That Grizzled Fig

I don’t think my wife reads this blog. Or if she does, not very often. Last week, however, she clearly took a peek, for on Saturday morning, at breakfast, she came forth with the following question:
‘Were you ever invited to Maria von Küppelberg’s?’
My answer was succinct. ‘Yes,’ I said: ‘Once’.
‘Can you elaborate?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, scooping a spoonful of scrambled egg into my mouth. ‘I don’t know’.

Can I elaborate? The truth is, Maria von Küppelberg was past her prime by the time I met her. In the seventies young literary sorts would do anything to bag an invite to one of her ‘evenings’. By the mid-eighties, however, she was considered – how can I say it? – a little ‘stuffy’. It was in 1981, I think, that a certain Hungarian poet described her as ‘that grizzled fig’. So far as her physical attributes went, this was on the mark. As for her mind: I confess, that too was fading. By her death, in 1989, she was (according to the same poet) ‘as sharp as a squirrel’s tail’.

As far as our meeting went, there is very little to report. I neither impressed nor insulted the famous hostess. I was never invited back, granted, but then I did leave the city soon after. In any case, I’m pretty certain I did not embarrass myself.

I do regret, of course, that I never visited the woman in her prime. Or, to be exact, that I never visited her house at its prime. For one went to the von Küppelberg’s as much for other people as for Maria herself – much as one goes to The Crippled Bee for the excellent company – and not for that strange potion they serve at this time of the year (I don’t know what it is, but it certainly isn’t mulled wine).

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