Monday, September 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 28 (Isak Dinesen)

Out of Africa
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Dinesen, Isak
Out of Africa

This book belongs to Lori. I don't know where she got it. I have never read it. Neither have I seen the film. I am pretty sure I knew there was a film before I knew their was a book, as I was 17 when the film was released and not very much into books. I was in my final semester of high school, limping to the end. I hated school so much that I could barely drag myself out of bed each morning for the long car ride into the city with my father.

I think I failed a couple of classes in the winter quarter and so was in danger of not graduating at all. I remember meetings with counselors and teachers. By the time final exams arrived I had to go speak with each teacher to find out the minimum grade I needed to achieve on the exam in order to graduate. The real danger, as I recall, was a psychology course I was taking with a very demanding teacher. I think he later became the headmaster of the school. In order to get a D- in the course I was going to have to get a minimum grade of a B- on the exam. I was in his office every day asking for my grade. I found out I had passed about two days before graduation.

On the eve of that event, the school held a baccalaureate mass, followed by a reception in the school gym. The dean of discipline (don't you love the Jesuits?), Mr. Dempsey, in whose office I had spent quite a lot of my time, approached and asked, "So, Mike, are you getting the old blank check tomorrow?" He meant an unsigned diploma, signifying I wasn't graduating until after summer school.

"No, I spoke to Mr. C and he said I passed."

"Are you sure? Well, I'll be giving out the diplomas at the ceremony. I'll give you the signal when I open yours to let you know if it is signed."

I guess it was his little form of payback for all the trouble I caused as a student. I spent the entire graduation ceremony staring at him. When they finally got to my name, he opened up the book and stared out at me. I winked and smiled and he started laughing up there on the altar in front of all everyone. It was pretty funny, but a little cruel.

from Out of Africa

After leaving Denmark, where in December there are only seven hours of daylight, arriving in Africa has the effect of a bright light switched on when you have been asleep in the dark. You cannot get used to the glare. You would like to appreciate the fruity, flower-laden aroma of the coastal forest, and to rejoice in the chanting of the porters as they unload the ship--large bundles on top of turbaned heads, brown legs in loincloths wading from the log canoes to the beach. You would like to stare up at the baobabs, the elephants of the tree world, and wonder why they have been planted, as it appears, upside down. You would like to touch the brown shining-eyed children and ask their names, and to peer inside the stuccoed buildings lining the tunnel-like streets. You would like to know how this Muslim colony came to be here, and why a great coral fort rises over the entrance to the town. You would like to think about the slave and ivory trade that has passed through Mombasa port, and the coffee, sisal, and tea being shipped to England and points abroad from this small tropical island, joined by a bridge to the African mainland. But it is so bright that you only wish to get away, anywhere, out of the sun.

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