Babette’s Feast: An Artist Is Never Poor

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.09.11 AMAfter I came back from the gallery show, I met Ken driving up at the same time as me, and since he’d already eaten dinner, I warmed up some of my 96/4 meatloaf and sat down in front of the tv to watch the rest of Babette’s Feast, a movie in Danish, taken from a famous story by Isak Dinesen, one of my favorite writers.  BTW, it was fun listening to the movie and reading the subtitles because it’s amazing how much Danish you can understand — I’d say about 25%.  Sounds sort of like the Swedish chef.

I’d already watched part of the movie and hadn’t paid much attention to it, because I’d already read the story and I sort of remembered what it was about. Babette, who has lost her husband and son in civil unrest in 19th century France, comes to the home of two elderly spinster sisters who live in an isolated village dominated by a harsh, barren shoreline in Denmark (Jutland, actually, I read on Wiki).  The sisters have devoted their lives to their widowed father, a minister in a strict religious sect.  Both of them were beautiful and talented young women who could have married well and left their father; both fell in love and were loved in return but they remained with the old minister, helping with his dwindling flock.  Babette cooks for the sisters and for the old members of the church.  They appear to eat very little except some awful breadcrumb porridge.

After 14 years, Babette receives word that she has won 10,000 francs in the lottery in France and she makes plans to spend her winnings to prepare a wondrous feast.  When the ship docks and she goes to fetch her live turtle, cage of birds, wines, and truffles the sisters fear the worst:  Babette’s feast is surely from the devil.  But the feast is marvelous beyond words and somehow heals all the old enmities between the members of the dwindling sect.  The soldier, now a retired general, who loved one of the sisters, is also a guest, and the feast seems to erase all the years that have passed.

BabettesFeast1987Babette, it seems, was once the greatest chef in Paris and the general, along with the other sister’s lover, a famous singer, were among her patrons. After the dinner, the sisters learn to their horror that Babette has spent every penny of her lottery winnings on the food, but Babette says, “An artist is never poor.”  When I heard that I put down my fork and started listening carefully; it had been years since I had read the story and I had forgotten this completely.  Babette explains that the artist’s heart cries out to give the world the very best. They embrace and the sister, who could have left her father to become a famous opera singer with the man who loved her, says, “In paradise, Babette, you will be the artist God intended you to be.”

Somehow hearing that healed something in me, the part that feels like a failure because I never made a lot of money.  In some ways I’ve been very selfish in my life;  I was willing to be poor as long as I got to be an artist, or try.  Some people might not see that as selfish, but it was, because my children suffered.  But I always tried to give the world my very best.  That is true.  I hope I don’t have to wait for paradise to be the artist God intended me to be. Maybe it is not too late for me to create my Babette’s Feast.