Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ian Fleming in Tokyo, Pt. 2

More from Thrilling Cities. This time Fleming recounts his bath and massage experience at the capable hands of a real-life Kissy:

The night before, Dick and I had consumed large quantities of raw fish in a restaurant off the Ginza, which is one of the great pleasure street of the world, and even larger quantities of sake, a heated rice-spirit to which I took rather too enthusiastically, and now, nursing something of a hang-over, I was looking forward to the healing properties of the most famous Japanese bath-house, the Tokyo Onsen. We went there after another delicious meal which included quails cooked in raw quail's egg (Mrs. Elizabeth David, please note!), and it was indeed a remarkable experience.

Many Japanese have no baths in their houses and the two or three bath-days a week at the public baths are great occasions. I can now well understand why. At the desk on the first floor of the large, rather drab, building, I paid fifteen shillings and was then taken in hand by the prettiest Japanese girl I was to see during the whole of my stay. Her name was Kissy and she was twenty-one. She had the face of a smaller, rather neater, Brigitte Bardot, with black hair in a B.B. cut. She wore nothing but the shortest and tightest of white shorts and a white brassiere.

She led me by the hand down a corridor to a small room divided in two. The ante-room contained a dressing-table laden with various oils, powders, and unguents and a chair for my clothes, which she prettily asked me to remove. It was obviously no good being demure about this, so I obeyed her, and she took my suit and brushed it and hung it up on a hanger. She then led me by the hand into the interior half of the room, where there was a large wooden box with a hole in the top - a one-man Turkish bath - into which she placed me. She then closed the top and, after some pleasant but rather stilted conversation, coquetted with her hair-do in a looking glass. After a quarter of an hour in a the very hot box, she raised the lid and helped me down on to the spotless tiled floor, and bade me sit besided a sunken blue-tiled bath on a small stool, when she proceeded to give me an energetic shampoo and scrubbed me with soap and a loofah from top to toe. Well, almost, that is. She avoided the central zone and hand me the loofah with a dimpling, "You do body." She then poured wooden pitchers of water over me to clean off the soap and guided me down the two steps in the deep, oval bath, the very hot water in which comes from natural hot springs.

Ten minutes of this and then, when she had towelled me down, I was bidden to lie on a high massage table where she proceeded to massage me thoroughly and expertly - none of that effleurage, but the really deep massage for which the Japanese are famous. I may say that any crude Western thoughts I might have entertained during these processes were thouroughly washed from my mind by the general heat and exertions I was put through, but that is not to say that I was not vastly stimulated and intrigued by the whole performance. Thinking that she might find my reserve rather ungallant, I asked her if she didn't occasionally have "bad men" who suggested "bad things" to her. The message, not perhaps unexpected, got through. She answered with a bewitching but quite neutral politeness that such people went to other places, places on the Ginza. The Onsen was only for "gentremen." There was no hint of a rebuke in her attitude.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ian Fleming in Tokyo

More from Thrilling Cities. Fleming discusses the physical characteristics of the Japanese...

The first thing that struck me was how gay and purposeful the young Japanese are and how healthy a rice diet must be. They move at an astonishing speed compared with the easy stroll you will normally see in the comparable Piccadilly or Champs-Elysees crowds. And how bright all theire eyes are, wiht the sort of intelligent brightness you see in small animals! Very few of the men wear hats and would look rather foolish if they did so, and yet you never see a man with a hair out of place or wiht curly or unruly hairs. It is all a sea of black shiny heads upon which, Gulliver-like, the Westerner looks down. They are rude and rough to each other on the streets, in sharp contrast with their good manners when at rest. They bump and jostle without apology and apparently without offence. The eyes of the women are not almond-shaped. It is the tautness of the Mongolian fold of the upper eyelid that appears to slant the eye, and I learnt later, from Tiger Saito, that facial surgery to remove the Mongolian fold and widen the eye is immensely popular all over the country. The girls are aping the West in countless other fashions. Long legs have become desirable, and those hideous wooden clogs have been exchanged for stiletto heels. The Eastern hair-dos, which I find enchanting, are going out in favour of of permanent waves and other fuzzy fashions. Traditional dress - the kimono and the obi, the brightly coloured, silken sash worn about the waist - is disappearing fast and is now worn, so far as the towns are concerned, only in the family circle, together with the giant cake of hair and monstrous hair-pins in the Madame Butterfly fashion.

"The answer is simple: Since this controversy began, The New Republic’s sole objective has been to uncover the truth."

They are Rather-like in their quest for the truth. I'm sure Brian DePalma read Beauchamp's piece & knew he had his story.

"Faced with the fact that Beauchamp stood by his story and the fact that the Army investigation had serious gaps - as well as the fact that our earlier reporting had uncovered significant evidence corroborating Beauchamp’s accounts - The New Republic decided to continue its investigation."

Thank you, ladies & gentlemen. TNR will be here all week.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Close-up: Toshiro Mifune

I always loved the introduction of Mifune's character in Samurai Assassin. Just put a camera on him, and he'll take care of the rest. The setting is a meeting amongt members of the Mito faction, who are plotting, through assassination, to topple the Tokugawa government. The head of the Mito faction has determined that there must be a spy among his men. All eyes turn on the one man who is a stranger to most everybody in the group: Tsuruchiyo Niiro (Mifune). His behavior displayed in a series of shots during the credits expresses a lot about his character:



Burning contempt




Sunday, October 14, 2007

Close-up: Melville looks closely and curiously at two heads.

Since I've been unable to settle on a single or series of cinematic close-ups, I could not help but think of one of the most fascinating close-ups in literature. Moby Dick is teeming with chapters closely examining the physical nature of whales and whale hunting and such, but two chapters immediately sprung to mind. Both are in the middle of the book, when the Pequod has (through a series of events) two whale heads hung from her sides: one from a sperm whale's head, and the other from a right whale. Melville's scrutiny and pondering, as expressed through Ishmael, is so infectious that it had me interested in the otherwise driest parts of cetalogy. Starting with Chapter 74 and the portion concerning a sperm whale's vision.:



Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let us join them, and lay together our own.

Of the grand order of folio Leviathans, the Sperm Whale and the Right Whale are by far the most noteworthy. They are the only whales regularly hunted by man. To the Nantucketer, they present the two extremes of all the known varieties of the whale. As the external difference between them is mainly observable in their heads; and as a head of each is this moment hanging from the Pequod's side; and as we may freely go from one to the other, by merely stepping across the deck: - where, I should like to know, will you obtain a better chance to study practical cetology than here?

In the first place, you are struck by the general contrast between these heads. Both are massive enough in all conscience; but there is a certain mathematical symmetry in the Sperm Whale's which the Right Whale's sadly lacks. There is more character in the Sperm Whale's head. As you behold it, you involuntarily yield the immense superiority to him, in point of pervading dignity. In the present instance, too, this dignity is heightened by the pepper and salt color of his head at the summit, giving token of advanced age and large experience. In short, he is what the fishermen technically call a "grey-headed whale".

Let us now note what is least dissimilar in these heads - namely, the two most important organs, the eye and the ear.

Far back on the side of the head, and low down, near the angle of either whale's jaw, if you narrowly search, you will at last see a lashless eye, which you would fancy to be a young colt's eye; so out of all proportion is it to the magnitude of the head.

Now, from this peculiar sideway position of the whale's eyes, it is plain that he can never see an object which is exactly ahead, no more than he can one exactly astern. in a word, the position of the whale's eyes corresponds to that of a man's ears; and you may fancy, for yourself, how it would fare with you, did you sideways survey objects through your ears. You would find that you could only command some thirty degrees of vision in advance of the straight side-line of sight; and about thirty more behind it. If your bitterest foe were walking straight towards you, with dagger uplifted in broad day, you would not be able to see him, any more than if he were stealing upon you from behind. In a word, you would have two backs, so to speak; but, at the same time, also, two fronts (side fronts): for what is it that makes the front of a man - what, indeed, but his eyes?

Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyes are so planted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as to produce one picture and not two to the brain; the peculiar position of the whale's eyes, effectually divided as they are by many cubic feet of solid head, which towers between them like a great mountain separating two lakes in valleys; this, of course, must wholly separate the impressions which each independent organ imparts. The whale, therefore, must see one distinct picture on this side, and another distinct picture on that side; while all between must be profound darkness and nothingness to him. Man may, in effect, be said to look out on the world from a sentry-box with two joined sashes for his window. But with the whale, these two sashes are separately inserted, making two distinct windows, but sadly impairing the view. This peculiarity of the whale's eyes is a thing always to be borne in mind in the fishery; and to be remembered by the reader in some subsequent scenes.

A curious and most puzzling question might be started concerning this visual matter as touching the Leviathan. But I must be content with a hint. so long as a man's eyes are open in the light, the act of seeing is involuntary; that is, he cannot then help mechanically seeing whatever objects are before him. Nevertheless, any one's experience will teach him, that though he can take in an undiscriminating sweep of things at one glance, it is quite impossible for him, attentively, and completely, to examine any two things - however large or however small - at one and the same instant of time; never mind if they lie side by side and touch each other. But if you now come to separate these two objects, and surround each by a circle of profound darkness; then, in order to see one of them, in such a manner as to bring your mind to bear on it, the other will be utterly excluded from your contemporary consciousness. How is it, then, with the whale? True, both his eyes, in themselves, must simultaneously act; but is his brain so much more comprehensive, combining, and subtle than man's, that he can at the same moment of time attentively examine two distinct prospects, one on one side of him, and the other in an exactly opposite direction? If he can, then is it as marvellous a thing in him, as if a man were able simultaneously to go through the demonstrations of two distinct problems in Euclid. Nor, strictly investigated, is there any incongruity in this comparison.

It may be but an idle whim, but it has always seemed to me, that the extraordinary vacillations of movement displayed by some whales when beset by three or four boats; the timidity and liability to queer frights, so common to such whales; I think that all this indirectly proceeds from the helpless perplexity of volition, in which their divided and diametrically opposite powers of vision must involve them.


Read the rest of the chapter here. And then the following chapter: THE RIGHT WHALE'S HEAD - CONTRASTED VIEW And for imagery's sake, here's the right whale's head:

Belated Congratulations to Al Gore

for winning one of the last Nobel Peace Prizes to ever be given. Liverputty feels he makes a good fit among other recent peace prize recipients.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lyonel Feininger--a short appreciation

from Escutcheon Blot

'Marktkirche von Halle'

I have been looking back at the last few months of Liverputty International, and thought that I might put in a little art appreciation of one of my favorite painters, the American-German-American modernist, Lyonel Feininger.

Born in America to German parents, Feininger migrated to Germany as a teenager, and studied art, eventually becoming a caricaturist and cartoonist. Only in his middle thirties did he start seriously painting. A member of both the Bauhaus movement (where he taught) and the Famous Blaue Reiter group (with Kandinsky, Franz Marc, et al) he was quite popular until the rise of the Nazis in 1933. In 1936 he and his jewish-descended wife emigrated back to America, when Feininger's works were included in the tour of Degenerate Art, organized by Goering. He spent the rest of his life in New York. Feininger was one of the only artists to further explore the early cubist theories of Picasso and Braques--indeed, he never departed from the basic cubist premises. But his works speak for themselves.

'Vogel Wolke'

'The Village Pond of Gelmeroda' (1922)



'Jesuiten III' (1915)

'Gaberndorf II' (1924)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ian Fleming in Hong Kong

More from Thrilling Cities. Fleming discusses the tongs and the triads...

On our way back to Hong Kong, recalling Dr. Lobo’s mention of the tongs, now known as triads, and musing over their possible connection with the smuggling of gold and opium which are more or less interconnected, I asked Dick Hughes, who knows the answer to everything in the Far East, what the triads really amounted to, and this is the gist of what he told me.

There are scores of triads, or secret Chinese blood societies, in Hong Kong, mostly concentrated in the Kowloon district, and there members, ranging from pimps and shoe-shine boys to businessmen and teachers, run into tens of thousands. Originally the aims of the triads were laudable and patriotic. Members were rigorously tested, sworn to unselfish brotherhood, and dedicated to moral and religious principles. But the process of degeneration has been profound. Politics, then squeeze and conspiracy, and finally crime, rackets, extortion, blackmail, and smuggling have debased the high ideals of the early tongs, just as the semi-religious Society of Harmonious Fists (I Ho Chuan) of A.D. 1700 became the horrendous Boxers of 1900.

The triads are not banned in Macao, and Dick hazarded the suggestion that Dr. Lobo and other members of the syndicate were probably forced to pay them protection money. (No doubt Mr. Foo failed to pay up and was punished with bombs in the lavatories of his Central Hotel). But they are illegal in Hong Kong, where they flourish underground with secret signs and passwords and iron rules of punishment and vengeance. The old membership identifications, a cash coin or a cotton badge, have gone, but nowadays one member can distinguish another by the manner, perhaps, in which he lights a cigarette or sets the tea-cups before a visitor.

The largest and most powerful of the Hong Kong triads today is formidable “14 K,” so called because the ancient Canton address was Number 14 in Po-wah Road, with the “K” added later for “karat” of gold in memory of a bloody pitched battle over “protection” against a rival triad whose members likened their strength to local but softer gold. “14 K” dates from the seventeenth century, but was rejuvenated and developed by General Kot Sui Wong as a secret agency of the Kuomintang. He was deported from Hong Kong to Formosa in 1950, but returned incognito to the colony and, before he died in 1953, re-activated all eighteen groups of the redoubtable “14 K,” which now has an estimated membership of eighty thousand divided into mellifluously named sub-branches.

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.