Monday, October 10, 2011

Yom Kippur in Chiang Mai

I needed a break and thanks to the Hebrew calendar I got one. I am sick and tired of going to Bangkok for the fast, although I have a warm spot in my heart for Chabad Bangkok and R. Nehemia. But I just couldn’t take the traffic and the pollution again this year, so I decided to fly to Chaing Mai instead.

The Udan Thani airport does not have the charm of small provincial airports I have come to love, that miniature copy status that makes small airports so cool. But you do have a wonderful sense of adventure when instead of being shuttled to your aircraft in a bus, you walk out onto the runway. The airplane has propellers and looks more like a big insect than a supersonic half-way-across-the-globe-streamlined affair. Still, as you climb the stairs you hope that the same care was given to this little bumblebee as was to the great transcontinental eagles.

The flight to Chaing Mai takes about an hour and a half. On-flight refreshments are nuts and water – perfect for the land of elephants!

Placing my trust in the Guide du Routard I had reserved a room in thankless Wiriya House. 600 bhat for a room with a one speed air-conditioner and you have to pay for non-functioning internet to boot! In the morning, the sleepy guys downstairs had no idea about coffee or breakfast and could only say, in reference to their boss, “Madame No!”

I walked down to the Israeli quarter to check out the Chabad house and see if a closer alternative existed and there I met the kind of travel agent you dream of. Israel Yehoshua is a problem solver: if you’re late he can turn back the clock and if you’re early he can make the extra time worthwhile. His staff is wonderful and friendly. His agency is called Israel 669, 189/14 Changklan Road Phone number is 053-820902, cell number 087-1841642 and if you’re calling from Israel or have an Israeli phone in Thailand call 039-707333.

He booked me into a splendid hotel just around the corner from there for only 700 Bhat, internet included.

Yom Kippur was Yom Kippur. You fast and feel a little hungry for a while but that soon wears off as the importance of the day hits you. Moments of reflection and spiritual accounting give way to the ecstasy of the moment. The Rabbi was not feeling too well the day I met him but he was heroic on Yom Kippur. Also, as always, it is a pleasure to mix with Israelis again, speak the language and revisit through memory the places of my youth. I met a young singer-composer from my old neighbourhood of Nachlaot נחלאות in Jerusalem and together we spent hours mind-walking up and down the white stone streets and through the courtyards of that wonderful quarter. The village wells, stone walls and vaulted windows came alive for me, the old women bringing you chicken soup when you get sick, the marvellous kube restaurant on Agrippas Street, the way the water would evaporate off the Street of Steps רחוב המדרגות after a late spring rain sending a ghostly sheet of white steam into the blue vibrant sky. Further on the cries and pulls of Machaneh Yehuda Market שוק מחנה יהודה . We were locked into the sweetness of it, the fraternity of it.

Chiang Mai also has a large French community and the day after the fast I had a delicious magret de canard at La Terrasse, 59/5 Loi Kroh Rd. Washed down with a carafe of red from the South of France and Jean’s pommes de terre sautées, it was worth fasting for.

Another wonderful thing for a weekend in Chiang Mai are the bookshops. Backstreet Books has two locations and is simply brimming over with English and French books. I was able to find books I have been looking for for years: the poetry of Rumi and Yeat’s collection of Irish Mythology. I even found the classic Portnoy’s Complaint to help Marie-Do understand the origin of certain disorders.

In Vientiane there are few vestiges of the Glorious Past, but Chiang Mai still has some old walls and Great Gates. Nice again to touch that history and see old bricks. Otherwise here in Asia it is all too easy to forget that there is a past.

Even if you do live in Southeast Asia and are used to it, it’s nice to stop and visit a temple and let the calm of it invade you.

Chiang Mai, we know, is the gateway to Thailand’s northern tribal lands. Next time…

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