I adore the Autumn Moon Festival in Việt Nam. Primarily for youngsters, kids, babies and strollers, smiling grandparents and tired moms and dads, the ramp up weeks to the actual celebration contains charm, even innocence, qualities often missing or hard to locate in the Western world these days. Here in Hà Nội, it’s often a nighttime lullaby to be serenaded by loud citywide dragon drumming this time of year.
Clearing away evil spirits is a good thing, don’t you agree?
Jan and I have spent a few days in Hội An and Huế, as we prepare to work closely with the Đông Kinh Cở Nhạc and the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble on the world premiere of Kim by Vũ Nhật Tân later this month. The first draft movement of a projected full concert work, we spent much time bonding with members of the group and also talking with Nguyễn Duy, one of Việt Nam’s most widely regarded poets. His poetry is part of the composition and I’ll be writing about that in a subsequent post.
I know that many of my friends in the United States could benefit from a detox regimen from the ongoing PBS Burns/Novick documentary on the Vietnam War. For my young friends here, that period is archaic and abstract. They want to know what’s next, not what was. Việt Nam is moving forward and not thinking about its past, in many good ways and with much new energy. It’s why I’m here!
And so Jan and I decided that we would benefit from revisiting the city of Hội An, which we last saw eleven years ago. Hội An means “Peaceful Meeting Place” and was the city that allowed access to Việt Nam from China, Japan, India, and Portugal. Imagine Carmel by the Sea in California as Hội An in the Tropics. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, always a good reason to visit.
Though touristed heavily at times (we found Monday and Tuesday to be virtually tourist free, so keep that in mind if you plan to go), Hội An is a unique city in Việt Nam. True to its name as the “Peaceful Meeting Place” the city escaped damage from both the French and American wars in the 20th century. That in and of itself makes Hội An a special place. One can easily dream about a different possibility here, one that does not know war, and where Buddhist temples, old Chinese houses, a Japanese bridge, some leftover Portuguese influence and the ubiquitous French colonial architecture all combine to make for a delightful few days.
But going to Hội An is especially rewarding at the time of the approaching Autumn Moon, as the city lights its lanterns in spectacular fashion. Akin to brilliant Christmas decorations in the West, these lanterns give hope to a world that could use some. By the Thu Bồn River that flows through the city, votive candles are floated in memory of friends and family who are in the next world. The combination of lanterns, candles and colors makes for an unforgettable memory. A photo gallery is now a good idea!
Food is always a superpower component of Việt Nam and Hội An is no exception. In fact there is one place I would run, not walk, to get in line for a meal. Don’t miss Ms. Vy’s Morning Glory Restaurant (there are a couple in town, but the city is not that big no matter how you visit it). Three meals in two days didn’t do this place justice, nor the cuisine of this Peaceful Meeting Place City!
I hope this has given you a taste of Hội An, in a few delicious ways!
And for my friends detoxing from the PBS Burns/Novick Vietnam War documentary, I need to remind you, as a Vietnamese artist in Hội An did for me, that though forgiven, the war is not forgotten. You will find its echo in the country, and that’s part of why I believe every American and all citizens of France should try to visit Việt Nam, Laos and Cambodia.
As I was walking up a small street, this painting caught my eye, and I spent a few hours having a couple of coffees in the little street cafe with the nicest young woman focusing on helping me speak in Vietnamese. So I will A/B the photos to make my point. The first one is of Jan and our young friend. The second one is what they were looking at on the wall facing them. You’ll get the picture(s) as a microcosm of being in Việt Nam.
I’ve noticed it has become popular on social media to “ruin” a musical or movie title by changing one word. This re-interpretation of the font for Apocalypse Now with Major Kilgore’s motto changed by two letters should win the Academy Award.
We are forgiven, but not forgotten. And for the young Vietnamese generation, that war period is an abstraction and its time to move on.
And so the largest moon of the year appears tomorrow night, always on cue as it seems to penetrate the clouds. Those insistent drums call to me, a wonderful way to chase away evil spirits, which any American would be wise to submit to with humility. And to let a votive candle float in the river and let go as we try to move forward.
Raise the lanterns in Hội An, it’s time once again. The Peaceful Meeting Place.
I’ll be on to Huế and more stories soon!
Best, best, best,