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Gentle and Ecstatic, with Fingernails

The cousin was a pensive girl with red-brown eyes, she could read Arabic and knew passages of the Koran by heart. She was of a theological turn of mind, and we had many religious discussions and talks about the wonders of the world. From her I learned the true paraphrase of the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. She would admit Jesus Christ to have been born of a virgin, but not as the son of God, for God could have no sons in the flesh. Mariammo, who was the loveliest of maidens, had been walking in the garden, and a great angel, sent by the Lord, with his wingfeather had touched her shoulder, from this she conceived. In the course of our debates I one day showed her a picture postcard of Thorvaldsen’s statue of Christ, in the Cathedral of Copenhagen. Upon that she fell in love, in a gentle and ecstatic way, with the Saviour. She could never hear enough about him, she sighed and changed colour as I narrated. About Judas she was much concerned,—what sort of man was he, how could there be people like that?—she herself would be only too happy to scratch out his eyes. It was a great passion, in the nature of the incense which they burned in their houses, and which, made from dark wood grown upon distant mountains, is sweet and strange to our senses.

—Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

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