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IMPRESSIONS OF AMERICA (Complete + Updated)

February 26, 2014

WAITING FOR JOHN

Well, I finally made it to the city that never sleeps.  Of course the very first place that I go to is the Dakota. I have spent so many years reading about it and picturing it in my mind and now I am standing outside its famous wrought-iron gates!

It is October the 9th. I have specifically timed my very first visit to New York City to coincide with his birthday. Surely he must come out and acknowledge his fans on a day like this, accept their greetings, perhaps even blow out the candles on the cakes that some of his admirers will undoubtedly bring along.

Within five minutes of arriving at the Dakota – and what a thrill it is to see it for the very first time – Yoko walks right past me. Strangely, she carries no presents in her hands and looks rather dejected on this joyous occasion. No, not just dejected, more than that, she looks very lonely and deflated, shrunken almost, as if some vital part of her has been amputated. But surely, once she walks into their apartment on the 9th floor, his famous wit will cheer her up and his cheeky smile will make her smile too.

Meantime, I will stand here and wait for him to come out. I have flown across oceans to see him and see him I surely will, despite those ugly rumours that I have overheard about something terrible that apparently befell him some time in the past. What nonsense! Absurd things like that just don’t happen in this world. Fate would take extra-special care of such a man to make sure nothing bad happened to the creator of such sublime and immortal beauty. Why, I am certain, right now he is half-lying, half-sitting on his bed, as I’ve seen him do in photos, picking notes on his guitar and creating more sonic jewels of ineffable wonder.

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, for I have to prove to myself that he is in fact a real person and not just an idealised construct created by mankind to satisfy its need for heroes. For it is almost impossible to believe that so many timeless masterpieces could come out of one man. Is he a real person at all or a force of nature?  What if he is just an archetypal symbol of our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations for a utopian existence and so all my waiting will be in vain? No, that can’t be!

And so I will stand here and wait for him to come out, till nightfall if necessary, to wish him a happy birthday and to press into his hands some of my poems and stories, so that he would see that we both share the same ideals and beliefs.

And I will grab the opportunity to tell him of how much his music has meant to me over the years. I will tell him how his music had inspired me to reach for peaks of creative endeavours, how music for me is the highest form of expression. Alas, not being gifted with having celestial sounds divine arising and frolicking in my mind, I instead had to convey my inner being through the lame and unwieldy lumps of words.

I will tell him how I have tried to continue his mission of spreading hope and light around the world through my own writings, my own actions, my own conduct and interactions with people, for even one small candle can destroy the infinite darkness of the entire night.

Until then, I will wait, for I know that if I wait long enough, he will come. He just has to come, for New York City is the place where everything is achievable, the place where impossible and ineffable dreams come true. And so if I just close my eyes and wish hard enough, then surely he must appear!

FALLING WITH THE FALLS

I came face to face with Him when I was five, skinny to the bone. Mum took me to meet Him as soon as we arrived at the seaport town, even though it was already night. From a distance I could hear His voice, the steady rhythm of His basso.  Perhaps it was just as well that I could not see Him on our first meeting for all my other senses were saturated with His presence. I stood there, absorbing His being through my body’s pores, yearning to sacrifice my child’s body to His power, so that in swallowing me up, I would become one with Him; He part of me and I part of Him. Mum was calling me to go back to the hotel, but I stood there, not willing, indeed, not able to move a fibre of my body, a muscle of my limbs.

That was the day that water, in its most magnificent and astonishing incarnation, came into my existence and a Love was born.

And now, here at the Falls, this love affair, after years of tiffs and misunderstandings, is being rekindled.

The flow of the river leading up to the Falls looks menacing and brooding. There is a belligerent arrogance in its bearing, like a bully, gearing up for a fight, totally unlike other rivers that flow with sweet serenity and smiles on their faces.

Standing next to the cascades, there is water all around me, in the form I’ve never witnessed before, air-like and rising as clouds of smoke. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see earth turning into fire or air turning into earth here, fulfilling every alchemist’s deepest dream. Perhaps the error of the alchemists was in believing that a philosopher’s stone was a thing rather than a location, for at this place all metamorphoses are possible – the four elements transmute into one another at will; incorrigibly jaded senses that once only saw disappointment and disillusionment in the world acquire child-like wonder and see anew the beauty of life.

For a moment, my rapture is tainted by doubt. Sure this is spectacular and all, but what significance does it have to my life, to human existence as a whole? What is the meaning of this downpour, of me standing here and watching it at this particular point in time?

Is it Nature’s allegorical portrayal of the original Fall from Grace? Or is it a liquid metaphor for the final tumble that we all eventually have to take? For there is no way that the fallen water can ever return to its previous plane of being except as a misty ghost of its former self.

An inexorable flow of a solid wall of water. How easy, how tempting it is to join the plunge, to become one with the deluge! The avalanche is calling out to me with all its might, it is so persuasive in its roar. The whole world is falling around me and I am the odd one out, stubbornly holding my ground and remaining ludicrously stationary.

Maybe only this colossal torrent is capable of wiping away all of my sins, cleansing my being from the layers of inner grime it has accumulated over the decades. I just have to find a way to position myself so that I am standing right under them, right where they hit the ground.

And I will emerge from underneath the Falls re-born, all shiny and pure again, like that five-year old child.

HOMAGE TO LA: A SLAUGHTERHOUSE OF DREAMS

The smell hits you as soon as you step out of the air-conditioned airport. You feel the residue, the fallout of broken dreams hitting your palate. The charred remains of incinerated hopes mix with the omnipresent smog and invade every pore of your being.

The shuttle bus takes you to your hotel over miles and miles of pulverized aspirations paved over by concrete highways. From the bus window you can see the Hollywood Boulevard, where gold stars are set into asphalt, merging imperceptibly with the Promenade of Dead Dreams where the stars are wrought of dirty and soggy cardboard and are stuck onto the pavement with scotch tape or wads of old gum. Each cardboard star marks the exact spot where a particular dream breathed its last.

Different dreams die in different ways. Some shatter into jagged shards and one gets badly cut trying to piece them together again. Some fragment into neat, symmetrical fragments and re-construction is a relatively straightforward task, sort of like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  Others just crumble away, like burnt paper, and nothing is left to do except to warm your hands over their long-cold ashes.

Around each broken dream a mass of people sit in huddles, protecting it, as best they can, from the elements and the vagaries of fate and keeping a vigil, just in case it stirs and shows signs of life, for no dream can be obliterated completely.

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LA, a Dream Slaughterhouse masquerading diabolically as a Dream Factory. The dream incinerators keep working day and night, around the clock, producing clouds of smoke that comprise of dreams reduced to their base elements: deep yearnings, life-long desires, burning ambitions, great aspirations, ineffable hunches rumbling just below the conscious mind, indestructible beliefs, half-remembered childhood premonitions.

The city takes delight in finding new ways to kill dreams, in finding new dreams to put to death. Special extermination squads roam its streets, ransacking every nook and cranny of the people’s souls and minds for any treasured hopes that might be in hiding there. The perversity of its depravity is such that it even gives birth to dreams just so that it can shoot them and watch them die. It makes you come face to face with your shortcomings, makes you face your failures. It knows all the delusions that comfort us throughout our lives, the delusions that keep us warm and secure at night, the delusions that sustain us through our daily struggles, the delusions that we use to solve our existential crises, the delusions that help us through our darkest times, the delusions that we stubbornly hang on to, nurture and cherish; the delusions that we would defend to our very deaths.

Every delusion gets hunted down and taken care of in this town: the delusion that one is special and unique; the delusion that one has singular and extraordinary talents; the delusion that one is in possession of insights into life that the rest of the world lacks and that one is privy to truths that no one else can access; the delusion that one is destined for greatness; the delusion that one is a genius whom the world doesn’t appreciate; the delusion that one will find a soul mate meant just for them and whose love will save them; the delusion that the convictions that one tenaciously holds on to are not delusions at all but are rather veracious, valid beliefs derived from experience and insight and supported by evidence from both the outer and inner worlds; the delusion that one is above the laws of humanity and deserves to be treated differently; the delusion that a lucky break will come to you in the end; the delusion that somewhere some person, angel or god is working on your behalf, trying to help you with your journey through life and is looking after you; the delusion that one is protected by fate and special luck from bad things happening to them; the delusion that there will come a day when one will begin to live happily ever after; the delusion that one will find meaning in one’s tribulations and that one’s struggles will be justified in retrospect; the delusion that it all will turn out well in the future; the delusion that one’s life is just a bad, absurd dream and that one will eventually wake up to find oneself living a happy life that makes sense; the delusion that you alone, out of the multitude in the present world and throughout the course of history, will be spared from death; the delusion that one does not have any delusions.

Over the eons the native denizens of the city have evolved a protection mechanism – they dream only fake dreams and have only counterfeit delusions so that when their hopes are destroyed, it doesn’t hurt at all. Only the unwary outsiders possess no genetic defence system and it is their dreams that the metropolis preys upon.

The mountains, mute witnesses to the tribulations and sufferings down below, are always there, solid and eternal, their paradoxical presence contrasting sharply with the ethereal and evanescent dreams floating around in the valleys.

Yet there might be an explanation to this incongruity for according to an old American Indian legend, the LA area was once flat as a pancake. Over time the detritus of destroyed dreams landed on the outskirts and amassed to create the mountains. Just as coral reefs are comprised of myriad dead organisms, so the mountains around LA are composed of fragments of lost hopes, scraps of unfulfilled ambitions and shells of dead dreams, with each broken dream contributing about 2/7th of an inch to the mountains’ height.

The mountains say nothing, expressing themselves through that most ancient, most articulate, most authentic and most profound language of all – absolute silence.

HOMAGE TO SAN FRANCISCO: A FULFILLER OF DREAMS

The train takes exactly 12 hours to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco, leaving at midnight and arriving in the high noon sun. This is quite apt in a way, for, by making you wait for the good things to come, it builds up expectations, but, more importantly, it separates San Francisco from LA in the same way that day is separated from night.

If San Francisco did not exist, it would have to be invented, to balance out the existence of LA and act as its counterweight, for everything in nature has its opposite – black and white, good and bad, heaven and hell – and San Francisco is the very antithesis of LA: the hope to LA’s despair, the yang to LA’s yin, the warm vitality to LA’s frozen dread.

Usually it is too simplistic to sort reality into such mutually exclusive, dichotomous categories, for nothing in the human world is so clear-cut; everything has aspects of light and shadow to it. Yet one does not hesitate for an instant to place LA and San Francisco into those kinds of classes, for LA really is the place where your dreams and destiny are destroyed and San Francisco really is the place where your dreams and destiny are fulfilled. The only catch is that San Francisco fulfills them on its own terms.

If paranoia is the all-pervasive ambience in LA, then pronoia (the belief that the people around you, as well as the whole Universe, are conspiring to secretly help you and to do you good) is the predominant mood in San Francisco. (Indeed the very name of San Francisco bears an aural resemblance to Safe No Risk(o), while the name of LA suggests aLArm.) And, just as the threats that paranoiacs believe are being directed at them do not have to be real to make paranoiacs’ life a misery, so the good deeds that the pronoiacs believe are being done for them do not have to be real to make their life bliss. It is enough that one has that particular attitude; it is enough to believe that that is the case.

One question that arises is whether San Francisco is such a happy and serene place because its residents are so happy and serene, or are its residents so joyous and mellow because their city’s vibes are so joyous and mellow. Actually, this question is relevant for any place where people gather to live, work or associate together: Is it the people’s disposition and behaviour which give the location its unique character and vibes, or is it the location’s innate character and vibes which make its denizens feel and act the way they do? Or perhaps it is a process that works both ways, with the two effects reinforcing one another in a kind of a perpetual loop: the mood of the people imbues the character of the place, which in turn imbues the mood of the people, which in turn imbues the character of the place…ad infinitum.

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In any case, as opposed to LA which is a city of nightmares posing as a city of dreams, San Francisco is a city of anti-nightmares, a city of the kind of dreams that, after you awaken from them, leave a warm, safe feeling in you for the rest of the day. That’s why I always cherish dreaming about it, and, fortunately enough, San Francisco is a place that had regularly appeared in my dreams, years before I ever arrived in it, and it still appears in my dreams, years after I visited it.

The actual sojourn in San Francisco was so brief, so idyllic and the buoyancy I felt during my stay there was so rapturous, that I often wonder whether the visit itself happened in my dreams too, especially as certain features of the city accentuate its surreal character: the soft, diffused light permeating it; the splashes of wild, vivid colour on its distant hills; the road that winds unceasingly from side to side, like a colossal snake that is slowly uncoiling while making its way down a hill, and the massive sea lions dwelling incongruously right next to the city’s centre (In any other place, wild animals flee at the sight of man. Here, like in fairy tales, wild animals flock towards man, for even they can sense and are drawn to the safe haven that is San Francisco).

Perhaps such an enchanting place can not really exist in our world. What if, indeed, San Francisco has always been a mirage, without any reality or substance to it? Or is San Francisco just an idealised fictional construct representing the Promised Land on which we all could pin our aspirations for a utopian existence? Or what if, all along, San Francisco has been my own very cherished delusion, an invention of my overactive imagination that had given me sustenance and hope during my struggles and crises? That would certainly explain why I have always felt such an uncannily powerful personal affinity to it and why it has been such a persistent presence in my dreams.


WART HILLS

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Riding on an Amtrak bus through the Tejon Pass (aka The Grapevine) on the way to the Yosemite National Park. Unending miles of flat ground give way suddenly to hills filling the landscape and blocking off the sky, hills the like of which I’ve never seen before. Gigantic warts have erupted all over the skin of the Earth and I have a strangely strong urge to cauterize them or slice them off.

I experience the same kind of sickening repulsion as when one sees a disfigured body all covered in lumps, for in both cases something as familiar as smooth human skin or flat ground mutates into a grotesque shape. Yet, at the same time, one feels pity and a desire to heal, to cure the deformity.

The wart hills are so huge that smaller wart hills grow upon them. The stunted trees and patches of brown-grey bushes resemble the stubbly hairs that grow out of warts. The sickly yellow grass covering the rounded peaks accentuates further the diseased appearance of the land.


IN THE LAND OF GIANTS

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My first glimpse of the Giant Sequoias is from the tour bus. The trees bear a distinct resemblance to legs of a colossal elephant and their bases are covered in bulbous protuberances, shaped just like elephant toes. From the trunks of these titans grow branches whose girths are larger than the torsos of any other tree. They almost look fractal, these trees, trunk-like branches sprouting out of trunks…repeated ad nauseam.

Amongst the giant sequoias grow Ponderosa Pines and Sugar Pines. In any other location, the sight of these trees, of their size and proportions, would be completely breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Yet, in the presence of the behemoths, they are totally overshadowed and trivialised, just like true genius will always eclipse talent, no matter how great.

Some of the sequoias grow so close to one another that they become locked into an eternal embrace that turns over the eons into a more and more intimate connection until they fuse their beings into one entity, giving us all hope that true love does exist in this world.

WHAT I DID ON MY AMERICAN VACATION

America is a big country far away. I went there on a fast plane that flew so fast that when I arrived in America it was still the previous day. And so the plane must have flown faster than the speed of light because when you travel faster than light you go back into the past.

I visited New York City first. It is a big town with many people in it. Lots of people walked past me on the streets there. They probably didn’t know who I was because when I said good day to them they didn’t say anything back. I visited Atlantic Ocean when I was in New York City. An ocean is like a lake but a bit bigger.

I also went on a long choo-choo train to other places there. I looked out of the window when I went on a train and saw trees and houses but because they were rushing past me so quickly I couldn’t see them properly. I don’t know why they were in such a hurry. In our country trees and houses usually stay in the same one place.

People in America are not Australian people but they also speak English like us. But because they haven’t learned how to speak the language properly, they speak with an accent. The words are the same but they don’t pronounce the words the right way.

When I was in America, I met my friends who I met on the computer before. Their voices sounded the same but they looked different. They didn’t look like their photos because they were rounded, not flat like they were on the computer. It was a big shock to me because I was expecting them to look like their photos, standing or sitting in the same one pose, with the same smile or other expression on their faces. But instead they were like walking, talking cardboard cut-outs, moving about and changing their face expressions all the time. They must have used that new movie technology to make themselves look 3-D except that I didn’t have to wear those special glasses that I wore when I went to see that new 3-D movie.

I heard all kinds of things about America before going there and so I really wanted to find out what America was hiding from me. So I tried grabbing America by its legs, turning it upside down and giving it a good shake so that all the secrets America had stashed in its hidden pockets would come tumbling down at my feet. But unfortunately America wouldn’t budge.

Then I took my chances on a big jet plane, never let them tell you that all the airlines are the same. Some airlines are better than others and so I flew home on another plane that was different from the plane that I flew to America.

I met many nice people in America and I want to go back there soon.

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