Monday, June 20, 2011
Rungsted Kyst, Denmark: Solace in Unpronounceable Places
In the cafe at the Karen Blixen Museum in Rungsted Kyst, Denmark, I hit the sweet spot. I have spent my last $4 on a bottle of elderflower soda in a bright green bottle, the brand name of which I cannot pronounce, and can hardly write thanks to the unfamiliar amalgam of consonants.
I cannot pronounce the name of the museum either, as it turns out. Or the name of the blue-and-white seaside town – Rungsted Kyst – where it an be found. I learn this – of my lack of lingual accuracy – on the way, in the blank, blinking silence of bus drivers and conductors who ask me to repeat the name, again and again. In Italian, I'm fine. In French, I can make myself understood. In Danish, I'm dumbstruck.
Before venturing out to Rungsted Kyst, I spend the morning freezing at Hamlet's hulking castle. Or rather, it is the castle that people think is Hamlet's castle -- Kronborg. Perched on a cliff above half-frozen seas, you can see Sweden across the bay, and not much inside the castle itself save a few poorly-translated exhibits, a tapestry or two, and lots of peeling paint.
I leave craving something warm, or at least bright.
In the Blixen Museum, I am asked to kindly cover my feet, and spend the rest of my visit padding around in the provided linen boot covers. I am tempted to slide across the wood floors, to choreograph impromptu figure skating routines. Because I get my brightness. It floods the whole house through tall windows and pours through sheer curtains. I vow to paint my whole life the green color in the living room – neither turquoise nor grass, but something clear and in-between.
The woman herself, the English-speaking, Danish-born, fashionable and droll authoress, seems to be everywhere. In the masks she carried back from Africa, in the rows of books that occupied her personal library, many of which were written by her friends and acquaintances – Truman Capote, Pearl Buck, Ernest Hemmingway. It is a dream of a little house full of books and flowers and paintings and light.
I stay until the last instant, until they kick me out, sitting under a Warhol-like edit of the famous portrait of Karen, her strong, wrinkled profile half-hidden under a bell-shaped hat. I sit with my elderflower soda, scribbling in a notebook. Whatever is written in a great writer's house feels sacred. The words pick up something in the air that surrounds them. It is maybe a prayer or a to-do list. Or maybe just something about finding some blessed warmth in the brightness of a Danish winter afternoon.
Go there: Kronberg Castle is located at Helsingor, Denmark, which is about an hour by train north of Copenhagen. The Blixen Museum at Rungsted Kyst also reachable by train from Copenhagen, or from Helsingor, but it requires a transfer. From the Rungsted Kyst station, hop on a bus to the Blixen Museum, but make sure the driver lets you off in the right place. Once you see the ocean, know that you're close.