29 October 2008

Letter 4.6

Well, I've moved in -- for how long remains to be seen -- to the cottage I told you about, near the town of Ella, about 8 miles from Bandarawela. My German monk friend didn't want to stay here, preferring to be away from roads and RR tracks. He's found a place he likes about 3 miles away and will build something that suits him, which will probably take him 3 months. Some workmen have been here doing various work; clearing the yard, digging a hole for the pond, repairing the porch and the stone parapet walls.

Ella, as I described briefly in my last letter, is on the eastern edge of Upcountry, 3400 feet high, and there is a gap leading down to the lowland, which offers a fine view; also a large rock, certainly over 1000 feet high, with a eucalyptus forest on its side and top and a cave halfway up where, I'm told, Rohanna took refuge when his kingdom was conquered. Rohanna was the first of the great pre-Sinhalese kings, some 3 thousand years ago. The cottage looks out on this rock, and is bordered by rice-paddy below and to the right, a pine forest to the right and behind, tea on the left, and partly-wooded hills in front.

By co-incidence the manager of the estate (tea) -- a Burgher -- is a client of a Colombo man I know, and he has proven helpful in some ways. I occupy about an acre of hillside, not all at once, but such is life. A water channel from the tea above has been tapped and now there is a small 5 feet high waterfall going into the pond, and a tiny river running past my front door, over which the workmen have built a tiny stone bridge, for, presumably, a tiny Buddhist monk to cross on.

I'm about 150-200 yards back of a secondary road with little traffic but some noise, and at least double that distance from the RR tracks behind, from which comes at regular intervals a muted rumble. The tracks go around a hill, making a complete U-turn, west to east to west, before turning north for Badulla, the end of the line, about 12 miles up.

From the cottage the prospect sweeps over hills upon hills, dotted with dwellings here and there and several tea factories -- large two-and-three story structures; they're all built on the same general plan, all have many small-paned windows, and all are painted white.

Very few mosquitos or other noxious pests here. The children can be pests (though are not noxious), but the first time they came I put them to work sweeping and clearing and they've tended to stay away since then.

Today a centipede fell from the ceiling to the ground only a few inches from where I sat, and proceeded to scurry onto my lap. I shook him away and he hid in the bedding, which I had to dismantle to find him and remove him. I'm told this chap has a very painful (though not fatal) bite, but I have some native oil that works amazingly well against poisonous bites. But such incidents are to be expected from time to time, as, in LA, close calls on the freeways are to be expected from time to time. Preferably while you're not eating, however, which I was.

Ella, by the way, seems to be perhaps the only place in Sri Lanka where they don't load up their food with enormous quantities of chilis. Also lots of vegetables are grown around here (some of the paddy field below is used for vegetables), so my diet suits me. But it's still uncertain how long I'll stay in this particular cottage -- I too am not overly fond of trains, traffic, and neighbors (the nearest house is about 60 yards off) whose radios blare with Sinhalese music.

What do I know about President Jayawardene? Only that he's held in very high regard in Sri Lanka and considered their equivalent of, say, a Sadat or Nehru. I met his son once in Thailand, a very quiet and well-mannered boy about 20, but haven't felt inclined to contact him. Jayawardene is up for re-election next year. Since even the anti-government papers seem to keep hands off him I assume he will be re-elected. Obviously, he's not in it for the money. I don't know how much political power he has, if any, but I believe the position is more of a moral than political significance, as is India's presidency, for example, where the P.M. -- Mrs. Gandhi -- has great power and the president -- J.M. Reddy until he died recently, don't know who's replaced him -- has great respect. A reasonable division of the spoils.

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