Saturday, May 25, 2013

By the Waters of Babylon - Dedicated to the coffee growers of the Bolaven Plateau


Waking up in the morning is like being released from hibernation. The long night of shadows and rain, as the wet clear drops hit the roof and garden leaves all night long. All night long, the constant droning of wind, crackling of the branches and the moaning of the rain. Rain on the roof and rain on the torn tarp protecting the kitchen from the leaking holes in the asbestos tiles. Rain on the old cement alley-way surrounding the house and rain on the thirsty red earth as it kicks up in starts and fits, little rusty dirt seizures. The rain like winter in Canada, rain that keeps you indoors and makes the road treacherous, rain that splatters your clothing by day and infiltrates your dreams by night, making them a collection of fleeting images: border crossings, an old friend, an invented person sharing a joke, an envelope hidden inside the kitchen cabinets; little innocuous snippets of sound and image, a black and white collage devoid of all emotion or remembrance, a meaningless rain-drenched parade.

In the morning the sky may have cleared somewhat or it may not have. This morning it is mother-of-pearl, reminiscent of the eternally wet skies of Hanoi, although in Hanoi it was a grey we could be proud of, is was our grey – the grey that made everyone constantly mean and miserable. Here in Vientiane the grey is an unfortunate interlude, an exception, and the whole city seems to be holding its breath simply waiting for a gust of unseen lofty wind to come and lift the momentary marasme.

Once that happens, the city can get back to its real business, its veritable vocation, which is to party and throw tomorrow into the arms of oblivion under a sky so blue it seems to be in constant celebration.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tropical Storm Bonna - For Bonna Devora Haberman

Last night the rains came with great clattering of intention. The lightening was near and closely reverberated by the thunder, the clap of which was loud and threatening, and dis-joining the universe. Somewhere the great leaves on the great trees were illuminated in split-second triumphs and the rain came down with the vengeance of an army. Twigs and branches came sweeping in array off the overhanging canopies and I had to bring the car in closer to the house to protect the hood and windshield . Nature will eventually take back control from the civilization we have imposed upon it, but I don't want it to be on my bill!

Woe to the crawling and creeping insect lives going so slowly about their routines. The ants in the ground were surely able to replenish their water supplies and enliven dried-up cisterns, but how many of them were flooded away needlessly and sent floating down the cement driveway out of the garden and flush to the street? “We are not disposable!” I can hear them cry as their little fat red bodies flowed, turning uncontrollably in the relentless unforgiving torrent.

For split seconds at a time the electricity in the house would flutter and invisible fingers turned on disconnected air conditioning units. It is only a matter of time before battery operated children's toys begin to chatter and whirl all on their own, arms flapping up and down like developmentally challenged black-belts turning around on themselves looking for new playmates.

In the end calm returned. I suppose that somewhere and for some other sub-visual form of life a Jonas was thrown off the boat and the tempest subsided. As the roar turned into a low deep groan and finally into a whisper and sleep overcame us big people, a tiny Leviathan swallowed its hapless frightened prey. Somewhere, on the banks of some newly formed puddle, between the grass and the red dirt of our garden the beast spit the prophet out. Somewhere, between a flower patch and a tiny wet hollow in the ground lies the massive teeming and soon to be repentant city of Nineveh. In the gathering coolness of the Indochinese night, as the clouds disperse, the earth lets off its blanket of humid perfume and the heat of the day is dispelled with the dying winds. Somewhere a desperate creature calls out despite itself; and despite all historic precedent and logic, the tiny metropolis lends and ear and listens and turns. Somewhere a kikayon tree grows and is worm-withered and somewhere in the our vast expanse of trees, bushes, flowers and wasteland something sits crying in a lean-to on a mound, its mission accomplished, the damage undone.

The morning rose cool and refreshed; a chill enveloped the house and for the first time in months we turned off the overhead fans. As I opened the front doors leading to the terrace, a wave of vegetative bliss hit me as the storm-washed garden flared back at my awe-stricken wondrous gaze. The flowering reds were more red, the green stems more green ... and of course the blue canopy of the sky a crisp thing, a firmament new and delicious. For the first time in months the sluggish pre-monsoon sky was eager and clean and no longer just a fartful of muggy heat promising days of sustained lassitude and restless siestas.

This was a day for action! For deep breaths, for calisthenics! I jumped up and down, thanking Jonas for his fine work.

If you wish to see photos of our garden, please click here: