My favourite stretch of road in Denmark leads to the Karen Blixen museum at Rungstedlund. (Or Isak Dienesen if you know her under her pseudonym.) I drive with woods on one side and the Baltic Sea on the other, past apartments and beautiful houses with sweeping vistas. Every time I think how incredible it would be to look out to those views and write. I sit by the water and watch people come down from their houses in their swimming clothes and dressing gowns, dog on a lead beside them, for a quick dip in the sea.
I remember one winter in the early/mid 1980s when the sea froze and people walked to Sweden. I remember driving up there with my parents and my great-grandmother, along with what seemed like everyone else in greater Copenhagen, just to see if it was true.
The museum is currently hosting a small special exhibit about Blixen’s short story Babette’s Feast and its Oscar winning screen adaptation. Babette is a Parisienne, formerly head chef at the exclusive Café Anglais, who flees Paris after the reprisals following the Paris Commune in 1871. Herself a Communard, both her husband and son were shot by the army. Karen Blixen was inspired by her father’s first-hand accounts of the Paris Commune and its aftermath, and also by the accounts of Victory Hugo. I’ve never read the story. Actually I’ve never read anything by Karen Blixen, because in my youthful socialist passion she appeared to me as the epitome of the Danish upper class. But I think I will change that this summer. I learned yesterday that she did not publish her first book until she was 49, so perhaps there is hope for me yet. Which writer wouldn’t want their own museum?
But I always loved the film Babette’s Feast. For it’s bleakness. For it’s sense of exile. For the feast itself, whose power none of the characters are immune to. But especially for its sense that every artist carries a power within them that cannot fade, no matter what life may bring.