Sat up last night and read The Virgin Suicides. Probably not a very good idea in my present state of mind. Keeping terminal thoughts from my head is a daily chore recently, and almost 24/7 operation which has to be immensely intensified at night. Perhaps it's the power of concentration, forcing myself to look away from death, that is sapping my strength enough to allow me to nod off. I was inspired by the multivarious ways the Lisbon girls ended their lives; there are so many alternatives, so many final statements you could make. Then again, you'd need to make them when the Lisbon girls did - young, self centered, still unaware of the monstrous selfishness and destructiveness of the act, rather accusing than guilty.

A funny thing: the inner turmoil and the outer lethragy are in direct proportion to each other. The more I torment, flagelate, eviscerate myself fom within, the quieter I become, perhaps even seemingly serene. I don't know which causes which - the outer calm sublimating the violence inwards, or the inner storm sapping emotion and movement from my face and body. When I open my mouth to say something about how I feel, even just to myself, in an empty room, nothing comes out. I'm not making this up - I open my mouth to speak and instead I sigh, or gasp, or smile. As if it's not bad enough to lose control of your own mind, now I'm losing control of my body too. My whole centre of balance has shifted. It's now at a hard, sour knot in my stomach, making me walk heavy, stooping, laden. Again problems of cause and effect - is my stomach churning because I am panicking, or do I feel panicky in response to the tight bowels?

Tomorrow I am going on holiday to Barcelona with my best friend. What bloody timing, huh? Still, maybe the sunshine and the sinuous distractions of Modernisme will help. I really don't think I can deal with this alone any more.


i am getting excited over the prospect of sleeping tonight. i think of my bed. i think of the smell. my sheets wraped around me. hugging a huge pillow and rubbing my feets together. the cold bed slowly getting warm from my body heat. the feeling of losing control. of falling into a web you cannot see.

i think of night after night of sleeping. eyes closed. dead to the world. oblivious to things going on around me. uncaring.

it excites me to think of closing my eyes. to ignore everything. my ears are shut. i stop and i dream of nothing. for a moment there, you forget who you are. you become blind. you have no identity. only a sense of being. lying on the bed. breathing slowly. of maybe even that escapes me.

perhaps i am lazy. perhaps my love for sleeping is prompted by my desire to ignore reality.

i only very seldom sleep for more than 8 hours a day. i am not tired all the time that i look forward to times when i can sleep. i do not have insomniac. i do not sleep walk or sleep talk. i seldom if ever dream. i am the perfect model for sleeping.

come night time, i get excited. i think of sleeping. i envision myself as the direct opposite of haruki murakami's character in the story sleep. instead of being awake all the time. i want to be asleep. i want to sleep forever. but i don't want to be dead to do that.

Darl's adventures in India, part two.

Although the summer is allegedly beginning to wane, temperatures are regularly in excess of 35 degrees. The heat wave hasn't really struck here: it's just unbearably hot. When rain comes, it alleviates the 70% humidity for one day at most, before things revert to normal. Oddanchatram is better situated than most plains towns in Tamil Nadu: there is a ring of hills around the town, which apparently make it cooler. In Chennai, the mercury is regularly over 40 degrees. Small blessings. Because the heat does get so extreme, people flee to hill stations in high summer. The Western Ghat mountains, which seem to run right to the middle of India down here, are sufficiently high to be cold. Perhaps I might amend that to bearably warm.

The weekend before last, I went one such hill station of Tekardi, in neighboring Kerala with many of the other volunteers. It is at somewhere over 1500m in altitude, and thickly wooded. It was a relief to feel cold(er). The other volunteers I met were all very pleasant, although I was asked what school I went to. Sigh. Most people are in the same situation as me, or taking a post university gap year. Usually medics, I think.

There are 35 volunteers in total in Tamil Nadu, of whom about 20 were in Tekardi. Amongst the more seasoned volunteers there is the air of hardened vets, still battling hard against the natives. Everyone has the same tale: they love what they’ve seen of India very dearly, but loathe it. Tekardi has a large wildlife reserve with vast lake, in either of which I entirely failed to see any wildlife at all. Still, the walk was nice. Two people went to hospital, one from gastroenteritis and one from heat stroke. Well, I thought it was cold.

Sometime today my fellow volunteer James Mabey is meant to arrive. I’m looking forward to the company, sure, but had begun to rather enjoy being solitary. Greener grass, etc. It seems to me if nothing else a perverse twist of fate that having fled to an obscure corner of south India, I should be followed by someone I know. Being a Wykehamist begins to remind me of the Hotel California. In Edinburgh, I met them, at university. In March, one cool night, strolling on the Ponte Vecchio, I met them. Now, here in provincial India, I will meet them. I have checked out, to be sure, but I can never leave.

Last weekend I went to another hill station, that of Kodaikanal, the sole American founded outpost, with views looking right across the plains of Tamil Nadu. On a clear day, you can see about 100km. The joy of creature comforts in tourist resorts should not be underestimated. I swear, I had a mushroom omelet. Oh yes. Trying to describe the drama of the view from Kodai would be fruitless. It is just very pretty indeed.

When I got to the Teaching and Projects abroad offices in Sivakasi, I first heard of the volunteers here before me; James and Oliver. ‘They did a very good job,’ said Dr. Rajendran, ‘very good indeed.’ It was the same, verbatim, as I was driven north from Sivakasi to Oddanchatram. ‘They did a very good job. Very good indeed,’ I was told. Again, from Suresh and his family. What on earth they had done to earn such accolades, I could only wonder: I couldn’t help feeling like Marlow venturing into the wild, hearing of Kurtz at every turn. Though I’d expected to find the school surrounded by heads on poles, etc, James and Oliver turned out to have been two nice lads from Kent who shouted ‘Super, man!’ in Indian accents a lot. Nonetheless, as they were so very good, very good indeed at teaching, I’m conscious of being in their shadows here.

James and Oliver go some way toward explaining Suresh’s English, which, whilst very good, has a strange 80s surfer dude lilt. Hey man, he’ll say, what’s going on? You cool? Cool, man. And so on. Surely this is their doing. The worst thing is that I’ve begun to adopt this idiom. I can’t help addressing everyone as ‘man’. It’s depressing.

Whilst perhaps this is a mildly comic corruption of my English, much more serious is that I’m incapable of forming complex sentences anymore. In fact, I have taken my language down to the vary bare bones, the thundering stripped-down chassis of brutal unambiguous speech, loud and clear, slow and patronising. I don’t just do this with Indian people who want to discuss things with me, be it logistics or Kashmir. I do this with native English speakers too. Everyone does it to an extent. ‘Ok,’ we say to each other, ‘Where we go now?’ To alleviate this rapid atrophy of the language I am trying to teach, please send me real, live native English communication. I give big thanks to you.

The food. It’s one of the most tangible reminders of how far you are from home, hence my omelet joy. It’s not bad (quite the contrary), but, but. Anyway.

For breakfast, you usually have dosa, which are essentially thick pancakes, or iddli, which are harder to explain. Iddli are about like fat flying saucers an inch in diameter. They are a mixture of rice and pulses ground up and steamed, with curd and vinegar to hold them together. They’re really very good. With your dosa or iddli you will have sambar, another Tamil staple, consisting of pulses and tomatoes made into a kind of spicy mush. Finally there’s coconut curd, which is cooling, pleasant, and mostly tastes of coconut milk. With the sambar will be rassam, literally pepper water. This is water with coriander, chilli and, er, pepper.

For lunch, you would have iddli or rice with again sambar and rassam, with a kind of mild vegetable curry made mostly from mangetout beans. There will also be pure curd. It’s best not to think about the curd, but just to eat it because most of the food is hot enough to make you sweat, and the curd provides some relief.

These are the absolute staples, the things that you eat like bread or potatoes. More luxurious are iddli contents made into noodles and fried with mushrooms and ginger, with coriander and tumeric. Also there’s a chance of a mushroom or chicken korma. These things make up your dinner or sometimes your lunch. Also there are poori, flash fried discs of dough that go all puffy and gorgeous, parotta, fried thick slabs of dough that are as delicious as they are bad for you, and chapatti, which are the same but thinner.

On special occasions, which number holy festivals, pre monsoon festivals, and taking western people out to eat, accordingly special things are eaten. Mostly this is biryani, with either vegetables, lamb or chicken. This will be served with fresh red onions in curd. When you want your chicken boneless, you have to impart to the waiter your fancy sensibilities, otherwise it will come in chunks, spine and all.

Since I last wrote, more things, great things, have happened on the fruit front. The pineapple. Oh, the pineapple. Now, I’m not a big guy for pineapple myself. Most commonly encountered misplaced on pizza or in curry, here it is, yes, a different beast. The fresh pineapple here tastes of... well. Sort of pineapple, and sort of coconut (yes) and something else too. It’s really very, very, good. The grapes have also followed closely the trend of small but sweeter and tangy and altogether more worthwhile.

Better than all these things, however, is the fruit juice. I can assure you all now that nothing like this has ever passed your lips. There is here, right here in this town, (yes) a juice bar like no other. Drinking a juice from this bar is like nothing so much as the old lemon-wrapped gold brick to the teeth. It leaves you sated as though you’d just had a meal. It comes with a straw, but this is mostly for comedy value as you asses the structural integrity of your 'drink'. As you watch, they skin your fruit of choice, be it mango or lime or apple or pomegranate or one of the fruits you have never heard of and can’t pronounce but try anyway, throw it in a food processor with some ice, sieve and serve.

All food (barring juice) is served on a banana leaf, roughly cut into a largish rectangle, lengthways. This you sprinkle with water from your mug, shake off, and then eat from. If your family is affluent enough to have plates, they will be banana leaf patterned. Having finished, you fold the leaf towards you and then roll it up, a sign that you have finished and found the meal to your satisfaction. Should you find the opposite to be the case, or are at a funeral, the fold the leaf the other way, away from you.

Despite William Faulkner’s injunctions to the contrary, all water is drunk from metal. Now, perhaps this sounds like a very small thing, and perhaps it is, but I am surprised how much it bothers me. It is my only regular dissatisfaction. I can’t understand it. I just really don’t like drinking water from a metal cup. It’s not as though it’s something I have ever done before. Obviously, on the water front, I drink only bottled or boiled. When you ask for boiled water in a restaurant, and it comes boiling, you can’t help but feel that the people are laughing at you. You want it boiled, you have it boiled, they say. Nothing but nothing is less refreshing from the heat of chilli than boiling water.

If any of this is repetition, I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse me. Internet cafe staff laughing at me sitting here for so long. Going.

3:15am July 2, 2003

Sandra Lynn is dead.

She's been gone for over 3 hours (it is now around 3am) and the world as I know it is breaking into little pieces. But this is hardly the place to start... so we'll back up to 9am, Tuesday.

Life seemed blissful...serene, almost... awaking to the sun peering gently through Shaun's linen curtains. I vaguely recalled the night before.. time spent with a certain someone, and a ride to Shaun's house to do the dessert thing. My friendship with Shaun is nothing short of eccentric; every so often we get together around midnight and eat Tiramisu, or Creme Broulee, or Brownies, or Cheesecake... and sometimes when it's really necessary, we'll share ice cream. We do this as a well exercised habit. I am his counselor, and he counsels me also. Life's problems seem so much simpler when shared with a fellow human, hugs, a couch, and dessert.

As usual, just as I was getting dressed, Shaun's phone rang. It was 10am now, a female friend wanted to meet him for breakfast. Shaun never says 'no' at 10am. Apologizing profusely, he dropped me off downtown, left to my own devices. I went to work, and as I leaned into the day, it unfolded in every typical way.

Brain-dead and tired, I watched the sun set to allow my mind to relax, wander, escape. 9pm found me with a friend, a fellow geek, a current inspiration.

Midnight and I was on my way home... only, I didn't make it that far. Chris said he needed me, it was important, if I had a moment to stop by. His tone of voice... I felt earthquakes.

A little later, we're sitting on his bed, facing each other. He touched my hand, and I know it was just to feel assured I am alive and not a dream. Looking into his eyes I felt a pain I wasn't ready for.

"My eleven year old daughter died two hours ago."

Sandra Lynn is dead.

The story unfolds in whispers, his tears on my face, and shoulder. I am always here for you, my friend.

Sandra lived in Germany. She had recently needed surgery for brain tumors, but she was fine until tonight. Sandra was raped and beaten, 16 broken bones.. two brain tumors ...she died from hemorraging and internally bleeding to death. She wasn't found for an hour after the rape.

Chris is one of the strongest people I know, well placed within society, I always considered him a pillar of strength. Every ounce of his emotions peeled away and puddled into tears on my shoulder, I know grief, and I know him. It's going to be a long one....

Deadened and motionless in shock, I hugged him for hours until morning. I'm still sad to I know I will leave him for work in a few hours, praying that when I return to check on him later, he has not drowned within himself and lost grip on reality..

Haven't daylogged in loooong time, but today really deserves it. I have escaped from the 35 degrees of the hot Italian plains, and went to the Alps, in a place called Passo Tonale.

I had not been here in a couple of years, it is essentialy a tourist place on the border between Lombardy and Trentino, close to the Adamello mountain group. And today I had a glorious half-day hike, to the top of Monte Serodine. From its 2700 meters there is a glorious view of the pass, the two glaciers (Presena and Pisgana), the Presanella peak and I suspect even a tiny peek of mount Vioz.

Since I hadn't walked in mountains for a long time, I was surprised that I could make it ... 900 meters ascent is quite a lot (for me). I did it at a leisurely pace, actually at the end the pace was really enforced by the shortness of breath. I saw many remains of trenches from WWI and found some relics; a rusty clip from a Mannlicher rifle, the bottom of a cannon shell and (rare indeed) a flask.

It is impressive how, after nearly a century, there are still so many visible marks of the war. Barbed wire, shrapnel balls... erosion brings it to the surface every year. I also saw one fox and approximately one thousand very loud marmots. Most comic looking rodent in the world.

Another peculiar thing was having a cellphone on me while hiking. It felt strange, but on the whole less lonely than without - I am not sure if it is a good thing or not.

My brother called me from the road. He's been doing this since I was 12 years old, but I've never gotten used to it. I like him to have a house, so I can go over to it and see how long his dishes have been in the sink and look out his windows and tell him secrets. It's just not the same over the phone, but since I haven't had a particularly solid address in 4 years now either, I can hardly complain.

My brother and I chatted.

I said, "Sam called everything off," because this is my big news, as it generally is, that some boy has taken off on me again, the way I take off on them, the way I keep moving to avoid shit, and I'm not really sure if I'm telling the people I'm closest to that this dude I was in love with left because I want them to be sympathetic or because I want them to know they can expect to see me around again.

Sean was appropriately sympathetic. He said, "These long-distance things can be really hard"

I said, "Yeah, especially when one person thinks they're in a weird kind of long-distance relationship, and the other person things they're going to be a rock star some day soon."

The idea of being a rock star does not appeal to Sean. It doesn't appeal to me either, though I think I could stand the fame and the money better than he could. I have no idea, of course. I think the toughest thing about it would be the isolation that takes place, not knowing who you are because too many people have somehow recorded you displaying one aspect of yourself and try to tell you that that's all there is to you--though perhaps the parties, the travel, the possibility of blowing all one's money on books and pretty dresses, and the chance to have it matter when you say you hate the United States Government, that might make up for it, at least for a while.

We talk about Slayer, and their light bulb staring existence, and I say I really can't see anyone I enjoyed fucking getting paid to act like Beavis all the time and loving it for real.

Sean said, "my news like that is that the van is dead."

Sean does not get smitten with falling in love, as I do, other people are not his drug. He just traded a shitload of working hours to buy this 1979 Volkswagen bus with a pop-up roof and the engine at the back. It was orange, and gloriously hippie--so he described it to me, I never saw it, never experienced it's having a stove and and sink and space for the kids to sleep.

The problem with the van, Sean and the guy who sold it to him were sure, was that it was missing a gasket, a simple part to replace, and then it should work fine. It was a Volkswagen, who cares it it hadn't run since the mid '80s, it was a Volkswagen for Chrst's sake. But the problem turns out to have been the engine head. I'm hazy about the details, but basically, he thought that this bus would run with the simple replacement of a rather small part, but actually it requires the rebuilding of the entire engine.

Sean and I have had innumerable conversations like this. Since I was a kid, we're gotten our hands dirty and played with tools, popped hoods and taken apart transmissions. This was his thing, but I liked to dabble, I liked to know what he knew. He's shown me differentials, steering columns, distributors, and engine blocks. I used to wake him up to get to work on time by asking him to explain how something worked. Would an EMP disable a car? He wanted to tell me. When I went to Germany I took an old shirt of his that he wore when we'd worked on cars together--it was stained with motor oil and transmission fluid.

But no matter how many pieces I see moving, no matter how many times I sit in the driver's seat turning keys while he looks under the hood, no matter how many times I hear the depressing sound of an engine trying to start, but not quite turning over, we never seem to get anywhere.

We like to look at broken systems, my bro and I. We like them to be well-designed and royally fucked. It's especially good if they tease us, for weeks, or months, with the possibility of working like a dream. We dwell in possibility.

There's a chance the guy who sold Sean the van will pay him some cash for the work that he did. He's and honest guy like that. I think about my light bulb-staring, face-making rock star lover. I thought the problem was that I never got to see him. But the problem was that he lived entirely in his own head, and I didn't have the time or the permission to rebuild it. We just represented promising, but ultimately disappointing, piles of scrap metal for each other.

Sean has to go and pack up all his shit and hit the road again. I hang up the phone and go back to bed. As I drift off to sleep now all I can hear is the sad, syncopated whine of an engine trying to start, but never actually turning over.

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