on Isak Dinesen from Written Lives by Javier Marias

When she finally made her appearance at the numerous parties to which she was invited and at the public readings where she told stories entirely without the aid of notes, they discovered that she was a frail, eccentric old lady, deeply lined and with matchstick-thin arms, all dressed in black, with a turban on her head, diamonds in her ears and large amounts of kohl around her eyes. Despite this, the legend continued, albeit along more concrete lines: according to the Americans, she lived on a diet of oysters and champagne, which was not quite true, for she consumed prawns, asparagus, grapes, and tea. When Isak Dinesen expressed a desire to meet Marilyn Monroe, the novelist Carson McCullers managed to arrange this, and, at a famous lunch, the three women shared a table with Arthur Miller, the husband par excellence, who, surprised by the Baroness’s eating habits, asked which doctor had prescribed this diet of oysters and champagne. They say that America has never seen the like of the scornful look she gave him: “Doctor?” she said. “The doctors are horrified, but I love champagne and I love oysters and they do me good.” Miller went on to make some comment about protein, and it seems that the second scornful look she gave him will also never be seen again on American soil. “I am an old woman and I eat what agrees with me.” The Baroness got on much better with Marilyn Monroe.

translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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