Saturday, 15 November 2014

El Cid Rides to London

It's been an interesting week...I picked up a virus on the flight back to the UK from Spain and by Saturday I was bedridden. On Tuesday eve I was due to give a talk at my own book launch in London - surely I'd get better in time? Instead with every passing day I felt yet more exhausted. Finally on Tuesday morning I strapped my dead body onto a horse and proceeded El Cid-like towards London. Just so long as they didn't realize I had already died until the battle was over!

Yukio Mishima was pursuing me everywhere. With a few hours to spare and feeling slightly revived after getting off the train, I thought I might look round the Ming exhibition at the British Museum. Exhibitions are not the best if you are feeling weak so I soon plumped for sitting on a bench and listening to the dulcet tones of Michael Wood guide me while I looked at the audioguide's digital images. The exhibition is partly divided into 'bu' (military) and 'bun' (cultural) pieces exemplifying the age-old maxim that enlightened rulers had to be both warriors and cultured men, a theme picked up by Mishima in his pursuit of 'bunbu ryodo' (the path of both the pen and sword): that he would be both writer and warrior.

And so to the event at the Daiwa passed off well I think. Not having had time to script anything I spoke off the cuff for what was supposed to be 30 minutes but somehow ended up being 1 hour 10 mins. My main theme was Mishima's obsession with time, time-keeping and time symbols (by a nice irony, my mother and sister arrived 10 minutes late - time keeping has never been as scrupulously observed in the Flanagan household as in Mishima's). In the Q and A afterwards, the first question I was asked was the one question I hoped noone would ask: what happened to the silver watch Mishima was given as an award by the emperor in 1944? I really must find out the answer to this (which may be a very simple answer) before I give my next talk at the University of Manchester on December 8!

It was great to see old uni muckers like UBS master-of-the-universe David Soanes (who looks exactly the same as he did 25 years ago) and to meet Wiesia Cook Bownas, the widow of Geoffrey Bownas, a Japanese literature scholar who had collaborated with Mishima. Many thanks to one and all for coming and to the superb staff at the Daiwa Foundation for hosting the event. Afterwards I enjoyed a wonderfully entertaining dinner with Jason James, the effortlessly charming director of the Foundation. Having been unnerved to see my hand weirdly shaking as I attempted to sign copies of the book, I found I considerably revived after a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed startling my dinner companion with the news that I hadn't actually eaten anything since yesterday lunchtime.

The following day I took in the exhibition at the Royal Academy of the works of the great, but largely forgotten Italian Cinquecento painter, Giovanni Battista Moroni, a master of realistic portraiture. I was particularly taken by this picture of a cocksure Spanish noble (Gabriel de la Cuela, later governor of Milan) with the inscription by its side: Aqui esto sin temor y dela muerte no he pavor (Here is a man without fear who does not flinch at death). Is it just me or is there something intensely Mishima-esque about this fellow as well?

Good luck to them. As for me, I'm just hoping to make a full recovery soon...

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