Today, the Mongolian climate gods were through fooling around. All week, Weather Underground was promising that the high today would be -23F (-31C). Well, we got a little reprieve, as the mercury struggled up to -17 (-27). But the wind, careening out of the north! North being where there are two things: Siberia, and Chez Santa. As I type, it’s back down to -20 (-29) but it feels like -47 (-44).
So I stayed bundled up inside, right?
No, of course not. I’m like those guys on The Weather Channel who stand there and holler into the mike about how it feels getting pummeled by the hurricane. I want to feel it for myself. I have several fantasy alternate lives for what I would have done if the Buddha’s teachings weren’t true and the monastic calling weren’t so powerful (poker pro, global birding guide, dissolute trust fund baby), and one of them is storm chaser.
A couple hours ago your intrepid reporter piled on the layers and ventured out in search of lunch. To and from I walked maybe a mile total, and I can now draw upon all of the eloquence my Ivy League education has afforded me and relate to you the following about the experience: Dag.
Coming home, I walked north, into the wind. Only the top half of my face was exposed but I could feel my cheeks quickly freezing on a cellular level. Sort of involuntary cryogenics. A clear thought formed: “Huh. Under just slightly altered circumstances, this weather would kill me.” It was educational.
I was instant messaging with my monk friend Palzang yesterday, anticipating all this. I told him that next spring I want to be presented with a t-shirt (or, maybe, parka) that says: “Mongolia: Real Monks Stay the Winter.” He retorted that he could think of a couple words to replace “monks” with.
And we’re still two days away from the date Mongols consider the official start of winter!
So I ducked into a warm shop and picked up a pirated DVD of the new James Bond flick (don’t judge, that’s all we get here), hustled home, and gave my rescued street cats extra-toasty squeezes. I’m anticipating a long night. The only bummer about my apartment is it’s directly above the building’s “Party Room.” And tonight they’re having a party. In the room. I already heard them testing the sound system with ABBA so I’m prepared for the worst. Thanks be for Dr. Dick and padded headphones.
Besides dopey movies to pass the long, dark days and nights, I recently raided Brother Don’s scriptorium (Don just put up a very interesting post about the Trans-Asian expedition of Nicholas and Elena Roerich that included a stay in Ulaanbaatar during the winter of 1926-7; there's a strong movement afoot just now to turn their temporary home, amazingly still standing, into a Roerich Museum) for some winter reading. It’s an eclectic batch:
· Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, a neo-psychedelic exploration of indications that we’re headed for an elevation of planetary consciousness on or about December 21, 2012, the end of the intricate Mayan “long count” calendar. Gotta work out whether to pack a lunch that day or not.
· Roger Crowley’s 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West – just finished this and found it so depressing how much slaughter and abomination has occured in either defense or ‘advancement’ of ‘the Faith,’ no matter whose. Very good overall argument for a Buddhist way of life. Oh! There was the coolest article the other day in the Boston Globe called "When Jesus Met Buddha." It’s about the little-known spread eastward of the Nazarenes and the Nestorian Christian church and the 1000 years of generally peaceful and mutually curious co-existence with the Buddhists they shared space with. It tipped me off to a symbol widely used at the time, that of a cross on a lotus. One image from an ancient headstone is below and you can see a few more mixed in here. The article also contains this unfortunate line: “What ultimately obliterated the Asian Christians were the Mongol invasions, which spread across Central Asia and the Middle East from the 1220s onward.”
· Naguib Mahfouz’s The Journey of Ibn Fattouma – just started this and it’s gorgeous
· Hugh Schonfield’s The Essene Odyssey: The Mystery of the True Teacher & The Essene Impact on the Shaping of Human Destiny
· Kenneth Ch’en’s Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey
· Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels – I know this has been out a long time, but I never got around to it
· Mishi Saran’s Chasing the Monk’s Shadow: A Journey in the Footsteps of Xuanzang in which the author re-traces the pilgrimage to India made by the 7th c. Chinese monk and chronicler
That ought to keep me out of the pubs. And you? What are you reading these days that’s good? My mother the retired librarian tells me about a Brit mystery writer, Michael Walters, who’s set his first novel, The Shadow Walker, in none other than Mongolia (hey, it seems he lives here in UB and writes a blog). I can tell you that if the action’s set in winter, and there’s a murder involved, the corpse’ll keep ‘til spring.