Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Place To Remember

The buildings of Dharamshala sprawl haphazardly around and up the sides of a roughly east-west running valley. They are a combination of brick, concrete and plaster, which means it is often colder inside than outside. McLeodganj, the main tourist area, is at a higher altitude than Dharamshala proper. By my third day there, I knew I'd be staying at least a week, so I found some lodging where I could spread out. My first room was small and sunless, adequate, but something like a cell. I upgraded from 2$ a night to 5$; for the 3$ increase I got three times the space, a large, low table, two chairs, a balcony which gets a triangle of sun from 9:30 to 11 am, a slightly better view in a quieter section of the valley and, although I didn't even notice it until after I had unpacked, a television. This meant I could rejoin Bond. I was surprised to find that I hadn’t missed a single beat. It turned out that the films were being shown Monday through Thursday, and I had spent Friday through Sunday without a t.v.

The first night in my new room I watched Octopussy, again. This gave me a chance to catch more of the silly innuendo than I had when I watched it the first time, on a restaurant rooftop in Udaipur. An example, aside from the title itself, is James' comment as he hands a snake-charming flute to his Indian under-spy Vijay, who almost forgets it in the back of a vehicle, "You may need this to play with your asp." Only Roger Moore, with his guileless delivery, could say this with out sounding like a total ass. Imagine if someone really said that to you! I know I'd roll my eyes, and then laugh in spite of myself, but I’d expect the person who had said it to be laughing too; James drops lines like while this saving the world, and he doesn’t get a bit distracted. It was lucky for me that I found something to do in bed, because my second room wasn’t any warmer than my first, and the temperature dropped daily. I never came across a place in town that had indoor heating, and so I took refuge, fully dressed, under three heavy blankets, every night at 8:55.

"I'm SO tired of being cold!"

The last of the Roger Moore films, the 14th in the whole series, was the first Bond film to feature pop-culture elements familiar from my own lifetime. A View To A Kill oozes 80's with an intensity that only the 80's can ooze; the opening credit sequence is decorated with undulating women wearing neon, burning, melting and ski-dancing to Duran Duran. Grace Jones and a young (but just as creepy) Christopher Walken play the villains, and feathered hair decorates Bond's beautiful women. The changing fashions of Bond films contribute a lot to their overall visual fabulousness; but the developments with the most impact, both in the real world and on the films, are technological. A View To A Kill featured animal doping, microchips, a desktop computer, and a plot to blow up Silicon Valley. Microchip technology allowed Q to deliver my favorite hysterically bad line for the movie; it went something like, "We'll use this micro-comparator to compare the microchips."

naughty monkey

Watching a Bond movie that invoked personal associations was new and timely. Maybe I was homesick (although that may require having a home), but I did a lot of remembering in my early days in McLeodganj. The place is familiar enough (with its excellent coffee, western food, cosmopolitan mix of people, and general college towny atmosphere) that, undistracted by relentless strangeness and able to establish habitual activities in the present world, I had the excess mental calories to make forays into the past. Not having met with a certain type of conversation along the road, I was missing a few people in particular. I was also missing (as usual), Sir Good, and having only one pair of shoes with me, my wardrobe. This got me thinking about my life in Seoul.

I found these doodles from Seoul way back in the begining of my notebook.

I get up, and Sir follows. Although I lived in Seoul for over 4 years, I never bought a proper bed. I always thought I'd be leaving within a year, and it seemed like such a big commitment. Instead, a pile of folded blankets on the floor served as a matress. A female friend once suggested to me that the reason I didn't have a boyfriend was because I didn't have a real bed.

Sir anticipates my departure. I had a 3 bedroom apartment on the top floor of an old house. Although Sir spent a lot of time alone there, he had plenty of room to frolic.

Sir watches me drive off to work. I never bought a bed, but about a year before I left I bought a couch. 3 years is a long time to go without anywhere to sit but the floor. I also had a lovely view of Seoul from my window.

I notice a German in the elevator. Samsung Art & Design Institute is housed in an office building. BMW Korea is on the top floor, so I occasionally saw visiting Germans. They invariably stood out, big blonde giants in the elevator.

I teach a class. I often found myself worrying that something had happened to Sir in my absence. You can guess from this picture how engaging I found teaching English as a second language.

The Dalai Lama, humble as usual, devoted some space in his autobiography to his pets. After relating each of their ends, he remarks that he decided against having more, noting that his tutor once said "Pets are in the end only an extra source of anxiety for their owners." The Dalai Lama concludes, "Besides, from the Buddhist point of view, it is not enough to be thinking and caring about only one or two animals when all sentient beings are in need of your thoughts and prayers." His tutor's observation plays out in my own doodles, and the Dalai Lama's conclusion is true enough, but damnit, I still miss Sir to pieces, and I wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, loving a specific dog has increased my appreciation of all the animals that I meet.

my temporary dog

In India, there are countless dogs, in full relaxation wherever they please. The pity is, they are so dirty, foraging in the shit-spattered streets the way they do, that it is inadvisable to touch them, even though some of them are clearly friendly and in need of affection. In Dharamshala I gave in and began to pet the cleaner looking dogs that approached me. One of them became a special friend. He lay in the sun, at my feet, every morning as I had my breakfast, and I elected him my temporary dog. So far I have no dread diseases, but now I miss him too. The Dalai Lama was eventually overcome by his own tenderness and took in another cat.

relaxation, anytime, anywhere (no, she's not dead)


For those readers out there who love him, my mother tells me Sir Good (who has recently earned wittily appropriate title "Sir(cles)" is getting on very well in Virginia, and judging by her detailed descriptions of his behaviour, he's charmed his way into the heart of yet another household.

Of course, my life in Seoul was much more complicated and busy than my doodles suggest, but as I look back, it is taking on a sort of flatness; events and places now have verbal labels, rather than complex realities. For instance, I remember that I had a nice view, but I have to think harder, past (or behind) those words, to remember that I often took a smog reading from my window before leaving; my house was placed high enough that I could see the fumes that I would soon be driving through pooling in the bowl of the city.

the building housing the ex-political prisoners union makes room for a tree

There are advantages to this loss of detail; life is often incomprehensible while I'm in the midst of it. It's only at a distance that my experiences become lessons. Across the valley from the balcony of my room in McLeodganj, there is a set of hills, and behind it, a mountain. On an overcast day, I chanced to look across the distance, and I saw a fog creeping over the mountain, and then rolling down into the valley, slowly obscuring everything: the phenomenon was much like the process I had been noticing in my own mind. The next day, seeing the mountain bright as a diamond, the details of its crags and crevaces made clear by a covering of snow, I realized it had not been fog after all.

Next in the Bond series is The Living Daylights, made in 1987, and the first of only two (luckily) films featuring Timothy Dalton as 007. Dalton is too slick and self-regarding to play Bond, the British agent who, almost unwittingly, saves the world over and over again. Nearly 20 years ago, Bond was in Afghanistan, where he was aided by the Mujahideen (back in the days when they were called freedom fighters) in taking over a Soviet air base. On November 21 of this year, my fifth day in Dharamshala, my little brother returned from an army base near Baghdad on a jumbo jet and alit in Tennessee, after a year of service.

home at last

When he was deployed, not long after his first son (and my first nephew) Ethan Jon, was born, I listened to the news more often than usual. For a while, I was alarmed every time the phone rang, but as the months passed, I made an effort not to think about it at all. When his return was announced, I found myself disturbingly distanced from the situation. I have been away for a long time and I find myself distant from my entire family, so in an effort to re-forge some connection for myself I started thinking about my early childhood and my younger brothers in particular.

my handsome brother and his beautiful wife

I was six years old when Ian and Wade (still known in family parlance as "the boys") were born. Digging around in my head, I have been disturbed to find that images and details are long gone, that what I have left is more myth than memory. When they were infants, if the boys were in another room and one was crying, I knew, by the sound of his voice, which one it was. And, although Wade and Ian are identical twins, it has never been difficult for me to tell them apart by the way that their difference of character shows on their faces and in their bearings. This is the basis of the idea that I hold about them, that they have been two parts of the same whole from the dawn of creation. They are opposed and interdependent at the same time, like darkness and light, cold and heat; you need one of them to measure the other. This being so, they seem to be bound to each other in the very bottom of their natures. When they fight, which is often, they fight like no accidental enemies. Watching them parry over the years, seeing the common root of all their arguments and irritations, it appears they are playing out some ancient and elemental drama. Perhaps they see in each other what they are afraid they might find in themselves, recognition being the beginning of reaction.

Although I could no longer find the everyday facts of our lives together, I found their fruits. Growing up with them has been an education all its own. Now, I have the good fortune of watching them find their own distinct ways to manhood. Hopefully, one day we will be old together, each a storehouse of memory for the other. Wade, welcome home! Boys, your big sister is proud of you.

Rochelle, Wade, Ethan

I spent as much time on my balcony in McLeodganj as I could tolerate. At night, before tuning in for the 9 o'clock movie, I put on all my layers and looked at the playful arrangement of the lights climbing up the end of the valley; if Paul Klee had designed a tiara of gold, diamonds, auquamarines, and bottle glass for Daisy Buchanan to wear to a midsummer party by Gatsby's pool, this is how it would have looked. In the end, I lingered a few days too long; at some point, I started to feel angry at the relentless chill, and so I caught a bus to Delhi, where I spent a few days planning foreward, and now I'm well south, and well warm.

Tibetan prayer wheels

I keep forgetting to mention that I changed my departure to the states from December 23 to January 31. So, now I find myself in mid-trip, stuck fast in the gift of the ever present present, between a long past past and a far away future.


Blogger Thea said...

You're a good doodler! Sir recognized himself immediately, but didn't express any nostalgia about his Korean roots. He feels very bad that he isn't there to keep you warm, but is providing his new-found family with all the heat he can muster on these cold (40/50) Virginia nights - M.

5:55 PM GMT-5  

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