Monday, January 31, 2011


it's the last day of January, the first day of this year's immersethrough week in Chiang Mai and north of here, and also this is probably my last post in the year of the Tiger, since the Rabbit is due to come loppety-lop into our lives on February 3. I have nothing against rabbits, in fact precious Dom is a Rabbit, but since my birth year is a Tiger year, I am sorry to see the end of another one.

One more the cycles remind us that there are things to look forward to and enjoy, and that there is also a time for them to be over, for us to move on. I'm moving on by remembering that this Tiger year has given me health and happiness, deepening friendships, a small but growing understanding of culinary and other culture in Burma, and an optimism that even if tomorrow is harsher or more painful than today, I have the resilience to weather hard times. Yes, that optimism may be misplaced. But I don't care, just am happy to be feeling this way.

Today we shopped in Warorot Market, now celebrating its centenary, and then came back to make, under Fern's mother's direction, a wonderful meal: gaeng om (a simmered layered-with-flavor beef soup/stew); gai nung (chicken pieces rubbed with a spice paste and then steamed to make a wonderful broth and tender meat); laap pla northern style (catfish minced with cleavers, then fried with aromatics, then mixed with separately fried heaps of of crispy fried garlic and the fish skin, and topped with more aromatics); gaeng pakat (Chinese kale in a broth flavored with pork ribs etc); ep moo (pork cleaver-minced and then mixed with lemongrass and other flavors, then shaped into small flat patties, wrapped in banana leaf, and grilled); and lots of fresh vegetables; all made and eaten with a great vibe. That's my immersethrough report! Very local doings here in Chiang Mai.

I feel rather cut off here from the huge world events of the last week: the turmoil and awakening in the Arab world. To stay with food, for a moment, apart from all else they have in common, the places where change has happened or is seething at the surface are all flatbread places: Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon.

When I was in Tunisia (for an Oldways conference and also to do research for the Flatbreads book), the place felt heavy, authoritarian, much more than Morocco. Once when I was in a car driving north of Nefta, not far from the Algerian border, the taxi driver had some great music on the radio. It was sufi/qawali music, being broadcast from Algeria. He made me promise not to tell, for that radio station was banned in Tunisia. He could be arrested. It was a small thing, in a way, but a reminder that people's lives and thoughts were not their own. And Mubarak's Egypt of course is notoriously oppressive. But for years Tunisia has often been referred to approvingly, in the media and by politicians, as stable. Does "stable" just mean "successfullly repressive?" It seems to, when it comes to US allies in the Arab world and in other places too.

How disgraceful.

Here I find myself on a political path in this did that happen?

And as I write out here on Fern's balcony (she has wi-fi and I don't) I can hear a call to prayer, in the dusk, a call with elegance and intensity both. It's a good reminder. When I think of the people demonstrating in the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, and those injured and killed, I want to think of them not as an abstract mass but as human beings with feelings and aspirations, wanting the freedom to listen to the music they choose, to believe as they wish, to be safe under a secure rule of law.

Maybe the year of the rabbit will bring them that. Let's hope so...

And may the year of the Rabbit be a generous and fruitful one for all of you.

AND AN AFTERWARD: There's an article in the NYTimes by Ross Douthat that engages in a brief way with the guessing games played by the US and other governments about whether or not to intervene, to support repressive regimes for fear of worse, etc. It's here:

Basically everyone would like sure outcomes, but such things are not available...and often then, the US and others tend to stick with the devil they know rather than supporting uprisings, even when the devil they know is deeply authoritarian, undemocratic, corrupt, etc.

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