Trying to Pray in Bali

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If I were a painter I would have captured the light of that morning this way: it slanted through the clouds which lingered from the previous night and dove into the morning mist that lingered over the field next to the hotel. The field would soon appear like rusted gold, but now the air above it seemed to flutter with the rising fog. We set out, making a path. The long stalks itched our legs and occasionally stung and whipped. I heard the Sport King begin to hum, an old gospel from Mahalia Jackson, and the words began to fill me up and lightened the weight of the surfboard I carried across my shoulders.

After crossing the field we entered a layer of trees and a small rocky path appeared. We began to descend, and soon the path ended and dropped away. The Sport King indicated that we’d have to climb downward and motioned toward the outlines of a trail. He pointed out hand and footholds along the descent, and I could see below us a narrow wedge of stones and sand. When we had finished our descent, my hands were rough and chalky from the cliffs. The strip was too small to be called a beach; it was simply a fortuitous place, dry and with plenty of large boulders on which to lay our packs and towels. I knew that we’d have to be cognizant of the tide or our belongings would get washed away.

The Sport King paddled ahead, occasionally at an angle, quick to understand the nature of the waves breaking against them. I clumsily stroked in a straight line, only partly successful as I tried to duck under each curl of foam. They seemed to attack me mindlessly and I had a vision of the eternal hordes in fantasy novels. Pouring line upon line, unceasing. The Sport King reached the calm waters out beyond the break even as I struggled backwards and under, and backwards and forward, my arms burning and body twisting as I tried to make some headway. The muscles in my shoulders felt swollen and huge, and I tried to find comfort in the possibility of having a real physique from all of this. The Sport King straddled his board in the distance and it looked as if he was watching me for an eternity, but that wasn’t the case and he soon slid on his board past where I bobbed, cutting across the powdery water, a look of concentration tensing the muscles of his face. When he finished his wave, he quickly repeated the process, paddling past my floundering and into the quiet space. “This is absolutely great!” he yelled from afar. I nodded as best I could, my chin lapping into the water.

When I arrived into the empty space of calm water — what the Sport King called “the silence” — my board suddenly seemed tiny and insubstantial, and I only then wondered idiotically if the poly styrofoam and fiberglass mix could really support my weight. The water seemed wider here, as if connected to the sky.
“Grab that.” The Sport King had paddled near, and was pointing to rusted metal protruding from the water. For the first time I noticed the rounded funnel of a ship piercing through the ocean’s surface. In the slanted dazzle of the morning sun, I hadn’t seen it from the shore. It struck me then that the ocean was a version of outer space. I wondered if I looked deeply enough into its azure would I encounter celestial bodies? I dipped a hand beneath the water’s surface, and then my face, and reached downward, watching my fingers lose their form as my eyes filmed over. From somewhere outside of this universe I heard the Sport King say, “It’s all timing.”
I pulled my head back, water dripping from my nose and lips and squinted into the sunlight behind me. The water looked upside down, or maybe it was the sky. A rolling swell approached, lifting everything above the horizon. The Sport King was already sliding into position. I knew though that I would miss it, as I had missed so many opportunities by looking in the wrong place, or in the right place too late. There was nothing to do about it. I kicked towards the wave and ducked under as it cycled by, seeing a television screen of green and yellow static, until I broke through the surface and into the air once more.


São Paulo Sonidos #1 – John Coltrane – My Favorite Things

It’s none too original to link the sound of jazz to an uber urban setting like the one here in São Paulo. In much the same way, the idea of a Sunday morning run in the city’s major park was less than unique, and shared by numerous others who arrived from various locales to Parque Iberapuera.  Unlike path running along the Potomac, which tends to bore me with its ordered vistas, navigating the jigsaw of São Paulo’s streets provided an opportunity to get lost (I did) and discover small delights like a Sunday feria on a closed off street.

The trilling notes of John Coltrane’s saxophone in this take on My Favorite Things match the sidewalks cracked by immense tree roots, the etchings of gravel beneath my shoes, and the scrape of pull-along shopping carts on the pavement. Even on an early Sunday morning here, it’s hectic just beneath the surface.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

If you haven’t known trepidation (a disquieting fear, not the terror found in a book like The Shining) while reading, then you might want to pick up a copy of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. Normally I wouldn’t write about a book while only halfway through it, but I am reading it so slowly that I’m not sure I’ll even finish anytime soon.

I’m not even sure it’s a novel. It is, rather, a meditation on inner and outer decay, on decline, loss, memory, and the gradual effacement of even the most extraordinary of things. I half expect the book itself to vanish or crumble between my fingers while I’m reading. Certainly it reminds me of a book I read earlier this year — Teju Cole’s Open City. Published a decade earlier, Austerlitz (so far) greets us in Belgium as Cole’s novel does, and also in Wales and in London. The settings are intensely and intimately described, yet the novel also seems to take place within Sebald’s memory. There’s a term I’m reminded of: “umwelt” — a German word often translated as “a self-centered world”. Weirdly, I began a short story titled “Umwelt”, also set in London, which has dragged on and on…

And it’s the passages about the inner workings of our selves that seem most familiar. Here, at length, is Austerlitz describing the process of writing and reading:

But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought such a sentence out, with the greatest effort, and written it down, than I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed….However much or little I had written, on a subsequent reading it always seemed so fundamentally flawed that I had to destroy it immediately and begin again.

As always, things seem connected. Between readings I’ve been listening repeatedly to the first track on what I think what may end up being one of 2011’s more under-appreciated break-up records. The same disquiet stirs.

Go ahead and be my world, and everything will be ok. Just hide there in plain sight, too big to see.

Not Honest. But True.

Throughout this year, between the endless mountains of packed snow and the minutes stuck at the same morning traffic lights, I find myself singing the final chorus of this song over and over, accompanied by my boys on occasion, and other times as if my insides are pouring over the steering wheel. And that gorgeous gorgeous trumpet line…”You let the devil in your home!”

So sad to miss their show here in August.

Typhoon | A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.