Monday, September 15, 2008

The Mother and The Whore and an Orphan Named Chuong

“That portrait is so bleak I feel obliged to disapprove of, even to despise it. But its power over me is such that I can’t despise it without despising myself in the bargain.”

— Jonathan Rosenbaum, writing about Jean Eustache’s The Mother and The Whore (1973)

My thoughts exactly Mr. Rosenbaum, I too, found this wildly hard-hitting film very confronting. Thinking about it now saddens me immensely, which is crazy because leaving the theatre the other night I couldn’t help thinking about how its characters were so overwrought, drunkenly poetic and frankly nuts that my only response to this 215 minute film was my, what audacity! The film will be forever marked by tragedy (the suicide of the director and one of the lead actresses) that illustrates the futility with what the movie was trying to say artistically. Now David Foster Wallace has taken his own life over similar frustrations. Must take a minute silence and vow to be less intimidated by DFW's Infinite Jest, a big, brainy, baggy, bloated book I’ve stopped and started at least three times.

and now for something way different, almost wacky...

On a hot morning sometime in August, I was at Dha Nang airport feeling impressively seedy. A tall European couple stood in front of the communal TV, preventing me and my interesting lady friend from watching an Olympic event involving mayhem in the pool, there was no swimming involved but there was treading in the water and the men were armed with spearguns and I think I saw a young manatee floating within the bloody melee, I persisted to watch this asinine spectacle, reading was simply not an option physiologically, I was having a hard enough time keeping the beef noodle soup and four cups of coffee down. So as I was saying, these awful, awfully inconsiderate people blocking the TV happened to be embalmed in various types of plastic surgery spanning the cosmetic rulebook from routine augmentations to more radical procedures involving sow ears and advances in decompressed fish oils, our making funny of them kept us in a buoyant mood. De Camponator’s boarding pass said Jolee for Joleen, her middle name, minus the ‘N’. A lot like Jolie, if you ask me.

I tell her instead of getting a refreshing towellette like everyone else does — you get a Cambodian boy named Chuong! This provided further amusement until the airline announced it was time to board and we dragged ourselves into the cockpit and got us there.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hoi An

Hanoi, it was the best of times, it was the occasional mountain of despair. Maybe the infernal temperatures made everyone a bit tetchy under their silk. Our unwillingness to cooperate with thieves was probably underestimated by them a little bit. The results were often upsetting for both parties in different ways.

On to Hoi An, Hanoi’s anagrammatic cute kid sister. The Lorrie Moore to Wendy O. Williams’ Hanoi (terrible analogy). Incidentally, De Campi (rhymes with shrimp scampi) was reading Moore’s 'Anagrams' at the time. If only I had been listening to The Plasmatics huh? Not really, however I am deeply familiar with her film Reform School Girls. We had lots of fun talking about that book Anagrams, De Campo and I, these conversations were impossible to ignore and should be anthologised. It’s a shame more people couldn't hear them.

First day we made it one block on our bikes, before we got hot and had beer. We were then bombarded by a girl, who was annoying at first, but ultimately charmed our pants off. We gladly accompanied her to her house down a cosy village street where her Mother served us noodle soup and her sister took down our measurements. I had two serves, De Campi one. We got on the back of their motorbikes later and went to karaoke in a lush outdoor setting decorated in Christmas lights where we were the only Whiteys.

Singers sang songs that they knew all the words to, they didn’t need teleprompters — good thing because there weren’t any! Guy on stage played lounge keyb. Everyone drank hot beers in cold glasses filled with ice. De Campo and I drank em warm. Just throw your empties under the table was the etiquette. De Campo watched singers closely and commented: “Great mic control,” she said. The fella wore a ‘under the ineluence’ t-shirt. (Don’t think there are ‘f’s’ in Vietnam alphabet, or else it might say ‘effluence’). She continued: “Now you see, when he has those really big notes he pulls the MIC away.“ One tune by a singer named Carthy did more for complex melodies than Elvis Costello. Another song sounded like the Arthur theme. Music was good, far too many ballads though.

The night ended in an alleyway on a plastic stool sitting in a circle with some old guys eating noodles. We devoured these great noodles, while giant rats darted between our legs. A few days later the family presented us with some new nice fitting clothing.

The second day in Hoi An, I genuinely figured De Campo had been kidnapped when we lost each other at a busy intersection. I freaked out and started imagining terrible things. Her mashed head poking out of Pepsi trucks cruising by, a bruised, mangled hand creeping over the side of a dumpster, or screaming from the open shutters of a setback house. I even saw a bike that looked like the one she was riding on the side of the road nearby.

What could I do?

I went back to the hotel room and put on more sunscreen. I didn’t want to get sunburned. I returned to where I lost her. I developed another movie treatment for Judge Reinhold as I sat at the lights. American Aussie expat going on a rescue rampage to stop a group of angry fundamentalists from holding his girl for ransom. Not Without my Girlfriend, it would be called.

It was pretty exciting when we ran into each other on a side street. We hit a bar and had a rejuvenating tequila shot.

There was Big American Randy who ran Randy’s books, we had a browse of his shelves, he watched us hawklike from a comfy chair under lamplight in the corner, eating some dish that smelled meaty that he had heated up in the microwave. We said goodbye to good old Randy without buying anything and Randy said “All these books and you didn’t find anything you liked?” That’s right Randy your books are shit. Enjoy your bean burrito!

Hoi An was so great. At one point, I smacked a huge cockroach that was on the wall with de campo’s thong and it ricocheted off the curtain and into her stocking. That was like the most serious run-in we had in Hoi An. Night before we flew the coop, we drank vodka and since we couldn’t close the cap properly we drank the whole bottle and sat on the balcony watching rats sneaking into garbage bags on the streets below. Back to our roots!