Kittie Howard

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Water Mill in Skovmollen, Denmark

A centuries-old water mill in Skovmolken, Denmark, captures my imagination this morning. This is good. Since my next Remarkable Person comes from Egypt, I am at least across the Atlantic Ocean. Just need to get further south, to another continent. This will happen. In the meantime, the water wheel soothes perplexed thoughts about greed. Not the pinch-another-cookie-type greed. I'm talking about Wall Street, gold Rolex, private airplane greed. The kind of greed that puckers the mouth like a tart lemon.

First, though, the water wheel. Last summer, my husband and I visited Danish friends in Aarhus, Denmark, the country's principal port, second largest city, and unofficial capital of Jutland, the peninsula that winks at Norway. (With archaeological evidence dating back to 770 A.D., Aarhus, now with a population around one million, may be one of Scandanavia's oldest cities.)

Among our many outings, our hosts took us to Skovmollen, a brief ride through the lush countryside from historic Aarhus. After a delicious meal in a restored building, we sat outside on benches and enjoyed the conversation that flowed from relaxed camaraderie.

The Danish water mill, attached to the left of the single-story restaurant, filled much of the conversation (see photo, right). Earlier, we had looked inside the cross-beamed enclosure, first mentioned in writing in 1570, and marveled at how the infrastructure still functioned. Granted, there had been improvements and changes through the centuries. But the historical integrity of the mill and the restaurant remained. And the nearby stream flowed clear and fresh over rocks that dotted the water's bed. And a simple path opened into the small forest that hugged the stream's far bank.

I also thought about another bench setting, several years earlier, in Copenhagen, an international city with a considerable port and shipping infrastructure. But, unlike most port cities, the scarred underbelly that can blight a city's beauty had been muted. The owner of one of the world's major shipping companies, a Dane, had turned what had been a port's rough fringe into a park.

This Dane, who had owned the land, had then turned the park over to the city of Copenhagen. Benches now lined the generous sidewalk that hugged the water. While kids rode bicycles or couples strolled or young mothers pushed carriages, in the far, far distance, the multi-tiered ferry to Oslo prepared to depart. Thanks to this Danish philanthropist (and one of the world's richest men) the port's functionality remained while everyone's quality of life expanded.

Now, let's fast-forward to yesterday, when my friend Judy and I visited nearby Washington, D.C.'s National Geographic building and the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibition. Yes, the exhibition thrilled. The size: horses weighed 700 pounds; warriors weighed between 350 and 400 pounds. Workmanship hadn't overlooked the smallest detail: intricate indentations on an archer's foot covering; breast plate tile designs; elaborate hair top knots.

Judy and I left the Exhibition enthused. We wanted to talk about what we had seen. We wanted to share the exhilaration that knowledge brings. But there was no bench outside. So, with no place to sit, we kept walking, skipping the over-priced Downtown haunts (Republicans eat Here; Democrats eat There) for McDonald's, of all places, and a decent coffee and questionable nibbles. Nevermind. Any port in the bench-less storm.

So, why is there a lack of benches? Washington, D.C. is probably one of the world's most beautiful cities. Monuments truly stand in majestic glory. We Americans are proud of our many achievements. Sixth graders in Montana can identify photos of the Washington Monument. But, short blocks away from these expected, recognizable monuments are just as recognizable streets -- Massachusetts Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Connecticut Avenue -- that lack benches. Why? Because Washington, D.C. has a homeless problem. The homeless sleep on benches.

And in churches. After our McDonald's stop and en route to the Metro, Judy saw that the double front doors to one of the older churches were open. We decided to look inside and were awed by the domed ceiling, marbled side altars, and impressive stained glass. While a worker vacuumed the deep red carpet, two worshippers knelt in prayer, and four of the city's homeless just existed, scattered among the pews, lost in their day-to-day world of black bags, murmurings, and empty eyes.

That evening I wondered where these homeless now slept. Washington, D.C. maintains shelters. Significant out-reach programs exist. Still, shelters fill. Programs don't always reach everyone. And it bothered me that both homeless and visitor lacked a bench. Not that benches should be homes for the homeless. No, no. The public enjoys certain rights...but, if there's no bench, is there a larger problem?

I'm not so naive as to think the homeless problem is completely solvable. But I'm old enough to understand that problems have solutions. I'm old enough to remember another era when people worked together for the common good; when Republicans didn't eat Here and Democrats didn't eat There; when the United States didn't summarily invade another country; when all Americans felt a sense of duty and sacrifice; when the lesser moral gave way to the greater moral; when greed was a dirty word.

So, I opened one of the lovely blogs I follow, A Taste of Denmark (see Blogs I Follow), and returned to the January 15th post: Skovmollen, Moesgard, Aarhus. Ahhh, there was the bench my husband and I had sat on.

And, then, I remembered (again) one of my favorite quips: Athatha Christie once said of her anthropologist husband that the older she got the more he became interested in her. What Dame Agatha meant was that the past held valuable information that enriched the present.

Appreciating the past is good. Remembering is good. I wish those who constantly try to pull down President Obama would remember that internal discord ravaged the Qin Dynasty, the era that produced the Terra Cotta Warriors. I wish that these obstructionists -- the politicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, Republican tea-baggers, and Wall Street elite -- would realize that President Obama wants to sit with them on a bench where the coversation centers on what's good for our country. The good that could come from such a positive conversation would benefit you, me, and the homeless.

Like the water mill in Skovmollen, we can preserve the nobility of went before us without limiting the future.

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