Sunday, 14 December 2008

dolce far niente

My first sortie this morning is premature. Torrential rain. When I can I rush back for umbrella and waterproofs, and set off again. Feel initially self conscious in shorts and flipflops, for the first time this trip. My legs seem so green until they tan, and I worry that they are not as shapely as once they were, and how will they be in another ten years? Les neiges d'autan.
After a while these ruminations fade, and I begin to rue the day I have to wear trousers and socks again.

I want to do little today. Assimilate the cascade of impressions of the last few weeks.
I sit a long time in a café reading an Amy Tan novel, set partly in the Guilin area of China where we were recently. Have not read her before , and enjoying it. I watch tourists pass by in pac-a-macs. Two dogs sniff each other enthusiastically, and I wonder what awaits me in the romance department at my age. More Sturm und Drang? I hope not.

The heat is sapping. I stumble over to a restaurant and have a delicious lunch overlooking the little harbour. The beer perhaps is a mistake - I can hardly make it back to the hotel for a long siesta.

In the evening we have dinner with some ladies from Llanddudno and Dublin, that David and Joanna met earlier in the day overhearing them talking about their adventures on motorbikes.
D and J are clearly softening me up for a trip on motorbikes which up until now I have eschewed as being suicidally dangerous. The eldest lady was possibly older than me, and sat pillion for 6 days and had a whale of a time. Where elderly ladies go perhaps I can dare to tread.

I go down to the harbour. The river has flooded the whole street where I had lunch. I think of global warming and consequent flooding.
They are switching off the computers.

hanoi to hoi an : anagram alert

We shuffled and shunted across the streets and lanes of Hanoi aboard the evening train, heading South.

Half a day later, soon after dawn, we disembarked at Dong Ha, a town close by the 17th parallel, the line of latitude decreed by Geneva protocol to divide Vietnam into North and South in 1954. This followed the catastrophic and humiliating French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu, and their departure from the colonial scene in Indo-china. Free and fair elections were promised for 1956, but these never happened. The US became more and more embroiled in the South, and then the war began......

We tour the area in an air-conditioned Mercedes mini-bus with a voluble young woman as our guide. Our trip conjures up old television news images. Rockpile, the fortress within a mountain, where American troops were flown in for diversion, deep in the rocks. The Hô Chi Minh Trail. Tet offensive. Route 9. Napalm. Phosphorus. Defoliant. Deep tunnel systems where whole villages lived for years. A million Vietnamese dead. 60,000 American soldiers killed.

Today the hillsides are green again. We visit war graves, a military museum surrounded by giant poinsettias and shot-down carcasses of US planes. Where once there was a huge American airbase, there grows a coffee plantation. Old bomb craters have become fishponds. Weapons to ploughshares.

We travel down here to Hoi An on two public buses, knowing we have been ripped off and fearful for our luggage, such a to and fro-ing is there, as the buses stop at every street-corner sniffing for custom.

We arrive here in this charming little resort on a river, 500 miles south of Hanoi, a couple of kilometres from the nearest beach. This morning we awake to torrential downpours, like in a Somerset Maugham short story - its the rainy season! - but its already cleared up and the sun beckons.