Perhaps it was all a bit lost in translation. But he really did seem to be saying that if there were to be a female successor as Dalai Lama, she'd best be easy on the eye.
We can only hope that he had recently (re?)read The Twits:
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Let's all hope that he was thinking about this passage, and he didn't have in mind the more conventional, obvious version of female attractiveness. I was about to mount a defence of my general unwillingness to comment on either female or male characters' attractiveness in my writing, but I have recently written that Lady Fleming, Mary Queen of Scots' governess, did not deserve her nickname of 'the beautiful Scot', so maybe I should keep quiet. In fairness, though, this is her portrait:
Hard to tell what the artist was going for, but you can't imagine him handing over that painting and her going 'Well, yes dear, you've really set my features off to good effect.'
Anyway, continuing the short series of short stories, here we have one that hasn't even managed to get itself a title. Enjoy...
I had been gathering these papers for close to ten years, all of them describing encounters with impossibly old men. Some were little more than stories, following that theme. Many, I do not doubt, were spurious, the fictions of imaginative tale-tellers. But some – and now I can't tell you which – had a nexus of truth that brought a thrill on each new potential discovery. They told of one man, possibly two men, born before modern civilisation began, who in their ways shaped the world, not as kings or emperors, but as shadows, gently pushing progress this way and that, as might a Cagliostro or a Père Joseph.
Three months ago, I travelled to Jerusalem, where a trader of antiquarian books called Corso sold me four manuscripts each bearing a monogrammatic 'ES', with dates around the middle of the sixteenth century. Though they were three hundred years old, they were readable, unaffected by age. Before then, I had only seen two similar documents, clearly in the same hand, in the library of Queens' College at Cambridge. All of these ES papers were magnificent, detailed translations of sadly missing, presumably ancient texts. One cannot therefore be certain that this ES was a perfect interpreter, but his English prose was throughout sublime, the Jerusalem papers showing a more mature, refined translation than the poetry of the older Queens' papers.
Though that is all from memory. I have neither the papers themselves, nor the notes I made on them, as I write. I can remember fragments of the stories that they contained, but little more. I will write this now in the conviction that it will not be read, though I shall continue to hope.
As I made my way back from Jerusalem, it became clear that I was being followed. I am no intelligencer, given to illicit dealings in gloomy alleys, but even I could fathom that I was being tracked, as the man doing so made no attempt to hide the fact. He boarded the same packet steamer as I, used the same hotel in Athens, then in Belgrade, then in Venice. I ignored him throughout the journey, hoping at some point that he would disappear and my alarm would prove to be unfounded. But at Paris, still being chased, I decided to test my theory. I stayed in a cheap, dirty hotel, in contrast with previous refined opulence, and chose a simple brasserie that was close by. As I entered, he was sitting with a newspaper, eating some sort of cheese-and-toasted-bread concoction that did not attract me at all.
I approached his table, and stood by it, waiting for him to acknowledge me. He did not, and after a quarter minute, I coughed loudly, trying to gain his attention. He folded his paper and looked up at me. His face was coldly handsome, his eyes slate grey and unnervingly still.
He addressed me in English, although it did not seem to be his native language. “Yes?” He said. “Can I be of service?” Russian, perhaps, or Baltic. “I have seen you as we have travelled.” His observation was matter-of-fact.
I stared at him, trying to fathom him. “You are following me.” I tried to be dispassionate.
“Perhaps you are following me.” He replied. That same tone again.
“I shall report you to the Gendarmerie.”
“For what?” He smiled, revealing even, white teeth.
“As I have said, you are following me, and I do not wish to be followed.” I felt my anger and I could not hide it from my speech.
“Do you have something you wish to remain hidden? Secret?” Finally, a question.
“I have nothing further to say to you.” I turned and left, but I could feel him watching me. I returned to the hotel, and considered finding an officer there and then, but it was late. I would go in the morning. I chafed, unable to sleep, reading my papers over and again. How I wish now I had committed them more firmly to memory.
I awoke in the dark of the middle of the night. The hotel was already afire. The smell of burning wood and plaster choked me. I scrabbled for my belongings, the precious papers I had paid so much for. They were gone. I climbed out of the window and descended the metal fire escape into the street. My shadow was absent. But he has returned. He is watching me now.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought