I just wrapped up 1.5+ months in Luang Prabang, Laos.
A UNESCO World Heritage site and once the capital of Laos, LP is know for it’s nice blend of Lao and French cultures. It’s one of those towns that is instantly comfortable and you want to stay longer that you thought.
When last we checked in, I was building a new bar out of brick and mortar. It came out well, reasonably straight and level. I can blame the bricks for the wavering of my lines, no two being the same size, but mortar is the ultimate in fudge factors. But nothing like a coat or mortar to cover the sins. It came out pretty well, I think.
A note about building things in other countries. In France we previously notes the ease of using the metric system but not knowing what was available in hardware stores. And in Scotland we learned about the two tier imperial/metric system. Plywood still comes in 4’x’8 ft planels, but they are denoted in centimeters; so you get sizes like 148.5×223.75, which has all the logic of metric, with the horrible multipliers of the imperial. Ugh.
Here in Laos, I was going to fix a large set of steps and asked for a shovel. I got a shovel. In Laos however, you only get the metal part. They don’t sell handles with their tools. Apparently, it is easier to just make your own out of bamboo or otherwise. So knowing that a subpar handle on any tool is more a hinderance than help, I used the shovel head as a large trowel, hacking at the hard earth for a couple of days.
For the bar, I first had to take down the older, smaller brick bar. This called for a sledgehammer of course. Again, substituting my radius/ulna combination for a handle, I took down the bar. And later, as we will see, when painting, you have a limited palette of 5-6 colors. But we persevere! It’s about challenge and flexibility!
The brick work done and the leveling of the steps done, it is on to painting.
But first, a note on daily life. I stayed at the pool, which is another business run by my host. I stayed there with Andre, a language teacher from France who was living there, teaching Natalie’s little boy. Lavi is a 20 year old Lao guy that was the day to day worker at the pool. I lived there, upstairs, in a simple room, with a hard, thin futon mattress, resplendent under the mosquito nets and an army of spiders. Living was basic: a leaky, anemic shower with sporadic hot water. A toilet with ‘by the bucket’ flushing and an electrical system chomping at the bit to burn down the place. But we have simple needs. Mornings were contented with a coffee and warm baguette and Thomas Paine on my Kindle.
The pool was open to the public and tourists would arrive around noon, or whenever it would heat up. They lounged about for hours, swimming and drinking smoothies and eating french fries and fried rice. It’s a fine place to spend the day.
As the pool was on the edge of town, I would walk into the center everyday, 30 minutes or so, which helped me slim down a bit. I would get my free food at the restaurant, go online and play with Mia. I met a bunch of characters: French expats, Argentine stoners and travelers from all over.
I had two big painting projects while I was there. The first was to finish painting the pool. The orange was already done but needed tweaking. I suggested the bold blue, which gave it a kind of Moorish feel, and complimented the blue water.
The house was an ugly and poorly done brick thing and an eyesore for those lounging at the pool. Natalie got it skimcoated with mortar, which helped. For reasons unknown, I suggested that I paint the whole thing. Not like just paint the house, but to decorate it. Not being an artistic painter AT ALL, it made no sense. But whatever.
I got to work, my initial idea being to take advantage of the wood of the building and make people see under and through the building: put the wood up on stilts and be able to see the mountains behind it. (Luang Prabang is up in the mountains of Laos and the mountains in the painting would be the mountains in real life.
So I got to it. I whitewashed the whole thing, laid out a horizon line and started paining mountains. As it snaked over 4 perpendicular walls, I wanted the corners to melt away and come across as a panorama.
To enable this, it was critical that my vanishing points and perspective lines be very accurate. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the work and laying out lines in Illustrator. <nerd_alert>At one point time, I used a digital projector to put the lines on the wall and used it to trace the lines.</nerd_alert>
I changes the overall design a couple of times as I figured out how to present the whole thing. Once I figured out that we were know on a high cliff, overlooking a valley, I knew I just needed to give an impression of the distant fields and towns and could then fill the foreground with big, colorful things. I learned on the fly how to make leaves bend and twist. I need to learn shading better and want to find a painting class this summer.
Overall, it went pretty well. Mostly, I was glad that Natalie had the faith in my to take on such a big project. It was an audacious request but it sure was fun to have such a big canvas. I even had a big practice wall on which to fool around.
After that, i hung out for two days and did nothing. Then I got on a plane and headed back to Bangkok, from whence I write.
Sadly and strangely, I did no touristy things while I was there. I didn’t go to the waterfalls, or the caves. Didn’t do a boat ride on the Mekong. I don’t know why; just wasn’t interested. I am sure to regret it but ah well.
Next stop: Madrid. I will be helping out in the far west of Spain for a few weeks and then head up to France.