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The master-class of pure magic) By Nathalie Sokolovskaya Mountains have some mystical power that hypnotizes those who could once feel their spirit. People have been aspiring to live in the mountains at all times as it gives a feeling of being high above all squabbles and mass of urbanistic plains. They give a chance to live long, to be constantly embraced by nature and crystalline air. After all they make one feel closer to the God. Mountains are no longer the steady earth and are not yet the heavens but some intermediate kingdom with its own rules very different from those of plains. They seem to know a secret of time deflection. Dalat, built by french colonial administration at the beginning of 20th century on the wide plateau of central highlands of Vietnam, as a resort city, the unique oasis to escape from omnipresent exhausting heat of the country, still keeps an amazing charm of old french architecture and atmosphere of european high -hill station ,so unusual, even hardly imaginable to exist in the South-Eastern Asia. Hidden in the very deep of pine forests(that also can be hardly imaginable In tropical country ),Dalat is an enigma that keeps a spell on everyone paying it a visit. The perfume of mystery is almost palpable in Dalat air.It makes those who felt it at their first visit to come here again and again. The very special atmosphere of the city that ,no doubt, is partly created by high mountains air that makes newcomers tipsy and overexcited, but is also richly flavoured by intrigues and secrets of the close past, when french colonial elite was living its passion here. With old French architecture and general European city like image ,Dalat’s beauty can be compared with a cold beauty of lightly snobbish aristocratic dame who keeps her real face under a voile. This city impresses by amazingly weaved combination of habits left from colonial times : as a fashion of French 40s with berets, long coats and scarfs prevailing amongs elderly generation of the city’s inhabitants, local wine producing tradition, freshly baked small croissants in the streets, old songs and tango from the windows of houses; and multicolored features of authentic Vietnamese culture. Mountains seem to conquer the time at its traditional understanding completely in this city. As Dalat visitors get a chance not only to live through four seasons at a day with local mountainous climate, but also meet face-to-face the mysterious living past that hasn’t yet left the city. Situated high in the mountains, on the altitude of 1000-1500 m, between the earth and the heavens ,Dalat has a fabulous bouquet of mysterious stories, its own spirits and ghosts and even small miracles as self-goround wooden tables to hide.
The city cinema building that used to be a central market at old times is piquantly reputated for its unusual regular visitors-two spirits. Today local cinephiles get a chance to watch not only the promised movie but also some other surrealistic performance: the vague silhouettes of two men in clothes of the beginning of the last century are said to cross from time to time a cinema room during a movie projection .These mystical gentlemen move as if they are choosing some products in the market, walking without any haste with several stops on their way from one dark corner of cinema room to another. No one from Dalat inhabitants can tell where these unusual personages appear from and where they disapper subsequently.They are only said to love visiting the cinema during old white-black movies projection. The old French style chalet of last queen’s father Nguyen Huu Hao,situated at the beginning of Khe Sanh street also has a mystical reputation for its sinister inhabitants. It also has the following unexplicable particularity: there are few pictures of good sharpness of this villa. On the majority of the photos it has a vague form with colors deformed and shapes deflected. Dalat possess a considerable number of old villas,badly reputated for their sinistre inhabitants.Some of them are so sinistre that no one dares to live in those houses for dozens of years. The most scary is Chrysantheme Villa at the very gates of Dalat city ,on the Prenn pass.This old french villa has been a witness of mysterious death of the whole french family lived there, more than 40 years ago.After their death the perished house owners started to haunt the house scaring the inhabitants of the whole city.Starting from 70s no one has dared to live there. Even during the most violent winter colds, homeless people never entered it .Only a couple of years ago some dared businessman from Saigon has bought it for uncertain purpose, as he still doesn’t live there. There is only an old man guarding the old villa and living on a few tips from rare tourists ,who have enough courage to come here. He has installed there an altar to burn perfume sticks for spirits’ peace. Hovewer ,he never turns the light off at night. The ghosts are said to be frequent guests at Dalat oldest hotels:Sofitel Palace and Novotel. But these errant souls seem to be much more friendly than those from the scary villa and only add the piquant touch to the charm of these hotels. If friendly spirits did ever exist they would definitely choose Hang Nga Moon villa on Khuynh Thuc Khac street for their auberge. The Moon villa, known amongst indigenous people and tourists as Crazy House, is probably the most insolite and delirant construction in the South-Eastern Asia. This fantastic guest house was erected 10 years ago by lady- architect Dr Dang Viet Nga. Inspired by natural beauty of the mountainous city the architect planned to build a villa that would harmonise with natural landscapes as much as possible.
The result of her vivid imagination, great inspiration and hard work stands above all possible expectations. Moon villa represents an immense branchy tree made of beton with labytinths of honey-bee house like corridors, sheltering inside 10 rooms . Each of villa’s rooms has its own friendly spirit :figure of Bear ,Eagle, Tiger , honey bee etc placed in the center of each room to guard a sweet sleep of their guests .The whole incredible construction is finished by giant beton giraffe outside. One can broke the eyes trying to find a single sharp corner in the whole building! Bet there is none. The author of this beton fantasy, Dr Dang Viet Nga, an outstanding woman, who had overcome many obstacles, but managed to conquer her fantastic world from banality. Come to the Moon villa and loose all the notion of time and space for a night or two. Just let yourself be captured by the power of fantasy! Some old abandoned villas at the beginning of Hung Vuong street are also said to shelter the unusual inhabitants.Or may be it is just a mountains wind disturbing old wooden floors or the voice of the past that doesn’t want to leave the city. Those visitors who like to find out the authentic features of truly vietnamese culture in Dalat that do exist in fact and live happily with general european like look of the city,should visit Tau Pagoda on Khe Sanh street, where a small miracle-self-go-round wooden table of uncertain provenance found its home.It revolts independently according to visitors orders ,without them even touching it.The most amazing about this is that it understands all languages. Its “younger brother”, another magic table(yes,there are even two) can be found in the small house ,next to Tau pagoda on the left. The lady-owner of the second magic table says her father brought it from Qui Nhon where he had bought it from chinese merchants at the beginning of the last century.The owner is sure that the table brings luck to the family and she is very grateful to this unusual family member made of wood for providing her a constant income from tourists coming to see the local small miracle. The living history in Dalat seems to look through the windows of old villas ,to pass just behind your back, touching you lightly with the hands in velvet gloves. The spirit of the close past here sometimes is so dense that one can catch a perfume of old candles ,the smoke of pinewoods from some old fireplace , a sweet perfume of Chanel, to hear a distant sound of gramophone playing tango, a sound of klaxon of some old Peugeot.
The recent past that hasn’t yet had enough time to leave Dalat, just stopped on the floor cut, deep in its thoughts, to observe its lands for the last time before quitting. Walk along Tran Hung Dao and Hung Vuong streets that still keep old french villas untouched ,at down ,when the darkness just starts to descend on Dalat and you ll feel how the past ,coming together with dense night fog ,fill the air with mystery. The past gives its last ball today in Dalat!Catch the moment to look in to the mysterious face of the living past leaving the city forever as modern life with hi-tech function-focused architecture chase it away. @Copyright protected .Saigon lawyers council .14.12.2009.Nathalie Alexandra Sokolovskaya
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