While I’m posting about China and Xi’an, I want to mention the yummy traditional foods. I’ll keep this post brief, and allow Uwe’s photos from our visit to do the talking. Besides, my mouth keeps watering just looking at them.
In Xi’an’s historic Muslim quarter, vendors were baking, frying, steaming and cooking all sorts of delicious treats. These ranged from food that was deep fried in woks to marinated meats on skewers.
I couldn’t resist the piles of beautifully plaited and stamped breads,
as well as the stacks of sesame and bean paste desserts…
NOTE: Today marks the beginning of the 5 day festival of the Vietnamese goddess Bà Chúa Xứ. In her honor I am reprinting my original post about her cult. —Jadi
To see the Mekong Delta on our own by boat proved complicated and required more time than we had. We signed on instead for a tour. We were lucky: only a young couple from Holland had signed up as well.
Travel by boat we did! We took long boats, short boats, boats powered by motors or by human arms. We visited floating markets and stumbled into a tourism promotion festival going on in Chau Doc.
For me the highlight was the festival for Bà Chúa Xứ, the Lady of the Realm on the border to Cambodia. The shrine to Bà Chúa Xứ houses the most important cult in southern Vietnam.
We had the really good luck to visit Bà Chúa Xứ’s temple during the holiest period of the year. Her three-day festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of the fourth lunar month.
The Lady of the Realm protects female entepreneurs (important in a country like Vietnam where women play a major role in small family businesses). Bà Chúa Xứ’s cult has a fascinating belief in both fecundity and the capacity of the goddess to multiply all that she touches — including money.
If you invoke Bà Chúa Xứ’s help, you must make a pilgrimage to thank your benefactress for her assistance. (She is remorseless to those who betray her favor!) Traditionally men need to spend 9 years making an annual pilgrimage, and 7 years are required of women.
In the courtyard before her temple, spirit money is burned in huge vats.
I wanted to make an offering inside the temple and decided to brave the crowds.
I joined the slow moving throngs and we inched our way forward. All around me pilgrims carried tall flowers,
and men bore platters with decorated sacrifices of whole pigs on their shoulders.
People bought baskets filled with offerings of fruit,
and still others carried lit sticks of incense, held high.
The crowds were so thick that I was concerned someone would set my hair on fire!
Once I was inside the temple I managed to make my way up to Bà Chúa Xứ’s altar. Each day in progressive rituals her image is washed and cleaned. On this day, old women were changing her robes. I was unable to get close enough though, and made my offering later out in the (relatively) less-crowded courtyard.
The goddess originally resided on the top of Sam Mountain; her image is popularly thought to have grown from the stones of the landscape.
She wished to be worshipped and caused the locals to move her statue down to Vĩnh Tế village, where her temple still stands today.
I was surprised and moved to realize that her image had mass and strength rather than simple beauty. Some reports state that her statue is a female Shiva (Khmer). Other sources equate her with the queen Thien Y A Na (Cham), the goddess Tin Hau (Chinese), and the Lady Buddha (India). Bà Chúa Xứ is also named The Black Lady, and I see a likeness to Christianity’s Black Madonna.
Bà Chúa Xứ is a powerful deity protecting and bestowing prosperity on her people in the Mekong Delta. In such a fertile area it makes sense to believe in a benevolent, generous goddess.
Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.
Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.
I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.
Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League , these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.
Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India . Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.
We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,
local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….
Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!
A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! 
One of the exotic foods I have (NOT!) eaten is a Cambodian treat of crispy fried big black hairy spiders. Sold at a roadside stop when the bus from Phnom Penh thoughtfully stopped for a bathroom break.
Actually, this post belongs to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. Here I give you: a cluster of spiders. Realize that these are (were) each about the size of my closed fist, and you will understand why I lost my appetite.
The spider in the next photo was as large as the span of my whole hand….
I can’t imagine eating these spiders. Or the scorpions, or larvae, or bugs fried up at various markets we’ve visited…. But they are a source of protein. “Over 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000. …Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. …FAO has registered some 1900 edible insect species and estimates there were in 2005 some 2 billion insect consumers worldwide.” 
I’m a girl who moved to the damp Pacific NW from upstate NY, where it can snow in April. When Uwe and I first fell in love, it was springtime in Europe. Flowers bloomed everywhere, the sun shone, we sat at outdoor tables in cafés holding hands… Mid-April and I’m in a t-shirt drinking wine at lunch with my sweetie ? Now this is the life!
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling in love with a way of life, too.
It’s twenty-five years later and I’m still here. I remain in love with the way of life. But we joke that if the weather had been different I might not have been so quick to agree to stay. Some years it snows here in April, too. On April 18 & 19, it came down hard and then melted.
Possible snow showers are in this week’s forecast.
But two weeks ago we were in Paris and the temperature hit 22° C (71° F). Everywhere the trees and flower beds were in bloom, and yes, we sat at outdoor cafés…
We made a day trip to Amiens’ magnificent cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in France. I was excited to discover that Amiens contains one of the few labyrinths still in existence. 
While I wait for the weather to decide if it really is springtime, I’m enoying the photos from the City of Lights.
Paris remains the most satisfying of cities.
It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris for the art, the food, the shops, or the French way of life. Paris appeals to allof my senses. Whenever I’m there I fall right back in love with being alive. J’aime la vie!
If you grow up with the name Jadi, it will be mispronounced. Jodi. Judy. Janie. Right when a community had it figured out, we would move. One after the other, a parade of grade school and high school teachers and college professors stumbled reading roll call.
When the second Star Wars film came out, everyone at the firm where I worked treated me to (insert uproarious laughter here) “Hey! It’s The Return of the Jadi!”
Perhaps it was inevitable that I married a German named Uwe.
Uwe is a common name in Germanic countries, but just about impossible to pronounce correctly for anyone else. “Ova?” my mother suggested. “Ewe-y,” grinned Dad; I know he did it on purpose.
We had a quiet wedding in Germany and a party Stateside a few months later. A restaurant catered the reception and a local bakery made the wedding cake(s).
I’ve written elsewhere about the awesomeness of German bakeries . For our party, rather than do a tiered and tired yum-where’d-you-get-this-cake-that-tastes-like-sugar-covered-cardboard, I wanted to honor the country I was marrying along with meinen Mann. I went to the best bakery in town and made a proposal:
I ordered six sheet cakes, all different. Yellow cake. Coconut cake. Carrot cake. Chocolate cake. Spice cake. And, yes, one white cake. Turns out I’m a sucker for tradition after all. The bakery manager dutifully wrote everything down.
“And,” I continued with the order, “I want you to write our names on all of the cakes. Wrong. Except for one of them. Here’s a list of names for each cake,” I said, and handed him a page of phonetics.
When we went to pick up those cakes before the party, the bakery let us know how much fun they’d had filling the order!
Twenty-three years later I recall those cakes with a smile – and wonder where the time went.
JayDee and Oyvay 4Ever!
NOTES:  Go to My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies for more about the tradition of yummy German cakes.  New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, Oregon still prepares their own baked goods and meals.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!