Galle : Retreats into Silence

Galle Travel Blog

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A seaside wall in Galle ... which rhymes if you pronounce the latter correctly :)

The wheels keep turning.  Hot rubber on hot dusty tarmac.  Not for the first time my friends you join me jolting along on a bus.  How many cumulative days of my life have I spent sat on these bone janglers on this journey so far?  Best not to think about it and just keep moving. 

Today almost ten hours in total.  Eight and a half the first leg from Nuwara Eliya in the Sri Lankan hill country all the way around and down to Matara on the south coast.  In all that time, one stop for tea, food and other necessary activities.  Not even ten minutes!  'Parp PARP!' calls the bus.

Toes and Waves :)
  'Sloosh - gulp - OUCH!' goes my rushed hot tea.  The sardines sprint back to their tin.  Six people try to squeeze in at once.  'Any room for a little one on there?!'  Getting back onto such a bus and reclaiming your seat (if you're lucky enough to have one) in such situations requires the dexterous feet and balance of a ballet dancer, the physique and mentality of a bull and a certain defiance of the basic laws of physics.  I.e. the full sum of particles that constitute your physical mass must pass through other bodies (namely other standing passengers) without being able to actually go around, over or under them - but rather you must morph right through them.  Disintegrating and rematerializing on the other side.  In your seat if you're really lucky.
Taking time out in peaceful old Galle Kitty-style
  SHWOOoooooosh! - 'Pop!'

Hot.  Sweaty.  Hot and sweaty.  Drip.  Drop.  Drip-drop-drip.  Judder-judder.  Mop the brow.  How long now?  Crush.  Arms up reached to grips.  Children hang on hips.  Sardines in their can, every woman and man.  No fans on Sri Lankan public buses.  Instead we recycle and the atmospheric fumes of one another’s discomfort with every breath.  In-out, in-out.  'Oh man!'  Drip drop drop.  The sweat don't stop.  Repeat, repeat : 'at least I have a seat.'  The worst of it is the music.  'Pic-poc-poc, pic-pic-poc-'  The same CD with the same six or seven Sri Lankan pop songs cycling on repeat for the entire journey!!!  The wheels keep turning.

  The tunes do the same.  Whilst Sri Lankan pop music may have its merits ( 'Hmmm?' ) the backbeat that sounds like a ping-pong ball doing battle with a metronome, played long enough in a hot confined metal space, probably constitutes torture under international law.  'Pic-poc-poc, pic-poc-poc, pic-poc-poc-PIC!'  No variation.  Every song.  Until you wish to scream.  But there's not room, not one square inch for a scream to fit; to squeeze out on this bus.  Hot.  Sweaty.  Hot and sweaty.  Getting dirty now too.  Later I start imitating the 'Pic-poc-poc' by clacking my tongue on the roof of my mouth in time to the metronome and encourage the little girl sat next to me to do the same.  A game.  For a while.
Fireworks on sale ahead of the Sri Lankan New Year celebrations
  To make light of the torture.  But insanity's not far off now.

Arriving at Matara there's not one second for rest as a bus onwards west along the coast is ready to roll as soon as I have my backpack and bearings.  The wheels keep turning.  Hot rubber on hot dusty tarmac.  Hot.  Sweaty.  Tired. Hot and sweaty and tired.  Smelly.  Really dirty now too.  Can't even mop my brow without leaving black trace marks of G*d knows what.  Where did this sh*t come from?!  People tell me Marissa beach is idyllic and I could stop there, but no, I've got it in my head to get through this journey and get to Galle (pronounced 'gaul').  Galle is giving me the call.

The charming courtyard of the Weltevreden Villa guesthouse. Stevie's soul retreat.
  And onward travel sometimes becomes an act of minor compulsion.  Momentum.  Madness maybe.  An addiction of ’A to B’.  Gottagetthere, gottagetthere, gottagetthere...

The wheels finally stop turning.  The sardines escape from the can.  Every woman and man.  Hot.  Sweaty.  Noise.  Galle town.  A bus station next to a train station.  A tout's paradise.  'Mister, mister!',  'Tuk-tuk?', 'Rickshaw?', 'Mister where you go?', 'Mister you want rooms?', 'My friend - my friend!'  But it's no good.  I am practically deaf to such commercial cat-calls these days.  The tinitus derived from 10 hours of Sri Lankan pop also blocking out all other sound.  'Pic-poc-poc, pic-poc-poc-PIC!'  'Mister, mister?  Where you go?'  The feet know exactly where they're heading.

Clouds over the Galle sea views
  Set to autopilot.  The Old Fort of Galle.  Hot.  Hot and dusty.  Voices screaming from megaphones.  Just a five minute trudge.  Mopping black grime across my brow.  T-shirt soaked in sweat.  Prickly heat skin.  Itchy.  Tetchy.  Fatigue.  Noise.  Trudge-trudge-trudge - gottagetthere, gottagetthere, gottagetthere.  A to B.  I can see the entrance now.  Past the cricket ground.  The stone archway... 'Rickshaw Mister?'... getting closer... 'Mister where you go?'... closer... under arch... ‘Friend, my friend!‘ ... through...




'Blazing Rays'



Silence.  I stand still a moment.  All the noise retreats.  Silence.  It's as if passing under the arch into the walled Dutch fort of Old Town Galle I have stepped over some talisman that protects the interior of the fort from the noise and hassle of the outside world.  Protecting me from the same.  A cool sea breeze licks the warm sweat upon my limbs and face.  Some dry leaves skitter across the street.  They the only noise.  I'd expect a tumbleweed but we're not in Texas.  After the heat and human closeness and sonic onslaught of the 10 hours of journey making this is a very different environment altogether.  Noise and chaos inverted to calm.  Balm for body and soul.  A retreat into a quieter past. 

But I still have a 15 kilo backpack on my back so a little more trudging and enquiry making later and by chance and not design I find myself at the entrance to the Weltevreden hotel.

Cow casts his shadow on Pedlar's Street. Slow life in Galle.
  The friendly snow-capped smile of Piyasena, the owner, greets me.  'Hello there sir'.  He escorts me through to the charming garden courtyard at the heart of this historical Dutch villa home.  A woman sits on a chez long as we pass by.  Guest or staff I do not know.  I smile and say 'Hello'.  She just sits, shoulders slumped, staring at me and seeming to frown with indifference.  'Heck, you can't please everyone' I think to myself.  The room's perfect.  And within a matter of moments I am sat on a sofa - my fatigue and other peoples' frowns forgotten - with a fine china cup of sugary tea in my hands and Piyasena for company.  And there is silence.  A sense of Time having stood completely still.
  Or having lost its way.  Time being sensitive to my need for the wheels of my world to just stop turning for a moment or two.  So I can appreciate the moment.  A moment in which the world, with a sip, just for a snip, seems set to rights.

Yes, a place where time stands still.  Time and mind.  This is my experience of the fort town of Galle.  It is the perfect setting for me to wind down from another hectic month of travel.  To let the dynamo powered by my feet and passport slow a little.  Still recovering from India.  I stay in Galle five days, defying the 'there's just naaahthin' to do there!' nay sayers with my utter contentment in the calm that is protected within its hefty stone walls.  The compulsion to keeping moving leaves me, as if a madness lifted from my mind.

  ( A to... ? mayB?...well, let’s just C).   

I sip my second tea.  'Thank you Piyasena''It is okay, this is a welcome drink.'  Weltevreden, the 18th Century Dutch villa turned renovated guesthouse is one of a large number of heritage homes and buildings preserved within the fort walls.  It’s rooms sat around a charming grass strip and flower courtyard atrium.  The British, as in Melaka, Malaysia, mercifully didn't seem to have been too concerned with effacing the architectural imprint of the Dutch whom they claimed the fort from at the close of the 18th Century.  Several Dutch era churches remain also.  The roof of the town a near unbroken sea of weathered terracotta tiles, reminding me of Dubrovnik but without the conflict-induced restoration.

King Coconut Bike

The Fort's origins in fact (as usual in the colonial parade that danced to the spice trade) were Portuguese who found harbour here in 1505, though Galle Fort proper with its eleven sea-defying bastions was not constructed by the Dutch until 1663.  A lighthouse, the oldest still operating in Sri Lanka, was built by the British in 1938, and rusted semicircular iron rails still arc the bastion floors where World War II moveable gun emplacements were once wheeled and swivelled into action.  More recent history did not leave much of a mark, the surge of the Tsunami breaking against and washing mostly around the Fort walls, flooding a few streets, whilst the wave continued to then funnel more destructively on into the bay of Galle Town with the loss of much property and life.      

Piyasena seems perfectly placed in the aging mellow setting of this home acquired by his mother-in-law from a Burgher lady in 1967.

I think this is one of the Brit era churches contained within the Galle Fort walls.
  The Burghers being the descendents of Dutch-Sinhalese marital unions.  Almost no Burgher people remain in Sri Lanka these days or have been assimilated back into the Sinhalese majority though Piyasena explains a small community is to be found in Australia.  Melbourne I think?  I stare over at the bookshelf.  Force of habit-addiction.  The bottom shelf seems reserved for a dusty collective of old family books.  No finger may have touched them in the decades since Piyasena's two sons and a daughter grew up. 

I tease one out of its mouldering repose.  Questions Children Ask by Edith and Ernest Bonhivert.  It's long ago lost its dust cover.  A great retro design front cover of a mother reading in a chair to an inquisitive son and daughter.

Silence/ Marmite. Love it or hate it :)
  'Before you can give correct answers to your child's questions you must first know the answers.  All too frequently the needed information - in language the child will understand - is not at hand.  This book was created [in 1962] to meet this need.'  Wow.  How helpful.  As a probable parent-to-be-someday-who-knows-when I turn the pages infused with the aroma of ages to see what kinda posers my little sprogs might one day ask of me.  'What is inside my body?', 'Why do men tip their hats?', 'What is a foreigner?' - Hmm, I have a fairly good angle on that one now - 'Why does a robin hop, then stop?', 'Why don't fish drown?', 'Could we really dig a hole to China?', 'Where do stars go in the daytime?' and other such intellectual gems.
Galle clock tower by entrance to the fort
  I also learn from this highly educational tome that Groundhog Day is celebrated on the 2nd of February each year.  My birthday.  Which might go someway to explaining why I wake up every single day of my life at precisely the same time with an overwhelming feeling of having 'been here before' and not having yet achieved much with my life since yesterday or the day before, or the day before that, ad infinitum.  Possibly ;D  I close the book and return it to the shelf.  Time capsules.

Strolling around town, more time capsules present themselves.  Driftwood and old cannon pieces.  A pleasing little play of architectural forms.  The wealth of fabulous colonial era curios that populate the shelves and glass cabinets of The Dutch Wall Antique Shop (and others of its ilk) in rusty, musty, mysterious congregations and avalanches.

  Flint-lock pistols, dull-bladed daggers and swords and novelty cigar cutters.  Thickset ceramic jars once so full of promise.  The 'Finest Stilton Cheese' of Compton & Davison, London, England.  "Rabbie Burns" whiskey - Charles Wilkinson & Co Glasgow (a man depicted upon the jar standing in a field with his dog and two plough horses, raising a dram).  And one for Dewar’s ‘The Whiskey of His Forefathers - By Royal Warrant to Her Majesty the Queen.‘  Also 'The Ideal Good 'Virol' : A Preparation of Bone-Marrow, an Ideal Fat Food for Children and Invalids.'  Large piles of brass urns, pots, descanters, gas lamps, kettles and caskets line the floor etched with decor.  Snuff boxes, cigarette cases, coins, stamps, bank notes, medals, post cards and a myriad other lost and reclaimed memories.
My graceful host Piyasena out front of Weltevreden which means 'well satisfied' in Dutch (apparently!)
  The past has a price.  (Is priceless?)  Old box, Bakelite and radial dial telephones.  Two brass cobras and two rams horns of probable Hindu origin.  Framed portraits and photographs of people long forgotten.  Their final images fading further still in the sun.  Cut glass inkwells and thick glass bottles with rattling marble stoppers inside.  A tiny set of apothecary’s weighing scales.  An old grandfather clock chimes once, as if coughing to get my attention.  Then once again just to prove there’s life in dem old bones yet.  Is silent.  

Back in Weltevreden with Piyasena and I have plucked up courage to ask him about his wife as he has dropped the fact of her (so far absent) and an illness into the conversation a couple of times - ’.

..since my wife became ill’ and such like.  ‘Do you mind me asking what it is that is making your wife ill?’  ‘It is... what is it you call it?... dementia?... she has Alzheimer’s disease.’  I make sympathetic conversational noises and ask him how long she’s been suffering.  ‘It was soon after her retirement [as a teacher] I started noticing she was a little confused.  Her old school master, he wanted her to continue to teach music to the children after she retired.  You know, he would pay her... out of his own allowance.  But I said I did not want her to do this because I could see she was confused.
  He breathes slowly, wheezing a little and then coughs raspingly.  The rustling turkey-neck wattles of his throat constricting and slackening in strain and relief respectively.  He is frequently wracked as such. 

’I took her to a specialist here.’  ’Where, in Colombo?’  ’No, here in Galle, and they asked her to be admitted to the hospital for tests.  So she stayed there.  And that is where [cough cough!] - they diagnosed her case.  And the doctor he explained unfortunately that there was nothing.

Intricately carved building front (detail)
.. we do not yet have the technology to do anything for the condition.  But he prescribed some drugs.  They are supposed to help slow the decline.  But there is nothing we can do.’  This was five years ago.  I ask Piyasena ‘was your wife aware of her condition?‘  ‘Yes, yes, she was I think.  She could sense the decline.’  Following a letter from his son Piyasena had flown his wife with great difficulty ( ’As by now I could see she was deteriorating very quickly’) to an Alzheimer’s specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA near where the son lived but the prognosis was the same : ’That the disease was too far advanced, and that there is nothing we can do.
Retro / Antique moments in Galle
  But this is life.  We have to carry on.’
Nothing to be done, Piyasena explained but to return home to Galle and pray for the breakthroughs hoped for from stem cell research.

‘In many ways she has not changed.  She is not aggressive.  She is not angry.  Never in her life was she so.  Never angry.  Never used bad words.  She was always a kind, very affectionate lady.  And still she is.  The same.’  The pieces of course have long since coupled together in my mind and I realise now that the slightly surly seeming lady who did not return my greetings upon my first arrival was his wife, Pavitha.  She had just sat staring with a muted, vacant, vaguely troubled look.

Inside the Dutch Wall antiques shop
  Often she will just stand there in the living room, an impressive, impassive tall physical presence, dwarfing her whiskered husband.  But with no motive force remaining.  Standing up but then purpose and direction immediately forgotten.  Her hands, lost, fiddling with her skirt.

I ask Piyasena how long it has been since she last spoke.  He says about a year.  Not a word since.  Barely a sound although occasionally broken tuneful moans do flutter out of her vocal chords.  Alzheimer’s is a disease that I am fortunate to say I have had no close experience of and consequently know very little about.  But it seems like the cruellest of afflictions one could design for a human being.  A species so felicitously endowed with a proud capacity for cognitive thought, feeling and complex psychology.

  But now your mind is slowly but surely being closed down against its will.  Forced into a retreat.  All those lovingly, laboriously written pages of a life, that immense autobiography within the mind composed of a lifetimes worth of images and memories and dreams tinted with emotions slowly being torn up.  Leaf by leaf torn from the tale of your life and let go upon the breeze.  To flutter over the Fort walls.  A history being erased at a cellular level.  Erasing everything you have ever been or felt letter by letter, word by word.  Unravelling the whole tapestry until nothing remains.  And to cap all this cruelty, like an anatomical pickpocket in the night, it robs you of your capacity for speech too.  The ability to express pain and frustration and the heartbreak as you realise you are being taken away from not just everybody else, but yourself too.
The 1938 lighthouse inside Galle Fort
  ‘You see it is the right side of the brain for her that is effected and it is this side of our brains which controls our linguistic functions’ Piyasena, the former teacher in himself only too evident, explains.  I cannot imagine what this must be like.  The possibility that she still possesses rich pockets of lucidity but does not have the means to make this known.  Like drowning on dry land.  To be made a ghost of in your own mortal lifetime.  Wiping a life clean, before turning off the machine. 

Their daughter - their only child still resident in Sri Lanka - comes to visit once a month from her job as a nurse up in Vavuniya to the north where a lot of her work presently centres around the Tamil refugee situation.

  These visits apparently still make Pavitha noticeably happier : ‘This makes her very happy.  You can see it.  But at the moment she is not happy.’  ‘So there is still emotion and recognition then?  Happiness and sadness?’  Yes, yes’ Piyasena confirms fiddling as he does habitually with the couple of buttons at the base of the open shirt that stretches over his pot-belly, ‘but this too will go soon.  Decay.  What is there to do?  We can only try to make her comfortable and happy.  She is still part of our family.’

I try to imagine how a heart must fracture by so many infinite painful degrees in observing this slow silent erasure of a loved one.

'Silence Zone' (Thank G*d!!!)
  How does Piyasena handle himself with such philosophic composure?  Even if after several days of our short chats, tears clearly prick the corners of his eyes.  I discuss with him - trying I suppose to justify my nosy enquiries - discernable similarities with the situation of my mother struggling under the yolk of severe depression towards the end of her life.  Of course quite different situations, and very different conditions.  But as I had sat on the Fort wall that evening gazing at the glorious eruptions of cloud in the distance I couldn’t help but compare the ways in which the fragile mind can be so overthrown. 

Mum in some of her most challenging moments in hospital would harbour vivid delusions and nurture complex conspiracy theories that would number her son and daughter amongst a supposed legion of enemy individuals conspiring to make her believe she was ill and seeking to keep her trapped under lock and key in the clinic.

  All actors paid to take the stage and drive her insane.  Such moments are ones of chilling fear.  Fear that a loved one no longer recognises you for who you are.  And your love for what it is.  For not to be recognised is to have become a stranger.  And the human heart reserves little affection for strangers.  And the loss of a mother's affection through such circumstances is unconscionable.  The knowledge that he may soon be a stranger to his wife - indeed may already be so - must break hard upon the fortified walls of Piyasena's heart.

Of course a critical difference I imagine between depression and Alzheimer’s is that no matter how slender, at least in the former situation - that of my mother - there is always a hope that somehow if you all pull together in the same direction and try and try and try, you might just be able to take each other; take your mother by the hand and lead them back out of the murky labyrinth into which the illness has most cruelly led the mind.

  Hope remains until it either comes to fruition, or does not.  With Alzheimer’s there is no such hope at all.  Just an efficient, dependable process of gradual loss.  The cold certainty of precipitous decline until there are no more pages left to tear from that book and the story ends.
Musing on such subjects, maudlin though they be, occupies a lot of my becalmed mental space whilst I while away the days doing little more than nothing at all in Galle.  It’s time I need.  I need to be in the business of slowing, stopping and taking stock more nowadays than before.  It’s a way of making the journey (maybe) make some sort of sense I suppose?  Or have some meaning from time to time.  Nothing happens here.  Nothing intrudes.  The silence is all encompassing.
Galle mix-match architecture
  History, my history stood still.  As if all essence had been frozen in these streets.  A time pocket.  A myriad memories stalk the silent streets or sit piled on shelves in antique shops?  The past has a price.  (Is priceless?)  In many ways an extremely fitting backdrop for Pavitha’s loneliest of strolls through her twilight thoughts. 

Walking the Fort walls at least once around becomes a daily ritual.  A thorough delight.  The wash of the waves on stone.  Kicking my heels over the edge.  The sea breeze attempting to teach the crows to sing a sweeter song.  They refuse.  A kingfisher sits upon a telegraph wire and seems to chatter to two sparrows.  Scabby-nosed cats doze but look up suspiciously as you pass in the back allies strung with the days washing.

'Questions Children Ask' : 'Why do men open doors for ladies?'
  Delicate whites on crumbling open brickwork and stone.  A monitor lizard startled from the tall grass jumps two foot up a wall, scrabbling with his claws to effect a grip and escape.  Fails twice.  - skitter-skitter-skitter - then disappears back into the hole in the ground from which he had forgotten he had come.  A funny mouse leap-hops across the scene next.  A kid tries to sell me a tissue paper kite for 1,000 Rupees ( over £6) as he reels it out high.  Hmm?  I think I’ll pass.  A cow stands tethered to an old fashioned wooden cart and casts his horned shadow along Pedlar’s Street.  A large shining orange-gold clutch of King Coconuts hang from the saddle of a bike.  A man seeks to sell toy carts made of tin cans.  The ice cream vendor honks his little musical horn.
Stevie and another sunset
  This usually the only sound to break the norm or silence within the Fort.  The youth of Galle saunter into the Fort having made it a habit to tuck themselves into the large rampart crenulations where once cannons perched, to raise an umbrella above their immodesty and canoodle by the sea.  Bold waves and nervous tongues lapping.  I love this new purpose for old stone.  Ancient defences raised long ago paying witness as others more newly formed crumble and fall.  Blossoms windmill fragrantly down from the frangipani trees making happiness for me and the pink bougainvillea and red hibiscus flowers enliven old stone and wooden beam, by helping to paint a more colourful scene.

Sitting on a stone bench or with my legs thrown over the fort walls as the sun goes down is one of my favourite activities in Galle.

  A good long while every day just watching and waiting to see what the play of light and cloud will do today.  Some days truly spectacular (none more so than happily on my last evening in Galle when Piyasena had said ‘there will be no sunset tonight’), and others less so.  I look over my shoulder and down on the road Sabudrah, Pavitha’s helping hand is taking her for her evening hobble-stroll to the large tree by the tea shack and back.

Some brief moments of rain too fall upon my days in Galle.  Appropriately accompanying my typing of a journal piece cheekily whinging about having had too much good weather for the last eighteen months.  On one night a fantastic series of thunder and electrical storms explode through the skies around the Fort from all sides.  Crackling over the ocean.

'Two lovers watch as the end of the world unfurls'
  At one point cracking down - it sounded anyway! - right on top of Weltevreden.  As the epicentre seems to move a little further away, myself and friends Martin and Chris steel our nerves to  go stand on the Fort wall and watch as God’s Greatest Show blazes in the distance, and encircles us all around.  Electric spider webs breaching and reaching across the dark canvas of the sky.  A bright bolt of lightening touches down somewhere out to see.  On what?  One of the giant cargo tankers that sit at anchor on the horizon line for days on end awaiting the green light from Colombo port perhaps?  ’BANG! FLASH! CRAA-ACK!!!’  Another thunder break scares the pants off of us.  After fifteen minutes or so, a thought suddenly occurs to me.
Galle stunning sunset skies.
  ’What if one of these bolts were to take it upon itself to touch down on my head?!’  Flash.  Bang.  Delete.  Everything gone.  I think of poor Pavitha.  I get the willies, tell the lads I’ve had enough and turn back inside. 

Later I am invited to sit at the table, have a tea and join Piyasena and Pavitha for some slices of date sponge cake as they sit together on the chez long.  Pavitha hunched slightly forward with her wide vacant eyes as usual.  My hosts are more comfortable around me now.  A familiar if odd face now for Pavitha.  This strange little flame-haired sprite that keeps flitting in and out of her existence.  She sometimes smiles a cracked but nonetheless pretty smile when she sees me.  Sabudrah smiling in kind at my attempts to talk to her ward as sincerely as one can in such situations.  ’She recognises you now’ Piyasena smiles.  ‘Part of the furniture’ I say and explain the English idiom to Piyasena. 

On my second evening, having dinner at Weltevreden (as I do on all but my first night in Galle) Piyasena asks where I would like to have my tea and I express an ‘if you don’t mind but whatever suits the family best’ preference he then shuffles with mild embarrassment, a host caught off guard and tactfully hints maybe outside might be better as ‘sometimes she [Pavitha] forgets to eat and then we must... help her a little.  You know... put food in her mouth.  It might make her a little uncomfortable to have someone she does not know see this.’  I kicked myself mentally as I had envisaged just such a truth in an earlier thought but forgotten to be sensitive to it at the point of being asked. 

But now they don’t mind.  Piyasena and I nibble away.  A moment for blushes as Pavitha begins to just crush and crumble her cake all over her flowery skirt and the floor.  The act of an unknowing child.  ‘S’alright Pavitha, it’s cake.  We’re supposed to be messy when eating cake!’  Inane, but in my experience it’s better to throw something into such awkward silences rather than letting them grow.  Pretending nothing slightly odd has happened.  The English way. 

‘This is the problem... this is the price of marriage’ says Piyasena gazing at me with an indecipherable mixture of pride, defiance and pitiable distress - but not regret.   Those tears pricking his eyes and his arm around his wife’s shoulders.  Robbed of each others company precisely from the moment they both retired from a lifetime of teaching and raising three successful children.  A lifetime of inspiring young minds only for your own to start to shut up shop the minute your work is done.  Alzheimer’s no reward for such endeavours.  ’No, this is the virtue of it!’ I exclaim.  For me, as a 30-something singleton it’s been a minor epiphany to see what a powerful bond and comfort it must be to have someone to love and stand by you through the tragedies that tend to touch us all at one time or another in life.  A security I’ve not yet found, or tried too hard to find.  I go on to explain to him how genuinely moved I have been to spend time in their company and again, how although a different situation and relationship, it has made me think a lot about the time spent with my mother and family in difficult times past.

It really is a most tender and beautiful tableau of marriage and partnership.  One of the finest I think I have ever been witness to.  ‘The important thing is to never forget that every action still counts.  That everything you do for your wife still has meaning for her.  Too many times in these situations when the mind has been harmed or gone’ I babble ’people just give up on treating the sufferer in the same manor as they would have done before.  As if they’re not there anymore.  Gone.  And you can’t let that happen.  As you say, she is still your family.’  My bizarre rallying Jerry Springer moment over it’s back to sipping sugary tea : ’What the British Empire was founded upon’ Ha ha.  Sip sip.  Piyasena helps his wife by lifting her cup hand to mouth and latterly gently tipping her head back with one finger pressed gently to her forehead.  We talk some more and don’t realise until too late that Pavitha’s let her cup tilt too far down, the tea sputtering down onto the floor.

The next morning is goodbye.  Time to leave the silent world of Galle and especially the special little time-frozen world of Weltevreden that I had entered.  Weltevreden apparently means ’Well Satisfied’ in Dutch and this is most apt for the happiness I derive from my time within the villa’s walls.  Piyasena offers me his hand in farewell.  ’Oh, so you are leaving?’  He knows this.  And do I sense the tiniest tinge of regret in those glistening, kind eyes?  Nah, just kidding myself I think.   ’We have enjoyed having you as a guest very much.’ But I sense he has appreciated someone taking plenty of time out to talk to him and his family in a way maybe a little more attentive than the usual revolving door or sight-seeing tunnel vision guests.  I can feel every bone slipping around inside his warm, age-slackened, papery-skinned hands.  He wheezes and coughs in the usual manner that makes me fear for his health too.   And the ’we’ importantly I sense encompasses poor Pavitha his wife whose final grasp of the stimuli of happiness I hope lasts long enough for her to be able to take in her daughter’s wedding this December.           

I’ll offer no apologies, but at the same time, hope you don’t mind an entry that even more than is usual with me had relatively little to do with a Place, but rather more the people and a situation that I encountered.  Travel needs such moments and stories to bring it to life, and such is true of the writing of it too.   I am very privileged to be able to choose to indulge in slow travel and have the time to eke out such histories from the lives of the wonderful people I encounter as well as the settings I encounter them in.  As I explained to Rini and Fran in a bar in Jakarta last week, after over eighteen months of travel now, it is a movement towards and through people, their personalities and stories far more than destinations and tourist attractions that engage me these days and that will see me through to the end of my journey.  Even if sometimes those stories are sad. 

A grandfather clock coughs unheard in a dusty antique shop.  Does anyone hear it?

All the noise retreats. 

Retreats into silence. 

Everything does in the end.

laviniawoolf says:
Wonderful, thoroughly enjoyable reading :D
Posted on: Apr 15, 2017
lilanimuna says:
Well writen... enjoyed reading it. :)
Posted on: Aug 06, 2010
Stevie_Wes says:
Thank you gang... yeah this one was from the heart for my heart and whomever else's it may yet touch.
Posted on: Jun 16, 2010
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A seaside wall in Galle ... which …
A seaside wall in Galle ... which…
Toes and Waves :)
Toes and Waves :)
Taking time out in peaceful old Ga…
Taking time out in peaceful old G…
Fireworks on sale ahead of the Sri…
Fireworks on sale ahead of the Sr…
The charming courtyard of the Welt…
The charming courtyard of the Wel…
Clouds over the Galle sea views
Clouds over the Galle sea views
Blazing Rays
'Blazing Rays'
Cow casts his shadow on Pedlars S…
Cow casts his shadow on Pedlar's …
King Coconut Bike
King Coconut Bike
I think this is one of the Brit er…
I think this is one of the Brit e…
Silence/ Marmite.  Love it or hate…
Silence/ Marmite. Love it or hat…
Galle clock tower by entrance to t…
Galle clock tower by entrance to …
My graceful host Piyasena out fron…
My graceful host Piyasena out fro…
Intricately carved building front …
Intricately carved building front…
Retro / Antique moments in Galle
Retro / Antique moments in Galle
Inside the Dutch Wall antiques shop
Inside the Dutch Wall antiques shop
The 1938 lighthouse inside Galle F…
The 1938 lighthouse inside Galle …
Silence Zone   (Thank G*d!!!)
'Silence Zone' (Thank G*d!!!)
Galle mix-match architecture
Galle mix-match architecture
Questions Children Ask :  Why d…
'Questions Children Ask' : 'Why …
Stevie and another sunset
Stevie and another sunset
Two lovers watch as the end of th…
'Two lovers watch as the end of t…
Galle stunning sunset skies.
Galle stunning sunset skies.
photo by: tj1777