Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Week In Review

This is the main street half a block up from my brother's house. His house is down a very quiet side-street, but this is what waits at the top of the lane.

Busy week in Colombo. In addition to going to the gym every day and reading my books from the British Library, I went out a bunch, and did a little work on my two projects. The first work-task was to come up with a possible flight itinerary for the author Germaine Greer to get to Sri Lanka for the lit fest at the end of January. I’ve heard of Germaine Greer and I know her to be a feminist icon but I’ve never read any of her work. She’s the big name for the lit fest this year. Her travel arrangements are complicated and involve several cities over a couple of months, but I finally found something that I hoped would work for her and emailed it to my contact at the lit fest office to run by her assistant. None of the authors will get a fee for showing up to the lit fest, but their airfare and accommodations while in Sri Lanka will be taken care of. Emirates, which is the airline I came out on, is one of the festival sponsors and is donating two business class tickets, and luckily, all legs of Germaine’s travel can be done on that airline. Sri Lankan Airlines is the other major sponsor and I pity whoever comes in on that one. Remember last December when they lost my luggage for FIVE DAYS? Well apparently, the same thing happened to Gore Vidal when he came for the lit fest last year, and he had a MELT DOWN at the airport when his bags weren’t there. For the record, I remained amazingly calm when it happened to me. The other work-task I did was to research some major film studios in Dubai, Toronto, and Hyderabad, India. The one in India is craaaaazy. It’s the world’s largest film studio (2,000 acres), has over 500 set locations, can accommodate 60 movies being in production at the same time, and is a huge tourist destination (over a million visitors a year). It’s slogan is, “Walk in with a script, walk out with a film in the can!” It’s also a popular venue for weddings and corporate events – for weddings, they’ll replant the flower gardens to match the color of the bride’s sari. The reason I was reading up on it is that the Sri Lankan government is planning to build a big film studio outside Colombo and my cousin Sam who is Sri Lankan but a film-maker from Australia, is acting as a consultant on the project and has asked me to help him with some research.

Wednesday night is quiz night at the Inn on the Green pub and I went along with Riyaz and the rest of the gang. It was a close match, but we won (again). There are about eight teams that show up most weeks, but only our team and one other is any good. This week the scores were pretty close between us and them during the whole game, and we were tied at the end of the last round. The quiz-master asked a tie-breaking question which we both got wrong, then asked another which we both got right. Finally he said, “whoever comes closest to guessing my weight wins.” We won. The prize is cash which usually covers the team’s bar bill, so it’s a pretty fun night.

On Thursday I went out to dinner with some girls I know here. Anita is a Sri Lankan-Canadian from Toronto, Sumathi is a Sri Lankan-Brit, and Bidisha is an Indian chick from Calcutta. They all work for local NGOs. We met at a South Indian vegetarian restaurant not far from my house and had a fantastic dinner – for $18. No booze, but still, pretty damn cheap. After dinner we decided to go to the bar at the Taj Hotel to have a drink. The Taj is a huge, 5-star-hotel; standard rooms are only $110 a night, so if anyone wants to come and visit me… The hotel looked pretty empty and the bar which was super-nice, was completely empty. As in, we were the only four people in there. There was a dj and a small dance floor, nice seating areas, a pool table, and three bartenders/waiters who looked very bored, but they were pleased to finally have something to do when we came in. We pointed around the empty room and asked them what the deal was, and they said that on Fridays and Saturdays it was a little busier, but mid-week, no one much came in. I asked if the hotel was mostly empty and they said that not a lot of people were coming to Sri Lanka these days, which I knew. Note: civil war is not good for the tourist industry. I don’t think anyone was blown up this week but in the first week I was here, a bomb blast at a government office a couple hundred miles north of here killed 27 people, and the following week, an assassination attempt against the Minister of Agriculture (it’s believed) by a suicide bomber killed 1 person (not the Minister). The newspaper reported where the bomber’s various body-parts landed after the explosion. Anyway, we had a good time at the Taj before catching a couple of tuk-tuks to get home; the four of us had jammed into one to get from the restaurant to the hotel – this is not the best way to travel, especially if you get stopped at a police check-point, which we did (not because we were ridiculously crammed into a three-wheeler, just a random stop to show bored-looking soldiers who carry machine guns our IDs).

The highlight of the week was definitely last night when Riyaz, Nisreen, and another friend named Minoli went to see a Sri Lankan movie called “Machan” which essentially means “dude” in Sinhala. The movie was so good! It’s based on a true story which was in the news in 2004. A group of young men (and some not so young) who had been denied visas but who wanted to get out of the country, mostly so they could work and send money home, posed as the Sri Lankan National Handball Team and got invited to a handball tournament in Germany. Once there, the just disappeared; none of them were ever caught (and by the way, no one in Sri Lanka plays handball, none of the guys on the “team” had ever heard of it before). The movie is funny and sweet and sad; it takes place in the slums and working-class sectors of Colombo, a part of town I don’t see. Nisreen who grew up in Bombay, commented that there, there is no division between luxury and extreme poverty. She said you can walk out of the most exclusive nightclub in Bombay and there might be a whole shanty village right next to it. In Colombo, while there are crippled beggars on the street in front of the shopping mall that’s right around the corner from the house where I live, the large, sprawling, impoverished neighborhoods aren’t so close to the middle- and upper-classes. The movie was well-acted and captivating. Another cool factor about this movie is that a friend of ours who is a composer and who occasionally joins us for quiz night, wrote the score. The film has already been accepted into the Venice International Film Festival, it would be so cool if it was submitted for and accepted into SIFF.

And that was my week.

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