Slept badly last night. Actually, didn’t sleep much at all.. Drank an espresso in the late afternoon and it kept me up until nearly four this morning. It didn’t help that the clock in the St. Joseph’s bell tower tolls on the quarter hour. The bell itself is not robust — not the big French casting one would imagine given the history of the church. Instead, I imagine one of those large Chinese gongs with a knob in the center and some kind of Soviet-era mechanical device that brings a hammer down on it. To make it even more difficult for the sleeper, sometimes the bell tolls once, sometimes twice and occasionally three times at each quarter hour, without apparent pattern. The first couple of nights I was here, jet-lagged, I thought the hour got three bells, the half hour two and the quarters one each, but that is not the case I discovered last night. Like so many things here, the order, if there is an order, is not apparent, appearing random, capricious.
Don’t drink espresso at four in the afternoon.
As I mentioned, Hanoi does not get up very early, the shops just beginning to open around eight o’clock. By then of course I’m in desperate need of coffe. The places that open earliest are just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, so I headed over there this morning to get some cafe nau (brown coffee), which is strong black coffee with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk lying on the bottom of the cup waiting to be stirred up with a little spoon. It packs quite a wallop and after I’d had a cup I ordered pho ga (chicken noodle soup) for breakfast, which is traditional. It was delicious, especially with a spoonful of chili sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. After breakfast, I still felt the need for a bit more caffeine, so I went to an espresso bar for a shot. Is this a great country or what?
After breakfast I came back and used Skype to call Carole. Amy was visiting in South Colton, so I got to talk to her too. In fact, I got to see both Caroel and Amy because Carole has a little video camera on her Mac. Skype is awesome — it’s completely amazing to be able to see and speak in real time literally half-way around the world. The first time I was in VN a little over a decade ago, I had to go to a special telephone “station” to make a very expensive international call. When I was talking to Amy and Carole, I mentioned the copies of famous paintings turned out by local craftspeople for the tourist trade, some of them astonishingly bad. There is also a kind of hyper-department-store genre as well, in which the paintings are generic rather than being based on models [Here’s a slide show that includes some of the paintings and narrates my trip so far — I’ll be adding images as I go and I need to go back and put the Hong Kong airport images in, too.] One wonders what Plato, so afraid of copies, the copy always being inferior to the original, would have made of these paintings. They are certainly inferior by almost any standard, but interesting.