เหงื่อออกรายละเอียด: Janky Bangkok reading Robbe-Grillet (& not-reading Murnane)
The above is from Barley Patch by Gerarld Murnane, which i started to read while waiting for our plane at Fiumicino... until i got bored of it after 50 pages or so & left in in the terminal (& watched as some poor unsuspecting soul picked it up, little knowing what they were getting themselves into to). The book is essentially Murnane writing about writing (or not writing, as he renounces fiction writing)—a self-indulgent exercise for lack of anything else to write about. In answer to his question that prompts the book (inspired by Beckett), «Must I write?» the answer (to Murnane) is: no. If you don't have anything to say, then don't bother.
Boarded our 747 & did some writing of my own. Then i started to read Recollections of the Golden Triangle by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I grabbed it thinking it might have something to do with Thailand or Cambodia, but alas, the only real country mentioned in the book is Uruguay. Not sure i liked it as much as Jealousy or In the Labyrinth (which i read in Kenya), but still, much better than the likes of Murnane. It starts out as a sort of detective novel, an investigator at a crime scene, but then things get weird & in a Dexter-like way (but nearly so campy), it seems an alter-ego of this investigator is the one actually doing the crime, or crimes—ritualistic rapes & cultish sacrifices.
As in the last French novel i read (in the French Alps), this book is also somewhat obsessed with sex, but not as annoyingly so (or at least the language makes up for it). And not so much sex (and yes, violence as misogynist as Houllebecq), as fetish for women, or young girls. The writing is far more abstract & stylized, ritualized to match what's going on. Here's a representative sentence:
Classic Robbe-Grillet. Very detailed, surgical descriptions. Like reading a geometry or logic book written by an obsessive-compulsive lunatic with a fine arts degree in architecture. Not a lot happens, but something about the meticulous methodology makes you think every detail must mean something. Even he himself says it:
Couldn't sleep on the plane. We had a 3-seater for the 2 of us & we tried this way & that until i ended up on the floor so j could spread out on the seat (she had to go straight to a meeting & present first thing when the plane landed). It was interesting laying on the floor—i could only see everyone's feet & baggage & with my head resting on the ground & could sense the baggage hold below & below that 35,000 feet of dark sky down to Afghanistan or whatever country we were flying over at that moment.
Got to our hotel & had breakfast with j on the muddy river, then she went to her meeting & i walked around some. Didn't visit many tourist things or take photos as i've already done that once or twice before. Mostly i just wandered & let myself get lost, though i did spontaneously revisit the Reclining Buddha & spent more time in that temple complex (Wat Pho). If you look past the main attraction, there are interesting intricacies in the surrounding structures & the order you see things makes a difference, kind of like reading a mandala.
I had actually set out in search of someone who could do me a Sak Yant tattoo. Tried to arrange it online, but all it seems you can find is the monk dude (Ajarn Noo Kamphai) that inked Angelina Jolie & now he is all famous & charges up the wazoo. You see loads of Thai people with tattoos here, but those giving them are nowhere to be found. Last time i was here i asked around & most Thai people get their ink done at some wat or another on the outskirt of the city.
Flâneured through some alleys & markets, with stall after stall of those tiny magic amulet things that the Thai love (they shop with magnifying glasses in hand to better scrutinize the detail). Aside from the occasional ground-up rhino tusk & phallic statues, not much else besides these miniature charms... & of course food & spices galore.
Pigged out on noodles on the street somewhere & grazed on other snacks here & there as i made my way back. Bangkok is janky for sure. Lots of wires & obstacles & clutter & broken-up concrete—you have to watch where you are going. Scrawny cats & dogs are given free reign. Smells of jasmine & rice & spices mixed with wafts of sewage smell. Flashes of saffron robes in electronics stores or riding in the stern of a river ferry. Every exposed surface clammy or moldy. Tuk-tuks speeding by or lining the streets & alleys, the drivers always wanting to take you somewhere. People sleeping sound in unseemingly places. Girls in doorways yelling, «massssaaaaggge», in nasaly tones, otherwise Thai people don't pay much attention to you, at least not like the hassles you get in Africa or India.
Thai people are nice & polite like Japanese people, laid back like Californians, with a bit of productive brashness (a la Chinese) thrown in for good measure. They are chill & joke around, but at the same time they get shit done. If they do get angry, they seem to quickly express it & it quickly diffuses or dissipates (rather than builds up).
We were considering whether we could live in Bangkok a few months ago as there was a job j was considering here. We could almost live here for the food alone, but otherwise we are not so sure. It's not a very walkable or bikeable city & it seems oppressively hot & sultry the whole year round. And a bit chaotic. But living in a Buddhist-driven society seems better than one fueled by any other religion.
Got back to the room just as the rain came. Napped off some jet lag. J got back & also napped, then we feasted at Khinlom Chomsaphan—whole fish with chili sauce, green curry, tom yum, papaya salad, beer (with ice, as they do here) & mai tais—on the river where little canoes would pull up selling dried squid, flattened & grilled right there on the canoe.
Woke up before the sun & before it was even light j & i ran a few loops around Sanamluang (no, not my favorite Thai restaurant in Hollywood, but a big open field in the middle of Bangkok, which googling now i guess was a cremation ground of sorts). J is off to another day of meetings & i am writing, sitting on the great muddy river, watching the flux of passenger ferries & barges. The river is chocked full of floating debris, on the verge of overflowing, sandbags here & there in spots to keep it from spilling over into the city.
Finished reading Recollections of the Golden Triangle, so i ventured over to Khaosan road (which otherwise i avoid like the plague) to find another book to swap it with. They have some used bookstands there fueled by the books the trustafarian backpackers leave in their wakes. Found a Faulkner book i haven't read, Intruder in the Dust & a book by Evelyn Waugh, Black Mischief. Ate lunch at some place on our street (Phra-A-Thit Road), the menu was all in อักษรไทย & no one spoke English so i had no idea what was what, i just kept pointing to what other people were eating & pointing to my mouth. First i had bowl of some sort of noodles with beef & greens & chili, followed by another bowl (what everyone else was doing) of crushed ice & as far as i could tell some gelatinous goo made of tamarind that made for a nice antidote to the first dish (that was hot in both senses of the word). After, they count the bowls & charge you 15 baht (48 cents) for each. Then the rain set in like clockwork & here i am. Tonight we are going on some sort of river cruise dinner thing with j's colleagues & tomorrow morning we're off to Cambodia.