Angkor Wat


How exciting it must have been for earlier wanderers hacking through the caterwauling Cambodian brush to come upon the Angkorean faces, the great temple-covered carvings of gorgeous round breasts, and stone Buddhas as tall as trees, and black stone lingas as hard as cocks, and multi-armed devas writhing on the walls like hives of snakes. They moved if you looked at them the right way, they really did, like a medieval cinema, and in the dark one of them actually startled me, while a real green snake with small white eyes slithered along the ancient stone, the avatar of an unworshipped god.

It’s a place that comes closer to heaven than any other, as there are full, bare-breasted women smiling at you everywhere you go, and if you just churn a certain sea of milk hard enough you can generate thousands of them like bubbles. One even shows her teeth, because she must have been that particular sculptor’s wife, according to the story related by an idle temple guard, and must have smiled like that when her husband came home from the rising dust curtains that whirled around the world’s largest pre-industrial city like a daytime aurora during its genesis, when the five towers that look like five giant black pineapples were climbing the simmering heat of Cambodia’s eternal summer.

In the forest, along the paths to the thousand tree-choked pyramids that stud this land, there were blind and mangled victims of the Khmer Rouge playing thrumming, whining, clattering strains of ancient folk music. I bought a CD from one group (the Angkor Association For The Disabled), and I still listen to it, and still fantasize about the day I can make it the soundtrack to a Demillesque epic about building Angkor Wat.

—excerpted from Kingdoms in the Sun, a new ebook which costs less than something really cheap and yet thoroughly worthwhile.