Sunday, April 21, 2013

A holy war

I've always wanted to go there,” I say, watching another travel show on PBS.

K. says: “But you say that about everywhere.”

But it's true. I've always wanted to go everywhere, and Maine is only one of the many places I dreamed of visiting. I've debated enrolling in the Century Club, where members visit all 321 (at press time) of the world's countries before they die. The number varies, of course, with new countries minted, nullifying a lifetime attempt to check them all of the list, forcing deathbed adventure, at least in my imagination.

But Maine: Maine I saw as cliffs and white-stone beaches, me walking along the shore barefoot, wearing a white dress, with a white house perched as an ocean lookout above the white-grey sea. Wherever this vision came from the illustrated children's version of Moby-Dick or from Bangkok billboards, I'll never know.

Maine is different. Maine is cold. Maine is a place where one can remain indoors, quietly stewing, for weeks at a time, while outside the moon principle rules, the cold, the dark. It's the yin principle come to life, the yin I recognize from childhood, although it's perhaps my first acknowledgment of its power.

The first yin-yang I saw was on the Confucian temple, bedecked with pink and orange pastel. We passed its alien statues of a dark-bearded idolatrous Confucius as we walked to our friend's house in the slum along the khlong—one of Bangkok's fetid bottle-green canal-sewers, smelling of garlic and rotting flesh, a smell I still catch in my dog's breath, which reminds me, thoroughly, of home. It doesn't disgust me. When I catch the smell from a septic release valve or loose propane now it feels old and faintly nostalgic, as when I caught the whiff of raw sewage through my dorm-room windows, in Manila.

What do sewage and the yin-yang have to do with each other? And how do they connect to cold and Maine and wanderlust? Who knows. Just another string of associations, the dangling trail as I pull monkeys from the barrel of memory. But I still want to go everywhere.

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