Neal Stephenson and Kashmir

They really do have something in common.  Really?  Really.  Allow me to explain.

Many years ago, I spent six weeks in Kashmir . (

Currently I am in the midst of “REAMDE” a fiction novel by Neal Stephenson.

While immersed in both these places a similar event has occurred:  Culture shock.  This is one of those things you just have to experience to truly relate to the words.   Letters on a page or a verbal enunciation of consonants and vowels just does not begin to communicate the visceral experience of it –  that split second un-grounding, where the  foundation of your normal orientation shatters  because suddenly where you just were is not the place you are right now.  The mind disjoints, seeing and hearing things that make no sense,  frying neurons and synapses in the process.

In Kashmir that happened twice. Once of course after stepping off the plane from the U.S.   That’s understandable,  first time out of one’s familiar country and  into a vastly different environment.  Somewhat anticipating it though, softened that particular collision.

The other time, it was much more potent.  I had settled into a routine there and after a month or so decided to go the Wednesday night “American Movies” in Srinigar.  I caught the bus into town, made it to the theatre just as the sun was going down and eagerly settled in for a first run viewing of  “The French Connection”.   Completely captivating.  Fast paced, exciting, New York, drama, gritty, even a pair of nice breasts thrown in.  Two hours worth of utter distraction.

Movie’s over.  The lights go up.  I shuffle out with the crowd, my psyche still meshed with the streets of New York, half expecting to see Popeye Doyle on the curb waiting to go have a drink  with me- and suddenly, as if jumping into a frigid lake from a sauna, I went  from daytime Brooklyn to a nighttime cacophonous beehive of humanity, taxis, busses, merchants, sandals, saris, and Srinigar.  Whoa.  Major sensory overload.  Maha confusion.

A completely arresting moment.  I stopped short in my tracks, frozen.  And for the split second that seemed like an hour,  I had absolutely no clue where I was.  Once the perceptual dust had settled and compass bearings re-cognized,  all the pieces still weren’t 100% collected, so there was no way I could handle a crowded bus ride home.  Feeling surprisingly vulnerable, I decided to spend what at that time was a big chunk of my daily budget on a taxi.

This last Saturday morning a similar space-time dislocation occurred.  On a three day weekend that consisted of camping, driving, visiting friends , and meditation retreating, I was en route from the highlands of the Sierra Nevadas  via the foothills to insert my Subaru into the grey vein of  Interstate 5 as runs up the middle of California and beyond.

Stopping for breakfast I grabbed Stephenson’s “REAMDE” to enjoy during the time the meal was being prepared.   Better than reading the menu ten times, pretending to be interested.  Read the book all through the meal, too- something I rarely do.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Neal Stephenson, I highly recommend him.  He is a true wordsmith.  Like a master weaver using a computer keyboard instead of a loom, he creates intricately detailed descriptions and scenarios.  His characters are vivid, his humor sharp and irreverent, the plots elaborate and believable although often delightfully improbable.  If you want to plain just laugh at loud with a book read “Cryptonomicon”,  an earlier work of his.  It’s big but who cares.  That one is all about the journey, not the goal.

He manages to do all this without being boring.  It is just the opposite- when you open his  books you enter into the world of Mr. Neal and his friends.  Deeply.

And so for all the world it seemed I was sitting in a restaurant booth in a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where in reality,  I was thousands of miles away with vastly different people, embroiled with Chinese hackers, ex dope smugglers who are now rich video game moguls, MI-6 agents, Russian mafia bozos, Seattle computer geeks, international terrorists and on and on.  Remarkably, he makes this literary smorgasborg work.  Don’t ask me how.  He just does.

I shuffle to the cash register to pay the bill.  The young lady takes my money, exchanges well rehearsed pleasantries and wishes me a wonderful holiday weekend.  Exiting the overly air-conditioned eatery, it was like slamming into an incendiary wall of hot air.  The temp was in the high 80’s at just eleven in the morning and climbing.

Directly on the heels of this super heated air, came the next explosive wave- culture shock.  Where I was now was not where I was a nano second ago, and I had no idea where I now was or even which car was mine.   Funny how the body-mind  works.  Fairly quickly though, as all the pieces came back together, I recognized the parking lot and  remembered my current excursion, etc.  But the very next thing that came to mind was how much all of what just occurred  felt way like the Kashmir experience so many years ago.  The episode in Srinigar was  big time disorientation, the one just described a milder version.  But like sex or chocolate or winning the lotto, you just would have had to experience it to experience it.  Most likely Neal Stephenson could describe it enough for you to fully taste it and go there.  I guess that’s why he makes the big bucks.

He kinda looks like a wizard- Neal Stephenson

I was here but not really, then I guess I really was

Market in Srinigar. I think I was there while taking the photo.

Thanks for taking some LIP from me,


P.S.  Clotilda, if you are reading this you absolutely must go buy a copy of “Cryptonomicon”. You will thank me.


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