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Sri Lanka Travel

My non-fiction writing centers on my many trips to Sri Lanka.  I have a creative non-fiction piece titled Like an Elephant in production now with Austin Macauley Publishers and a self-published ebook called Three Buddhist Treasures in Kandy.  Today I will explore two awesome but overlooked places near Bentota, a popular beach resort just south of Colombo:  Brief Garden and Lunagana.

Geoffrey (1919 – 2003) and Bevis (1909 – 1992) Bawa are two of Sri Lanka’s famous sons.  Geoffrey was a talented architect renowned for tropical modernist design.  His work is spread throughout Asia including India, Singapore, Pakistan, Japan and Fiji.  Geoffrey’s older brother Bevis was a soldier, a lawyer and then a landscape architect.

I imagined that their combined talents made for some beautiful spaces and was eager to see these two estates.

Lunuganga, the home of Geoffrey Bawa. The house was begun in 1947 while Bawa was a lawyer. Working on this project inspired him to become an architect.  Bawa’s designs were an important departure from the British colonial style as he sought to merge hardscape with landscape to create buildings that worked with both the climate and natural elements specific to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

The road from Bentota to Lunaganga follows a road that winds its way through coconut plantations and brilliant green rice paddies before crossing an inlet.  Eventually the road ends with a fence. When I visited, there was no sign, but my phone map said we were at Lunuganga,  Lucky, my Sri Lankan friend,  found a buzzer and spoke to someone on an intercom. We were asked to wait.

A few minutes later the gate opened and a man dressed in a white shirt and white sarong greeted us.  He introduced himself as Nadu and announced he was to be our guide on a garden tour. “We have guests from Japan at the hotel, so we will not go inside that building,” Nadu explained as he led us on a leisurely walk through some 15 acres of lovely gardens incorporating water and local as well as exotic plants.  The property was once part of a rubber estate.  The verdant landscape was lush with plants, terraces and pavilions.  Birds flitted from tree to tree and filled the misty humid air with song. Huge silver-trunked frangipani trees spread their limbs contrasting starkly with the dark greens of the foliage surrounding them. Our mouths hung open when we walked onto a terrace that would have been at home on the Amalfi Coast. Romanesque statues lined the edge of a terrace overlooking Dedduwa Lake. Through breaks in the greenery we glimpsed several buildings for guests.  We were also able to go into some rooms designed for parties and relaxing scattered about the property.  The high ceiling rooms were very cool and airy – perfect for Sri Lanka’s humid high temperatures.  The light filtered through the adjacent foliage dappling the walls and casting the cream colored walls with stipples of soft greens and light.  Stunning.

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IMG_0074 Lunaganga Gardens

After a quick lunch of rice an curry, I went to Brief Garden, the home of Bevis Bawa,  located about 10 kilometers from Bentota.  Bevis Bawa was quite the character.  He was a heavy smoker and drinker and openly homosexual in a culture where being gay is often hidden.  He entertained movie stars and artists.  His sense of humor is clearly manifest in some of his statues that have strategically placed carrots.  How funny.

Faces, phalluses and female genitalia are recurring motifs in the garden as are flowing lines and lush planting.  Several ornate reflecting pools adorn the gardens along with grand stairways and meandering paths.  Lucky and I helped each other spot hidden treasures one of which was a large but harmless snake lounging in the sun.

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Once finished outside, the caretaker took us through the house decorated in an eclectic style with Sri Lanka antiques and contemporary pieces.  We saw Bawa’s study, and enjoyed looking at the period photos and the artwork.

Buddhism, Broken Ribs and Writing

It has been a slow couple of weeks in the writing department.  First, I had my sister staying with me for a few days.  Then I fell off a ladder and cracked a rib. Yes,ouch.  I have a huge old Live Oak looming over my house in Florida.  It constantly sheds acorns, leaves and sticks with a limb falling, too, now and then.  I had a mild leak during the hurricane in September and needed some screws on the roofline sealed, but the leaves and debris had to go first.  My neighbor Larry got on the roof with his leaf blower and I got to work cleaning the gutters.  On my first descent from the ladder, I missed the lowest rung slamming my chest against the ladder and hitting the ground.

I got right up and finished the job and have not really curtailed my activity as much as I should have. I raked up all the debris and bagged it up, re-arranged the furniture in my main rooms and moved my bed.

My rib only hurts when I move or sneeze or cough, but gets a little less tender every day.  My approach to writing is the same as my approach to injury — keep working through the pain and eventually it won’t hurt any more!  Lately, I have been having trouble working on the sequel to Bea’s Tale: The Next Chapter — Chasing Bees.  I instead reworked some of my old English teacher stuff and self-published a writing manual for essays about literature. My proof copy should arrive today!

I did get some news about Bea’s Tale: The Adventure Begins.  I sent a manuscript off to Austin Mcauley — they are publishing my memoir Like an Elephant.  They offered to publish it in partnership with me for an investment on my part of about $2500.  That was good news, but I have not yet decided what to do there.

I had a free offering of Bea’s Tale: The Adventure Begins through Amazon Marketing Services and had about 25 downloads.  I need some reviews; perhaps one or two of those readers will write a review.  I added about 30 key words so that the book will come up on more searches. Actually my little pamphlet Three Buddhist Treasures has the best history of views and clicks.  Maybe I should write a story with a Buddhist heroine, lord knows Buddhism is an adventure!

AMS photo

 

 

Teasers from Bea’s Tale and Chasing Bee’s

 

Saved  Chapter One from Bea’s Tale: The Adventure Begins —

Kindle Direct Publishing 2018

 

I never knew my mother.  They say she died of consumption – a coughing and spitting of blood.  She probably caught it workin’ night shift in the freezin’ cold mill.  My dad, a mean son-of-a-bitch who cuffed me regular, thought beatings were like daily vitamins: I got one whether I needed it or not.  I got my last cuffing the day the dead truck come to pick him up, and it was a bad ‘un leavin’ me with a split lip and a shiner ’round my eye.  They say the influenza got him, but I say it was meanness what killed him.  Meanness and my prayers. So now I am an orphan and better off now than when I wasn’t.  They call that ironic, don’t they?

My name is Bea, which is short for Beatrice. It means “she who brings happiness.” My dad named me that ‘cuz he won a five-dollar gold piece at his favorite gin mill when I was a baby.  He also said I happily rid him of his good-for-nothin’ wife, that’s my mom, by weakening her with my birthin’ so that the consumption caught her and killed ‘er. He said he was over in India durin’ some war or other, and Bea was the name of a girl at some flea bitten gamblin’ den he frequented.  I’ve since learned different.

My mom was weak in the head, so Pa put me to work beggin’ in my nappies in the arms of some wench or another. My curls and big eyes, he says, really pulled in the coin and kept the drink in good supply.  When I got too big for profitable beggin’, my fine dad taught me how to pick pockets.  The hardest part of my new job was takin’ a cold bath every week so’s the marks wouldn’t smell me ‘fore I got close enough to pick ’em.  But then most everyone in the Quad, that’s a huge slum outside of Boston, Massachusetts, didn’t smell too nice.

You may be wonderin’ how I got enough education to do this here writin’.  I’ll tell ya.  I was nabbed pickin’ a pocket and the mark was a fancy fellow in a top hat and drivin’ one of those big Fulton Road Ramblers, all shiny and black and puffin’ steam.  To be honest, he’da never caught me if it weren’t that I was sick with a fever and the chills all at once.  My dad drank up the last of our money before he took sick.  I had to tend him, so I wasn’t workin’.

 

Anyway, this fancy fellow, Mr. Sinjin Wheatley grabbed me by the scruff of the neck-like and flung me into the back of this big ol’ fancy steam-carriage.  Imagine my stupidifaction when he dragged me, not to the police station like you was probably thinkin’, but to a big, fancy house all brick and white pillars on Beacon Hill. He then handed me over to a woman sayin’ all bossy-like, “This filthy urchin tried to rob me.  Here’s your chance to do some real charity work.  See what you can do with him.”

Clearly, Mr. Sinjin Wheatley was lacking in powers of observation since I ain’t no “him” – or it coulda been I was an inch thick in dirt and dressed in equal filthy britches.

To make a long story short, Miss Eleanor did clean me up and adopt me as her newest project which included teaching me my letters and numbers, feeding me regular, and making me take baths, which ain’t so bad when the water is warm, and the soap don’t burn the devil outta your skin. She is also trying to teach me to be lady-like which means not floppin’ myself on the furniture, not eatin’ like it’s my last meal, not scratchin’ when I itch, and the like.  The list gets longer every day.

But the worst is the shoes. Sometimes I think I’d rather be pickin’ pockets somewhere than havin’ my feet stuffed into shoes.  Other times, I think wearin’ shoes is a small price to pay for a warm bed, good food, and a real shortage of beatings.  What do you think?

Beowulf  Ch 1 from Bea’s Tale: A New Chapter — Chasing Bees

Breathless. I run down a maze of narrow squalid streets.  The shapelessly huge and dark thing chasing me.  A relentless shadow.  I swerve as it reaches toward me with a bloody claw dripping gore.  A mistake: trapped in a blind alley.  I try to turn and face it but am rooted to the spot.  Closer. Closer comes the dripping talon.  I scream as it comes within inches of my face . . .

A cold metallic nose touches my face as the wail of my alarm sounds in the predawn dark.  I shiver with residual fear and take deep breaths to calm my racing heart.  Breathe.  In. Out.  Think about something else.  Saved from the dream demon by Artie. Artie . . .

I will myself to think about Artie my mecho-dog and constant companion.  You see, real dogs died out from a fatal distemper nearly a hundred years ago.  We now have robotic dogs: mecho-dogs. They can be programed for a wide range of activities from caring for small children to guerrilla warfare.  My Artie resembles a terrier of old: a woolen body in beige and brown with a stub of a tail and ears of leather.  His exterior workings are shiny brass. Artie has a vary large processing capacity and seems to almost evolve with every experience — that is my contribution.  You see, I have a skill for working with a spanner and gears and Artie.  Skill and love combined create art – Artful.

Artie was with me on my adventure last summer — you may have read about it.  He has an amazing knack for saying and doing the right thing: Good morning, Miss Bea, Artie said, as I rose and slipped into my dressing gown and slippers.  I detected some distress in your sleep.  Did you have another bad dream?

Craving a cup of hot tea, I throw on my robe and go over to the small table laden and tray. Pushing the dream demon back a bit further with a sip of sweet and hot tea, I respond to Artie’s question, “Yes, I had the dream about the shadow again.”  I shivered at the memory, “You know Artie, now that I am awake and in the morning light, I think I had the dream because I was up too late studying for my English Exam over Beowulf.  The arm and claw reminded me of Grendel,” I shivered again with a little laugh.  “Funny my dream getting all mixed up with my school work.”

Miss Bea, didn’t Grendel get his arm whacked off by Beowulf?  An then his head? Maybe its a good thing you dreamed about only the arm. Perhaps it means that you are about to slay your monster. 

“Artie, have you been reading Jung again? Slay my monster, indeed!” I snorted in a very unlady-like fashion. “The only thing I am about to slay is this stack of hotcakes!  Nightmares sure make a person hungry!  Tell me about the summer work/study opportunities, again.  Please.”

Option A:   A four week programing intensive at The Swiss Institute of 

Technology in Zurich.  

Option B: A four week dig at Mayan ruins in New Guatemala.

Option C: A four week program building housing for displaced peoples in 

India.

Option D: A four week Pre-Norman Culture course in England and Wales.

Option E: A four week fashion history course in Paris.

“Georgiana and Heddy have signed up for the fashion history course?” I verified as I took the last bite of pancake dripping with maple syrup.

That is correct.  Today is the last day to make a decision, Miss Bea. You must register by 12 noon.

“Oh, I made my decision long ago, Artie. At precisely 11:59:45, register me for Option D, please Artie.  And don’t mention my choice in front of the girls; I am not sure I want to hear their complaints today.”  While I love my two dear friends and will miss them this summer, I feel the need to be off on my own adventure learning things about which I know nothing.  I enjoy shopping for dresses and cute hats as much as the next girl my age . . . but I was feeling tight and in need of a stretch, if you know what I mean.

The warm shower chased away the remnants of my dream chills.  As I slathered on lotion and combed some order to my brown curls, I tried to figure out why I had that particular recurring dream.  I have a repertoire of bad dreams, you see.  I grew up in the Quad, a slum on the outskirts of Boston where I live now.  My Pa, whom I know know was my captor, beat me and put me to work begging and then picking pockets.  He abused my sick mother who was a bit touched in the head, probably from seeing her true love and husband, my birth father, killed right before her eyes by my captor dad.  It’s a long story. I was eventually saved from captivity and brought to live with Miss Eleanor Wheatley.  I live with her now and have worked very hard to transform myself from a gutter-rat to a fine lady.  Sometimes the dreams haunt me and seem to be trying to tell me something.  I tease Artie about all that dream stuff by Dr. Jung, but he may be onto something.

I decided on my olive green frock for today.  The color suits both of my eyes.  You see I am a Chrome; I have heterochromia which means my eyes are different colors.  One eye is green and the other is golden colored like a cat. I used to wear glasses to hide my odd eyes, but now I look for ways to accentuate them.  Today an olive green dress with a black and olive striped collar and a black leather vest suited me fine.

I asked Artie to quiz me over Beowulf as I tried to do something with my hair. You see, almost a year ago, I cut it all off with dressmaker shears so I could disguise myself as a street urchin — a boy street urchin.  I needed to go find my friend Sadie whom I thought had been taken by slavers. I started school with a mop of curls around my ears.  Now my hair is now nearly to my shoulders and needs more work to keep tidy. I decided on a ponytail for today and worked on brushing the curly brown mess back while Artie shot off questions about Beowulf.

Name the mead hall built by the Danish king.  

Name Beowulf’s sword.  

This character taunts Beowulf about his swimming match.  

The text was first written down in this century.  

Describe three places in the text where pagan and Christian beliefs 

merge and what this reveals about the poet. 

Do you have a can of oil?  I feel a tightness in my right rear leg.

“Thank’s, Artie,” I said as I took a small spray can of oil from the dressing table and tended Artie with a spray and a polish.  “Is that better?  Good! Let’s go.  The girls will be here any minute.”  Artie bounded away and shot down the stairs in front of me.  I am sure we sound like a herd of elephants, but Eleanor doesn’t mind.  She is an early riser. In fact, she was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs, as usual, my lunch and school satchel in her hands.

We kissed each other on the cheek, “Good luck on your exam, Bea.  I long to hear about your choice for summer work at tea.  We will be dining alone, unless Sinjin chooses to join us.”  Sinjin, short for St. John, is Eleanor’s very bossy brother and my uncle, but she has learned to hold her own.

“Not Pendy?” I asked.  Pendy or Andrew Pendergrast is her fiance. She blushed slightly and shook her head.

“Okay.  I hope you have a good day saving the world,” I said. You see, Miss Eleanor is the Direct of the Greater Boston Abolitionist Society, a job she loves and which keeps her very, very busy.  She coordinates a program that rescues child slaves from both the USA and the United Confederacy of States and works to return the children to their rightful homes or to find them good homes if that is not possible.

I opened the door just as Georgiana was about to push the bell.  We all giggled as we descended the stairs laughing all the way to the gates of Vansittart Academy for Innovative Young Women.

Six hours later, I sat in English class, the last class of the day.  I stared out the window thinking and worrying a bit.  I finished my exam too early and the teacher was scowling at me.  That could mean two things: one, I am an ignoramus and failed, or two: I was prepared and did very well.  I was hoping for two – an epic victory on my part in the endless struggle between student and teacher for points. As I sat there looking as if I were daydreaming, I was thinking about Beowulf.  Was he heroic or just plain crazy, sailing across a monster infested sea to help some old king he didn’t even know?  Did he go because he felt he owed the old guy? After all the old king knew his father way back in the olden days. Did he go because he wanted to be famous, like the teacher said? Or, did he go because it was the right thing to do? After Hrothgar ‘forgot’ to tell him about the mother, why didn’t he just leave?  Why did he take her on, too?

The way I see it, we will never know because Beowulf did not write his own story.  Stories that are told over campfires and such without being written down can be changed.  How many times was Beowulf’s story changed before some old Anglo-Saxon wrote it down?

You have Beowulf to thank for this story.  I figure if I want my story told the way I experienced it, then I need to write it down myself.  Who knows, maybe in a million years some unlucky school stiff will have to take an exam over Chasing Bees.

Published!

Becky_Czlapinski_1.jpg

Whew!  This retirement stuff and writing keeps me busy.  As many of you know, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year and finished with a little over the 50,000 word goal.  I had the character and bits of the story kicking around in my head for years.  I settled in, hammered things out and got busy writing.

When I first started with NaNoWriMo this year, I joined a facebook group for inspiration.  There was lots of discussion about whether one was a planner, one who plotted everything out in advance, or a panster, one who just writes and figures thing out along the way. As a teacher, I was definately a planner, often planning my lessons out for a month at a time; however, to my surprise, as I wrote this book, I was a panster.  I wrote at least a chapter a day. Then I revised first thing the next day.

As a big picture person, I am really, really bad at editing.  I found lots and lots of errors even up to today when I posted my book for sale on Amazon.  I don’t doubt there will be some more.

Once NaNoWriMo and Bea’s Tale: The Adventure Begins (Becoming Bea) were finished, I submitted my book to Kindle Scout.  This program offers readers an opportunity to nominate books they would like to buy and read. The campaign last for 30 days and after that time, Amazon kindle decides whether or not they want to publish it — offering a modest advance and promoting services. My book was not selected, but I was happy to have been part of the process.  It would have been nice to get some feedback, though.

It took me an entire day to get my book formatted for e-readers using Kindle Direct Publishing. It took me a day and a half to get the paperback ready for printing.  Kindle Direct Publishing is pretty easy to use and I am certain that the next book will take less time.

Bea’s Tale: A New Chapter (Chasing Bees) is half written at 30,000 plus words.  Now that I am finished formatting, I can get back to writing. Yeah!

A Word about Shit-hole Countries

I have been blessed with the opportunity to do a lot of traveling in the past five years.  Many of the countries I have visited could be described as shit-hole countries.  I say this because of the reactions I get from many people who hear about the places I have seen.  Their face and their comments say it all: why would you go there?  To that shit-hole country where the food is bad, the water can make you sick, and the people are so foreign?

“Weren’t you afraid?” “Was it safe?”

I was teaching in Kuwait in 2012 and 2013. Kuwait borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia. People in America were concerned with my safety in Kuwait. That is odd since in 2013 there were 33,636 gun homicides and 73,505 non-fatal injuries by guns in the United States. In Iraq during the same time civilian deaths by gunfire were estimated at 10,000 in a country that was at war. Was I safe in Kuwait? Give me a break?  From August 2012 to October 2015 while I was in Kuwait, there were over 80 incidents where guns were brought to school with over 80 deaths. While gun violence in Kuwait is difficult to measure because of bureaucracy and censorship, I heard about zero incidents of gun violence in schools or elsewhere while in country.  Was I safe teaching in Kuwait?

Was I safe in Mexico where I taught from January 2016 to June 2017?  Probably not,  but during that time there was one school shooting resulting in two deaths.  During the same period of time in the USA, there were 22 incidents where guns were brought to school with 14 deaths.  The 2016 homicide rate in Mexico for 2016 was 17.03 per 100,000 while the USA homicide rate was 12 per 100,000. Okay, Mexico is not a safe place to be but there is only a 5 point difference.  So who’s safe where?

If gun violence were a marker for shit-hole status, the United States would be right up there. In fact, many people that I talk to in my travels picture all Americans holstered and locked-and-loaded.  Many were shocked that I did not have a gun and did not know how to shoot a gun. Maybe they think even Mickey Mouse wears a gun at Disney World.  Who knows?

I visited some other countries such as Italy (4 times), Sri Lanka (15 times), Nepal, Egypt, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Netherlands. I have discovered that people don’t really want to hear about travels to shit-hole countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka because they would never consider going there.  They are very eager to hear about the palaces and museums in Vienna, the ruins in Rome and the art masterpieces in Florence; not so eager to hear about the temple marking the birthplace fo Buddha in Nepal, the place where Buddhist teaching where first committed to writing in Sri Lanka, or the magnificent Mayan ruins in Mexico.

If the food is no good and the water coming out of the tap has bacteria that you are not used to, then, for many of my fellow Americans, that is a shit-hole country.  If people flee a country to escape the ravages of a natural disaster or to find a job that can improve the lives of their family, then they come from a shit-hole country. Little do they know, or care, that people in these so called shit-hole countries work from dawn until dusk for a month to earn what an employee at Macdonalds earns in a day. Little do they know, or care, that these people love their children, worry about the future and the environment, and value education.  Little do they know, or care, that millions of men leave their families to do menial labor in hostile environments little better than slavery to better the lives of their families. Little do they know, or care, that the culture of these so called shit-hole countries is rich and ancient and based on the same principals our country was based on.

When I hear that Trump has made another crude and deplorable remark, I am not surprised because I have found that many who share his ideology think the same way.

We are lucky to live in a great country.

We are unfortunate to have such a low class, vulgar, stupid man as our President.

Writing Habit

For decades, well two anyway, I have been telling my students that writing takes practice.  I encouraged them to write every day with journal prompts in a writer’s notebook.  We read how famous writers tackle writing: Annie Dillard, Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Alice Steinbach, and Tim O’Brien to name a few. I talked the talk, but never really got down to walking the walk.  Too busy reading papers and books to prepare lessons, too busy with graduate school, then too busy traveling.

Things changed in October 2017.  I retired from teaching.  I spent months and endless hours in the night worrying that I would find retirement boring and purposeless.  Instead, I find I am busy and satisfied.  Why?  I have developed a writing habit.  I get up when I want, drink my coffee, then sit at the kitchen table soaking up the sun and writing.  I begin by skimming over what I wrote the day before then going from there.  I write in the afternoon for a couple of hours, too.

Since I retired three months ago, I have written over 90,000 words!  Unimaginable even a year ago!  During November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and finished a 50,000 word novel — the first in a series:  Beas’s Tale: The Adventure Begins.  Since then I have written 32,000 words in the next book:  Beas’s Tale: Chasing Bees.  AND I am having fun.

Most of the habits I have developed over my life have been not so inspiring: swearing, smoking, biting my nails — the list goes on.  I like this habit and am proud to be a writer.