8 August 2008

Letter 2.61

I'm happy to know my small paintings arrived safely and have afforded you some pleasure. Yes, they took many hours each, the detail work -- one of the distinctive features of thankas -- being a very slow and careful job. The original designs were taken from a series of prints from which I selected figures I liked and copied them onto blank paper in outline, then painted the outlines, restoring the original detail as much as I could. I used water-color, a very fine brush, an concentration. I began with a box of school-children's type water-colors, but eventually wound up with bottles and tubes of all sorts.

The war seems to be over -- so I'm told. Probably you were better informed on what was going on than I was (or am). Still, it affected re more seriously than I'd expected, since it created a kerosene shortage and for a while it looked like we would have to use candles at night (a more expensive proposition). But then we scored a 4-gallon tin, which is a month's supply. Also, I've had a one-year extension of my visa, so there's no concern -- there never was -- of being evacuated. (Even evacuation would be alright with me: it would probably mean a free trip to Nepal.) However, since the government will not evacuate me due to the heat of the war, I'm now obliged to evacuate myself due to the cold of winter and in about a week I'll be leaving for Bodh Gaya, the place (in the plains, to the east of Benares), where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Already departed from the scene are an elderly American, Henry, formerly a Vedantic monk for five years and a psychiatrist, who is trying to buy an estate up here to settle on (Henry has given up his practice, having, presumably, made a bundle); Jennifer, a plump young Canadian girl (her father was an American who fled to Canada during the Korean war to evade the draft) who, having been nurtured on LSD ('acid baby' is, I think, the term used), no longer has much interest in freak scenes and has a cool collected head -- she's joining her brother in an ashram near Bombay; Gary, an American, who has a hashish-smuggling racket, and his girlfriend Judy, English, formerly a Tibetan nun, both to take a meditation course from an elderly Burmese gentleman in Bombay; Sally and Win Chamberlain, who are under-(or over)-ground New York film-makers; Tensing, a Harvard graduate student on a foreign study fellowship doing Tibetan studies (he's the former monk from the New Jersey Tibetan monastery) and his Swedish wife, who was formerly the wife of Richard Leary (Timothy Alpert?) -- with whom(s?) both Henry and Win also had connections -- and various hippies, heads, and other types too probable and improbable to describe.

Still around are such people as Nick and his Swedish wife Eva, who have just returned from a three month trip to Tibet (a small part of which, nearly inaccessible is held by the Nepal government -- they tell of 21,000 feet passes, seeing people washes away crossing rivers, etc., and have some excellent photographs of the journey -- Nick speaks fluent Tibetan); Sunnyata, an 84 year old Danish Hindu sadhu; and Pat, a middle-aged American following Hindu ascetic practices (she vas formerlv a successful artist, and gave me some basic advice on the thankas); Carol, an English girl who practices witchcraft; and a host of others. Names keep changing, but the typos don't.

It’s been an amusing 6 months, watching it from the outside. But I couldn't imagine being more than a spectator, and so Bodh Gaya seems the inevitable conclusion to Almora.

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