Mirabel-aux-Baronnies in southern France is a peaceful provençal village where the wisteria is in full bloom at this time of year.
However, the past few days have been eventful.
The first thing was that the village cash machine (ATM) became the target of an act of vandalism: during the night a stolen truck had been used to demolish it. It had been installed only last year after a decade of efforts to make this happen and had, as you understand, been warmly welcomed by villagers and tourists alike. The tragicomic thing is that the vandals left empty-handed: the cash box was buried under the crumbling structure it was housed in.
The second thing was a real Event (yes, I put the capital E on purpose because of its importance): on the day following the cash machine attack the whole village gathered for the reopening of one of its bars! Mirabel used to have two waterholes, but both closed, for very different reasons, one after the other, quite some time ago. And what is a village without a real bar? This has been a traumatic period.
But now it was time to celebrate the first reopening! And wasn’t it lucky that the village got this therapeutic event just after the cash machine attack?! The bar was thoroughly inaugurated in a ceremony that saw the mayors of the neighbouring villages as guests of honour and was led by the mayor of Mirabel, Mr Cornillac, who proudly cut the ribbon and helped pour the drinks – it was the aperitif hour.
The bar will also feature a restaurant and a nice terrace, but we still have to be patient for a week or two before it opens for business: the infrastructure seemed to be in place, but the interior decoration still needs to be completed.
And in the coming weeks the second bar opening will follow! Village life can go back to normal.
I passed under the railway in Old Hanoi and turned left, and suddenly I was no longer in a normal busy street but in an unusual busy street: quite a few people were dressed up, everyone seemed to be in a very happy mood and was holding a smartphone or a camera (or both), and those who were behind the lens one minute were in front of it the next. The result needed careful examination:
The reason for this photographic excitement and general delight is street art, a recent joint project between Vietnam and Korea, I learned. The walls between the railway arches have been turned into colourful murals, many of which are trompe l’oeil, that depict scenes from old times in Hanoi and Vietnam.
People like to be photographed not only next to or in front of the murals, but to act as though they were really in them, part of them.
There are also some artefacts that were commonly used in the old days. And again people don’t just look at these things but act as though they were using them, some maybe remembering how they actually did use them back then.
One lady in particular caught my eye: she wore a beautiful ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, whose colours went so well with the street car in front of which she was posing.
At one point she noticed me and I got a slight fright since I had taken quite a few photos of her without asking. But I could relax: she asked in a friendly way, in perfect English, if I had been taking photos of her. I immediately admitted that this was the case, and we started talking. Her name was Ms Ngoc, and like most people she wasn’t just a passer-by but had come with her husband to enjoy the scenes from times gone by and, of course, to take photos.
Street art at its best, I would say.
We stopped in a small village near Ha Giang in northern Vietnam for no other reason than to see if there was anyone around who would invite us in so that I could get some insight into village life in these parts.
My guide, Hung, who had a great talent for immediately connecting with people, spotted a lady working in front of her house.
Although we were clearly disturbing her, she greeted us kindly and invited us to stay. She continued with her chores though and called her husband who was on his way out anyway, having heard unknown voices.
He didn’t seem surprised to suddenly have complete strangers at his door, greeted us with a big smile and asked us in. He headed straight towards some big plastic cans at the back of the room and got a bowl out. He filled it from one of these cans and offered it to us: it was his home-made happy water, distilled rice wine. I’m not so fond of strong alcohol, so I was a little hesitant – I certainly didn’t want to offend this kind man by declining a sip, but at the same time I was afraid that I might make some kind of grimace against my will when I got the drink in my mouth.
But I needn’t have feared anything: his happy water wasn’t at all sharp and it had a nice soft taste. I didn’t have to be persuaded to have a second sip (we all drank from the same bowl).
I asked about a photo on the wall, and it was, as I had thought, the couple’s wedding photo.
They looked very happy on the photo (as people usually do, luckily), and they seemed to be just as happy today. Before we left, the man filled an empty soft drink bottle with his happy water and handed it to me as a farewell gift. What hospitality!