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The Liberating Arts

By Edmund Opitz.

The recent movie called Out of Africa has acquainted millions of Americans with the name of a Danish Baroness Blixen, whose pen name was Isak Dinesen. The movie is based on Dinesen’s 1938 book, a semi-autobiographical work called Out of Africa. Four years earlier, in 1934, Isak Dinesen had published a work entitled Seven Gothic Tales, really seven short novels within the covers of a single book. One of these Gothic tales was set in the Paris of several generations ago and consisted mainly of the reminiscences of an old gentleman. There is a story within this larger story involving an Armenian organ grinder and his pet monkey. Some of you may recall seeing this type of street musician who would wander through city neighborhoods carrying, slung over his shoulder, a kind of music box the size of an accordion, a crank on its side. This contraption was set atop a pole, which supported the weight of the music machine when the man stopped to perform. The man would be dressed in a sort of gypsy costume, and as the entertainer cranked out his tunes his little capuchin monkey would pass through the crowd collecting coins, which he’d turn over to his master. This in itself was quite a stunt; but this little monkey was cleverer than most of his kind, because his master had taught him to perform a great variety of crowd-pleasing tricks, each one triggered by a word of command—in Armenian.

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