Sunday, June 15, 2008

Talk Your Ear Off

Last week my long time acquaintance, Sandra, was visiting from Australia. One afternoon we went to the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art because there was an afternoon film/discussion about saving art treasures in Lo Monthang, the capital of the Nepalese subkingdom of Mustang where I trekked in 1999. Featured in the film was restorer John Sanday who told our small group about the work he was doing there and who joined us for dinner that evening in the only thing that approximates a restaurant in the distant little city -- we had walked four days to reach it. There were no roads in Mustang although the film showed one now being built. The picture above is of Lo Monthang, a walled city in a valley just 12 miles from the Tibetan border and a place that would be in Tibet except for Nepali politics many years ago.

During the discussion one man dominated the "discussion." He made several generalizations that I had to refute [e.g.,the monsoons do NOT get beyond the Annapurnas to that desert kingdom]. After the group broke up he settled near me and carried on, allowing me to say that I had been there -- whereas he spoke from his experience of hiking the Annapurna circuit which only reaches the border of Mustang. At any rate, he wanted to talk, and talk, and talk. Well, damnit, I like to talk about my travels too, but I could hardly get a word in edgewise. I got so tired of his half-informed genealizations that I finally put on a schoolteacher-ish voice and said, "I know what I'm talking about, I've done a great deal of research." This, of course, did not stop him, it was only a small detour.

I would dearly have loved a real conversation about the differring preservatinon attitudes of Western conservators and the Mustangis -- the clash of our respect for individual aritsts -- the murals being saved were being painted almost concurrent with the Sistine Chapel and are perhaps equally accomplished high art -- and the lack of interest the people of this region have for individualism. But that conversation was out of the question with Mr. Half-Assed-Facts. He was probably five or ten years younger than I and had that sense of entitlement to voice his thoughts that so chafe me in male company.

However, during the period of Sandra's visit, since I have traveled to "exotic" plaes and she was a kind listener, I'm afraid I had my periods of garrulousness too. The truth is, it's great to hear ourselves talk and to expound when we've gathered a certain amount of information. It's one of the pitfall of aging -- and I think one of the values as well. Many of us DO indeed have a lot we can tell others. But, finally, how much more satisfying it is when we can have real CONversations -- real discussions with others who are also informed and who, perhaps, have insights we don't. This availability of true conversationalists is something I have not had enough of in my life. Perhaps I should have been an academic -- but it's far to late for the "what ifs" and from what I read, the academy is not necesarily open minded, quite the opposite, it often seems.

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