Saturday, September 6, 2014

Our Danish “Odyssey”

“I am saying that erotic love is comic to a third party—more I do not say.”
—Soren Kierkegaard

On our fourth day of riding in Denmark, we went from Faaborg to Troense. The trip took us onto four different islands, and we rode not only on our bikes but also on two different ferries. We ended up in a charming little town that had a dirty little secret. Well, not exactly a secret, because it is mentioned in the guidebooks and Lars, our guide, shared it with us. And not everyone might consider it dirty . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because I am always an English major at heart, I am going to call this day “our Danish Odyssey.” Our adventures were not exactly epic, but they did have some unusual Homeric parallels. We started the day with a quick ride to the harbor in Faaborg, took a walk along the town’s cobblestone streets, and came across my favorite Danish sign of the trip—a store window that advertised home delivery of pizza and kebabs with the quaint saying “du ringer, vi bringer,” which I figured must be translated “you call and we deliver”—though doesn’t it sound better in the original Danish? From there, like Odysseus, we boarded a ship and sailed for the island of Aero, a name that certainly sounds Greek to me.
Anyone need kebabs delivered?
Once in Aero, we mounted up and began a trek across the island to its largest town, Aerøskøbing. Halfway through our ride, we stopped to admire the beautiful seacoast and the blue seas, when we were attacked by marauding lady bugs. I know that sounds a little overdramatic, and not exactly on a parallel with facing down the Cyclops, but those bugs were downright vicious. Below is my photo of the creatures resting up en masse on a rock to prepare for a new attack. Perhaps there was mythological symbolism in that attack.
Did any Greek myths mention marauding lady bugs dotting the coastline?
We continued biking on to Aerøskøbing, enduring some Odyssean uphill and downhill stretches. Then we boarded a ferry that took us back to the town of Svendborg, which we had left two days earlier, and we quickly biked from there over a bridge to the island of Tasinge and the town of Troense.

I have received some feedback that my accounts of our Danish trip have been overly negative. To which, I say, “nope, nyet, nein, no way!” I have only positive things to say about Troense. It was the kind of small, quaint European seaside village you dream about. After dinner that night in our charming, small hotel just across the street from the water, Lars took us for a walk along the town’s most appealing and notable street. That’s where he revealed the town’s “dirty little secret.”

Troense's nicest street lined with thatched cottages.
Check out the placement of ceramic dogs on the window sill.
Lars explained that many Danish naval and merchant marine captains decided to settle in Troense even before they retired. Not a bad choice. Some of the wealthiest of those captains bought homes on the street on which we walked that night. Most of the houses had bright whitewashed walls, dotted with windows, and thick well-cared-for thatched roofs. Lars prompted us to look on the window ledges inside several of the houses, where we spotted pairs of ceramic dogs. Some pairs of dogs were facing out toward the street; others were facing inward. The dogs, he explained, had been gifts the captains picked up for their wives during their travels. What was behind the dogs’ orientation on the window sills?  That’s the dirty part. Some of the wives found an unusual use for the gifts. If her husband the captain was home from his travels, his wife would turn the dogs inward. If her husband was away at sea, she would place the dogs looking out toward the street, as if anticipating his return. A nice gesture, and nothing dirty about that, you say. Oh ho. It turns out that some of the wives had boyfriends on the side, who would check out the placement of the dogs. If they were looking in, the boyfriends would wait for a better time to woo their married girlfriends. If the dogs were looking outward, the coast was clear. And we had been told that the Danes were such straight-laced people!

Which brings me to my last Homeric connection. As I remember the story, Homer considered Odysseus’ wife Penelope to be one of the true heroes of his epic tale. During the 10 years during which Odysseus sailed to and from Troy and got into all sorts of travail, Penelope stayed home raising their son as a single parent. During those 10 years, many people—particularly potential suitors for the desirable but unwaveringly faithful Penelope—tried to convince her that her husband was long dead and it was time for her to move on. She turned all of the suitors away. There were no ceramic dogs on her window sill. At least I don’t remember any. But I read The Odyssey a long time ago, and my translation may have been cleaned up a little.
Penelope's suitors compete for her attention but never win her love.

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