Fall 2009, Volume 7

Memoir by Richard Harvey

George Winston's Minstrels

Each time I hear the first bar of your tender keystrokes I transport to the fall of my renaissance year.  I am sitting at the bottom of the masonry staircase of the Katmandu base house with Pennsylvania Pam.  She has questioning turquoise irises and a shock of wavy blond hair.  She brought your December cd to the Nepal Studies Program.  For the holidays we feasted on home baked cookies and cakes out of boxes shipped from overseas—and on the rapture of your grand piano echoing off the walls.  I smell Tashi Dai’s Tibetan dishes, Nepali chicken and goat curries, lentil daal, rice and sag, chutneys and achars.  

I walk outside and admire the thrust of Annapurna’s white wedge piercing the Himalayan sky.  Children wearing Bata sandals squat street side.  At the corner of Chabhill I inhale shallowly to avoid the aroma of urine, step carefully to avoid roadside excreta.  At the local Ganesha shrine I ogle glowing mocha colored maidens in saris.  They’re holding polished metal plates laid out with mounds of marigold petals, red tikka powder and rice.  They are waiting to do morning puja.   I walk to Boudhanath and circle it clockwise while palming and spinning the stupa’s prayer wheels. I pass ascetic Sadhus along the path to Pashupatinath, feeling the monsoon humidity off the Bagmati River.  Along the water the heat from the crematory fires caresses my face, the ashes of the dead flow down to the Ganges and on to the Indian Ocean.  Ohm.   Mourners clad in white muslin look on, empty, wistful.  I smell the incense tables of Thamel, the red eyed Gullom money changers approach as I walk past and slyly whisper, “Changer money…very good rate….”  We negotiate to 20 Rupees for a dollar when the official exchange is 14.   I split a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label with Gary, a huge torsoed stubby legged North Carolinian the locals call “Yeti”.  We grab a taxi to the Marine Bar.  Along the way the driver patiently waits for meandering cows adorned with marigold garlands, dotted reverently between their eyes with red tikka powder.  The driver honks with irritation at crossing humans and then points his beaten Toyota sedan at a pair of starving stray dogs, he misses one, plows over the other.  I hear the yelp, the short cry of pain.  The rear wheel of the taxi raises up over and collapses with a clunk onto the street.  The driver and his hashish-eyed mate laugh impishly.  They look back and wait for us to agree that killing the mongrel was good fun.  Shiva the creator and destroyer takes many forms and he’s partial to cows.  At the Marine Bar a heavily bespectacled jarhead tells me there’s nothing unusual about this tour of duty.  This is Nepal but it’s just three hots and a cot to him.

I miss Nepal.  I miss wearing a flea collar on my ankle to discourage bed bugs, reading 100 Years Of Solitude by candlelight, eating Daal Bhat Sag every night served in steaming mounds onto polished steel plates by barefoot Nepali Ammas.  I miss enjoying rich hot water buffalo milk ladled over rice for dessert and then smoking tobacco and chula through clay hand pipes with the boys by cow dung chip fed firelight.  I miss my sleepiness while listening to and generally not understanding chatter between my family and visiting neighbors, who have stopped by to catch up and see the beautifully fat Amarikee manche. I miss the sweetness of my hosts helping me to learn their language.  I miss words like rangi changi chiz biz *—every time I hear George Winston’s Minstrels.


BIO: Richard Harvey is a poet and novelist who lives in Long Beach, California. Many of the poems published in Verdad will be integrated into the plotline of his novel, Soft and Chewy. He recently published a chapbook called Lemonade—Notes To Cancer. He is a 3-year brain cancer survivor. An important part of his healing has been honoring his creative nature by reconnecting with writing. He conducts Healing Through Creativity workshops with cancer support groups and students of all ages. He has a wonderful loving wife, two sons and two dogs; all of them occasionally wander into his poems. He is very grateful to the muse for coming back for frequent visits.