Sunday, November 30, 2008


It's cool here in Chiang Mai in late November.  "Cool" means long sleeves in the evening and early morning, bright sun in the day, and a refreshing breeze all the time.  Perfect weather for gardening.

Two days ago I went to the plant market in a song tiew, a kind of truck taxi, with our friend Fern, who knows about plants as if she was born to garden.  The plant market is dazzling.  And it's vast, about eight wide alleys with plants on either side, some out in the sun, others sheltered by an awning, all beautifully organized by the different plant store owners.  There are recognizable plants like roses, pointsettas, marigolds.  But then my eye is distracted and amazed by huge tall trees, thirty foor tall trees, and thickets of bamboo, and tropical vines with enormous hanging leaves, and ferns of all kinds, in a lush bewildering variety.

Fern and I were looking for plants for the apartments and for the open-air hall that connects them.   We wanted decorative plants, yes, but even more we were looking for edible plants to make a kind of kitchen garden.

The difficulty was making decisions of course, but in the end that morning we came home with: two bai makrut trees, wild limes (more commonly known by the ugly name "kaffir lime") whose leaves are used to flavour curries and more, and whose knobby fruit is intensely perfuned; one prik thai plant (pepper, which grows as a vine with draping branches from which hang trailing lengths of green peppercorns); three clumps of lemongrass; several kaa plants (galangal, that resin-scented cousin to ginger and turmeric); a cute little papaya tree that we know will shoot up quickly; several Vietnamese coriander plants; and several Indian borage plants.  We also had to buy pots and huge bags of soil.  We found another song thiew to take us back to the apartment building, and by the time we'd hauled everything to the elevator and then down the hall, we were pooped.

But, said Fern, "We should finish everything today, don't you think?"  Had to agree.  One by one we potted the plants, first pouring out some soil (already mixed with a little vegetable matter in the form of rice husks), then adding more humus (chopped coconut husks, all rusty brown) and mixing it all together well, and filling each pot with some soil, then a plant or two, then more soil, and tamping it all down.  Yes!  Suddenly the hallway felt alive and full of promise.

"Shouldn't we go back and get the rest of what we wanted?" asked Fern.  This time Jeff came too.  By the time we'd done acquiring more plants, and pots etc, we had: four banana plants (two different kinds), to plant two to a pot; a chiang tree, which has umbrella shaped delicate leaves,; and three or four more tree-ish plants, including one with scented small white flowers.  We also bought a small fountain, simple and lovely.  The plants are now all potted and look happy.  And the fountain?  We've assembled it and filled it with water, and now, beside me here in the open air of the hall, water is plashing gently out into a tall urn-shaped terra cotta pot and overflowing down its sides into a wide basin, making quiet music.

Now we feel ready for anything, including being "stuck" here because of the PAD political action, which has closed the airports in Bangkok, and with which we sympathise.  Jeff was supposed to leave today and be home for Dom's 21st birthday, but he's still here and won't get out for at least another few days, or maybe a week.  It's a little like being in a bell-jar, out of time, with no control over events.  We're happy NOT to have deadlines and anxieties about time.  Our concern is that the situation resolve itself peacefully in a way that strengthens democracy here, through negotiation and strong leadership.  Fingers crossed.

And meantime we work on our Thai language, fine-tune our plans for the cooking classes in February, and start sketching out a book proposal.  It's a lovely combination of things to think about, in between watching the hard news from Mumbai, Bangkok, and yikes!!! Canada, where at last the opposition seems to be taking effective action to stop the ghastly right-wing ideologue Harper from ruining the country.  More fingers crossed in hope!

No comments: