Thursday, 15 January 2009

pharewell phnomh penh

I returned in the afternoon to the lovely national museum, which I have visited a few times now.

I wondered again at the colossal reclining Vishnu in bronze. Once he was six metres long and water spouted from his navel, a C12 Chinese visitor at Angkor Wat wrote. His eyebrows and moustache then were jewelled marvels, and he had gems for pupils. This is Vishnu Anantasayin, reclining in cosmic sleep on the back of the sea serpent Ananta - without end - on the surface of the cosmic sea.
As the story goes, Vishnu brings forth from his navel a lotus from which blossoms Brahma, four-headed and all-seeing, to whom it falls to set down the material world of time and space.
What a marvellous creation myth, primal sea and serpents! Am I becoming a Hindu?

This Vishnu, re-discovered only in 1935 , is now much truncated; the massive shoulders, head and brooding face, and two left arms (!) are all that remain, but what grace and beauty and sheer presence.

I linger long and alliterively around the lingam - Shiva in phallic guise - and regret the linga did not make it into Buddhist iconography, when so much else from Hinduism did.
Perhaps there is a case to be made for reviving the linga at the LBC - the Linga Buddhist Centre, why not?
I'm sure it would have its devotees.

I take chilled green tea in the garden courtyard, and converse in French with the elegant and charming lady who serves me from her little fridge in the shade. She is soon off to market to buy her evening meal - to eat alone in her room, or with her burgeoning family? I'll never know - so we take leave of each other elaborately.

I visit for a last time the room of fragile standing Buddhas. Their wooden arms, raised with palms towards me in abhayamudra- the gesture of fearlessness - seem to wave goodbye.

making a purse from a sow's ear

Bangkok beckoned, but here we are back in Phnomh Penh, phlummoxed!

Joanna, a Pole, is a British citizen - indeed I wept tears at her citizenship ceremony a couple of years ago at a town hall in Westminster, where a crowd of folk of all colours and creeds stood up and spoke out loud their name, swearing allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen; the mayor of Westminster dispensed glass souvenir mugs engraved with the coat of arms of his borough, and I thought of my parents who found refuge in this country, like generations of others, and became naturalised in the early fifties: in those more austere times a letter in the post from the Home Office was all you got, but I'm sure it was treasured as much if not more than a crystal mug.

Joanna's British passport, with its exhortations to allow whomever it concerns to go whither they will, 'without let or hindrance', on pain of incurring Her Majesty's Extreme Displeasure, languishes on the sideboard at Sugar Loaf Walk.

Joanna, for reasons of her own, is travelling on her Polish passport. Amongst the forty-one countries, including the UK, that have signed an accord allowing their citizens free and unfettered entry into Thailand, you will not find the name of Poland.

Hence, after extensive taxi-rides through the Kingdom, we are back in Phnomh Penh, where this morning we tuk-tukked out to the Thai Embassy to regularise the visa situation.

Most clouds have a silver lining, and I for one am quite content to be back here. I have a lovely view of the river from my window, and of the Royal Palace with its many gold-roofed pavilions. I have spent a pleasant morning walking around town, acquired three coloured-glass Buddhas which it will be a challenge to get home and, at an over-the-counter chemists, got my hands on further supplies of Simvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug I am required to take. Assuming they are not fakes I am now chemically furnished to stay away until the end of February.