Friday, September 23, 2011

L'Adresse Cuisine By Tinay

In my two other entries on eateries in Vientiane I spoke about our local soup place and the Vendôme.

The soup place is the colour and fabric of the city, and the Vendôme is an easy place to eat and chat and feel a kind of post-colonial high: French music from the 80’s and a clock showing the time in Mont de Marsan.

But L’Adresse is a totally different experience.

Vientiane is the kind of place where you don’t have to dress up nice to go to a nice restaurant. But the food and refinement of L’Adresse make going there an occasion, a rare pleasure and a treat. You want to dress nicely.

The interior is refined and every detail has been carefully considered. Back in the day, L’Adresse shared the front lobby of a hotel and it was good. Damned good.

But now Tinay has his own walls and he is stepping out: the dishes are delicately proportioned and the cuisine is French. Now, I know that ‘fusion’ is all the fashion but I wouldn’t call this fusion food. Not at all. But there is, at the very back of the palate, a shadow, a whisper of an echo of this great Southeast Asia. It haunts you like a garden spirit, you hardly know it’s there and yet you are sure of something supernatural.

Desserts are sumptuous and made from scratch.

Even the walls are beautiful with exposed brick showing ancient vaults over the windows.

A wonderful selection of wines, reasonable prices and a very satisfying lunch menu that changes every day. If you want to receive by e-mail their daily menu just go to their Facebook page and sign up.

I would reserve by calling 020 56 91 34 34. Visa accepted.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Back to the Swamp

It is difficult to describe the pure physical pleasure I derive from just being here: it is as though the city, hot and humid, has been raining and steaming in our absence just awaiting our return.

Weather reports assure me that it was as hot as hell here in August, and raining steadily almost every day.

The effect is galvanising. The Mekong is swollen like a ripe fruit and there is a light scent of mildew in the air. Many tree tops are crowned with boughs of dark brown and our dirt street is a slippery, puddle-filled obstacle course.

Our certified crazy neighbours’ yard which is usually a boiling and barren expanse of dry dirt is now covered with green.

More outstanding than any of these physical features, however, is my joy in being here. I don’t start work (at the school which shall go nameless) for another few weeks and my latest translation work I can do on the road so it is difficult to resist the temptation of just taking off and opening my arms to the open (preferably paved) roads of the country.

As I turn my back to the Mekong and look Beyond, I can feel the country looking back at me and saying, “I’m waiting”.

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Landscapes of the nearly forgotten city:

The light play caused by ceiling fans, a gentle strobe on the shower wall.

The freedom of the motor scooter on nearly deserted peri-urban roads.

The rough and tumble of the street when you climb the hill just before Watnak Noi; gravel, stones, bricks…anything to replace the mud.

Families of chickens saunter into our garden. A string of chicks learn from their mother how to search for worms.

In the evenings smoke from neighbours’ cooking fires slants into our garden light.

The ugliness of cement is everywhere. It is hideous, hard, omnipresent.

 Novice monks in evening prayer play with their i-phones when they think no one is looking. Despite this, their saffron robes give them the stink of sanctity.

Everybody is smiling, all the time.

During a visit to the brand-new Lao Stock Exchange I laughed with delight at the empty foyer. Opening a brokerage account was as easy as one, two, three.

Did I mention the heat? It is everywhere like molten metal, as heavy as lead; bearing through the clouds and wearing down the will. My limbs are lethargic and my mind is cotton. Luckily I have translation work (with its world of syntax, meaning and deadlines) to keep me on a target.

Are the children happy to be back? It is difficult to say. At any rate they are happy to be in school and I am grateful to their teachers for the enthusiasm with which they head off to class every morning and their joy when they come home.

Did I mention the rain? It soaks steady now, an all-night, all-day sort of rain; beating on the rooftop, drowning our thoughts. Drops in their own rhythm, as heavy as the heat, a mirror image our own type of tropical insanity. The next day the unpaved roads are as slippery as ice rinks.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Some thoughts on a trip to France

Somebody out there invented the two wheeler. Somebody out there likes me.

I was sick half of the time we were in France. Certainly not dying, but I couldn’t taste anything or smell anything and I complained so much I made everybody’s life miserable.

Many thanks to Madée who nursed me back to health, to Cléa who held my hand, to Nicole Smadja for pharmaceutical advice. And my deepest apologies to everyone who had the misfortune of crossing my path when I was under the weather.

In the bare few days my lungs cleared up I was able to accomplish one of my greatest desires this summer: a bike trip through the Great Southwest.

I took the old blue Raleigh that had been built for me by a student at FMC Sens, André David, out of storage at Moulin Rateau where it had sat for ten years. I had to scrape all the attic rust off of it and buy new ‘boyeau’, but André’s work stood the test of time.

Other than one day I had perfect weather and even that day, a drizzling windy early spring kind of day, was beautiful and mysterious.

 Once again I was able to taste the splendour of rural France and marvel at the perfection of her age-old churches and castles, canals and maisons bourgeois, village squares, century-old market places and sacred spaces.  There is poetry in a French garden, in-grown corners, places where fruit falls and musks, vegetable plots where generosity grows row on row.

Village cafés still maintain their sad look, tea is served without a smile: the owner is not happy to see you. Nothing has changed.

And yet riding around France I realised how much has changed since I left here. The roads and urban equipment are in first-class condition, the houses are well-maintained and the fields are ripe and laboured. There is no longer litter on the roads and the forests are clean. The entire country feels like quiet, calm prosperity, hardworking people and centuries of accumulation.

It is difficult to understand how such a country can be in debt, and facing increasing austerity.

Be that as it may, my love affair with France was renewed. One of the great things about biking in France is that wherever you stop you will sleep comfortably and eat like a king.

Also: how not to be touched by the massive and tender beauty of France’s sacred architecture? The delight of it is omnipresent and it would be foolish to just say that France is now a secular country cut off from its Catholic roots. I found a sacredness in every square inch of the country, a strength for people to lean on, an unchanging force; the pulsing heart at the centre of each village. Even if you never enter a church it is hard to ignore the vibrations emanating from generations of belief. There is always a candle burning in a side chapel; always a kindled hope.