Friday, September 11, 2009
Distant Echoes under the Plum Tree..... by New York Times reporter Roger Cohen, writing from Cherence, France
Was the New York Times fibbing here or telling the whole truth?
by Danny Bloom
Did you know that a part of the deceased body of Master Li Tien-lu, the great puppetmaster of Taiwan, is buried in France under a plum tree outside the home of Daniel Rousel and Claire Illouz, who are friends and neighbors of New York Times storyteller (and respected veteran reporter) Roger Cohen?
Yes, and not just a part of Master Li's body; apparently a bone from the finger from Master Li's late son is also buried in Claire's garden. Shipped from Taiwan to France. Usually, Buddhists don't go in for this kind of thing after death. Or do they? Seems to me the New York Times told a fib here. Read on:
You see, Claire, a French artist, once studied with Master Li in Taiwan and loved him like a father or grandfather or deeply respected teacher and when he died, she apparently arranged for the Taiwanese undertakers to exhume his body and take a bone from one of his fingers and airfreight it over to France so she could bury it in her garden and tell all of her friends this wonderful story. Roger Cohen fell for it, too, and even wrote up the story in the pages of the New York Times. Which, of course, never tells a lie. Fibs, maybe. Roger won't own up to this. I asked him. He basically told me to "get lost".
So, according to the New York Times, the finger bones of the two Li bodies are buried in Claire's backyard in France, unbeknownst to anyone in Taiwan, because of course maybe this never really happened, but the New York Times likes to tell fanciful stories sometimes, especially when there is no editor looking over the reporter's shoulder, as likely happened in this case. Roger Cohen is a very good man and a very good reporter. But in this case, he dropped the ball I believe.
Li pere and Li fils. As you know, the old man -- one of Taiwan's national treasures! -- died in 1998 and his finger bone was buried under Claire's tree, and when his son died in 2009, his finger bone was buried there, too. Ask Roger Cohen. Read his article in the New York Times. Ask Claire in France. She has an email address and she loves hearing from readers in Taiwan, since she loves Taiwan, too, even though she only spent a few months here in 1975 or so.
You can read all about this amazing trans-Atlantic/Pacific global village burial story in one of Roger's recent Times columns. September 8, 2009 was the publication date and it appeared in Taiwan in the United Daily News supplement for the New York Times weekly English edition.
Roger's story is pretty amazing stuff. It's one of the those "East meets West" pieces, where a finger bone fragment of the master puppeteer of China -- er, make that Taiwan, but Roger really thinks Taiwan is in China -- is buried beneath a plum tree in a remote village an hour away from Paris.
Roger knows, because he was at the burial ceremony. Drinking wine. Lots of wine, maybe. too much wine, perhaps? Claire knows, too. She studied in China, er, Taiwan, with Master Li long ago. He visited her home in Cherence, France many times over the years, about 50 times in all. Well, maybe twice. Claire and Roger like to make things up. Roger likes to tell stories. He's good at it. He's a pro.
"We met under the plum tree," Cohen the storyteller says at the end of his story. "Or rather India and China met, and France too. As the bells chimed from the 12th century steeple of technologoy. Marrying East and West, past and future, life and death, the global village lives."
When I asked Mr Cohen by email if he really thought that Master Li's bone fragments were really buried in France (contrary to Taiwan law and Buddhist tradition) and if he really thought that Taiwan was in China, he wrote back: "Sorry, Danny, you're wrong about the remains. As for the rest, people can reasonably disagree."
Cohen explained in his original Times story -- and it might be true, and it might be a nice story and not true at all! -- that Claire, a painter, has a small shrine to Master Li in her French backyard.
"Back in 1975, Claire studied puppetry in Taiwan with one of the great glove pupppeteers, Li Tein-lu. They became friends and, in later years, Li often visited. Such was his attachment to Cherence, France and such peace he found in this French village, that when Li died in 1998, he requested that part of his anatomy find its final resting place here. At a ceremony in 1999, a piece of bone -- believed to be a fragment of the great man's finger -- [Ed. Note: from Mater Li's left hand? right hand? index finger? ring finger? Timesman Cohen did not specify, and when I asked him he refused to say...] -- was buried under the plum tree in France....This year, Li's son died. Naturally, he wanted to be close to his father. So arrangements were made ...as father and son, or tather tiny fragments of each, were united beneath the plum tree."
UPDATE: When I asked the editor of the New York Times Weekly Edition, which appears in English in the United Daily News in Taiwan, and where Cohen's column first appeared on September 8, 2009, if the claims that Cohen made about Master Li's finger bone fragments really being shipped from Taiwan to France and buried there, Tom Brady replied from his office in New York: "I've talked to Roger Cohen and the Standards Editor here at the New York Times, and all I can say at this point is that we stand by the column."
NOTE: If you'd like to conduct your own research into this "story", Roger Cohen can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will tell you that he believes Taiwan is in China and that he stands by his "story". Claire might write to you too, if you email her in France. I did, but she refused to reply. Maybe because this "story" is not true at all, just a nice story. And hey, nothing wrong with stories. I like stories. But for the New York Times to report this as a "news story" -- which means it should be based on facts and that the facts should be fact-checked by independent editors -- is something that I wanted to look in to. I did. I am sure now that Roger Cohen made this story up out of whole cloth, based on a nice wine-soaked afternoon with his friend Claire in France. He should admit the truth now. But he won't.
Posted by DANIELBLOOM at 12:03 AM