Not that I'm particularly missing Rome's chaos, pollution, sirens day and night, shoddy sidewalks, but I'm still stumbling to take in my surroundings. Clean, quiet, easy Arlington, just across the river from downtown Washington DC, feels sterile and "vanilla" to me.
In these temporary surroundings of mine, my mind is flipping through the archives of the past six years. We've moved countries 4 times now and traveled to a total of 17 countries in that same time frame. I spend my afternoons while Roman is napping looking at old photographs of the times when we were living at double intensity.
In 2008 we were in South East Asia and spent a few enchanting days in Luang Prabang, Laos. Time has erased some of the details of our trip but the overall emotions of visiting this place still remain.
There was a food market every morning outside our tiny hotel. The vendors started setting up before sunrise. Those early morning noises were delicate, like small birds chirping. Their movements gentle, with little feet shuffling. They kept their voices so low that in my half-asleep state they appeared to be elves, not people.
At night, townspeople sold their crafts under vibrant canopies. Handsewn books, pillowcases, tapestries, rugs, all colorful and made with pride. No one called out garishly to us to entice us to buy. Rather, if we made eye contact, they would bow and politely utter "sabaidee" hello.
People were visibly very happy, although it was plain to see they had little material goods. They had each other's company, they had their work, and they delighted in sharing their hometown with foreigners. Their smiles were contagious, their kindness palpable. It's a memory I reach for now, surrounded by big chain stores filled with employees trained to smile.
Back here in the land of plenty, I'm pouring over the photographs of things that don't come encased in plastic and cardboard. Goods without price tags, marketing, or gimmicks. Staples of life, bought fresh, net-caught, dried in the sun, colored, spun and woven by hand.
As with any place we've visited, there were unforgettable meals, including this one, where we grilled our meat and made a luscious soup in the same contraption, placed in the center of our table over hot coals. We were given a slab of fat that sat on top of the grill to impart its flavor and moisture into the grilling meat, then dripping down into the broth in the moat where we placed the noodles and the greens to cook quickly.
Looking back on our visit to Laos years later, I'm still charmed by the quiet mystery of the place. We watched the monks collecting alms at daybreak, stumbled upon their orange robes drying on the line behind a temple, we were moved by the temples ever-reaching up to the sky, and wondered at a religion that we knew little about, but that didn't matter.
A few travel tips:
We stayed here at the Ramayana Boutique Hotel.
We loved this restaurant. The kai phen, freshly made jerky wrapped in dried, marinated river reeds was unforgettable.