COUNTRY OF PROVENANCE
Andrea and Giuliana have been living in quarantine for a while, a Parkinson’s has put them in front of a new life, keeping their promise “in health and sickness”.
Hygge or happiness in Denmark
Travelling this summer has been strange. After so many months locked inside the house and so many canceled trips, we wondered what we could be doing in the summer. We had Luca’s parents’ camper available – you can read the story of the camper here – but going around the Italian beaches didn’t seem like the best, we feared crowds and hellish heat. We opted for a very lonely Nordic route and without big plans we headed for Switzerland. I miss human contact very much! Apart from some longtime friends we met along the way, we couldn’t make friends with the locals… social distancing “docet”.
From Switzerland we crossed the south of Germany, then France, Belgium and Luxembourg to arrive at friends’ home in the Netherlands. We instinctively made a detour to Hamburg and Lübeck and the natural continuation of that itinerary seemed to us to be Denmark. The beauty of traveling “on the road” is that you can stop anywhere and my travel philosophy is precisely the absence of programs: “let’s see where the road takes us”.
So it was also in the last few months in which we explored a few words with Massimo (see the #Parole series – available only in Italian) as in a journey where the destination does not matter so much. Indeed, maybe we don’t have the destination, but we enjoy the path, the unfolding of the road and thought with only a few points fixed first, such as circles on the map or pinpoints on Googlemaps in this or that place, but maybe we don’t even go through them because the road, the curiosity, the intuition, they take us somewhere else.
Well, this trip took us all the way to Denmark which we interpreted as our final destination before taking the road back. We entered with some concern because they migh not let us cross the border – we needed 6 nights booked somewhere – but the policeman at the border smiled at us and let us pass after ritual questions related to the coronavirus.
How strange to see borders in Europe … I have traveled far and wide and Europe is my home, I am part of the “Erasmus generation” and from 18 onwards Europe has always meant freedom of movement and expression for me … see a “customs” makes me impression! Despite all our differences, we are part of an indispensable political experiment, of this I am increasingly sure over the years. I am not saying that it is easy, but I truly believe that we can live in peace with respect for everyone and that our level of well-being largely depends on what we call the European Union.
Upon entering Denmark, we stopped in the first historic town, Ribe, not far from the border with Germany and walking through the narrow streets and traditional houses, a word I had forgotten resounded in my head: hygge. So I went back to the journey in the word “Happiness”, happiness as an explosive emotion with joy, but also as a search for well-being and serenity, like having something of oneself to offer to the world.
Hygge, a form of happiness
Hygge is pronounced in Danish “hugga” – which brings me back to “hug” in English, but I don’t know if they are related – and literally translates to “warmth, intimacy”. Walking through Ribe or in any Danish town, the windows of the houses facing the street have no curtains. In many cities in northern Europe it is like this and I always thought it was linked to letting as much light into the house as possible given the months of winter darkness. When I lived in the north, I always got some dark and heavy curtains to put at least in the bedroom!
Reflecting on the word Hygge and looking at the windows of the houses, I realized that in the majority near the windowsills there are candles, figurines, cute objects on display – they are also seen when traveling in larger streets at a certain speed – and that the houses inside are furnished in an accurate and cozy way. Those windows on the street that leave a glimpse of the intimacy of a family or a person seemed like an invitation to me: “Come in! Feel welcomed, there is space here! “.
For the Danes, Hygge means creating a welcoming atmosphere and enjoying the beauty of life with the people you care about the most. The light of a lit candle is hygge, having a picnic in the middle of a lawn is hygge, chatting about big and small things with friends is hygge. Perhaps also for this reason, in 2017 the Danes were declared by an international study as the happiest people in the world. The rankings make no difference, but it was enough for me to walk through the narrow streets of Ribe or the meadows of the islet of Mandø, to understand that love and care for beauty is everywhere, the world is hygge.
Hygge comes from ancient Norse where it had a meaning similar to “well-being”. The Danes use it continuously in their daily life and, although they will certainly have their problems and limitations too, this hygge destination has allowed me to find some of that tranquility that is not really my life partner, to spend some hours in a meadow doing nothing, to receive the smiles and cheerfulness of such blond people (always at a safe distance eh! we have not forgotten the covid), to look at the care of the gardens and the streets, the respect for the public good almost with envy.
I also discovered that Denmark is very yellow: I imagined it green in the summer, like Norway or Sweden, but instead it is a very agricultural country and everywhere there are fields of cereals, tractors, grazing animals and often the smell of manure. Then there are many beaches: a 7300 km long coastline! I saw seals, dolphins, and in the groves before the beaches even some fawns!
For me, yellow is the color of possibility, of happiness, of children’s games. Maybe I needed the yellow of Denmark to recharge the batteries a little and to give new weight to the simplicity of small things and the well-being that comes with it, a confirmation of what was appreciated during the lockdown. Sometimes you need to go far to get closer.