Monday, May 10, 2021

Luna Pub

 "Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or the last time. 

Then your time on earth will be filled with glory". -Betty Smith

As evening approaches, this is a good place to be. 

Luna Pub.

That's what I've been thinking about all day today, this Mother's Day.

Luna Pub serves up pizza, pasta, and other authentic Italian cuisine on the hot streets of Danang, Vietnam. Nestled into the old center of the city, this lovely oasis just a few blocks from my third-born's then-home was a frequent stop on our excursions whenever my other daughters and I were in town to visit. 

The name of the street outside Luna Pub is Tran Phu, which sounds like music to my ears. 

Pull up your motorbike right onto the sidewalk, as one does, and park it any old where. The bantam weight gentlemen who keep tabs on the customers' bikes will rearrange it as it suits them, but also present your exact bike (which looks like a dozen other bikes under their management) with a flourish when you are ready to leave.

Sit down at a sleek wooden cafe table in the soaring indoor/outdoor space, preferably within range of one of the giant fans that crank out the gale force wind required to cool patrons during the summertime tropical heat.

Anticipate a delicious meal. We leaned heavily into the pizza and dessert sections of the menu, and once on her birthday, my daughter-in-residence ordered a chocolate lava cake that was to die for. While you wait, feast upon the tiny slices of homemade bread meant for dipping in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Why not make an entire meal out of that?

I'm not always the biggest chocolate person, but this little morsel of chocolate lava cake was insanely delicious. And so rich that there was more than enough to share.

But oh, better than the food, the high point of the entire trip to Luna was always the same for me: chilled white washcloths scented with lemongrass, presented promptly as you arrive at the table, and perfect for wiping away the heat and grime of the city, and preparing one for a lovely repose.

Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and of course, fish sauce. 

This may be Italian cuisine but we are in Vietnam after all. 

I have so many memories of evenings spent at Luna Pub: sharing a small table and dishes of Bailey's gelato with my daughters, or gathering with a dozen of my third-born's local friends and getting to know the names and faces of these people who kept her company in this exotic place.

But the sharpest, clearest, most poignant moments I spent at Luna Pub came one night in May 2016, while sitting at a mash-up of three or four tables with one of those big groups of friends, when my phone rang. 

My mom was calling me.

Can we please have a table near one of the fans? 

Sorry, my Northern European body cannot handle this heat. 

These were the darkening days of my mother's battle with Lewy Body Dementia. Dutifully, and with a surprising ability to manage this level of detail, she checked in with me on a twice-daily schedule. Even as the disease had worsened and her cognitive skills slipped, my mom took this task very seriously, and rarely missed a call. 

Knowing that there was no way she could navigate international calls to me while I was on my trip, I'd arranged through my carrier for direct forwarding of my U.S. calls, so that for my mom, placing the call to me was exactly the same as usual. She had no idea I was sitting in Danang, Vietnam, at Luna Pub.

So when I saw her call light up my phone, I quickly slipped away from the table and stepped outside, hoping to find a quiet spot to talk with her. Locust trees lined the street near the broad steps leading up to the restaurant, and I settled for the sidewalk underneath them in the still-steamy evening breeze. 

I clicked into the call. 

Here, on the left side of this photo, near Tree Number 55, I took my mom's call. 

"Hi, Mom. How are you?"

I don't recall the details but she was upset. I listened to her describe the problem, pressing the phone to my right ear and covering my left ear with my hand as I desperately tried to block out the music streaming out of Luna and the unrelenting beepbeepbeep-ing horns of the motorbikes flowing past me on the busy street. I couldn't understand her well enough to offer any substantial conversation on the topic, but I murmured small words of acknowledgement and understanding as best I could. 

"Well, that's all I have to say," she abruptly changed course. 

"Alright," I said. "We can talk more about this next time you call, okay?"

"Sure, Goodbye."

I listened as my mom ended the call. 

Now, by all accounts, it was not a particularly memorable phone call.

But that was the last time my mom ever called me. 

During the remaining sixteen months of her life, we talked on the phone but only when someone else - my sister-in-law - was on hand to help Mom negotiate the call. And thankfully, my mom and I did have one last visit together in person.

But that phone call at Luna Pub, as I stood in the sweltering heat on the steps along Tran Phu, was the last of the hundreds - thousands - of times that my mom called me. 

The very last time.

And while this is in many ways a very sad story, and a heartbreaking chapter in the tragedy that is Lewy Body Dementia, the memory is very precious to me. 

We often know our firsts in life. 

First day of school.

First car.

First kiss.

But our lasts often slip by, unaware, unannounced, and we may have no way of knowing in the moment that something we've done hundreds - thousands - of times will never happen again. 

And while I didn't know in that exact moment that this phone call would be the last - I fully expected my mom to call me in another twelve hours, right on schedule - on this Mother's Day and every day, I am thankful with all my heart that this last call from my mother came in at such a special and memorable place. 

Luna Pub. 

* * * * *

All photos courtesy of Luna Pub Danang on Facebook. 

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