CAVEAT: This post has about 200 more words than usual. If on Ngong or Mombasa road, read in traffic.
Karen Blixen had a dresser. She – the dresser – is a solemn, ruttish, melancholic, dark brown mahogany piece that conscientiously sits and watches you stare at it. She is quaint in a very sexy way. Lounging a few steps away from Karen’s small bed, it is the solid piece that gives her soulful boudoir character -a rhythm, a glimpse, a tale – of what Karen might have been like. She brought it to Kenya from Denmark in 1914 when she moved in to marry her second cousin Baron Blixen. Those days, incest was like post graduate courses these days- encouraged. There was no baggage limit on your luggage so you brought everything. They sailed around for days holding those ‘masaku-sevens-like’ revelries in the lower decks. Remember Titanic?
The Karen Blixen Museum radiates love melancholia. The feeling you have being here is the same you get when you listen to Michael Buble’s ‘At this moment’. (Violin anyone?) Like you should sit on the little dresser stool, look in to the mirror Karen looked at and apply red lipstick, wear pearls and gloves, stare at the stars over the Ngong hills, close your eyes and paint something. I look at her longingly; I want to be friends with this dresser. It has a pull- a charismatic, charming, enigmatic feel- that makes me want to take it out to the porch, serve it red wine and ask it about Karen secrets.
This is where she cried when she found out she had contracted syphilis from her husband a century ago.
This is where she made up her face as she anticipated the arrival of her lover, her kindred spirit Denys Finch Hatton who flew her in his biplane Gipsy Moth.
This is where she prepared herself when the Prince of Wales passed by and had dinner in her house.
At this dresser, she had her moments of introspection on the cryptic scandals of her husband’s sexual promiscuity with the happy valley set who like the wolf of WallStreet, walked the plank. (Please Google this folks)
I look at her imploring her for secrets. She stares back, notoriously leak proof.
As I walked into her bathroom, I remember stopping at the entrance afraid that I was invading her privacy. What if I found her husband’s -the Baron- loin clothes hanged in there? Would they be made of lion skin or cotton? He was a hunter of women and animals, no? So I imagined his boxers would probably have loose elastic on the waistband from constant removal. Then I remembered they’d been divorced and so I entered, albeit gutless. What if I found Karen’s small flowery footnote details that enshrouded her petite fleur? Would I have touched her before she was ready to open up? Would I have known too much? I walked in. There were no undergarments. I walked out with a small twinge of disappointment. Okay, a huge twinge of disappointment.
I leave the bathroom to the terrace outside.
Karen painted with colour and words. Her painting of her pal Njeri, hangs at the front porch of her house beautifully Jitterbug. Like Njeri would leap out and start plaiting my hair like I imagine she did to Karen back in the 1914’s. They probably sat out there and giggled about the hunky lanky Somalis in Karen’s 6000ha of farmland as Baron went about hunting game and women. She reminded me of my high school cube-mate Njeri. Karen’s books feel like Jazz. You’ve read or at least watched the movie ‘Out of Africa’.
The lady’s petite frame juxtaposed her bulky persona of a non-conformist, artsy and ridiculously poignant romantic. She described Kenya as paradisaical in the first months of her marriage until she contracted syphilis in her first year of marriage, after which her marriage went to the dogs. I don’t blame her. If a guy gave me syphilis, I would have his nuts for breakfast, in thin strips, grilled and with extra pepper.
See Karen’s love life was a tad bit forlorn. In her book, ‘Out Of Africa’ she describes grimly how people she loved died or left. But at one point in her book, her words jump with perkiness when she meets her lover Denys Finch Hatton who charms the hairs off her skin, the beats out of her heart and melancholia out of her soul. Finch must have had to be entirely magnetic and fascinating on top of being pilot and hunter, to capture an artistic mind like Karen’s. And those are rare. They just don’t make like those anymore. That charm, that true seduction done disappeared with Maziwa ya nyayo.
What with men’s capacity as lovers being used to judge machismo and masculinity?
So men’s confidence slowly slinks away. You’ll find them prowling chemists online and in dark alleys for the blue pill way before they lose the wetness behind their ears. The modern man will not even give you time to know him beyond his face before he reaches out to kiss the back of your hand or whisper vulgarities in your ears or worse grossly lick them (throws up). It’s easier for them to throw their money around you than to sit and mollycoddle you, charm you until you blush your dark cheeks purple. Men are no longer described as alluring, besotting, and enigmatically charming. Now it’s just hot or rich.
But once in a while, you’ll meet a Denys Finch Hatton. A charmer. It’s not in his clothes, his walk or his German machine. He’s not a drop dead hunk or the tallest guy but he will occupy a room by his stance and he will command attention by his firm handshake. Women don’t giggle at him; they look up to his face and stare at his commanding presence.
Men stare too, but at the women who are staring at him and will sneer at the obliviousness of his power. He will help you out of your car and will stare in to your eyes when you go on and on about things he doesn’t care about. Like he wants to peak into your essence and read straight from your manuscript. He will take you for dinner and not for nyam chom with his beer buddies. When he flatters you, you’ll enjoy hearing about yourself. (Him: your mouth is so alluring. And your upper lip pouts like you suckled too long as a baby). You won’t sleep that day he coins a special name just for you. He will open your doors and ask you to walk in the sunset with him. He will not jump you. He will make you wait and ache to be touched. And not in a sexual way. You’ll wonder how it’d feel to have cool strength of his fingers against your skin as he interlaces your fingers when you walk in the evening breeze. When he finally does, you’ll obsess over the coolness of his hand for weeks and the feeling of being owned when he held your hand.
This one is rare to come by. Certain scents will remind you of him and your loins will mellow down to your core. Years after dating, you will look at him as he frowns at a newspaper, magazine or TV and you’ll wonder how lucky you are that you get to lie on those shoulders. He will not even know you crave for his hugs and that you secretly only want to hold him as he sleeps. He is totally oblivious of his flat bum and the fact that it actually is sexy.
My recent experiences have been mostly dandy or boring. Boring is bad. All except this one date when I almost got drowned in saliva by one of those pensive, overly nice chaps that I realize bribe you with their congeniality to veil their eminently epic bad kisses. This is how you know they don’t know zilch of the ‘liplock-sity’ biology. If he keeps his lower lip sagging like it’s an extra appendage. If he has cracked lips that resemble the Chelbi desert in summer. If he never has the cajones to actually order something different from you on the menu and actually talk about what he picked. If they say things like “when romancing her” or “nikamsex”. (Damn it – such people should go play in traffic).
Karen found her Charmer in Denys Finch and in a letter to her brother she says, “to love the ground he walks upon, to be happy beyond words when he is here, and to suffer worse than death many times when he leaves.” Folks, this lady walked as the crow flies before and after Denys Finch which is to say, she loved herself first. More than anyone else loved her. She loved art, her words, her land, her men and her space. She gave herself time to heal and breath. After all, it is easier to scratch the ass than the heart, no? And all that was left of her was her dresser. A mute, hard art that charmed its way to Africa like Karen’s house charmed me one Wednesday afternoon. Its walls reflected love and words. Words whose sheer seductive power is grossly underrated.