L’Etranger Days in Luang Prabang

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L’Etranger (The Stranger) is a French tea shop and bookstore next to the Nam Khan river in Luang Prabang. The cafe and books are downstairs. Upstairs is a large open area with couches, cushions and pillows on the floor where they show free movies every night, in exchange for ordering something off the menu (I recommend the green chicken curry, chased down with a Beerlao.) I grew up reading National Geographic, so the fact that they had old issues lining the walls endeared the place to me immediately. The movies tend toward the indie variety. While I was there, I saw:

Nebraska”, about a man slipping into senility who thinks he has won the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and drags his reluctant son along on a road-trip to Lincoln to collect his millions. I’m originally from the Midwest, so I may be a bit biased, but I thought it was brilliant.

Dom Hemingway”, an English gangster black comedy with one of the most outrageous opening scenes I’ve ever seen. But “outrageous” does not necessarily mean “good”. Frankly, I found the whole experience annoying — the movie as well as the bar next door, whose thumping techno beat kept drowning out the dialog, which which was hard enough to decipher anyway. Not a good venue for this movie.

Her”, a sci-fi romance about a man who falls in love with his “Siri”-like smart-phone personal assistant (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). I was on the fence about even going to this one (I prefer my sci-fi to be much more goo-based), but it turned out to be my favorite of the three. A wonderful, thought-provoking little film, even without an alien exploding out of someone’s chest.

The movie schedule for the week I was there.
The movie schedule for the week I was there.

And if all of this “watching indie movies in a bookstore named after a classic existential novel on the bank of the Kahn in a former French colony” sounds completely over-the-top hipster, well, I can’t argue with you. It ticks every single box. Even so, it was one of my favorite places to hang out in Luang Prabang. If I was going to pull a Colonel Kurtz, shave my head and disappear upriver, I’d probably set up something like this. Maybe add a few heads on pikes to keep out the riffraff, but basically stick with the same game plan. Oh, did I mention that I have pretty much shaved my head at this point?

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Meh. It was going to happen eventually anyway. And it’s really cut down on my wind resistance.

** Fun fact
I’m in Vietnam while I am writing this and the YouTube clip of Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” that I linked to is actually not viewable in this country. Still too soon, I guess.

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