Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Search in Vung Tau

The weather has been slowing me down over here, but I guess that is all part of the experience. It is so hot and sticky out, 90-95 F and 80% humidity, that I nearly give in to heat prostration if I stay out walking or in a closed space, like a museum or shop, which almost never has air conditioning or even a fan blowing, for too long.
I took the hydrofoil, or ferry, down to Vung Tau from Ho Chi Minh City. The boat was not the sleek modern craft I expected, but it cut the travel time to one hour from three.
The economic progress is evident on the main roads, but a few streets behind that, where tourists don't usually venture, life is still pretty basic. I was wandering around looking for the neighborhood we stayed in when I was in Vung Tau in '89 a couple of nights ago. At first I was in a pretty middle class commercial area a few blocks from the hotel, then a neighborhood with cafes for regular working folks, then quieter streets around it. I passed one VN woman around my age sitting on one of the characteristic small wooden stools on a street corner with a friend. She nodded and smiled at me in acknowledgement. I wandered a bit in the neighborhood and coming back to that corner, saw her still sitting there. She gave me a look like "You again? Are you lost?", a little concerned about me. I shook my head "No. I'm OK." And circled my hand to indicate that I had just gone around the block. We smiled at each other and I wandered on.
I read and researched online trying to find the address of the clinic we worked on in VT. Should have written to the Vets' org before coming over, but didn't think of it somehow. Anyway, Friday I went down to the desk there at the Palace Hotel (decided to treat myself for two days, since it is a 4 star hotel at only $75 a day and put me in the center of town where I needed to be). I asked a woman at the desk to help me do a google search in vietnamese. She knew the streets that I had for co-ordinates but nothing about the "Friendship Clinic" built by the Americans and Vietnamese together. We searched online for forty minutes and didn't find anything concrete. We tried looking at the satellite picture on google mapping and that seemed to jog her memory. "I think there is a small clinic right by this intersection," she told me, "but not the school" (that used to be next to the building site).
She helped me get a taxi to go there, telling the young man what I was looking for and where it should be. We drove out Le Loi street, which, of course, was much bigger and busier than I remembered--going out to the job site used to feel like driving to the edge of town, and this street felt very near the center, was lined with furniture shops much of the way and there was a giant high-rise hotel, Petro Hotel, in the district that I gather was built to give the ~1250 Russian workers a place to live and/or gather.
When we arrived at the address the receptionist had explained to the young taxi driver, there was nothing marking the rather run down building facing the street as a clinic, to my eyes. There was no little lane down which to drive, as we used to, to go by the school and to the mostly empty lot where the clinic building was built. Still, I walked back, through a small, empty parking lot and saw a long, low building on the right that was in the style of the Friendship Clinic. I walked up to it and there was a plaque, in a dust-covered glass case mounted on the front of the building. In english and vietnamese it told of the building of this clinic by the donation of funds and work of the American Veteran's Vietnam Restoration Project.
The building was still intact, but the whole place was empty, locked up and abandoned. Sort of sad, really, that it is not being used. Even if the government used it for small studio apartments for old people, that would be something, though it isn't close to a market and there is no real community/commercial center out there. The structure itself is still in decent shape and the rooms are a good size, bigger than your studio apartment, for instance, and have nice, big windows at the front and the back.
Anyhoo, just to say that I got a reasonable amount of work done there in Vung Tau, in the relative opulence of the Palace Hotel--which, as you might imagine, was irresistible because the name reminded me of "the Palace", my apartment in Amsterdam, but also, mainly because it used to be called the Hoa Bin Hotel, that place I wrote of in the book where we would go for ice cream in the evening. I think it was the only place you could buy ice cream back then, refrigeration being at such a premium and a freezer almost non-existent. (I think they made it using evaporated milk.)
Finding the repurposed Hoa Binh Hotel and being based there helped orient me to the neighborhood, which is so changed that I had great difficulty finding anything that looked familiar. I never did manage to locate the building where we stayed or the site of the old market around the corner from there, though I know I was nearby both at night and during the day.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Poterie NOT Frères

Image from

Cassoulet, the traditional dish  on most restaurant menus in southwestern France, derives its name from  the cassolle, an earthenware dish made from the clay of the Lauragais region that is especially good for making heat proof pots.

The local version of the famous white bean and meat stew, cassoulet, is said to have originated  in Castelnaudary, a market town since the time of the Romans, situated on the Canal du Midi just over the Montagne Noire ridge from our village of Soreze.

Image from

Cassolle dishes have been made in the region since the 14th century. The only place where the casolle is still made by hand is the NOT family pottery studio.

Poterie NOT Frères, is located just beyond the village of Labastide d'Anjou on the banks of the Canal du Midi near Mas Sainte Puelle.

On a beautiful Fall afternoon, after a leisurely lunch in the garden of a restaurant just down the road, we decided to drop by. Following the directions above the doorbell - Sonnez et Entrez, Tout Droit - Ring and Enter, Straight Ahead - we walked into the workshop to find one of the Not brothers deftly shaping cassoles, one after the other, on his pottery wheel, in much the way it must have been done here for centuries.

He encouraged us to look around and we wandered freely through the building and into the garden where casseroles and pots large and small were stacked on shelves and across the ground.

The green cassole in just the size I wanted was out of stock for the day. Msr Not told me that more were firing in the oven. I took home a green pot for the garden and promised to return one day soon.

Poterie Not Frères.
Route de la Poterie, 11400 Mas-Saintes-Puelles, France
Téléphone : +33 4 68 23 17 01

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grace Under Pressure?



Which one of these guys would you expect real help from after a catastrophe? Vote carefully.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Le Marché du Samedi (The Saturday Market)

La Bastide* de Revel

In every season, one of my favorite things about being in this part of southwest France is the Saturday market in the center of Revel.  When I first stayed in Soreze for three days some ten years ago, I was introduced to this market. There I bought supplies to make a meal for the friends I was staying with and fell in love with the ambience of the Revel market.  Whenever I am in Soreze, I look forward to doing the bulk of my grocery shopping at the market each Saturday morning.

*Bastides -"new towns" of the Middle Ages (thirteenth and fourteenth century), located in the southwest of France characterized by a very specific architecture : a central square surrounded by arcades where the streets converge.

I try to make most of my purchase sous la halle (under the market hall, built in 1342) as that is where the local producers and farmers sell their goods. There are a growing number of "Bio" (pronounced bee-oh) farmers who sell here, and bakers, cheese, confiture, wine and sausage makers  who use organically grown flours, milk, fruit, and pork in what they make.

The vendor above on the left, who grows and bakes with organic grain, is one of my first stops for a small apple, pear or fig tart. I've settled on the vendor, above right, that bakes with levain nature for my whole wheat walnut or sesame bread.  You can buy a whole or half loaf, which I find a common sense option for people who are living tout seul (alone), so they can have their fresh bread, too.

There are several good, local chèvre producers that I cycle through, depending on the length of the line, and several hen wives (as Ms Moon might say) who specialize in farm fresh brown eggs for ~2€ ($2.60) a dozen.  The eggs might all look pretty much the same, but I must say I was thrown off balance when my favorite hen wife quit coming to market this year and I had to decide on another one.

In the outer ring, sous les parasols (under the umbrellas), there are many more vendors with big rounds of cheese, barrels of olives and a large selection of fruits and vegetables, some also from this region and some from Spain, Morrocco or even the USA.

There are always seasonal specialties.  This week it was cepes mushrooms from the forests of the Montagne Noir (Black Mountains), the range of wild and unspoiled countryside dotted with lakes and small medieval villages, which lies just above the Lauragais in which we live.

I purchased one of the smaller cepes, though as you can see from its comparison here to the chunk of pumpkin that I bought, this one mushroom was enough to make a bit of sauce (slice mushroom, sauté in butter, add a bit of crème fraîche and white pepper to taste) to go with the rôti de porc that I roasted for Sunday dinner.

Not sure if one enterprising farmer was anticipating a Thanksgiving dinner for local expats, but I sighted a pair of Dindon Royal (Royal Turkey), 40€ (~$50) for "the couple", no doubt a more gamey, less pumped up choice than a Butterball.

When I am through shopping, I ritually join the locals in parking my panier (indispensible rolling shopping bag), having a cup of coffee and eating my little tart at one of the cafes under the gallery that surrounds the market square.

Another satisfying haul from the Saturday market to be enjoyed all week and beyond.

Baisers de l'angle sud-ouest de la France!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Two Nights at Nana's

The Corn Tiger graduated from baby to two year-old big boy last week.  He spent two
nights at Nana's house by himself and gave up the boob (the latter, not without a tussle).

It was one of the hotter weekends of the summer season so far and we spent a lot of time outside with as few clothes on as possible, meaning a light dress for me and nothing at all for CT.

We had breakfast, lunch and dinner in the yard, went swimming at the pool in the afternoon, had icy cold drinks.  He was so 'cited that he couldn't lay down long enough for a nap, which meant we fell asleep together around 9 pm and got up by 7 am, a might early on both ends for my schedule.

He brought me some little bean plants that he had started by himself with his poppa in his garden in the city and we transplanted them into my garden, shaded them with a beach umbrella and watered twice a day to keep them from wilting.  He helped me water and picked up leaves and pinecones wearing the miniature version of garden gloves I got for him.  "I'm a working man, " he told me solemnly.

He re-invented the game of baseball with a hard rubber ball and a long plastic bubble container he found in the yard.  I took him to the dollar store to get a plastic bat and ball so he wouldn't bean himself or me while he was practicing hitting.  I tried showing him how to "keep your eye on the ball," but he's better at throwing the ball out himself and swinging at it, connects with the ball about every third time.

Filling the buckets for water play.

"This is my tub."

It was so hot when we drove to the dollar store that I had to put a towel over one of the metal car seat buckles so it wouldn't burn his legs.  We stopped downtown for what had to be one of his first ice cream cones.  He already knew he wanted a cone, not a cup.  A cone for "only me, Nana, only me."  I've never seen someone so concentrated on soaking up every bit of the taste on his tongue, one slow lick after the other.  He took his time, enjoying every lick and every bite. 
On the bench our friend Sarah painted.

Whole tongue lick.


The poppa of CT's best gal Joon is Fireman J. He came by on Saturday morning to take the kids to the fire station. Came equipped with two-kid bike wagon, two kid-sized water bottles and copious snacks.  I was prepared to ride along on my bike, but FJ said "You've got an hour.  Do what you gotta do and we'll meet you downtown."  Dad award for the summer.  Maybe the year.

Saddled up.
Poppa FJ getting ready to roll.

Saturday night it was still hot at 8:30 pm, so we walked down the street to the park with the neighbors just before dark.  He loved being out on his scooter in the warm night, playing in the deserted playground with just Chloe, his big girl friend from across the street.  By the time I got him to leave, I had to wheel him home as he sat on the scooter platform, his feet carefully held out straight in the air to keep them from dragging.

In the sand pit.
"I missed these guys."

Scooting to the park near dark.
Helmet light on.

We got through the second night with the promise of "Momma is coming tomorrow morning.  We'll go to the bus station to pick her up."  He slept through the night with no diaper and no accident in the bed.  So proud to be able to tell Momma, so excited to see her.

Watching Mother Goose a la Richard Scarry with Momma.

I'm not saying we didn't have a dark hour in the night.  He broke my heart when he woke up at 5 and 7 am the first night crying "I need my Mom" in tragic tones.  But we got up at 7 and started planning our day and he got interested in yard work and play.  And there were some moments of sorrow and even anger when he realized that, though Momma was here, he wasn't getting any more boob.  But she has been gradual weaning him for months and it was a good time to make the break.

It's so hard to give up the baby but so much fun to have our time with the little boy.

More soon.
Little boy kisses for now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ein Deutscher Wochenende (A German Weekend)

On the way over to France I stopped off to see some friends in Germany. The town of Hildesheim where they live is near Hannover, i.e. in the northern part of central Germany. It's only a 2 1/2 hour drive to Berlin from there, I was surprised to find, or only 2 hours on the train. This is Europe, so that is a dependable two hours on a train that picks you up and drops you off on time. (I once went on a work trip in CA on Amtrak and the train was four hours late. I think there'd been a cow on the tracks... or something...)

A remarkable fact about Hildesheim is that the historic market square, pictured above and below, was completely leveled when the Allied air force ran the eighth and largest bombing mission on Hildesheim, a city of little military significance, on March 22, 1945, a little over six weeks before the Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allies in Berlin.

According to Wikipedia, during the bombing "250 bombers dropped a total of 438.8 tons of high explosive and 624 tons of incendiary bombs. Almost 74% of the buildings in Hildesheim were destroyed or damaged during the attack, including nearly the entire historical city centre. About 1,500 civilians were killed in the attacks in March, of which about 500 could not be identified." It was a firestorm, is what my German friends have been told. (They didn't grow up in this area and were born after the war.) Like Dresden, only lesser known.

Between 1984-1990 the historic center was reconstructed using the old methods of construction as much as possible. I thought it was interesting that there are modern art and anti-war scenes cached on the undersides of the facade. (See picture above right).

A couple of small sections of the old town still exist and they give you a feel for what was lost. Hildesheim is one of the oldest cities in this part of Germany. It became the seat of the bishopric in 819 and was an important market town on the Hellweg, an ancient east-west trade route between the Rhine river and the mountains.

It's definitely Spring time in Germany. The Spargel, white asparagus, the German's aren't really interested in any other kind, is in the market, along with new potatoes and the first local strawberries. You know we had to try some of each, especially Spargel -- my friends have schooled me in the niceties of those fat white spears.

Spent some time at the Hannover Porsche dealership while K got the winter tires on his work car, a Cayenne (Porsche's version of the SUV), changed for the summer ones. It's a classy place with the expresso bar open and free for customers while they wait. I was liking the lines of the new Panamera Gran Turismo, which comes in high performance diesel, hybrid and regular gas models. But at twice the price of the Cayenne and a longer footprint, even K, a very Germanic flashy car type of guy, thought that would be a bit of a pig to drive. Even if I'd won the lottery for instance and had that kind of money that I would be willing to put on the street in the shape of a car. But a gal can fantasize, non?

Settling down into some concentrated writing time now that I'm in my little French village.
More soon, Küsschen for now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Tiger Turns Two

It seems that time runs faster with each generation. It doesn't feel like twenty four months have passed and yet, the Corn Tiger turned two last week. The Dear Daughter started sewing banners a couple of weeks ago in the little time she has at night after the Boy is in bed. Uncle George arrived and got caught up in the fun of crafting the felt party hats. ("Pom poms! We must have pom poms!") My friend LC and I drove down the night before to help with the party prep.

Joon organizes the party hats.

Let's get this party started!

Party animals.

Sid proudly showed off his new room that Mama had painted and furnished as his birthday present.

Papa drew a special birthday message on the new blackboard wall.

Nana baked the two cocoa apple cakes.

Everybody brought presents.

Dumping finger
puppets on Papa.

A favorite gift from Rob.

Party dregs.

Time to get outside.

It was a fun family gathering with Papa's and Mama's families and friends well represented.
So glad I made it back from the Far East in time to be there!

More soon.
Cocoa apple kisses for now.
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