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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Season's Greetings by John von Daler

               When I first came to Denmark I spent a lot of time on an island called Langeland in a little town called #Rudkøbing. The sea water around the island was grayish green and the skies fleeced with drifting white clouds. Little ferries puffed and putted in and out of the harbor with their red and white flags flapping from the masts. Dufy would have loved it.

                I played Gulliver to their Lilliputs, clomping down their streets in my new wooden shoes, trying not to step on the natives. They had things I wanted to learn about. Among these were seasons.
                I could not remember seasons from America. Of course seasons existed there too, but I couldn't remember anyone ever mentioning that anything except baseball or football was out of season. A strawberry or potatoes you could get anytime; if you wanted a melon or an avocado you just bought it.
                In Rudkøbing they talked about the "new potatoes", sweet, small, light-brown delicacies that you ate with butter, fresh dill and parsley at the beginning of the summer. Strawberries came at about the same time and we scooped them up with thick cream and some sugar. The rest of the year potatoes could be purchased, but they had been grown in a greenhouse. Strawberries just disappeared and you had to wait a full year to taste them again.
                In this fresh new world each day too had its own "season". Especially if you were going to eat fish. At about this time I read a book of hunting letters by Karen Blixen's father, whose nom de plume was Boganis. Not an easy man, one of his complaints about life was that the fish on his plate at dinner had been caught and killed the same morning. It had tasted old.
                Sure enough, in Rudkøbing you could walk up the cobblestone main street just past a bar called "Washington" (pronounced "Vashington") to a little store. This dark little room encompassed a merchant in a large white apron and rubber boots, a wall decorated with one small poster showing local fish, a cash register on a counter and a huge basin in which live fish swam. The customer could point out an unsuspecting plaice in that fresh seawater and the man would stick a gloved hand into the basin, pull out the fish and - WHACK! - fresh dinner, beheaded and rolled in newspaper. If you walked in at five p.m. and ate an hour later, it could hardly be more fresh. And you could taste it.
                Nowadays my fish guy rolls his eyes when I tell that story. And I can get strawberries any old time. Hmmm. I must be getting as grumpy as old Boganis.


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