26 January, 2009

Photos from the Galle Literary Festival 2009, in sunny Sri Lanka

What a magic venue to hold a literary festival! First I'll whizz you around on a whirlwind tour of the 17th century Dutch fort to give you a feel for the location. Location matters.

First, the lighthouse and mosque on the southern tip:

...and again, but viewed from the centre of the fort:

Typical Fort streetscapes - with the ubiquitous Bajaj tuk-tuk:

...and old fortified ramparts dating from colonial times:

...but minus cannon emplacements. Note the Bajaj tuk-tuk with surfboard:

Goats wander at will, and a bullock snoozes next to its cart:

Locals go about their fishy business. Galle is nothing if not a fishing town, and a place where old TATA buses go to die:

Kandyan dancers seemed to pop up everywhere we went...

...as did the ubiquitous feral cows, scavenging food scraps from bins and drains:

Our festival activities began with a recreational tour of tiny Taprobane Island, now owned by the festival organiser. It has been the haunt of past writers and luminaries, viz, Paul Bowles, Robin Maugham, Arthur C. Clarke [..."where I escaped the tyranny of the typewriter"], Gore Vidal, and latterly graced by no less than Marie Burrows:

We waded accross at low tide, blissfully unaware that we would later have to return when the water was waist-deep. Tricked... but OK cool ;-) ...no 18-foot tsunamis today. As we entered the house, Marie and I had an extremely weird feeling of deja vu... the design and dimensions, if not the material, was nearly identical with our former octagonal house in North Queensland, but Taprobane was an island, not perched on the summit of a mountain. Another minor difference was that Taprobane Island can be rented for eleven hundred pounds per night. Yup folks, that's 1,100 British quid per night, minimum 3 weeks... oh well, heck, there is a pool...

The first function was the official Festival opening, held at the humble birthplace [photo below] of the venerated late Srilankan writer/scholar Martin Wickramasinge, south of Galle at Koggala:

This was followed by a nosh-up at a massive hotel/resort aptly named 'The Fortress', allegedly built by a well-connected Srilankan politician with an unaccountably huge amount of cash to fling around. Say no more, nudge nudge... or else. There is a palpable atmosphere of politically-generated fear in Srilanka, and non-conforming journalists are at risk of their lives. President Rajapakse's cronies offer policy concerning the LTTE as a "with-us-or-against-us" thing, Weapons of Press Distortion, copy-catted from Amerkin-style poltix, viz:

Then on day 2 began a feast of events which left us literally breathless and stimulated. In the photo below, Marie heads off to lunch after listening to travel-writer Colin Thubron recounting anecdotes of his travels along the Silk Road:

Through this main gate of the Galle Fort are the district legal offices and Courts. Marie could observe the environment in which her great-grandfather, a respected (and feared) Srilankan KC from Colombo, might well have visited. The Great Family Tradition survives in diasporic reincarnation - Marie's sister Catherine has also attained dizzying heights in the Silk trade in outback Orstraya.

(Hmm, in fact, I might hire Catherine to protect us from unwelcome attention from goats begging for food at Hikkaduwa station, en route from Galle to Colombo.)

I have no idea why this goat had "DONATED TO OXFAM" branded on its rump:

Here's the sleepy Galle Magistrates Court, in a dusty lane just inside the gate:

It is ironic in the extreme that we, as Australians with Queen Elizabeth still anachronistically lodged as Head-of-State, have to visit a long independent ex-British colony to hear English spoken as it oughta. The likes of Pico Iyer and M. J. Akbar are politically astute thinkers, both incredidbly articulate with incisive wits. As a humble photo-blogger, I was in awe.

Here's Marie at a workshop, sitting between balding photo-bloggers:

Germaine Greer spoke about writing taboos, sex, and censorship. During this speech she claimed that older men were more media-visible and accepted than older women. She commented that whiskery old men with dodgy prostates are perceived as cuddly and cute. (I confess, I felt a momentary impulse to ask a parallel question about about wizened old post-hysterectomy women... but the urge receded, conveniently). I was sitting next to Thomas Keneally at the time, and Germaine seemed to glare accusingly at us both... eek. Germaine specifically cited the plight of Australia's Aboriginal men as one subject that is taboo in Australian public debate.

A standing ovation for Germaine Greer

After the session, Germaine and Thomas hugged and both shed tears of rage and compassion for Aboriginal Australians. It also happened to be Germaine's 70th birthday... but she didn't seem particularly invisible:

A more humorous, if considerably more prosaic facet of the Srilankan literary tradition can be observed in my photo of a geriatric glue-pot in the Galle post-office. Couldn't resist photographing the generations of stamp perforations, assorted paper fragments, papr-clips, and even biros embedded like flies frozen in amber. Also check out the classy cardboard desk protector:

Inspired, we brought home a metre-high pile of books from the GLF Bookshop, but expertly spread the weight so there were no excess baggage charges. More luck than magic - it pays to arrive late to check-in: airline staff are in a hurry:

For confirmed GLF junkies, there are more photos and atrocities here .


  1. Hello!!
    I love your blog and pix of Sri Lanka. From the caption, I loved the funny description of Germaine Greer's comment and the look she gave Thomas and you but you dont look as cuddly as Thomas Keneally. Besides as you said, finally she ended up in his arms not yours (and proved her point!)

  2. Is the Sri Lankan author Shyam Selvadurai ever mentioned???