Commons

commons 1

The day started with an interview about my grant. In hindsight it seems prescient, now that the government is pulling funding from the arts. Might I have done something that we might all need to do? I kept my answers personal, not political, wishing to protect the whimsy with which I invented the grant, and the naivety with which I awarded it. Like always Julien offered me language, saying that I was giving for the common good. And so we spent the day considering the commons.

Public spaces are sites of transition between private ones. We move through them as if we were alone. Unless we have poor boundaries, or are excessively extroverted, or both, in which case the experience of shared environments is riveting. I feel hardest in a crowded carriage, sucked and blown by the energy of those at hand. At the station Julien noticed this dramatic engagement with seemingly impersonal sites. I had said, about taxis: “They’re everywhere except where you are.” But how else do you explain a cab reversing as you approach it? Later, in a taxi, I felt we’d been kidnapped. We were on the wrong side of the freeway, climbing up and away. Julien took a more rational approach, and a more trusting one, outsourcing local driving to local people who drive. I’d actually considered walking the five kilometres between forest and station. Something would have happened – like a kidnapping. That’s my definition of adventure: foolishly trying to do things by yourself.

commons 2

“We not provide,” said the woman at FRIM’s “one stop centre.” Maps were not available; nor was food. The site’s main attraction – an elevated walk through the treetops – was closed for Ramadan, along with all the cafes. “So nothing to eat,” I confirmed. She pointed at the fridge, which contained cans of drink and some heart-shaped chocolate cakes. As she said “cake” her eyes glistened.

Had I seen her before? This look of satisfaction at my displeasure called to mind the woman from years before but just down the road who had blocked me from a concert because I was wearing shorts. I’d fled KL, after that, and met my first lover in a rotunda at Kuala Kangsar. We’d both been sheltering from the rain.

Anyway this guardian wanted us out of the forest. “You cannot go here,” she cautioned, covering most of her non-detachable map. “Unless you have a guide, for one hundred-seventy ringgit?” We went anyway, carrying water and our chocolate cake, climbing a steep path towards a closed attraction. Overhead, monkeys reached between branches, liberated from the turf wars of the more evolved.

We were not the only defiant walkers. Chinese locals joined us on the mountain, carrying folded umbrellas. We ate our cake at a waterfall decorated by people gently exercising. I recalled a sign from yesterday about which I’d been delighted: “No exercise.” Now, from what I could see, this sounded like segregation. Enter as a Muslim, or not at all. (The cake was delicious. “Made from the heart,” it said.)

commons 3

I’m writing this behind the Petronas Towers, at an artificial lake with half-hourly fountain displays. Jets pulse and sway imitating human dancers, only perfectly, forming a ring around a vertical line of water which holds itself until the music stops. The sound and light show forms a temporary audience, looking away from itself, turning its back on the towers that draw so many glances from across the city.

It’s a hot night. I imagine floating out to the heart of the spectacle, looking back through a cage of water at the shore. Would the jet carry me? How far would I fall?

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