When spring comes, American author George Blecher packs his suitcase in New York and flies to a small homestead in southern Zealand. He has done this every year for 25 years, because, as he says, it was important to find his home.
Locally known as the American who grows roses
For him the little half-timbered house at the top of the hill is a home. In his latest book, ‘Alene i Danmark’, Blecher investigates what it’s like to put down roots in a new place, and thus also how to become part of Danish society.
After the long flight from New York to Copenhagen, it takes more than an hour by car to reach the house, where Blecher is waiting with a big smile and rose shears in hand. Blecher is a retired literary professor and writer, and right now he is tending to his long-time passion for roses. Along the walls of the house, a variety of roses grow with names such as ‘Königin von Dänemark’, ‘Maigold’ and ‘Rosa alba Semiplena’, and they must be cut and looked after.
There’s a huge difference between his homes in the United States and in Denmark, explains Blecher.
“In New York I feel like I’m living in the absolute present: a present that is constantly changing,” he said. “It’s the opposite here in Denmark. I live in a half-timbered house 300 years old. The contrast couldn’t be bigger, and for me the difference is really very welcome.”
As one marriage failed, ‘another’ bloomed
It was a marriage to a Danish woman that led to the cottage in south Zealand. But after the marriage broke down, the relationship with the house grew, and not least the rose garden, which gives him a sense of meaning.
In ‘Alene i Danmark’, George writes about his search for his family’s history and its roots, both in eastern Europe and in Manhattan, and about finding a home on a deeper level. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard claimed that all human-being carry a notion of an ideal home that they search for their whole lives. According to Bachelard, it’s not just a feeling but a real place that one feels connected to.
“Before I came to the house, there were several places where I felt at home, but it is only here where I both feel connected with something from my own history and the history of the house – like a pearl on a string that extends far back in time,” he explained.
“Feeling at home in Denmark makes no sense, because my ancestors didn’t live here, but this is still where I experience a sense of belonging.”
Half a century of change
Things have changed a lot in Denmark since Blecher first visited the country over 50 years ago.
“When I first came to Denmark in the ’60s, people were very open and welcoming, and they expected everyone else to be as sweet and friendly and relaxed as they were. In that sense, Denmark was an ideal home to come to,” he recalled.
“Since then, the Danes have become less innocent, more part of the larger world, and perhaps that had to happen. But in those early days I saw in Denmark some of the best qualities that human beings can have. I wanted to hold onto that.”
Not completely alone
Blecher’s Danish home is in a very small village with originally only 13 original land holdings. The annual summer party is a central event in the community, and one year something happened that made the American villager very happy.
“The village’s annual town party is the central social gathering of the year. We sing old songs and for many years one of the residents held a charming speech describing all the events, big and small – especially the small that had occurred during the year,” reminisced Blecher.
“One year I appeared in his speech. He said something like: ‘Anders still has his bees, Dorte has taken up jogging and has lost a few kilos, and the American is still growing his roses.'”
Blecher remembers feeling immensely touched.
“In a big city like New York, you often feel anonymous, and when you are young, anonymity is a kind of freedom. But I’ve come to love the feeling of having a special role – a particular identity – in this small village,” he said.
“In New York, I eat breakfast every morning in the same diner. They know me and I feel comfortable and recognised. It’s the closest I get in New York to what I have in my village here.”