Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Imperialist among the silks



I forgot we were imperialists.
buffalo bits and other exotica
At the Lao National Museum, which houses fossilized dinosaur foot bones, bronze drums, and a sitting Buddha image with the fingers and palms of both hands pointed downward (the only one found as it is an omen of death) , the place gets serious on the second floor where photograph after photograph chronicle French colonialization and dominance about 1890 until, the brochure claims after World War II Laos fell to the USA imperialists. That’s news to me. Laos was in the hands of the French until the late 1950s. Rows of black and white photos show revolutionary heroes, weapons, military strength and guerilla warfare drama, and if you read the lines of description below the images, it brings back memories of those propagandizing days when the press was determined to eliminate “Red Communist.”  Then there are live exhibits of cluster bombs dropped by US forces on Lao, and enough carefully displayed heavy rifles to start a new revolution, it seemed. I remember those days and hope they never come again. Looking at huge photographs of Lenin and Karl Marx, I noticed how Marx’s free range hair style was similar to that of Einstein.  And hoped and prayed that North Korea’s blustering doesn’t turn into misery for the rest of the world.  I passed through the museum at a steady stroll and was anxious to get back into fresh air (no air conditioning, but noisy fans full force) and sit on the veranda of the colonial style building in a bit of a breeze. It is amazing that one never sees military nor police on the streets or standing to attention at government treasures. I’m told there is little crime in Vietiane. 


sweets finally
Beatle nuts to chew
This day had began after a healthy breakfast including scrambled  green eggs and ham, if you like, plus French coissants. My favorite adventure anywhere is to walk through the street markets and see what food people live by. Exotic fruits and melons, assorted greens and herbs, fish dried, fried and so fresh the eye blinks; and then there is the obsession with buffalo skin - Yes. Skin. It is cubed, shredded, dried, and smelly. It goes in stews and soups. Then there are all the chewing items - not necessarily tobacco, but bark of various trees - some in chunks or actual bark strips, others resembling cinnamon sticks, and more shredded like something that would fit well in a home-made cigarette or pipe. There was not an abundance of sweets, although we found one young lady making coconut based sweets we had so loved in Thailand and purchased a sack full. And then there was the lady preparing green papaya for the spicy salad so popular here. Way over my tolerance level, but getting it to that point was fascinating. The woman takes the green papaya, chops the flesh with a machete while still on the papaya, then takes the blade of the knife and pushes the chopped area into the bowl. A neat way of chopping hard fruits. I’m going to try it, but without a machete.
One of 2000 Buddhas

We stopped at another temple: Wat Si Saket, the oldest in Vietiane, and saved by the Siamese bent on burning all temples. A cloister surrounds the “sim” (temple space) and is packed with 2,000 Buddha images, all large ones and some destroyed remains of others, swathed in a gold deacon-like shawl. This is probably anticipating the Lao New Year this weekend when everything has to be washed, including unassuming tourist walking the streets. We are told not to wear anything that upon getting wet could be see-through, because spraying folks with water guns and buckets of the stuff is part of the fun. Girls are warned not to dance topless on top of cars for they would be arrested. It’s kind of a Mardi Gras type thing.
Naga protected Buddha

Lunch Lao-style
Finally we had a long lunch at Kualao Restaurant where 16 chefs are at work to cover the menu’s offerings. A Pa Kao (set menu) of eight samples seemed doable until it was brought out on a giant round woven tray and could have fed four. There were soups, fried veggies and spring rolls,  steamed local vegies in a Lao tomato sauce (delicious), steamed purple sticky rice and Mak Mai a fruit desert of melons, dried banana, papaya, small sweet balls from taro or pumpkin in fresh sweetened coconut milk. This I could live with. 

Cassidy's silk yarns
Women weaving great silks
We then visited Carol Cassidy’s Lao textile workshop in an old colonial-style home behind the usual foliage of banana leaves, palm leaves, and yellow flowered trees with thin long pods hanging off its branches. The American craftswoman, an expert in textiles, arrived in Laos in 1989 and found a “weaver’s paradise” in Laos. We were supposed to meet with her, but she had left for the US for exhibitions at the Smithsonian. In her workshop, 50 women worked on primitive looms, spinning, dying and weaving 100 per cent silk yarns into elegant scarves, shawls, wall hangings and even fabrics for the home. She revived the ancient silk weaving tradition of Laos and has empowered women to be able to support themselves.



2 comments:

Geraldean & Judge said...

Audrey,
This will be the third time we've tried to post a comment to this segment of your blog. When we push "publish your comment" our comment disappears.
We told you the Grizzlies beat the Charlotte Bobcats 95 to 74.
Also said your blog is like a history lesson. Enjoyed your photo titled Laos-style lunch. Someday maybe you can fix purple sticky rice for us.
Take care of yourself and continue to enjoy your adventure. God bless!
Lots of love,
Geraldean & Judge

BEARANGEL said...

The history seen through photographs you shared was news I had not remembered. thank you for reminded us the story .
Sounded as though Dr.Seuss prepared breakfast of green eggs & ham! The lunch prepared by 16 chefs was delicious sounding placed on the tray to choose from.
The fabrics were a touching delight, as well as to wear.Wonderful way for the ladies to support themselves.
photos, food, fabrics all in a day to relish one way or another.
Here in Jackson Hole the elk have left the refuge. I awoke yesterday to be totally surrounded by our elk friends who have come to drop their calves and summer in the meadows munching the grasses.I will save the pictures till you return.
seize every moment and thank you so much for sharing your journey.
hugs, Lou