Friday, July 31, 2009

Dinner and a Movie

All work and no play makes for a slow slide into insanity.

If there is one thing that I learned in my time living in remote and culturally isolating locations, it's that a regular doses of light pampering and over-the-top fantasy are doctor's orders. Often this comes in the form of good food and a movie. Envelopes of fake cheese from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese boxes and a laptop computer were my first saving grace: I hoarded those envelopes and my precious supplies of butter and milk and a priceless collection of DVDs for Friday or Saturday evenings when I just needed to get away from rice and local pop culture. Those few hours eating comfort junk food and watching You've Got Mail anchored me when otherwise I would have drifted into a cultural oblivion.

I'd been feeling a little "off" this week - a little too steeped in reality. So when I realized that Star Trek was playing at the local theater, I put out the call. Mom, Dad and the kid sister readily agreed - it was time for dinner and a movie.

They've just opened a brand new - no, check that - our newly restored hometown theater. In what is becoming all the rage of local towns "revitalizing" their downtowns, a group of intrepid promoters of the arts joined forces and rescued and restored the run-down, run over, 1950s era movie theater, lately a gaudy gift shop called the "Hodge Podge Lodge."

The result is a attractively decorated 100-seat theater with screen and stage for shows and art gallery featuring work of local artists. They sold out on their grand opening a few weeks back and are now have daily movies and regular stage acts and art activities.

The atmosphere immediately took me back to Hanoi, where I was a member of the active art movie house, the Hanoi Cinematheque. The location, the service, the film selections, the ambiance: everything about the place screamed "escape." It is located in the heart of Hanoi, right on the border between the Old and French Quarters. It was well-hidden down a long alleyway usually parked full of motorbikes. But if you kept going past the bikes, you emerged into a hidden courtyard shaded by an ancient tree and cushioned in a sudden silence away from the ragin current of traffic, street vendors and tourists. The courtyard area was serviced by a small bar and restaurant, so it was the perfect one-stop escape from the daily Vietnam grind. Above the courtyard was a terrace of hotel rooms which was my usual place of residence when in Hanoi before I found my more permanent accommodations.

So it was with great eagerness I greeted the opening of a new theater in town - but it wasn't until this evening that we could fully appreciate the benefits. We left from home and made the easy walk downtown to get dinner. We finished with time to spare, and then wandered over to browse the gallery while waiting for the film to start. A few tourists wandered about, but the locals were there in equal force, so we had some time to catch up with old friends before the lights dimmed. The theater is airy and the seats comfortable. The concession stand opens right into the back of the theater - so should you run out of popcorn, you could get a refill without missing a scene.

After our escape into a world of fantastical absurdities, the lights came back up and we were released into a newly darkened world of stars and streetlights. A few people were still filtering out of Friday night fish fry at the pub across the street. The crowd had migrated to ice cream shoppe just next door - and who could resist the call of a brightly lit candy shop on a cool summer's evening?

We stopped for ice cream and a sampling of fudge before beginning the slow walk back home under the streetlamps. Just as I would have left the Cinematheque in Hanoi, we enjoyed a quiet walk home in the calm after the day's traffic, and now before midnight, the whole world has settled in for the evening.

And yes, tomorrow's Saturday. Just what the doctor said would fix it all.

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