(Karel was taking a couple of days off from photography, so we don’t have much visual material to post for this entry. The cover image of this post was taken at the village homestay and is not related to today’s story. Don’t worry, though, the avalanche will resume shortly.)
The capital city of Vientiane is nothing special, although it is large, modern, and prosperous compared to the other towns we’ve seen in Laos. It was raining lightly when we arrived, so the air was getting a much-needed cleansing. As soon as we checked in and connected to the internet, Karel began searching for possible jams in the vicinity—and found one for that very afternoon! We figured out roughly where to go and split off from the group to find it.
It turned out to be in a restaurant on a back street in an upscale neighborhood, but the fellow who greeted us said the jam wouldn’t be starting until that evening. We decided to come back for dinner, and wandered off in search of lunch. I had spotted a candidate down the street; we peeked into what was basically the patio of a ground-floor apartment, with an outdoor kitchen, tables, and chairs.
The proprietor/cook/waitress did not speak a word of English, but that didn’t matter, as there was only one item on the menu. This turned out to be a bowl of soup in the Vietnamese style; in other words, pho, served with pork, generous quantities of sprouts and greens, and an array of store-bought sauces and seasonings. It was wholesome and tasty and the cheapest meal of the trip.
It was still sprinkling intermittently when we returned for the jam. We met the owner of the venue, Clarissa, a woman from Australia who had bought the place a couple of years ago and was trying to create a sort of community space with food, music, and art (similar to Wanda’s, for those of you who joined us there at the beginning of our wedding celebration weekend). At the moment, only one other musician was there, playing drum solos, but Clarissa was hoping that some “French musicians” would be making an appearance soon, if the rain stopped. The French, she said, are too delicate to come out in the rain.
We decided to eat first, and sat down to the accompaniment of complex rhythms. No other instrument-toting customers arrived. Dinner was almost over, when the drummer suddenly set the sticks down, threw on a slicker, and headed for the door. “Whoa! Wait!” we cried, jumping from our chairs and heading him off. “We were hoping to play some music with you, won’t you stay?” He would, and gladly. He joined us at the table while we finished our meal, and we made our introductions.
John was from Pennsylvania, but currently living in Vientiane. He’d heard about the jam, but this was the first time he’d come. Karel asked what kind of music he favored, and we nearly fell over when he said, hesitantly, “Er, uh, progressive? Ever heard of it?” Well, that got the conversation going.
Of course, none of us can actually play progressive rock, but that didn’t stop us from trying. A little while later, another guitarist arrived. Gene(?) is from the Philippines, and proved to be an excellent player of lead breaks. The four of us carried on for a couple of hours. A few new customers had arrived, but it wasn’t until we started our favorite Amy Winehouse tune, Back to Black, that a tall woman ran to the stage, grabbed a mic, and started singing the back-up vocals. That was the first time I’ve ever had someone sing along on that one, and she was great! As it turned out, she was the long-anticipated French singer. We found a song we could play to accompany her, and she did her rendition of Neil Young’s Old Man while her boyfriend did a sort of modern interpretive dance. The singer’s voice was so deep and smoky, it instantly transported us to a blues café in Paris. We sang Dream a Little Dream of Me together and had a blast.
For our last day we had lunch (whole, fresh snapper!) with our group near the riverfront. As we were heading back to the hotel, we got separated from them and took a wrong turn, because the street we had originally taken had been transformed into a construction zone, with the entire façade of a building piled on the sidewalk while we were in the restaurant, so we didn’t recognize it. This kind of thing happens in Indochina. New construction, renovation, and repair are going on constantly, and you never know when workers will stop traffic, pull down a wall into the street, and clear enough space for a car to get through.
It was kismet, though; we were heading back in the right direction and passing through a temple enclave when we heard someone hailing us. It was the French woman and her boyfriend. Too bad we had to rush back to catch our bus to the airport! It would have been fun to get their story over a cup of coffee.
And what a magic and marvelous world, where you can drink wine or make music with someone you’ve met, in a big city in a foreign land, and then cross paths with them again.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013