I was in a deserted, deteriorating colonial hotel on a mountainside halfway between Djakarta and Punchak Pass and a poisonous centipede was clacking across the tiles. Alone in a no-man's land, usually with a tropical fever, practically no human contact except with a bluff Chinese owner and elderly Javanese houseboys in native dress who brought huge bottles of local beer and replicas of colonial Dutch food - the only other human contact being with an intense, bespectacled Soviet "journalist" who was obviously a spook and thought I was a spook and had been assigned the job of traveling up here to find out what I was really up to.
Part of this end-of-life feeling that engulfed me here in this non-place came from my having no good story to hide from the Eastern bloc spy. No story that was good in the sense that it followed a plan.No story that went according to plan. No good reason why I was here. No story that was as it should be. And no such life either.
I was so far down it was as if I had nothing to lose, which may be why when I started to write, cross-legged on the tiles, I could not follow a plan and so went, as if guided, to scenes on the Chao Phrya River across from Bangkok where so much of my recent life had come into focus. A time cut off in time which had ended in near violent boozy chaos with the end of what I had hoped would be my ultimate love affair. A smooth, willowy, sometimes troubled, sensual, sometimes brilliant young woman it seemed I would never see again. There in Bangkok among beautiful people in a land of sweeping temples and palaces, electric green fields, and sparkling fresh water canals. So far from prettty paid girls in fever-ridden back allies in the fetid unending slum city Djakarta. An open wound. Scenes from Bangkok I did not know went beyond safe surface beauty until I wrote them. Scenes that did not fit any of my plans for novels. And it was some of the best and toughest writing I had done up till now.
Though it was far from the only writing I did in that deserted hotel. I wrote to an old friend from New York who was now in the Philippines telling him about my recent adventures a thousand miles up the Kapuas River, like something out of Conrad, in Indonesian Borneo. I wrote to another old friend, this one from happy days in Athens,who now lived and wrote in Frankfurt, telling him not that my life seemed at an end but that it was one continual adventure. I wrote what I thought were amusing notes to friends still in New York, assuring them I would be back there soon and meanwhile my life was on track - partly devoted to adventure and partly to writing about adventure.
I was pleased about how the Bangkok scenes were coming out, but I hoped this would be a prelude to something much more. Something that really counted. Stories that would be so solid I would only have to write them once. Stories that would never change.Like the stories I tried to tell in lying letters