Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Chuck Has Movie Fever - Out of Africa




While Chuck, my rascal cat, and I were on safari in Africa, I couldn’t resist visiting the house where Karen Blixen, known for her fab auto-biography Out of Africa lived in Nairobi.  I enjoy paying tribute to favorite authors by seeing where they used to live or seeing the landscapes that inspired them.  

Over the years I’ve been to Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's house in Salem, Massachusetts, and I’ve seen the moors that inspired Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, to name a few.  And although I know that so much of writing happens inside the imagination, I scrutinize the houses and the furniture, the grounds and the landscapes, as if there’s some magic that I can imbibe and take away with me that will make me a better writer.

This time I was inspired by the movie–Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, which had been based on part of Karen Blixen's life. As a young woman, she'd  came to Africa to marry a Baron, but had ended up also falling in love with a big game hunter, starting a coffee plantation that failed, and when her lover was killed tragically in a plane crash, returning to Norway, where she took the pen name Isak Dinesen.


Movie poster for Out of Africa courtesy of Wikipedia


I wanted to see this woman’s house.  I wanted to walk in her back yard.  I wanted to imagine myself living there–and yeah, I can hear what you’re thinking–as if I were the star of that Hollywood movie.

And you're absolutely right.

Her life was both grand and tragic.  I suspect that it was the years she lived in Africa that influenced her to write great literature.  Once she left Nairobi, she never went back, but Africa was never far from her thoughts.

When I first read her memoir, Out of Africa, published in 1937,  I was awe struck by her opening line, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” Back then I tried to imagine those hills in the distance and how it would feel to gaze on their majesty everyday.

In Nairobi, when I stood in Karen Blixen’s back yard, I gazed into the distance and stared at those hills, hardly believing I was actually there.




I imagined that no matter what had happened to her when she lived in that house–the death of her lover, the destruction of her coffee plantation, the news that she’d contracted a near deadly disease (syphyllis)–all stuff of great drama, the hills remained a constant for her.

In truth, she’d written that she loved those hills and she was heard to say that if people could move mountains, those were the ones she would have taken with her back to Norway.

I love knowing that and knowing that I was there.

Today Karen Blixen’s house is a tourist stop, and you can see why when you walk through the rooms, decorated with a combination of original period furniture and props used from the movie that were donated to the house. Oh, she was a pretty fair writer, too. 

You can’t walk through the house unescorted, which is problematic for me because the tour goes much too fast.   I can’t absorb my surroundings that quickly, and I like to look at everything and imagine myself in each room, imagine how her day would have been, and then how I would live each day in each room.  So I’m always the laggard on every tour.

And then, there’s my rascal cat Chuck.

He’s stuffed inside my smart bag, itching to poke his whiskered face out and get a peek.  All he wants is to be let loose so he can sniff around.

When the house tour is concluded, people are free to wander around the back yard.  When the crowds thin out, I finally allow Chuck out of the smart bag, and at first he sniffs around, more sedate than usual, until he discovers the arbor along the side of the house.  Shady, stone-terraced and dripping with beautiful flowers, it’s perfect for Chuck.  He can’t resist munching on some of the grasses nearby.






Of course, this house and the hills mean nothing to Chuck and everything to me. I manage to scoop him up, seconds before the gift shop woman emerges just to make sure everything is okay.

As I walk away, I think of my first book Wild Point Island recently published. It’s too late to add Ngong Hills to the background, but then I wonder if someday some young author won’t pilgrimage to my house . . . and bring their rascal cat along.

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