Thursday, December 25, 2003

Christmas Afternoon

Trinco Bedroom

Another gorgeous day in Sri Lanka. The Indian Ocean rhythmically caresses the sandy shore. The ubiquitous seacrows caw and swoop about. The fishermen just gathered up their long skeins of nets.

This is my second Christmas Day outside of the U.S.A. The first was in 1967, when I was in Vietnam as a warrior in the unnecessary war of my generation. I am saddened and reach out my prayers to other American and British soldiers, as well as the Iraqi people, who are confronted by another unnecessary war in the Middle East. I am most privileged to be here in Sri Lanka working with other peace-minded folks to live on the ground our deep-rooted beliefs in peace and nonviolence. We are very blessed.

I came across a poem I wrote 20 years ago on Christmas Eve, which reflects upon the Bob Hope Show I saw on television that year shortly after American Troops had been killed in a barracks bomb blast during the U.S. incursion into Lebanon, as well as the Bob Hope show I experienced on Christmas Eve in Vietnam. For those of you who may not know, Bob Hope was a famous American Comedian and movie star who for fifty years, beginning in World War II and continuing through Desert Storm, organized a show for American servicemen overseas. He visited American soldiers in both the European and Pacific Theatres of WW II, Korea, Berlin Airlift, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, and Iraq during Desert Storm, as well as many other foreign places where U.S. soldiers served. Here is the poem:

Bob Hope Show--1983

Christmas Eve
Waning days before the year of Big Brother
The TV flickers cross-fading images of the Bob Hope Show
Another ritual of entertainment for American grunts
Being maimed and killed in a far-off land

His eyes silkenly sincere
Straight into the lens of the nation’s soul
Our President yearns for peace
But steadfastly vows to keep the troops in place

Hot damn we’re doing it again
Keeping the world safe
For some democracy
While our precious youth
Spurred forward by patriotic myths
From fantasies of armchair warriors
Are brutalized in a cross-fire
Of centuries-old blood-hatreds

The soundtrack croons John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas”
And I’m flooded with memories and tears
Never able to forget my Bob Hope Show
Christmas eve of ‘67 at Phu Cat Airbase
On the once verdant coastal plain of Vietnam
Where too weary from witnessing too much death
I couldn’t snicker much less laugh as he quipped
“Some police action, huh boys!”

I rock my sleeping son tighter
Pray for a time
When our beautiful land
Can be as diligent in waging peace
As it still is obsessed with seeking war

Christmas Eve, 1983
Garden City, New York

Though I am saddened that not much has changed, that our nation still has not chosen to wage peace as diligently as it chooses to wage war once again in Iraq, I am grateful for this opportunity to serve as a peace warrior in Sri Lanka, though it means being far away again in distance and space from you who I love and cherish so dearly.

The past ten days I've been with the NP Sri Lanka team Up Country in the mountain and tea estates of Central Sri Lanka doing a week long workshop in NonViolent Communication and having a year end meeting with the Nonviolent Peaceforce staff. The mountains are absolutely gorgeous. Here are a couple of pictures I took from or around the bungalow I stayed in at the Kotmale Resort, which was built by the Swedes in the 50s for the workers who were constructing a nearby dam and reservoir:

Someone told me this was Adam's Peak, but it's not, just another of the many beautiful mountains Up Country in Sri Lanka.

Some of the beautiful, and at night incredibly delicious-scented, flowers that abound in the mountains.

Vegetation abounds . . .

The always efficient recycling of Mother Nature . . .

While there, one of the trainers, my teammate, Soraia, and I climbed Adam's Peak, one of the holiest shrines in Sri Lanka revered by Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians. There is a footprint reported to be that of Buddha, Adam, Siva or St. Thomas depending on which religious myth one subscribes to. We made the straight up climb in about 2.5 hours, starting about 3:00 a.m. in the dark to get to the top by sunrise. We froze on top of the 7500' peak with stiff winds making the wind chill factor somewhere around freezing, but the view of the sunrise slowly lighting up the mist-laden mountain valleys below was well worth the climb and the cold. The two hour hike back down in daylight was gorgeous with it's mountain vistas, waterfalls, incredible foliage and magnificent birds. I took bunches of pictures, but alas my camera is snafued and in a repair shop in Colombo. Hopefully I'll be able to get it next week and be able to download the pics from the chip. The five hour climb straight up and back after freezing up top is grueling, as strenuous as running the NYC Marathon last year. I'm still sore several days after.

I came back to Trinco Tuesday night and will spend the Christmas holidays by myself in the house. My teammates, Karen and Soraia are both on leave. I have several parties to go to among the ex-patriot community here in Trinco, and being largely a loner, I don't mind being alone. The next several days, I will do a lot of chilling, reading, writing, exploring some hot springs near Trinco, maybe take a daytrip to some nearby ruins of one of the many ancient kingdoms that came and went in this tropical paradise island's turbulent history.

Again, I wish you all a blessed and serene holiday season, and keep in loving, gentle touch with each other and with me from time to time . . .

Saturday, December 13, 2003

In Colombo at my fav Internet shop; just had a delicious croissant and latte at my fav hang-out place in Colombo, the Delifrance -- life is good . . .

Had an all-night trainride from hell Thursday night from Trinco to Colombo, crowded, cramped, stinky (ode de commode), jerky, bangy and otherwise most awful, plus it was two hours late.

Yesterday spent mostly queued up at the Indian Embassy to get my visa for the World Social Forum in January. Going to Mumbai (Bombay) -- I am most psyched about this. Also can visit India two more times between now and June of 2004 on the visa I got yesterday. Will want to see the Taj Mahal.

Later this afternoon, the NP team gathers in Kotmale, in the mountains Up Country in the middle of the tea plantations. It is going to be beautiful and much cooler. I'll get bunches of pics, but won't be able to upload them until I return to Trinco, since Internet access is very limited. I will mostly be out of email contact as well.

Be gentle and peaceful with yourselves . . .

Thursday, December 11, 2003

6:06 p.m., Thursday, December 11, 2003
Beach Resort Room

Quick post to include this poem, the sole effort of my beach weekend away, now removed several days already . . .

In a couple of hours Karen, Soraia, and I catch the night train to Colombo, sleeping in 2nd Class sleepers. That ought to be really fun. We get in to Colombo about six in the morning, spend the day there doing some shopping and stuff, me getting a visa to visit the World Social Forum in Mumbai in mid-January, which I've pretty psyched about . . .

Then we go Up Country into the mountains of Kotmale near Kandy for a break and a training in Nonviolent Communication. I'll have a few days off after the training to either do some sole exploring, maybe Adams Peak, or to come back to Trinco by myself -- Karen and Soraia are both taking some leave -- to do the Christmas party with some of the INGO staff around here. I'll do it like I do most of my life, when I remember, take it "One Day At A Time . . . "


the bike ride out from Trinco Town was lovely and luscious
even the garbage dump filled with swooping herons
was quaint in the late afternoon sun translucently bathing
mangrove, banana and banyan groves in multi-shaded hues
a defining contrast for a lagoon and wide stretches of rice paddies
as far as the eye could see, blending into a far, low-hilled horizon

herds of meandering cows lazily munched among abundant vegetation
and no doubt somewhere way out west elephants were on the range

banks of clouds billowed overhead, shifting shades of white-grey
a fluffy backdrop for free-floating daydreams and fantasies

until dissonantly
on the ribbon of road
stretching before me
a group of toy soldiers
staggered ranks
on both sides
with AK-47s
heavily booted camies
equipment in web gear
no flak jackets
one swaying PRC-25 antenna

a squad of Sri Lankan Marines
not toys but very real humans
out on patrol in the gentle land
catapulting me back 36 years
when I plied other rice paddies
in an ugly U.S. Army gun jeep

I carefully rode between them
eyes rigidly front

December 7, 2003
Nilaveli Beach Hotel
6:59 p.m., Saturday, December 6, 2003

Room 23, Nilaveli Beach Hotel

Welp, here I am doing what I do best, much more the past couple of years than I too often did during the two decades plus with Sara, off on an adventure by myself. I sit here wired to digital sounds while my desktop fades every 5 seconds into blending colors of different abstract phantasms, reminding me just how slippery each now is as it cascades into other being.

I sit on the patio of my comfortable, but sparse room. No telephone, so I can't jack in, nor does my GSM sim card work here, so I'm effectively cut off from reaching out and touching anyone, digitally or otherwise. Directly in front of me the Indian Ocean, which I can barely discern despite the sounds of Whitney wailing acapella in the earphones that she still will always love, who was it, ah yes, Kevin Costner, in a movie, BODYGUARD?, I should probably just for unrequited love sake see if a pirated version of it is available in Colombo.

A little while ago in a vibrant dusk as the sunset behind me played breath-taking pink-orange and mauve sonatas among the distant bank of billowing clouds on the distant horizon, I was the only one to be frolicking in the swift, white-capped surf, gently cascading all around me in swirls of white-frothed foam, like I remember that one splendid dusk evening in the summer of what was it, 77?, 78? when I was at the Black Duck. I'm pretty sure it was the summer I was with Leslie, so that would be 78. I think Edward Grana and Peter were with me for awhile, and it may have been shortly after the Jarhead chased a poor, two foot sand shark with his old M-1 rifle -- come to think of it what the f*k was he doing with an un-unmilitarized M-I rifle ? ? ? -- In the surf of Fire Island those many now years ago, mostly I remember being totally mesmerized in a deep communion of wonder at the translucent beauty of IT all, like Ricky describes watching the floating white bag and swirling leaves, like Lester learns in his final dying moment to totally be aware of living each moment by moment gift to the fullest with awe and wonder and gratitude for his "stupid little life" in AMERICAN BEAUTY, which I watched again last night with the voices-overs of Sam Mendes, the Director and Alan Ball, the screenplay writer commenting so deliciously about all the incredible performances and the production values of just how wonder-filled a flick it is, one of my all-time favorites.

Overhead, just about to disappear for this night, from this view on the patio of this temporary home for this one night, an almost full moon winks and blinks through the thick foliage of the grove of trees, separating the beach-side rooms from the shining sea, which I can barely see glistening about 200 meters in front of me. A gentle breeze sooths, palm fronds in the lights of the swimming pool to the left shiver and shake arythmically -- I am so gratefully glad I am here, in spite of the frustration of my derailleur busting to smithereens on the bike ride out up by Uppuveli, effectively locking the chain in the gears, so that the wheel was frozen, which forced me to take a tuk-tuk back to the bicycle shop to get it fixed. The driver got a 250 rs. ticket, which reluctantly I paid, because apparently it is a violation of the Trincomalee traffic laws for a 3-wheeler to carry a bicycle through town, even if it is disabled and belongs to a strange foreigner, who was folded like an accordion of sardines along with his two bags in the back chaperoning the bike.

A couple of hours later it was fixed, so I could take a wonderful bike ride out in the wide green-velvet countryside to get to Nilaveli with a couple of side trips off the main road to check out the French Garden and a few other Guest Houses, which I'll visit in the forthcoming months. I've got a lot of weekends to explore the local spots during the next couple or three years, since it is most doable to take the ferry from Muthur on Saturday morning and be up here in a couple of hours, then take the last ferry back to Muthur on Sunday, or stay in the Sunflower Guest House and take the first ferry on Monday morn. Yes, it's not gonna be a bad life at all -- except I sure wish Bonnie was here though, that would make it totally sweet. Too bad she won't be able to apply for one of the three early placement spots NP will try to bring here to augment us sooner than later.

Speaking of later, after I pig out on the dinner that is included in the $20.00 price of the room, as is breakfast in the morning, I'll watch ANNIE HALL, feeling no doubt most nostalgic for my favorite all-time city, New York, and Long Island, where most of my blessed life was spent. I'll even enjoy the LA scenes. Maybe I'll do some creative writing, one of the two poems I have swirling in my head, Squad or Minuet, maybe both, or the My Lai piece I've been procrastinating about for almost two years now. Of course, I have all day tomorrow to laze by the shining sea, although I also want to check out snorkeling and/or scuba diving way out among the reefs of Pigeon Island. They must be splendid because I could see the waves breaking way out beyond Pigeon Island.

What's that last line of Ondaatje's ANIL'S GHOST? "This sweet touch from the world."

9:20 p.m., Saturday, Pearl Harbor Eve

Bed of the same room in the same place

Pig out I did on the rather mediocre buffet -- just indulged in a bountiful belch that hopefully won't evolve into agata -- but it was fun watching the people, as I love to do, especially the old man and woman with their family that were celebrating his birthday, most especially when the long-together couple got up and danced, him in unsedate shorts and she more formally and properly dressed; I wasn't too envious. The two person combo was a trip, one on bongo and guitar and the other playing an electric piano. When I walked in they were playing "Never on Sunday," followed swiftly with "Fly Me to the Moon" -- I thought they were safely stuck in favorites from the 50s until as I was in line getting my cream of carrot soup, which was the most tasty and enjoyable part of the meal, they started playing Van de Man"s "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You." Let me tell you, it's a bitch to be crying in your cream of carrot soup.

Like Angie and Karen, I think I must be coming down with a systemic infection, I should get checked out next week. I think I've got another boil coming on top of the right nipple this time, and at 60 years old I've got a beautiful zit just to the left side of my nose, of course not in the least covered by my otherwise prominent gray beard . . .

10:21 a.m., Pearl Harbor Day

Room 23, Nilaveli Beach Hotel

Sara McLaughlin wails and the sun out beyond the shady grove of trees shines bright and warm on the swirling surf. Chipmunk squirrels scurry about and seacrows swoop from branch to branch hoping for something to scavenge.

Been up since about 6:30 a.m., living my life alone, doing my thang, walking down by the beach, reading my spiritual stuff, getting hooked in to the Internet to download my email and taking some nice pictures, including these that follow, which includes a wonderful shot of a Monkey Momma with Child and a shot of a flock of parrots that were swooping all around this pole of a limbless, topless palm tree trunk, squawking and flapping at each other. Unsuccessfully, I also tried to get some shots of soaring eagles, but they were too far away or flew out of the frame. Have I mentioned that I have seen more eagles, the national bird of the country of my passport, here in Sri Lanka than in the 60 years I lived there -- life is so weird. Here are the pictures:

And here are a couple of shots of the view from Room 23:

Apparently the scuba and snorkeling concession isn't open, so in a while I will check out and move my stuff down to the food cabana to hang out for the rest of the day, writing some, reading some, laying around in the sun some and dipping my grateful bod in the ocean some, maybe after doing a run down the beach.

Annie Hall last night was, indeed, a trip down memory lane of New York City when I lived there in the 70s, not too poignantly nostalgic except the very final scene with its shot of Lincoln Center across 9th Avenue from the coffee shop that used to be where one of Patrick O'Neal's Restaurant went out of business in the early 90s, when Sara and I stayed in the Empire Hotel those couple of times of the Imago Training.

Nevertheless, my life, all of it unconditionally, is such a gift, when I just chill out , as I fully intend to the rest of the day, and let it be . . .

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