Discussing the current situation in the Middle East with perfect strangers is not recommended. Doing so in Sri Lanka with a tuk tuk driver, who insisted on making eye contact while speaking, turned out to be almost a life changing experience – both for me and a host of other road users! According to my driver all the past troubles in the Middle East have been caused by western intervention and the current troubles are because of a lack of it!
Understanding the Middle East used to be simple. From a Western perspective, everybody over there hated everybody over here. But now they’ve decided to get introspective and hate themselves. It’s gotten so bad we can’t even figure out which side to sell weapons to.
My politics are slightly right of Genghis Khan’s. Not being a liberal I could never figure out the stuff that I didn’t understand. That’s never stopped the hemp and lentil brigade however. I ran into a sandal wearing collective of them recently, scratching their beards and asking themselves,”what would ChÃ© do?” Apparently it’s still kosher to march against Israel. They are the only democracy in the region and we all know that doesn’t work…
My destination was the Bay Leaf Restaurant on Gregory’s Road in Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo. I was meeting the Dark Knight, a global financier turned eco-farmer. DK has a fondness for the verdant unspoiled pastures of Sri Lanka’s highlands, as well as the dusky unspoiled village maidens. Neither remain unspoiled for very long when he’s around…
The Bay Leaf is one of several establishments run by Harpo Gooneratne, one of Sri Lanka’s leading restauranteurs. Located in a sympathetically restored Victorian era building it combines modern Italian cuisine, cocktails and a generous dollop of old world colonial style. I sipped a beer sitting on the varendah upstairs, the ceiling fans gently stirring the tropical air. Priyantha the barman is one of those excellent types who seems to understand exactly when your pints starts getting warm – a cold one magically appears at your side.
The decor in the cocktail bar is slightly disappointing – an air conditioned cocoon with garish pink and blue neon lighting, it is not in keeping with the restrained colonial elegance of the rest of the rooms. The drinks made up for it. With a little direction, Priyantha was soon mixing excellent martinis. We tried the locally distilled Celebration Vodka. It was perfectly drinkable in a martini although it probably works best as a mixer. The London Spice Gin, brewed by Mendis Distilleries best known for their oak aged arrack, is a winner. Strong pepper flavours and noseful of spices makes this an excellent choice for a martini.
Slightly the worse for wear I clambered into a tuk yuk for the journey home, sobering up quickly when I realised that my driver was either very sleepy or drunk, or both. Fortunately the roads are empty so there are fewer opportunities for mishap. I am heartened by the images of Jesus, Buddha, Ganesh and Vishnu obscuring my driver’s forward vision. He’s got his bases covered. I’m in good hands!