Odyssey us confess: Bodnath, opium eaters, a scorpion & the birthplace of Buddha
Dear Internet, Kathmandu—July 7, 2013
J had yesterday off so we went to Bodnath with the same little perverted guide i had in last post (he was on better behavior in the presence of a lady). Bodnath is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Nepal ... not too far outside of Kathmandu. Here be footage & visual impressions:
After Bodnath, we got dropped off at Patan because j hadn't seen it. Explored some different sidestreets than last week, and since it was saturday there seemed to be a lot of activity at a local temple complex (not in the tourist area).
Been working on a massive spreadsheet to organize our thoughts (in regards to the new project we've embarked on, which we are now calling 'SSES" 'SSES" 'SSEY") based on the Linati & Gilbert schemata for mapping Ulysses to The Odyssey ... consolidating the two & adding notes from our brother & our own associations. Maybe we'll post it up here (with our notes stripped out) as there doesn't seem to be a place that has these combined schema along with concise episode summaries & how they relate to the schema categories.
Speaking of classification, James Wagner sent me this interesting article on Rethinking the Authorship Principle. So, for example, how would you classify Buddhist texts? Where subject & 'author' become one & the same ... & how do you classify authorless texts in a scheme organized first & foremost by author? Good thing you, the Internet, are helping to change such thinking.
Had Japanese food (udon & kappa maki) last night which was pretty decent. Can't remember the name of the place ... felt like it was in someone's house ... in good company with this hip young Nepalese couple & their well-behaved baby. Washed down with raspberry (yellow) & barberry Hinwa wine that sounds scary, but was actually pretty good (not too sweet). They also drink an interesting "rice wine" here, that is more like sake or vodka than wine. For the most part the food here is far from spectacular. Ate at a place in Patan that was memorable & had a nice view of the temples & street actions. Ate twice at Bhojan Griha which was pretty good. Nepalese food is similar to Indian, but there's a few unique dishes, of course momos, which is their dumpling (doesn't every culture in the world have a dumpling of some sort?) dipped in a spicy sauce. And some sort of Sherpa noodle soup which is good.
Been raining non-stop ... not the dramatic afternoon downpours you might expect, but day-long drizzle & it's almost always clouded over (in case you couldn't tell by the washed out photos).
Tomorrow we go to Lumbini ... which just happens to be the birthplace of Buddha.
Finished reading Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey waiting for the plane here to Lumbini (on Yeti Air!). We've read it before, or at least seem to remember having a book of the same title that seemed more abbreviated but with marvelous woodcuts (in retrospect it might have been just the first part which he published separately). It's somewhat serendipitous we're reading this book now in light of our recent dwellings on our brother & his heroin use (pretty much the focus of his journals & 'SSES" 'SSES" 'SSEY").
As the title would imply, Confessions of an English Opium Eater is essentially De Quincey unabashedly chronicling his lifelong use of opium. He is quite lucid & scientific in his documenting of the affects of opium & how it changed his life ... which is not to say the book is all about opium & its immediate affects, but the general haze of opium is the filter by which he recalls his life & philosophy. In particular, it's the longterm affects which he recounts in vivid clarity, how it altered his life, for better or worse.
Since he had already gone down this opium road, he figured he may as well document his experience for the rest of us. It's like his body chemistry physically changed & through it all he has the presence of mind to use himself as an experimental guinea pig. Opium has a reputation of being a drug of pure pleasure, but what's interesting are the wild & elaborate dreams it induces in De Quincey & opium's power to bring forth lost memories & weave together otherwise buried thought. Memories are always there, but opium acts a catalyst to dissolve the veils obscuring what we've forgotten or suppressed. In fact, on a few occasions De Quincey brings into question this notion of forgetting (as does Cesar Aira in the recently read Seamstress and The Wind):
And through repeated use, it's like his otherwise forgotten childhood comes streaming back to him:
This was definitely true of my brother, in that he was far more affected by the "agitations" of our childhood. Who's to say if it wouldn't have had the same affect on me.
Drug-writing's tricky, because some might say it advocates or encourages its use. But it just as much advocates for not using it ... for why bother when there's books such as De Quincey's? It's like travel writing ... do we all need to travel to say, Nepal, and suffer the side-effects (the cost, hassles, danger, contribution to the continued corruption of culture & the environment by our being here) or can we just read a book?
It's not just all about opium though ... he talks about philosophy, consciousness & writing with an interesting perspective.
Doesn't get much more lucid than that. Thank you De Quincey, for the suffering opium caused you to enable you to bring us such words (this is 1821, by the way, when he wrote this). And he continues on:
De Quincey is not dead, but sleeping. Our brother is not dead, but sleeping.
Things gets weird in the last part of the book, he obsesses over velocity of mail-coaches & whatnot, but does say things here & there, including this passage about sudden death which resonated with us, in regards to both our father & brother.
Either way, there should be no shame in habitual drug use or suicide. Suicide, whether intentional or accidental (through suicidal habits) is unfortunate, & should not carry the stigma currently placed on it.
Sorry to be grim ... & here we are now in a 'happy' place ... Lumbini, near the birthplace of Buddha. In fact, where we are sleeping is some 500 meters from the exact spot. As a tourist attraction, there's not much to write home about ... it's more the idea of it than anything. Only recently has it been verified to be the spot ... not sure exactly how you prove such a thing ... & it seems of course the Indians don't agree as they'd rather have the spot in India (even though they are even more Hindu than Nepal ... go figure).
While j & her colleague were off to Kapilvastu (where Buddha spent the first 29 years of his life) ... we got a bike & rode in the rain to the Lumbini site. First stop was Mayadevi temple & pond where Buddha's mom (Queen Mayadevi) took her last bath & gave birth to Buddha. Besides a few monks on pilgrimage, we had the site pretty much to ourself. Wandered around the gardens & into the makeshift building where excavation is still sort of taking place (was reading just yesterday in a Nepalese newspaper of a new discovery). When we got to where the actual stone is marking where baby Buddha was born (poorly lit beneath bullet-proof glass) the first thing we saw was a black scorpion scamper across the stone chasing a cricket. It disappeared into a crack ... & then a few minutes later it resurfaced chasing another cricket. While the monks on the the perimeter meditated, we considered the significance of this scorpion.
After that we just rode around the Lumbini park on our shitty bike. It was really muddy & wet & at one point the front tire slid out from under us on the mossy bricks near a canal. We must have looked a site covered with sweat, mud & blood.
Rode around the sprawling grounds. Surrounding Mayadevi there are all these tacky buildings ... more contemporary meditation centers, monasteries & palatial temples ... that all the various countries have built or are in the process of building ... Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, China, Japan ... & even non-Buddhist countries like France & Austria. It's like each country is trying to outdo the next in gaudy ugliness. They are usually behind walls & seem more administrative or tactical ... we're not sure how to describe it ... suffice to say Buddha would roll over under his Bodhi tree (which is across the border in India).
Rode around more in the countryside outside Lumbini park .. endless rice paddies extending to the horizon. Saw a pair of jackals & a wild boar ... too far away to get on camera.
Now just hanging out in the this hot, bug & snake infested place for another day until we return to Kathmandu.
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