Wedding weekend pt.1

Trip Start Oct 24, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Kondrups Hus
What I did
DeAnna's and Andrew's wedding

Flag of Denmark  , Fyn and the Central Islands,
Saturday, July 2, 2011

Flat against the horizon, a thin ribbon of white-aqua sea rested atop a long line of trees, as if poured to fill in uneven contours. Above that, the green line of the far side of the island gave
an appearance of capping the saltwater, like a heavy, metal lid, keeping it from spilling out onto the expanse of land below. All the colors were paled by the bright sunlight at this distance. The land was so still, sunlight glinting off faraway white sailboats seemed violent by comparison. Gently undulating fields in twenty different hues of green rolled inward from the distant Baltic
and stopped at the levee of the garden outside our second-story bedroom window. Wispy, white streams of exhaust made by jet airplanes, already out of sight, were the only external reminder of the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. Most of the island of Ærø,Denmark is much like this.

Tuesday after work, Tracy and I drove to a small town near Mannheim to meet our friends, the wedding couple, DeAnna Howell and Andrew Viloudaki. The original plan was to spend the night at their place and to arise very early the next morning for the eight-hour trip to Denmark. However, on Monday, Tracy learned from an angry DeAnna that the wedding planner had not booked passage on the 4:00 ferry to Ærø, though earlier she said she had. The new plan, then, was to leave Mannheim that same night and drive half the distance to our destination: Braunschweig.

Following our friends due north toward Frankfurt, we pierced the gloaming. Within ten minutes we lost sight of them. Only the last vestiges of the sun's glow remained as Tracy and I passed by Germany’s fifth most populous city to the west, and we kept driving. Sometime later, the gas gage near the quarter mark and we began to look for a gas station. Gas stations (Aral, Agip, Esso, Shell, etc.) in Germany do not have towering signs that are visible at a distance. They are located just off the shoulder of the road and appear one at a time every 25 kilometers or so, so
they are not in competition. Finding one was not hard; finding the right one was.

The military has a gas rations deal with the Esso company, which is the international trade name for Exxon Mobil. Soldiers and families can purchase a certain amount of gas at U.S.
prices, and the amount purchased is recorded electronically. It is worth our while to pass by the other stations in search of Esso. Unfortunately, Esso has far fewer roadside pumps than do other companies; and late at night, only the roadside stations are open. I passed one station, then another, trying to judge whether or not we had enough fuel to reach our destination. Eventually, I decided we had better pull over and put a small amount in the tank, just to be

Soon, the GPS read that we were due to arrive at our motel in twenty minutes. "Good," I thought. “We definitely have enough gas for that.” As soon as I said that, orange-and-white
construction barrels came into sight, diverting traffic from its normal path. Our electronic co-pilot did not understand our new situation, and began to instruct me to take exits that were not there. At one point, had its screen been right, we would have just driven off a precipice and been floating in the air above a river. After a few turnarounds, I simply couldn’t figure out which
was the correct detour exit to take. We were low on gas again, so I stopped and put ten Euros worth of gas in the car. You don’t get much petrol for ten Euros. The attendant asked me a question that probably would have been simple in another moment, but I was fatigued and irritated. I shrugged and made a face that must have been a combination of a smile and a grimace. She understood.

We didn’t get much sleep that night at the BS Hotel in Braunschweig. We finally arrived after 1:30 a.m. and had to be up at 7:00 in order to catch the 1:00 ferry at Fynshav, Denmark. I
wouldn’t have gotten much shuteye anyway. The place just seemed unclean in ways I can’t quite put my finger on. The things there I could have put my finger on, I mostly went out of my way not to. The old, stained, dark blue needlefelt carpet gave me the jibblies, and the bedspread, also begrimed with mysterious stains, looked as if it might have been discarded by a vagrant who no longer wished to carry it around. I slept lightly and fully clothed.

First thing the next morning, we experienced a time setback while trying to find an Esso. At that point, time was arguably a more valuable commodity than money. Though I didn’t speak my
mind on the subject - my companions looked to be a mite on edge - I thought it might have been worth our while to pay economy prices for petrol in order to get an earlier start for the ferry. I was glad I didn’t voice my opinion. It is rarely (i.e. never) a good idea to contradict a harried bride-to-be; and it honestly wasn’t essential that Tracy and I catch the earlier ferry. Since we didn’t have a car to tow, we didn’t need reservations. As it turned out, we didn’t make the 1:00 departure time. Fortunately, DeAnna and Andrew did. We when finally docked at Søby, DeAnna and
Andrew met us there with the car, and drove us to our local housing: a bed and breakfast in the heart of the island’s farmland, called the Kondrups Hus.

Ulla de Frey, a round woman short of her elderly years, with shoulder-length, grey hair in slack ringlets, was the proprietor of the Kondrups Hus. She greeted us in the driveway as we pulled in, and led us to the entrance along a narrow path, encroached upon by healthy flowers of various sorts. It was just inside the foyer that I noticed the woman’s startled-looking wide eyes. They defined her face and communicated an ironic energy of both bewilderment and composure, like an alarmed cat that has settled back down to rest. She was a kind woman with a keen sensibility about the beauties of art, education, and history. This was to be the vesica piscis of our respective cultural circles.

The bed and breakfast was decorated to mimic an early 20th-century Danish farmhouse: whitewashed ceilings and walls, simple, wooden furniture – some of which belonged to the Ms.
de Frey’s grandparents – antique photos, and bric-a-brac. Our bedroom was at the far end of a smallish common room, amply illuminated by sunlight, fixed up with a sturdy wooden breakfast table with two chairs, shelves on one wall with glassware, and a diminutive kitchen. It was cozy and comfortable. The woman was always eager to share bits of information about her island, which she was to do over the following days. That evening she briefed Tracy, DeAnna, Andrew, and me on what fare was to be found in Ærøskøbing, the island’s largest town, and which restaurants were likely to be open that evening. She mentioned that the only Indian restaurant on the island was having its grand opening that night, and that perhaps we might be brave enough to try it.

It was an odd restaurant with scant decorations, no menu options, and a near-meaningless buffet. As the four of us entered, bare white walls greeted us. We walk between two rows of tables and chairs and we were ushered through a small space that led past the kitchen,
and into a larger, full dining room. Most of the people sitting at the fifteen, or so, tables did not appear to be eating, but rather looking around, though I noticed that most had plates had bits of food on them. It was then that I observed that the room didn’t smell much of food, or anything for that matter. But there was a short line for the buffet, and we all promptly joined it.

On a table to my right, there were some bottles of champagne, appropriate for a grand opening, and two bowls of little candies. As I neared the buffet table, at once, I started looking
around for the rest of it. There were three flimsy aluminum steam trays with barely a trace of food in any of them. One looked to have once contained rice and pineapple and perhaps something else. Another tray was littered with small clumps of couscous. A third tray – the one with the most food in it – was potatoes and shrimp in a spiced, brothy sauce. Finally, there was a refrigerated cooler of drinks at the far end. I spooned a sampling of couscous and some potatoes onto my paper plate, avoiding the shrimp, and selected a pilsner from among the
beers. If given a blind taste-test and asked to identify the type of food I had just eaten, I would have probably guessed Indian by process of elimination, but even then my answer would have sounded more like a question. Um...Indian? It was just…odd.

That was the end of our evening out, as we were all tired. DeAnna and Andrew gave us a lift back to the Kondrups Hus, and drove back to their own bed-and-breakfast to turn in early. The
next day was to be the day before the wedding.
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