Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading for meaning

Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable LifeLeonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life by Anthony Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have complete sympathy for those who commented on the remarkable number of editing issues in this book, but I persevered and such issues almost disappeared in the second half. Given that the author is something of a poetry aficionado, and thus presumably a person who cares about words, I am left thinking that perhaps the issue is not one of poor editing (although I still think it is), but one of ‘style’.

With that out of the way, I really enjoyed this book. Although it goes off into details that were sometimes irrelevant to my interests, the long list of interviews used as background for the project provide a wealth of information about Cohen, of course, but also about the various milieux in which he moved over a very long period of time.

As for Cohen himself, he comes across as a charming, kind and generous man who was dedicated to his vision. Perhaps his achievement of idol status among the bourgeoisie of the Western world has something to do with their / our admiration for a rather solitary man who does what he likes, when he likes, in pursuit of that vision.

Thus in speaking of his years of activities at the Zen retreat at Mt Baldy, Reynolds notes that Cohen would get up before the prescribed 3.00am in order to have a coffee and a couple of cigarettes. That suggests a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to Zen. On the other hand, he seems to have understood the main idea; after his five year stint on the mountain, Cohen notes that ‘One of the goals of the activities is to discard the goal’.

So who is Leonard Cohen?

Fittingly, Cohen himself gets the final word. Reynolds finished the book with this quote from the great man himself, written on Hydra in the early days:

In my journey I know I am somewhere beyond the travelling pack of poets
I am a man of tradition
I will remain here until I am sure of what I am leaving

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Checking water depths on the Irrawaddy
Posted by Picasa
Posted by PicasaSunset on the irrawaddy

Going though some photos from Christmas last, when we were in Burma. The photo was taken near Old Pagan. There are more photos here:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Koalas at Morialta Conservation Park

The baby koala left its mother and
went searching for food.

Monday, November 13, 2006

a travel memoir

There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.

John Fowles, The Magus [1]

Not every traveller wants to go home in a literal sense – some are marooned for so long that they think they are at home - but every traveller, even the kind that never leaves his armchair in front of the fire, wants to find the place where being what he is will matter. That place is home.

Robert Dessaix, Corfu – a Novel [2]

There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveller.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[1] John Fowles, The Magus

[2] Robert Dessaix. Corfu – a Novel. Picador, Sydney, 2001 p 53

Chapter 4: No Person’s Land

There were night-scapes in Saigon to be visited only when the moon was in a certain phase, and rich mandarins – still existing in those days in what remained culturally a province of China – would pay for white herons to be released across the sky when the party was seated in readiness for the aesthetic experience.
Norman Lewis A Dragon Apparent [1]

Borders are strange places, and the borders of countries that don’t care about their image need to be approached with great care. It may not be dangerous, but it can certainly be very challenging, frustrating, irritating, annoying, demoralising...

On a previous visit, we’d flown into Vietnam and had been astounded at the spontaneous ease with which immigration officials randomly harassed incoming visitors – and that was the foreigners. The way they treated returning fellow Vietnamese was simply appalling, but we had been assured that things had changed. Maybe they had in Ho Chi Minh City Airport, but at a tiny border post at Moc Bai on the ‘road’ between Cambodia and Vietnam, word hadn’t got through.

I love those land borders between two countries that feel really different: between, say, Malaysia and Thailand, India and Nepal, or Cambodia and Vietnam. Few things help you feel more comfortable than seeing a good stereotype in action, and to be the recipient of two different bureaucratic and cultural styles within a couple of minutes can be a very telling and sometimes comforting experience. It depends which way you’re crossing. This was going to be one of the ‘telling’ crossings. As we said goodbye to Cambodia, the two men in the grubby cement immigration kiosk smiled and smiled and smiled and said ‘goodbye, please come again soon’, as if they really meant it. We tried not to cry. Really.

We walked the few hundred yards across ‘no man’s land’ with some trepidation, and crossed under the yellow star of the Vietnamese flag into a tall, spacious border post.

As the sort of person who likes to do things properly, I’d insisted on carrying our little yellow inoculation booklets with us this trip. No one had actually asked to see these for some years, but a lot of time and money had gone into collecting the stamps they contained, and you never know when someone wants to know when your latest yellow fever vaccination was.

Well, it turns out the man at the Vietnamese border post did. We filled out the necessary forms in triplicate, on the finest of tissue paper, and presented ourselves for harassment. If you didn’t have the medical evidence, you were harassed, made to pay a small fee, and inoculated on the spot. Clean needles? Sort of. As we arrived a European man was loudly (and therefore, to the Vietnamese, very rudely) protesting that he had already been vaccinated, and refusing to be injected here using ‘that awful equipment’. He was still there when we left - he may still be there now, brushing up on his ‘how to deal with Vietnamese border guards’ etiquette.

On the other hand, if you did have the evidence, if you could produce the little yellow books, then you were in real trouble. The immigration officer, in his pressed uniform and his hugely peaked hat, read and re-read and re-read the vaccination stamps, getting crosser all the time. The amount of money you had to pay for the vaccination was so small that couldn’t have been the issue, whether he pocketed it or not. No, there seemed to be a genuine disappointment that we weren’t to be given an injection. We tried not to look happy, made our way obsequiously to customs, who only emptied two of our bags, searching for who knows what. He said he was looking for money. I think he was looking for happy pills. He didn’t find any of either.

At the small drink shop we came to outside the Boc Mai customs hall, the relief among our fellow travellers was palpable, as was the frustration that needed venting. Communist or not, Coca Cola was on offer, and we shared a Coke as we shared notes on our how we’d fared with immigration. We waited quite a while for some of our fellow travellers to jump through the bureaucratic hoops, then boarded another bus for the final leg into Ho Chi Minh City.

We emailed from there.

Date: Aug 06 2000 05:59:45 EDT

From: "On the road with B, D and T"

Subject: Bouncing into Ho Chi Minh the latest from the travel trio

Dear Folks,

We arrived in Vietnam a couple of days ago at a border crossing that can best be described as desolate. With the journey that preceded it, it provided something of a contrast to the comfort levels we'd enjoyed in the Cambodian capital. We'd become accustomed to the relative order of Phnom Penh, and the wonderful hospitality provided by P and J.

After that, the trip by road to Vietnam provided a rude awakening. At seven in the morning, as we moved out of town, we passed a veritable sea of motorbikes carrying people into work - among them some of the city's 145,000 garment workers. But once out into the countryside, the traffic thinned only a little, but the road became desperately bad - and then got worse. Our top speed for the whole 220 kilometres was 80 kph, but we generally travelled at more like 20, frequently crawled to dead slow to negotiate 'pot-holes'. Much of the road was on raised dykes, and with the early flooding that is a major feature of life all over this region this year, we were often surrounded by water, and hundreds of small houses that sat not far above the rising flood.

An hour or so out from Phnom Penh we came to an amazing ferry, carrying buses, cars, trucks and us across the raging Mekong, where the driver had to aim hundreds of metres above his landing point in order to find his right place on the other side. The Danish government may have provided the ferries, but it was the Cambodian captain who made it look easy.

A few more hours brought us to the border, with all of those little forms to be filled in, and other things to be discussed at a later date, taking a fair bit of time. From there, however, it was a breeze. The Vietnamese (or was it the Americans) have created a very good road system, and although the congestion on the roads meant that we didn't travel very fast, at least we travelled in one direction - forwards - rather than up and down and around.

So here we are in Ho Chi Minh City, in the palatial Dong A1 Hotel, mercifully in the middle of a tourist ghetto, with the inevitable in-house internet access, air conditioning and all of those things that we really must give up very soon. Tomorrow may be the day, as we have booked tickets on the train to Hué - a 24 hour journey that will dump us in the centre of Vietnam, still without one confident word of Vietnamese between us. The things we do for fun!!

Best wishes

D, B, T and Gumnut, who is starting to look a little travel stained - she needs a good bath, but you know how koalas hate baths.

[1] Norman Lewis, in the preface to the 1882 edition of A Dragon Apparent, in Norman Lewis Omnibus, Picador, 1995

Monday, May 01, 2006

Whobee newbie?

After watching everyone else do it - why not?