O Night, Divine

Joyful joy joy Christmukkah in Newport here, where my bags of clothes and presents all got lost on the flight (USAir out of Philadelphia is like that, always) and they finally arrived here at 12:05 AM on the 26th, several borrowed dress-up outfits later... the worst of it was actually that I really very much wanted to give those gifts, as that is the central appeal of Christmas.

But then I realize that there are real problems in the world. I was already feeling mournful over the tsunami, and wishing I had some proper memorials to attend, when I heard about the shooting of Pararajasingham at effing MIDNIGHT MASS. It hurts my heart (and this is a measly little emotional handwringing that I'm going to do here) to think about the advent of war, or something like it, just a year from the tsunami. As Indi says, no one really says the word "war" any longer, because what would be the point?

Over the appropriately lavish and beautiful Christmas dinner this evening, I felt hollow with guilt inside the wine's flush and the conversation's bubble: not that we (in our family, or our country) are such bad people or that we purposely choose waste and ignorance, no, just the central pointless bitterness of It's So Unfair.

I enjoyed (hugely) this weekend's celebrations, the service at church last night ("We pray for our president, George... May the Lord have mercy.") and the caroling, the midnight bells, the eggnog in my morning tea, the lovely soft sweaters that the Jenkins women are always giving each other. To hear of a(nother) major assassination in SL and the slow stalemated slipperyslope business there is just a tremor in the heart of my hopes for the season and the New Year: that we might have had a bad enough year, as a whole, to fix some things in the future.

Meant to write recently and in fact I have two posts half-written but I haven't had a day off work for the last two weeks. It's been wall-to-wall retail/mail order, which has forever poisoned my love for hokey holiday tunes and padded self-stick envelopes. On the other hand, now it's over and I appreciate the hours of leisure that much more. There was plum pudding tonight, and the weather is nice. Never mind the sorely chapped hands and bleary eyes and poor skin of the last three weeks.

I am lucky and got some great presents: holiday sweaters, two types of Lapsang Souchong, an insulated travel mug, and a supersoft towel. There should be some productive/expressive way to be grateful for the blessings in my life and the people who make it so. It is hard to explain how I miss SL at this point--suffice it to say that there is no one to remember with, here. I miss it.

The miracle of the Christ Child, thinks the Jewish girl (upon some churchtime reflection) is not about virginity--a textual misinterpretation--or about God's love made flesh, it's about the trite and unfathomable truth that one person from the dregs of poverty can really make a difference in the world. I haven't a lot more in order to say, so: good night, and peace be with you.



I am painted (red) and moved in. Managed to break my dresser en route from storage locker to truck and so Carpentry Project looms. Other than that, it's really fun to unpack all my toys and silly art and whatnot. This is a lame post, just something to let the folks at home (?) know what's what.

Would be happy to hear from anyone... I got another bookstore job, having lost the previous bookstore job. The new one is doing mail-order Penn-abilia for rich Penn grads, and kind of noxious. I will be learning the finer points of polo shirt design. I want a job with some actual social merit. Be on that ASAP.

More soon, as I now have internet!



I have a bike in Boston, but it's a big heavy clunker. I want to take it to Philadelphia to trade-in/sell and buy another used bike. However it costs a whopping $80 to check a bike on a plane! Insane. This for a bike that will probably net me under $50 in trade-in value. Now I have to go sell the bike in Somerville today.

Clearly, I have reverted to the American concept of "pain in the ass." I ask myself, why is it such a trial? There is no bureaucracy to wrangle, no monkeys, no breakdown on a dusty potholed "road" miles from anywhere. Just the inconvenience of thwarted consumption: an affront to American culture.

Maybe my nerves are just short from last night's nonsensical fury. A dear friend has gone off the deep end aright aright. I roar, I weep, I shake my fist, but I can't do nothin.

Thanksgiving was, in retrospect, a sweet and satisfying long (long) tour of family, geography, gastronomy, and leisure activities. I won a game of Scrabble, and lost a game of Anagrams; I went euphoric over Ellsworth Kelly at the Hirshhorn and teary-eyed over Armagnac to see Uncle Mark so giddily pacific; I inventoried the lives of many a sister, cousin, and aunt (and male relations too) and discovered again the joy of knowing these people.

Not since I came back to America have I felt so sure of who I am and where I come from. I wasn't upset over the question, not at all, but still it was lovely to find that there is this whole coherent social world and family history of which I am centrally a part. Plus, they all got my back, you know?

Off to spit-polish the handlebars and beg for a good resale value...


expletive deleted

Across the planet, four and a half million Sinhalese voters asked Mahinda Rajapakse to stand up, wave, smile, and shake hands with the JVP for the next six years. I am reasonably livid over this. Western hemisphere, I don't expect you to understand, but this is bad news: let's just hope the economy doesn't tank any further and the war doesn't break out. Read indi and kottu for more/better, as I'm too Philadelphian to plumb the depths...

Also, sorry to those that I shouted four-letter words at this morning. Bearing bad news is rough.


merrily we roll along

...back in New York for a brief visit with mother and Jack (who is, let me say, fabulous) and having some crazy dreams about hostage situations and needing to pee and effing awesome careers. It's really fun to enjoy the east coast public transport matrix: one can get pretty much anywhere from Boston to Washington without walking very far or paying very much, and it's cool to swish about with only metrocards, farecards, tokens, a couple bills, and a lean-mean backpack.

I found a place to live, though it's cold and in West Philly, two characteristics I didn't want. It is redeemed through fascinating roommates and incredibly cheap rent ($150, no kiddin). This means I can save up for the adventures of next year. Now, if only I had a real job. Got started with the one job, hawking snake-oil at Essene Market (ie vitamins section) and reaping the free-stuff whirlwind, and briefly enjoyed the other one, at a bookstore, before the owner decided I wasn't a good fit for the place. All right then.

Oh, and last weekend I was in DC with Ross and a massive and ever-changing posse of friends. It bears proper documentation, but we attended many food events and picked up (and I mean picked up) a new friend, at one of the more amazing food events. Or rather, I picked him up. I have finally earned myself (and claimed) the long-sought title of brazen hussy.

I am so pleased to come back and find everyone in good health and happiness. Seriously: my friends look great, and have beautiful hearts, and everyone's shaken off the (spiritual) pallor of college. Except the ones who've not graduated, but the date's fast approaching!

Must get off Jack's computer so that La MaMa (a joke I can only make in New York) can use. Will remain sparse in the posting until December, when I move into the cold chummy confines of 49xx Hazel Ave.


i exist

but have been away from computers with proper access. Sorry.
however, I do have:
2 jobs
1 cold
lots of friends (yay)
and -1 places to live

Which is to say that I am living on Ross's couch, and also consuming his baked goods (living on his baked goods, as he says, over my shoulder, stoppit Ross!), and also annoyed at the silly people with the awesome house-vibe who decided they want to live with some male person instead of me. There oughtta be a law.

However, in the positive world, Scooter Libby got indicted, and sceinttsis hvae dvcioseerd taht pploee can uentdsarnd wdros whit scadlbemr ltreets pcfrlety, as lnog as the frsit and lsat lretets are in the smae palce. It gives us hope.


she's leaving because she really wants to

I am not happy about this, but it's time...
In five hours, I board SriLankan for Heathrow.
Twelve hours later, I land in London, gawp at the white people, and hang out for three hours buying duty-free chocolate.
Then I fly to DC, where my father will tell me the latest crap to come out of the Bush administration on the way home from the airport.

As emotional states go this one is pretty pure: sorrow, loss. I'm not particularly worried or nervous about life-after-Lanka, culture shock, and the like, as I've been through it often enough. I would prefer that this were a visit home rather than a finality (of sorts); I want to go on living here. What to do. Returning to Colombo was a bittersweet relief; I feel so at home, in place. There are possibilities of all kinds for me here, the revelations of which (even just in the past two days!) make my head all wobbly.

...the rest of the India trip was fabulous, however, and kept me from brooding. Predictably, I especially enjoyed Kol Nidre at the Pardesi synagogue in Cochin, and fabric-shopping generally. Must return and visit more northerly places, though Lisa reports that on her trip (same time as mine, but in Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) she was constantly hassled and groped. Cause for a burkha. My experience was the opposite, though I did get two [very respectful] proposals.

And? Anyone whom I've not gotten to fare-thee-well, please consider it done. All the best and I'll see you as soon as I can. Anyone on the East Coast, I'll see you quite soon. Drop a line for tour dates. Much love to all.


no, thank you

...am starting to feel like a parrot, when every single person I meet tries to sell me something. Luckily (for all concerned) I am in good moods these days and therefore cheerily tweet the above rather than getting all bitchy. They are so good at the pitch, though! Amazing. Several thousand years of trade with the West and they've got me down pat: just look! student prices! free gifts! no commissions! etc etc. At one point today a guy just kept pestering and so I had to put on Angry Voice (for dogs and children, generally) and draw myself up to my full Angry Size and, you know, stop the madness.

Damn, the clerk in this Satyam I Way is totally hogging the fan. Brain melting.

The dodgy juice stands are a wonderful frequent treat but I wish I could figure out how to tell them no salt and very little sugar. Every lime juice tastes like a rehydration potion, which is like warm concentrated Gatorade.

Not much to say as I'm totally amidst the sightseeing crush. Madurai is cram-jam full of shops, touts, etc; it feels like triumph to get some sights seen at all! Also have done lots of reading; the theme seems to be lonely/angry young women and their depressing lives. (The Bell Jar, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, She's Come Undone; the exception is Dan Savage's adoption memoir.)

Next on the tourplan: a castle! and a mara wisaalaya temple, which has a current festival! Trying to take photos of the awesome temple trannies, who dress as Hanuman and Vishnu and Durga! (Somehow, a man dressed as Vishnu is a transvestite, regardless of the gender lines.) Also, no more shopping.



It's really strange how the Internet is the same everywhere you go. Where everything else is odd and confusing, I feel that familiar sites are almost too easy, too simple. It makes them seem childlike. They should have weird foreign writing and colour-schemes.

Now in Pondicherry after two days in Chennai. I was told by a nice lady on the plane that two days was insufficient, but I was not sad to go--aside from leaving my lovely hosts, the Banerjees. The city is flat and low-lying and lacks grandeur (though not large concretey buildings). I did get to attend a fancy-schmancy art auction, which was swank and lavishly catered and fun; also enjoyed the Snake Park (many bored crocodiles) and Marina Beach and the gorgeous bronzes at the museum. I had some delicious paan too.

Pondy is sort of the Indian Riviera. Once French, now merely full of charming bicycles. I have one, #8 from my guesthouse, and with giant sunglasses and sweeping skirt I feel pretty damn cool. Tomorrow I'm cycling 10km up the coast to see an "experiment in international living" aka mondo huge commune type thing. One of the big deals in this town is the Sri Aurobindo ashram, which seems like a nice place with a good set of philosophies. They own half the town, including my lovely ocean-view guesthouse.

Someone on my Chennai city tour (the guide talked as long about snakebite remedies as he did about anything else) asked if travelling alone gets boring. I don't feel bored so much as un-purposeful. Part of the fun of travelling is executing plans in a confusing setting. Getting on the correct bus is a triumph, but not if you've no one to share it with. Also, it's better to have another set of opinions and observations going on alongside one; I feel sort of deprived with only my own (un-novel; they're mine) thoughts for company.

Actually the most difficult thing about being alone is that I have major problems figuring out when I'm hungry, and ordering in unfamiliar settings. Have to work on plunging in--typical Rebecca. I'm not getting harassed at all, which is so, so nice. The worst it's been is that the airport taxi-wallah laughed really hard at my awful Tamil, and asked me questions in very broken English, and kept saying "I very like! Soooooper!" and grinning and telling me he had no girlfriend. If that's as bad as it gets, awesome. The beggars are more aggressive here, though--they even grab your arm. The flipside of no harassment is that people are less friendly here; not rude (like real French people) but pretty uninterested.

Mm, enough of this. Am thirsty. Off to find some dodgy roadside juice stand and take my chances.


illin' illai

Got better, though the respiratory drainage is taking its time. I am hurrying it along with chillies and (Cypriot, though the Aussie was better) OJ. I am running around putting things in boxes and leaving the boxes with people who promise to make them appear (magically!) in Boston. I have given some of these people large sums of money, which should expedite the magic. I have also made loving farewells to the boxes, in case I never see them again.

Many thinkings but mostly it's just the packing, the sneezing/dripping, and the India-scheming. Trying not to drown in melancholia; worries about money are helping with that as I can only experience one emotion at a time, and salli nae trumps hari dukay, on the same principle that says that the proles must have bread before revolution.

Besides that, what? Nothing, really. I feel as if I am lurching into a void, what with no job house plans winter-coat. It doesn't feel like "going home," it feels like "leaving home." Plus, I have new Colombo friends, and job offers here. What to do.


I don't want your pity

...but I've fallen ill. The last time was sorta flu-esque, in Jaffna, in May; now it's an obvious sinus/respiratory thing. I wheeze, I sneeze, I drink liquids.

The real pain of it is that I can't tell if I've got a fever and I can't bloody read Anushka's old-skool mercury thermometer! victim of technological progress! ...and it's so hot that I feel I must be roasting to a crisp. This brings on fears of malaria (probably not, I don't feel cold), dengue (probably not, I'd have nausea or aches at least) and bird flu (definitely not, hasn't come to Sri Lanka). I can't take a cold shower for the heat, because if I do have a fever that would be bad.

Well, what to do. I have tasty Betadine gargle potion (I thought it was just for cuts, but no!) and big ol' 500mg vitamin C tablets and books and movies and "The L Word" which is so amusing! That show is easily 25% PG-13 lesbian sex montages (oh great, now I'm going to get page views from people looking for lesbian sex montages) with intense kissing and boobies and clenched O-faces. The show features wealthy skinny white lesbians who look like male fantasies, even the most butch ones. There's a token black character, who looks white, and a token straight male character, whose young anorexic writer girlfriend is seduced by the loveliest of the dykeflock. The writer seems to have a total breakdown around this, having somehow reached her early 20s in a creative field without ever meeting any gay people. Ah, television.

Also finishing my veg eating article. It'll get posted as soon as Tyrant Editor (ha, totally not the case) says I can, which will probably be after the magazine comes out. And sweating, and drinking Australian orange juice. When that's done, I'll switch to Cypriot! Thrills. Meant to go get my India visa today but I couldn't deal with errands in this state. Ugh.


calling vegetarians and our friendly co-eaters

I have been (willingly, happily) suckered into writing an article for the LT on veg eating in Colombo. This will be fun but would be more so if they were going to buy me a ton of free meals. As is I get a couple free meals; that'll do, pig, that'll do.

There's a thread at Indi's blog on this already but I'd like to reiterate a broadcast call for Colombo denizens and interested parties to tell me where to go and what to eat. Please! Post there or here, and you may be immortalized in print!* If something's been mentioned already on that thread, go ahead and mention it again if it's great; I won't have the time or money to visit a bunch of places so I have to rely on previous knowledge, hearsay, and speculation. Hooray for principled journalism.

Am back from Nillambe, which was lovely. More later on that, but let me suggest that those meditating there in future be mindful of the bus journey back to Kandy, which was nauseating and more than usually jammed for a SLan bus. It put a dent in the whole spiritual-peace thing. I recommend returning by balloon or perhaps dirigible.

*first I typed 'immoralized' but, ha ha, I probably won't be doing that to anyone, especially not in print in a public forum like the LT. Ahem.


this chinese proverb originated from the netherlands

As the countdown to my public-speaking catastrophe ticks, I spend the afternoon blithely consuming the American Center's fast free internet. Yummy.

Isn't it annoying that Blogger is doing maintenance whilst I have access? I can't fix formatting and whatnot. Also I can't figure out the printing costs and don't want to ask for fear that the prim librarian types will point accusing fingers at the "please restrict usage to ONE HOUR" sign and then boot this four-hours-plus weasel off the machine and out of the aircon. On the other hand there's nobody else in the joint aside from the staff and the embassy cultural officers in their "Public Diplomacy" offices and embarrassing outfits. (Really, countrymen!)

Conclusions to be reached, with internet consumption:

1. Indi is very, very hungry. Three posts about food?!

2. Bloggers would make lasting peace in Sri Lanka if only someone with actual power would listen to us/them. See thread at nittewa.blogspot.com for details of a proposed peace plan. On the other hand, if someone with actual power was listening, we'd all be getting shot.

3. All my American friends are getting increasingly riled over the Katrina debacle and are starting to more or less handwringingly blog about what to do. Some are philosophizing, some are ignoring. I don't want to sound nasty about any of these approaches, but more lead-in to conversations about how we should be Saving the World (or southern Louisiana) is probably not going to make us feel better.

Also in hurricane response opinions--mine:

The efforts to create a refugee/people-driven rebuilding and relief distro organization are snowballing like mad, which is awesome, and I seriously hope that it works. I also hope that the group doesn't resort to crude development-bashing as a solution to poverty and its ills.

This tragedy should not be envisioned as an inspiring kickstart to all the movements against all the injustices at play in New Orleans (before and after). That is poor logic at worst and shoddy planning at best. Yes, the grassroots needs money; yes, people need vision and hope and utopian dreams. We should set realistic goals, though; otherwise you just get rhetoric, failures, and cynicism.

For example, one site states that money for school rebuilding should go through channels run by people who've been creating good charter schools in NO for years. Sounds like a good idea, but these people are going to need to work on their own schools before they can oversee a districtwide revolution. This is definitely a case for local governance, but also a space for outside expertise.

I guess a lot of this is filtered through ongoing tsunami frustrations here. Of course, the tsunami survivors have basically been forgotten in the National Question rhetoric now surrounding the election biz. You'd be hard pressed to find tsunami 'news' in the papers aside from the very occasional key-handing-over ceremony.

Meanwhile Mahinda has bent over and kissed the JVP's tush, and Ranil is still mad sketchy (and probably unelectable) and the LTTE and SLA escalate killings daily. Nothing, of course, has changed in Colombo.


everybody is somebody, sometimes

The glare of perverse celebrity has worn off, or more accurately tailed off with the cessation of the hate-mail (see comments below). I'm back to an ordinary sense that no one is really paying attention to me, which is good.

One of the major themes of thought I've been having about leaving is that it will be hard to go from being Someone to being no-one. That sounds a whole lot more arrogant than I mean: I don't feel that I'm especially important to/in Sri Lanka, at all, but I am certainly more novel. Additionally, because it's a small place and because I'm correspondingly more part of the elite here, I have friends who edit major publications and direct major plays and are generally Known. Aside from my power-pals, I am more of an enigma and a local oddity to many, many ordinary people (mostly in Kandy although the Colombo 'hood cops are starting to smile waggishly).

In any case, this all adds up to a sense that I am going not just from a small pond to a large one, but from a delicate and complex web of social situation and responsibility and outsider license to, well, who knows? Have more thoughts on this but must go meet some folks for to see a play. I am proud to have the friends I do. Is that snobby or loving? It feels warm and kind.


End Times

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and surrounding has been pretty well described by major news media and other bloggers, so I'll skip it. I haven't seen TV coverage of course, which means that it's that much less real to me. The tsunami was harder and worse to live through, being closer and in places I actually had visited and could visualize.

Is is not amazing, though, that there were SO MANY disaster scenarios that predicted this? And is it not criminal that the Bush Admin had basically gutted FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers funding to pay for Iraq? And is it a coincidence that in a majority Black city the scale of the disaster was under-predicted, even as it was unfolding, and under-appreciated until they had to evacuate the Superdrome? Perhaps this is the easy response of a person (me) who's been trained to look for prejudice to a disaster that stymies the blame game. Any disaster does that, but I claim the right to ask, what could have been better or worse about this?

Having dabbled in disaster-relief and disaster-mitigation-planning this year (tsunami/dam project) I know that in America these events may be catastrophic and costly but they are not usually chaotic and fatal in a way comparable to this. Not at all. That was something we talked about post-tsunami, that Time magazine write about; the First World has systems and people set up to manage these crises, with the result that more is predicted and more is prevented. Also the emergency response is coordinated. Obviously.

I can't imagine why, with so many predictions and speculations about the conditions for New Orleans flood disasters, this wasn't seen as clearly as Katrina itself, whirling around in the Gulf for five days like a demented Eastern Bloc figure skater. That's what the name sounds like, anyway. Those hit hardest are the poorest of the poor, as everywhere, but the apparent blind eye turned by the Powers That Be to their plight (hundreds told to head to a convention center for relief arrived to find no relief and no coordinating authorities there) is tragic and gives me pause when I think about the role of the American government in protecting our people.

The only thing I can imagine in terms of a governemental bias, besides a persistent racial prejudice that says heavily Black areas can be neglected with respect to just about anything, is the perhaps more damning (and I mean that) belief by Bush and Co. that God and America have a special cozy relationship. The man does think so, I'm sure of it. Therefore natural disasters are God's Will, and additionally fit nicely with the current aura of contemporary millenarian End Times fantasies.

It's quite simple to neglect disaster planning and public schooling and economic responsibility and foreign policy and whatever else when you (and a sizable number of your constituents) actually think that the Rapture is coming. The Administration has been quite silent, it seems, on the topic of the Gaza pullout; maybe they're discouraged as Jews must hold the Holy Land for the Antichrist to arise! Not sure if the Antichrist is looking for ancient or 1949 or 1967 or 2005 borders.

In any case it wouldn't surprise me if they see the past year-of-natural-disasters as another Sign. To them, the Day After Tomorrow isn't about climate change or oil prices or transportation policy, no, it's about punishing the deviants (including, um, the rest of the world) who didn't line up for Jesus, Coca-Cola, white America, Iraq liberation, vanilla heterosexuality, and Bush/Cheney 2004.

On a more personal note, I left Kandy yesterday (going back in two weeks, ha) and have settled in some nice people's house in Colombo. I'm down the street from the best theatre and gallery in the city! And close to the embassy pool. They have a yellow Lab puppy. My cell phone works again. I am starting to see myself in America in six weeks, which is daunting but exciting. I don't feel in-between yet, but I will soon. Going to India (Chennai-Pondicherry-Ellora-Cochin-Trivandrum, I think) on the 25th of September for two weeks and I actually bought a ticket and everything. Hooray planning.


laugh out loud

I want to play this game, preferably whilst drunk: The Exciting Game of Career Girls. You can't make this stuff up!

In high school Annie had this hilarious 80s game involving boys one might potentially date, with these hideous photos of the supposedly 'hunky' boys. Most of them had chunky-knit sweaters and names like Troy and Derek. I just watched Troy (again: escapism) and my conclusion is that a) Brad Pitt really is a rather ordinary-looking guy, b) men look great with long curly hair and eyeliner and lots of gold jewelry, and c) giant battle scenes are hilarious if you continually remind yourself that they're all just randomly pretending to whack one another.

Leisure time activities today have been seriously lacking in quality. I need a new novel now that Moby-Dick is fin. (Okay that was funny. laugh already!)
go postal

Nothin much to say, but I just realized that it's a good time to tell people not to send me mail at ICES anymore. If you've been sending me actual physical mail, you are a blessed soul and you are accruing major points, redeemable towards hugs, home-cooked meals, vodka tonics, back massages, and other shamefully, embarrassingly sentimental rewards for being a kindred spirit and bosom friend. If you haven't been sending me mail, do so now! If you have been receiving mail from me and not sending return mail, you are damned.

But, yeah: no more with the Kandy address, as I'm moving to Colombo in about a week and a half. I will be back in Kandy in mid-September to give a talk at ICES, so no worries if something takes a bit of a while to get here, but from now on:

7 Flower Terrace
Colombo 07,
Sri Lanka.

Bosom friend points are still available!
Some people are way in the red on this one, so I suggest massive postal investiture!


one badass dude
(on the lighter side)

Went this afternoon to scenic Katugastota with Haakon, Lisa, and Joelline (new girl in town: French, NGO work, maybe taking my apartment) to watch Mangal Pandey: The Rising, the big shiny new Hindi film. It’s open all over the world. It’s good, go see it!

Why, pray tell, did we so scoutingly voyage to Katugastota, in reality a squalid crossroads? The film did not feature Shahrukh Khan. It did feature Haakon Aasprong, Norwegian social anthropologist and world traveler extraordinaire. He got picked up (twice by agents of the same film) on the hard streets of Mumbai while visiting there and stuffed into an East India Company Raj uniform, stood around waiting for a long time, and got to see Rani Mukherjee and other babe-a-licious gals in sexy semitransparent kit playing prostitutes. He got shoved by the male star, Amir Khan, as part of the scene. We couldn’t really see him.

The rest of the film was good too, heavily featuring white people speaking Hindi (inspiring!) and Amir Khan’s mustache (impeccable) and some more-than-usually scandalous love scenes. It’s about the Company sepoy (native soldier) uprising, led by one Mangal Pandey that predated India’s independence struggles by over fifty years. Violence both criticized and glorified, women both commodified and emancipated. Very beautifully shot. Amir Khan is a good-looking man and often shirtless.

I think more men should wear earrings, as proven by both Mr Khan and the perahera’s legions of dangly-jangly’d Kandyan dancers. They accentuate the ears and neck, sensual places on men as well as on women. A pair, not one: one is lopsided and creates problems of queer signification.

However, the above title refers not to Mangal Pandey, but to Mr Aasprong, who is recovering from devotional firewalking. Read all about it at globen cafe and, gosh, weep. When I was an ISLE student one of our TAs, a young atheist Lankan archaeologist, told us about his experiences doing all the different bodily mortifications (firewalking, hook-piercing, etc) without faith in order to prove that one didn’t have to be possessed by a god to do these feats. I say, you’re definitely possessed by something!

Haakon inspires me to pursue a career in being a Hindi film extra. (No firewalking please.) A friend of his even got to be a dancer in a scene filmed at the Taj Mahal! Forget Broadway, Mr. Goldstone...

“War is not an option”
reflections on the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar*

This is one of those times when I don’t know for whom I’m writing. I could write for the stateside crowd about who died and who killed him and why it’s important, because the international media isn’t doing a very good job reporting on that. The Lankan blog crowd (see www.kottu.com) is mostly discussing the apportionment of blame, though media everywhere have fingered the LTTE, without clear proof thus far. I'm going for some of each.

The shooting has provoked more (as if there could possibly be more) debate on who and what the LTTE are. The brilliant recent article by Philip Gourevitch (Aug 6 New Yorker?) on the conflict’s history and parameters clearly and properly depicts the LTTE as a horrifically violent, dysfunctionally fascist guardian of “the Tamil people.” The group’s development is basically a chronicle of them killing anyone who isn’t literally with them, especially other Tamil radicals and also Tamil moderates. Still, they control the lands and lives of over a million people in the island, and have quite an elaborate ‘state’ set up in their territory (as defined by the 2002 ceasefire). No one except wacko Sinhala supremacist hardline hawks would claim that the Government (GoSL) shouldn’t negotiate with them, or that peace is achievable without their concession and agreement.

On the other hand, GoSL has committed more than its fair share of horrific war and human-rights crimes. Indi wrote on his website that ‘terrorism’ is by definition the activity of a non-state group. I couldn’t disagree more. Think Milosevic, Rwanda, Third Reich, Herod... the reason we remember these more than, say, Sierra Leone or Armenia (arguably) is that they were state-supported. Because the GoSL is a democracy, it bears greater responsibility to protect citizens than does a Fascist separatist junta.

It is admittedly harder to blame or criticize a democratically elected government, with its necessary evolving cast of officers, than it is to nail the unchanging leadership of a military organization to the wall for the same crimes. We resort to a crude and often ideologically-driven analysis of the magnitude of each side’s atrocities in order to decide who’s right, or at least who’s more wrong. This gets sickeningly elaborated into arguments like “it’s worse to bomb the Central Bank in Colombo than a refugee-filled church in Jaffna because the LTTE really was using churches as cover.” Then we have to decide whether the government’s actions against non-Tamil militants (notably during the dark bloody days of the JVP insurrections) register on the atrocities scale generally.

That we even have this debate over state vs. non-state terrorism is a devastating indictment of the rotten values of the 'democracy' that spawned and perpetuated the horrors we've seen over the past 50 years. The Tigers argue that the Sinhalese-controlled GoSL committed genocide against Tamils and their culture, which is hyperbole and then some, but the underlying truth is that post-independence Sri Lanka has been a long story of aggressive government Sinhalization of all areas of life, from politics to education to economics to religion to geography. If I were Sri Lankan and not a middle-class Sinhala Buddhist conservative I’d feel pretty damn marginalized. That’s a lot of people.

Totting up the numbers dead and sacrosanct places violated on either side is clearly not a step towards resolution. Though it’s odious to quantify terror, in some instances it's important to do so. Assessing the size of the evilness of a terror act helps us determine as a society what measures we will take to prevent its occurring, and what punishments we will condone for its doers. For example, random public sniper attacks are horrible, but racially motivated ones are worse. In a just world we punish the latter more severely because it represents an attack on a category of people even when it doesn't physically harm all of them.

Ignoring the psychological intent of terror implicitly condones psychological violence. I am quite specifically classing terrorist acts as hate crimes because they are similarly motivated and experienced by a large swath of people not ‘directly hit.’ In Sri Lanka, hate goes both (really, several) ways. Additional psychological straitjackets placed on ordinary Tamils, both those living under LTTE control and those not. Vanni residents are held at collective gunpoint and, I think, have mass Stockholm Syndrome. Elsewhere in the country Tamils are told that it’s a Sinhala Buddhist country but, hey, they can live here too if they’re polite and quiet.

We are not looking at a happy multicultural melting pot or salad bowl. Decades of Sinhala supremacist political, academic, and media rhetoric have produced a discourse of ‘Sri Lanka==Sinhala Buddhist,’ which denies the rich hybridities that underlie the island’s cultural and political history. They’re trying to freeze and unmix society’s elements, using a set of bogus claims based on shady historical evidence and preying on ethno-nationalist and demographic fears.

The moral responsibility, as I see it, is with the government—both as a democratically instituted power and as a past perpetrator of terror against its own people. Which is not to say that I've picked my side. I have neither love nor sympathy for the aforementioned Fascist Junta. People seem to forget (or not believe?) that a military solution to the conflict is not possible—you can’t win a war against suicide bombers.

The quotation above comes from a Reuters interview with Tamilchelvan, the LTTE’s no. 2 and spokesman/ideologue. It sounds nice, but the full text reads: “War is not an option, but if war is thrust upon the Tamil people, we will have no option but to face it... So it's in the hands of the Sri Lanka government.” That means, of course, that they’re waiting for any slight provocation. The Tigers have proved themselves untrustworthy, bloodthirsty, pitiless murderers time and again. If I had any power with the GoSL I’d use it to urge the highest moral ground possible, especially given today’s world political atmosphere. We have to win them over, not win over them.

*inspired by and tiny bit excerpted from debate at www.indi.ca


the illicit fruits of the twice-aforementioned conspiracy
(be warned this post contains gratuitous sexual imagery though I didn't actually write it)

Apparently the shady, shadowy powers-that-be are not only allowing me access but sending fun things my way. From horoscopes at nerve:

Leo (July 22-Aug. 22)
Like someone who has recently returned from a trip to the Third World, you may feel the social equivalent of reverse culture shock, unable to sleep on a bed and unsure how money works. You may feel like you're speaking a foreign language until Wednesday, when good old American Hedonism kicks in and you unashamedly embrace the simple pleasures afforded by your First World residence: masturbation, picking people up in bars, oral sex in a big, soft bed. Be careful on Sunday — the contrast in your feelings may catch up with you, leaving you disoriented. Head it off by spending the day quietly.
I wonder what this means for someone actually not-yet-returned from the Third World. I just posted three times in under two hours. Shame, shame on me, and off to bed. That would be, in case you're keeping track, a narrow, hard, Developing World bed. And yes, I'm speaking a foreign language, and I'm always unsure how money works.
they're onto me

Very weird: I just posted the below, and while checking to see that the formatting had properly arrived on the blogpage, found that I could access several of the sites. There are two explanations for this:

1. There is a vast conspiracy to deny Sri Lankan users equal access to quality political, current-events, artistic, procrastinatory, and erotic information. As I type the watchers are watching me. They've thrown me this bone to make me think I was wrong about them and their diabolical plans.

2. I was wrong and it's a connection thing.

Still, anyone know anything about site blocking/web censorship here?
Or maybe critical fubar in the connection?

I’ve noticed recently that my computer can’t, or won’t, load a whole slew of websites. This sucks, because it takes away my ability to waste time following my friends’ inline links and therefore can’t always figure out what the bloody hell they’re writing about. I was shaking my (actual, physical) fist at the computer—in itself reliably irritating—when it occurred to me that the problem may actually be larger.

Are there mechanisms in Sri Lanka, as are massively used in China, for wholesale blocking of certain websites? I tried using a ‘net café to access some sites, and found the same ones unviewable. The logic of the (alleged) censorship isn’t at all obvious, which makes me think that something is screwy with the infrastructure. That is, some of the verboten stuff is totally benign from any vice-oriented or propaganda point of view. Is it really likely that some GoSL wonk is blacklisting the following (just a sample)?

PG-Rated but Vaguely Risqué for Sri Lanka

No News is Good News?


Objections Positively Spurious

Perhaps it’s naïve of me to be asking these questions. We are, after all, living in a State of Emergency; if this was the US (but with SLan moral codes) you just know the Feds would be cutting off all the raunchy and/or informative sites.

Perahera, second time round, was great. Having companions and a padded seat does not, however, remove the unpleasantry of waiting approximately six hours. Crowds too much, as our return-trip-overpriced driver remarked. This time I brought my own tea. Haakon supplied samosas, bananae, and chocolate; Lisa supplied planning and wit. I took photos this time, hampered by poor light conditions and insufficient chip space. Where is that damned USB cable? We spotted our old (in both senses: in 2002, when I studied under him, he was 77) Kandyan dance teacher in full awesome regalia, and our yoga friend Thanuj (he of the amazing Playboy mansion) on his elephant. We had delicious Ram's buriyani lunch with Joseph and Kwah, who are good souls. I am tired.

A good (and accessible!) link:
This woman's young husband is dying of liver cancer and she's going broke over the pain meds. She's a theatre academic like me in my fantasy life. You can contribute to a PayPal fund for her here.


Festivities Ensue
clearly, the best two weeks of my life so far

Coming off the high of the Festival I was sure that the whole birthday/perahera experience would be a let-down. I was completely wrong.

Though the birthday was low-key, festive specialness has been going strong for two weeks plus, with no signs of fading. Six birthday parcels helps that (among many many other things, my mother sent me a multi-pack of shiny steel wool scrubbers, definitely the most bizarre gift I’ve ever received) so thanks to those who sent them. Finished some good books, with notably weird parallels between them: Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Mitchell’s first novel Ghostwritten (which shares a lot with his brilliant Cloud Atlas) are both intense and pointedly non-linear, concerning Japan China Manchuria Mongolia The Search for Truth in Self And Place and The End of the World. Also hot on the reading list: A Happy Married Life (a Buddhist Perspective) and Women in the Kandyan Kingdom.

The perahera, though, was unbelievable. Tomorrow is the last night and while I have decent seats (in front of a friend’s friend’s tailoring shop) booked for then with Lisa and Haakon I couldn’t wait. I decided to brave the sidewalk masses alone. The jammed bus ride into town was worse than the crowds. I don’t really mind the seething-mass-of-humanity aspect of festival events so it wasn’t at all unpleasant to be jostling and craning. Except for sore, tired-of-standing legs. Ended up on the Soya Centre balcony, my old haunt, with ice cream and samosas and covertly whispered offers from the staff to use the toilet. I imagine they don’t let just anyone pee there during perahera!

Parades, processions, fanfare and ritual convince me of the existence of a god. How else would puny humans have the capacity to create stunning spectacles of coordination and cooperation (think of the social contract that makes the spectator/street/participant arena work!) other than that we all have within us a fragmented spark of the uniting divine One?

I am not being flip. I feel a supernatural presence in the life of the crowd; we move, think, talk, breathe, and wait as one. People start snacking at the same time. People pause and gasp (even at nothing) at the same time. People get tired and fall asleep on each other at the same time. I’m sure that behavioural science has a social-presence explanation for all of this, but to me it will remain mystical and wonderful.

One of my favourite moments of tonight was when, cutting through the cacophony of the spectators’ various noisemakery whistles, buzzes, squeaks, and and tootles, we began to hear the distant whipcracks of the perahera leaders, whose job it is to scare away any evil spirits so as to clear a path for the dancers and drummers and elephants. You could hear the tootles twitter down by degrees as thousands of minds awakened from bored self-amusement to eager, searching anticipation. People were also excited about the mini street-cleaning machine, which was obviously not part of the parade but as it was the size of a small elephant it clearly should have been dressed like one.

And o! the elephants! Endless elephants, all costumed in sequined and light-bulb-speckled velvet, satin, and lamé. Some were dancing, no joke, along with the drumming. I made friends with a family smashed lovingly together alongside me and, having told them positively everything about myself (“What’s your boyfriend’s nickname, again? Will you marry him in September before you go?”), and been plied with their giant thermos of blessed tea, was thrilled to hear the littlest girl counting elephants and announcing the numbers with growing shock every ten or so. There were a hundred. A hundred!

I haven’t really described the whole shebang, because I don’t feel like it, so nyah. Maybe tomorrow, after I process some more. I was crying with joy, seriously, for a while tonight; if that happens again you may all write me off as irredeemably soft in the head. I want to do a devotional dance in jangly jewelry. I want to learn to walk on stilts and spin wheels of fire on my head. I want to play outrageously discordant saxophone in a Kataragama band. I want to remember to eat dinner tomorrow night.

The first time is always the best, but then the second time is even better: anticipation.


just so long as he remembers where he came from when he's rich and famous

This is so exciting: the show Adam is the gestalt of performing in at Edinburgh, the reason initially for my trip, just got this stunning review from the Scotsman. He reports that they're sold out for the rest of the run and getting lots of visits from agents and suchlike. He is going to have a Career.

I am so happy for him, and jealous of course, but that's my nature, and somehow the two coexist equitably. Ester gets the credit for 'discovering' him at Swarthmore, which is appropriate because she's a casting sub-agent now and will no doubt soon rise to prominence in that field. I want to give myself props for grabbing onto Adam early in my own directing (and giving him his start in characters he's too "
too fresh-faced and slight" for) and not letting go. It's some consolation that two of the three of us have, um, moved briskly and dare I say successfully into the field we want to be in.

And to think before I got there he was telling me how bad the play was!

Five Stars : CROSS ROAD BLUES : Blues singer vs. soul man
reviewed by Jay Richardson

A taleof a Faustian pact at the dark heart of the blues, this seductive drama crackles with diabolic menace. More myth than man, Robert Johnson died, poisoned in a bar at just 26, with only a few recordings to his name. But his reputation as the guitarist who sold his soul for greatness became the blues' sinister underscore. In the prickly heat of a Deep South night, against a backdrop of racial tension, lynchings and voodoo, this superb single-act play brings his legendary sacrifice howling and moaning to life.

Squatting at a crossroads, Johnson (Kwesi Asiedu-Mensah) is a journeyman musician with a terrible past, desperate enough to test the fable of the big black man with the gift of songwriting who appears at midnight to tune guitars. But the gentleman (Adam Bisno) who squats beside him is white and educated, alternately beguiling and intimidating, proffering whisky, cigarettes and a terrible story of miscegenate love that destroys itself. He drags the younger man's life story from him and convinces him that real music is born in defiance of God - it is the soul's release from imprisonment. The frightened Johnson complains that the stranger would like to read him like a book, but, in truth, he has already been played like an instrument, his ambition and fear of persecution deliciously manipulated. You will never enjoy equality, so what price posterity, asks the demon.

The outcome is, of course, never in doubt. But the precocious David Hall, who wrote the play when he was just 19, creates an atmosphere of creeping, uncanny terror that grips from the start and never relinquishes. Through the charged poetry of the dialogue he evokes slavery's ensnaring legacy and, through one man's existential nightmare, the protesting quality of the blues. While Bisno initially appears too fresh-faced and slight for a tormentor, his darting eyes and sly smile quickly convince otherwise. Asiedu-Mensah is equally impressive, a well-built man who appears physically to shrink as the play progresses. And the denouement, in which Johnson sinks to his knees and sings his woe even as the devil unleashes a triumphal stream of verse, is mesmerising.


Two Dreams
and a looming nightmare

1. I am working on my computer at home in Dangolla when the phone rings. It’s Rick desRochers (high school drama despot-director), who is frantic that I accept a part in a professional production he’s doing in Boston in the fall. Rehearsals start at the beginning of October and he must, must, must have me in the show. Can I take the part? I realize this is a great opportunity, but that I’d have to forgo a visit to India before leaving this part of the world. I ask him to push back the rehearsal period but he can’t. I accept the part, with equal excitement and sadness. What a great job for me when I get back!

2. I am a semi-omniscient but mortal wizard(ess) in the midst of an epic and horrifying fantasy-world war between various types of creatures (a la LOTR; am I Gandalf-but-female?) and spend hours and days running and hiding and rallying my little band. It is dirty and exhausting, and I am constantly having to jump off tall things (a waterfall, a magic tree) and combat supernatural forces.

The dream gets specific when I’m caught in an ambush of a colony of peaceful underground-dwelling good trolls. The troll leader shouts for me to gather the warrior girls and escape out the back. They’re all asleep and as I rush from root-wrapped room to room bundling them out of bed and into traveling cloaks and girdled shortswords I can hear the horrid pants of the enemy (Orcs? Rastafarians?) as they rip and thunder through the cozy beautiful warrens of the troll-hole. I and seven or eight maidens (elf-like, not troll-like) are trapped in a cliffside room with leaded multilight windows; I smash the panes out and dive hundreds of feet into a giant willow, and a stream below that.

The girls follow and we are escaping for days across hill and dale, and eventually into a quaint mini Amsterdam. The enemy is chasing us in a big black Morris Minor/UK cab type car. We’re still in cloaks and whatnot but the enemy leader is a stunningly sexy Japanese woman (whom I know is intent on torturing us to death in the most horrific way possible) in 30s Fascist getup. At this point it becomes clear that this is in fact a movie, with the beautiful troll maidens played by Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, etc. (Mordor Lisa Smile?) There is a token black girl.

We are hiding out in an upstairs room with a view over a cobblestone square (once used for hangings!) where the evil car is parked and the evil trenchcoat babe is visibly directing her lieutenants to search all the houses thoroughly. Token black girl—she’s the brains of the operation—finds us hiding places around our tiny room, and I know that they are poor concealment and we will all be shot in a matter of minutes. I am crouched under a dropleaf table, trying to get my protruding elbows into the shadows when angry boots pound up the stairs, shaking the dust up from the floorboards. The door slams open—

And I wake up, heart pounding.

Lying in bed I spend a few minutes reviewing the dream #2 for subconscious cues and calming myself down. I feel a vague happy anticipation, which takes half an hour to reveal itself as related to the job I think I got in dream #1. I realize that Rick didn’t really call me and I don’t really have a job. The letdown is worse than the residual fear had been. I really resent when my dreams are so misleading—one realistic and one fabulist is really just my mind totally fucking with itself. It’s damned lucky that I’m not on (anti-malarial and often psychoactive) mefloquine; clearly the lunacy is well supplied without additional chemical help.

Got back on Saturday night and what have I done? Stay up til 5am with Anushka watching movies. Go to another play (as if the Festival weren’t enough) Sunday night. Return to KandyMonday; dine with Lisa on delicious curries. Have a birthday (16th). Go to yoga, eat good Chinese dinner, gobble chocolates. Drink beer in teacups; alcohol can’t be served during perahera season so the places that want business carry on these goofy subterfuges. Attended excellent lecture by Jenny of ICES today on critical discourse analysis of newspaper reporting (on the London bombings specifically, but it was more about the modeling of the analysis). Make, and eat, nice soup.

I have less than two weeks left in Kandy, which is terribly sad, and I’m a little panicky about exit strategies and logistics and work. I feel like I miss everyone: those I haven’t seen in ten months, and those I will not see once I go. I don’t know whether to start acting like I’m leaving (i.e. schedule teary last visits) or remain low-key.

I’ve refrained from writing about the political situation (yet) because I’m not sure how it plays into my feelings about leaving—obviously it’s good to be departing as things become (it seems) less stable, less peaceful. It’s hardly about physical safety, though; more than I’m heartsick to see this country potentially readying for another series of violent political convulsions.


eight shows, no beer

Well, technically I had half a pint at this adorable cute pub on our way home. However, it was a Russian beer (made here, but) so not quite quite. I had noticed that the town smelled like what? vaguely akin to baking bread, but more specifically, matzah. Bizarre beyond reckoning that a frigid Scottish cobbletown smelled like the bread of roastingbacked desert affliction. Rowan, the board-op guy on Adam's show, finally clued me in that it was in fact hops or some other beer precendent. He too had thought it smelt like matzah.

I was more or less shocked that nearly half Adam's house is Jewish (counting me) but I guess the Dreyfus affair really was quite a while ago and they've loosened things up a bit.

Anyway, I'll have to get some more beer. Can't do proper reviews here yet but there was a fantastic Polish Faust with all the glorious trappings of the stuff we studied back in Allen's Performance Theory class--Jesus, fat bald guy, scary transvestites, twins, creepy broken mise-en-scene, Polish--which made me feel so at home. Finally got to see the Philly-based all wear bowlers, ludicrous hilarious vaudeville/clown bit with a scary live-doll ventriloquist bit and oh I just about peed myself laughing. And other good shows too. And glorious walking, through the alternate heat and chill of the day.

My birthday is in one week. Is 23 your late early twenties, or your early mid twenties? Terrifying either way!


the accents here are so sexy, when can understand them

O, this is a wonderful city. I arrived by train in a very light drizzle and walked 3km to Adam's house slightly outside the city centre, enjoying immensely the streetscenes and the people and the inviting falafel takeaway joints. His housemates are clever and British so I think everything they say is charming and hilarious. All is well; I am so gleefully, stupidly pleased to be here.

The city feels like Northampton made old, grand, and larger. Everything is 4-6 storeys high, except for some higher castley and modern buildings; the older sections of the city seem to have been quarried down-into, excavated, rather than built up from the ground. It's very hilly and stony, and the long long sunset hours are truly filled with golden slanting rays which warm the surrounding rocky outcrops and the marshalled rows of brick chimneys way past when the street level has gone into shadow and the lamps are lit. The sun begins to slide around 8.30pm but at 10.30 there are still blueblue streaks in the sky.

It's hard to separate the city as it must normally be from the festival atmosphere (and, we are told, the million extra people that are here) but in a nutshell, this is my idea of heaven: a graceful and gritty town, walkable and human-scaled, with lively street life (well past midnight!) and good food and--most importantly--thousands of performances going on all the time, and hundreds of thousands of people just dashing about, thinking art, doing art, watching art, talking art. Everywhere there are posters and flyers and wacky-costumed actors and big choruses of singing kids. If only it were a little warmer... and a little cheaper.

I've had some great culture-collision moments, from people thinking I'm [English, Irish, French, Greek...] to the turbaned Sikh I saw in a kilt-and-Prince-Charlie kit to the takeaway truck offering haggis pakoras. Adam is wonderful as always. His show is good and getting better. I got some plain chocolate digestive biscuits, which are halfway to heaven by themselves. What else could I want?

Note to self: get job at festival next year.


dispatch from the future

Leaving Kandy this morning at approximately 7.30 I promptly fell asleep on the long-suffering man next to me (whose even more long-suffering wife didn't seem to mind). I woke sporadically and apologised to the fellow, whom I'm not sure I didn't drool on. Ah well.

Next was the airport bus, always a maddening trip as they seem to drive around Colombo for an hour trying to get additional riders before actually getting on the (wide, well-paved, speedy) airport road. Fearing I was late, I did not stop at the Dialog GSM kiosk at Katunayake, missing my chance to add global roaming to my phone package (and save time-will-tell-how-much in texting charges, as I now have to find a new SIM). Then waited forever to get through ticketing, and another forever to actually get on the plane. The off-duty passport/immigration workers were playing a Snood-like game on their fancy flatscreens.

The flight involved more intermittent sleeping, but I had a window and thus was able to confine the (feared) drooling to myself and the wall. Friendly seatmate, mediocre movies with incredibly poor sound. I liked Hitchhiker's Guide but wasn't able to remember the book(s) well enough to puritanically criticize it all.

The above-all high point of the trip so far is that while we were flying over the Arabian peninsula, there were no clouds. I looked out and saw hundreds of miles of spectacular sand mountains, dotted sparsely with scrubby brush and cut here and there with tiny roads and trickly rivers. There were basined valleys of sand, each cupping scant grey skims of water in smooth oval shallows, each with a small town of small dusty buildings and no apparent roads into or away. There were larger, magnificent rivers, cutting abruptly across the base of golden-banded mesas and smoother sloped dunes. There were, later, irrigated agricultural plots in long psychedelic wavy strips, Op Art Prada knit as compared to the plain patchwork quilt of the American heartland. Amazing.

Heathrow, and London, feel like the future. Of course they always did, even when coming from Boston or New York. Everything is so clean and nicely designed and goddamn expensive! The hostel is a madhouse but who cares. The Piccadilly Line isn't running in Zone 1, which is a sad reminder of recent events. The trip is a success thus far.


18 hours at home in Kandy
...and both feet halfway out the door (?)

This is just a boring couple of lines for those readers looking for locational/occupational updates. I returned from my week of hustlebustle in Colombo this morning at approximately 11.30, and began unpacking so that I could start packing for Edinburgh.

Yes yes! I am off tomorrow morning (today morning) to see Herr von Bisno (http://bisno.blogspot.com) in that apparently quite chilly and rainy city. Lo, may my thin blood sustain me. I am bringing the full Nuwara Eliya (cold, rainy, UK-esque hill station) kit including Actual Socks, fleecy jacky, and gasp! my silk long-underwear-top. If there's a blizzard or even a stiff wind while I'm there, remember that I loved you all well.

Last week's play was lovely and exhausting as plays should be. I have new friends (remind me to write about the tequila/karaoke night... lord!) and new ideas and it was just gleefully fun. I did spend quite a bit of the week not-doing-the-show too, but that was less fruitful; for example, one day I had a crippling headache for several hours, then tried unsuccessfully to buy a belt, then sat in a ridiculous traffic jam with a taxi driver who would not take another route.

Sigh. Must finish packing the warmies and goodies. I bought a cute halter top at Odel to take with but it will probably just hang out under some zippy type overgarment. I am preparing myself for major culture shock, and psyched as hell. I have set myself the goal of finding two critical silly Scottish things: 1) folk dancing 2) haggis. The second will be vegetarian. I bet anything that someone in that city makes it!

More soon from London, where I will (in observance of travel-induced poverty and not terror-induced skittishness) not be on the Tube.


Hitting the Hard Stuff

Which would be chocolate. Jill left yesterday and I’m mopey. The eating of chocolate, for me, isn’t so much the stereotypical devotional female sad-solace; I don’t totally buy the endorphins song-and-dance. (I buy Toblerone or Lindt or Ritzbury in a pinch, har de har har.) What I seek is not neurochemical anaesthesia but the Pavlovian simulacra of same… which is arguably neurochemical as well, given the chem-wired nature of the grey stuff upstairs.

Yeesh, this is some trenchant prose. Apologies.

Right, so I’ll refrain from a nattering breakdown of the chocolate subtypes available in my Kandy-land. I do suspect that this particular face-cram-fest (mocha ganache bar) was motivated equally by the residual bittersweet of Jill’s departure and the unfortunate aftertaste of dinner at Stuart’s house. His host-amma is really a poor cook, though she makes up for it by being an enthusiastic host.

The point (I remind myself) is to say a bit about Jill. Jill loves chocolate and pursues it more avidly than I do. I learned from Jill that when Cargills gots the good stuff (dark), you buy several.

Jill wins the amba yaluwa (mango friend) award for being the voice of sanity during the last ten months. She’s one of those even-keeled types who you’d have to resentfully hate for being so damn together except that their sweet humor precludes envy and deflates pride. She’d also scold me, nicely, for thinking that there are ‘types’ of people; Jill accepts everyone as individuals and takes the time to know people fully and flesh out her understanding of them. She’s even nice to annoying people. She has been my comrade in short-hair, adventurous currying, tsunami, yoga, Jaffna, and sundry other mini-feats and features of life.

In what must be a classic form of intermediate mourning, I am currently taking on her identity. I inherited her excess clothing, household goods, and foodstuffs—some rather precipitously flung at me! You try dodging a bottle of sweet-and-sour sauce at two yards. After taking a few last photos of her with Thami (close friend) and Mia (close dog), and waving til I couldn’t see her through the tinted windows of the downroad-jouncing van, I spent a blithely meditative hour amalgamating her kitchen and wardrobe into mine.

Those readers who know me well shall appreciate the particular form of bliss that these activities offer: putting things into appropriately sized jars, consolidating two half-full canisters of milk-powder, reordering the folded-stacked shirts so that Jill’s polos nestled with mine. I’m not going to need to buy unperishables for a while. I will think of Jill when I help myself to semolina, sugar, skirt, and Cetaphil. If anyone needs a litre of 100% aloe gel, I’ve got it, compliments of Jill.

Trying not to get all sappy here. Just want to remember: the friendship and the meals and that beautiful laugh of yours and your funny accent (“melk,” “nooooi?”) and the clarity and the reality. Safe happy travels; no travails.


tights down: sidling up to a stalk of celery*
Gandhi! the (fascist) musical

Several days later and I'm still laughing about this. I didn't get to Be In the play, after hanging around all Friday at "rehearsal" (i.e., 35 people chilling, stretching, chatting, making up little dances with scarves) until 12.30am. The part for me had previously been cut from the script and the director couldn't find the time to figure out where I might fit in. I am okay with this, considering the incredible ridiculousness of the show: a 4 hour epic musical ghastly/hilarious spectacle.

First let me say that the English script, as I read it, was a realistic play showing the humanity of the many characters (especially Gandhi and his wife but others too) in a multifaceted, not-entirely-valorized light. As in, it's about the real people, not the heroes and villains of political memory. Translated into Sinhala and Tamil and portrayed by a zealous (and overacting) cast-of-thousands, it was a marathon tale of a pitiful/godlike man's struggle to save literally-enchained people from evil colonialists and power-mad Swaraj demagogues. I found it by turns absurd, hysterically funny, and offensive.

The dancers/chorus were always switching off between silly and sillier outfits. They started with tie-dyed bodysuits and knotted waist-scarves, progressed to shiny lamé “peasant rags,” and later showed up in a range of poufy froufrou bridesmaidsy dresses (the women, at least). This was made more strange in that the bridesmaids were performing serious, intense, lamentful traditional dances. There was a whole semi-erotic number with Kasturbai Gandhi (the wife) dancing and moaning in a frilly satin nightgown with eight guys in gold spandex. Also, easily half the men had been decked out with luxuriant mustaches and fakey wigs.

Gandhi is played by the director**, a six-foot-tall, built, pudge-sporting bruiser. (They sort of elided all the fasting bits.) It dawns on me that a major cause of Gandhi’s success could be drawn to the visual semiotics of a wasted, skinny, barely clothed yet immensely brilliant and strong person. Nonviolence doesn’t have the same meaning when you look like you could tear the entire beefy Raj limb-from-limb. When he decides to get rid of Western clothes, he strips from Chaplinesque pinstripes-with-beret-and-elastic-bow-tie to tight little briefs and undershirt, belly flabbing out. Never thought I’d see a stage depiction of Gandhi’s bait’n’tackle!

The racist South African jailer of the early scenes, written as white, was depicted as a black man, i.e, with a Sri Lankan actor in blackface. Classic Jolson blackface, with ‘fro wig and whitened lips. Likewise, the written-as-eloquent Untouchable who shows Gandhi the need for caste solidarity was depicted as a cringing monkeyman. The male chorus appeared as a swarm of loinclothed, drooling, retarded wretches, moaning and picking bugs off each other. I was cringing in my seat.

I should here say that it seemed the Kandy audience loved it, so my sense of aesthetics is perhaps tweaked. I want to direct a play here (show people how much better theatre can be) but made me question whether my work would really be “better” given the sensibilities of Sri Lankans. This show had wailing and screaming like you wouldn’t believe and I wouldn’t direct. The lead actors were intense and melodramatic, which is a good thing when you consider that the biggest problem we often find in amateurs in the States is that they’re undercommitted, can’t make big-enough choices.

Just found out that someone (whom I know indirectly! like I know everyone in this country! yes!) is doing Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends in Colombo at the end of July. Check it out here: http://fefu.blogsome.com/. Must inveigle self. I am so desperate.

All in all, I wanted to apologize to my friends for dragging them to the show. I myself enjoyed it intellectually if not as a piece of quality art. Indi says that the people responsible for this travesty production are probably going to read this, and I say not. I do hope to meet up with Director Mahatma Himself and chat about how I can do another (better) show here. I’m glad, though, that I met the actors—they were really truly wonderful people, whom I hope to see again. Good intentions and free rice packets do not, however, a good play make.

*actual stage directions from the script
**most every play I’ve seen here has the director as a major character. This is something I would never, ever do. Thou canst not direct thyself.


Do you hear the people sing?

This was taken during the all-day insane rehearsal. That's Gandhi, on the left, the 7-foot bruiser dude; in a 'jail' formed of people holding chains around him. (They're 'in jail' too; frequently wailing/screaming "Babaji!" and sobbing sporadically.) On the right we have the shirtless Antagonist, declaring the rightness of terrorism as a path to decolonization and vengeance. Hot stuff!


Look, there she goes—that girl is strange, no question

Sometimes you (I) have to marathonically listen to the complete five-volume Classic Disney set, including approximately 250 brilliant and heart-wrenching tunes excerpted with loving care and discerning taste from Disney’s voluminous history of music production.

You may mock, and would in fact be right to do so, especially if you heard me singing along with “Be Our Guest,” doing all the funny voices myself. Mocking accepted. It would be trite for me to make an apologia for Disney’s many aesthetic and political sins. I do think, though, that the people in charge of producing this stuff are smart and savvy—the bad Disney flicks (um, Hunchback) are the ones where they muzzle the mild-bitchy sass of a Mary Poppins or a Princess Jasmine and rationalize the joyful, sweet absurdity of Pete’s Dragon and “Under the Sea.” Sure, a lot of it is middlebrow, but better that we have intelligent middlebrow art than a vast cultural gap between Care Bears and Lars von Trier. Besides, I’d rather sing along to Bedknobs and Broomsticks than Dancer in the Dark. Bjork irks me.

Listening to the Classic set, one hears amazing political discourses being worked out through time—songs that would never get produced/written now can play alongside songs exemplifying the best in contemporary (well, early 90s) multicultural pacifist mores. In “I Wan’na Be Like You,” a jazzy number from The Jungle Book, Louis Armstrong (!) as a semi-villainous orangutan king sings “you see it’s true/an ape like me/can learn to be/human too.” Shudder. But what comes right after that? “The Mob Song” from Beauty and the Beast, with murderously macho Gaston exhorting terrified villagers to the worst excesses of anti-Beast vigilante violence. The audience fears for Belle, imprisoned in her own cellar lest she ‘betray’ the mob to the (non-human but infinitely sympathetic) castledwellers. Human nature has, far from its earlier celebration, assumed a terrifying aspect, appropriate to fin-de-this-siecle events and values.

It’s those (simple) smarts, along with the earnest moral teachings they try to impart (can you believe they made Newsies? It’s straight from Howard Zinn’s list of “stories Hollywood never tells”) that go some distance towards making up for eye-widening travesties like “The Siamese Cat Song.”

Real life update: found out today that I did not get the UNESCO internship (6 months in Paris, sob) for which I applied. This is probably not a bad thing, as I was going to have to get conversationally fluent in French before going, and all the French I know I learned from Lumiere (the candlestick in Beauty and the Beast) and Jacques (the seafood-lovin’ chef of The Little Mermaid). Though I was looking forward to telling Parisians that I love les poissons les poissons, hee hee hee haw haw haw.


Gandhi’s girlfriend

I’m in a play! Not even on purpose!

Lately missing theatre strongly, and wanting to start/join some kind of group or run a workshop (which is in-planning-process) or direct a show. I even have some scripts picked out. Probably should get cracking. Probably not going to happen, but—

This weekend there’s a production going up in Kandy. That in itself is thrilling as we don’t get much of anything save school shows (cute, but…) and I bought my ticket like a month ago. I was psyched and had made minimal arrangements to meet the director. Then, yesterday, driverfriend Roshan calls me in the middle of the afternoon. Can you give a little help to this teledrama producer lady? he asked me. Sure, I said, confused. He hands the phone to a nice lady named Anoma, who tells me that she’s the director of the trilingual play Gandhi and she needs two foreign guys to be in it. Could I find some, darling? Of course I could try.

Except, damn, I know four foreign (i.e. white) guys in Kandy. Two are busy and two are leery. I meet up with Roshan and Anoma (who is playing Kasturbai, in the grand tradition of ‘all Sri Lankan directors must take large parts in their own plays’) and we discuss foreigner-culling tactics: the Pub? the internet cafes? Halfway through this strategy session she looks appraisingly at my chest and says to Buddhika, assistant director, we’ll have to give her a smaller top because Wiyelani’s will be too big. What?

It seems I am also getting collared into this production. (Jill’s comment: “I’m sure they had to twist your arm real hard.” Indeed, Jill.) I play Mirabehn, the English woman who gave up her comfortable middle-class life to become a zealous devotee of Gandhi’s ashram and his adopted daughter. It is thought that they also wanted each other In That Way, but never went for it given the ideals of the movement. A quick web search shows that she was determined, somewhat psycho, and good-lookin’ in a Gujarati sari. In my Method-trained-actor hat, I love this: “As [Mira] grew older, she learned all about the correct use of saws, hammer, screwdrivers, planes and chisels.” In my director hat, I can’t believe Anoma is adding actors three days before the show. We shall see. I am excited.


Check it out: my illegitimate intellectual child.

It's a paper on dam safety, written in varying proportions by myself and two other authors from the organization doing the project. Basically it says that the state of dam safety oversight in Sri Lanka sucks and we need a) a monitoring agency to hold the big stick and b) many carrots of better funding. I won't claim it's a fascinating read, but if you're in a related field (hazard management, disaster relief, engineering, geology) it would be nice to have comments. Toss 'em on that website.

Saturday was spent at community meetings for this project with my last-minute savior of a Sinhala note-taker, 18-year-old aspiring engineer Buddhika. I felt like I was bringing my kid brother but he did a fabulous job. There is little more exhausting than trying to follow a technical talk in a language you speak minimally. Still, interesting to see how this stuff gets supported at the almost-grassroots level; plus I got a nice free lunch and several rounds of tea'n'cake out of it.

Sunday Jill and I went to Gam Udawa (Digana bus via Kundasale) to Kanthi's house for a pleasantly typical all-day lunch. Kanthi is the ICES librarian of 20+ years; one of the most lovely, funny, and helpful people around. She knows everything. We had lovely food and hung out on her back verandah, saw photos of last November's trip to the US ("It was so cold at Niagara!") where she stayed in Queens for four weeks, traveling on the weekends but otherwise hanging out with a friend (she went into Manhattan twice).

On the bus back from that I got very heartsick about geography and time and people. My sense of 'home' has gone off; it is both and neither here and there. Friends come and go too easily and too hard. I feel unlike myself, in the way I remember myself from my former settings (read: large East Coast city), but not sure that that version is important or worth remaking. It's been a while since my last little spurt of melancholia, so I'm overdue; that doesn't make it a whole lot easier.

Pretty clear to me, also, that some of this feeling is caused by the ongoing evolution of my distance from him, and my new and developing attachment to him. Those are two different people.

Happy 4th of July! The Sunday Times had a ridiculous four-page section on America, with an article by Ambassador "Jenny's Dad" Lunstead (nice guy, cold fish), and a mini-bio of Betsy Ross, and silly ads like "Greetings & Best Wishes to the Government & People of the United States of America, from Ceyline Shipping Ltd." My plans include going to office, meeting Buddhika, taking in a puja at the Pillaiyar Kovil, and drinking some beer at Stuart Strange's house.


everybody's waiting

everybody's waiting
Originally uploaded by Emmalen.

a propos of the earlier post:

Rodger Kamenetz, author of books on Jew-Bu spirituality (The Jew in the Lotus, Stalking Elijah), paraphrases a fellow Jewish mystic in one of my favorite metaphors for the interaction between Jewish faith and culture.

Judaism, he says, is like the battered old car we grew up riding, and inherited, and now drive ourselves. It needs spare parts from other vehicles, and it doesn't always run perfectly, but we can't just junk it. It's the way we know how to get around, and we can, with good maps, maintenance, and determination, get anywhere we want in it. This is not a world in which one can simply buy a new spiritual car; having learned to drive a new way, we would have a shiny paint job but no sense of the intimate workings and history of the machine. In the same way, rejecting Judaism for a new faith is foolish: why place oneself deliberately outside the warm embrace of thousands of years and millions of peoples' history?

This is copied from something I posted on Indi’s blog. Long enough to deserve a repost, and a riposte too. Bring it on.

Have your faith and eat it too

I think we can safely say that each of the Big Three Mosaic religions has a similar orientation towards violence—yes, you can do it in God’s name; yes, you can do it in self-defense; yes, God is not pleased with the non-believers, especially the polytheists, so go convert/subdue (!!) them first. This of course speaks to their all having come from the same part of the world, a place where life really was materially harsh and historically violent, filled with rapacious tribes, competing vengeful deities, and extremes of environment. There was a lot to fight over.

I’m a little shaken by people’s interest in a “realistic approach to God.” To me there can be no realistic approach to God, or if there is, it will necessarily be an approach I don’t want to take. Life is not, I think, “simple.” There are some moral precepts which are, but so much more that is not. I look for something of the sublime in religion; something that takes me beyond the ‘harsh realities’ of the world. It’s perhaps an opiate-of-the-masses approach, but as a Jew I’ve never been taught to believe in an immanent and jolly Heaven, so I find transcendence to be deeply impelling in this life, thus strongly anti-narcotic.

Without being a chauvinist about it, I find it deeply sad that Christianity and Islam ‘inherited’ or developed such watered-down versions of the Jewish conception of salvation. Early Judaism posited the future coming of the Messiah, after which the pious dead would be resurrected and all would live in a glorious Kingdom of God; mediaeval and modern Jews often believe(d) something more along mystical lines (in a strong parallel to Mahayanist Buddhism), wherein the universe and its contents are to be perfected at a future time, which requires the diligent work of all beings. Anyway, next-door Heaven of today’s Christians and Muslims, being judged at death according to your personal life, is sort of petty to me.

(Can you begin to imagine the bureaucracy? See Albert Brooks’ film “Defending Your Life” wherein he and Meryl Streep meet cute in Judgment City, a sort of bathrobed-denizened Los Angeles, where all the dead screen film clips from their lives to prove themselves worthy of moving “up” rather than going “back.”)

I don’t turn to faith only when things fall apart, though it is deeply in need at those times. Indi says “People seem to treat God like a candy shop, here to give people whatever they want..” The God-as-candy-shop image is one I like, but I’d expand it to include the incredibly petty idea of “fairness.” It’s a terrible irony that religions which acknowledge (nay, promise) suffering-in-life are still called upon to account for colossal unfairnesses. I feel like religious people should, you know, look back at Exhibit A; you got told up-front that shit would go down, you know?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it is/can be possible to “be” several theoretically exclusive religions. For example, I believe that there is no God but God, and Muhammad is (God’s) prophet, but not that he was the last one. I also believe that Jesus was a prophet, and in the rightness of what he taught, but not that he was the Son of God. I also believe that there is a destroying/creating force in the world, which I can conceptualize as Shiva. I won’t say what I “believe” about Buddhism because a good Buddhist doesn’t believe anything, according to my (devout) yoga teacher. And so on—I should become Bah’ai, but even that’s too narrow. Judaism is the skin and culture and religious lenses I was born into; I was also born into Catholicism and that too is appealing but so institutionally corrupt as to be unpalatable.

Then again, I said above that ‘palatability’ (practicalism, realism) is not a good yardstick for faith. Well, like all good theological arguments, I’ve come full circle and found that I can easily undermine my own point. Thus: life is not simple. Faith is not easy. I only wish I had the (personal) discipline to spend more time practicing and deepening my faith(s). The last time I had a proper religious community and attendance record (Protestant values, I know!) was as a freshman at Swarthmore and went to Meeting regularly.
Staying Home

I hate being stuck in/around the house all day. It seems to happen a lot; my own fault of course, but there's always needs-doings: laundry, email, writing, anti-ant-warfare. The weather is gorgeous; sunny, breezy, light cloud cover. Was thinking that perhaps the weather in Boston is the same as here today: it feels, properly, like June. Interesting to remember "summer;" as Jill remarks, we forget that it's not always colder there.

In lieu of interesting tales:

In every age, there must be truths people can't fight--whether or not they want
to, whether or not they will go on being truths in the future. We live in the
truth of what Freud discovered. [...] We aren't really free to suppose--to
imagine--he could possibly have been wrong about human nature.

Possession, A.S. Byatt


wheels on the bus
and, appropriately, meeting my once and future fellow Americans

Having left Jaffna at 8am yesterday, we arrived back in Kandy at approximately 8pm. It’s about 350km, for an average speed of under 30kmph. I can probably bike that fast. (Not for 12 hours straight, it’s true.) We switched buses in Vavuniya, which is less than halfway, at 3pm, and waited half an hour to depart there. This means that we spent roughly 8 hours getting out of the Peninsula and across the Vanni. More than half that time was waiting at checkpoints—for the searches to be done, for the passports to be returned, for what? We didn’t know. There was insufficient A/C and the Vavu-Kandy bus was open windows (nice breezes and views but boy was I filthy).

So, was kind of wired-tired last night. Tod had come into town for the Tulane orientation and after I had lavishly bathed and fed myself (toasted Granny Swiss applecheese with copious mustard) we stayed up a while having one of our usual rambling semisnarky philosophical conversations about Love. He mocks my various idealisms and devotions and yet he’s a more unredeemable romantic than I. Someone should find that man a good-hearted woman. I have him to thank for a good-hearted man.

Pages and pages to write about Jaffna. So glad I went. It’s possible, clearly, to have been here a long long time and not comprehended the conflict as I am now [more] able to do. Instead of writing that, however, I wrote dam safety comments and references. Ah, my little illicit side project. Today there was more of that, and also extreme culture shock at the Tulane meeting. I had quite forgotten what Americans are like.

Which is not to say that I disliked it/them. A small glimpse of what cultural incomprehension awaits when I eventually go back to the States. They were loud, friendly; mostly big, white, and homely (sorry); sarcastic and unguarded. They were obvious in their preferences and disdains. They were, despite being all grown-up law and med and Master’s and PhD. students, obviously cliqueish. On the other hand they were enthusiastically scarfing down the kiribath at tea, and making friends with the fabulous ICES staff. Hella funny compared to any similar gathering of academic Lankans.

Last night Kandy felt like a first-world country. At least, there were no pillbox bunkers on the corners, bristling with machine guns and bored soldiers. Have to fully digest the trip, get a good night’s sleep, and submit more dam[n] work. Then, something will get said about Jaffna.