２９ Ｊｕｎｅ， Ｍａｓａｍｉｔｓｕ Ｍｉｙａｇｉｔａｎｉ
With voices from all sides urging us to stay home in order to avoid the dangers of corona, I have become aware of things that ordinarily would not enter my consciousness. Unusually for me, I began examining the interior of my home, and was surprised to discover, on the shelves for my paperbacks, that a number of volumes of my Kodansha Literature series were by my former teacher Tan Onuma, novelist and professor of English literature. This pleased me. There was his early
etoranje(Stranger in the village) , and the later
hiki(Grinding coffee). I had forgotten I ever bought them.
After I graduated from university and was working for a magazine publisher, I used to visit Professor Onuma in Mitaka once every two or three months for a chat. Now I feel belatedly humbled by the cordial reception that he gave to the immature aspiring novelist that I was back then.
The Professor had once gone to London on sabbatical, and
nikki(Gray starling diary) is the result of his time there. I was also able to hear tales of his travels directly, one of which was this story:
“Yoshioka told me he was going to France during his sojourn in Europe, so I met him in Paris. We were on the banks of the Seine, where we had gone to drink red wine, and we had just placed our order when the waiter brought over milk and bread. I wonder why he did that?”
“Yoshioka” was Tatsuo Yoshioka, also a novelist and my former boss. The Professor laughed when he told me this story, but I did not, since I could not understand why he was laughing.
“What a dunce of a waiter.” If I had simply brushed it off with some such comment, most likely this story would have evaporated from my memory. Later on, however, and even after Professor Onuma passed away, I would sometimes recall it and wonder how red wine had turned into milk and bread. After not being able to solve the mystery for over ten years, it can only be said that I was the dunce.
Then one day I had a sudden insight as to what might have happened. Instead of pronouncing the “red” of “red wine” in French as
rouge, perhaps the Professor had said it in English as “red”, which the waiter then took as the French word
lait, meaning milk. Wine in French is
vin, but instead of pronouncing “red wine” he may actually have said “red
vin”. Which could sound like
painin French—in other words “milk and bread”. I took so long to figure this out that the Professor is probably laughing at me from heaven.
Translated by Alison Watts/Arranged by TranNet KK
Born in Gamagōri City, Aichi Prefecture, in 1945. Won the Nitta Jirō Literary Prize for
fune(Boat in the sky), the Naoki Prize for
shunjū(The spring and autumn annals of Kaki), the Minister of Education’s Art Encouragement Prize for
Chōji(Chong Er), and the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literary for
Shisan(Zichan). He is considered to be a major figure in the field of historical romance based on Chinese history. His works include the novels
fūjitsu(Destiny of the royal family),
beshi(Strike while the iron is hot),
Taikōbō(Tai Gong Wang), and the essay
kyoku(Classic: My choice of the 1001 best music), among others. His recent works include
shiro(The spring and autumn annals of Wu and Yue: Castle at the bottom of the lake),
Ryūhō(Liu Bang), and
hansei(Wind by the windowsill: Miyagitani Masamitsu, half a life with literature). Received the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2006, and the Order of the Rising Sun in 2016.