#SouvenirStorytime 1/28: The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? I am kicking this off in lieu of nourishing time in the mountains up north. (Another lockdown is imminent in Mumbai, so the visit to the mountains will have to wait). The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?

First on the list: The Little Mermaid – Copenhagen, Denmark (December 2017)

Watercolour of the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen mounted on acrylic
Watercolour of the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

I still remember that cold evening. It was my first winter in Europe, and my first time in Copenhagen. Also my first time experiencing what it means to have the cold “seep into your bones”. My father, who had been in Denmark several times, had often described the cold to me like this – and I always assumed he was exaggerating. It didn’t sound like anything more warm layers couldn’t solve. And yet – when I felt it, I understood right away. I couldn’t keep the chill out of my bones. And yet, such was my resolve to see the famous bronze statue of the Little Mermaid – I was happy to change two buses and walk down the otherwise empty waterside promenade in search of her despite the cold. Pink cheeks, nose leaking and stomach grumbling, I walked down with two reluctant friends in tow (a couple I knew from grad school in America, that I serendipitously bumped into in Copenhagen!). Only to arrive at this small, green-brown statue of a mermaid girl hunched over on a rock. It was….underwhelming?

All three of us stood and looked. Hmm. Was that it? Then again, what did we expect it to be? I thought it would be bigger, my friend’s words echoed our thoughts out loud. I thought it would be….more? But not really, I had seen pictures – I knew exactly what she looked like. In fact, a little replica of her had sat in the showcase of my childhood home for years. My father had brought it over as a souvenir from his first visit. It’s part of why I wanted to see her myself. She was exactly as I imagined. She was nothing more or less, and yet why was I disappointed?

I realised it wasn’t so much disappointment – as it was discomfort. It was a cold and dreary evening, the sky was grey and so was the dark water. She sat there with the waves lapping at her rock glumly, a forlorn expression on her unmoving face. Only the waves, and hopefully visiting seals for company. I had heard she was often vandalised by locals – how sad. To be so exposed to the elements, yet the only closeness she received was in the form of defilement. (Was I giving too much emotion to an object?) The stark setting of the statue and her loneliness made me feel, for just a split second, the miasma of feelings I liked to push away myself. As we walked away, I wondered what the sculptor wanted us to feel when he designed this lost statue.

The next day, I bought this beautiful magnet with a watercolour replica mounted on acrylic from a local artist. (More about her when I share another story on another day.) I thought it would hold this memory in brighter colours than it really had, and I hoped it represented the Little Mermaid on a happier day. To me it is a reminder of little journeys that are worth it for their own sake, even when the destination doesn’t match up to anticipation. This happens to me so often, it makes me shake my head and smile.

When has this shown up for you?

~ M xx

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