formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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April 10, 2018 Folklore (part XII in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
April 10, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: Hopping city-to-city around Southeast Asia on several different airlines gave us more time to experience that part of the world than had we opted for ground transportation.

In Laos (meaning “Land of the million elephants”), Luang Prabang, the provincial capital, is home to many ornate and colorful wats—Buddhist temples—built within the last hundred years. They’re decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha and topped with golden roofs. Lush green jungle and rugged mountains complement the view. Here in this city is the National Museum, formerly the royal palace.

It’s a typical royal palace museum—he slept here, she slept there, here’s where they dined, original furniture and all, and here’s their library holding books from centuries ago and gifts from world leaders…clothing, portraits, weapons, crowns—the usual stuff. What I adored more than the dazzling jeweled walls, however, was the ancient Lao folktale, “The King’s White Elephant.” Each framed page and sketch hung along the hallways so one could read the story a piece at a time while viewing the life of royalty. It was a regular tale about magic powers, evil and good, sin and forgiveness—a fun read.

Mike: Speaking of stories, we had a date night with Garavek, a Laotian company that performs traditional storytelling. The small, black-box theater seats about twenty. Comfortable chairs are arranged in a quarter-circle in stadium-style rows.

On the corner stage are two rattan chairs, a small table between them, and a large drum made from animal skin. Two men enter, wearing black robes, red scarves wrapped loosely around their necks. The storyteller sits as the elder plays an ancient instrument, a khene, a handmade bamboo mouth organ—eight pipes of varying length tied together.

He plays what must be root music, grown from Laotian spirit and soil. His eyes meet every visitor as he blows on the end of the khene. A call of natural beauty emanates. His musical introduction informs us of Laotian tradition.

His song finishes to rousing applause of forty or so hands energized by his show, every mind allowing a proud smile because we in this small theater are the privileged few—the wise few who chose this experience over any other.

The elder’s eyes are bright and his leathery smile is genuine. He bows, hugging his instrument, and takes a seat on the simple stage.

Behind them, a mural, maybe four-by-five feet, hangs in front of the black drape covering the walls. Rich and busy, the painting is filled with images from folktales we will hear: elephants, birds, monkeys, dragons, and giants; waterfalls, rafts, and lush gardens; rivers, mountains, and humble thatched houses; royalty, temples, and ordinary people.

Linda: The storyteller is young and handsome. Animated and enchanting, he draws us in as if magically powered. Garavek means magical bird.

His tales recount origins of landmarks such as Mount Phusi and the Mekong River, and exploits of legendary characters. Spellbound, the audience doesn’t want the show to end.

This was a most exquisite date night, with one of the world’s best storytellers.

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