memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for March 27, 2012

The Fragment of Porcelain

The painter Tanaka stood back and studied his work. He was quite satisfied. The painting encapsulated all the delicacy and grace of Japanese art. The composition was perfectly balanced with the juxtaposition of the girl, the tree and the carpet of blossom.

The geisha was wearing a beautiful white kimono edged in red, with her slender waist bound by the obi and a shawl draped loosely about her shoulders. The eye followed the line of her right arm holding out her kimono to the branch of the cherry tree symbolically leaning over her and finally down the trunk of the tree to the ellipse of cherry blossom under her feet. He painted his signature at the bottom right-hand corner.

Tanaka came from a long line of artists and had at first trained with porcelain, going through every stage of fabrication from the modelling of the clay, the first glazing and firing in the oven, to the design and painting and then the second glazing and firing process. These days he specialized in painting stylized figures in a landscape.

Noriko, the model, timidly asked Tanaka if she could see the finished painting. She tiptoed round the easel and caught her breath in admiration. It was perfect. How well her mother’s kimono looked!

She had known Master Tanaka all her life, as her mother was one of his favourite clients and he always treated her with great courtesy, addressing her as «Noriko-San». He was very generous to them both, always bringing them little presents such as pieces of silk, little elaborately carved boxes and sugared apricots and chestnuts – in fact the kimono that she was wearing in the painting came from him.

Noriko hurried from the formal water-garden into the house, with its light timber-frame and paper-thin walls, its sliding windows which allowed a beautiful light to permeate every room, suffusing them with a white softness. She helped her mother prepare the tea ceremony for the Master, singing quietly in her high voice. She was happy on that early August morning in such a tranquil spot, set as it was in the centre of such a large city.

Across the world, the Enola Gay trundled out of her hangar in the Arizona desert and started to taxi to her take-off position. The huge lumbering B29 Super Fortress had a crew of twelve – these included the captain, the co-pilot, the navigator, the bombardier, a special weaponry officer, the flight engineer, radio operator and the two gunners – only one of whom, the captain, was over thirty. They all knew the historical significance of the mission but had only just found out the name of the target city. The Enola Gay reached the beginning of the runway and paused, before accelerating smoothly down the strip and at last taking wing with a long, slow curve towards the west. She settled in for her long flight across the Pacific.

Noriko’s mother and Tanaka knelt facing each other over the low table and bowed, each one holding a bowl of steaming fragrant tea. Noriko served them with delicate little appetizers and coughed politely her pretty little hand covering her mouth:

–              Noriko, honey, have you caught a chill?

–              Yes mother dear, I think I may have caught something while I was posing under the cherry tree for honoured Master’s painting …

–              I’ll make you some special tea then.

–              By the way mother dear can we discuss the final plans for my acceptance into the Guild?

 As mother and daughter chatted away in their high fluting voices, Tanaka studied them and thought what a charming picture they made; automatically he started to compose them into a design, the daughter leaning in towards the mother, the frame of a window sketched in as a backdrop and the low table with its cushions tapering down to a point could provide the foreground.

The Enola Gay was flying at maximum altitude over the outskirts of the Japanese city. Visibility was good. The pilot set his controls for the heart of Hiroshima, the plane riding the sky, the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, high above the doomed city. As soon as the bombardier released the Bomb the captain wrenched the plane away, her engines frantically clawing at the thin air desperately trying to gain as much height and distance as possible before the shock waves hit.

At the moment of detonation, the fusion created a great white light stronger than a thousand suns, radiating out at light-speed illuminating the thousands of people, houses, gardens and factories in a ghastly tableaux before the explosion blasted everyone and everything into oblivion.

Two weeks after the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a young American soldier making his way cautiously through the stricken city, bent and picked up a little miracle of survival – a small, charred ceramic bowl, fired again by the intense heat of the explosion, on which could still just be discerned the design under the blackened glaze of a girl under a tree.

The atomic bomb dropped in anger on Hiroshima on that 6th of August of 1945, followed by a second one on Nagasaki a few days later, brought the Second World War to an abrupt end.

A sort of collective innocence went out of Humanity. The world had been changed forever.

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