Karen Blixen Museum

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December, 2015

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“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills” – if you recognize this sentence you’ve probably either watched Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa or read the book, as this is the opening line of both. We visited the home of the author, Karen Blixen, whilst staying in Nairobi.

We arrived at the “museum”:https://www.museums.or.ke/ at 9.15am on Boxing Day and had the place to ourselves. Amos was our guide and sat on the front lawns where he told us all about Karen. She was Danish and having married her second cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke she moved to Kenya (at the time, part of British East Africa). They originally raised cattle but later acquired more acres and began a coffee plantation. Her marriage was not a happy one and after a separation, she met Denys Finch Hatton who became her lover and who was subsequently killed when his bi-plane crashed. There was no mention of the syphilis she contracted from Bror early in her marriage.

We moved on to the history of the house before being taken round the single storey building surrounded by a pillared verandah with the iconic view of the Ngong Hills (which have four humps and are said to be like the knuckles on a hand).

Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photographs in the house. Both Bror and Karen had separate studies and bedrooms and in Karen’s there were hunting outfits used in the film. A number of these rooms had rather threadbare lion and tiger skin rugs – a relic from their hunting days. All these rooms had cedar wood parquet style floors. There were a number of original paintings by Karen who originally studied art. In the bathroom, complete with tin bath, there had originally had a door straight out into the garden so water could be delivered directly to it without going through the house. Apparently Karen was a fastidious time keeper and we were shown three clocks: one a cuckoo clock which I remember from the book, both fascinated and frightened the local small children who hid behind a door waiting for the cuckoo to emerge. The dining room was the largest room in the house and the laid table contained the menu from a dinner Karen had held for a visiting Prince Edward: it appeared to have been a long and gastronomic feast. Two guest bedrooms were off limits with one being used for storage and the other as an administrative office.

Back outside, we crossed the lawn to look at old farming implements including a tractor with metal tyres before being taken through trees into a wooden area where we found a large, rusty machine which roasted the coffee. Part of this was made by Bamfords in Utoxeter.

In fact most of the furniture had been imported from other countries: only one wooden dresser had been made in Africa. The kitchen was separated from the main house, because of the smoke from the oven fire.

Our visit took around an hour and we finished it with a look around the gift shop which had her 9 books in various languages, DVDs and other Kenyan souvenirs. Having left, I was pleased to find that I still had Out of Africa on my Kindle: the DVD is on order from Amazon!

Helen Jackson

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