Monday, October 01, 2007

Ian Fleming in Macao

In 1959 Fleming took a trip around the world visiting key cities and reporting about them to the Sunday Times. A compilation of these articles was published in book form in 1964 under the title of Thrilling Cities, the same year as his death. Cities traveled included: Hong Kong, Macau, Tokyo, Honolulu, L.A., Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Geneva, Naples, and Monte Carlo. In lieu of my own budget, I plan on posting on Fleming's trip vicariously, starting with Macao. The following is Fleming's trip to the Central Hotel, which he describes as a nine-story skyscraper which isn't exactly a hotel. It is devoted to human vices. And the "higher up the building, the largest in Macau, the more beautiful and expensive are the girls, the higher the stakes at the gambling tables, and the better the music." In the excerpt, Fleming has just described the rules and ambiance of playing fan-tan at this din of sin.

Having educated ourselves in these matters [gambling], Dick Hughes and I repaired to our sixth-floor dance hall to see how Mr. Foo was handling the second human vice. The place had a central, well-lit dance floor and a well-disciplined eight-piece “combo” playing good but conventional jazz. In the shadows round the walls sat some twenty or thirty “hostesses.” Dick Hughes and I arranged ourselves at a comfortable banquette in the sparsely frequented room and ordered gins and tonics and two hostesses. Mine was called Garbo, “same like film star,” she explained. She wore a pale-green embroidered cheongsam and a “Mamie Eisenhower” bang rather low on the forehead. She had the usual immaculate ivory skin and the conventional “almond” eyes, which were bright with intelligence and a desire to please. Rather startlingly, she appeared to have black lipstick, but as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, this turned crimson. Dick’s girl was a trifle older, perhaps thirty-five, wore a beige cheongsam, and was more forward and vivacious than Garbo. They asked for lemonades, and for a while we made the usual rattling, gay, and highly artificial night-club conversation. When, in my case, the springs threatened to run dry, I fell back on the hoary gambit of reading my partner’s hand.

Through experience in this science, dating back to my teens, I have acquired a crude expertise in palmistry, and with my first pronouncement that Garbo had three children, I hit a lucky jackpot. The two girls chattered excitedly and, realizing with awe that her hand was being held by a great soothsayer from the West, perspiration rose in Garbo’s palm and she was hard put to it to keep this dew at bay with a paper napkin. In the reverent hush that ensued, looking alternately into the dewy palm and the reverent almond eyes, I solemnly warned her that her heart was not ruled by her head, that she had artistic leanings which had not yet come to fruition, that she would have a serious illness when she was about fifty, and finally, provocatively, that she was inclined to be under-sexed. This last pronouncement was greeted with much hilarious protestation which drew two more girls to our table and involved me in a further hour of miscellaneous prognostication and consumption of gins and tonics.

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