Sunday, January 2, 2011

Love Conquers All - Part 1

Happy New Year to all my Readers and Followers. Wanted to start the New Year with a two-parter...


When I go into the city library, I usually first sit to check books I want, indexing by author, title, publisher, etc. and get it printed before proceeding into the racks. This day was different. Maybe there were too many people ahead of me occupying the reference desk. I was standing at the art section rack with books on artists, architects and sculptors. Then my eyes caught this book – Cries of Danube. And the author was – Toru S. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He’s my old friend. I double checked his name. Correct! He might be embarrassed if I call him my big brother. But he was practically that upon my first arrival in New York City in the early 1960's. Toru-san helped me get my feet wet.

The non-fiction book was about a Hungarian sculptor, named Nandor Wagner (1922 -1997), who resided and died in Japan as his adopted country, married to a Japanese woman who was his art student in Sweden. Otto Wagner (1841-1918), the famous Austrian architect was the brother of his grandfather, Wilhelm Wager. Yes, I visited a number of buildings Otto designed when I visited Vienna after Budapest.

Grandfather Wilhelm had served as an aide de camp for Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary. Nandor's father was a dentist in Oradea, Romania in Transylvania, closer to the Hungarian border. Nandor was born endowed with artistic talents and had surprised friends, as well as teachers, in school, but became a frequent target of bullying as a minority Hungarian. He rebelled against his father and pursued art instead of an expected dental career. He became a self-supporting student at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest. About the time to graduate, however, he chose to enter the military academy and went to war. He was assigned to the Transylvania Mountains where he fought a heroic battle and suffered defeats and injuries. Luckily the war ended when he was hospitalized on Margaret Island, Budapest, which was occupied by British forces.

War was over, but he went through chaotic times resisting the communist Government and even returned home beyond the border, as an enemy. He was saved by help from friends out of Oradea prison, and escaped arrest as one of the key leaders of the 1956 Uprising in Budapest. He fled to Sweden with his first wife, Dora, and children, and had to start life all over again. Dora was depicted as a squatter tenant, threatening suicide if refused. There wasn’t much romance. And it was Dora who got a teacher’s job as the family's bread earner in Sweden. Nandor had to rent an atelier separately to work as an artist. The student he was introduced by a friend to tutor was Chie Gondo, a Japanese wife of an expatriate Japanese scientist.

I have to skip details of how they fell in love and conquered all the complexities of two divorces. I can imagine how Chie had met oppositions from her parents, in view of their social standing and moral traditions. Nandor didn’t even own any nationality to claim, a prerequisite to enter Japan.

In 1966, Chie and Nandor got formally married in Oskarshamn, Sweden. Chie was 36, and Nandor was 44. Three years later, they immigrated to Japan and settled in Mashiko-cho, a suburb in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. (Mashiko-cho is best known for Mashiko ceramic ware, 20 kilometers away from Utsunomiya, the Capital of Tochigi Prefecture). Utsunomiya has a population of half a million and is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Tokyo.

l) Official Nanor Wagner website
2) An English written book Wagner Nandor (2006) by Tibor Wehner, (art historian) available from Holnap Kiado, Budapest, Hungary
3) Cries of Donau, (2008) by Toru Shimomura, Gentosha, Tokyo. Toru's father is Kojin Shimomura (1884-1955), who wrote The Story of Jiro and A Book of Heaven and Earth - stories from Confucian Analects.

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