Friday, January 8, 2016

how travel puts the imagination in peril

ugh, my body's fighting off a bug. eye-surgery coming up monday, i can't afford to be sick. no coughing permitted, no sudden sneezing, nothing abrupt - the list long as my arm. three types of drops two or four times a day, one for a month. everybody tells me the operation a snap, ten minutes at most. all the prep and post what worries me. i'm not good at following directions. 

to top it off, my imagination restricted to the present, a tough customer without booze, drugs, or train-travel. in former days i could pull out a whole box of russian literature (in translation) and float off to love among the peasants, cruelty in the upper classes, the religious vitriol of tolstoy and the sad scenes of checkov. i pounded across the steps with the red army and died of a white army bullet, still miraculously alive in my chair.

or, india, the tales of tagore, the ramayana, the mahabarata, hindu dances, Buddhist rituals. a life full of music and color and the smell of incense, no garbage allowed. aye, and there's the rub. the trash in the streets of kathmandu, the plastic bags littering the highways and alleys. the crush of rickshaw riders trying to get my business, a beggar boy crying at the car window. what happened to the romance?

even in japan they have something called snapping, where a store owner goes for your jugular when you've touched a painting or bowl or locked yourself in the restroom. the japanese smile turns demonic, the gestures and emotion cold, not like in the fairytales and haiku. the reality overwhelms the literary, the pages lay in ashes. 

my imagination, too. here at home i could imagine a russia soaked in soul and poetry, i dreamed up an india of jewels and naked courtesans. japan had the restraint of a wooden doll. all gone, all of it. evidently i can't imagine what is in front of me, the moment brutal, the ticket torn in half. i can only imagine what i haven't seen.

and everybody i know wants to go on the road, experience the highs of primitive civilizations, voodoo ceremonies, ancient gods, go skinny-dipping in the sacred pools of bali. to bad, too bad, they will experience an ecstatic experience of loss and gain barking dogs, terribly deformed beggars with the rich stepping over them. for someone raised on children's books the result can be a loss of hope, as well as an acquisition of knowledge, how people really live. 

of course, you may say that's what you want. good luck to you. i've found it cheaper and more rewarding to line my bedroom with cork like proust. reviving and reliving all of history, soaking up the formulae of newton, and the pornography of henry miller. by all means resist anything real, if you would have a delightful life.