Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyeux Noël - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Christmas, Vietnam, Saigon, Thorton Wilder, Our Town, Frost/Nixon, Dean Martin, Our Town, Shiraz, Gnochi Gorgonzola, Batman, Catholic Church Scandal,  This Christmas week began with 2 half-hatched eggs (a Vietnamese delicacy of partially developed chicken embryos in shell), a mix of rice cakes and eggs fried together served with spicy sauce, mint leaves and an avocado shake. Frogs were served the next day at a streetside restaurant and were a meal I had been so looking forward to. As a young man, my parents had introduced a tradition to me of being able to choose any restaurant of my liking for my birthday meal each year. My choice, every year that I can remember, was the Plantation restaurant in Moline Illinois. The Plantation was a grand old mansion that had been the residence of Willard Velie, creator of the Velie automobile and maternal grandson of John Deere. By the mid 1960s the home had been sold a number of times and converted into a restaurant with different cuisine themes in different rooms - Continental in the main room, French in the Library and a sort of tea and crumpets affair on the terraces in the daytime. But my favourite, an American phenomena at the time, was the Polynesian affair in the cellar, popularized by the Trader Vic's chain in major cities but represented at the Plantation in Moline, Illinois as the Tahitian Room. In that room they had bamboo tables, grass huts - just two of them, and a piano bar, where wanna-be Dean Martins could sit around the piano and sing if they liked. The huts were known to book months in advance and so at a very young age, maybe eight, I learned to coax my mother to call the Tahitian Room plenty early, so that we were always assured of having a hut for my birthday. I thought it was exotic. But that was only the beginning of my annual birthday adventure. I can't imagine that the frog legs were much of a big seller at the Tahitian Room; in the Plantation restaurant; in Moline; Rock Island county; on the Mississippi; in the Illinois corn fields; in the United States of America; on the Continent of North America, in the Western Hemisphere; on this Earth; in the Solar System; in the Universe; in the mind of God or the mind of Thornton Wilder, pictured above - but they were my favourite menu item in our town and the one reason I had so looked forward to enjoying a pair on the street here in Saigon this Christmas. It was not my birthday, but it seemed like it could have been. For the record, my particular frog didn't exactly have the legs of a Calaveras County long jumper - they were a little skinny - but the idea was the same and I loved it. Shopping for food in Saigon around Christmas is really no different than anywhere else - they are nearly out of everything. The staff at Veggies, the expat hangout for psuedo gourmet stuff, were pretty much out of cheer when I arrived and had had their fill of crabby foreign housewives looking for Christmas goose, foie gras or bread pudding and gave me appropriately crabby service. Finished is the English word the Vietnamese use when they are out of something or just don't have it and it was used repeatedly to respond to my request for smoked cheddar, cocktail onions and a number of other things I thought would spruce up my holiday diet. The onions were for my Dean Martinis. I left with a stash of Coleman's mustard at a 50% discount and an over-priced slab of Gorgonzola. Quite happy I was, even at that. The Frost/Nixon film was my Christmas Eve cinematic fare at a local mini-cinema followed by Batman Returns on Christmas day itself, presumably because it's plot is situated around the holiday season and features penguins. Funny the way HBO programmers see things in Asia - "Let's see, we need a Christmas/cartoon/action film with snow". I had also seen a film a few nights previous that was a documentary on the child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church. An interesting programming choice as well this season, it was quite convincing and a bit sobering to say the least. I was raised Catholic and although I saw through the iconography and politicization of the faith at a reasonably early age had not ever really come to see what was going on behind all the mythologized mystery. This film saw to that. The hymns of the church drew me in off the street on the evening of Christmas day itself and I spent a few minutes at the rear of the naïve to reflect amongst the 12 stations of the cross and other - to anyone else from any other religion - bizarre imagery cast upon the parishioners. If they could get young people to believe in all of that, there was no telling what a kid might believe as he grew up in this most surreal of faiths. Interesting that the main barrel vault of a Catholic church is called the naïve, achitecturally, which is also the base of the word naiveté. I had a nice Christmas anyway, taking my time to have just a few simple pleasures and enjoy just a few minutes. The family sent emails - there was plenty of Christmas spam on Facebook - and even a few good wish texts on my phone. Phat called and rushed me to a local pub so he could deliver my Christmas card. Phat is the man who handles my visa. And then home to the gorgonzola and a glass of Shiraz. Christmas in Vietnam. Mmmmerry.

For more on the "Perspective" or "Little Things" series, click below:

My Morning Wake-Up Call - Perspective XX: The Little Things XII
We'll Have A Gay Old Time - Perspective XIX: The Little Things XII
"Rolled Foggy Disposed Ricepaper" - Perspective XVIII: The Little Things XI

Joyeux Noel - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Lunch With Obama - Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

One Motley Crue On The Bus Today - Perspective XV: The Little Things VIII

Attraction vs. Conversion: How To Power Your Blog - Perspective XIV: The Little Things VII

A glass box full of deep fried chicken heads - Perspective XIII: The Little Things VI

Seoul Searching - Perspective XII

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

Chomsky on Colour & Sleep - Perspective X: The Little Things IV.2

Running With Scizzors - Perspective IX: The Little Things IV

Henry Miler II - Perspective VIII : The Little Things III.1

Henry Miller - Perspective VII: The Little Things III

Big Brother - Perspective VI: The Little Things II

This Carnival of Life! - Perspective V

The Art Walk - Perspective IV: The Little Things

Bentley #5 - Perspective III.2

Bentley vs. Vespa - Perspective III.1

Bentleys Invade Vietnam - Perspective III

Death Of A Colleague - Perspective II


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