Post 5: The threat of crime

Before we proceed to the next update there are a few points of business: it has been brought to my attention that I am following good blog form by piebalding my posts with typos, there apparently they’re they’re and everywhere. I will try to be more assiduous, lest my writers think I can’t edit or my students think I don’t practice what I preach (because we know I do so well following my precepts the rest of the time….).

Second, and no doubt of more interest to you, is the rum fact that my brother’s responses to my posts have been more amusing than the posts themselves, though I’m ostensibly the writer in the family. I’m sure he’d be willing to share if you email him, or I can forward on request.

Also I changed my profile photo due to an abundance of questions if it was taken from outer space and/or in the 80s. My apologies; I actually thought that was a good one.

And last, apparently my wording in the coffee vendor tale made it sound like I might have brought a “little friend” on this trip and that I was soon to get married. Both of those things were once true, but now they’re about as out of date as the photo.

On to the meals, oh, I mean the deep cultural investigation.

Day 3, evening. Dinners are dodgy. I’m afraid of the traffic once it gets dark, and there’s no chance in hell I’m eating anywhere near my hotel, none. So tonight I went back to the street I had discovered (the last there is) in my tried and true secret Saigon. Sitting down at a crowded banquette an 80-something year-old woman asks me in French if I’m French. We proceed to speak a bit in the gallic; she’s very sweet and named Anne (at least as she told me) and then gets extremely shy when I ask to take her picture. “The years for that are passed,” she says, though of course I don’t think so.

Most of you know I’m somewhat obsessed with old people (maybe because I knew 5 of my greatgrandparents – as well as my greatgreat aunt Dot – and had all 4 of my grandparents till I was 37). My new book is actually dedicated to my grandpa walter who I spent close to a month with near his death 2 years ago, watching him systematically lose everything that made him the man’s man and the inspiration that he was. It was very hard on him (and me), and, like many old people, he pretty much just let himself starve to death to forgo further indignity. He never read a word of literature in his life, but he believed in nothing more than education, and has always been my great source of inspiration.

Oh my, sorry about that. Not the right time to get all teary, is it? Isn’t this supposed to be a food blog? Anyway, the soup was in fact delicious, then anne left, and, as I’m leaving, I thank everyone and say goodbye in French without realizing till after. Fucking idiot.

Sarah teases me because I, like my 2-yr-old nephew Billy, approach the unknown by putting it in my mouth. In my case that means i always order the dish on the menu or steamtable that I can’t identify. So walking back from my colonial bungle, still on the same block, I see and have to order a god-knows-what that a lady has frying on a flat wok. Turns out to be some kind of tuber, I think, something like a cross between a potato and a noodle, even more doughy than cassava or fu-fu (and, no, Vic, you can’t use More .Doughy Than Fu-Fu for your band name because I already have). The woman clears a space in the middle of her pan and cooks an omelet with this Fluf-root. The end result tastes rather like the frittatas I make at home with Chinese leftovers, i.e., not so great.

Then I see a real bia hoi bar -- no crackers -- but it’s only six so I can’t start the evening’s pouring yet. And I suspect that no one would or could talk to me anyway; I would just look funny, drink a liter or two, and leave. Authentic, but authentically lonely-making.

Apropos of sketchy autochthonic alcohol, in passing I want to thank those of you who have likened my inhaling and guzzling to that of another obnoxoid, the intrepid Anthony Bourdain (I took it as a great honor last year when two friends, independent of each other, started tivoing episodes of No Reservations for me without me ever having mentioned the show). Only problem is, the more I do my sniffing and munching, the more my envy of him and his work sinks its fangs in, to the point where I think I might end up pulling a Tanya Harding on him one of these days (but with a french rolling pin). That is, of course, right after I get Leia’s slave-chains and garrote Harold Bloom…

The evening ends as per: 2 liters of bia hoi, chatting with me chaps (who truly make anyone else who happens to speak to us seem inordinately dull by comparison), being temporarily locked out of my hotel till I roused the desk guy from his back bedroom (he looked thrilled), and I tucked in for my nightly 3 hours.

Day 3, Middle of the night

When the hell do you think I find time to do this?

Day 4 breakfast

So despite the revelations of yesterday (and I’m sure you all were joining right along, spending that extra 70 cents in acts of unfettered rapture), I got the house breakfast today. No, I didn’t eat it – don’t worry, I just wrapped it up and put it in my bag for latenight snacking, since I seem to sleep only from about 1:30-4:30 and then again for an hour or so during the day. That 4:30 – 7 shift gets me a little peckish, so a peanut butter sandwich will come in very handy. (again in passing, why is it that peanut butter, like hamburgers, always sucks abroad? Is there great arcana to their manufacture? of course, we can’t seem to brew a decent beer – unless you like hops with your hops. Yuck)

The morning banh mi was only okay, and then I came back to wait for the gents so I could take them on a tour recommended to me by genevieve moore’s brother, who has lived here 15 years. He emailed and told me of a particular street that he thinks has excellent cart food, and I intend to eat the entire block. (Andrew, Herr Comestor, I could use you right now). I told him where I had been walking to and eating, and he said he was “astounded,” calling this city, apart from a tiny little area, “unwalkable.” I have to say, that put even more spring in my sinusoidal dork stride.

Mick shows up solo to say that Martin has to cancel, apparently having been waylaid by a local lady who on their first day had made him a few oeillades (and that is not a food item -- I believe such things go with the Kris Kristofferson turf). Incidentally, despite hearing that as a single man I’d be accosted by ladies of the night, day, and afternoon, i have yet to be approached even once. Leif Ueland, care to explain ( Or is it just evidence that I’m not bullshitting you about the less-travelledness of the neighborhoods I’ve been frequenting.

So I take Cousin It back through our steps from yesterday, looking for a few fish dishes that in the rearview mirror we were sad we had eschewed. We ended up getting some excellent shrimp soup, though it also had 5 or so different kinds of what some might call scary manifestations of pig, so he filled my bowl with all his chunks and I gave him back all my shrimp. Meanwhile the proprietor/cook and her friends start imitating my speaking (apparently this is good sport) and punching my arm. Unprovoked playful strikes by 70-yr-old female strangers with whom I share no languages -- that I love. After much misadventure, I find out the soup is called Bun mam (there are diacriticals missing). Good but pretty straightforward, punching optional.

Off to put this up. The photos to accompany will be delayed, as my psyche can’t take another incarceration in the internet café, and my dinky laptop, Fudgie, thinks the world is moving a little too fast for his taste, and now gets rather befuddled and sad with certain programs like a shy man finding himself on the wrong bus. Poor Fudgie.