How we left Berlin without our leased car is interesting only to those ploddingly linear minds like mine. But we did, and drifted into the enchantment that is the grassy coast of the North Sea.
The winds of the Wattenmeer rough wild. Low tides bare raggedy wooden teeth in the endless mud flats. The setting sun gleams on the slick surface for miles, casting a spell of distance and yearning. Behind the berm, trees tamp eastward to hold the Danish land down lest it dissolve into storm. On the berm, spirits fly with kites. Solid square brick towers glowing red in the evening dully gong the hours for the cows, horses, and thatch. Overly ambitious cyclists return against the wind, riding hard on even roads as if they were going uphill. This is a flat mountain that never ends while there is still breath coming off the sea.
We sleep in a fisherman’s cottage, under a skylight letting in rolling thunder but no light. This brings me back to a night in Cornwall, twenty-five years ago, talking the storm through with my sister in our cozy Mousehole.
Briefly, we breeze through Copenhagen, which I vaguely remember from a short visit when I was six years old, and to a pizzeria in the Meatpacking culinary district that I remember from a shorter visit in 2013. The pizza is even better than the one I had in Naples. Copenhagen is even more magical. However, I can’t tell Danes apart.
Unable to break the spell cast by the sea, we avoid Copenhagen a few days and wander into Dragor instead. A clutter of sea-merchants’ thatched, ochre cottages dating from the mid-1700s, hollyhocks run amok, the echo of clattering footsteps on cobblestone, fragrant rotting seaweed, and sunny skies restore summer and tame the grumpiest of boyfriends. Our hostess, fey in her enchanted hut, dates from the same era, her wispy white hair parting to reveal large, luminous eyes glinting with humor, some confusion, and well-considered views on life. She admits not caring as much for her great-grandchildren as she should. She too can’t tell Danes apart.
While jumping on the couch to swat mosquitoes in her living room, redecorated by a great-great grandfather to resemble his captain’s quarters, I uncover a long-lost treasure: a silver bangle torsaded in the Baltic manner, given to her by her father for her confirmation in 1944, last seen fifteen years ago. She wears it all over the village to proclaim its resurfacing. She grants me use of her shower, which was last renovated under Queen Ingrid, as was the lovely wall-papered and doilied bedroom stolen from attic space where the masts were stored. Even her wise little dog Sofus takes to me.
Eager to be riddled with parking tickets, we drive to the Tivoli Garden. At 176 years old, it is a thriving study in blending performing arts and entertainment. It has found a way to offer something to young, old, in between; locals, tourists; families, friends, couples. I’d work there in a second if living in Copenhagen weren’t so expensive that I’d have to commute from Poland to make the money work.
There’s the double-decker merry-go-round that I last rode when ABBA was in Casey Kasem’s Top 40. Summer, winter, rides, gardens, ponds, pavilions, ballet, and our find, the superlative vegetarian restaurant Gemyse, set in a bower. For dessert, a smoking open fire under the clematis trellis, tongues of herbed bread-dough wrapped around a long bamboo lance, and marshmallows. A savory ’smore. I’m in Hansel and Gretel’s maleficent cottage and I don’t care. Roast it.