qualities of the word I didn’t know until 2 days ago even existed: hygge!

And here, in no particular order, are some pictures I snapped of hygge in the place I call home. And yes, those are the bowls, on the hygge-bench my sweetie made and sits on when we meditate, which is just a fancy way of saying: to pause and notice, among other things, the hygge right under our noses.

Alone in the Cafeteria

Alone in the Cafeteria

Lonesome? Pull up a chair. This is for you.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You sit down. You open your brown paper bag hoping your mom didn’t go too heavy on the carrot sticks again. Next to the carrots and under the sandwich you find a brownie and a folded up note: I love you, sweetheart, it says.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You grow up and alone in the cafeteria changes clothes. Maybe it starts wearing hipper outfits. Maybe it starts only wearing clothes that won’t draw the eye. Or that always draw eyes. Maybe it only ever wears fancy suits. Maybe it would not be caught dead in a suit. Maybe it wears tents and mumus. Maybe it wears mini skirts that couldn’t be minier.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

Today you look around a potluck table. A lucky table it is, covered as it is with pots of this and plates of that, shamelessly eavesdropping on the laughing, the chatting, the music, and spying on the footsies, the winks, the tapping toes. Even though you just arrived, it likes you, this potluck table, and when it asks you to read something you wrote, you do. More, it says, laughing, read more.

Everyone knows the alone in the cafeteria feeling. Even people who never sat alone in the cafeteria know the alone in the cafeteria feeling.

You wake up early and find alone in the cafeteria camped out in your chest. You would kick it out but you know it would only come back tomorrow having changed its clothes. And since even in a new purple ruffle hopscotch bikini everyone knows alone in the cafeteria, today you say hello.

Anyone sitting here? it asks.

You are, you say, scooching over to make room.

(c) Heidi Fischbach, 2015

Volver a los 17. A translation.

One of my favorite songs of all time was written by the late Chilean poet Violeta Parra and made famous by the now-also-late belovèd Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who was affectionately known as “la negra”. This song makes me incredibly homesick: homesick for Chile, homesick for Latin America, and homesick for smells and sounds I can only, maybe, find in dreams. It even makes me homesick for places I’ve never actually been. (Honey, I think we call that last one “longing.”)

Over the years, I’ve played “Volver a los 17” a few times for people —usually lovers at that point in the relationship when they show you theirs and you show them yours (I’m talking music, people, music!) — who don’t speak Spanish. Invariably I end up feeling tongue-tied and rather inept at the prospect of simultaneously translating its rapidly flowing metaphors, and certainly not without detracting from the melody and the kick-your-heels-up Chilean folk-dance (“la cueca”) rhythm, which the song springs into every time the chorus comes around.

So usually I just end up mumbling something about how it’s about going back to being 17, and then I sigh and drift off to a nebulous place of homesickness and longing for the length of the song.

But, back to now…

Finally and actually having given its translation a whirl, if you were my lover today and it was my turn to show you mine I’d tell you that yes, it’s a song about going back for yourself at 17. But also it’s about the moment —so fragile and powerful at once— and about how an instant can change everything. Also I’d tell you that while the whole thing is about love, it’s not about the shiny and brand spanking new ‘oooh baby I’m so in love with you’ kind of love that seems to get all the airwaves’ coverage, but rather the giant and gnarly kind that we actually end up living, the kind that includes the shiny bits, sure, but no less of the heartache-y dark stretches between the shine. Also? I’d tell you that there are many words and turns of phrase whose beauty get lost in translation, if they can be translated at all.

I tried to translate the poem in a way that allows you to read in English to the meter of the Spanish verse, so you can, if roughly, actually sing along. A few times I favored that kind of flow and meaning over literal accuracy. I press “publish” with a bow of apology to Violeta Parra for what is lost in translation.

One last thing… I chose this YouTube version of the song not for its recording quality but because of the gorgeous energy of these five belovèd Latin American singers: Mercedes Sosa, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gal Costaand. There are many heart-melty moments –many!– but my favorite might be when Caetano softly reaches for a high notes (at about minute 1:35 or so).

Volver a los 17 (Violeta Parra)

Returning to seventeen
after having lived through a century
is like deciphering signs
without benefit of wisdom
to be suddenly once again
as fragile as one second
to feel things as intensely
as a child in front of God,
that’s what it is like for me
in this very fertile instant

Chorus:
Gathering moss so the stone rolls
like a thick ivy on the wall
sprouting and sprouting so it grows
like tender moss covering a stone
like tender moss on a stone ay sí sí sí.

The steps I take all go backwards
while theirs continue advancing
the arch of our connections
has penetrated my nest
in all its colorful swagger
it’s taken a walk down my veins
and even the hardest of chains
that destiny uses to bind us
is like the finest of diamonds
that lights up my calm soul

What feeling can bring about
knowledge never could,
nor the clearest course of action
nor the grandest of all our thoughts.
Everything is changed by a moment
like an affable magician,
it sweetly steers us away
from bitterness and from violence
only love with its science
will turn us so innocent.

Love is a swirling whirlwind
of primal purity
even the wildest of beasts
will whisper and trill its sweetness,
it stops pilgrims in their travels,
it liberates those imprisoned,
love, with the tenderest of touches,
turns the old (wo)man into a child
and only the most loving care
turns bad into pure and sincere.

Eventually the window
was flung open as if by enchantment,
and love entered with its blanket
to give cover like a warm morning
to the sound of its lovely reveille
it made jasmine burst into bloom,
and taking flight like an angel
it hung earrings upon the heavens
and my years of 17
were transformed by the cherubim.

[Translation (c) Heidi Fischbach, 2014]

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