Monday, August 28, 2006

The Débâcle

I would rather have stayed in the temple. That’s the point I need to stress. There was a moment when the chanting began, and the curtains were pulled, and the monks were sitting inside shielded against the chill of the mountain air, when I wanted to join them, put on an orange robe, give myself permission to be an ascetic, instead of this fatal inversion: mixture of boredom and concupiscence.
The guy videotaping the monk’s blessing was a good example. Whatever you think of the merits of such gestures, filming it makes it experience kept at a perpetual second-hand. The only thing the girls took seriously, I noticed, was the fortune-telling with yarrow stalks. Frighteningly so.
All of which leads me to last night. I knew the others were intending to find another bar, but I needed to collect my jacket and go to the men’s. There was a queue in there, and when I got out I stood for quite some time at the front waiting before I realised that they weren’t coming.
Going back in, I found Chris, who informed me that they’d gone “next door.” But the main bar, the riverside one which they’d been talking about, took a lot of hunting through. I should know. I ransacked the whole place twice.
After the first futile effort to find them, I set off to walk home, only to realise I wasn’t even sure which side of the river our Guesthouse was on. Or any other details about it. Like its name.
After that I went back and searched again, more desperately and assiduously. No-one. I finally remembered that it was near a McDonald’s and a Starbucks, as Jeff had been using them as landmarks.
Luckily the tuk-tuk driver knew McDonald’s, and still more luckily it was the only one around, so I did find my way back.
I felt a bit peeved with them for ditching me, but it now seems to me part and parcel of the attitude – the arm’s length approach to experience. Empathy is impossible for the voyeur, as it wipes out the element of desire. It’s therefore unnecessary to worry at all about other people’s feelings or convenience.
I guess I’d like to contrast it with the temple. The almost – just possibly – successful eclecticism of all that garish gold, and decoration, and absurdity, and silliness, and dignity. Just a pipe-dream? Who can say?
Those frescoes were the best thing of all. Damaged, but still beautiful genre scenes, life under the beneficial influence of the Buddha, in all its variety and outpouring. One must have something to rely on, after all. Scam vs. transcendent domesticity.

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