You’d think that living in one of the ‘happiest’ countries in the world would be easy!
Cooking The Books
I’ve written two novels, both titles dipping into my bulging storehouse of quirky ideas, obsession with historical facts, memories, and mystical events. My latest book, ‘Middle Distance’ a dark and mystical journey into the soul in search of the meaning of love and redemption following a terrifying experience, and ‘Rice Pudding In A Duvet’, a sweet and nutty coming of age novel (OK, I’m a late developer). Written as I sat contentedly surveying the passing years; the nine countries I have lived in, and the imminent departure from home of my oldest child. I love to cook, and each chapter is named after a favourite dish; perfected over the years and each time concocted would take me hurtling back to the first time it was encountered – just as listening to a song from long ago makes you reminisce. The title for this first book comes from a dish taught to me by my Danish mother-in-law, a way to cook rice pudding to perfection – wrapped in a duvet. It sounds sexy, but just don’t leap on the bed while it’s cooking!
The accompanying chapter takes a sidelong look at my early days in Denmark, I’ve been here for eighteen years to date. Of taking my three children on adventures to places like the Frilands museum in Sorgenfri near Copenhagen, and most notably the Lejre Viking museum near Roskilde. Happy days rolling down real hills, grinding grain with a quern and cooking little cakes on a griddle over an open fire. Our jolly adventure taking a sinister turn as we watch a goat being disemboweled – it’s sage green and beige entrails spilling into a wooden bucket as volunteer-Vikings-on-vacation sawed through skulls and, though civil, never invited us in to share the kinship of their woodsmoke.
Dishing The Dirt On Danes
I didn’t want their company though; I was worn-down by misunderstandings and we moved to a house with an enclosed courtyard where I barricaded myself in and lived through my children. There I began to write, and dream and retreat into my creative landscape of solitude, all while sharpening my arsenal of skills by flickering candlelight. My first years in Denmark are filed in my heart under the heading, ‘HURT.’ I don’t open the file much, there’s really not much point whining on about it, or beating myself up about not integrating like I should of – it’s too easy anyway to take a side swipe at the country that you live in as a foreigner. I closed down here after finding most Danes never enquired about my life before Denmark; my dreams and aspirations, my homeland, the traditions that mark celebrations like Christmas, my creativity and huge career before my children were born as a designer in Paris for Louis Vuitton.
I stopped having dreams for a while. I’d ask people politely about theirs instead, and would sit obediently for hours and hours at ghastly parties where I didn’t have the option of being next to people that I might find interesting, and then they’d pass song sheets around and all start singing! I felt like the French lady in Karen Blixen’s ‘Babette’s feast’ who washed up on a west Jutland shore and into a dour and judgmental village. I knew so many vivid things from the world that could help to enrich and bring joy, but I sensed a collective disapproval that I could burn so brightly in a non-verified way.
Denmark made me a writer
It’s only now, years later that I’ve emerged with a fine body of work which would never have been if I didn’t feel so suppressed by the general disinterest that I felt the locals gave me. There was indeed a silver lining, and from this painful place I’ve now given birth to my caring community for internationals feeling “a little out of sorts” with their reception in Denmark. I’ve called it K.I.N.D (Keep International Networks Denmark) Finding through experience how we all have such great things to offer Danish society and culture, we just would like to share our contributions and feel welcome, and to keep on dreaming and thinking big.
You’ll find this article featured in the July issue of The International Denmark newspaper
Both novels by Heather Gartside are available at Amazon.
Middle Distance – ISBN-13: 978-1727023381
Rice Pudding In A Duvet, second helpings – ISBN-13: 978-1717159977