Colombo

Furniture and paintings

The third part of Monday took us to Colombo city in search of a new bed and mattress for the son’s in-laws for the Pelawatta house.   Driving there was pleasant and the roads were not too busy.  I had heard about the ‘art road’.

Much like Hatton Gardens in London, which is a street lined with jewellers’ shops, all the shops and galleries along ‘art road’ are connected with the arts in some form or other.  There are theatres and performance space, municipal and government offices and departments too -most of which have a uniformed guard at the entrance.

We slowed down to a crawl as we came across paintings for sale hanging in the street along a wall and displayed on the pavement.   Viewed from the slow-moving car the variety of work was extensive and with varying degrees of size, expertise and content.

One painting in particular drew the attention of the five of us.  Set on a black background this painting was of a monk, sitting on the floor, shaved head bowed, shadowed so you could not make out the expression of his face, but the orange/red robes from which his thin muscular limbs protruded, presented a sad figure in contemplation.

Martin Stone, the painter living in Skibbereen, paints pretty much in the same genre.  He manages like the Sri Lankan painter, without painting features or an expression on a face, to convey what the subject is thinking with a haunch of a shoulder or a curve of a limb.  It is a real talent and skill which fascinates me.

When everyone has agreed that we would love the painting in the new house in Pelawatta, Jaia starts negotiations with the painter.   He starts at the equivalent of £45 but as the painting is brought to the kerbside for closer examination we discover a flaw in the canvas which being painted black would be highly visible under a light.  There are also blobs of orangey/red paint splattered in neat little rounds where they shouldn’t be.

Jaia points these out and the price drops to £35 but we explain we would pay the full price for a painting without faults.    The salesman immediately runs off to a spot near the wall that bounds the pavement and from a stack of canvases produces a similar painting, black background with a monk, sitting on the floor, shaved head bowed, shadowed so you could not make out the expression of his face.

I laugh and say there is probably another dozen stacked up waiting to dry.  However the salesman does not bring out any more.   The second painting is so similar to the first but the painter has not managed to paint the crossed legs properly and they appear like bony sticks out of kilter with the rest of the work.

The salesman agrees to remedy the faults of the first painting and we will collect later in the day.

We head further on to Don Carolis & Sons, furniture manufacturers, near the railway station and a river.  It’s one way traffic, and we turn in a loop over a bridge over the river then alongside the river to the shop.   The road is one of the worst roads I have travelled over here but there is a large construction site to the left of us where a notice explains this is a social housing project.  There are masses of buildings under construction and many workers and never a safety helmet in sight.

Despite the rough road to the entrance of the furniture shop, there is a uniformed parking man, and another uniformed man to open the door for us.  A young male sales assistant politely enquires what we are looking for and takes us to the area where the bedroom furniture and beds are displayed.  Most have a tag saying the furniture is sold, but the sales assistant assures us that anything can be made very quickly if they don’t have it available in stock.   We are learning that very quickly means a different timeframe here to that expected in the West.

All the furniture here is either solid mahogany or solid teak.   The substantial wardrobes have locks on the outside and on one third of the inside area there are shelves and another lockable drawer.   The hanging space is divided with a rail inches from the top and then half way down so you wouldn’t, for instance be able to hang a full length dress.   It is possible to remove the bottom rail and a sliding drawer which sits above the bottom rail.

The headboards are solid wood too as is the frame and footboard of the beds.   Light switches, air conditioning controls etc have been set approximately three feet from the floor in the bedrooms in the Pelawatta house.  The reason being you can control everything you need from the bed.

The headboards made by Don Carolis are mostly over three feet tall so a quick phone call has to be made to the builder at the Pelawatta house to double check what space there is for bedside cabinets, again of solid wood, and what is the maximum height the headboard can be.

Don Carolis is the best but the most expensive furniture shop in the country.   Eventually the son’s in-laws are persuaded this is a good investment being made for them.  Jaia is asked if he would like to lay on the mattress on the bed to see if it is comfortable.  ‘It will be because laying on the floor is comfortable too!’ is his reply.

Paying for your purchases takes some time and there is always a delay for one reason or another.   Madam is asked about delivery because if they want the furniture delivered immediately that day there would be a charge, but it could be delivered on Wednesday free of charge, which is the option chosen.

We hit the worst traffic ever on the way back to the Pelawatta house as we pass colonial style buildings.  These are in very poor repair, but the architecture is stunning and speaks volumes of another era.   The area is known as slave island.

The traffic continues to build up and our progress is so slow we miss the curtain shop too.   When there are huge volumes of traffic during rush hour here the police switch off the traffic lights and control the traffic from a centre point in the road.

It’s difficult working out what the policeman’s hand signals actually mean.  It’s a case of following what the vehicle in front does and hoping that the hand stopping your lane does not wave you to a halt so you are the first vehicle in the line and can’t understand what the hand signals are directing you what to do.

Then we have a call from Gate Late the builder.  Have we bought a bed because there is a van at the Pelwatta house trying to deliver a bed!

 

 

 

 

Sewing Circle and what becomes routine

Sumitra’s Singer sewing machine, operated by pedal-power clickety clacks along its track several hours a day.  Customers call and present her with fabrics, mostly new but over the last few days I have met the daughters-in-law of a lady who died last month.  In this country, where nothing is wasted, the mother-in-law’s clothes have been shared amongst the family and two of the daughters-in-law have arrived here with garments for Sumitra to alter.

The said mother-in-law died suddenly but very peacefully in her sleep.  She just didn’t wake up one morning.  I would imagine from what I have heard of her she was well-loved, had fifteen grandchildren and the youngest granddaughter, age 2 was especially loved being the youngest daughter of the youngest son.  Or so the Buddhist daughter-in-law told me who brought along the brand new, beautiful and expensive broderie anglaise material, white and pristine for a Buddhist ceremony she is organising.  This girl was extremely beautiful and became quite emotional speaking of a lady she obviously respected and loved.

The next daughter-in-law I met had a yellow cotton fabric blouse overlaid with a dark blue lace material.  She wanted the mother-in-law’s blouse cut down to fit her size and the collar detail altered.    I watched Sumitra, the mistress of the scabbard knife, dissect the garment in several free hand cuts, this time with a pair of scissors.  Without any measuring tape, but just her eye to measure she sliced inches off the garment, perfectly matched the opposite side of the blouse, the shape of the sleeves, the collar and satisfied all was in order, the Singer sewing machine melded the blouse together again.   (The only person I have ever seen who can do this freehand, without a paper pattern but with such skill is my oldest friend Moyra in Edinburgh).

All the while this was happening the daughter-in-law and I were chatting.  She had perfect English and told me she was Catholic.  Throughout our conversation she kept excusing herself to answer her mobile phone.   ‘Yes!   I am okay – okay!’    Each time she seemed to say the same words.   A little embarrassed she eventually explained.  ‘It’s my husband.  He hasn’t got over his mother dying as she did three weeks ago.  She just didn’t wake up and he is worried that something will happen to me.’   This lady too was well-loved and very beautiful as was her sister who arrived with more clothes to alter this afternoon.

Life quickly becomes routine.  I have been in this house just over a week now, arriving just after lunch last Sunday.   We turn the fans on when the flies come out – and they generally disappear.  Around 5 pm you reach for the Jungle formula spray as the mosquitos are looking for a quick feed. This country is officially malaria-free but there is still dengue fever, which is very serious.  There are strips you can get for the skin said to protect you from dengue fever – cheaper in Singapore, which is almost four hours’ flight away and people go shopping in Singapore or have what they can’t get here shipped from there.   It’s only 1hr 40 mins to Male in the Maldives from Colombo.  Now there’s a thought!  Anyone for Male?

As morning breaks and as dusk falls the routine is bathing and then lighting the oil and offering the flower heads, gathered in the lane, to the Buddha.  Prayers are chanted quietly and solemnly as I type this blog on the dining room glass table in the background.    The Buddha comes first, the husband next, then the children and like many countries the mother is the glue which holds all this together.

Electricity is expensive here.   I have always been accused of having my house lit up like Blackpool Illuminations.  So I am learning to switch off the fans and the air con when I leave a room.   I love the stillness of this country place.  The temperature is plus 30 degrees and I find it very comfortable.    I love that I can get Sensodyne toothpaste in the supermarket and all the other toiletries I brought with me except the Aussie moisture shampoo and the L’Occitane shower gel I use.  You can even get my favourite ice cream, Haagen Daz locally, but it has a competitor now for favourite as the local Elephant brand of ice cream I had for dessert today, mango flavoured had chunks of the fruit in it.  Yum!

Tomorrow Palawetta and the Buddhist blessing.

The Move to Pelawatta

Tomorrow’s planned move to Pelawatta will only take place for my son’s father in law.    The rest of us will move in later in the week.  Jaia will stay on site as security and to comply with the Auspicious Day advice from the Monk.

Yesterday’s pressurised day ended very late for all of us – we the parents waiting for said son and daughter to return with news of what had transpired in the new house.   And they arrived back here very late indeed.

A different set of plumbers arrived on Friday and yesterday disclosed they had discovered that all the pipes laid by the previous set of plumbers were leaking so all pipes have or are being replaced and redirected.

The ceremony will still happen tomorrow and we will all travel to the house for that.   Cleaners are in the Pelawatta house today and furniture and furnishings which are being taken from this house are being dismantled and stacked ready for the early arrival of the lorry/van tomorrow morning.

We are getting to the end of a long road and what adds to the pressure is the hour and a half drive from this house to and from the Pelawatta house each morning and night.   Lots of lessons have been learned in the renovation of this house.  During the planned building at Haputele, my son has said he will stay on site through the whole process.

We have a lady who comes in to clean in this house three times a week.   I discovered the reason why the €3 per yard for the beautiful material was considered expensive and why the £45 for dinner for five of us was also thought of as expensive.  The cleaning lady is paid the equivalent of £5 per day.   She takes two buses to get here and we only know if she is going to arrive when she makes an early morning phone call.   Whether she is going to come or not depends on her husband.  He is a lorry driver, and doesn’t know she works here or anywhere else for that matter.    She waits until she knows he has gone to work and the coast is clear to set out.   Sumitra has a friend who will employ her when we no longer need her here.    She is a tiny pleasant woman and I noticed yesterday brought her own lunch, wrapped up firstly in newspaper and then in a plastic bag.    There is always plenty of food in this house but she may have her own reasons for bringing her own lunch.

Poya Day is a Buddhist Holy Day also known as Uposatha.   It is celebrated as a holiday once a month when there is a full moon.   There was such a Poya Day the day before the wedding last August two years ago.  The hotel staff at the Negombe Beach Hotel had warned us ahead of time that they could not serve and we could not buy alcohol on a Poya Day and some of the lads had prepared by buying champagne and crates of beer etc.  However the Saturday night high jinks went on a lot longer than anticipated and there was precious little alcohol left for the next day, if any.

Close friends, family and rugby club mates, who had travelled out for the wedding joined my son and myself for his last meal as a free man, at a restaurant set back one row from the beach front.   The restaurant owner apologetically explained about the Poya Day and how he could not serve alcohol, which we all understood.   For whatever reason, he had a change of heart and politely handed us a cocktail menu – as we were all tourists he didn’t consider cocktails as alcohol – was his reasoning.   So the image stays with me of all these burly rugby players sat twirling cocktail sticks and paper umbrellas around the cocktail glasses.   They had quite a night.

A practicing Sinhalese Buddhist observes a Poya Day by adding a further two rules to the five they should practise on a daily basis.   They should not lie, commit adultery, do deliberate harm to anyone, kill a living creature, or eat meat or drink alcohol.  On Poya Days the further two rules are they should visit the temple and sit on the ground remembering how humble they are and they should keep their arms close to their body so they do not wave their arms which could hurt anyone.  Apologies if I have any of this wrong as this is as it has been explained to me.   Happy if anyone corrects me.

I think much as religious observances have been relaxed around the world, Poya Days are now seen as public holidays and families take the opportunity to spend time together – which is what it is all about anyway.

 

 

Pentathlon

We are now into the third full day and gradually recovering from jet lag and the excesses of the past couple of weeks.

Gate the builder is now known as Late Gate- but there are hopes that the Pelawatta House might be ready for us to move into in the next couple of days, besides which he is a very nice man. Sure the completion date has long past and there have been changes to the renovation plans which lets Gate off the hook somewhat. All major works are completed, and who needs a kitchen anyway.

The kitchen is being redesigned and re-quoted as I write. We have an outside kitchen already in situ as well as an outside sink etc. So we won’t starve in the meantime. But I won’t be holding my breath for the inside kitchen to be completed any time soon.

 

slfp2The huge fish in the L-shaped pond which takes up a good deal of the living room/dining room in this house, has yet again just tried to throw itself out of the water. It’s a good two feet in length with a broad beam and makes an almighty slap and splash as it hits the surface of the pond. I bravely checked to see if there was a gecko or a snake fancying it for supper. I can’t see anything that resembles a snake or gecko in or near the ponds. Imagine me looking for a snake and gecko ! Trouble is I don’t know what I would do if there were one in here.

Wesl-fp-1 have a Doberman dog in the grounds. There are larger geckos here – not quite as big as the dog but I fancy the dog would sort out any gecko or snake. Mind you this is a Buddhist house so killing another creature is against their way of life. But I would still call the dog in.

There are geckos here but they are feathery spindly creatures only four to six inches long at least those who live within the rooms of the house are. I came across loads of a similar size and colour when Maureen and I were in Cairns in Australia and they eat insects and not people so they are good to have around.

 

 

Pentathlon was a television programme I watched on the first day here. It was in the local language Sinhala, although schoolchildren here have to learn Tamil and English as well. The programme was a competition between two schools, one from Colombo and one from near where the family have land in the tea plantations.

The competing school children were aged about fifteen upwards and there was great angst if a question or a part of the competition was missed. Throwing a ball in a basketball net, in one section of the competition allowed the competitor to answer a question or catching a ball in another. The inhalation of breath and the drama was audible if one of your team either missed the chance or answered the question incorrectly. This was competition taken extremely seriously. In another part of the programme a board with different coloured sections, much like trivial pursuit, produced a choice of say, arts, sport, science etc, depending upon where the dart hit the board. And there was an opportunity to double up your points on a section you were confident about answering that topic.

Watching this with three native Sinhala speakers and my very competitive son was hilarious as the three locals wanted to answer the questions themselves, whilst said son, when he could not decipher what was being said on screen, was anxious for the others to translate.

What impressed me most of all about the competing teenagers was gentle and mannerly they were dressed in their school uniforms and gleaming white shirts, ties worn by boys and girls alike. The girls mostly had their long hair tied back from their faces, into shiny dark plaits with not a wisp of hair astray.

I had a Rotti for breakfast the other morning. It’s a pancake made with flour and coconut. Delicious altogether and I wasn’t paying attention when it was being prepared but mean to watch carefully the next time.

We are awakened each morning by the bread van as it plays Viennese Waltz music from 5.30 am. The van is a brightly painted tuk tuk and it spins around the red sandy country lanes several times a day. The daughter-in-law bought me a tea loaf to try this morning. Light as a feather and with a shiny glazed top.

We have other music that starts from early on but that is for another day and a tale to be told when we move from here.

Sri Lankan Blog First Full Day

I learned three words in the local language on Monday 19th September. The first two were quite important, ‘wamma’ is left and ‘dakauna’ is right. It was a bit daunting even as a back seat passenger in the car as we sped at snail’s pace through the mid-day Colombo traffic to hear my ‘dakauna’ companion say ‘wamma’ to the driver and the person in the front passenger seat direct him ‘dakauna’.

In the event we did a quick ‘dakauna’ running the gauntlet of the oncoming traffic and ploughed our way across the three lanes coming towards us. The cars, tuk tuks, bicycles, lorries and limos vie for space scattering themselves across the traffic lanes, each sneaking into the narrowest of spaces, gaining inches then yards ahead of the vehicle in the neighbouring lane.

This is accompanied by horns tooting, some loud and fulsome, others light and tinny but all add to the cacophony of sound which is a busy day in this bustling city.

There are five of us in the vehicle, the married couple, one complete set of parents and myself on the wing. We are shopping for a cooker, a fridge/freezer, dishwasher, a drinks cooler fridge and maybe the odd tv and aircon units.

There are deals to be had everywhere but one suspects the bottom price, or the especially discounted price was the price all along and we are just entertained by the flashing fingers which dance across the percentages on the calculators to triumphantly produce a figure in keeping with that “which madam had in mind?”

There’s no such thing as parking the car and walking across the street or the sidewalk to any of the stores. We drive in to the parking lot and a uniformed employee directs us to an appointed parking space.  A different uniform clads the man who opens the shop door for us. Smartly dressed assistants, all male in the electrical shops, enquire if they can help and we are escorted to view the appropriate appliances.

The Singer shop has all Beko appliances, although you can pop next door to the Sony shop which may just have the smart tv I need for my room. Another company we visit has several different brands of goods, similar to visiting Thornhill Electrical in Skibbereen. But they don’t carry the range that Thornhills would. We three women each have different opinions as to what would be suitable for the new house. In the second multi-goods shop the two mothers are offered a seat on a leather sofa. Was this a kind gesture because we looked tired and worn out from shopping or was it to remove us from the debate?

No final decision has been made by the bride but I suspect the Beko shop with their courteous manner and copious discounts may well be the winner.

I can’t eat chilli or curries so feeding me is a problem. My experience in my previous visits here has been that restaurants and cafes really really don’t know how to do something to eat that does not have a chilli secreted in the food somewhere. (But I was proved wrong late last night). Yesterday’s lunch, of a beetroot and carrot sandwich – don’t ask – almost had me fooled until the last bite and there was I trying not to wheeze as the chilli caught my breath. It might just have been the chilli flavoured knife used to cut the bread or cut the sandwich but the chilli was there.

The fruit of course is magnificent and mangoes and watermelons are so different when they are just picked and eaten. The hand of four inch long fat bananas today was as flavoursome as you could wish. I think someone told me here are over 20 different varieties of bananas here.      It’s very dry here at the moment and the coconut trees outside this house have not produced fruit. They cost all of 25 cents to buy!   But it is hard to spend even that small amount when you are used to them for free off your trees.

Visiting family, doing homework with the daughter in law’s nieces, introduced me to my third local word of the day ‘latseni’ which means beautiful. The three girls are beautiful, each in their own way, and the middle girl has a reading age I would assess as age 13 and she is five months short of age 8. Study is so important here.

We were late driving home and stopped at Chapter One restaurant. There is a menu for drinks, a separate one for starters and a separate one for main courses. I studied each one carefully but there seemed to be nothing without a chilli or a local fire-driven curry. In the end we did the sensible thing and asked the manager. He said of course they would leave the chillies out. And they did! I had the most enjoyable dinner of spaghetti with mushrooms, thinly sliced chicken breasts and parmesan and a tomato sauce. It was delicious and the five of us ate for £45 – which my Sri Lankan companions said was expensive. I was just glad I finally could eat something chilli-free.

Next time I will tell you about the Pentathlon and Rotti.