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Paintings, Elephants, etc.

January 20, 2008
 Helen – Last night we went to Ranjan’s home for dinner and met a lovely young lady, Sandy.  We had a typical meal with flour hoppers (last time we had rice hoppers) with two kinds of shrimp sides, a white (not so spicy) lentil curry, potatoes and grated coconut with spices.  Once again all the foods were placed on our dishes and we mixed and ate with our fingers.  Fresh pineapple, banana, and mango slices were the perfect dessert.  We also made plans to meet him this morning.
Ranjan picked us up at 7:30am to go to the Kala Pola or Arts/Crafts Show across from the Art Museum.  The show was schedule to start at 10am but Ranjan wanted to get there early so he had his pick of the paintings – he owns a framing and painting shop.  The couple of things that really caught my eye were the old door panels, spice boxes, and other old wooden pieces painted with old temple art.  They were running several hundred dollars for the larger pieces; there was also a dealer who had root art.  He took tree roots and made huge sculptures with them.  Another dealer made ornamental lamps out of various leaves that looked like Japanese lanterns.  I bought two pieces from the same dealer.  We noticed him as soon as we got there and at the end bargained him down to about $70 for a large elephant and much smaller lion fish.  I also bought three smaller watercolors of Kandy drummers.
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There were a lot of paintings on the street (no fee) when we arrived.  When we left at 9:45 the street and median were filled and the area being used inside (stalls with fee) Viharamaha Devi Park was almost full as well.  Ranjan has suggested that I work with him and his daughter Petal in Springfield to sell Sri Lankan art on the internet.
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Helen – Passing Sights – Dogs: first: there are stray dogs everywhere.  They are scraggly, thin, molten furred and really sad sights to behold.  They look hungry as they dig through the garbage heaps along the side of the roads and their eyes beckon for some friendly hand.  I can’t look them in the eye without feeling so very sad.  They are multicolored, multi-mixed, and of medium size.  The one thing you notice so often is that a hind leg is crippled…those crazy cars must hit them and bounce them off the street if they don’t get out of the way fast enough – yet, they go on, day after day.

Hair:  it’s beautiful, long and black.  All ages have long hair, and I mean long…past the waist, past the fanny, past the knees.  It is worn in buns, pony tails, braids (1 and 2) and flowing.  I love to look at the different hair styles; their hair is so thick and full, I am envious.

Mason: walking to the Internet Café yesterday we noticed a mason working on a wall.  He was adding the top molding design.  Only part of it was complete so we watched a while hoping that he was going to use the form for the mold so we could see how he did it.  He continued to build up the area measuring with a stick for leveling and depth.  We left and when we returned I saw him making the mold not with a form but with the same leveling stick.  The mold had a concave center and a protruding top with several different steps which were repeated on the bottom as well.  He was amazing; it was so uniform you would swear that he used a form to sculpture the design.

Mowers: let’s talk about cutting the grass!!  No one has much of a lawn to begin with, and then the grass is more like our low creeping crabgrass with thick blades.  While in the Fulbright office one day we kept hearing this raking sound…it was a push roller mower with a squeaky wheel.  He kept going over the same spot several times to be sure it was uniformly cut.  No rows for them.  Then later we passed a large playing field.  Now this is interesting!!  Men were lined up one behind the other and a little to the side of the person in front.  They were all swinging the old fashioned weed whacker…remember the one which had a stick handle and a metal serrated blade at the end?  That’s the one and I bet they don’t work by the hour!!

Squirrels: these are a hybrid of our squirrel and chipmunk.  The body is slightly larger than our chipmunk but has the same coloring…the tail is longer and fluffy like our squirrels.  They have lots of them.

Horses: have only seen a few horses and no donkeys.  There were a lot of donkeys in Egypt so we expected to see them here as well.  The three horses that we did see were more like big ponies and they were tied up to graze near a play area.  Maybe the kids get to ride them?  There were two pure white ones and one solid brown.  I don’t think I would like riding them.

Street Lights: we saw a man riding on a bicycle holding a long pole with a hook on the end.  Then we saw him again around the block using the pole to shut off the electric street lights one at a time.  I wonder if he repeats the route at evening???

Mailman: also on a bike in his uniform with a basket in front and also carrying a bag in front of his body.  The basket didn’t look too organized and his hands were full so I don’t see how he managed to ride his bike with all the traffic.  We noticed him in the section of Colombo called Crow Island; it is in the capital but in one of the outer sections.  This is a picture of our mailman.

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Ice Cream Man: on another old rickety bike, with cones in a box secured in the front basket, and the ice cream in a large box with dry ice balanced on the back.  He used a hand horn with bulb (like a clown) to let people know he’s there.

Kitchen: I watched Irene cook this morning.  The work table is covered with tin/aluminum which is really better than wood as far as cleaning it for germs, though I sometimes wonder about the cleanliness because there are so many flies on and around the food during preparation.  She uses these neat clay pots for cooking most of the curries.  They are in the shape of bowls with a smaller bottom and larger rim.  They are seasoned and black now and nothing seems to stick.  Everything has curry powder, tumeric, chilies powder and salt.  I don’t see her using pepper, which is just as well.  On the table is an old fashion coconut grater.  It works like a meat grinder handle with a serrated six blade thing on the end.  You cut the coconut in half and then hold it so the blade cuts the coconut meat from inside the shell.  They do several things with this coconut.  First they make coconut milk by adding water and putting it in the blender. Then you strain it and this is the first milk.  The second milk is made from the squeezed coconut by adding more water and blending it again. You use the first milk for early cooking and the second thicker milk for flavoring.  Sure is easier to buy it in the can!!  Irene has most of the modern conveniences but prefers the old way in preparing foods.  Today she was preparing calamari curry; this morning she cooked some purple roots which they dug up from the yard yesterday.  She just boiled it and gave it to me for breakfast…not bad, tasted like potatoes.  My stomach is still adjusting to the new food preparations.

Irene never ceases to surprise me in her kitchen duties.  Just as I left her to write in the diary she began to wash the floor.  She dumped a large pan of water on the floor and then used a squeegee to push/pull it out the back door.  The floor is tile and it really worked pretty well.  The squeegee was pretty long and she just pulled and pushed it around the stove, sink, and cabinets.  Ok, so there is now some mud outside that door that we used to come into the kitchen but I guess it will dry pretty quickly.

Tom – Chitra and her husband Sepah picked us up at 10:45 for a swim at the Sinhalese Sport Club on Maitland Ave.  We first picked up their son from his computer class.  He is about 16 and has represented Sri Lanka in junior tennis competition in South Asia.  We were in the pool for about an hour, swam a little and Helen helped Chitra with her stroke and breathing.  She could have a lot of business teaching swimming here!  Afterward they treated us to lunch at the club.  The drink of choice was Bitter Lime and the food a Lumprye.  A Dutch dish consisting of rice, chicken curry, mint curry, beef curry, fish ball and a boiled egg all wrapped in banana leaves.  The dessert was also a Dutch sweet similar in texture to bread pudding but was made with coconut milk and called Watalappam.  Both were excellent!

In the afternoon I took a Tuk-Tuk to the Fulbright office to pick up a fan, iron, cork screw, plastic clothes pins, wipes, itch ointment, maps, hand held fan and a small backpack that the Fulbrighters from Galle had left for us.  As usual, when I waved down the Tuk-Tuk driver I verbally gave him the address of the office.  OK, it’s a given he probably didn’t understand a word I said.  So, I carry slips of paper that have my common destinations written in both English and Sinhalese.  I give it to him.  Does he know how to get there?  Of course!  After some haggling we agree on a price, usually half of what he first asked for, and off we go about a half mile in the wrong direction.  I stop him and show him on my map where I want to go.  OK, he knows the way.  After going another half mile out of the way, I stop him again and start to give him hand signal directions as we drive (I really need to learn some basic Sinhalese).   We arrive at the destination and he wants twice the amount of money that we agreed on because he had to drive so far out of the way – go figure!

Walked to St Theresa for 6:30 mass this evening, it is only about half a mile from our guesthouse.  After we returned I was in our bedroom when Irene walked in followed by Bejet.  She was carrying a small long handled frying pan filled with glowing coconut shells.  Bejet would then pour some powder from a jar onto the coals creating a lot of smoke.  The powder was sanbrane (sp) and acquired from a Buddhist Pharmacy.  When I asked why they were filling the house with smoke, I was given three reasons: (1) mosquitoes (2) incense for the Lord Buddha, and (3) to protect the house from the evil eye.

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