Monday, February 07, 2005

Fixing A Hole...


Modern Buddha
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.



The Washington Post reports today that an Afghan archeologist is searching for a giant sleeping Buddha in Afghanistan's Bamian Valley, the site where Taliban fundamentalists destroyed the two enormous standing statues carved into the mountains. The lost sleeping Buddha, if it exists, is approximately the size of the Eiffel Tower, according to Zemaryalai Tarzi, Afghanistan's leading archeologist, making it the largest reclining Buddha ever made. Which raises the question: how did such a thing go missing in the first place? Tarzi believes that the statue was either accidentally buried by an earthquake or landslide, or deliberately covered up by monks in an attempt to protect it against invading Muslim armies. Why does Tarzi believe the statue exists? Because of the account of the Chinese traveler Xuanzang, who visited the area around 630 A.D. His descriptions of the standing Buddhas are "remarkably accurate," according to Tarzi, lending credence to his account of a major monastary in view of the cliffs and the monumental reclining statue located on its grounds.

Well, what would Buddha have to say about all this? Attachment creates desire, which leads to unhappiness, all is impermanent, etc. I pretty much believe all that to be true. But what about the other side? How persistant were those standing Buddhas, which could only be destroyed by a barrage of mortars and dynamite? And how ironic would it be if the words of a pilgrim who died 1500 years ago were the clues that led to the discovery of a long-lost archeological treasure the length of a toppled Eiffel Tower?

I had my own meditation on the impermanence of objects and the persistance of memory last week, when I finally checked on the shed in my back yard. We've had biblical-level rains in Southern California recently, really out of the ordinary. My little house, built in 1911, weathered the storms remarkably well. The shed in my back yard, not so much so. I sort of forgot about it, and then didn't particularly want to think about it, and when the day of reckoning finally came (my house is small, and I needed to put something out there) I discovered that yes, it was not so water-proof. Boxes ranged from perfectly dry, wet but protected because they are plastic, damp, and soaked. Tendrils of ivy had somehow found their way through minute holes in the siding, winding through the window grid of my cat carrier. An interesting variety of mold coated much of the cardboard surfaces.

I spent the day dragging boxes out of the shed, unpacking them, throwing things out, spreading some things out to dry on the deck and repacking just about everything that wasn't in plastic already into new plastic storage bins. Overall the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been. A couple of two-inch master tapes sat in several inches of water; the mylar comic book bag in which I'd placed a treasured Phantom Stranger comic had enough water in it to support a couple of goldfish. But it wasn't so bad. I threw out a couple of garbage bags full of old work papers, a few comics, some financial records. It was soaked and moldy, no use keeping this stuff. So why had I kept it in the first place?

Although I have a great memory for really useful things, like, you know, song lyrics, obscure factoids, things like that, I am not so great at remembering the events of my life. My childhood is a blur. Well, so are high school, college, and what I had for breakfast. Don't even ask me about where I left my keys. When I came back from China, for example, having just barely turned 21, I had a really hard time remembering what had happened to me. Oh, I could answer questions, tell stories, recall where I'd been and roughly what I'd done, but huge chunks of the experience seemed inaccessible. Nothing quite made sense, and at the same time, it was as though the experience was still happening in my head, not remaining in the past where it belonged. I'd returned to San Diego, where everything seemed exactly the same as I'd left it, and it just didn't make sense that this other world existed at the same time, was still going on without me. I could not place things in their proper sequence: this happened, then that happened.

And odd things occurred. One day, while driving in Linda Vista, which is a typical older, "urban" suburb of San Diego, I glanced at a gas station on the corner. And I saw a Hmong woman, dressed in traditional clothes, wearing a blue turban and carrying a baby on her back, wandering through the pumps, looking lost. Where had she come from? What the hell was she doing in San Diego? I had the strangest sense that I'd brought her back with me, somehow, through some Star Trek transporter by mistake. Of course I knew this wasn't literally true. Some consequence of my country's foreign policy had undoubtedly brought her here. It had nothing to do with me.

After a time, I managed to come up with a chronology for my life that made sense. This happened, then that happened. China was no longer some weird combination of black memory hole and vivid flashbacks. With experiences that are so out of the norm of one's life, I think it takes a while to process all the unfamiliar images into a narrative. It's overwhelming. Most importantly, I started going back to China. And I found that, in spite of the vast changes, it was all so familiar to me. Driving in from the Beijing Capitol Airport, in winter, seeing the stripped trees through a haze of gray, smelling the coal that's still burnt. Oh yeah, I know this place.

So that's why I like to save certain things. They help me order my memory. Remind me of what I did, and what I cared about, even if they now seem like archeological artifacts from a vanished world.

6 comments:

Real History Lisa said...

Fascinating re the Buddha, the difficulties with memory, and the mold in the shed!

Other Lisa said...

Maybe the mold has something to do with the memory loss...hey, are you my Evil Twin? or is that me?

JR said...

Lisa,
I have a very bad habit of forgetting things also, I can't remember what I ate two nights ago for example. I suspect I have an early case of Alzheimer. Wonder if I should start writing journal.

Mold is baad, there are a lot of cases of toxic molds in Texas, where houses were torn down because of it. A brand new Spanish villa style home was demolished for mold damage from a leaky roof in Bellaire TX.

Talk about flooding in the shed, I lost a lot of my irreplaceable childhood photos in a big flood.

On Buddha in Afghanistan, I have a series of 18 documentary DVDS called the Silk Road produced by the Japanese NHK in the 80s. I believed they had documented the sleeping Buddha (or not?) They had definitely shown the big Greco-Buddha that got blown away under the Taliban.

JR said...

Lisa,
I have a very bad habit of forgetting things also, I can't remember what I ate two nights ago for example. I suspect I have an early case of Alzheimer. Wonder if I should start writing journal.

Mold is baad, there are a lot of cases of toxic molds in Texas, where houses are torn down because of it. A brand new Spanish villa style home was demolished for mold damage from a leaky roof in Bellaire TX.

Talk about flooding in the shed, I lost a lot of my irreplaceable childhood photos in a big flood.

On Buddha in Afghanistan, I have a series of 18 documentary DVDS called the Silk Road produced by the Japanese NHK in the 80s. I believed they had documented the sleeping Buddha (or not?) They had definitely shown the big Greco-Buddha that got blown away under the Taliban.

jr said...

Oops, just double posted.

Other Lisa said...

Dear JR,

At times I worry about my memory, but I also think that different people remember things in very different ways. For example, as long as I can remember, my younger sister will recall childhood incidents in great detail, these whole elaborate stories about what happened and when...I'll listen, it will all sound vaguely familiar, and then I'll say, "I think the car was blue." That's what sticks in my mind! I suspect it has a lot to do with the way one's brain is organized/oriented.

At least I hope so!