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  • Sam Darling

I’m a time traveler

In America, I was an awkward child. It’s because I’m a time traveler.

Opera singers, more than many other artists, spend their entire professional lives immersed in the artistic product of people long dead. They inhabit roles created centuries ago. They’re meant to breathe life into characters from a past epoch and they’re meant to pluck at modern hearts and elicit timeless emotion. I grew up in an opera family and the music playing in the living room strayed only as far as the 1940s. More often the 1840s.

Then there was old literature. And old paintings. And old family furniture. A childhood crawling under grand pianos or in the orchestra pit at the Paris Opera.

So that was bad enough. Then, when I was six years old, we moved to a village wrapped in amber.

This was my childhood playground. Vallø Castle, Denmark.

Vallø Slot gardens

Fifty acres of gardens surround this castle and they were my backyard. I’d been raised a city girl, a child of Parisian apartments, taken to public parks for daily exercise. Suddenly, this entire wooded wonderland of moats and lakes and tree groves and enchanted fairy forests was mine to explore unencumbered by chaperones. The neighborhood children ran wild through this park. We raided the castle gardens and ate carrots pulled directly from the earth and apples directly from the trees.

Here, in winter.

Vallø sledding with Jørn

The view from the sledding hill.


This castle was begun in the 1600s and expanded over time into its current form. It was destroyed by a fire in 1893 but restored to its original splendor immediately. It is a retirement home for women of noble birth. It used to be limited to unmarried women, so naturally, many of the old ladies were former nuns who were cousins to the queen of Denmark. They’ve expanded the parameters a bit. Once a year, usually on her birthday, the queen would come to visit her cousins.


The town of Vallø is a short drive from Køpenhavn and it hasn’t changed in centuries. Each cottage in the village was meant for someone who worked for the castle ladies, such as their physician who lives at the end of the cul-de-sac. We lived in the cottage to the right 

in this photo.

Those cobble-stoned streets saw as much horse traffic as cars and I’d sit by the window in summer and listen to their clop-clop as the riders went by. No need to imagine being transported back in time. I was living it. My first day of kindergarten, the school was across the cobbled street in what is now a restaurant. A one-room schoolhouse for a handful of village children.


I studied hard to pick up Danish. There were four other children in my class. Here we are in a newspaper clipping.

1982 DK Sam news clipping

A traditional yule with live flames on the tree. Nothing modern for us.

82 Vallo house411

Here, from the inside of a car, you get a sense of the village and its diminutive nature. Charming.


When I moved to the suburbs of New York, I was teased for a number of reasons. I was awkward. I was weird. I used words like “poppycock.” I told them I’d played in castles. They called me a liar.

Time travelers often seem awkward.

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