Archive for August, 2013

Thailand and Cambodia Diary: Part I

Back in Thailand, after days nesting the fear of repetition. My husband and I are not the kind of people who go back to places; we are the runner type, the escapists, jumping from country to country as if life were a giant game of checkers. This is, besides the visits to his native US and my native Costa Rica, the first time we’ve decided to repeat a long holiday destination; Thailand, where we had a wonderful time two years ago.

I love to travel, but I hate to fly. Every time the same ritual preceding the departure date in which I start spotting ominous coincidences and signs that I am sure prelude my death. Dreams of explosions, messages from family or friends in which I read a final goodbye, fear in the faces of those in line with me, waiting to board. I look at the kids, so young and innocent, swinging their rucksacks as they advance in the cue, and my heart breaks every time, such short lived lives.

My mother, a Costa Rican psychiatrist, provided me with a generous supply of Xanax a while back. They are magic pills I hold for this precise moment, the flying one. I took a pill before boarding the plane, and as I sit, checking every minute that my seat belt is securely fastened, I wait for happiness to kick in. The big British Airways machine starts moving, slowly, like a tyrannosaurus waking up from a long hibernation. Over the years, I have convinced myself that pilots from countries that have been in a war are the most skillful and reliable ones, and I thank the Brits and their bellicose genes from the bottom of my heart.

My husband holds my hand, which is drenched in sweat by now, and tells me it will all be fine. I used to fight him: how would you know? But now I take his words like a ritual of love that has grown between the two of us in all the jumping from place to place we have done together in the last seven years. The tyrannosaurus is in the air and I beg for my mother’s drugs to help me stay put for the 12 hours of travel ahead. I order wine and press play on a movie of Sofia Coppola. I don’t like her films, not anymore, but there was not much of a selection. The sound is bad and the little I hear is banal. Some kids breaking into rich people’s houses, naming brands and acting as if the world belonged to them. The tyrannosaurs shakes its armor, I drink the wine faster, feel tempted to swallow one more pill, but my husband says no and I obey. It will be fine, he says again and the next thing I notice it’s the chattering of people, the smell of egg, sausage and beans: a full English breakfast it’s on its way. I remove my blinders slowly and look around. Everyone is there, kids and their rucksacks included. I eat yogurt, a little muffin and leave the soggy eggs to one side. I open a book of Cees Nooteboom and read the first short story, “Gondolas”. It is about people that loved each other decades ago, in a different city, and their attempt after having lived erratic lives to reunite and reignite a ghostly passion. It makes me sad. It makes me think of all the ghostly passions I uselessly nested for years .

I intend to read the second story, but the beast shakes, so I close the book and rub nervously the black cover, and the big white letters with its beautiful tittle “The Foxes Come at Night”. “It was just that finding someone among the billions of people on earth was a miracle in its own right” says one of the characters in the Gondolas story. I look at my husband, sitting next to me, what a miracle indeed.

We take our backpacks and cross an incredibly modern and well executed airport and outside we welcome the warmth and I let that smell of the tropics after heavy rain permeate me, because that smell is my DNA, my core. A taxi driver with a very long name full of “Ph”s and “W”s,  I see it in the dozens of licenses of all kinds that he has pinned to the roof of his cab, takes our bags and ushers us inside his vehicle, that is more like a museum, or his home. Visibility is the least of his concerns. The rear window is completely blocked by cushions (I spot one of Ronald Mc Donald next to a Buddha), the roof of his car is absolutely covered in neatly laminated bills from all over the world and the multitude of licenses with the “Ph”s and the “W”s. My country, Costa Rica, doesn’t feature in his collection. I wish I carried a bill that I could offer him, I wish I had more immediate links to my country. I look outside and find consolation in nature. It could be Costa Rica, with its splendid trees and flowers springing from between the concrete. I start seeing tuk tuks, motorcycles turned into taxis that can fit a crowd, and smile with excitement and apprehension. Will it be as good as last time?

I feel happy the minute I start recognizing the neighborhood. We are in Bangkok and will stay in the same hotel as last time. We look at the neighborhood life in Thewet unfolding, quietly, away from the touristy madness this city can be. People are coming out to the streets after the heavy rain, setting up their street food carts, walking leisurely. It is a Sunday afternoon, after all. The entrance to the hotel, Phranakorn-Norlen, has changed but inside everything is as we remembered it, and opposite to my fears, a feeling of warmth and peace begins to fill me. I feel safe, as if I had reached a sort of home. The Phranakorn is a beautiful old wooden house transformed into a boutique hotel, with lots of open spaces, gardens, fountains and a vintage decoration that is beginning to tire me in London but that I find so soothing, unique and elegant here. I go into the little shop of the hotel, leave my bags outside of reception, take off my jeans, try on a pair of loose beach-like pants, walk with them while my bags are still all over the place, and say that I want to buy them. I smile and my husband, who has carefully been looking after my luggage, smiles back. My mind is scattered, I am officially on holidays. We leave our bags in a beautiful room decorated with hand painted motifs of cacti, flowers and butterflies and go down to the airy lounge where we order smoothies and ultra spicy food. We are sweating and eating and smiling. We lay down next to each other, open our books, and read while the Bangkok night settles in.

(To be continued…)

Thai3 Thai2



08 2013

On Mother’s Day

I talked to my mother yesterday; it was mother’s day in Costa Rica. I called her early, 9am their time, 2pm mine. I received a note from her partner two days before: It is mother’s day in two days; please don’t forget to call your mom. I am glad to have received this message; I am glad that someone across the ocean looks after my mom. It’s been over ten years since I left, since I said, bye mama, I’m gone. Ten years, or more, in which I have not been there to give her a kiss in the cheek on her day, August 15th, or drink a mimosa with her, the drink she used to order and sip, in the Marriot Hotel.

No Marriot Hotel this year, she tells me. Strained times with my brother, the one that stayed there with her, all these years. No Marriot, I said, and remembered us younger, both her and I, going with my mother and her mother, when she was alive, in a caravan to the Marriot Hotel in Santa Ana, where mimosas were served, on their mother’s day.

Lunch with my partner, she says, that partner that wrote to me, two days before, remember to call your mother, it’s her day. We are buying a house together, my mother says, the house in the corner, an idyllic place. I close my eyes while I talk to her and I try to cross an ocean in seconds, to be there, in that neighborhood where I grew up and my mother still lives. I want to see that house, that house in the corner, that dream of my mom, but it’s all a blur, and yet I say, yes mom, I know, I can see it, and as I say it a picture of a beautiful house begins to shape in front of my eyes. Perhaps a house that in some years, when I become older or a mother myself, I would like to live in. She tells me the house is big, colonial perhaps, and that it has fine woods and big windows and that she would fulfill a dream of her own: to have a private large room surrounded by books. And now I can see my mom, with her dyed her that covers her age, sitting on her large bed, sheltered by hundreds of volumes that she hopes will say something about who she is, something deeper than a testament, something that will subsist longer than children can do. I see her in that ample room, I see her smile, I feel her pleasure, and I smile myself. I feel connected to that woman that perhaps without knowing, gave me that love for books. I know, like the most transparent truth on Earth, that we belong together because I, as well, treasure a picture of fulfillment in the same way, me surrounded by books that I hope will tell a story larger than myself.

And then my mom moves on to different topics, still related to the new house in the corner. She talks about money and percentages. Her partner can put in more than she can. A flash of disappointment crosses though me. Why, does she make more money than you? I ask. No, my mother says, and she shakes her head, covered by her dyed hair, and fixes her glasses, which fell out of place. It’s simply that she can get a loan, and I can’ t, not anymore. It’s not certain, but her partner is 20 or 25 years younger than her. I blink and shake my head as well. No more loans to my mother, never again. I hear the ocean that separates us, and has for 10 years, roar. I feel it stir while I imagine my mother slowly walking with a little collection of personal belongings towards the paradise house in the corner, where she will look at her books with a pleasant smile, until she can.

And then we hang up because silence begins to swallow our voices. I stare at the screen, still seeing my mother walking slowly down the road, and I realize, as I always do, that once again I failed to say this: I love you, mom, and I always have.


08 2013