A New Old Book

I recently bought a book on Amazon at a sale price of 99 cents.  The book Thrilling Cities showed up on my Kindle Fire HDX as a special price item for prime members.  The title caught my eye, and then the author’s name also caught my eye, it was Ian Fleming.  Ian Fleming is, of course, the creator of the most iconic spy of the 20th century: “Bond, Jame Bond.”  I have all of Fleming’s’ novels, but I had never heard of Thrilling Cities.  So I was looking forward to reading it.  But first, I decided to look it up on Wikipedia to find out some history about this book.

The book is a travelogue written by Ian Fleming in his capacity as a writer for The Sunday Times.  The book was published in November 1963.  Thrilling Cities was initially a series of articles written for The Sunday Times.  These articles were based on two trips that Ian Fleming had taken.  The first trip was in 1959, and the second in 1960.  The 1959 trip had been suggested to Ian Fleming by the features editor of The Sunday Times, Leonard Russel.  

Russel told Fleming that he ought to take a five-week, all-expenses-paid trip around the world for a series of features for the paper.  When Fleming at first declined, claiming that he was a terrible tourist, Russel was able to persuade him to undertake the trip, claiming that at the very least Fleming could get some material for the Bond books in the process of traveling.

Indeed, in the course of Fleming’s travels he would encounter some interesting people  such as Richard Hughes, the Australian correspondent for The Sunday Times, who squired Fleming around Hong Kong, Macau and Tokyo.  Richard Hughes would eventually be immortalized in literature as being the basis for the character Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice, as well as being used by John Le Carre as the basis of the character “Old Craw” in The Honorable Schoolboy novel.

While in Tokyo Fleming and Hughes were joined by a journalist named Torao Saito, nicknamed “Tiger”.  Saito was later used by Fleming as the model for the character Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice.

Thrilling Cities is Ian Fleming’s view of fourteen cities that he visited in his two around the world journeys.  The cities covered were: Hong Kong, Macau, Tokyo, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Geneva, Naples and Monte Carlo.

He wrote as if he were making journal entries, as opposed to some dry articles for publication.  He wrote about his impressions and his experiences while walking about the cities visited.  He was not interested in museums and civic information.  Instead he concentrated on looking out for interesting, and in some ways “thrilling” people.

He closed off each chapter with his dealings with local hotels, restaurants, food, nightlife, and even some of the more “interesting and thrilling” houses of ill repute that were to be found along the way.

His first journey ended in New York, with Fleming then returning to London.  In 1960 he once again begin a long journey.  This time taking a car and driving all over the Thrilling Cities” of Europe.  His first stop on this trip was Hamburg. He praised the sex industry in Hamburg by writing “how very different from the prudish and hypocritical manner in which we so disgracefully mismanage these things in England”.

In contrast to his views of Hamburg, Fleming found Berlin “sinister, but in a thrilling way”.  However, Vienna he found boring, by too “tidy and god-fearing”.  But he was cheered up upon reaching Les Avants where he met up with Noel Coward at his villa.  Also visiting Noel Coward was Charlie Chaplin, who was writing his memoirs.  Fleming in a couple days of entertaining “chatter” managed to obtain the rights to publish Chaplin’s memoirs in serial form in The Sunday Times.

In some ways the “Thrilling” people that Fleming was on the look out for, where also a bit “dangerous”.  For example in Naples Fleming met and interviewed Lucky Luciano, calling him “a neat, quiet, grey-haired man with a tired good-looking face.”

In Macau Fleming and his friend Richard Hughes went out of the way to visit and chat with the premiere citizen of Macau, Doctor Lobo.

“The reputed gold king of the Orient, the enigmatic Doctor Lobo of the Villa Verde in Macao [sic].  Irresistibly attracted, I gravitated towards him, the internal Geiger-counter of a writer of thrillers ticking furiously.” {Thrilling Cities, Ian Fleming, page 22}

“To take only the case of gold bullion, it is, therefore, perfectly easy for anyone to arrive by ferry, or seaplane or come across from Communist China, only fifty yards away across the river, buy any quantity of gold, from a ton down to a gold coin, and leave Macao quite openly with his booty.  It is then up to the purchaser, and of no concern, whatsoever to Doctor Lobo or the chief of the Macao police, to smuggle his gold back into China, into neighboring Hong Kong or, if he has a seaplane, fly off with it into the wide world.”

“These considerations make Macao one of the most interesting market-places in the world, and one with Many Secrets.” {ibid}

As Fleming put it to the Doctor, surely he was a man who needed a great deal of protection.  The Good Doctor replied that it was so, but he declined to discuss any of the arrangements he had made with the feared Tong to secure his safety.  Ian Fleming wisely decided to not pursue the topic any further.  However, he began to think of a fictional character that he decided to call “Goldfinger”.  There was also another character to be called “Doctor No” that had some of the characteristics of the Good Doctor Lobo of Macao.

I am taken by the style of this book, and it makes me recall some of the “peculiar” circumstances that affected my life.  A couple of times things that happened during my military service, that were a bit thrilling.

Such as the time that I was in a bar and wound up dancing on the bar top, only to fall and twist my ankle.  I was so sloshed that I did not notice until I woke up the next morning with a terrible hangover.  I never told any one in my family because the location was classified, the bar itself was classified for reasons that I am not at liberty to explain.  Classified under the thirty year rule.

And while that thirty year rule has expired, perhaps now I could think about writing about that.  Although perhaps the exact location should be not mentioned, after all Islamic law still applies in the area.  No thirty year rule there.

In civilian life there were a couple “interesting” experiences in my life including another “dancing on a bar” incident in Cozumel, but this time I did not fall off.  Then there was a curious conversation that I got drawn into at a place called Red Frog Rum Punch Saloon, renowned for their Zombie cocktails.  (there are five different rums in that thing, along with some vodka and tequila, if it is done to Red Frog Rum Punch standards).

While I do not have a “Thrilling Cities” within me, perhaps I could write about some “Thrilling Circumstances”.  This essay could be the first in a series, maybe four or five.  Did you know once my mother and I met, and exchanged a couple words with Pope Paul VI at a papal audience in the Nervi, Rome?  There was also a time when I was part of an Honor Guard for President Gerald Ford at Pease AFB in New Hampshire.  Surely that is enough for an essay or two.