July 2008

Celebrating New Year's by assaulting friends con agua

By Art Goodtimes

IRIS IN EAST ASIA … My most amazing daughter Iris Willow (24), having graduated cum laude from CSU in graphic design, has landed a job teaching English in an exclusive private school in Vientiane, making more money at her first job there than she ever made in San Francisco as an event planner (or than I ever have — but they never promised me a rose garden in journalism.) Turns out, she’s not half bad a diarist … Here’s her e-mail travel log of a move from a born-again democracy recovering from a military coup (Thailand) to a socialist republic & communist ally of China.


Every so often
you have to wake up
& jump off a cliff

- Utah Phillips
Nevada City

SABIDEE FROM VIENTIANE … Laos! Hurray, I made the big move from Thailand to Laos. It only took one cramped and muggy overnight train, one early morning tuk tuk, one crowded bus over the Friendship Bridge crossing the Mekong (which is the dividing line between Northeastern Thailand and Laos), one taxi that was madly aiming to run someone over (or so it seemed), and a LOT of pushing, pulling, tugging and huffing on my part! … Our house is a very nice old French colonial three-bedroom, filled with lots of beautiful polished wood and marble tile. It came furnished with sofas meant for royalty, silver platters and china. But best of all, it has a bathtub and an oven! … Beginning last weekend and running through this week, Laos has been celebrating Pi Mai, which is the Lao New Year, which unlike our stoke of midnight change, officially lasts three days -- the first day is the last of the old year, then comes the limbo day and finally the first day of the new year. However the partying begins before and extends far beyond these dates to roughly a full week of fun … The main way to celebrate is to grab a water gun, bucket, hose, or water balloon and aim at the nearest passerby -- whether on foot, bicycle, motorbike, or car (especially if the car has left any windows open). This is a week-long water fight, where after getting sprayed people will tell you Sabaidee Pi Mai (Happy New Year’s!) and Khawp jai (Thank you). I'm not sure this would fly in the States. I don't know too many people who would thank me after I sprayed them in the face with a water gun back home … The celebration comes at the hottest point in the year, when getting sprayed with water is a welcome relief from the harsh sun and meant to bring good luck in the new year. However, iced water — poured over your head and down your back -- is a bit shocking! The use of so much water, when water is at its scarcest, is meant to help bring on the rain of the monsoons. Beerlao is also used widely in celebration. Many Lao people offered us drinks of iced beerlao and invited us to sit down with them for a drink -- and frequent cheering to the New Year … In addition to getting drenched with water, we have been enjoying Vientiane. We have bicycles with baskets and bells and ride around town to markets, restaurants, fruit shake stands and back. During Pi Mai many shops were closed around town, which made it feel a bit like a ghost town -- especially at night, after the water festivities were over.

DARYL HANNAH … Nice to see one of Colorado’s own eco-savvy celebs mentioned in Leah Garchik’s Chronicle gossip column out here in San Francisco (“Dreadful, lads,” as Charles McCabe, The Fearless Spectator, would have said, now that the evil Hearst family has bought the Chron out and gutted it) … My dad, a loyalist (although he hates Bush with a passion and was, for a long time, up until very recently, known to cut loose with a stevedore string of swearwords at the very mention of Bush’s name) still reads the Chronicle every day. A ritual, like putting up the flag at sun’s light & taking her down each evening, which my dad did for years, and out of respect for his faith in this country, I now do too … Hannah was appearing at the Exposure Gallery (south of the slot at Howard & 4th) for a book launch of Crude Reflections, a coffee table exposé of oil, cancer, and ecocide in Ecuador. Photographers Lou Dematteis and Kayana Szymczak took cameras to the Amazon rainforest and brought back images of exquisite beauty, of the land and its indigenous peoples. They also brought back a darker perspective — shocking images of the devastating effects of oil extraction practices used by Texaco (& now Chevron). In the face of death and destruction, here is artful evidence of an Ecuadoran people’s struggle to save their rainforest … Count on Daryl to be doing the right stuff … Exposure’s current show has Christina Koci Hernandez’s collection of photographs, Ambiguous Times.

UTAH PHILLIPS … One of America’s great folk troubadours has passed on, dying in his Nevada City sleep after a long illness, up in the California foothills of the Sierras … If you ever got to hear him in person, or even on the radio where NPR featured his hobo show for years, you never forgot him. I never did. And one of his best lines (heard at a Bicentennial Folk Festival years and years ago that got scribbled down in a journal and has stayed with me and become one of the defining mantras in my life) concerns a principle of facing change that’s hard to live by but always worth the effort. It’s enshrined as this week’s Talking Gourd … Bless you, Bruce. You’ll be missed.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.