The Faroe Islands are not the rural, subarctic archipelago you imagine. Like their distant peers on the Danish mainland, the Faroese are thoughtful, progressive city-builders. To connect their dispersed communities, their highway system tunnels through basaltic mountains and under North Atlantic waters. Fast ferries and helicopter taxis run between remote points. With such transit infrastructure, this might seem like a maritime metropolis, if only they had the population. But more people live in Portland, Maine, than on the eighteen Faroe Islands.
Peaks and Valleys: Klaksvik City Center, Faroe Islands
The first time I visited Copenhagen I decided to quit my job. I had spent five years working nearly 60 hours per week as an editor, I never took vacation, I was struggling with finances, and I was deeply unhappy. My parents, who were closing in on retirement, had been to Ireland not long before and the travel bug for Europe had struck. Now they chose Denmark. To my good fortune, they treated their three adult children to this August trip.
My grandfather lives in a small house in a small town in Denmark—which, as it happens, is a small country. The town is Græse Bakkeby, which boasts a population of 2,300 people, though it is part of the larger Frederikssund townscape. It’s the kind of place no one who visits the country ever really experiences, in part because there’s no reason to, and yet it’s often the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Denmark. The smell and tang and feel of his house is the same as it was in the house he and my grandmother used to live in, in Værløse, before she died in 1999. It’s a mixture of the coffee maker, my grandfather’s cologne, his many annotated books, and the general cleanliness of the place (he is a neat man and takes pride in it). To the sound of the news on the radio or a Mozart concerto I see him scurrying about his little home, well-dressed, a comb in his back pocket, forever clearing his throat. He sips his coffee while squeezing his eyes shut, as if to intensify its flavor. He pulls a volume from the shelf (Ulysses? The Brothers Karamazov? The Magic Mountain?) and revisits his younger self. He thinks of me and my siblings. He thinks of his sons, my father and uncle. He thinks of his wife.