Friday, October 17, 2008

Viva la Vida

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
Music can touch me in deep places that thought cannot reach. When I first heard the song "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay, I collapsed inside, defenses down, the house in ruins. The insistent violins, the upbeat tempo, the chorus of words that speak of triumph and loss, all combine to reduce me to tears, again and again. Listening to this song on the trip by plane and bus from Krabi to my home in Bangkok on Wednesday helped me to withstand the current chaos of endings and beginnings in my life.
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
Viva la Vida is Spanish for "Long Live Life!" The words were carved into the flesh of a watermelon in the last painting (above) by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. She died not long after, in 1954, at the age of 47. She had been very ill for much of her short life, suffering from serious injuries received in a bus accident. Her leg had been amputated the year before and she contacted pneumonia. But in her diary a few days before her death, she wrote: "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida."
I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing
Roman cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
Frida's gesture of thumbing her nose at death, and the joy of this song, help to epitomize the thirst for life I feel at this late date, and my conviction that life as we live it, the pleasure and pain we experience in and through it, is not the symbol of something better but rather is in itself the ultimate reality. We do not live for some future reward. It is not required of us to transcend flesh, but rather to enoble and beautify it.

I am rather a latecomer to Coldplay's song from their CD, "Viva la Vida or Death and all his Friends." It was released last May as a single and topped the charts in the U.S. and U.K. Singer Chris Martin told an interviewer that the song lyric, "I know Saint Peter won't call my name," is about not being "on the list. I was a naughty boy. It's always fascinated me that idea of finishing your life and then being analyzed on it. And this idea runs throughout most religions. That's why people blow up buildings. Because they think they're going to get lots of virgins. I always feel like saying, just join a band." Bass guitarist Guy Berryman said, "It’s a story about a king who’s lost his kingdom, and all the album’s artwork is based on the idea of revolutionaries and guerrillas." The cover art steals from Eugene Delacroix' classic painting of "Liberty Leading the People," commemorating the French revolution of 1830 which overthrew the monarchy. Life in this sense must be taken by force from those who would stiffle the fresh air of democracy. The protagonist of the song "Viva la Vida," however, is not an evil or misguided man like King Charles X, but every man (or woman) who has reached for the throne and lost it (like in Graham Nash's song, "I Used to be a King"). I can identify with this.

I came home from my sojourn in the Thai islands of the South Andaman Sea to find an almost unbearably empty apartment. All of my things were still here but everything of Pim's was gone. We had exchanged a few text messages while I was away. She offered to water my plants, and had invited me to visit her new place on my return. But I finally came to the conclusion that I could not easily trade love for friendship, and wrote her an email saying goodbye. She sent me her apartment key and door pass by mail the next day. I miss her terribly and wish her well. This is the best outcome for both of us. I do not regret a moment of it, not the pain I feel now from a broken heart, nor the joys we shared together. Love is always a risk, and one cannot endure its ecstasy unscathed. I think healing cannot take place without accepting both the pleasure and the pain.

But do not weep for me, my friends. The night of my return, Nat came over to visit. She was my companion on a trip to Luang Prabang in Laos a year ago, and she is taking a massage course at Wat Pho. After graduating, she is thinking of taking a job in the Czech Republic for which she interviewed last week. This weekend I have a date with Yim, a young woman I met online when I was still in California. She teaches Thai to visitors from Japan and Korea and wants to improve her English. I've made numerous new friends on ThaiLoveLinks, the dating service that brought me both Pim and Nat and have chatted with some on MSN Messenger. But the thought of replacing Pim in my life is bittersweet. I do know, however, that I am happiest in a relationship, and I see no reason to become a hermit at this point.

I didn't do much on my vacation. The snorkling and diving tours advertised on every corner in Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta did not tempt me. I went drinking in no bars (the karaoke joints on Lanta were supposedly the hot spots) and met no strange women. In fact, I had few conversations with anyone. I didn't even swim very much and was careful to lather myself with sun block when I went outside, so I have no tan as evidence of my trip. I read a couple of books and did a morning's worth of work on my English class for next term. I watched lots of American sitcoms on my laptop, and a few good movies. Everywhere I walked, pushing my bum knee to its limit, and on Lanta I road all around the island on a rented motorbike. That was the most fun. I felt a bit guilty for my lack of incentive, and I'm sure I would have done more had I had a companion as I did on other vacations. I passed up street food for the security of restaurants usually recommended by Lonely Planet. By now readers should know of my addition to cappaccino which is easily fed everywhere these days. The internet brings news of the world to even the most remote of islands, so I kept in touch with political events in Bangkok and Washington.

Everywhere I visit I imagine as my final resting place. Koh Phi Phi was too tiny and crowded whereas Koh Lanta presented some distinct possibilities. I can imagine living in a cheap room at Khlong Nin or Hat Ao Kantiang in the far south. There isn't much to do. I don't think the island has a cinema, and the only bookstores carried recycled mysteries and romance novels. Perhaps that indicates opportunities, should I need to augment my retirement income if the global economic melt down heats up over here. Koh Lanta is probably much different in December in the high season when hoardes of tourists descend on the island. But I think I'll return around Christmas time and scout around for a room with a sea view, and perhaps a rocking chair.

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