Several years ago, I watched Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. It doesn't happen in the book, but there's a scene in the movie where these villagers write the names of people they love on little paper boats and send them out onto a lake. The movie is good. That scene was incredible.
I thought maybe the boat thing was just in the movie. But I'm ignorant. Turns out it's a Buddhist ritual to remember the dead. It also turns out that a nearby cemetery participates. Sam and I went tonight.
We had no idea what to expect. As Sam said, "When it's called a Lantern Festival we should have expected a festival." There were hundreds of people gathered around this lake, eating picnics, listening to traditional music, surrounded by lanterns they had decorated for their loved ones. Sam and I neglected to bring a blanket, so we perched by a tree and ate our dinner--falafel wrap for me, cod wrap for Sam--from our favorite little healthy food place.
We got a lantern and I wrote the names of my grandparents and my friend who died last year. Sam helped me think of things to say. We were at a crowded table, everyone drawing hearts and beach scenes and I-miss-yous with Crayola markers, and I was thinking hard about what I would tell these people if I could say just one thing. I won't share all of them, but I will say that I told my grandma--my mom's mom--that I wish she could have met Sam, and then I got sort of choked up.
We wandered around the lake, weaving through blankets and chairs and glasses of wine and tupperwares full of fresh blueberries. We finally found a place to set the lantern on the water. Since we had to get down very low to do it, and my arms are pathetically short, Sam set it off, and we watched it glide away. I wish I could describe how that lake looked with hundreds of lanterns on it. Maybe it looked like the night skyline of a city. But maybe it just looked like a lake with hundreds of lanterns on it, if you can imagine that.
There were mosquitoes and they love Sam (who can blame them?) so he was sort of miserable by that point. He wandered away from the water while I sat in a fancy tree stump carved into a seat. It was dark, and there were little girls climbing the tree in front of me. I liked seeing their silhouettes in the tree, and behind them all the little lights floating around on the water, being blown about by the breeze, picking their paths delicately. Rarely have I seen anything so beautiful, or felt so connected to my dear lost family and friend.
What follows are a few pictures, even though they don't come close to doing it justice.
Here I am with our lantern.
Here's Sam sending it off.
Three of them.
The whole lake.