I got lost in Odense, Denmark last year when trying to locate Hans Christian Anderson’s childhood home. I am not sure why I wanted to see, so badly the sloping black-and-cream cottage, the place he dreamt up the Little Mermaid and the Little Match Girl. I think I assumed sitting on its doorway and peeking in the windows would somehow mean I was a writer too.
Really, I am more of a stalker. And I should have known better than trying to find one tiny square in a sea of senseless squiggles. I have been lost so many times; anytime I head out, I add forty five minutes to my schedule.
I once got lost in folds of teal organza in a fitting room. I couldn’t find the neck hole and tried to put my head through the sleeve and then it got stuck over my eyes. I panicked for a few minutes and then thrashed around, trying to shake free.
Is it possible I could sufforcate like this? Surely, someone has died this way. Should I call for the dressing room attendant? What if she finds me in here, dead. She’ll be tramautized – have to quit her job, have to go on welfare at only 16. The Headline: Woman Smothered in Tacky Teal Gown
The Search for Hans Christian Anderson’s House:
We set out somewhat directionless in search of The House. There’s no GPS on our phones because we’re in Europe. We use bus station street maps, the kind violated with black marker graffiti.
Danes aren’t known for their warm smiles. Even if you take the whole, pull-out-your-map, look-lost- and hope-for-sympathy approach, they’ll hurry past. My theory is that they ride on bikes to avoid small talk.
The Husband and I’s nice little stroll degenerated into a full-on odyssey, complete with the siren song of Peach Pit After Dark, a bar-restaurant that grew more appealing each time we passed.
We have to see it, we came all this way
We can go tomorrow
We’re going to Lego Land tomorrow
Wait – I remember this bar – the Ugly Duckling. Is it possible they turned his house into a bar and named it after his story? I heard his dad was a drunk. Maybe he lived upstairs and wrote from that very window…
Seems likely – wait no. Look at the guide, the guide says it’s not above a bar. We’re actually more close to the museum.
That would be cool.
We march down alleyways shaped like spagetti, cut through gardens and parking lots, shooting eachother impatient glances every five steps.
This. This is all.Your.fault
You just HAD to go to Odense
Restaurant owners pack up the terraces, turn off the outdoor lights, stack plates in a clamour, and put chairs seat-side-down on tables. I feel like a girl whose parents forgot to pick her up from tee-ball practice.
Rain falls from the sky diagonally.
My feet started to throb, their way of yelling at me for taking them on this Death March in too-small ballet flats. If Danish women can whiz through the city on bikes, dressed in heels, I could walk Odense in flats. Or so I thought.
After two hours, my legs weakened, collapsed. I had to peel my shoe off. My foot looked like it had been attacked by bandicoots. I sat on the curb, arms crossed, chilly water seeping through my the seat of my jeans.
Me: It is cold. I am dying. I am starving –
The Husband: We’re almost there.
Me: I can’t walk anymore. I don’t care about Hans Christian Anderson. I’ve seen enough of him. We saw the Little Mermaid statue. They have stop lights in The Naked Emperor’s silhouette.
The Husband: The Naked Emperor? It’s the Emperor with No Clothes. No wait – It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. And speaking of clothes, who told you to wear those shoes?
I should stop here and mention that The Husband is seriously smart. Not just when it comes to knowing when to wear comfortable shoes. He remembers the precise names of stories he’s never even read. He can tell you the mascot of every college football team. He has a mind for facts and trivia and has a way of recalling these things without a drop of contempt or arrogance.
I wanted to kill him.
But he helps me up. He walks and I limp. We find the cottage on a quiet street. It’s nondescript except for a plaque beside the door. Han’s ghostly face didn’t appear in the window, the way I hoped. And I didn’t find a fountain of fairytales in my pen or my brain. But I did learn something.
I told The Husband to give up. Turn around. I failed to believe him. This cottage, no — this shack couldn’t be worth the hours spent lost.
The Husband knew it was important to me. So he didn’t stop and didn’t let me stop. And that’s the lesson in getting lost.