I live in Italy at the moment, in Florence, the city of rennaissance art. Florence incidentally, despite the hype, poses quite a few problems for those who actually live there. Florence is just another bewitchingly scenic backdrop against which the theatre of ordinary people’s lives unfold. The chief problem is the lack of real jobs for the Italians; the lack of big employers in this city of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Ferragamo, Cavalli  and gelato, leather and gold.

The city is a veritable walk-in museum and walking down to the Arno one day to the expensive shops selling useless luxuries coveted by no one, I spoke to a shop-girl.  She had nothing much to do and was dying to share her pet peeves on life in this blasted city.  I have a thing for attracting bleats… and doing the same… it’s kinda interesting when it’s not MY fault the mess is there in the first place and so one can relax and enjoy the view.

This convo took place around 3 years ago. There was something she said, though, which I never forgot : In order to get on in Firenze she said ( Italian real name for Florence) you gotta improvise.

You just gotta get on with it and make do with the imperfect options you got and just get the desired outcome without whining or waiting for it to be provided cos  ( hollow laugh and the stubbing out of an illegal smoking device indoors) there ain’t nobody to provide it. So don’t whine and wait and request advice and assistance just get it going with what’s available. Yeah… that’s it !’

You’ll be very happy and … there are worse places you could live in.. just travel and imbibe the paradise of tuscany and the nature… and hey, ( grinning) the people are just brilliant, friendly and you’ll have a great time. Ignore the politics, the Prime Minister ( then Berlusconi) and forget the stats as well as the raves. You are living here now and you will discover your OWN Italy, your way. It’s still possible here cos the people make the cities you know in Italy not the other way around ‘in the world where things actually are driven by programmed life …(mocking sotto voce) hehe !!’

I have since watched people cutting up mosquito nets and DIY ing the doors and windows at Summertime. Oh yes, we have the tiger mosquito here who is so shrewd it bites you and always evades the slapper.  But this argument was something bigger than a literal interpretation of improvising for life.

I have improvised ever since.

I’ve taken the good, celebrated the people and the fact that I have the best meditarranean fish ( Pezzico) reserved for me, informed of by phone, delivered to my door by the brother-in-law (Vittorio) who encourages me to be happy with the lovely kids I got and gives a bit of philo advice gratis before announcing that he is about to become a granddaddy with a shy smile. Last Sunday we drove a short way and walked in the lovely natural park with Anjou collecting pine cones to paint (Pigna) and Dhani poking a stick into every nook and cranny we passed. What did we spend on all this? Not much. Memories for a lifetime.

In the recess my mind is the Indian Ocean and a panoramic widescreen playing of  waves dark green and blue that purposefully ebb and flow against the shores of the land where I was born and lived and in a sense never really left.  Walking now through the best tuscan countryside wonderlands and vinyards you could imagine I am aware of the need to understand the Improvised Life better, especially now in fluid times, than before.

Yeah, the creative ability to find the good, celebrate it and work towards a better community and future, yet imbibing and improvising as I move along.

This morning,  while I sipped my mid-morning cuppa I called a  friend in Sri Lanka. he lives in Jaffna. We spoke of the two-day long power cut how annoying it had been and then I asked him how he really was doing, how was Jaffna?

Ah…. you may have heard of the crazy weather we’ve been having he said, thank God people over here are not dying of the cold but over in India, they are. It’s so strange he said, people are getting fever all the time, they are so not used to these temperatures you know.

“It’s completely the opposite to what we are going through in Europe and even Canada has had a milder Winter this year” I said and we tut-tutted at the state of things in the world. I am so thankful for such exchanges that bring some light from a faraway place where the extraordinary people live daily lives.

And yes, despite the cold, it is heartening to hear how the Galle Literary Festival has brought writers and other people of the world home to Sri Lanka. How they have creatively managed to speak to home-grown writers they would be interested in presenting to the world and its about poetry over politics. These people were interested in writers and literature beyond  Galle.

In the (R)oom, the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo. I always loved T S Eliot and the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and recently a writing by Sugi Ganeshananthan on the Galle Literary Festival reminded me of this line and she answered a question in my mind. Thank you Sugi.

The Room is important to me for it is in the improvising of an opportunity, a room, a space that leads us to outcomes which will give us a little light. One day the room hopefully will splinter in the light and dissolve. For now, it is a Room. What we see, what we do, depends on how we can improvise with what today has to offer, how we use the driftwood and chip-chip opportunities that float up on the shore.

I myself try so hard as a mum, a writer-lawyer-researcher to craft a space on the internet that will be a Room without any flight tickets nor to-some-extent-politicised planners needed to access it. More than ever before, I am compelled to improvise and do what I can with the skills, resources and material I can summon at the beginning. I hope the outcome will be Light.

There is nothing that challenges and humbles the human and his mainstream education as learning a new language, the ways of another people, setting up home among ‘strangers’ and the ways of digital technology. This is my currency. So here’s to improvising and improvisers of rooms and life-spaces. For none of it would be fun,  enlightening and appreciative of the great diverse humanity the world has on offer, without the skill to improvise hands-on to celebrate life in its raw  yet, undauntedly hopeful reality.

Posted by: Gaya | December 19, 2011

The Jehovah’s Witness crusaders speak Sinhala now !

Yes, language as we well know in Sri Lanka can be very powerful in politics. But what was this?

I was already down at the main door to our apartment with the now-cold evening air streaming in, talking to a friend who had delivered Anjou to our door. There was a couple at the door, she was blond with scandinavian looks and he was Italianish, none of this did I take in till later. They were ringing a bell to be let in to no avail, so playing the friendly resident as Italian custom is, I asked them before shutting the door ” You are ringing for someone? ”

They shook their heads smiling and said it was ok, but just before I shut the door she, the bespectacled blond asked me ‘err… where are you …from? I am used to this. So I said glibly ‘ Oh I am from Sri Lanka’ before the customary grin-and-shut door.

‘Oyaa Lankawendha?’ She piped. And well it kind of floored me.

I mean, I am used to various combos but scandi+sinhala in Italy messed me up a bit. So i blinked, laughed and sort of tried to talk to her but I could only manage Italian. I had to actually close my eyes to speak Sinhala to her and explained that i had a brain -switching problem with the blond apparition thing; with eyes closed, I could manage.

It turns out that She and He had learnt Sinhala in Italy. She was incredibly fluent in the kind of Sinhala my late father does not understand. The written kind. He would watch “pravurthi” or News on telly with a bemused look and then ask me with a chuckle later ” I don’t have a clue men, what they are saying” My father, I must hasten to add would have been 86 had he lived another year and studied under Brits and is from that generation.

I suddenly realised who they were and after small talk of about 5 minutes in the cold I was about to close the door when she asked me if I were happy.

“Very” I answered untruthfully”.  Absolutely happy as can be”.

“What do you think about the future?” she asked me.

“Oh I am very positive about the future” I lied with a grin. ” I am without fear about the future.” Now comes the fun bit.

” What do you think about Italy she said, do you feel comfortable here?”

Huh, I thought to myself, here you are preying on unrest to catch the discontented immigrant unawares in the wake of a so called racist murder.

“I am very happy in Italy” I assured here getting into the swing of things. “It’s a lot like my country in culture and friendliness and despite its political problems, the bigger social circle and family life makes the quality of life here rather brill” It’s a great place… I was not entirely untruthful in this. I do think Italy has its rich Italian social indicator in comparison with the North.

She kept speaking in Sinhala and I forgot and reverted back to Italian. It was really comic. “Where are YOU from?” I asked, trying to derail the route desired. ” I am Finnish” she said.

Finally she asked me in a desperate bid to save my soul “Where do you think happiness comes from?” This one was easy.  I was beginning to enjoy this. ” Oh right here” I said smartly tapping my head… I must have looked demented. “It’s all in here…!”

“You DO know that happiness does not come from material success” she persisted.” Hey there, I am from Sri Lanka” I said… with an Italian gesture of slight impatience.


"Yehovah Devige Saakshikaruwo Sri Lankawe Siyawasak Sapurai" The Witnesses of the God Yehovah celebrate hundred years in Sri Lanka"

She gave up.

“Well” I asked her before shutting the door, outta curiosity,   ” Who was it you were ringing for?”

“Suresh” she said beaming, “you know the guy on the 1st floor. Now I was a bit concerned.  Suresh does not have a door bell in his name and he and his wife live with another Italian there. How on earth did they get his name? AND, do they honestly now target people and send Europeans who learn the native languages to the door? Is it worth all this effort on a cold December day? Well well.

” We are Yehovah’s Witnesses” she said suddenly realising  that we had not been properly introduced. ” Yeah, I gathered…” I said and feeling sorry for her, requested a pamphlet she was distributing.

Title: Obath me prashna gena kalpana kara thibenawaadha? " Have you too been preoccupied with these problems lately?"

After all it was in the language that had started all the trouble in my motherland.

Or was it the language, I wondered as I slowly walked up the stairs behind my long-suffering children stunned into silence by the fluent Sinhala-speaking Finn.  Was it instead the bearers of language who stole the menace after all?

The script on the pamphlet seemed innocent enough.

Posted by: Gaya | December 17, 2011

Horizontal Hugging

On a given day, we wake up, do necessary survival stuff and take a few breaks now and then for a little horizontal hugging and thumbs-upping. For this is the age of horizontalist expression, like it or not whether its on Facebook or on Occupy terrritory.

I am curious.  Horizontalism is about social relations that aim at equally distributing management power. So without the vertical spokesman, smaller unions and representatives of the different groups, now all participants make decisions by consensus and continuous feedback. It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes exasperating. So it was for the Occupiers and so it is for some of us who struggle hard to get the moderate opinion published via social networking.

Open FB and you ‘like’ a host of photos, comments, statuses and posts. The success of this tool is dependent of many people using it continuously. Why do we do it?

I find a clue in the rise of the recent protests such as Occupy and others. It is simply anarchic. At heart I guess the anarchist in us likes the way we can crawl and trawl our way through hitherto unchartered personal collections and leave our sticker of approval. It is also great to be able to say stuff which does not await moderation by the user. And, it is great to like Sting, Mahatma Gandhi and Adopt a Dog in Sri Lanka when up until now you had no way of expressing your solidarity with diverse values in three clicks.

As anarchists we love to ‘have our say’ but whereas vitriolic debates sprung up on the internet spurred by the use of fake IDs, Facebook makes it a bit more personal and accountable. So we had these forum debates on FB. I personally learnt a lot about the process of forum-commenting in order to allow it to approximate a real discussion. The forums are aimed at sharing all realities, opinions and positions on a host of issues that concern the future of Sri Lankan inter-ethnic unity.

  • Poster 1 posts something and commenter 1 responds with one view thumbs-upping, commenter 2 thumbs-downing the post.
  • Now there’s a commenter 3 who agrees with commenter 1  and bashes commenter 2 and he is joined seconds later with ‘likes’ from Poster 1 and commenter 1.
  • Commenter 2 hovers awhile with more thumbs-down views now goaded on, and is crushed beneath more commenting in longer form by 1 and 3 and poster all liking each other. The result could be that the dissenter disappears from the forum altogether. Is this good process?

I feel bad after such commenting cos i wonder if more damage has been done. Tomorrow I would like to ask commenter thumbs-down to elaborate on his views. Maybe ask a friend of his to find out more about his opinion. This is not possible in this horizontal activity where a ‘like’ is all you get. There should be a ‘please explain’  or can i come back to this tomorrow don’t run away button.

I came across this great article in the New Yorker

“The anarchists immediately agreed to use horizontal organizing methods, according   to which meetings are known as general assemblies and participants make decision by consensus and give continuous feedback through hand gestures. Moving one’s fingers in an undulating motion, palm out pointing up means approval of what’s being said. Palm down, pointing down, means disapproval. Crossed arms signals a “block” a serious objection that must be heard.”Pre-occupied : The origins and future of Occupy Wall Street by Mattathias Shwartz.

Facebook, the preferred social networking tool is rife with horizontal hugs. People lean over and ‘like’ what you do, add a compliment to a photo of your kid or leave a comment that sometimes can make you smile or feel warm inside. But on deeper divisive debates and dialogue groups it would be great to have another option: the crossed ‘block’ smiley that says ‘ I have serious issues with this, please explain’. In this way if a sub-thread was created then the original debate would continue undeterred.

Yet in this new digital world we are in a hurry. As complex humans though, it maybe a good thing to resist the reduction of our social interaction to a mere gesture and stop a while to message, skype and explain, when it really mattered.

Horizontal hugs to all this Christmas season !

Posted by: Gaya | December 14, 2011

The Monster : Killing in cold blood strangers at whim

“Oggi piange il cuore Firenze” (The heart of Florence weeps today)

Yesterday was a divine tuscan sunny day. The tiled roofs outside my tall-glass paned kitchen door glowed russet-warm against a blue sky. This is rare weather for December in Florence, Italy. In the North, in Liège, Belgium, stormy winds lashed cold rain down and blackened trees stood bleakly against a wintry grey sky.

The killers who woke up that morning in both cities were, however, oblivious to the weather conditions. Did they linger in bed for a moment, contemplating that this was their chosen last awakening in human form on Planet Life? Did they brush their teeth? What were the images of the victims that arose in their mind? These questions intrigue me as I cannot imagine the inhuman impulse that is pure evil and premeditated in cold blood.

In Liège the killer was Amrani, in Florence, Casseri.

Liège-killer was a known criminal who had been sentenced to 5 years in prison in 2008 for the illegal possession of rocket-launchers and other firearms. He was out on parole in  2010. He used grenades and guns to kill 5 yesterday including a baby 17 months who succumbed to injuries last night. They who died were white european people.

Florence-killer was a writer who lived alone in the Tuscan countryside but for some weeks had been in the city around where I live. He used a Smith and Wesson in Piazza Dalmazia. He killed 2 Senegalese men and maimed another Senegalese who willed be paralysed for life. This was at ten past noon. Later in the San Lorenzo market in the historic centre of Florence he would shoot two more Senegalese at 1500 hrs. They who died and were maimed were Senegalese men.

The Liège-killer is an insane fanatic killing in cold blood at random and with no racial problems cos he was on top of a bakery and shot into the crowd. The Florence-killer is a racist bastard who drove to the market, looked around, returned and shot the Senegalese targeting them in cold blood. His actions are now viewed in light of the immigrant policy and low-tolerance adopted by the State  for the past decade.

I do not know if there is much difference between the two killers. They both ended their life yesterday under sunny and stormy skies. They had no reason to celebrate Christmas this year. Their main interest was to kill, without mercy and without love for what life is worth.

I was at my kitchen table, writing for the web site i hoped would be a space for a new evolving Srilankanness, and i heard the shots like an explosion. Later on, I went for a walk collected my darling boy and went to a cafe in Piazza Tanucci just one piazza away from Dalmazia. I had an apple tart for lunch and a milk with choc powder on instead of cappuccino. Sitting with Rebecca and Jean, we discussed with comic irony how famously dangerous Sicilian towns and Napoli were ( Naples ) for violent robbery and so on. In Firenze, we mused, hardly that type of violence accompanies the show. I headed home. In half an hour, the killer who was planning the rest of his killing would strike again at San Lorenzo.

Would he have stopped for a cappuccino at Piazza Tanucci before ? I may have been the only coloured chick around at the time. I have no clue. Absurdly I remember telling Jean as I stood up to get my jacket on, that despite the reputation of Napoli, I think I would fare a bit better in Napoli with ma skin tone, and there were these Sri Lankan immigrants there who have invited me to see the Sinhala school… I guess I will be a bit camouflaged: Jean guffawed ! This is the reality of our world.

A toss of the dice, heads or tails, sun or storm, left or right. No reason nor rhyme.

In all those years when we left to work and you heard the muffled explosion in Colombo you thought, this time I was not in the wrong place. A young lovely Tamil lady living in the USA who was on her way to a friend’s wedding in another State, boarded a flight after commiserating with her mother on Sep, 11 2001 that the war in Sri Lanka would never cease and her poor mother wished her on her way with the glorious sarees she had bought for the occasion. The plane never reached its destination.

Today is a day of mourning in Florence and in Liège. I have lived in both countries 7 years in Belgium and 3 and a half here.

What is the use of labelling a killer ? Can you rationally find a motive for fanatacism? They both lived alone. This is where the hate-diatribes, living isolated lives and little community are threats to tolerant human peaceful coexistence.

It’s a black moment in our human evolution.

I am not a blogger. And i love to end every sentence with three dots… Just like my life. So i am really not good at writing content that kills on sight. I am not a blogger cos i was born Asian, female and have far too many live and interesting friends to skypebleat or voipbleat to. And then the tolerance factor they have for me is awesome and humbling, long-suffering they are. My husband rarely listens nowadays especially now that he has realised that the war may be over in Sri Lanka but the permanent lamenting ( shame on us if we let up) has not.

Then why blog? Well, I think I am losing myself on a journey of too many images, stories and powerful triggers, stimuli and self-destructive sadness and lonesomeness. Oh for Christ’s sakes, simply put, I just may lose the plot if I do not write a blog each day on my journey as a 39 yr old mom of 2, married ( no single mom capacities in here) and launching a website which includes oral histories.

So, I am gonna stop engaging in forums on Facebook which have now given me enough friends and learning, just read the odd post. I will blog the momentum of this journey and keep writing, making friends, interviewing and collecting images and uploading to design the content which will eventually be the website content. Only the content here will be the process of writing and not the writing itself though I will introduce some characters who clutch at me throughout.

I hope there will be others who will share what they are reading: the pitfalls of finding them single socks, the only peace at the bottom of the bathtub and the piece you don’t find under the bed whilst writing their digital content.

Well, I am reading Clay Shirkey’s ‘Here Comes Everybody’ and The New Yorker – oooh the great piece on the Occupy Movement Pre-Occupied by Mattathias Shwartz is worth every Eurocent!

Well, the best way to write for the web is to write for the web so i am using the wordpress free blog way to write myself into the free and easy yoga of getting digital content through to the web development team.

Where am i right now on the journey? I have conducted the oral history interviews, listed around 160 something possible contributors on an excel sheet, connected with about 4 or 5 committed collaborators and I have gotten the knotty issues of image-sharing and file formats sortof sorted. The tabs are looking good, the content direction or categories are clear and the web development trans-euro team are awesome.


Mom recipe for leading a double life, that digital roll-in-the-hay, will require :

Daily a blog, a swim, weekly some soups, stews, a roast and a few Italian shortcuts from the Trattoria around the corner and fruit juice to make up those missing calories in the lil people I mother… ah ! the first of those three dots.

An organised laundry sorting scheme and a mad dog dash between 5 and 7.

Coming up: Horizontal hugs, Poetry over Politics and why Christmas needs a bit of Kitsch… not nec in any order 😉

Stay well !