In the highly-controversial post about Estonian names, I mentioned how, having lived in Denmark, I found many similarities between the Danes and the Estonians. I also mentioned a place called Skagen, at the northern tip of Denmark, which reminded me a lot of Saaremaa and the Estonian west coast in general. I went to Skagen in 2001 - it was just a few days after September 11, and my body was filled with these conflicting, raw emotions.
The most profound images to me of September 11 were not of the planes crashing into buildings and murdering my fellow New Yorkers, but of the women and men who knew they were done for, and held hands and jumped from the tops of those buildings. I imagined the air was cold and that they got to look at the city as they fell downwards. It was this idea - I hadn't actually seen photos, just read news reports - that replayed over and over again in my head when I was there in Skagen.
After that event happened, we were all waiting for the next shoe to drop - for another attack. I telephoned home from the booth in Skagen to make sure that my relatives and friends were all accounted for.
But Skagen was nice. It used to be - perhaps still is - a summer colony for artists. While we were there we went to some art museums and met up with German students, who were, like all Europeans, better dressed and more 'hip' than we ragged Americans were, although our hair was cleaner.
The hills surrounding the village - which stunk of dried fish - invited one to visit the coast, where the chimneys from tile- and thatch- roofed cottages puffed smoke into the air. I should comment here a bit more about the fish. The smell hung like a fog in the air. I remember eating ice cream and feeling that I was eating fish-flavored ice cream. Yum!
Anyway, on those placid hills I looked out at the Baltic and thought about life and death. My friend who took this above photo looked at me and said "I'm scared about what's going to happen." It was an extremely humble expression of fear. I will never forget the look on his face.
I took a lot of photos that evening - like the one above - but I lost that roll of film. This is how. I took my camera with me shortly afterwards to Prague to visit my friend Patrick. In Prague I stayed a few floors above him in a rented suite - which was cheap. They actually checked me into my hotel room as "George Washington" because that was the name of my university and they screwed up. So I stayed as "George Washington" in Prague for a few nights and drank a lot of pivo. On the morning I was supposed to leave, a strange Czech woman woke me up. She was the person in charge of cleaning rooms and I had overslept passed my check out time. I was mostly naked and scrambled to get my belongings together while this woman yelled at me in Czech. I pulled all my films together and stuffed them in my bag, but, sadly, I lost the roll with the films of Skagen.
Fortunately, years later, Jarrod - the friend who was with me in Skagen - posted some of his photos on his website. And I was able to steal one for this post. If you look you can see it looks like your typical city on the Baltic coast, and wouldn't be out of place as an Estonian village on the Baltic Sea.