I remember feeling my very insides would explode. I was “Madeline” sent off to foreign lands, on my own, a young, independent woman.
I remember the bright colors of the buildings lining the canal in the middle of Copenhagen. It was where Jacob’s law office was. The boats in the canal, the blue of the sea -- just like Portland, Maine.
I remember the bright colors of the punk rockers’ mohawks…and all their black, skinny pants, calf-high black army boots.
I remember D’Angleterre, the posh hotel in the center of the city where I lingered alone over black coffee in expensive ivory, gold trimmed china. They put a vanilla lace cookie in my sherbet, in a fancy fluted dessert bowl, all set on a thick white linen tablecloth. I sat, poised….Madeline….reading the New York Times like an expat come to live and work with the Danes.
I remember bicycling everywhere, on old fashioned green bikes I wouldn’t be caught dead on stateside. Mine had an ancient wicker basket on the handlebars. Why was riding bikes in America, in Maine, so much harder than this? In Denmark, bike routes were clearly marked throughout the city and the suburbs. The terrain was flat. Gorgeous Scandinavian women pedaled wearing skirts, pointed kitten heel pumps, and tightly fitted sweaters. They never seemed to break a sweat.
I remember my breakfasts of watery peach yogurt and small squares of dark grained bread in Susanna’s sunny galley kitchen with stainless steel countertops and a tiny window overlooking their bright green back garden.
I remember taking our bikes, each day, to the tiny market just down the street. The Kelloggs Corn Flakes boxes looked like the covers we had in the 1950’s – faded, old fashioned looking. But the produce was spectacular...and that’s why we came. Each day, we decided what we’d cook for Jacob and ourselves for dinner at 8:00 p.m. Black coffee in a stainless carafe would be served around 11:00 p.m. There was much discussion; I was deeply fulfilled with the depth of it – politics, travel, Denmark, America.
I remember pedaling to grandmother’s house in the suburbs, a tiny cottage with pointed roof lines on the order of Gretel’s home in the woods – gingerbread-style.
Then there was the flight to Jutland, the very north of Denmark, to Skagens where the two seas meet and we could actually drive our mini-car right on the beach, all along the shoreline in front of circus-like, royal blue and white striped changing tents.
We stayed at Susanna’s other grandmother’s estate in the north, where I saw my first cockroach, and couldn’t speak one word to these less-cosmopolitan relatives. Susanna sat poised in grandmother’s living room, her thin tan legs in chic heels, with navy peddle pushers, a Ralph Lauren polo and cotton sweater tied around her neck, gold bangles on her arms and an heirloom gold ring. Her blond hair shimmered.
She sat, stunning as always, beside her grandmother who was…smoking a cigar, face deeply rutted and wrinkled, hair looking like it had been slept on. How I wanted to know HER story, but the language barrier was vast.
I ate herring and drank schnapps… and Aquavite. Susanna’s relatives served caviar at every dinner party I attended. I was the adorable little girl from America among this sophisticated Danish tribe. They were immensely kind to me.
I still use the Royal Copenhagen, blue-veined china they gave me. I still say “vi hygor os” with gusto – the phrase with no comparable English translation that they try to get foreigners to say because we just cannot pronounce it correctly….just like they cannot say “th.” Thumb was always “tum.”
I remember the beauty of Denmark and how similar it looked to Maine, the same foliage, the same green and blue of ocean.
It was the first time I had seen a waffle cone which they filled with jam and moon pie marshmallow cookies on top of the ice cream – I had never seen a cone so big. It was years later that they came to upscale ice cream shops in Portland.
It was 1982. I was 21 – my whole life ahead of me. Denmark wetted my appetite for a life of fulfillment and enjoyment of all that is “ordinary” – nature, meals, family, our cities and cultures.
I will remember always….
Grandmother's estate in the north of Denmark
Susanna and our bikes at Hermitage
Me with Hans Christian Anderson
(sightseeing in a suit and high heels!)