An auspicious conjunction

Last night I went to a party next door. Well, "next door" is about 700 meters, but the full moon made the night as bright as broad daylight and I decided to go there on foot.

I left before the countdown -- the party was like all the parties always are -- but coming back home, among the rice fields and banana groves (the shaggy leaves were edged silver by the moon), along the dirt country road (which gleamed before me as white as snow) was very beautiful: occasionally, there were by the roadside broad leafless trees -- it is the dry season here and many trees are naked -- and then the road was covered with the spiderweb of their shadow in the moonlight.

I recalled a letter a Chinese scholar1 wrote in the eleventh century describing just such a moment: walking in the spider-web shadow of naked trees under the beaming moonlight; and here was I, a thousand years on, experiencing the same thing. The moment felt as magical to me last night as it had to him full ten centuries back.

The natives have a beautiful custom of celebrating holidays by sending into the sky flying lamps -- small hot-air balloons: a jar of cloth turned topsy-turvy with an glowing oil lamp attached underneath; and every way I looked last night there were a dozen such lamps, glowing orange in the sky, climbing up and turning left, east, with the prevailing wind: new constellations in the sky, brighter than the old stars, and constantly shifting: the Ink Brush, the Bolt of Cloth (which then morphed to become the Suckling Waterbuffalo), the Three Working Girls Each With Drink In Hand, the Very Ancient Bronze Vessel.

Su Shih would surely have said it was a very auspicious way to ring in the new year.

1 Su Shih (1037-1101 A.D.), scholar, poet, essayist, lover, administrator, politician, political dissident, exile, and -- a terrible calligrapher. "Snakes hanging from trees", said Mifu; "tadpole traces", said Huang Tingjian.


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