Hi, my name is Kate and I blog about my exotic travel experiences with my hunky husband. The blog is called Hot Blogging with Chuck and can be found on my website www.katelutter.com or on www.katelutter.blogspot.com But the only problem is . . . Chuck isn’t my husband, he’s my cat.
Few people take their cat with them when they travel. And Bob, my husband, doesn’t jump with joy to know that Chuck is coming with us, stuffed into my carry-on, all the air deflated out of him, only to be pumped up upon arrival with my portable air pump and raring to go.
But it is a reality born of necessity. Chuck was bored at home, and he was developing into a “over groomer.”
Feral and homeless, we adopted him, expecting some problems, but we didn’t expect that this cute and very adorable orange and white tabby would turn into an obsessively clean cat or that he would begin to groom the fur right off his body. In spots, of course.
The vet said Chuck was bored. He needed stimulation. Travel. Fun. Which explains what happened when the three of us flew to Nairobi to go on safari and decided to make a pit stop and pay homage to a famous writer by visiting her house.
I don’t know why I am such a fan of doing this, but 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 famous movie–Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford– based on the biography of the author, Karen Blixen, a woman who came to Africa to marry a Baron, but who 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.
I came to Karen Blixen’s house because I loved her writing, her stories, but I also loved THE STORY OF HER CAREER. Her literary career didn’t begin until 1934, when she was 49 years old, after she returned to Norway. Her first book, Seven Gothic Tales, was rejected by numerous publishers in Europe before it was published in New York and went on to receive the Book of the Month Award. Yeah! She went on to write her memoirs–her second book–which inspired the film Out of Africa. Yeah! And then she wrote a slew of other stories which eventually won her a Pulitzer Prize. Yeah!
Wouldn’t you just love that to be your story???
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.
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. You can’t walk through the house unescorted. Which is a problem 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 be, 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, tourists 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 soon to be published this year. Is it too late to add some hills in the background? Some Ngong Hills . . . Only kidding, of course, but then I wonder if someday some young author won’t pilgrimage to my house . . .
And, oh, if you, like me, enjoy paying tribute to your favorite authors by visiting where they used to live or seeing the landscapes that inspired them, a wonderful resource is a book entitled Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame, Editor Victoria Brooks, 2000.
It’s not a bad way to spend your time when you’re not writing but looking to keep inspired.
Thanks, Nathan, for allowing me to guest blog today.
P.S. I would love to hear if anyone else has ever visited a site, inspired by a movie or the locale of a favorite book or, perhaps, the homestead of a favorite author.