Nepal 45: Howl

Alan Ginsberg Howl

My search for breakfast again took me along the touristy Lakeside strip. I didn’t much mind though—after a month of having the “local experience” in Taiwan, I was more than happy to play the tourist for a little bit.

And the Nepali love tourists. Not in a snide, disparaging way like you might find in some other places— the Nepali genuinely love their visitors, and are happy to help them experience the culture and natural beauty of their country. This is the only touristic place I visited on this trip where I didn’t feel any sort of tension between the tourists and the locals. So if you’re going to be a clueless tourist looking for a piece of home, Nepal is as good a place as any to do it.

My search for familiarity led me to the Pokhara branch of Himalayan Java. I had spent some time at the Himalayan Java in Kathmandu.

Apparently it’s a chain, I thought to myself as I spotted the signs. Maybe not a chain, could just be a second location. After all, the Himalayan Java in Kathmandu hadn’t seemed particularly slick or reproducible. And although Nepal’s a wonderful country, there probably aren’t too many opportunities to open a western-style coffee chain. Kathmandu, Pokhara, maybe Chitwan, I mused as I crossed the road and headed to the coffee shop.

[this is a serial travel memoir about my experience traveling in Nepal. It’s best experienced from the start. Chapter 1 is located here]

Pokhara’s Himalayan Java was located on the second floor of a small shopping center. A boutique mountain equipment store was below it, as well as one of Nepal’s many, many, many, travel agencies. Since I still had not heard back from the Austrians about arranging a job interview, and thus could not arrange a trek, I ignored both stores and trudged up the stairs to the coffee shop.

The Himalayan Java in Pokhara was a beautiful space— considerably brighter and better-lit than the one in Kathmandu. The baristas flashed me a big, friendly smile, and the server told me to sit where I liked. The coffee shop had a small balcony, with four or five two-top tables. It was a bright, sunny day, and I naturally gravitated to the table at the corner of this deck.

I sat down and ordered my usual order: a Big Breakfast with Americano, and an extra ristretto (an ultra-concentrated espresso shot, basically). The sun felt pleasantly present on my shoulders and back. I wrestled my computer out of Yanti’s bag—it still fit pretty tight— and flipped it open to a blank page.

My writing was not progressing in Nepal. My trekking was not progressing in Nepal. My job application was not progressing in Nepal. And my relationship certainly wasn’t progressing in Nepal.

Why was I here, again?

My food came. I closed the computer and took out a my Pocket Poets copy of Howl, by Adam Ginsberg.

Ginsberg was an American poet, a member of the Beat Generation, and a contemporary of Jack Kerouac.

I had first read Ginsberg the summer after my sophomore year of college, in a summer class about Beat Generation Literature. I had been coming off a difficult breakup then, too— in that situation, also, I had cut the strings in order to protect myself.

The Beats, and their zest for life and their rugged pursuit of inspiration, enlightenment, and ecstasy were exactly what I needed, after a year where my emotional intimacy and energy had been drained out of me at every turn by my girlfriend’s clinical depression. Kerouac & Ginsberg, On the Road & Howl and the rest, had been exactly what I needed that summer. Like all good literature should, they had renewed my faith in the importance of living.

I flipped idly through Howl as I sipped my coffee. It’s a slim volume—small enough to fit comfortably in the back pocket of your jeans, with the part that says “THE POCKET POETS SERIES” popping out, so you can seem cool and hip and bohemian—if that’s your sort of thing.

This volume held a special sort of magic for me, it seemed. Almost four years after first reading it, here I was, my marked-up and scribbled-on copy of Howl my only companion in Nepal.

I had given it to Holly, once, for a while, while we were falling in love. I hadn’t known we were falling in love at the time; but in hindsight, it should have been obvious. When you start going around giving women books of poetry, there’s something awful funny about that.

She hadn’t made it very far. It’s too dense for me, she’d said. It hadn’t bothered me much. I’d taken the volume back, slipped it into my every day carry bag, and returned to it now and again, when I needed the encouragement. When it came time to pack for our trip, I had opted for a Kindle over any physical books. But I’d slipped Howl in at the last minute, feeling naked without it. It had ridden with me on ten planes, through seven countries, and into the mountains of Nepal. As I flipped to the start of the title poem, I was glad I had brought it all that way.

I needed the encouragement now.

***

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