Friday, October 29, 2010

you can't step into the same river once

oh, i tried, but even before i dipped my toe the pattern on the surface of the water had changed, and the drop i missed once flowed through caesar's veins. though the amount of water in the world limited and every molecule from the past in our glass, it's hard to find within us what matters most.

i'm always surprised by my answer. i pop to the top of a volcano in bali, i carry bricks of coal down into my half-basement berlin room, i look up in new dehli to see sign-makers hanging from high scaffolding to build a billboard. yes, travel seems to be the only thing i've done for myself alone, and these private memories make me feel i've lived, even as i know they will die with me.

everything else seems to have been a performance for parents, teachers, lovers, even the enemies. the reference lies outside myself. poetry, plays, speeches before crowds, the efforts at love in bed - none of it was mine.

i was reminded of this last nite, watching a traveling troop from bali. in 1958 i heard my first gamelan instrument at a ucla arts festival. later in santa cruz i stumbled into ethno-musicology and banged those brass plates myself. once i moved to chico, i found numerous dancers traveling to bali to study. it wet my appetite.

as usual, i didn't study a map. belatedly, i found jakarta a thousand miles from the island. a minaret woke me up in the middle of the night. i felt part of a cia plot. my first asian taste. a train and boat-ride after, i watched brightly dressed women carrying towering offerings of fruit on their head. the first thrill remains the best.

the music of every village differed, raw except for the tourist performances. the garbage in the ditches impressed me. and the howling dogs. monkeys, i hate to say it, are nasty creatures. dirt paths, frogs in the rice paddies, ducks quacking, dead bodies burned on a pyre. though i followed the tourist track, my adventures felt raw.

and that's the point. when i watched the beautifully choreographed dance last nite, i could feel it as a polished diamond. no, i didn't feel disappointed. i'd suffered enough of cock-fights and flies. i knew where this jewel came from and appreciated the mystery behind it, the placing of offerings, the bowing before buddhas, the half-dressed women washing in muddy water.

the mystery i took away, how had i done it, the himalayas rising up before my eyes and the newlyweds, strangers to each other, walking tentatively by the lakes? perhaps life is an arranged marriage after all.

here are a few bali pictures: