Monday, July 16, 2007

You Are Burning Me

A year ago today Jenifer and I returned from Denmark. It was our second trip there, and this time we had also visited Sweden and Finland. We saved Denmark for last, since we had fallen in love with it during our honeymoon, especially its capital Copenhagen. But, as I had written at the time, we were initially less enchanted with the city during our sophomore outing, for two primary reasons: the mystery of its newness was lost, and the city was crowded, expanded by the extra quarter million tourists attending the annual jazz festival.

We tried to detach ourselves from expectations of repeating our earlier experience, and, as is so often the case, we were rewarded when we least expected it. I was washing my clothes in the kitchen adjacent to our fifth-story room when a powerful soprano voice pierced the darkening summer sky, rose up through the neighborhood of Islands Brygge, swelled in the courtyard of our apartment building, and wafted in through the window. With the distant, electric hum of live music, something in the atmosphere shifted. Something in me changed.

We have to go down there, I said to Jenifer, and soon, ice cream cones in hand, we were sitting on the water’s edge. The Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir was performing at the Kulturhuset, a floating stage tied to the edge of the quay. The sound was spare – stripped down to singer, drummer, and guitarist – but intense, passionate, filled with longing. An eclectic blend of sweet folk and scintillating rock rooted in the ancient ballads of the Norse. One song in particular held me utterly in its spell, “Nú brennur tú í mær.” I later learned it means, appropriately, “You Are Burning Me.” Truly magic.

These moments don’t happen often, and not always with the same fateful intensity. Last week, though, we enjoyed another bout of synchronicity. We were in Pittsburgh to attend a housewarming party for Jenifer’s sister, who, oddly enough, had moved only a couple blocks away from my oldest friend, Tony. At his suggestion, we spent the afternoon of the party at Phipps Conservatory. I was happy to go, since I’d never been to Phipps, even though it’s separated from my alma mater Carnegie Mellon only by Schenley Park’s Flagstaff Hill.

We wouldn’t be going for the flowers, though. Phipps was holding a special exhibit, the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly. Jenifer and I were thrilled at our good “luck.” We’ve both had a casual fascination with blown glass, but Chihuly’s amazing works had captured our imagination when we chanced upon a TV special on him a couple years ago.

The rain forest, the butterfly rooms, the desert gardens and Bonzai trees, each was populated by Chihuly’s organic creations, spirals and spindles and balls of brilliant color. Here, embodied in pieces of art, were the manifestations of intentions set long ago, like light from a distant star just now reaching the earth, just now reminding us of our own minds.

When I was in college I had run all over Pittsburgh, and I still know it better by foot than by car. I had raced on Flagstaff Hill and through Schenley Park, down into Panther Hollow and up behind the conservatory to the edge of a dusty bluff. Beyond the gorge rose the tall stone buildings of Oakland, which for me always gave the appearance of an ancient city on a hill. Returning was a strange kind of homecoming, bringing all those imaginings back, and with them the joy of finding something new in an old, familiar place.

Screenwriting is often likened to completing a jigsaw puzzle and, like life, is a process of discovering not only an inherent meaning but the pieces themselves. Sometimes, when you surrender to circumstance, you find what you weren’t even looking for. Sometimes the Universe winks at you, saying, “Pay attention.”

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Anonymous Eric said...

Great post, R. I was just writing a story today for my writing group that involves the wonderful power of happenstance. Coincidence? Or is the universe winking?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Ryan - Stumbled on your BLOG... haven't talked since Penn State.
I'm at Miami (OH) now. Send me a note as I don't see a way to email you on here. - Marianne

11:30 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

Marianne: Wow! And hello! The universe continues to wink -- you're the second Penn Stater to track me down this week. I'll zip you a note soon. Hope you didn't scrape your knees!

9:57 PM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Ryan, only scrape my knees on the descents... well, knock on wood... have yet to crash.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Hi, Marianne. The "Eric" above is Eric Lehman from PSU, too...

2:39 PM  
Blogger Brian Sibley said...

Thanks for the magical Chihuly photographs. I saw his work last year at Kew Gardens in London and was transported with awe and delight...

8:53 AM  
Blogger Elindomiel said...

Beautiful post! That's exactly how I felt when I heard Eivør's music for the first time. It was principally due to Faroese music that I became so enchanted with the islands and their language - now I'm trying to learn some Faroese. :) Well, it's cool to meet another American who has a fascination with Scandinavia! :)

Btw, my friend Uni said he wrote to you...

11:37 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

Thank you, Elindomiel! And, yes, I did get Uni's nice note! I was wondering if you two knew each other...

9:08 AM  

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