Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lilacs and Desire in the Cruelest Month

It's not even a good line, that old "February is the cruelest month" bilge. In fact he was full of lines that were not even good, that gloomy old fraud--"Do I dare to eat a peach?" But nobody appealed to me the way T.S. Eliot did when I was in my late teens, when I was still a girl and trying things on, studying Camus and Calvin Klein with the same passionate concentration.

I drank coffee by the gallon and smoked almost as much as my father did and abandoned the white gloves that every lady was supposed to wear when she went shopping. I went off to college with my best friend and roommate who shared my belief that there was never any reason to be bored as long as we had functioning imaginations. Shirley made mobiles with our cosmetic and perfume boxes and I scrawled graffiti on our dorm room walls with sidewalk chalk. We shared clothes and after we discovered the joy of speed through diet pills we shared those too. We had our first babies several years later, within months of each other. Our lives diverged and then we lost contact.

I have always, in a deep corner of my heart and mind, missed her.

This month has been weighted. On my windowsill are three flowering jasmine, each in its own little cobalt blue pot, brought to me by a man who no longer lives in Bangkok but whose remembered presence fills my version of this city. One of my sons and his girlfriend will be here in two weeks for a visit that fills me with almost more happiness than I can hold. And the girl I used to be is in some way waking up with a renewed contact with my friend Shirley.

Good things come in threes, it used to be said. It's true that three is a number that holds magic--Macbeth's three witches, the Three Graces, the Trinity. Having these three parts of my life come to me in one month are making me look at the whole of it more closely. Once again, and what does this mean, T.S. Eliot is the one to pinpoint my feelings--We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

About Books

First of all, this stunning little book was in my mailbox yesterday and I can't wait to take it out for its first walk in my world. I've been eating Bangkok's street food since 1995, but the neighborhoods explored in Bangkok's Top 50 aren't ones I've had meals in very often--and Chinatown is one where the sensory overload is so huge that I simply drop in my tracks when I'm there and eat whatever happens to be closest to me. But not now...thanks to Chawadee Nualkhair (who also reveals her favorite street food spots quite regularly at I'm already gluttonously dying for a sequel to this--maybe one that concentrates exclusively on Chinatown???

It's already quite clear to me that Chawadee is a better woman than I--she classifies hoy taud as a snack but I have never been able to manage to follow up a mussel pancake with anything else for at least eight hours. But meal or snack, I'm eager to find the stalls that she recommends for one of my favorite street suppers. And her pages on beverages are wonderful--my quest for nam dok anjan (butterfly pea juice) starts today.

But the best part of Bangkok's Top 50 as far as I'm concerned is it gives the hours that these stalls are open--no longer will I wistfully roam around Soi Convent wondering where the Thai-Muslim chicken biryani (khao moke gai) stall disappeared to. In fact that's where I will be today at noon--they are open for lunch.

This book also gives a brief demystification of a Chinese apothecary, complete with address, a spot on a map, and the name in Thai in case I still can't find it. I am in a state of bliss--thank you, Chawadee! (Further feedback to come...for others who want to have this book, it will soon be in Asia Books and B2S--now available through Amazon and

The American Embassy is presided over by a new ambassador, blonde, smiling, charming. Her Excellency Kristie Anne Kenney has been receiving lots of attention in the English-language papers for breaking out of the usual diplomatic insulation and enjoying her new city. It is undoubtedly no coincidence that for the first time since I first arrived in this city, there is information about the U.S. Embassy's Information Resource Center--Open to the Public with a comfortable reading room with books, magazines, ebooks, CDs, DVDs and, the Bangkok Post reports, a few iPads too. It's on the 9th floor of the GPF Building at 93/1 Wireless Road, open from Monday through Friday 7 am to 4 pm. Who knew??? (When I first arrived here I asked the Embassy about any sort of library that they might have and was told to go to AUA.) Thank you, Your Excellency Ms. Kenney!

At the end of my last visit to Hong Kong, I learned that travelers are allowed to use any of the public libraries in that city if they pay a deposit of 130 HK dollars per book that they wish to borrow. Even the small library I visited in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, had a good selection of books in English and the much larger library across the water in Central I was told has a stunning collection that can be borrowed from after paying the deposit. How civilized and how I wish every city would adopt this policy.

Happy Reading to all--