Friday, April 11, 2008


Last night we attended an art show in a cozy little gallery across Hai Bà Trưng Street near the hospital. There were three works of art on the wall--or six images, were one were to explode the two- and three-part works for the sake of padding the population. It was a one-room gallery, small enough that provided refreshments--cans of Heineken and plastic bottles of water--were located in a large blue cooler on the sidewalk. This is where most of the people were, too. All gallery openings are the same the world over: after the few minutes necessary to gaze overlong at the walls, an intimately post-networked crowd pauses to socialize within its element.* This was my first gallery outing in Vietnam, and I was gratified how comfortably it fit within my experience. Artsy crowds of expat shakers and tony Việt Kiều movers aren't too culturally removed from the same old thing around the same small galleries back home. A word about the art: I liked one of the pieces a lot, one of two variations on a coral-like pattern of variegated tubes. The image featured playful, mostly separated colors--pinks and blacks--and reminded me of natural history illustrations. The third piece, a blue-green thing in twelve contiguous panels, was hand drawn on cells before being burned in color onto photographic paper. It was interesting, but I'd have been happier if it had been turned over. The ocean colors and the luminescence of the optical process seemed to indicate that the patterns were more akin to upside-down jellyfish than some weedy flowerpots. Outside on the sidewalk, I was impressed Sunshine knew so many people already. There was interesting conversation and the same old time I'm used to having at this sort of thing back home. [Cavin]

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Yesterday I linked new photos* I've managed to upload, after which I noticed that Sunshine's mother has also uploaded pictures she took while she was visiting here in early March. See them here. Looking them over, I was struck by the weather. It doesn't really change much in southern Vietnam: over the year it ranges from hot and dry to less hot and humid as the region advances through its two-season schedule. Possibly because of these rather finely delineated atmospheric landmarks, the nuances of the altering climate seem dramatic in aggregate; like a kid who is so much taller after six months, a construction site more developed after a week, the movement of the hour hand. Our weather seems limited to so few adjectives, but is increasingly surprising in time-lapse. It's always hot here; and I miss the winter. I made a promise a few weeks after arrival, November probably, to stop complaining about this heat. Bitching wasn't helping. I learned to cope with a "winter" lacking any semblance of chill. Now, I can't believe how cool and dry it was over January and early February. When Bet was here taking pictures, it was sharp and hot outside, as nearly cloudless as it gets. Late June or early July weather back home. We were as far into the dry season as possible, and I was learning to cope with a "spring" without rain. Bet's pictures look merrily summertime to me. It's changed a lot even since then. Now it's awful out by consensus: the humid foreshadow of our coming monsoon is already modifying a temperature which still hovers unpleasantly high. By mid-May it’ll be raining daily again, as stifling as an indoor pool, and nearly continuously gray outside. This will happen deceptively, gradually, noticeable mostly in belated comparisons. [Cavin]

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


One of the things I actually did do last week, while not writing Updates here, was work to finish a handful of photographs (beginning here). These are the first few pictures I took in Vietnam in October and November last year. I was slow to start taking pictures around town because I had a towering backlog to work on, and I knew it might be months before I got caught up. I was right. So these are all pretty much taken out the windows of our apartment (or from the rooftop of our building) and generally illustrate my early attempts to get acclimated to our new town. It was handy, when moving here, to find myself located right in the middle of things. Reading through the travel guide, it is easy enough to look out our windows and actually see all the landmarks that are listed as tourist attractions. The Caravel Hotel is over there, standing at the corner of the former Catinat Street, now Đồng Khởi, in the area of the Opera House. The People's Building is a set of three lit spires dominated by the two larger lit spires of Notre Dame Cathedral to its immediate left. Reunification Palace dominates the skyline just below my apartment, the trees of the old park reaching all the way up to my feet as I look out the living room window. The "backpacker district" starts at the New World Hotel, an orange block of cement off to the right of the blinking Saigon Center skyscraper; between them, Bến Thành Market overflows onto Lê Thánh Tôn Street. Over those first months I was able to learn my way around pretty quickly, something I owe to being surrounded by this panoramic view every day. So naturally, that's what I was photographing. [Cavin]

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


A note missing from last week: filmdom lost two luminaries within days of one another, possibly overshadowed by front page news of Charlton Heston's death on Saturday. One of the iffiest, edgiest film noir actors, Richard Widmark, died on Monday, March 24th, leaving another gaping hole in the surviving legacy of crime cinema's fatal Hays Code-era moralizing. Mr. Widmark was never my favorite--sometimes overstressing the turpitude of his characters to the point of distracting tics--but his nervy contributions to film noir certainly laid the foundation by which the genre has enjoyed devoted attention for five decades.* A sweet appreciation appears here, courtesy the New York Times. A week after Mr. Widmark died, similar news came about director Jules Dassin, an American who relocated after being blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. Because many people assume Mr. Dassin is French, they miss-pronounce his name. This speaks to the reach of the man's work as well as the transparency of his manipulation of the limelight. Uncertain how far into cinematic culture Mr. Dassin's influence has reached? Rififi, made in France, 1955, arguably created heist pictures as we know them today. It can also be argued that Mr. Dassin invented the police procedural making the Naked City in 1948. Both films unravel their gripping plots--a bank heist and murder mystery--as the blasé application of carefully measured routine taken by workaday professionals. It's hard to imagine modern television programming, from Hill Street Blues to CSI, without Mr. Dassin's groundwork. Lately, the man had been tirelessly spearheading the initiative to repatriate the Elgin Marbles to Greece, his adopted home. I saw him on a television special about the ancient artifacts in January. Jules Dassin is on my top-five favorite filmmakers list. A nice remembrance here from the Criterion Collection website. [Cavin]

Monday, April 07, 2008


I took an impromptu vacation from this Update. It isn't that I left town or did anything that really took a lot of time; I just didn't write. I should probably drop a note about last Tuesday, though, when Ms. Hương did not actually cook us dog, of course, but did cook some really fabulous prawn and tomato soup with pineapple (one of my favorite Vietnamese soups, and maintaining the status quo re: my near-vegetarianism). In the process something went wrong with the stove. Luckily, whatever it was didn't short the whole apartment's power out until just after the food was done and set out on our little glass coffee table. Ms. Hương called maintenance up to the apartment before leaving us to eat our food in the dark. Ambient. I tried to get the circuit box to reset, but each time there was a loud thump in the wall near the oven and the power went back out. Eventually, the technician came up and, using my flashlight, decided there was nothing to be done about the issue until Wednesday; but he got the rest of the power back on by disabling the stove. After that, the evening went as planned: Sunshine attended the late closing ceremony of altruistic hip-replacement surgeons, and I wrote my April Fools' Day blog (the one right before this one). The next day, maintenance came around to completely take apart the stovetop, laying it all over the floor. Their arrival coincided with my leaving the apartment for a few hours, and by the time I arrived home again, the mess was cleared away and all the circuits were working again. It remains to be seen whether this fix is permanent, but there were no more power problems throughout the rest of the week. [Cavin]