Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re: Alleys and Passages

To: A.C. Evans / Brooklyn, NY / USA
From: Jason Leahey / stoop-side bar / Siem Reap, Cambodia

Dear T,

There are real alleys, real passageways in Siem Reap, and now also The Alley and The Passage. The people walking back and forth are not all white, but they are all dressed the same. You grow up with history books, old photos, and the world seemed then like an endless assemblage of hats, mustaches, shirts and smocks and skin from leather to tracing paper. Faces like dry sink holes and faces like cool water still in its bowl.

The probability of barbarity, caught in a black and white photo and held at bay by expanses of ocean and endless streams of bills, that stirs you. You think, “The world is endless, the people infinite.” Boredom was inconceivable so long as you had the gumption to leap out there, believed that no leap was too far.

I’m sitting here at what is called The Alley. Or maybe this is The Passage. Initially in the creation of Pub Street, of the Siem Reap that feeds and whets the tourists, this was called one of the other, Alley or Passage. There are restaurants here, bars, slate cemented in place when the rest of the sidewalks in town, what sidewalks there are, are tiles hammered into the sand. The Alley, The Passage, think gentrification, think 4th Avenue counted as Park Slope...

Oh, man, remember when we were walking home along there back in 2001, somewhere close to dawn, and we passed that apartment door opened to the street and just the end of two legs and a pair of sneakers jutting out over the lip of the stoop, the fucking Wicked Witch of the East, body swallowed in the dark of the hallway and you laughing that crazy hee-hee that you do, over to snap a photo? Your compass on the world is like twenty-six degrees northwest, man, or maybe really southwest, and whenever I think of that fact I like to make it Due North for a bit because yours is a good gauge to follow when turned around.

...So The Alley, The Passage, you get this nice string of restaurants and a gallery or two, shops selling T-shirts with Tin-tin in Cambodge on them, that sort of thing, and then about a year and a half ago another Alley or Passage, this one with more artistic retail, opens one street over.

And then Lonely Planet comes through and they pull the mix-up, call the Passage the Alley, or vice versa, and when the thing comes out all the businesses have to change their business cards because what’s in Lonely Planet, that’s reality, Due Polaris, and you pretend otherwise at your own financial peril.

So I’m sitting here in The Alley Passage because they have fifty-cent drafts and I need to be away from the house for a bit, read and write, save dinner money by going to town on this bar’s peanuts and popcorn...

A Scout is trustworthy (!), loyal (!), helpful (I hope), friendly (try to be), courteous (when it’s warranted), kind (!), obedient (never), cheerful (on good days), thrifty!!
...and everybody walkin past is dressed more or less the same. And it’s a superficial thing, silly, but it dissapoints me. Like I’ll have to leap out of a plane onto the Mongolian Steppes to find a person I can set eyes on and think, “Now what the hell is going on there.” An American doctor who lives here, a guy named Varoon, wearing khakis, just walked by and when I presented this quandry to him, he said I best leap out of a plane into a place with no people if I want the exotic, and I guess that’s most likely true.

And I guess that’s okay, too. People are people are people and if there’s one great truth that travel instills in a person, it is that. And so maybe I shouldn’t expect anything new and wonderous from my fellow humans. Lord knows, exotic smocks from the Ottoman era or wince-worthy head piercings from the (then)-soon-to-be-ravaged Tropics or whatever else can’t be guides to it. And Lord knows, too, I haven’t rambled far enough anyway, but...

But there’s a little loss in me that even in Cambodian jungles people know that Micheal Jackson died, that everything from Nordic He-men to scuttling sea crabs have heard of Coca-Cola, etc., etc., ad nauseum. And I really like Michael Jackson and can roll with Coke, more or less. It’s just that sometimes if feels like my exploring has been done for me. The arm of the American (half-)Century is long. That’s the other awareness travel instills. So the exploration will have to be of the self, for you of the twenty-six degree Southwest, mine the twenty-six degree Mountain Atlantic, whichever Due Polaris, and still everything hurdles out from the high-pressure center faster and faster, until all of this collapses on itself, to be blown out again.

Keep the faith.


1 comment:

Anna said...

the exploring has been done for you, you'll have to explore the self. i dig this, it's good advice, it's good to remember. I understand the disappointment, but admire the hopefulness of the conclusion.