One of my projects during these years in Odense has been to get, very roughly speaking, round the four points of the compass on Funen. Svendborg and Kerteminde have been visited, and on Saturday afternoon we added Middelfart to the list. If you don’t know about this place – it does not figure in the Lonely Planet guide at all as far as I can see – it’s on the north-western edge of Funen, where the Little Belt strait narrows opposite the Jutland peninsula.
It is not big (or perhaps it is in the Danish scheme of things?). It has the usual selection of chain stores – Fakta, Kvickly, Tiger, and the like. It has the obligatory streets with small, picturesque, and somewhat twee houses. It did not, on this July afternoon in the Danish holiday season, seem particularly well populated.
However: it has the sea. Go north, and you are heading to the Kattegat and thence to the North Sea. Look south, and it’s the Baltic.
It should not have been a surprise. Yet one tends to forget just how close the sea is pretty much everywhere in Denmark. That includes Odense. Even though it has its very own fjord, it has often felt something of a bubble for me, an indeterminate place anchored in the world by the rail line that goes east to Copenhagen and west to Vejle and the Billund bus. It’s as though I never quite arrived…
By the Little Belt, I realized again why I had come. It was all there for us as we sat at the old harbour and walked along the headland under the old bridge. The aesthetic quality of landscape and seascape. The historical resonance of an old crossing point. The passage between the Festland of Europe and the chain of islands leading east and north.
How far-off those interests have become as motivation fades and prospects disappear. And yet: the enthusiasm and imagination and curiosity have not quite vanished. I know it because they materialize again in places like this at times like this, when one’s sense of the routine and everyday is suspended.
Coming at this particular point in time, this was all rather sad. But it must also mean that the old self is, despite the frustration and disillusionment, still there. And as if to affirm it – there, moored at the old harbour in Middelfart, was a three-master built in Gosport in 1887 that now plies the Baltic with Germans who are young, and young at heart, each summer. It is a good memory with which to start breaking the bubble.