Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Who Pulls the Strings?

We were really at a loss as to how to spend the day today having covered the major sights and attractions already, which is really a short list. We had passed the zoo on the city tour, but it had heartbreak hotel written all over it, so it was not a way to have a happy ending here. We both had different ideas for breakfast and thankfully many restaurants offer a variety of menus including Vietnamese, American, British, and even Mexican breakfast options. We went to the one offering French toast as well as a breakfast burrito settling for these choices. We chose well, both being satiated, we went back to the market to get t-shirts.

Strategically planning the door to enter closest to the clothes, we were able to avoid being mauled or maimed while at the same time avoiding mauling and maiming anyone trying to grab us. Successfully buying two t-shirts and one pullover with smiles and the rewarding feeling for the sales people as well as ourselves, we left to walk the city. I had found a stuffed dragon made by the Hmong people in one shop, but was not thrilled with the color. We went in hunt of another dragon of a different color. Searching high and low over blocks and blocks of shops, it seemed this type of craftsmanship was limited to the only store I saw it in. We walked a couple of miles in the meanwhile in a much longer period of time than it would normally take since it is usual for sidewalks to be parking lots for motorcycles or temporary restaurants, causing detours into the street where you have to play Ping with traffic. Crossing the street is another time waster; it reminds you of an old television show called “This Is Your Life”.

Ron had read about an ice cream parlor that is French owned while supposedly serving the best ice cream in the city. We sought it out and placed our orders. He was more gracious with his compliments than I was, but I did not think my choices were all that flavorful. While we were sitting there, it started to sprinkle. We were hoping for some rain as the sky had been overcast for a couple of days and the humidity was in the 80-90 percentile each day making it feel unusually warm with the heat and pollution from six million motorcycles.

Meandering back to the hotel, we had decided to buy tickets for the Vietnamese Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater, the only water puppet show in the world, so they claim. Tickets were $4.00 each and the hotel sold them. The show was at 6:30 or 8:00 pm, so we chose the early show and had planned on a restaurant nearby for afterward. In the meanwhile, we read, wrote, and planned the rest of our trip out.

I was checking e-mail here at the hotel, where they had a cable I could hook up to my computer; no wireless was available. When I work off of the battery, the computer is extraordinarily slow. After minutes, Outlook finally opened and the mail downloaded rather quickly being a high speed connection. I spotted an e-mail from my editor, which was a stab in my stomach. I had submitted my manuscript, if is it is still called a manuscript when it is a travel guide, on October 8th getting an immediate response thanking me for getting it in weeks early. I had then written him a couple of times before leaving having concerns about rewrites, but never received a response. Having fifty percent Italian DNA, I worried obsessively that there were so many things wrong with the book they had not decided not to use it and did not know how to break the news to me. Until we left for the trip, I was panic stricken about not getting a response, but miraculously when the trip started, I was able to let it go completely. Now, with a week left of vacation, the e-mail I had waited months for has arrived. Outlook corrupted and would not open any of my mail. Grrrrrrrr…

We walked to the puppet show not exactly sure of the location, but Ron with his map in hand and after asking for directions a couple of times, we found it. I had imagined a water puppet show as puppets being hung down over a pool of water, not really remarkable, but could be interesting. There was no preparation for what we saw, which was phenomenal. On the stage on either side sat three musicians: two woman and one man on the left and two men and one woman on the right. Center stage was an oversized red and gold temple type building sitting on a large pool of river water. The water was as muddy as the actual river making it as opaque as a black cat in the dark on a moonless night. The water had some other props as well. We half expected the temple to be the stage for the puppets, but wrong again. The water was the stage as many of the puppets emerged from the sides of the temple while others came from the water directly. Puppet dragons broke the water’s surface along with fish and ducks. People entered the fluid stage from the sides. There were seventeen vignettes in all accompanied by the musicians playing instruments and being the voices of the characters. Even without language, it was enthralling. All of the tourists were flummoxed as to how the puppeteers performed these feats. It seemed possible that they were all under water manipulating the puppets upward, but there were not enough disturbances on the waters surface to betray someone below. In addition to this, there were no air bubbles rising to the top to betray breathing apparatus below. When the show was over, the puppeteers came out for a bow, all ten of them. They were in the water, but only wet from the waist down. Their chests and heads were dry as a bone. The magic continues, for us, anyway.

Around the corner and two blocks away was the restaurant the hotel recommended. When we reached it, there was a crowd of about forty people waiting to be seated. We took a taxi home again and ate locally.

When we returned to the hotel, I booted up the computer and tried the Internet and Outlook yet again. Finally, it worked and I was able to open the letter from my editor.

“Hi, Ryan,

At long last, I'm getting back to you. I apologize for the delays. It was ridiculously busy around here in November and December, and I realized that I never emailed you in the chaos leading up to the holiday break...

I assume you were busy with end-of-the semester activities, so hopefully not hearing from me was a blessing in disguise... The good news is that things went smoothly on my end and I've already shipped files off to the copyeditor. I think the book's in great shape, and I'm pleased with all the work you did... I mentioned earlier that I didn't think I'd have a long list of queries for you, which turned out to be true, though I do now have one substantial query here for you, and I hope you'll bear with me and this tardy request: I'm wondering if you could rework the introduction in chapter one. I think you did a nice job of explaining how you came to live in Budapest, which is just what I requested, but I think you maybe steered a bit too far off the topic of the city and what it's like to live there now. I think this would be a good opportunity to discuss what the city was like when you first got there and sum up how you've seen it change, with a few historical references thrown in. I would possibly cut the story about September 11th and shorten up your "getting there" story to 1 to 3 sentences and then focus the intro on living in Budapest, since your stories of teaching courses, opening up a B&B, etc., would be more interesting to readers... Also, anything you could add about Budapest *right now* as opposed to even a few years ago would be great to include. I know you added a lot of these notes and observations in the What's New chapter, but unfortunately, I had to cut some of those anecdotes to tighten the chapter (and keep us on page count). I'm attaching a copy of the current What's New chapter so you can see its final form, and I'm pasting your original chapter 1 intro below for reference... Please let me know if you're game for reworking this intro; again, it shouldn't be more than a page and a half, but I think it contributes a lot towards setting a tone for the book, introducing you as the writer and getting the reader excited about the book; so I think it's important to get it right, and I apologize if my initial instructions didn't help us to do that on the first take... Would it be possible to get a new introduction by the end of this month? Please let me know... I hope all is well, and hope you enjoyed the holidays... Best, Steve”

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