Bangkok for Six Weeks, Part VI

Home at the Oriental Hotel

Between Bangkok Part V and Bangkok Part VII

April 1-6, 2000

Saturday, April 1, 2000

An important aside ... even before the prefatory noises from NEWNES, Wescott or the IHT.

Dear reader, what immediately follows does not have anything to do with this trip to Bangkok. Sure, some technical decisions were made here in Bangkok and some Bangkok production facilities were used, but the meat of these next two paragraphs relates to my future European balloon adventures.

That said; please let me share with you something that has been a secret until yesterday. As any of you who have seen my newest balloon must know, this machine of mine has the potential to stir up evil gases in the bowels of censors and other self-appointed minders of morality. And because of that, who knows what could happen when I next fly my balloon in Europe.ScrewSaints? Especially in Italy. Perhaps "snarly" old women will wave menacing canes as they see it fly overhead. Village priests could very well raise crucifixes toward the sky and wish me ill will. Shriveled school "marms" might slam the shutters to keep pure the eyes of their little charges. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad folk about.

But, happily, history is on the side of Corkscrew Balloon #3. While researching the lives of saints, my readings took me to the sunny deeds of Luceja and Ethelreda. It was to perpetuate the honor of these two ladies that this balloon was finally built. It is enough that these two women of faith ... the same two women who so bravely grace the sides of my latest balloon ... are accredited by Mr. Wescott as saints. To some, their documentation may be unsettlingly thin. To me they are "ScrewSaints"! And, to prove their worthiness, a multi-lingual (English-Italian-French-German-Spanish-Portuguese) "holy card" was designed and laminated by my Bangkok printer. Like all holy cards, one side shows the ScrewSaints in their best light; the other details their virtues (in six languages).

Back to today ...

Hugh of Grenoble
1053 - 1132

This bishop saw seven stars over a piece of his eclectical property, and therefore gave it to St. Bruno for the foundation of the Grand Chartreuse. Visiting there one day, he found monks, amid flocks of chickens, starving, having vowed never to touch meat; and he saved them by changing the birds into turtles. All his life he was tormented by the thought of God's frivolity in allowing evil to persist in His world.


[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Hat Ornaments

NEW YORK - The Denver "Republican," referring to the special slaughter in Delaware of birds whose plumage is to adorn women's hats, says: "Until the women of the country refuse to buy bird millinery, there will be no decrease of this wholesale tragedy of the fields and woods, and until the Easter bonnet is without its feathered corpse, it will never symbolize the spirit of the day on which it is worn."

Returning to my earlier aside ...

(Porn, frowning at the translation): "German really doesn't recognize the pluperfect subjunctive."

(Alf, defensively): "Actually, I relied on the automatic translation service provided by Alta Vista."

(Porn, sniffing dismissively and jumping to the next paragraph): "I thought you spoke Spanish! Your use of the 'familiar' is not proper when referring to saints of the church."

It was all starting to unravel. Hoping to avoid tedious explanations with human translators, I had unwisely relied on a machine to put the foreign words into the mouths of my ScrewSaints. Apparently the English description of their saintly life didn't always morph into the proper turn of phrase when the Portuguese or Italian buttons were pushed.

My doubts first started to percolate as I walked out of the printer's office. It was then that I noticed that all five buttons had robotically translated the "Isle of Wenk" as either "Isola di Welk," "l'ile de Welk," "Insel von Welk," "Isla de Welk" or "Isle de Welk." If my monolingual eye picked up that with barely a blink, what darker errors lurked in the more nuance-haunted world of conjugations, familiarities and genders?

The girls of Patpong would surely know! Like wizened Istanbul carpet hawkers, who can fleece you in any living tongue, the girls at the Super Queen pride themselves on their skill in juggling languages without missing a beat.

(Alf, his pride shrinking): "But, can an Italian reader make out what it means?"

(Porn, shrugging): "Just barely."

(Alf, holding on with little hope): "The French one?"

Porn Checks the Translations

(Porn, with cocked head): "An insult!"

(Alf, resigned): "The Portuguese?"

(Porn, tossing her head): "I'm better at spoken Portuguese. My weakness lies with the pen. But, your translation does look a bit wooded ... or, forced."

(Alf, shifting the subject slightly): "Forgetting the wording for a moment, what do you think of the theme?"

(Porn, laying the holy card on the bar, tits and ass up): "What do you mean? I gather that you are trying to convince the people on the ground that your balloon ... the one with the nude chicks on it ... is some sort of flying shrine. Right?"

(Alf, evasively): "Not exactly. I like to think of it as more of a Holy Envelope ... a flying billboard, reminding people that there are other saints worthy of their worship. That the big names in the business ... the Marys, the Josephs, and the Mathews ... really don't need all those genuflections and burnt candles. It's the little folks out there ... the lesser saints that need some Windex on their windows."

(Porn, laughing): "HAHAHAHA ... Why don't you have another contest? Find yourself a pair of pretty saints with big tits. HAHAHAHA"

(Alf, thinking): "Hmmmmm ... a search for a "screwsaint" ... or, maybe a "saintscrew" ... no, "screwsaint" has a better ring to it."

(Porn, laughing harder): "Get some Patpong lady-boys! They are cheap and you can lose them in the Italian countryside when you are finished flying."

(Porn, warming up to the idea): "Maybe you should get a Bishop's hat for Mike."

(Alf, brusquely): "That's enough, Porn! The screwsaint search idea is a good one ... never mind the other stuff. Though the Bishop's hat idea I sort of like."

Sunday, April 2, 2000

NEWNES lights birthday candles for those infrequently remembered on this day:

Francis of Paula
1416 - 1508

A Calabrian of humble birth who founded the Order of Minimes, according to the original rule of St. Francis of Assisi. Louis XI of France, when dying, sent for him, in hopes of a miraculous cure, and the pope made him go. He seems to have seen no reason to interfere with the course of nature, merely encouraging the hard little king to die stalwartly. The French royal family made a favourite of the modest monk and kept him in France. Francois I's mother wove his winding-sheet with her own hands.

In the course of the sixteenth century, the Huguenots dug up his body and burned it on a large wooden cross - a posthumous martyrdom which greatly increased his reputation.

Mary of Egypt

Beginning at twelve, this Mary was a prostitute in Alexandria. After seventeen years of it, she wanted to go overseas to Jerusalem, as many others were doing. She had no savings; so she paid her passage by letting the sailors make use of her body during the voyage as they saw fit. When she arrived she did not have the courage, being what she was, to go into the sanctuary where the True Cross was shown, and suddenly wearied of her complacent calling. Off she went into the desert and stayed there in lonesome distress for almost a half century. She told the monk who found her in her old age that she had suffered from desires of the flesh during the first seventeen years of her retirement - the same length of time that she had been active in the streets of Egypt.

(Porn, tossing down the Book of Vespers): "That Mary was an odd one! If you're going to change horses in midstream ... HAHAHA ... got it? Well, anyway, if you are going to change horses in midstream you'd better be sure that the second horse is better than the first one."

(Alf, puzzled at Porn's interest in scripture): "What are you getting at, Porn."

(Porn, looking all serious and somewhat pious): "Big changes, especially when done in mid-life, are serious matters. But, I do think that you should give a lot of thought to remolding the image of your balloon. You have been complaining about how no one takes Corkscrew Balloon #3 seriously. How even your pilot is afraid to fly it over Siena. Your ex-girlfriend ... the French one ... thinks it is like an ad for a pornographic web site. Even your friend, Rosemary, damns it with faint praise by saying how pretty the vines are. Alf, all you have to do is just change the spin on it. Then you'll have a new balloon."

(Alf, seeing where this might lead): "You mean by dragging God into it? Then all those things will go away?"

(Porn, gently leading the way): "Sort of. The nudes become naked virgins. They perform good deeds. Full stop! What else do you need? Instead of screwmaids as leading ladies you have screwsaints. And, I wouldn't mind being one myself. After all, there is precedent."

(Alf): "It might work. Let me bounce it off Annie."

Father and daughter looking at the last rays of a Bangkok sun while nursing something oriental.

(Alf, to Annie): "Annie, how does this sound? I'm going to e-mail this to Brother Mike."

(Alf, reading from notes): "Sister Porn (should she be chosen as one of the Screwsaints) thinks that the vessel would gain more respect if it were called "The Holy Envelope of Bristol." Her idea of creating a "flying shrine," while sounding silly at first, seems wiser and wiser as the other options for Siena look grimmer. For starters, all good things have historically come from the sky ... what worshipful stuff has ever climbed out of a hole in the ground? Medieval paintings always show serfs and oafs gazing upward in awe. Sticks and stones (traditional biblical weapons) are usually hurled downward upon the heads of ingrates and sufferers. Etc. etc. etc. and so on."

(Alf, pausing): "Well?"

(Annie): "I don't know. Aren't you forgetting lightning and meteors?"

Monday, April 3, 2000

For half a dozen years I've sort of followed what has been happening to Cleo Odzer. She is the author of "Patpong Sisters." It's a book about the girls who work here. To be fair, the book has a lot of detractors. But, Cleo, throughout everything, has remained a colorful character. I once invited her to go ballooning, but because of some publishing deadlines she was not able to make it. Anyway, the other day I sent her an e-mail and this is the reply that I received. As you can see, it was robot generated. Apparently she has returned to Goa. When she was younger she spent a lot of time in that part of India experimenting with drugs.

This email address is no longer in use. Net access is impossible where I am so your mail regarding "From Alf" will never be read. You can try but don't count on my ever seeing that either.

I have escaped! I'm out of the grasp of the morons and liars and vicious idiots who have attempted to take credit for my labor.

I'm in GOA!!!! Hoo boy, finally living a life of creativity and where I can flourish and blossom and be FREE!

See pictures on my website, beginning at

I'm free at last! Free at last!

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Benedict the Black
1526 - 1589

The humblest of Benedicts, a coloured cook. One day when there was nothing to eat, he set out some pails of water, and plenty of fish were found in them the next morning.

NEWNES mourns for one passing out of an ill rewarded profession:

Today's Bangkok Post reveals that even God can hiccup when trying to sort through all the alms givers (and whining pleaders) in this holiest of seasons:

ISLAMABAD - Seven pilgrims of a party of 150 were electrocuted to death and dozens wounded while going to a shrine in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, reports said yesterday. The incident happened about 100km west of Islamabad when shots fired by a pilgrim to celebrate their Muslim saint hit a power line that snapped and fell on the pilgrims. Seven pilgrims died on the spot and five were rushed to hospital with severe burns. Dozens of others were injured in the stampede that the incident caused. - dpa

Dear reader, the evidence is too daunting to deny. Testimonials and artist interpretations gush side by side from Patpong's King Body House. There is no stopping it. Two weeks ago our descending colons were freshened by rough pokes at our insteps. Last week livers were tended to by smart slaps on the heel. Last night something was done to the fallopian tube.

Tuesday, April 4, 2000 (just after midnight, Bangkok time)

Yesterday afternoon I went to Cilantro's for a long lunch. Cilantro's is in The Peninsula Hotel ... just across the river from my spot. My companion was an incredibly beautiful and charming girl from Bangkok. I shall probably invite her to come ballooning with me in Europe this summer.

William Cuffitella

A Sicilian hermit who died on his knees: his body was found in that position, and all who touched it were cured of what ailed them.

NEWNES must have had James Mason in mind when he nodded to this event for inclusion:

Of course, the obligatory reminder of yet another Papal death bed wheeze:

Tuesday, April 4, 2000 - Continued (at a more reasonable hour)

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: Highway Plans

NEW YORK - The first annual dinner of the Automobile Club of America was held last night [April 3] at the Waldorf-Astoria. Good roads and proposed national highways were the topics of all the speeches. Former Mayor Strong surprised his hosts by declaring that of all the "infernal nuisances in this city" the steam and naphtha automobiles were the worst. "My horses are old," he said, "but your machines scare them. You have terrified all the women in the city. I don't know how you can square yourselves."

From today's Bangkok Post:


London, AFP

French supermodel Laetitia Casta, the woman chosen to symbolize her home country's values of liberty, equality and fraternity, is taking the first of those sentiments to heart ... by moving to Britain.


Ms Casta, 21, will appear on French stamps and as a bust in every town hall in the country after being chosen as Marianne, the female symbol of the French republic.

But the Corsican-born figurehead, who is also the face of cosmetic giant L'Oreal and a model for lingerie firm Victoria's Secret, is said to be living temporarily in central London while looking for a permanent address.

"I can't see what's wrong with Marianne moving overseas," Britain's Daily Mail newspaper quoted her as saying. "She is a symbol of liberty and freedom. I see it as a way of promoting France abroad."

Or, as the Daily Mail suggested, perhaps it is because Ms Casta, who it is said earns $3.2 million a year, wants to benefit from lower taxes in Britain.

"I want to live in London because it is such a diverse, lively city," she added.

"Also, almost no one knows who I am in Britain, as I don't get pestered like I do in France."

But, dear reader, the official French "sniff" of Ms Casta's defection to that hated offshore island is found buried deep in the PEOPLE section of this morning's International Herald Tribune. Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said, "If you move to London, what you save in tax you'll lose in rent and health care, not to mention the metro service."

Wednesday, April 5, 2000

You have seen this pretty girl before. She is one of three people who control the scheduling of massages over at The Spa. She answers the phone [152kb MPEG], she advises you on the available services, she books your time block, she reserves a room, she greets your arrival, she appoints the hands that will work on you and she presents you with the bill when it is all over with. Without her the place would be chaos. But, she is ticklish so she never gets massages herself.

NEWNES, ever partial to famous people who departed this world prematurely:

He also favors anomalies wherever they are found:

Vincent Ferrer
DIED 1419

Probably one of the greatest orators who ever lived. He preached in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Great Britain. Some say that he spoke all languages with equal facility; others, that he spoke only Spanish, but so expressively that he was understood everywhere. His usual subjects were death and hell. His glorious voice touched and terrified his audiences; so that he often had to stop until the groaning and abject weeping had ceased. He ate only on Sundays.

In allusion to the rapidity of his missionary journeys and the bold lights of his rhetoric, he is sometimes painted with wings.

Yesterday's press was somewhat muted when it noted, for the record, that Ms. Casta, age 21, had moved her 'Marianne' from Metro-proud Paris to tax-cozy London. Today's The Times, under the headline "French Resistance," said, "Apoplexy has choked provincial France as it learns of a national betrayal more shaming than Petain, more humiliating than a Michelin's award going to an English chef." The Daily Star raised the journalistic bar a few more notches with a predicable frog attack: "they drive, badly, on the wrong side of the road and their police are about as bungling as Inspector Clouseau."

[from The International Herald Tribune] 1925: Caviar War

LONDON - Bolshevism has taken its worst possible revenge against the English bourgeoisie. Instead of attempting revolution or war with fire and sword, Moscow has established a caviar blockade. It has become known here, to the consternation of West End diners, that the Soviet government has prohibited the export to England of the dainty dish. Heretofore practically the entire caviar supply for England came from Russia.

Dear reader, though I've mentioned BAAN RIM NAAM; and though I have passed on a couple of recipes from its kitchen (coconut ice cream and grapefruit salad), I have never shown you the full cornucopia. Every afternoon from noon until 2:30 it is all on display. When Linda was traveling with me we used to take practically all of our lunches here. On this trip I have had my lunch there approximately half of the time. All of the dishes have Thai roots; that's why it is almost impossible to tire of them. While I am at The Oriental I keep a standing reservation at a table overlooking the western bank of the river. I can think of no better place to spend a couple of hours when the Bangkok sun is at its highest. Built into this paragraph, or found through links, you'll find 21 views of what the Thais do best: food.

Thursday, April 6, 2000 - Chakri Day

Today is Chakri Day, a national holiday commemorating the founding of the Chakri Dynasty. The present King of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is the ninth of the Chakri rulers.

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1925: Zulus Drowned

CAPE TOWN - The Zulus were returning to their homes from a tribal gathering recently when heavy floods turned Zululand into a swamp. When the party reached a wide drift which had become a raging torrent, they determined to go though it in the manner of the chosen people when they reached the Red Sea. Their leader, like another Moses, advanced and struck the angry waters with an iron rod, commanding them to open and let him and his followers pass. The whole party then advanced into the drift. All were drowned.

Celestine I
DIED 432

This conscientious pope ruled at a time when Christendom was shaken by theological revolution. Fortunately he had lieutenants much greater than he: St. Cyril of Alexandria to advise him against the subtleties of Nestorius, St. Germain of Auxerre to deal with the Pelagians in Britain, and eager St. Patrick to convert the Irish who had enslaved him. St. Augustine, also, lived and wrote during his pontificate.

NEWNES is refreshingly secular today:

Please come with me as I follow another extension cord to Patpong. Like its brother cords, this one is black and very long (by western standards). Patpong Street FoodOver years of use it has acquired a soft patina from the millions of soles and tire treads that have passed upon it. It has never been mated with another cord; apparently its great length allows it to remain single for life. Though it doles out current to a range of gadgets on the user's food cart, the font of its power lies in a tiny electric box that also supplies lift to a parking lot gate.

I am taking you to dinner. Lest you think that the only meals available in Bangkok are those dished up by the chefs from five star hotels, I want you to sample some of the street food that comes from alfresco kitchens on wheels. Every neighborhood has them. And, like the upscale places, each has its own specialty, its own regulars, its own ambiance and its own reputation. Their prices are about 1/20th of what The Oriental gets for the same weight.

Next: Bangkok Part VII!

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