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The skies over the Golden Hills have turned blue again. Alas, as good as it is for us who live here, for those living on the other side of the Great Valley suffering from the still blazing conflagration, it only means their lives have probably gotten even worse. A week after the fires began, they still rage on, thousands remain homeless and many unaccounted for.

On Sunday, HRM baked a birthday cake for me. He, Dick, and Sharkie the Goldfish gave me a nice warm jacket as a present accompanied by a birthday card signed by each.
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The weather has gotten warmer in the golden hills. A new species of geese recently has taken up residence in the lake by our house. These geese, unlike the Canadian variety that are common at the lake this time of year, have white necks and a bump on the top of their beak. I have never seen them around here before.
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The new geese on the lake being led around by the local white duck. Perhaps the duck is the lake’s resident real estate agent.

Dick left for a week in Thailand. Nikki arrived a day or two after Dick departed. HRM and Nikki attended a big concert at Discovery Park in Sacramento. Dick came down with food poisoning in Bangkok. I swam in the pool a lot and seem to be gaining weight again — about four pounds in the past week.

After Nikki left, Adrian arrived for the weekend. Since he will be available to care for HRM, I decided to spend the weekend in SF with Peter and Barrie. So, on Saturday, after downing a bowl of Raisin Bran and watering the plants, I left for the city by the bay.

That evening, I accompanied Peter to the El Cerrito Free Folk Festival where Peter was to perform with his Blues band, Blind Lemon Pledge, and where I played temporary roadie.
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Blind Lemon Pledge with Peter on Bass.

I also enjoyed the music of an engaging trio harmonizing folk songs. It was the group’s final appearance together as one of them was to depart to the East Coast within the next few days to commence a solo recording career.

Then we returned to Peter’s house where we talked mostly about getting old. The next morning, after Barrie returned from her morning swim in SF Bay, we ate a breakfast of locks, bagels, and cream cheese. I then returned home —No Bernie’s and coffee while sitting on the Old Man’s Bench talking with Don on this trip —a pity that.

 

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I do not know why it is but I usually find the most unpleasant trips the most interesting. It was that way on my recent trip back from Thailand. We left the apartment in Bangkok at about 7PM in order to get to the airport early enough for me to get a good seat. Suvarnabhumi Airport was more crowded and disorganized than it usually is. After a difficult time securing my ticket, I was told the flight was delayed until 6:30 in the morning.

I waited. Slept in fits on uncomfortable chairs. Walked around a lot. Drank water. Thought about how annoyed, uncomfortable and tired I felt and what I would do to the CEO of the airline if I had him in front of me. Eventually, we boarded the plane and took off. I was too exhausted to sleep. The movies were unappealing and the food not much better.

Because the flight took off so late, I arrived in Shanghai just as my connecting flight to the US was leaving. I rushed off the plane. Well, actually I did not rush because I had been seated at the back of the plane and no one but me seemed to be in any particular hurry.

As I exited the plane, I saw a young man with a sign that announced, “Transfer Passenger Assistance” and showed him my ticket. He looked confused. Walked away to speak to someone, returned and pointed vaguely toward a corridor leading from the hall. I had forgotten how the Chinese bureaucratic system differs from that in the US. In the US, probably for reasons of cost, people relating to the public are trained, for better or worse, to handle a number of somewhat discretionary activities. The Chinese it seems are not. Each functionary there appears to have been assigned only a single, not particularly discretionary, action.

Anyway, after passing through several hallways, I entered a large room containing several counters. Above one was a sign in English that read, “24-hour transit passengers.” I guessed that was the counter I was looking for. There was a long line and only one clerk. When I got to her and showed her my ticket she responded, “Transit Hotel.” I asked “Where?” She handed me a paper with my name on it and pointed to another traveler and said, “Follow that woman.”

“That woman” proved to be another lost and confused American who missed the same connecting flight as I. We passed through another warren of hallways until we came to a room even larger than the previous one with a lot of counters around the walls in front of which were crowds of clamoring travelers. We noticed a group of people in the center of the room who we recognized from our plane and asked them if they knew what was happening. One said, “I think we are supposed to wait here until someone comes for us.”

I noticed a counter over which was a sign that read something like “Transit Supervisor.” I approached him and asked what it is we should do. He pointed at a bunch of chairs against one wall and said, “Sit there, someone will come for you.”

So, we sat there for a long time and to our relief eventually, someone came and ordered us to follow him. We asked where we were going but received no answer. He marched us to a bus, too small to sit all of us and our luggage so many had to stand in the aisle amid the piled suitcases.

After a long long ride that ultimately brought us back to an airport hotel across the street from where we began, we disembarked and entered the hotel and milled around the lobby until one of us thought it would be a good idea to approach the reception desk. We did and at first, they did not seem to understand what we were all doing there. Then one of the women behind the desk motioned to us and began assigning rooms. When I approached and asked for a single room she said brusquely, “Two to a room” and assigned an elderly Japanese man to room with me. At first, I was offended that I had to share a room and with another, an old man no less, but I then realized he was no older than me and perhaps even younger. He spoke barely any English and I no Japanese but I soon discovered him to be one of the nicest and kindest people I had ever met.

I then asked about dinner and there ensued a several hour hullabaloo where I turned into the ugly American. I thoroughly enjoyed it, shouting away and laughing until everyone turned their back on me except for the servers who laughed with me (or at me, who knows).

Eventually, dinner arrived. It was as expected unappetizing.

The old man decided to go out on the town to a  symphony or something I might not have understood properly. I declined preferring to cry into my pillow.

The next morning at the airport the lines and confusion were staggering after about an hour or so of standing in a line that bearly moved, a guard came by and asked if I was on the plane to SF. When I answered in the affirmative he whisked me through everything and off I flew.

Having slept well the night before, I could not fall asleep during the flight so I watched all three episodes of Lord of the Rings. I found Frodo’s bulging eyes disconcerting and wondered why everyone in the movie had blue eyes.

After arriving in San Francisco I set off for Hobbitown in the Golden Hills. It took five hours or so to get there.

Back in El Dorado Hills.

Now some might wonder how I could equate EDH with the Shire. Easy, they both have a certain picturesque attractiveness; they both are set among rolling hills; they both are self-indulgent inward looking societies; they both see the outside world as full of orcs, goblins, sorcerers, violence and malevolence and; the citizens of both have hairy feet and do not wear shoes. Well, actually, the citizens of EDH do wear shoes.

I have resumed my life here as before; wake in the morning; drive HRM to school; Bella Bru for cafe latte and cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese; walk about three miles around the lake; return home and read a book; nap; have dinner and; retire to my room for my daily dose of existential anguish.

On Wednesday, I leave to spend a week at my sister’s home in Mendocino. She is hosting an engagement party for her son Brendan and his intended Ashley. She expects about 60 people to spend the weekend in and around the house. The Paella Lady and her huge paella pan will be there. Also, lots of Italian and Philippine food to eat and I expect a lot of music too.

On Sunday we plan to attend Paul Bunyan Day in Fort Bragg.

Life is good.

 

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Of all the mysteries and police procedurals I have read, I like those written by Reginald Hill best — especially his series featuring the cops from Mid-Yorkshire, Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Sgt. Wield, and their significant others. Alas, Mr. Hill died a few years ago leaving me bereft of my happy times with Andy, Peter, Sargt. Weild, Cap Marvel and the rest of the gang.

Here are some of Fat Andy’s witticisms from one of Hill’s last books

 

“I always said that If you ended up with life left over at the end of your money, the state would take care of you, but if you ended up with money left over at the end of your life, you were an idiot!”

“Women, eh? You can fuck ’em but you can’t fathom them.”

“Never trust a man who believes his own crap.”

“Okay, I’d spent a bit of time in a coma recently, but that’s no reason not to know what’s going off.”

“If there weren’t enough meat on young Clara to make a Christmas starter, there were plenty here for a main course with something left over for Boxing Day.”

“She laughed archly, like a cracked hurdy-gurdy playing ‘The Rustle of Spring.’”

“…she gave me a nod that would likely have broken my nose if she’d been close up, then turned to hoist herself onto a bar stool, showing off a pair of haunches a man would be proud to have the tattooing of.”

“Like me old mam used to say, there’s some folk you needn’t be kind to, but you should always try to be fair with everyone.”

“Once you feel like a prisoner, everyone looks like a guard.”

“…there’s many a good tune played on an old double bass—”

“She were a big bossy woman, used to rolling over folk who got in her way, like an anker of ale, but she must have been a bonny lass once, and she still had a gallon of jimp left in her.”
Hill, Reginald. The Price of Butcher’s Meat (Dalziel & Pascoe series Book 23). HarperCollins.

 

 

 

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When he was about 5 or 6, I used to tell HRM stories every evening. The following is one of them:

“So, last night, at bed time, I continued telling the series of stories to Hayden that I had begun about two years ago. The stories concerned the adventures of Danny (Hayden’s alter ego) and his trusty pony Acorn (who Hayden now and then rides whenever we visit Bill and Naida’s ranch).”

“Danny was resting at an oasis in the desert following his besting of ‘The Old Man Under the Mountain.’ With him were his two friends; “The Black Knight,” a gorilla (Whose alter ego cuddly toy shares my bed) who is “The World’s Strongest Knight” and rides a white horse with brown spots like a cow and is called appropriately “White-brownie or Brown-whitey,” and; “The White Knight Who Used to be ‘The Old Man who Dressed Like a Beggar’ and was The Worlds Most Powerful Magician,” until Danny, in the throne room of the Green Castle, defeated him in a duel of magic aided by “The Monster Who Lives in the Closet and Who Now Lives in Acorn’s Saddlebags,” and turned him into a mouse. In order for Danny and The Black Knight to escape from the dungeon of the “Old Man Under the Mountain,” Danny, again with the aid of “The Monster who lives in the Closet but Now Lives in Acorn’s Saddlebags” turned him from a mouse into a young handsome human except with less magical power so that his full name now became, “The White Knight Who Used to be an Old Man Dressed Like a Beggar and the Worlds Most Powerful Magician Until he was Turned into a Mouse and Then into A Young Man who was Not so Powerful a Magician.” The White Knight rode a black horse named, “Blackie.””

“They had just finished dinner and were drinking their milk while staring into the campfire when a troop of musicians and actors who were camping nearby came by and offered to put on a performance for the famous Knights.”

“The Knights agreed that they would enjoy that and the chief musician tuned up his Lute and began his song by introducing his main protagonist a skinny boy of indeterminate age named ‘Heimlich.’ Heimlich lived in a not so great but good enough castle in a dreary country somewhere that was always foggy. Heimlich was sad because his father, who was called Pruneberry the King of the Castle (and, if truth be known, King of little else) had just died. In addition almost before the body became cold or whatever it is body’s become after its inhabitant dies, his mother Natasha Dewlap married Heimlich’s uncle, Julius Caesar (we both thought that was a very funny name).”

“Anyway, Heimlich and his friend [who strangely did not have a name but it could just as well be something as ridiculous and Guildenstern or Rosencrantz or even Miracle Max] one evening, for some unknown reason, decided to go the cemetery to visit the site where Pruneberry was buried. Along the way, they came upon a pile of bones and a skull. Heimlich thought the skull reminded him of “Mortimer” his old kindergarten teacher.”

“Anyway, Heimlich’s friend decided to return home after they discovered the bones because he was a sensible lad and was creeped out by the bones and Heimlich’s weirdness. Heimlich went on by himself.”

“When Heimlich arrived at the gravesite, a Ghost popped out and said, ‘Heimlich I am your father, Pruneberry and I was killed by Natasha Dewlap and Julius Caesar who put poison up my nose while I was asleep.’”

“At this point, Hayden asked me ‘How can a ghost speak after he died?’”

“‘A keen observation,’ I acknowledged. ‘That is why Heimlich did not believe him and went back home.’”

“The next morning, as coincidence and fairy tales have it, a group of traveling actors came by the castle and asked Heimlich if he would like to have them perform a play. Maybe, Heimlich thought, if they perform Pruneberry’s death like the Ghost told it in front of Natasha Dewlap and Julius Caesar one of them would be reminded and say something like, “Say that looks familiar,” and Heimlich would then know what the Ghost said perhaps could have been true.”

“And so, the traveling players put on the show and at just the right moment, Julius Caesar turned to Natasha Dewlap and said, ‘Say Natty does this look familiar to you?’ At which point Heimlich became furious and drove Natasha Dewlap and Julius Caesar out of the castle where they were forced to live in a tent and sell apples and rutabagas to passersby.”

“Hayden then asked me, ‘What are rutabagas?’ I said, ‘I did not know.”’

“Heimlich, thereafter spent everyday alone in the little castle in that dismal country with his furry white cat named ‘Snowy,’ looking out of his window and down upon Natasha Dewlap and Julius Caesar trying to sell their apples and rutabagas to passersby, except for once a year when the troop of actors came by and they had a party.”

“The End.”

“I then told Hayden that the actors would perform another tale that I would tell him about tomorrow [I was already working on a children’s version of King Lear]. But, Hayden asked me if Danny was ever going to go back home to visit his mom who lived in the cottage by the “Deep Dark Wood,” before setting out on another adventure. He thought it would be a good idea if he did.”

“I told him that Danny told the musicians that he would not listen to the story now because he needed to get good nights sleep so that tomorrow he would be well rested for his trip back through the ‘Deep Dark Wood’ to visit his mom.”

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I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked, or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
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Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollar and up each range).
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A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
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While passing through those empty times during my cancer treatment when there is little to do other that dwelling on my discomfort or sleeping, I read. Mostly, I read things that pass the time, amusing but like after taking some narcotic and trying to remember what you did while stoned, you know you did it but cannot recall what it was you did while you did it. Along the way, I read my friend Christopher G. Moore’s book, The Marriage Tree. This was different.

To Moore, Bangkok is a mirror revealing the dark soul of humanity. In Thailand, that dark soul, which we like to pretend does not exist wherever we live, drips out bloody and fetid onto the streets of Bangkok. Like gods, the rich and powerful are immune from judgment and punishment, except by other gods like them. The rest of us are condemned to seeking a rough justice for those of our peers who may have harmed us. Those who truly set into

Like gods, the rich and powerful are immune from judgment and punishment, except by other gods like them. The rest of us are condemned to seeking a rough justice for those of our peers who may have harmed us. Those who truly set into play our small difficulties and tragedies are almost never forced into any court to answer for their complicity.

How many people have died or suffered from the products and services of the corporate entities these godlings control? How many wars have been fought to protect private interests and not the public interests? Has slavery really disappeared where laws have been passed to prohibit it, or are some of the powerful still able to command indenture of the less powerful?

This is perhaps the darkest of Moore’s books. Even the soiled hero of most of his novels, Vincent Calvino, a half Jewish, half Italian disbarred attorney from New York City, who has taken up life as a private detective in Bangkok, finally accepts that true justice, the capping of the godling responsible, is hopeless except by chance, and even then there is always someone else willing to take over and step in to play the godling role. Although the book is cloaked in the guise of a detective thriller, it is not. It is a scream against the gathering darkness of our world as those wealthy and powerful self-styled godlings take control and the rest of us slowly realize we all now live in Bangkok —  without happy endings to content us.

Moore is Canadian and like most Canadians, his moral outrage stops just short of throwing the bomb — rather a shame that.

When I am in Bangkok, I sometimes observe Moore across a street or at some artist do. I no longer see in his face that little knowing smile he seemed to effect in the past. He now appears haunted as though he’s glimpsed the future and found only more hopelessness there … or perhaps a local godling has happened to read his book and begun to turn his hooded eyes in his direction.

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu

 

 
While conversing with my friend Peter in front of Bernie’s coffee shop in Noe Valley San Francisco, for some reason we got into a discussion about India where Peter and his wife Barrie spent many years and where I have, for a long time, longed to go. I mentioned a book about India I read several years ago of which I was quite fond. I could not remember its name but promised Peter I would search for it and let him know. After three days of searching on my computer, I located the book and sent the information to him. I also decided to buy the book on Amazon and reread it on my Kindle to see if it was as enjoyable as I remembered.

After reading a few pages, I recalled that the book was also one of the reasons I had put off traveling to India. You see, when I travel, I prefer traveling alone and although I enjoy the “Great Sights” like anyone, I especially like searching for the odd and a little dangerous — like the night I found myself in a knife fight in a rural town in Turkey that eventually prompted the leader of the Turkish mafia to demand I persuade him why he should not have me killed. I knew India for me would never be merely a visit to the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort and the like, but a lifetime commitment.

“A journey, I reflected, is of no merit unless it has tested you. You can stay at home and read of others’ experiences, but it’s not the same as getting out of trouble yourself.”
Shah, Tahir. The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. Secretum Mundi.

 
Anyway, I guess the book can be considered a travelogue. There are many great travel books, like “A Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush,” and several by Krakauer that read like great novels. Tahir Shah’s book is one also — where the travel leaves off and the novel begins, however, is difficult to discern.

The book begins with Tahir Shah as a young boy in England visited by Hafiz Jan, the hereditary Afghan guard of the tomb of his ancestor the great Muslim general Jan Fishan Kahn (a nom de Guerre that translates to, “He that Scatters Souls.”) He traveled to England because he had a vision of young Tahir, the last of his line, falling into a culvert and dying. He believed it was his duty to prevent it. Hafiz Jan is welcomed by Tahir’s father and takes up residence in Tahir’s home where he sleeps on the floor in front of his bedroom door. The Afghan guard had also spent some time as an apprentice to a great magician in India before assuming his hereditary duties guarding the tomb. The magic we are talking about here is not magic but illusion — the illusions of magicians like Houdini and the Indian god-men and sadhus for thousands of years. Hafiz Jan began teaching the eager young Tahir some of the secrets of illusion he had learned as the magician’s apprentice. The training went well until one day, during an exhibition of Tahir’s magic educational accomplishments, a mishap occurred that almost set his parents on fire. Soon after, Hafiz Jan was sent back to India to resume his hereditary duties.

Years later, Tahir, as a young man, traveled to India found the guard, apprenticed himself to the guard’s teacher, a rather overbearing sort and after a mostly unpleasant education sets off at the request of his teacher to travel throughout India searching for “insider information.” What one learns along with Tahir are the tricks of the trade of the god-men, sadhus and the like that have enthralled millions of poor and gullible Indians and attracted hundreds of westerners to journey there to sit at the feet of holy mystics absorbing their wisdom — for a price.

“Because,” he called out, “we were on a quest . . .” “A quest for what?” “For a third eye. You see, in the seventies, India was Disneyland … it was the Disneyland of the soul.”… “[W]e had all been to India in search of the third eye, but had left with nothing but diarrhea.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. SArcade Publishing.

While searching for these Godmen, Tahir and his sidekick, a 13-year-old thief and con-artist named Balu, spent some time at a luxurious mostly pink ashram of a well known Guru and in addition to describing at length the oddness of the entire set up,  Tahir recounts some of the Godman’s more private weirdness:

“When it came to divine eccentricity, Sri Gobind was no exception. His followers took great pride in the tales of their teacher’s irregularities. Every so often, gripped by an insatiable desire, the guru would jump naked from his bed. Running into the heart-shaped gardens, he would relieve himself in the bushes. Or, in the middle of an address, he had been known to rip off all his clothes and anoint his flabby belly with buffalo milk butter. Each morning, his fans averred, the holy man would douse himself in a bath of potassium permanganate. The immersion gave his skin its exotic purply-brown tinge. He would dress his hair with a pomade of seasoned egg whites,-dab his earlobes with witch hazel; and spray his nether regions with his own blend of catnip cologne.”
Shah, Tahir. Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen. Arcade Publishing.

During his travels, Tahir explores and writes about the economic and social life of India through stories about the people he meets. People such as the cadaver collectors and their business providing the bones for the skeletons in most medical school classrooms of the world, and the women who rent cows after the owners milk them in the morning then stand on the street corners during the day selling the pleasure of feeding the cow to passers-by and in the evenings selling the cow patties to brick makers before returning the cows to their owner. The reason why India with its incredibly concentrated population is not sitting on a pile of garbage and human refuse is that that very garbage and refuse is the resource that supports much of the population.

“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home. It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart”
Tahir Shah

Pookie says, “Check it out.”

PS: Amazon had a special on where one could buy all of Tahir Shah’s travel books for the price of one, so I bought them all. I am now enjoying his story about finding a fake map of the mythical King Solomon’s mines in a curio shop in Jerusalem and setting off to Ethiopia where he believes the mines described in the fake map might have been located — if they were real. There he hires a taxi driver as an interpreter, travels by some of the most uncomfortable and dangerous modes of transportation imaginable, explores an illegal gold mine where children are sent into the narrow tunnels and many of them die, spends several nights in an Ethiopian jail, just misses a dinner with Idi Amin, is befriended by the manager of a government gold mine who wants to emigrate to America, travels to a land where the men, instead of head hunting for a hobby, cut off the testicles of their enemies and carry them in sacks around their necks and so on and on. Alas, despite the danger and discomfort he finds nothing but adventure.

“Most journeys have a clear beginning, but on some, the ending is less well-defined. The question is, at what point do you bite your lip and head for home?”
Tahir Shah

(It sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?)

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