Autumn Crocus Billy Sheet

In China, Rock's Kingdom

March 3, 2014 – 08:11 pm

And the crocus plants were
By BRUCE CHATWIN

And over Li Chiang, the snow range is turquoise Rock's world that he saved us for memory a thin trace in high air -- EZRA POUND, "CANTO CXIII"

It is a cold, sunny Sunday in Yun-nan. On the plain below Jade Dragon Mountain, the villagers of Beisha are letting off firecrackers to celebrate the building of a house, and the village doctor is holding a feast in his upper room, in honor of his firstborn grandson.

The sun filters through the lattices, bounces off rafters hung with corncobs and lights up everyone's faces. Apart from us, almost all the guests are members of the Nakhi tribe.

The Nakhi are the descendants of Tibetan nomads who, many centuries ago, exchanged their tents for houses and settled in the Lijiang Valley, to grow rice and buckwheat at an altitude of over 8, 000 feet. Their religion was - and surreptitiously still is - a combination of Tibetan Lamaism, Chinese Taoism and a far, far older shamanistic belief: in the spirits of cloud and wind and pine.

The Doctor has seated us, with his four brothers, at the table of honor beside the east window.

Below, along the street, there are lines of weeping willows and a quickwater stream in which some pale brown ducks are playing. Led by the drake, they swim furiously against the current, whiz back down to the bridge and then begin all over again.

The paneled housefronts are painted the color of ox blood. Their walls are of mud brick, flecked with chaff, and their tiled roofs stretch away, rising and sagging, in the direction of the old dynastic temple of the ancient kings of Mu.

None of the Doctor's brothers look the least bit alike. The most vigorous is a leathery, Mongol-eyed peasant, who keeps refilling my bowl of firewater. The second, with bristly gray hair and a face of smiling wrinkles, sits immobile as a meditating monk. The other two are a tiny man with a wandering gaze and a shadowy presence under a fur-lined hat.

Looking across to the ladies' table, we are amazed by the full-fleshed, dimpled beauty of the young girls and the quiet dignity of the older women. They are all in traditional costume, in the celestial colors - blue and white. Some, it is true, are wearing Mao caps, but most are in a curved blue bonnet, rather like a Flemish coif. Our Shanghai friend, Tsong-Zong, says we might well be guests at Bruegel's "Peasant Wedding."

Source: www.nytimes.com


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