Saturday, July 23, 2011
In Copenhagen in winter, I try to escape. The amusement park is closed. The weather barely crests the freezing mark. The guidebooks tell of other islands, of tiny coastal villages. I want to get to them but don't have the time to make the journey, and even then, the cold will follow along with me.
Dragor gets one line in my guidebook. The internet tells me a little bit more, but only a little. I take a risk and get on a bus in one of Copenhagen's central squares. Trains in a foreign country are one thing. Busses are quite another. I mess up once, getting on the bus in the wrong direction. Once I get off and re-board, half an hour later, I'm not entirely sure that I've paid the correct fare. The gods smile. No one checks.
The bus pulls up in front of a red brick bus depot in Dragor, the end of the line, although it's not very far from Copenhagen. The sun blazes as hard as it can, which is to say, not very hard. The bare, knobby trees with their stocky limbs don't budge in the wind. I've written everything out – bus numbers, times, the current exchange rate for Krone. I have no idea what I've come to see until I see it.
I walk toward what I think is the sea and am swallowed by the town – by a village of little houses that only the very rich can afford to live in – that time left alone because it was too pretty. The buildings are low and thatch-roofed and sit on the neat cobblestone streets like a cluster of cakes set out for a party – all of them the color of butter cream, the orange and green accents like vines of icing.
I try not to stare into the windows of the houses, but so many things on the ledges and windowsills catch my eyes – ceramic cups, vases of flowers, glass bottles and spheres, statues of animals. Some houses even sport an ancient contraption on the outside – two mirrors angled in a V and attached to the house with a metal bracket, so the people inside could see what was happening up the street. Bicycles with woven baskets site idle in gardens. Watering cans wait on doorsteps. The slate tiles that lead to rounded front doors have not felt the pressure of footfall in hours.
The town is silent. It's early and a Sunday, but still. My feet on the cobbles make the only noise. The fishing boats sit idle. I walk the entire village -- see every winding street, every lonely, standing water pump -- in 25 minutes. I cannot bear to leave the color or the quiet, so I sit down in a restaurant by the harbor.
The wood-paneled room is covered in nautical-theme movie posters – The Hunt for Red October, U-571, The Perfect Storm, Jaws. I order coffee, a Coke, a cheeseburger. I let the waiter refill my water. The whole time, I write. I stare out the windows. I give myself permission to be entirely outside of my daily life in New York. This is what it means to travel alone, to let yourself be something entirely other than your typical daily self.
The cheeseburger is perfectly cooked and enormous. I eat it, clumsy, with the fork and knife offered. In my notebook, amazing things happen. I glean new insights, learn stuff about myself, solve the entire universe of my problems, all on ten lined pages, with a blue Bic pen. Wrapped in my shawl, I escape Denmark's cold for the first time in four days.
As I pay, I tell the waiter that the cheeseburger was really good. He smiles and nods and I leave and head back to the bus. I snap a few photos, but they don't do the place justice, don't capture the slant of the winter sun, or the perfect piles of thatch on the roofs. The only thing that can hold the memory of Dragor is the place itself. I make a note to come back, with company, so I have proof, an affirmation that it existed at all.