Monday, January 14, 2008

Things Left Unsaid

Probably all of us have been in situations where we felt we should have spoken out but instead remained silent. Sometimes these situations are serious, but other times we held our tongues either out of fear or to avoid inflicting or being the object of embarrassment.

One of the most potentially funny situations for me was way back in 1992. I thought at the time that I wanted to be a social studies teacher. One of the requirements for getting certified was to student teach for one semester. The school I was assigned to was West Hempstead High School.

One day, well into the semester, the Social Studies faculty for the school, along with us student teachers, had a meeting with the school librarian. The librarian wanted to fill us all in on some interesting books and resources the library had recently acquired that might be useful to the faculty and their students.

One of the books that the librarian showed to us was Eyewitness to History, which contained a number of excerpts from eyewitnesses to and participants in historical events, from Thucydides account of the plague that struck Athens in 431 BCE up to the fall of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

As the librarian gave her brief description of Eyewitness to History, it became quite clear to me that she had not actually read it, at least not in its entirety. You see, as a history buff, I had purchased a copy of the book several years earlier, and I knew there was one section of the book that no teacher or librarian would want the students to read.

When I was in junior high school, one of the required reading books for us was the Diary of Anne Frank. My readers who also read Anne Frank's diary will probably recall that the favorite parts of the book for us horny junior high school kids at the time were the brief sections where Anne Frank writes about her sexual feelings. Well, compared the Diary of Anne Frank, there was one section in Eyewitness to History that was absolutely pornographic by comparison.

One of the featured writers in Eyewitness to History was a French novelist called Gustave Flaubert. In the featured excerpt, Flaubert writes of his adventures with his travelling companion Max in a whorehouse in Egypt!

Flaubert describes one of the prostitutes: "Kuchuk Hanem is a tall, splendid creature, lighter in colouring than an Arab; she comes from Damascus; her skin, particularly on her body, is slightly coffee-coloured. When she bends, her flesh ripples into bronze ridges. Her eyes are dark and enormous. Her eyebrows black, her nostrils open and wide; heavy shoulders, full, apple-shaped breasts."

Then there is the "[a]rrival of Safiah Zugairah, a small woman with a large nose and eyes that are dark, deep-set, savage, sensual; her necklace of coins clanks like a country cart; she kisses our hands."

Then on to the business at hand: "Coup with Safiah Zugairah ('Little Sophie') - I stain the divan. She is very corrupt and writhing, extremely voluptuous. But the best was the second copulation with Kuchuk. Effect of her necklace on my teeth. Her cunt felt like rolls of velvet as she made me come. I felt like a tiger."

Part of me wanted to tell the librarian about this passage in the book, but I held back and kept it to myself. I figured it was unlikely that any of the students in the school would ever come across those passages, though if any did, I have no doubt it would have become one of the most read books in the school library.

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