Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Day 215- A Fair Exterior

 Poor, poor Ro

After three hard months of touring the country, selling their wares and entertaining with songs, today she is finally home.  Alas, mayhem awaits  her homecoming.  She shakes her head in disbelief.  The house, a shamble! Her precious kitchen, ransacked! 

O no!  she cried , eyes brimming with unshed tears as she found almost 2 dozens of her favourite crockery, broken and scattered around the kitchen floor.

Drunks!  Damn them! she hisses as she sees  just as many empty and already dirty bottles strewn everywhere. I am going to kill them! With every single one of these bottles! I'll break them like I am in a bar fight, jab, jab, jab! she says , stabbing into the air as she starts to weep. 

Where is everybody, anyway? I must find Papa OM or W, she muttered as she hurriedly walked out towards the back of her house.

And so  it is in this state of agitation that Ro is confronted with a most unusual sight. Right at the corner of the house, the weirdest of  tree has grown to almost as tall as her home. Ro has never seen this tree before and wonders how in the world it has grown so fast with a full head of the greenest leaves. Right here in the middle of a  Rajasthani desert? In three months? Then she sees something blue and orange moves, right up there...She  quickly finds the pair of ladder built by OM and starts to climb.

This is the  picture that greets her when she reaches the top. A pair of the sweetest white rumped Shama have apparently found their home in this tree and they are clearly in loveAwwwww,  Ro lets out an audible sigh and it is at that moment that the female bird  (she has the shorter tail), looks up into Ro's eyes as if to say, don't worry , my dear, all will be well. And with that, Ro felt like a load  was lifted off her  chest.

And as she climbs back down, a chatty monkey is just on his way up. He stops when he sees Ro and the funniest thing happens. Ro swears she can hear him say Hello! Ha ha ha! Ro throws back her head and laughs for a full five minutes. Hearty and heartfelt , the laughter brings Ro a sense of empowerment. Not only is everything going to be alright, Ro knows then that she is the one who will make it so. 

You are both wonderful and weird, Ro says to the tree when she is finally down on the ground again. Look at how you are leaning with your tallest branches growing  sideways. They are like a pair of outstretched hands, at once providing a nice shade for the people below and shelter for the animals on top. I shall be like you, Tree,  and start fixing everything so that my home can be the shade and shelter that we have meant it to be. 

Now, Let me start with something easy and relaxing. How about if I paint the front of the house? And so Ro goes about painting the front of the house.

Then I shall line all my broken crockery along the shelves like they are antiquities in a museum. And so Ro does so with as much care as she can muster, each piece resting in a special place above the respective windows.

True enough, centuries later, these chipped and broken pottery  becomes the priceless treasure that Ro has envisioned them to be and can now be viewed in Singapore, free of charge.

In the same spirit of turning trash to treasure, Ro starts to see the art in the discarded bottles as well. Look at the special way these are made. How the neck is short and the mouth is narrow. A very clever way to prevent early evaporation of moonshine that is a crazy 100% alcohol! I bet if I clean them, they will make the prettiest coloured glass bottles. It will be silly to throw them out or use them as weapons. And so Ro lines these up too on the window ledge with a broken jar of desert flowers in their midst. And when she runs of space on this ledge...

...she carries on with the other one, not forgetting the flowers of course , this time on a split piece of old log. 

The old hurricane lamp and the family's water bag, made by the finest tanner, are found  crushed and dirtied in a sorry corner. After Ro hangs them back up in their proper place, they now don't look so bad, don't you think?

 And as Ro works, she notices OM's fishing basket sitting outside the door. She smiles as she realises that there will be fresh fishes for  dinner tonight.

Very fresh fishes indeed, as the fishing trap is still wet and muddy from its recent trip to the river. She remembers how OM has painstakingly made this trap so that there is another means to get food on the table.  

What a pair they make! As if they are a Match made in heaven, just like the 2 birds. Love is in the air, sings Ro merrily, whistling and skipping to the music in her head.

And speaking of dinner, I hope the communal cooking pots are still here. Sure enough, there they are as she finds them sitting in their usual place at the other side of the house. Nothing can go wrong now..lalalalala
Alright, we are almost done, except for this brown patch at the front of the house. How nice if I can build a lotus pond here. ...

And so she closes her eyes and starts to imagine the most beautiful lotus pond  

and when she opens her eyes, she knows exactly where she will build this pond. 

Just one last thing ? Should  I  change the beaded toran hanging from the top window? Ro asks herself..I think not. I like the faded look now instead of   the gawdy gold  before. And as Ro admires her shabby toran, she realises that inside each mango leaf  is a little tree of life!  This is a sign , she says, my toran will stay here forever. Little does she know that  her resolution made this day will soon spark a world wide craze for the Shabby Chic Look. 

And as Ro surveys the results of her day long efforts, she acknowledges that the house is finally coming together and may arguably look better than before. Yes,  even the old valances seem to brighten up today, just like a pair of glitter  lashes over sultry eyes.

Just then a sliver of a moon appears in the completely black sky. And  Ro sees that the house, basking softly in the pale moonlight really does look better. 

One thing is for sure, it definitely feels like a home again. 

A Special Acknowledgement

Sometime in June this year, Glenda and I decided to do a swap. Glenda has requested for a a pair of my embroidered dancing shoes and had asked me what I wanted. I knew I was in luck because Glenda is truly a magician with leather, amongst her many other skills. I showed her a picture of a water carrier and asked if she could make me a leather water bag. She said she would try. This is what  she gave me.

And all she had to rely on was this picture . I am sure you will agree with me that the likeness is astounding.The bag was in pristine condition when I received it on 8th July 2010 .I had to dirty it for my purpose. I hope I did not break your heart , Glenda. 

As far as I am concerned, what I gave her cannot  compare with this bag alone but Glenda, with her usual generosity, not only gave me this bag, she also gave me her famous rush mats (I used in the living room)  , some glass bottles (will be in the kitchen) and my now favourite scarf. You can see the scarf here.

Thank you Glenda, this bag will always be one of my most treasured minis. 

Further thanks :

to Cindy who made the crockery from air dry clay. All chips and cracks are solely attributable to me, except the broken jar for the desert flowers. That's hers.  I also painted them. 

to Kristy who suggested that we can use Christmas light bulbs for bottles

to Jayne whom I had commissioned last year to make the most beautiful  lotus pond  

to Publilius Syrus, who despite his unfortunate name, gave us the famous saying  in the 1st Century BC : A fair exterior is a  silent recommendation   

to Qesha, my 8 year old niece who found a bunch of flowers left behind by someone in a forgotten chair and who then  decided these flowers were perfect for me when she  greeted me at Gate 31 on my return  from Sri Lanka. The desert flowers are from this bunch of flowers.

and last but not least, 

to Rosanna for all her encouragement and for being the inspiration behind this story. All the boring parts are solely attributable to me. 

Other things attributable to me, 
Tree- improved over the years by me adding real moss from my garden every 6 months
Love birds- bought handmade styrofoam birds from Bangkok which I painted to look like white rumped Shama
Fishing Trap- made using the ever versatile  shuttlecock , glue for water effect on floor (you did notice that?) and laquer and glue  for the trap's wet look
Toran- bought from a shop in Little India selling prayer items, it was gold but has since been aged by me
Communal pots- Daiso S$2 a piece , painted by me

O yes, I also painted the front of the house of course.

Monkey is an old plastic toy  and the fishing basket was bought in Little India. 

And Alison, if you are reading this and have come this far, what do you think of the fishing basket? As far as I am concerned , it is the work of a master even though they are commonly sold for peanuts. 

And FINALLY, (I really mean it this time)  a big thank you to all my friends who always read my posts and share with me their thoughts . May Love always be in the air for you.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Day 205-Glimpses Into A 19th Century Folk Culture

Martin Wickramasinghe childhood home, now part of the Wickramasinghe Folk Museum. 
Photo courtesy of Dream Into Reality

When I was in Sri Lanka, one of my most memorable visits was to the Wickramasinghe Folk Museum at Koggala, just 10 km from Galle and opposite the hotel that  we were staying in.  From the moment I walked into the compound and saw this house, I knew it would be one of my dolls house projects.

According to the museum book "From The Cradle" , this is a typical middle class rural home of the early 19th century occupied by the village gentry. The headman, the teacher, the native physician were among such people in the village.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: It was a pity that my memory card was full right  after I took this photo of a monk in the museum garden.  I have thus taken great liberties with the pictures and text from "From The Cradle" . All words in italics are quotes from the book. 

Spacious Drawing Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"
Occidental influence is clear from the furnishings.

In the first picture, you can see a nice wide porch area at the entrance of the house.  This open veranda is where the homefolk relax and  where the casual visitors are also entertained. Relatives and gentry are invited in and they sit in the drawing room.

 Bed Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

This is the main bedroom which  is on the left of the drawing room. There are others behind the drawing room.

  Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

This pitcher and basin is in the room where Wickramasinghe was born. That was the era when a mother gave birth in her own home. An experienced village midwife would handle the delivery. Wickramasinghe was the only male after 8 girls. In my own family, 2 of my siblings were also born at home.

 Dining  Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

The dining room is separate from all the other rooms whilst the kitchen is in the rear of the house. 

 Typical village kitchen (kussiya) in a Singhala home -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

I am particularly interested in the Kitchen because that is the next room I have to tackle in The Rolla's House. 

 Traditional pots and pans used in my hostess' modern and affluent household.

I have seen quite a few kitchens in Sri Lanka and  invariably they bear some resemblance, whether it is old or new, rich or poor. This is one place where traditions are steadfastly upheld  and  where no amount of European influence can change. 

 Wooden decorative spoon holder (hendi aana) -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Hearths & Pots - Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Cooking is done using firewood. A hearth (lipa) is prepared using either three stones (lipgal) or clay to raise the cooking pot above the fire. There would at least be two or three hearths. Above these is the dum messa- a loft where certain foodstuffs as well as pots and pans are stored. 

Paraphernalia used in the kitchen are varied. Most of them are earthenware utensils. Clay pots used  as cooking utensils are identified according to their shape and design. The kalagediya, for example is a vessel used to carry and store water. Females carry it on the hip with the arm passing around its neck. The muttiya which has a wide mouth is used to boil rice.  New pots are changed once a year.

Two or three days before the Avurudda or the Sinhalese New Year, the village potter brings a pingo load of clay pots and pans as gifts to each of the four leading families in the village. The potter is invited to partake of a meal of rice, coconut, chillies , salt and home made sweet-meats, which enable him to enjoy the New Year meal with his own family in style. In his pingo load of pots, the potter includes stack of little toy clay pots for the little children in the households he visits.

Sweet-meat containers Photo from  "From The Cradle"

On avurudu day, milk rice and numerous types of sweet meats adorn the table and the family members sit together to enjoy the first meal for the New Year. Following tradition, the neighbours are sent their share. They in turn would reciprocate.

 Rice Measuring Cans (Mum uses these too!)  Photo from  "From The Cradle"

The Sinhalese eats rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice and Curry is on every menu and in every hotel buffet. Now if you are in Sri Lanka and want a traditional breakfast, you ask for hopper or string hopper. These too are made with rice.

Paddy Measuring vessels (wooden and cane) Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Rice is obtained from paddy grown extensively throughout the country. Most rural folk own at least a small plot of paddy land which they could cultivate during the rainy season. Work at the threshing floor is done with the utmost respect. Great care is taken in what they utter and what they do. Before the paddy is measured and put into bags to be taken home, a few measures are kept aside as offerings to Buddha and the deities. 

 Barns-Photo from  "From The Cradle"

The barns for the storage of paddy are a common sight in rural homes even today. The straw roof is the lid of the barn. Paddy is loaded into the barn through the roof using a ladder to reach it. The door is at the bottom so that what is drawn out is the older paddy. The barns are of different sizes depending on the extent of the paddy fields owned by the family and the yields obtained.

The other common food on the table must surely be fishes. Stilt fishing  is an old tradition in Sri Lanka although  it disappeared for a while after the tsunami. Lately though, these fishermen have been seen again along the coastline in the south. They are truly a sight to behold and have been depicted in many paintings and art form.

 Fishing traps use for fresh water fishing -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

These traps are designed by the village folk for shallow water fishing. They are made out of ekel or reed and are designed for the fishes to swim into them and get trapped. They are then collected and cooked for a home meal.

 Karakgediya- Photo from  "From The Cradle"

This one called the Karakgediya is, according to Robert Knox , a British sailor who was taken prisoner by the Sinhalese king in the mid 17th century, a kind of basket made of small sticks so close that fish cannot get thru; it is broad at bottom and narrow at top, like a funnel, the hole big enough for a man to thrust his arm in , wide at the mouth about two or three foot; these baskets they jobb down and the end stick in the mud which often happen upon a fish; where they do they feel it by the fish beating itself against the sides, Then they put in their hands and take them out. 

Can you guess what I am going to use to make the karakgediya? 
Isn't it amazing how similar some of our traditions are?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Day 213-214-More Ancient Living With My Sis

The Day After

So where was I ? Yes, the day after....Day 213, a balmy Sunday afternoon with me trying to weave a basket crib. 

The picture above was what  the Living Room looked like in the morning. I was staring at it when FaiZ walked past and told me that crib has to be sized down to 2/3rd of what it was.  

I had made the crib from the basket on the left by cutting the top part off. Obviously that was not good enough. 

So I took out my book on basket making and some paper strings and started weaving.  Yes, I was trying to make a miniature basket using life size technique and it was very very hard. Truth is I didn't even understand the instructions in the book half the time and the other half, I didn't have the right tools.

Weaving was painstaking and I was at this point (see left pic) when my sister walked in and asked me what I was up to. I told her I was trying to make a basket. SuZ had learnt how to weave baskets in school and assured me that I was doing the weaving right. Then she looked at the original basket I used and asked me what it was for. A crib, I said. You mean, you wanted it this way? I looked up and saw that she had held the basket and squeezed it at the edges so that it looked like ....

Alright, this is what it looks like now, after all the bells and whistles. Literally. It's the same basket I had used but squeezed. SuZ made  this crib for me by tying the basket at the bottom to make this shape.  She also  added the bells so that when the baby wakes, mama can hear her wriggling in the basket. She also picked the blanket.

Inside the crib, I have included the doll made for me by Mercedes. This doll is wearing a sari. The rattle toy is a metal finding painted by me.

Today, SuZ came by again and I asked her for help with the curtain. So this is the latest version and my favourite so far. Anyway, with that, the living room is completed for now. Except for the rug which is not suitable as it is a prayer rug.  I am stitching one now for this room and hoping it will be finished  before the end of the year. 
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