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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Believing in #Blixen. By John von Daler

                          We are in #Brahms country, Baden-Baden to be exact. This being Karen #Blixen, one would suppose that the many roads through this landscape would be posted with signs reading, Symbols Ahead! or Watch Out: Falling Metaphors!, but alas we are on our own and must negotiate these byways without help.

                Do not suppose that I am taking you on a great, long trip. You must, please, do this on your own. But I want to mention The Invincible Slaveowners, two sisters who spend the resort "season" every year being either slave or master for each other - and loving their roles, by the way.
                I mention this role-playing because I have been ruminating on my family, specifically my father's sister who lived in Denmark in south Jutland, Karen Blixen country if there ever was. Here you will find great flat marshlands that occasionally are covered by enormous floodwaters when the fickle dikes give way. This northern German/southern Danish territory, once a troublespot for Charlemagne, is the scene of one of Blixen's greatest and most important stories, The Deluge at Norderney. In this story she puts in place once and for all her all-important theory that people should be known by the roles they play more than by their actual social status: "Not by the face shall the man be known, but by the mask".
                What does this have to do with my aunt? Well, like the sisters in Blixen's story, she had a slave. Her son lived with a woman who had the energy of five fleas and the heart of a born samaritan, one of the very good ones. She bought my aunt's food, made it, and washed up afterwards, all the while conversing with the old lady about anything and nothing.
                She was a little, round woman, Anne-Marie, my cousin's partner. She wore wooden shoes and aprons and could not sit still. I remember as a teenager sitting at her table in Jutland on my first trip to Denmark, staring at a piece of fried eel that scared me half to death, knowing that I was going to have to eat it. She clomped around buttering bread, filling glasses, cleaning up unsightly crumbs and following explicitly the many orders my aunt gave her. How thankful I was when her pudgy little hand swooped in and carried away that half-eaten reptile on my plate.
                Anyone who did not know the two ladies would have thought that they were sisters or best friends or good neighbors. I think my aunt's life would have been empty without her.
                Still, when I in private would mention her almost daughter-in-law, she always answered tersely, "Anne-Marie is a cow."

                It was only later when I got to read Karen Blixen that I started to wish for my aunt that she and Anne-Marie some fine summer could switch roles, so that my aunt for once could do the bustling. I think the world might have become a slightly better place if Brahms and Baden-Baden and Blixen in this way had had their way. Often I believe in art more than I believe in life.

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