Forgive me, my dearies, for that somewhat melancholic ending (and also these sideways photos, which it would take me about an hour to fix); occasionally the Weltschmerz gets to me, no matter how idyllic the real manages to be. And for the record, not only am I exceptionally happy here, I’m literally bubbling over with the life I get to return to when I come home. It is true that there seems to be a little bit of membrane between me and the most important elements of life (I’m in a blissful open relationship, but Sarah lives with her long-time boyfriend; my two magical sons are being raised 100 miles away; my job is there too and seems to be dissolving; bro has moved to the burbs; I’m subletting both my apartments and living among the progenitors and pooches of Park Slope, etc etc). And yet from those shards of seemingly broken matzoh, an integral whole does add up, strange as it may be. I almost cancelled this trip again to not leave any of it, so when I slurp my last noodle, burp my last pani puri, and fly my honkie-ass, exploiting self home, I will be gleeful.
Today I go to the temples. Last night’s meals were tasty but not amazing (Ron actually wrote and said that to get the finest of the subtle Cambodian flavor combinations, I might have to eat in restaurants – and he also said that the boggy countryside I went through is actually flooded up to the road much of the year, and the children play on the tarmac like it’s their yard. Wow.). I rent a dilapidated bike from my guest house (it’s too short, squeaky, with bad brakes and a semiflat tire – I quickly realize that on this front I might have gone first class, had I the opportunity) and knee-chest, knee-chest my way the 10k out to Angkor.
For those of you male readers who haven’t figured it out yet (and lord knows I need a refresher course every other day), believing in oneself is the source of all error. I thought I knew the route; of course I got lost, ending up at the far exit of Angkor (where you can’t buy the $20 entrance pass to get in) and had to circle all the way back around to do it the right way. By this point I’m about 20km in, livid, and my left knee keeps making a soft pop noise if I deviate even slightly from a perfect circle in my pedaling. So when the local girls start screaming if I want water, a guide book, a hat, to park my bike, etc, I get more surly than I’d like to have been. One girl actually says she’s going to steal my bike because I said no to her offer of a parking spot for a water and then went and made the same deal at another stall. I really just need T-shirts in all the languages of Asia that say, I don’t like to be screamed at. They’d keep me from having to walk to the Chinatown bus holding my ticket up like an anti-salesgirl talisman and being punched on the arm by the vendors from the other company.
Angkor Wat, the big doozie, comes first, another reason one should be able to enter where I biked to so it can be one’s grand finale. I’m embarrassed to say that I walked through and back out again and thought I had gone to the wrong temple. It was impressive, but not like the photos. When you get close you see just how ravaged the 800-yr-old marvel is. (it made me think that the similarly vintaged Chanson de Roland is still going strong – though my copy is help together with a rubberband – and if you want real immortality, better to be a writer than an architect -- not that I have any such grandiose ambitions…) It also made me remember what I had read of a Burmese temple: that the suzerain or whatever he was called back then had all his laborers killed when they completed it, so no one else could ever have such fine work. Tell the wind, my friend; tell the rain and the ages. It’s true we don’t have such fine work anymore, but the one maiden example you left behind can’t defend herself from all time’s suitors.
I was somewhat depressed. To recycle a metaphor I first stole (it was applied by its original speaker to trying to reading Garcia Marquez in English, though I used it in latest book to speak of Goethe in the Queen’s), I felt like I was looking at the underside of a Persian rug; I could see what might have been there, but I couldn’t see it there. Or not much of it, not enough. Enough to marvel, to think of the slaves, the power, the odd way human history has always played out (what’s Horkheimer’s -- Benjamin's andrew says, and he's the rigorous one -- line? “All great works of civilization are monuments to barbarism”). The photo here
is of one trace of the level of filigree; googleimage Angkor Wat and you’ll see the whole structure and imagine how it must have been.
The next temple, the famous Bayon with its carved faces (the pic at the top of this post) in the “town” of Angkor Thom 3 kilometers deeper in, was better preserved (as you can see ). Eventually I would spend some quiet solitude (which makes all the difference – these are temples, after all) near this crumbling one863, then, at the temple Ta Prohm, was in literal awe of the spung tree (aka octopus tree) 864 865and the prodigious abilities of its roots. Plus there was one growing right on top part of the temple 866 – thus causing it to crumble – and again I thought, “Nature always wins.”
By the time I was done biking the circuit, I thought I might have to spend the rest of my days being carried around in a milk crate, so on the road home I stopped and got a sugarcane juice (in a plastic bag, as they sell iced drinks to go), sucked it down (yum!) and pressed the remaining ice to one knee, then the other. Passing through the outlying, riverfront shanties 2868 of Siem Reap, I knew I had to eat, so I surprised an old lady by wanting to look under all her pot lids. I followed her recommendation and had the cold fish soup – very delicate and nice, though the fish itself was a little funky (and my bone trick needs work). 867
Utterly scored though after home and a shower and a nap, walking into town I bought a banana-leafed roll being grilled by an old lady. Turned out to be sticky rice filled with now-slightly-liquifying banana, 869 and the grilled side was brown and crisped and caramelly. SO good. Then of course I had to sample the local beef jerky, lest my brother disown me, and here’s how it came. 871 Meat unknown, even after eating.
Now I’m having a 50-cent mango shake outside, in lieu of the two-dollar coffee, and Fudgie is getting a lot of attention (a tuk tuk driver, whom I “spoke” to yesterday while eating my papaya salad, comes over and watches me type. I’m thinking of Levi-Strauss’ “Writing Lesson” among the Nambikwara, just updated for 21st century technology). Fudgie, by the way, gets his name by being a tiny Fujitsu lifebook, which I couldn’t believe they didn’t call the Fudge, considering how cute he is, and so now he’s Fudgie or occasionally the Fudginator. I’m sorry I just wasted a minute of your life telling you that. You can’t get that minute back. But yes, you can order my straight jacket now.
There are many more flies when you don’t spend two dollars.