Sunday, November 16, 2008

For Those About to Rock...

Photos are a little random this week. 1) The view from the pool at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel where I spent most of last Saturday 2) The nightclub at the Taj, post-battle of the bands 3) The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Cafe where I wrote most of today's post

I don’t even know what I did last week. Thinking… thinking… um, Wednesday was a Poya Day which is a national holiday in observance of the full moon. I am not kidding. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and since Buddhists use the lunar calendar for religious observances, every full moon day is a public holiday. So since everyone had the day off from work, Riyaz invited me to have lunch at his mother’s house with Nisreen and the kids and another friend who was in town visiting from France. Riyaz’s mother lives in a giant house with a lovely garden and a staff of six. The “staff of six” was mentioned by Riyaz when his mother commented to me, “I live alone, my husband passed away four years ago and all my children have left me” to which Riyaz pointed out that there were six servants in the house so how alone could she be? Nisreen’s response to her mother-in-law’s “all my children have left me” quip was to look at me and roll her eyes. Mrs. Jafferjee is actually really nice and interesting and not as much of a Jewish mother as I imply (she’s Muslim), but I have noticed many similarities between Sri Lankan mothers (irrespective of religion) and the stereotypical Jewish mother. They both seem overly interested in feeding whomever happens to be around, the marital status of those people, and whether or not you’re a doctor. But I digress. Lunch was absolutely delish, rice and chipatis and chicken curry and about five vegetable curries and even more small dishes of sambols and other tasty delights. The other friend who joined us was Alex from Toulouse; he lived in Sri Lanka for a couple years about six years ago but now he’s back in France and here on a one-month holiday. Before we left Mrs. Jafferjee’s house, he borrowed a mountain bike of Riyaz’s (which Riyaz said he'd owned for years and ridden twice) as he planned on biking from Galle to Hambantota then up to Nuwara Eliya (where all the tea plantations are; that’s an uphill ride by the way) before heading back down to the coast and catching a ride back to Colombo. Riyaz thought he was absolutely nuts and that the idea of riding 60 miles a day was crazy, but Alex is French, the French ride, it’s in their blood. On the other hand, I’ve driven along that coastal highway past Galle, the drivers are insane. We were a little worried that Alex didn’t have a cell phone; he left on Thursday and no one’s heard from him since. I’m sure he’s fine. That was Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday night I met the NGO girl-gang at the Commons CafĂ© where we were having a book/DVD-swap. That’s when all of them/us get together and throw all the books and DVDs that we’re done with into a big pile and trade. I couldn’t believe it but no one took my copy of “Seduce Me at Sunrise.” DVDs are super-cheap here and they’re all bootlegged. There are shops everywhere that sell just about every DVD you could want for about $2. My friends tell me they wouldn’t even know where to legitimately rent a DVD—that business model simply doesn’t exist here. I went in one of the shops last week and “Quantum of Solace” was already on the shelf ($2); Seasons one and two of “30 Rock”? $7 each. Met a bunch of new girls at the swap: Sophie is from England (I think), Connie is German, and Lisa had just arrived a couple days prior from D.C. Yesterday I visited Sumathi at her house and her new house-mate, Amelia from Stockholm, had just arrived that morning. All of these young women have studied political conflict-resolution or want to work for human rights which is what brings them to Sri Lanka, where this is plenty of the first (at least the “conflict” part) and not enough of the latter.

I have no idea what I did on Thursday. Nilan had been out of town all week in the Maldive Islands attending the inauguration of their new president (I really don’t know how he gets himself invited to these things). He came home Thursday night and left on Friday to meet a friend in Bangkok for the weekend. I wanted to go out on Friday night but couldn’t find anyone else in the same mood. Sumathi and Rachel were both staying in, Riyaz had to attend a friend’s baby-naming ceremony, so I stayed in too and read an incredibly mediocre book until about 1:30am which is when I usually go to sleep.

Saturday, after I got back from Sumathi’s house, I went out with Riyaz and Minoli to the Colombo Swimming Club for drinks and snacks, then we met Lakshman at the Taj Hotel where there was a “battle of the bands” competition going on in one of the nightclubs. Sadly, the competition was over by the time we got there which is a bummer because Lakshman said that a couple of the bands were really good (all the musicians were teenagers). We hung out for a few minutes anyway and then the four of us went to Sugar which is a nightclub, but as it was only about 12:30, it was fairly empty. We chatted with a few people who Riyaz knew in the club, including a girl from the Maldives who is a liquor distributor, and a guy who works in local radio; Riyaz had told him that I had worked in radio in Seattle, which prompted him to say, “I don’t want to brag, but I’m the best radio producer in Sri Lanka.” I asked him what kind of music was played at the stations he worked for and he said “all retro – 60s through the 90s.” I winced and then said incredulously, “you must be kidding me... can you tell me why no one in this country seems to have any interest in listening to new music?” He seemed completely thrown by the idea of “new music” and said with genuine excitement, “people love the Eagles and Led Zepplin, but all they know is Hotel California and Lyin’ Eyes, we give them all the other great songs that those bands did!” to which I responded, “who cares, it’s still the fucking Eagles – they were big THIRTY YEARS AGO!” Unfazed, he told me he’d be in touch.

Later that night at the coffee bar in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel where Lakshman, Riyaz, and I finally went to get some peace and chill out, I asked Lakshman (he’s the composer I mentioned in a previous post) about the bands who had competed at the Taj earlier. He reiterated that a few of them were really good, and we started talking about music and angst and saying what you have to say through art. I mentioned Kurt Cobain and Elliot Smith and how they turned deep depression and tortured souls into something artistically revolutionary (Kurt) and beautiful (Elliot) [at least until they killed themselves], and he said that these Sri Lankan kids aren’t depressed and they aren’t tortured, but they have lived their entire lives surrounded by war and corruption, they have something to say and they’re saying it by writing music and ROCKING OUT, which we agreed is always a good way to express yourself; so to those kids, we salute you.

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