Bangkok in the Heart of Winter

After Chateau d'Oex

January 30-31, 2002

Wednesday, January 30, 2002 (Anniversary of King Charles the Martyr. Feast of Saint Basil)

We are home!

Yesterday, after a final panoramic glance out our hotel window at Chateau d'Oex (notice, no more snow!), we drove to the Zurich Airport. It was an uneventful two and a half hour ride.

The Zurich airport is a freestanding gem: clean and modern ... not crowded ... and with (at least for Swiss Air passengers) the best First Class check-in facilities that I have ever seen (even better than that offered to Concorde flyers at Heathrow).

Thank God that Swiss Air is still flying. Watcharee on Swiss AirAfter a nasty bout with bankruptcy, someone has either given it a cash infusion or its employees and suppliers have agreed to go without compensation. In either case it is better than ever.

And, everything about its pre-boarding facilities is top drawer. But, I think it is the silver Taittinger Champagne bucket that is the Swiss Air First Class Lounge's most famous 'signature'. It's always in the same spot; suggesting a welcome and offering a goodbye. Though we stuck to the water, it's nice to know that it's there in time of need.

Watcharee checked her e-mail while I read the Herald Tribune ... we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

SR 182 to Bangkok was just a little over 10 hours long; faster than the westbound one by almost two hours, due to the prevailing winds. Watcharee slept most of the way in her Swiss Air cocoon. I read most of the way.

But, now it's time to return to our daily life in Bangkok: though The Oriental is certainly no shabby place for stretching out time. We'll probably stay fixed until the end of May: after that our regular gang (Annie, Watcharee, Stephani, Cindy, Paul, Mike, Robin, Hermann and I) will meet up in Germany to start another balloon adventure. Berlin, Helsinki and St. Petersburg (formerly, Leningrad; even more formerly, St. Petersbrurg and Petrograd) will be the center stages ... with overnight ferries and Previas as our vehicles of choice.

NEWNES:

Wescott:

Hyacintha of Mariscotti
1585 - 1640

Unable to find a suitable husband, this lady entered a Franciscan convent. For ten years she was so fidgety and frivolous that she demoralized the entire establishment. A grave illness made a profound change in her. After that she became famous for the cruelty of the penance she imposed upon herself, and died of twenty-four hours of excesses of that sort.

As you can see, little has changed at The Oriental: the Chao Phya water/sky-line looks the same, the French Embassy still appears to be unoccupied (the pool lacks water) and ... yes ... the Oriental Queen is about to set sail for its daily trip to Ayutthaya and back.

Locally, the Pak Chong munitions arsenal blew up again.1 This time only 14 people were hurt.2 As the government does not encourage graphic photos of maimings and mutilations on its own property, Morton had little to do in his darkroom this morning.

Who is this girl? Hint: she is Thai; she now lives in the Netherlands; and she religiously reads our journals.


1 Three months ago it blew for the first time. Promises of increased safety were made; there were gushy assurances of 'never again'. But, this is Thailand.

2 In October 19 people were killed. An improvement, I guess.


Thursday, January 31, 2002

NEWNES:

Wescott:

Gemininian of Modena
FIFTH CENTURY

Geminian, or Gemignano, was a sort of psychiatrist. He was sent all the way from Constantinople to cure the Emperor's daughter who was possessed. He is portrayed carrying a looking-glass which reflects, not his face, but that of the Virgin: it may have been one of the instruments of his healing art, or it may stand for some psychological theory.

The hill-town of the towers was named after him2 because Attila saw him in a vision there, and left it unplundered.

There is a 'new' foot massage place in town. Well, not exactly 'new', as it has been around for years ... but I only started using it about three months ago. Some of you might remember a foot massage place that I named "White Shirts"3 Anyway, I call this 'new' place "Blue Smocks." Yes ... because the girls who work there generally wear blue smocks over white shorts. It is in the opposite direction from "White Shirts" ... rather near the Sheraton Hotel and River City. It is uniquely situated almost right next door to the "Internet Laundry."4 Tonight I brought the girls who work in blue smocks a big box of chocolates from The Oriental's confectionary kitchen ... for a little pre-celebration. Tomorrow is The Feast of Saint Bridget. The day after is the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin. And, the day after that is Saint Blaise's Day.5


1 Suite 118 ... (I think I have the number right. But, if Anna Vassilieva Scherbakova is reading this page she can correct me if I am wrong) ... at the Astoria Hotel in St. Petersburg sports Anna Pavlova's autograph on the wall, near the door leading out of the room. Her signature is covered by a little plastic plate to protect it from people who might mess with it. Anyway, I used to stay in these rooms during my frequent trips to Leningrad in the 1980's. The Astoria is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in St. Petersburg. Incidentally, it is the hotel that Hitler was going to use for his victory party if the Nazis had captured the city after the great siege. It may be the hotel that we will use when we come to St. Petersburg in June for ballooning. Incidentally, I have a few pictures of the place; taken when Linda and I visited it a few years ago. In the same journal there also are a few photographs of the Astoria taken in 1984 or 1985. In one of them you can see my daughters dancing with Anna (not Pavlova).

2 Can this be the same hill town that is now so famous for its torture museum? The spellings that Wescott uses and the ones found at the museum and on the town gate are only one vowel apart ("e" for an "i"; "i" for an "e"). Please visit: http://www.corkscrew-balloon.com/misc/torture.html and make up your own mind. This "hill-town of the towers," as Wescott describes it, has the same kind of profile that everyone sees as they approach this 'torture town' by road. Of course, that could be said about almost any town in Italy.

3 "White Shirts" is not its real name, rather the name that I gave it because everyone in the place wore white shirts. For those of you who are familiar with Bangkok, "White Shirts" is over by the Shangri La Hotel ... about a 10-minute walk from here. Even 'before' "White Shirts" there was "Green Shirts"; but that is another story that goes back several years. Both of these places still lurk, photographically, in my journals.

4 A brilliant combination! I don't know why this concept has not caught on back in the States. Perhaps something like it can be found in cities like San Francisco and Seattle. I don't know. Many years ago Fort Lauderdale had a topless-bar laundry. Another (I thought) useful combination that failed to bring in the customers. Maybe doing laundry is just not a 'guy' thing in America.

5 But, in their minds, this must have been done in anticipation of Chinese New Year: a big holiday among the Thais.

Next: February

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