Cambodia, Not Swimming: Angkor

preah khan

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today, we consider a piece by the maestro himself, Kevin Dolgin, whose lovely “One Dollar Cow: Angkor, Cambodia” can be found at McSweeney’s.

Here’s the convoluted reason why. Poking around in cyberspace, we encountered a helpful web page where Susan Breslow Sardone, longtime Romantic Travel Guide for About.com, recommends destinations based on a traveler’s zodiac sign.

Now, it happens that Mr. Dolgin is a Gemini, a type of person described here as having a “quicksilver mind” which needs plenty of stimulation in the form of novelty and action. The compiler of astrological trip-ticks assures us that the ideal Gemini destination is … “a great city.” Several possibilities are mentioned, all in the United States, two of them being Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Both these cities have been delineated by Mr. Dolgin in his essay “The West,” which appears in Kevin’s new book, The Third Tower Up from the Road. And while they are undoubtedly both great cities, neither one is what you might call exotic. So, onward to the jungles of Cambodia, and the remains of an urban center the size of Los Angeles.

First, we learn that Angkor means “city.” In the record business this is known as an eponymous title. And why not? Many groups throughout history have called themselves names that meant, in their tongues, “people” or “humans,” so why shouldn’t a city be called “City?” Especially when it surrounds a temple that turns out to be the largest building ever constructed in the service of religion. This edifice, Angkor Wat, is a marvel of the stonemason’s art, every millimeter of it covered with intricate carvings guaranteed to blow your mind.

But if you think this is Angkor’s only temple, think again – about Preah Khan, a former Buddhist monastery which Kevin describes thusly:

It is a vast network of passages crossing each other in a complex pattern that stretches the imagination by its very conception.

And, Preah Khan has been left alone, not scraped bare by archaeologists. So it’s all overgrown with vines, and pleasantly spooky. Pre Rup, a temple featuring pyramidal spires, is also recommended. It was here that the author was offered the one-dollar cow, and also here that his friend recalled and recounted a mystical encounter, in another time and another land, with another cow. “I’ll never forget that,” the author says, and neither will we.

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

SOURCE: “One Dollar Cow: Angkor, Cambodia”

photo courtesy of nimbu , used under this Creative Commons license

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