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Here and There

April 18, 2020

Quarante, forty, the number of days suspected plague ships remained at anchor before passengers and crew were allowed to disembark and enter the city.  So, while not technically quarantine, having no reason to suspect illness amongst ourselves, today is our fortieth day of solid isolation.  We are required to remain indoors or on our personal property, aside from kitting up and going out to acquire provisions, which the two of us have done about once weekly each.

My friend who owns a lovely little shop of knick-knacks, souvenirs, and an assortment of small necessities has been required to remain open because she also sells lotto tickets and tobacco products, federally taxable items, one of the few sure fire ways to get taxes out of Italians.  She has shared some remarkable stories, from people buying every carton of a particular cigarette, leaving none for anyone else, to coming in every day to buy one pack as an excuse to be outside when, for their own good as well as the health of our vulnerable neighbors, we are all supposed to limit such excursions to only the very necessary.  The most jaw-dropping tale was of a woman who berated my friend for not wearing mask and gloves.  She stands safely behind a counter and handles money all day long; of course she washes her hands like a fiend.  The woman who felt so endangered by this unforgivable behavior was in the shop to buy her lottery ticket.

However, this lock-down has had such a minimal effect on my own life, it is hardly worth writing about.  We live in an apartment suitable for an Italian family of five, so with careful consideration, we have managed not to resort to violence… yet.  The heaviest impact we are feeling is having our usual travel schedule truncated.  We had already amended our plans for Japan when travel in Asia started looking dicey in February.  Two European sojourns this spring have now gone by the wayside as well.  Facebook keeps reminding me that three years ago we were in India, two years ago in Sri Lanka, one year ago was Thailand and Laos.  There is a story from Luang Prabang I have not yet told!  That is what you get today, dear reader, because aren’t we all just a little bit tired of the ‘unprecedented’ news coming every day, sounding very much the same as yesterday?  Maybe I am more so than some because news from the US is frightfully similar to news from Italy at least a month ago.  If the Powers That Be had listened to what we were hearing, paid attention to what we were seeing, taken the advice we were getting (yes, the internet had it all, and surely World Leaders have more robust connection than we do), maybe the news coming out of the US today wouldn’t be so tragic.  Did I mention that as of today we have been heavily isolated for forty days?  I do not know anyone who has covid-19.  But that is not what this post is about.

Rice! nice white rice.  Don’t you feel better already?  Breathe in the steamy air.  Smell the tropical scents.  Have some tea.  Luang Prabang, Laos has dozens of Buddhist temples, wats full of men, young and old, some doing their temporary novitiate and education, some lifelong monks.  The local residents support the wats and feed the monks.  Every morning, just before dawn, approximately two hundred saffron-robed, bare-footed monks file out of their temples into the street.  Each carries a lidded metal bowl in a wicker basket strapped over one shoulder.  Residents await them along the side of the road with freshly made rice.  The monks accept these offerings, sai bat, into their baskets, which will be the majority if not the entirety of their sustenance for the day.  It is a sacred ritual, these silent morning alms, between the faithful and their monks.

There are also tourists, mostly along the main road, sitting on little plastic stools, cameras at the ready, chattering amongst themselves.  Some have arrived by as large a conveyance as is allowed in this UNESCO World Heritage site.  There are tables set up, too, selling rice.  Not all the monks look as tranquil as westerners might think they should, not ‘zen’ enough.

Excited tourists scurry up to the monks to give the rice they just bought.  The monk might take it, he might not.  This person did not rise early to make the rice with devotion, to give honorably.  It was sold for profit to someone who doesn’t understand how offensive it would be, or possibly doesn’t care.  Around the corner, people too poor to make rice for alms-giving sit along the side of the road with plastic bags.  The monks who took the profane rice drop it into these bags.  It won’t go to the temple, but it won’t go to waste.  The groups of jabbering tourists do not see this.  They are already clambering back into their mini-vans, having ticked this must-do activity off their lists.

I did my best to stand back, to be quiet and still, and respect their custom even in my curiosity to see the beauty of it.  Just a few photos to remember this place, these people, and the warning of trying to participate in things which are not for you.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2020 02:53

    I like the story about the early ricers! Glad you guys are isolating well.

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