Saturday, November 27, 2021


--That's what's amazing (about big old churches). At two in the afternoon there's nobody in any of them. There they sit with all that stone and mahogany and stained glass--and they're empty. I mean, they must have been crowded at one point, right?--for someone to have gone to all that trouble. There must've been lines outside the confessionals and weddings with girls dropping flower petals in the aisle.

--From baptisms to eulogies ....

--Exactly. But over time the congregation has been winnowed away. The newcomers set up their own churches and the big old ones just get left alone--like the elderly--with memories of their heyday. I find it very peaceful to be in their company.

--Amor Towles, Rules of Civility, a Novel

This strikes a note for me. This strums a chord. Here I am left alone, empty, yet strangely content. What, after all, is the alternative? I am a dull, unattended eulogy to myself, stone, mahogany, stained glass and all. I am found at the same places day in and day out, week in and week out, though sought by no one. There I am at the table with my book, in this or that cafe. The man, the book, the coffee, and the banana bread. Nothing to see here (or perhaps it is occasionally wished that better use might be made of the space).

Did you know that two people engaged in conversation are more likely to be interrupted than one person reading a book?  

The other day, the neighborhood dogs brought bad feelings to a head when some of the neighbors began to complain. Ultimately, the trouble was narrowed down to their shit. By some, it was not appreciated. Especially by those who own little warungs on the street that serve food and desire customers. An acutely, rather painfully polite argument, something that only truly be accomplished by Indonesians, ensued via text on the neighborhood Whatsapp line. There were those, myself included, who prefer to see the dogs run free, leaving everyone responsible for their own property, and there were those who preferred to see the dogs somehow corralled and leashed. It all petered out eventually in the vague agreement that everyone should do what I have already stated--that is, take care of their own shit (or rather that of the dogs which happened to end up on their property or nearby in the street. 

Everyone would be responsible, it was agreed--but it was added by one writer that an exception to this general rule should be one Mister Richard who was "sudah sepuh" and should not be expected to carry out the task under discussion. 

Sudah sepuh means old, elderly. 

The big old ones just get left alone, not good, to put it another way, for shit. 

Not that I mind. 

Nor do I mind the fact that sepuh is a bit different from tua--both meaning old, but the first carrying a shading or honor and respect. 

Nonetheless, I feel the quiet surprise and pain of those old churches, standing outside of their own world, once central, now peripheral; once essential, now forgotten. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Second Shot

 Yesterday morning, I went for my second vaccine. Got there bright and early, about 8:30, but found that everyone else had also gotten there bright and early--in fact, a little more bright and early than I. Under the large canopy outside dozens of people waited in plastic chairs or simply sat on the curbing. Okay, this is gonna take some time, I thought. But when I went to the front desk to check in, I was motioned to a chair nearby within the entrance and then straightaway ushered into the examination room. Bule privilege? Here, my blood pressure was taken. I was told it was normal (it wasn't, in my mind anyway--about 150/130, as I recall). But normal enough to get the injection, I guess. 

From there, one goes to the interview room where he is asked if there are any medical problems or conditions. No, I'm just old, I answered, as I had the first time around. 

And then comes the shot. All done. 

After the first vaccine, I had become quite ill--high fever, body aches, fatigue--ya'all probably know the drill. With the second, I got a bit of a fever some hours afterwards, but otherwise felt fairly normal. No trouble sleeping. No shakes or aches at night. 

This morning however, having ordered my coffee and pastry, I'm suddenly feeling a bit shaky. Probably should have just stayed home. But oh well. I'll buy some groceries pretty soon and head on back to the old corral and a nice lie-down. 

As far as I know, they won't be requiring, or expecting a third shot here in Indonesia. It has been difficult enough to get through the two. At this point in time, as I understand it, about 80 percent of the people in Bali are vaccinated, although the elderly population is lagging behind at around 60 percent. This, I guess, is partly because Indonesia did things the opposite from the way they were done in the US--old people last in line rather than first in line, and partly because ... well, because old people are set in their ways, you know? Gonna die anyway, right? 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Lincoln Highway

 Last year (or something like that, as my indistinct sense of time these days would have it), I read a novel by Amor Towles called A Gentleman in Moscow. I was so impressed with Towles' talents and so nourished by his tale that when a new novel by this author showed up on my Kindle Store home screen, I straightaway clicked on buy, not realizing at the time that this was a prepublication offer. A couple of weeks ago the novel appeared at last in my Kindle library, much to my surprise and delight, for I had forgotten all about it.

The Lincoln Highway is the great American novel all over again, a la Towles this time around, and it is a thoroughly American novel indeed, full of echoes--of Faulkner, of Fitzgerald, of Steinbeck, of Salinger, of Mark Twain and of Huck's journey down the river--for this is a journey novel crossing the great expanse of geography, of time, of history and mythology, beginning deceptively with the notion of a classic western journey (in this case from Nebraska to San Francisco), and yet taking the the four main voyagers relentlessly eastward, away from their destination, and ending in upstate New York. 

I had the sense in reading this novel of savoring every bite, looking forward to every new fork-full of the feast, and yet regretting that it was disappearing from the plate so quickly. It is a novel that you live in as long as it is before you, and one that you miss when the last page is turned. 

Well, I had some passages that I wanted to copy and paste, but I find that my mind has wrongly remembered the page numbers. Therefore, I will say just this: Read it!