Today we decided to go out on a limb and give up our usual way of transportation (the night buses, their loud music and crazy drivers) for a boat. Maybe seeing all the fishermen on the gigantic Irrawaddy river (which would already be wide in its normal state, but has taken possession of meters and meters of land on its sides) gave us navigational envy. I love ships, and boats, and – compared to buses or anything with wheels – they are my particular friends because I can read on them without the immediate risk of restituting my last meal onto my neighbour’s lap. So we left Bagan on a ship to Mandalay, which is expensive (for our budget, it’s still only 32 dollars for an 11 hour cruise), going upstream to the old capital. The buses do it in 5 hours. Sometimes, the real luxury is to travel slower.
From the deck, then, we watch the flooded shores and the white birds fishing, the pagodas lost amongst the trees and the river, its slow waters spreading almost all the way to the horizon, merging with the sky which has the same blue-grey color. And we read (I’m halfway through “The glass Palace”, by Amitav Gosh, which starts in Mandalay at the arrival of the British and just adds to my excitement at finally seeing it tonight, to compare, but I’m also plucking in and out of Jeanette Winterson’s “Art objects” essays, which take time to process). But mostly I listen to an audiobook – not taking full advantage of my non-travel-sickness-state, as I usually use audiobooks in buses as an alternative way of reading – because the audiobook I’m listening to right now is “The piano Tuner”, by Daniel Mason (would recommend the audio version read by Graeme Malcolm by the way, fantastic narrator), which also takes place in Burma, during the colonial times, and is about a piano tuner sent to tune a prestigious Erard piano in a secluded post in the Shan State. Right now I’m at the stage in the book when the tuner is coming from Yangon to Mandalay, by boat, on the same river I’m in. And there couldn’t be a better place to listen to it.