Sunday, July 2, 2017


How to sum up our days in Copenhagen.


Brad has been keeping up on all the small details of our trip on Facebook, posting pictures and funny comments every day, but there's been more to our trip than seeing the beauty of Denmark--learning her history and experiencing her quiet dignity and loving her light late nights.

I studied so much medieval European history in college that I'm embarrassed to admit how little I knew (or remembered) about Denmark. It was a fun journey, acquainting myself with all the King Fredericks and Christians, walking the halls of their palaces and churches. We experienced "Hamlet" in the courtyard of Elsinore castle. We strolled the green paths of Roskilde where Vikings left to discover remote areas of the world.

We stood where kings and queens were married and crowned and buried--and where ruthless modern dictators stormed through the streets. The windows of history opened, and eras of styles overlapped and collided in cathedrals holding the remains of saints and monarchs. I remembered my medieval architecture lessons and taught Brad how to tell the difference between Romanesque and Gothic arches. I connected to the symmetry of the architecture and whitewashed stone interiors unlike those I'd seen in other buildings in Europe, and it all felt somehow . . . familiar.

As I sat in the chancel of the cathedral in Elsinore, I wondered if any of my ancestors (who lived in this community) had been baptized or married inside its walls before immigrating to Utah in the nineteenth century. And on our final afternoon in Copenhagen, we walked through a small flea market in the square across the street from our apartment. In one stall, I saw a bag like one I bought in Tangier, Morocco--one size larger. Nine years ago, when we were sailing back to Gibraltar on a ferry,  I was wishing I had bought the set of bags but Brad hadn't had enough dirham and the boat was leaving so I left the bigger one behind. I can't believe we found the same design (straight from Fez, I was told) almost a decade later on the streets of Copenhagen. This time, Brad negotiated a price using both Danish kroner and $20 bills from the U.S. and I carried it home slung over my arm.

Danes are kind, unassuming people. Their language is unfamiliar and undecipherable, but they are also fluent in English--strangers came to our aid in train stations, at restaurants, and at the checkout for groceries. Danish women have a casual beauty that is hard to explain. There is none of the Kardashian-influenced makeup and style as you walk among them, but they carry themselves with confidence and a subtle style and grace. Unlike the millennial generation in America, few sport tattoos or extreme styles, but surprisingly, many are smoking as they wait outside shop doors.

For four days, we lived on the fourth floor looking at this view each evening, rehashing our adventures of the day. For four days, we experienced summer life like the Danes, wearing jackets and carrying umbrellas as we took the Metro, eating laks and ebelskiver at cafes as the rain turned on and off and on again.

Pieces of American history I taught this last school year interrupted random moments, like this biography I dug out of a stack of Danish history books at a church rummage sale.

Or this bust of Edmund Burke, carved by Berthel Thorvaldson

The steeple visible from our apartment window always kept me oriented in the unfamiliar city, and with our itinerary for the day complete, we wandered the streets until we found the church below the copper spire. Written on the entry wall were the words, "This is not a church." 

Nothing was inside the sanctuary--nothing but a modern art installation of sound waves that bounced around the enormous, white, empty space. It made me think of another building that "is not a church" any more back in Mesa, Arizona, where my desk and lesson plans wait for August and my return.

Spending four days in Denmark taught me about America. Somehow, Americans get bogged down in the immediate--stupid tweets from the President. Shootings at congressional softball practices. Party disagreements and disillusions. We forget a few small details about humanity and history. 

America is so young. We have weathered so few crises in our 200+ years compared to the rest of the world's wars and catastrophes. Humanity is resilient and can't be permanently beaten down by a few individuals or one president or a few bad economic years. Humanity has survived mysterious plagues, mass genocides, and natural disasters of epic proportion. History forgives and forgets the small things and remembers and records the big things. And often, those living each day can't distance themselves enough to tell the difference between the two.

The world is so big--so many different languages and people and perspectives and cultures and problems. Big problems like refugees from civil war and small problems like interrupted commutes from railroad track maintenance. But the more I travel in the world, the more I see the goodness outside my small little world in the middle of the Southwestern desert of the United States.

Today, we are speeding across Sweden in train for Stockholm and the next leg of our Scandinavian adventure--and what the world has to show me.

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