House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

John Pawson

The architect on the great (and small) pleasures of global travel

John Pawson

Image: Cindy Palmano

January 11 2011
John Pawson

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I’m just back from a new year holiday in Thailand and Cambodia – eight adults, outnumbered by 11 offspring, all but one in their twenties. It was strange stepping out into the quiet dark of a London winter night after all that colour and warmth, but I rather love the monotones, even if the inevitable unopened Christmas cards on the doormat struck a melancholy note. It seemed a good time to be away, as things tend to be quiet, but I’ve come back to find my small office half emptied by site visits to projects in Jaffa, Athens and rural Bohemia.

I never cease to be amazed by the realities of modern air travel, propelling you between worlds faster than the brain can begin to process. My own 11-hour flight path home took in Burma, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and several other “stans”. As we flew alongside the Himalayas, I am certain I picked out Everest and K2. I wonder if the actress Freida Pinto, whom I spotted getting onto the plane, was as glued to the view through the window as I was.

For me, the projected highlight of the trip was always going to be visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia – although in the event other, smaller incidents, like having my socks put on for me after a massage, acquire disproprtionate status in one’s memory. Angkor Wat is an extraordinary place, but I did feel a little guilty – it’s a bit like cutting straight to the selected best bits of a Wagner opera, without the slow build-up that gives the climax its full meaning.

The temple was built in the 12th century and successive pilgrims carved inscriptions into the stone walls. In the 19th century, rubbings were made of the inscriptions; these are currently on show at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. The 21st-century visitor to Angkor Wat is not allowed to leave his mark in this way; but the rule does not seem to apply to the male visitors, who think it amusing to fondle the bare breasts of the statues, giving them a strange patina.

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