Angkor Wat, photographed on July 18th, on what Lou Reed would have called a perfect day.
An unintended but highly beneficial side effect of family holidays that exceed more than a few days is that it leads to a hard stop in your day to day life. Newspaper deliveries are stopped, long pending projects are suddenly rushed to completion for fear that they may not survive the break, the fridge is cleaned out, for fear that the apples may otherwise greet you at the door when you return. Life in the city formally known as Bombay necessitates other measures as well, such as dehumidification and the cleansing of suits and shoes. It reminds us of all of opposite measures in other cities, such as the humidification we used to have to do in the cold winter months in Chicago.
Our hard stop vacation this year has led us to Cambodia, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We're on a bus right now from Siem Reap, home to most of the Angkor monuments, to Phnom Penh; a bus with wifi, TV and a Sylvester Stallone movie. Sly Stallone and five other fast moving, slow thinking beef cakes.
At a time in the first millenium that Paris and London weren't more than overgrown towns Angkor was already a center of power and culture that lasted for four to five hundred years. It took the best of Hindu culture and mythology from India to build elaborate and stunning temple complexes, roads, bridges and irrigation systems.
For those of us raised on or familiar with Hindu mythology it amazes to see the accuracy with which that mythology got transported from India to Cambodia, and even on to Vietnam, more than 1200 years ago. Entire storylines from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and later Buddhism brought to life on temple carvings.
What system of governance, what school of thought, what industry would India export to Cambodia, this still healing nation, today? They do not appear to have many institutions of higher education, they don't make their own cars, their newspapers would hardly qualify as a supplement to an Indian paper, so when and where do we start?
Disregard that question for a moment, because in the absence of all these outward signs of economic progress Cambodia has a thing or two that India doesn't, things that help to make to make life eminently livable.
Ten years out of a war and a genocide and the country already has good roads, a functioning traffic systems, schools, and well maintained buildings.
Viewed from here you realise once again that we are a cacophonous, vibrant and flawed democracy, that our industry can hold its own against an increasing number of international competitors, on their terms and our own, and that our workforce has an increasingly international mindset. That said though, some of the basic links between the executive branch (intent) and the administrative branch (will to act on intent) are broken, as a result of which we do not have good roads, functioning traffic systems, functioning schools or maintained public buildings.
Even at a personal level the battle against apathy and lack of hygiene (the two often go hand in hand) continues. Our building society maintains (or doesn't, as the case may be) that it is our strange, non - Indian standards acquired while living in the U.S. ('America') that make us so insistent on neatness. Indians apparently are different, according to the Society, coolly disregarding the many spotless villages that you will find in the interiors of Kerala or Rajasthan, at outer ends of the country.
It is these disconnects, at a Governmental or personal level, that have the capacity to bring a country or a conversation to a hard stop.
For now though we have hit a more literal hard stop. Entering Phnom Penh we have unwittingly landed smack back in the middle of the largest political rally the country has seen in a while, celebrating the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, back to fight an election against Prime Minister Hun Sen. The unexpected glitch makes us stop and think, one of the unintended aims of travel.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.