Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Waiting for the Sunset

I'm finally taking care of my taxes tomorrow morning, and given that fact, it's miraculous I'm blogging tonight and keeping this streak alive. But given my state of distraction, I'm going to let someone else do at least some of the lifting for me. Geoff Dyer is a writer I've been meaning to read for a while. I've read essays and reviews of his here and there, always impressed, but hadn't yet gotten around to his books. That's changing, and quickly.

I recently talked to a friend of mine about an essay I'm fiddling with off and on about my lack of traveling experience. This wise friend asked if I had read Dyer's Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. I finished it tonight. In a series of linked pieces that shuttle back and forth through time, Dyer visits New Orleans, Rome, Indonesia, Amsterdam, Detroit, Libya, the Burning Man festival, and other spots, and alternately gains and loses a sense of himself. Dyer is witty, erudite, rakish, and fond of marijuana. His adventures are of the very low-key variety, but it's what he does with them that matters.

I might have more to say about him over at The Second Pass sometime, but I need to read more of him first. Next up is Out of Sheer Rage, perhaps his most famous book, which he describes in this short video here. For now, I thought I'd share a bit from Yoga. This passage occurs when he and a female companion take in a Cambodian sunset:
Sunsets impose a heavy burden on the sightseer. A spot acquires such a reputation as the place from which "to watch the sunset" that you are virtually obliged to go there. Phnom Bakheng was just such a spot. It was a punishing walk, hauling ourselves up the slope, but my Tevas, the Tevas I had bought years earlier in New Orleans, were able to take the strain. As we walked up that punishing hill I thought of writing to Teva and suggesting a couple of slogans: "Tevas Can Take It" was one. Perhaps there was only the one. [. . .]

Serious photographers had their cameras on tripods. One such photographer turned to his wife and said, "Fifteen minutes to go," as though they were colleagues at Mission Control at NASA. Everyone else simply waited. For the sunset. Except for a few all-important details, the scene was reminiscent of Hampi, in India, where we had also flocked to watch the sunset. Pessoa was right: there's no point going to Constantinople to see a sunset; they're the same the world over. But you do it anyway; you go to Constantinople and Phnom Bakheng and everywhere else, and while you're there you catch the sunset. While travelling, in fact, watching the sunset gives the day a purpose and meaning it can otherwise lack. Even so, few things seem more idiotic than waiting on a sunset. Waiting for the sunset becomes an activity, an exercise in abeyance. Idleness, doing nothing, is raised to the level of sharply focused purpose. Expectation becomes a form of sustained exertion. You wait for it to happen even though it's going to happen anyway. Or not happen. Frank O'Hara was right, "the sun doesn't necessarily set, sometimes it just disappears."


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