Danish Chronicles – Roskilde ● Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí
Pessimists might argue that things can only get worse. Undoubtedly, Danes do not belong to that group, at least as far as phonetics as concerned. The first episode of my Danish Chronicles dealt with the poor destiny of letter G when you need to pronounce Køge. It cannot get worse than this, you would argue. In reality, it can get worse than this. Go and ask poor letter D that can become L in some instances. What instances, I have no clue and probably will never have. Nevertheless, I do not aim to bore my readers with further phonetic-linguistic topics. I would like to talk about Roskilde. It is pronounced Roskilde. It is written as follows: Roskilde. In case you were wondering.
I like trains. While abroad, I always try to take a train to move around. On them, I can peep at those living in that other country. Outside my window, bridges, roads, houses, cows and fields pass by. It takes 20 minutes to get from Køge to Roskilde. Since I got to Denmark, I do not sleep well at night: this sleeplessness is mainly due to my desire to see a new country, but also to the fact that my bedroom is filled with blinding light at 4,30am. Therefore, I arrived in Roskilde on a windy Saturday morning at 8,00 am.
Roughly 50,000 people live in a city that, according to history books, was the set of a few amusing anecdotes I am about to describe. Firstly, it looks like the name of the city comes from two words, i.e. kilde, which means spring, and King Roar’s name, or obviously Hroðgar in Danish. King Roar must have been some sort of celebrity in the old Scandinavian literature: he is found in Beowulf, in some Norwegian sagas, and in Saxo Grammaticus’ writings. All sources agree in describing him as generous and honest and meek and courageous. Unable to commit acts of cultural and ideological vandalism, I reckon our hero would not have had a great time in our modern world.
It looks like regular people were never bored across the centuries: in a highly a-chronological pattern, they had the Plague; they had the Swedes, the Reformation, and a nearly endless series of fires that destroyed most of the districts. Viking hearts kept on beating, though. The Swedes were sent back to that shore that is faraway but so close. The Plague was dispersed by the fortuitous arrival of some Martians that, as they were around, proceeded to extinguish the fires too. Lutheran pastors stay and become rock stars on a magnificent stage, i.e. the Cathedral. The Domkirke looks like the masterpiece of the best carpenter in the world. Gothic style, built by accumulating millions of red bricks. The author of my blog liked the exterior, but found it a bit … bare. Snapshots of the Notre-Dame gargoyles, or of the skeleton arches of the Carmo Convent in Lisbon ran in my mind. Inside, the feeling was very different indeed. Often, in the past, when I found myself in religious buildings (mainly catholic buildings), I felt heavy. Heavy in my heart. Heavy in my stomach. Gloomy images of desperate souls screaming from the bottom of Hell. Bleeding hearts hanging out of Jesus’ chest. Sometimes, I felt like screaming “We could be lighter, couldn’t we?”.
Inside Roskilde Domkirke that fire did not inhabit me. I smiled for most of the three hours I spent walking underneath those arches. I walked around peaceful, touching hand-rails so beautifully carved in the shape of animals. I guess those animals must have some sort of distant religious meaning, but the smile they brought on my face was large and light. I took some photos of sleeping figures that reminded me of a warm dream. White arches protect all Danish kings’ and queens’ graves: they reminded me of candy floss. The guy bulging out of the Troll’s door reminded me of a fairytale. While looking at all those architectonical details, I thought that Life could be interpreted as a shiny path made of uniting bridges and not of walls impregnated of religion. I breathed a bit better when I left that Unesco jewel.
In Roskilde there is also the Viking Ships’ Museum lying in front of an amazing fjord. The 5 Skuldelev ships had been waiting for me since the 11th century, a moment in the Scandinavian history filled with exciting events. To protect the then Danish capital city, the Vikings led those five ships 20 kilometers inland and changed them into a barrier against the invaders. These ships were disintegrated and their fragments fell down to the bottom of the sea until 1962 when they were found and brought back to life as part of this museum that welcomes roughly 130,000 visitors a year. I walked alongside a section of History that my school books barely touched.
At the museum they have also organized practical workshops to teach those that as ignorant as me to carv fantastic images out of wood.
There is the Sea Stallion from Glendalough. It’s not the name of a hot Hiberno-Danish guy, but it’s the biggest reconstruction of a Viking ship in the world. In 2007, 65 crazy lads jumped into the Stallion and sailed it from Roskilde to Dublin for more than 1000 nautical miles. 1000 nautical miles sounds quite a big distance to me. If you are reading this blog, you should be warned about my superficiality so the following comment should not shock you. In front of that magnificent boat, all I could think was “How the hell did they manage to go to the toilet across 1000 nautical miles?!!”.