The Ballad of Pingyao

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The Ballad of Pingyao

The Ballad of Pingyao

"She speaks good English And she invites you up into her room … And she takes your voice And leaves you howling at the moon"

The Professor, The Dr, babes in hand, standing by the check in just a few passengers milling ‘round, sorry I'm late I say. With the plane almost empty things are calm enough until the Dr orders a beer with breakfast or is it brunch? An hour from Hong Kong time for one last round, asks a dot painted air hostess do you really need another one. Semillon Sauvignon Blanc s'il vous plait says The Professor. Hong Kong Airport's noodle bar cash register operator wears a swine flu mask but still looking pretty there's no need to ask. I'm on a visa run texts Miss T resident Chun King Mansions temporarily Hong Kong. I spoke to many people today and have drunk way too much sugary chai . . . hope I can sleep now . . . see you in Pingyao.
Beijing arrivals, waiting to be picked up by a JIN DU AIRPORT HOTEL driving man, us arriving early he's nowhere to be found. A Capital Hotel driving man holds a sign reading Alasdair, we know him but he's not us, what the heck, clambering into a taxi we set off, JIN DU AIRPORT HOTEL The Professor says. Forty mysterious minutes and five ring roads pass by when the Professor lets out a back seat cry JIN DU, JIN DU, JIN DU. The taxi driving man knowing what he's heard yells back JIN DU, JIN DU, JIN DU. Down town late night traffic jam, taxi turns right parking out front of a Holiday Inn. Night manager Cindy says no JIN DU AIRPOT HOTEL dot com on the computer screen seen but there's plenty of room here so give me your passports. The Dr and me sleep comfortably but not The Professor on a bed made hastily. JIN DU AIRPORT HOTEL must be somewhere Beijing being the size of Belgium The Professor says.

"Well I woke up in the morning There's frogs inside my socks Your Mama, she's a hidin' inside the icebox"

Morning Dragon Air lands down south at Taiyuan. There's The Professor sign holding man.
Pingyao will be ‘bout an hour says translator Fay.
Advertising billboards flick flick past, banks, smiling couples the usual stuff then across a moat through a fortress wall well what a scene, such a blast runnin' from a temple is Harrison Ford. Pingyao's streets toned sepia grey from burned coal dust nostalgically like a bedside photograph. Welcomed as photo royalty The Prince on his way a few hours behind us. Gong Ji Hotel till Tuesday we're stayin' with Capitol Hotel Alasdair and whisky drinking Americans. Making photos is one thing and art something other yet a map of Australia gleaming in the courtyard morning sun hand drawn with empty Snow beer bottles wasn't such a bother. Miss T arrives her laptop crammed full of visions, there's Yetis in the bathroom she says showering with indecision. Photos stuck on walls sticky with paint and black and white and things, the Prince entering still bleeding from a Beijing bicycle peddler's sting. Dominique from the Marais with prints scratched n' un-healing, selling photos not his he's kind of making a living. Rafal picturing Russian saints in golden frames and a military tank in a snow covered parking lot that's lost its name, there's no footprints, Rafal's soldiers must have wings. Giants inside the gates the crowd stampedes standing ten feet tall they're handed zoom lenses to see, on Calvary's hill staked like chiseled trees ‘bout to topple over not steady on their knees. Thanks givings for light made the Festival begins, eyes blessed with sight over photos shopped skim and all that moves or stands within Pingyao is Nikoned n' Canoned as meanwhile, the Prince steps with purpose high upon the castle wall, findin' the prisoners' gaol not empty so close to the treasure now don't stumble n' fall. Roof tops Van Dyke Brown Lamp Black sad, not looking back a lone star rusty horizon rises.

"I got my dark sunglasses … I ‘m carryin' for good luck my black tooth."

Monday afternoon cruisin' the road to Taiyuan, we've a blind date with a translator but she was putting us on. Goin' to be up to the assistant and the assistant's assistant to show us ‘round. The Dr's bowels explodin' and nothin' on TV, nights are long in Taiyuan with only camels there to see. Morning country music playin' on the radio, The Dr hummin' along photographing faded street signs out the taxi window. My name up in lights all over the place, lead lined film bags creates such a fuss, makin' an early flight to Beijing made only just. Waitin' in front of Starbucks finds time passing slowly with no seats in Beijing airport standin's not only for the holy. With a Hong Kong flight he's late for The Prince arrives in haste, The Professor, The Dr and Capitol Hotel Alasdair following along more easily paced. Go back to Sydney Capitol Hotel Alasdair we're tired of carrying your case. Settled at Hotel Bothai it's time to eat, cross Jiaodaokou South Street then left we follow our feet. Few old housing districts still standin' The Professor he says, Mao lived in the Hutong round the corner over there. Mao's watch stopping at a quarter past the hour, lunch at the Passerby Bar, Tsingtao draft beer, fries and pizza watched over by post cards of Che Guevara. Parading a Botticelli smile and a hat that comes from Melbourne, an Empress moseys through the Dong Cheng amused by our attentions

"She's got everything she needs, She's an artist, she don't look back. She can take the dark out of the night time And paint the daytime black"

A market for flesh in the West has Sino artists painting woman's breasts n' art mart 798 stays open 'til after dark. Arriving in the afternoon Dionysus pummeled n' cracked into a wall by a huge fartin' bull, who let the raptors out The Professor shouts, tourist Martin Parr a glossy dog yellow snarls. Yan Pei - Ming's painted orphans not far beaten by a rushing wind upside down through steel stainless Olympic flag poles. Yan's wind roars, Dionysus slumping crashes to the floor and prophet Apollo's eyes see nothing at all as he wasn't watchin'. It's too late for that now yells Yan Pei - Ming the wolves are comin' in, meanwhile The Dr pictures gallery walls blank and shoppin' in Hong Kong The Prince doesn't like what's goin' on at open till late art mart 798. The Professor out mornin' huntin' in Beihai Park spies a lake full of cranes bending in the breeze just our imaginations the sun reflectin' on water plant leaves. The City Forbidden's guide is sweet Armstrong wearing Tex Avery's moose face on we follow every step past divine circles and squares and hand n' hand lovers posing by ancient trees makin' promises they'll have to keep. Bags bein' x - rayed and bodies full of bones and blood searched yet no flights leave today from Tiananmen square so this is how it was in the Hutong with its narrow tree lined streets and grey not tall buildings like Jim Morrison's Paris cemetery. Ya's Bar serves only drinks no food n' we're kind of hungry but bottled Tsingtao will do. Miles Davis' trumpet prowls soundtrack Ascenseur pour l'echafaud, Louis Malle's movie about a murder and an "ill fated chain of events". The Professor picks from the CD rack Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home man such tracks 1965 music of such urgency sung in tongues only a true believer could understand I was 14 years old then Ya puts it on.

"Johnny's in the basement / Mixing up the medicine / I'm on the pavement /<
Thinking about the government / She wears an Egyptian ring / That sparkles before she speaks / She's a hypnotist collector / You are a walking antique / Well, I wake in the morning / Fold my hands and pray for rain / I got a head full of ideas / That are drivin' me insane / In the dime stores and bus stations / People talk of situations / Read books, repeat quotations / Draw conclusions on the wall / Ain't it hard to stumble / And land in some muddy lagoon? / Especially when it's nine below zero / And three o'clock in the afternoon / Well, I go to pet your monkey / I get a face full of claws / I ask who's in the fireplace / And you tell me Santa Claus / I went into a restaurant / Lookin' for the cook … / Just then the whole kitchen exploded / From boilin, fat / Food was flying everywhere / And I left without my hat / Down the foggy ruins of time / far past the frozen leaves / The haunted, frightened trees / out to the windy beach / Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow / At times I think there are no words / But these to tell what's true / And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden / Christs that glow in the dark / It's easy to see without looking too far / That not much is really sacred / Strike another match, go start anew / And it's all over now, Baby Blue"

More beers ordered, this time in French, Ya's gone, a phone call's made, we're makin' no sense.
Ya's Ma moves like Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love's Su Li-Zhen. Ma parle á son fils Ya puttin' down the phone she opens the fridge.
A young man sleeping by the window The Professor pouncin' makes a snap snap photo

"...the great books've been written. the great sayings
have all been said/ I am about t sketch You
a picture of what goes on around here some-
times. tho I don't understand too well
myself what's really happening. i do know
that we're all gonna die someday an that no
death has ever stopped the world. my poems
are written in a rhythm of unpoetic distortion/
divided by pierced ears. False eyelashes/sub-
tracted by people constantly torturing each
other. with a melodic purring line of descriptive
hollowness – seen at times thru dark sunglasses
an other forms of psychic explosion. a song is
anything that can walk by itself / i am called
a songwriter. a poem is a naked person... some
people say that i am a poet"

Wrote Bob Dylan a.k.a Elston Gunn verso not recto on vinyl cover sleeve 1965.

The sun dusty Naples yellow the sky lemon juice tea brown the hotel room humid our last morning in town. A taxi driver from hell weavin' lane races a tourist bus and courier van at 100 miles per hour.
The back seat Professor about to say somethin' when a motorcycle screaming passes by on the airport expressway goodbye Beijing.

The Guru. 2009

Kevin Ballantine