45. MoreVan Gogh, Nazi bombings on France, The seventh sunflower, American bombings on Japan, Monolith, Dream in London
It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live.
GEORGE ORWELL, Burmese Days.
The building called La Maison Jaune, where Van Gogh lived with his friend and painter Paul Gauguin in eighteen eighty eight, is also no longer there because of the Nazi bombings on the city. After ending my visit to both places, and doing some reading on the life of the artist, I found what writer and art critic Octave Mirbeau wrote about Van Gogh that, il ne dit pas qu’il y a des champs, des arbres, des maisons, des montagnes…mais du jaune et du bleu, du rouge et du vert… et le drame de leur rapport entre eux (He doesn’t say there are fields, trees, houses, mountains…but yellow and blue,red and green… and the drama of their relation). Apart from Terrasse du café le soir, La Chambre à coucher (The Bedroom), and La Nuit étoilé (The Starry night), Van Gogh is widely known for his Tournesols (Sunflowers). Of the seven sunflower paintings made in Arles between August nineteen eighty eight and January of the next year as a present for Paul Gauguin there are six left in museums and collections in Germany, England, Japan, The United States, and Holland. Koyata Yamamoto, an entrepreneur and amateur poet from Osaka, bought Vase avec cinq tournesols (Vase with five sunflowers) inspired and aided by his friend, the writer Saneatsu Mushanokōji.
The painting arrived from France in December nineteen twenty on board of the vessel Binna after more than six months of journey. Yamamoto, worried by the American bombings over Japan, and after failing to store the painting in the vaults of the banks of the city, took it home to Ashiya, a small city between Osaka and Kobe. Ashiya was bombed by the men under the orders of American General Curtis LeMay, once in May, twice in June, and once again in August the same day of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima. LeMay was a man busy with killing. Yamamoto’s house and Van Gogh’s painting burnt. In nineteen eighty seven, Yasuo Goto, also Japanese, president of the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance, bought another of the vases, one of the three containing fifteen sunflowers, for an amount close to forty million American dollars during an auction at Christie’s in London. Van Gogh on the other hand, died on July twenty nine, eighteen ninety, of misery and infection after shooting himself in the torso with a revolver, probably a Lefaucheux.
Writing about Van Gogh reminded me of a disturbing dream I had a year and some months after Father died. As it often happens, the boundary between that world and this one was broken. A short, young, brown woman, Asian, perhaps Vietnamese or Philippine, but maybe I was wrong and she was Thai, Malay or Indonesian, struggled to gather at least a hundred surprisingly white rabbits which hopped and strolled about the luggage conveyor belt. Three of the rabbits nibbled at the corner of a bright red suitcase. Luckily, as it seemed, no one noticed nor complained. The woman finally managed gathering the rabbits after some of them had gone in and out t least three times from the mouth of the tunnel that connected the inside with the world and which vomited bags, and sometime men, all day long. My luggage arrived at last after what seemed an eternity, blame the rabbits, thought I. I left the place dragging my bag behind me wondering how such a small woman would do to transport the rabbits from there onwards. The customs agent, a tall blond man, his hair thinning, his cheeks flushed, asked me with a face which said, I am not in need of any friends, as his job mandated, if I had something to declare. I answered to him, trying to make him laugh, or at least smile, as I often do out of an uncontrollable impulse that arises when I face figures of power or authority, that I assured him I didn’t have on my person a single rabbit. It worked. The flushed-cheeked agent showed me a smile exhibiting a frontal diastema and said, welcome to London. Even though the flight which had brought me from Paris was full and the queue behind me much long, I decided it was my right, even my due, to start a conversation with the evidently tired agent. This habit of starting random conversations with strangers, now that I think about it, is another one of those compulsive habits that I would like to control. After exchanging a couple of sentences without importance regarding London’s weather during the season, cold, rainy, foggy, I asked the agent his personal advice regarding breakfast in the city. Scrambled or poached eggs, he said, served on the halves of a sliced muffin, an English one of course, sausage, baked yellow beans, straight black tea. I’ll skip the sausage. I said. Then double the tea, he answered. I commented, barely brushing the surface of the subject, on the Buddhist monks that had self-immolated a couple of days back in front of the Parliament.
Life is a series of unfortunate events, he said. Have you ever found, I continued asking, unusual or forbidden articles in the bags of the visitors? Birds and squirrels and other small animals wrapped in cotton shirts and t-shirts. Too many dildos, most of them, now that you ask, in gradations of pink and purple. Once or twice a weapon. Days after the Incident, someone even tried to fly back home with a fragment of the Monolith. What happened to the man? I asked. A woman, he answered. An old woman going to Korea. North or South? I asked, not even knowing why I was asking such a question. That I ignore, but you know how things are, if you asked me to choose I would choose north. So, what happened to her? I asked. She died the next day, he said.