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the cinnamon peeler's wife

2.23.2005 at 10:44:00 AM

what the hell is a cinnamon peeler?

okay, okay enough of you keep asking. what is up with the title? who is the cinnamon peeler's wife? aren't you single and destined to be a spinster?! oh i get it: there is no such thing as a cinnamon peeler and thus you are no one's wife? nice try guys, very funny. but the question remains...

well the title comes from ondaatje's book of poetry and the poem of the same name. his poem evokes the sultry scent that would come from a cinnamon peeler and in turn his love. the images of the poem are amazing and thus prompted me to start a blog. in reality there have existed cinnamon peelers for centuries. the print above shows the cinnamon peelers harvesting the branches. like tea plantation workers and others in sri lanka, they lived in small communities during colonial times, spending their time harvesting the lucrative cinnamon crop for the portuguese, the dutch, the brits, and later the landed elites. there is a long history of cinnamon peelers rising up and leading revolts against their colonizers, famously against the dutch in the 1700s. sri lanka was long famed as the home of the world's best cinnamon, and it was this that initially lured the different travelers, merchants, and colonizers. when the portuguese arrived in 1536 they found a huge cinnamon forest on the west coast and made a bundle from harvesting and selling the spice. those hurt the most by the arrival of the europeans were the salagama, the traditional cinnamon peeling caste. as the demand for cinnamon grew, their living conditions and the demands made upon them worsened. during the british rule, the rates of mortality among the salagama soared. it became common practice for cinnamon peelers to register their children under names from other castes so that they could escape the life of cinnamon peeling.

Cinnamomum zeylanicum, the botanical name for cinnamon comes from the former name of sri lanka: ceylon. sri lanka remains the world's foremost producer of cinnamon, in terms of quantity and quality. from the cinnamon tree, the coarse outer bark can be ground into a powder that is dark brown, has a cinnamon aroma, but a flat, harsh taste. this powder is used in meat dishes and in other coarser dishes. what you know as cinnamon actually comes from the inner bark of the plant. this inner bark is carefully peeled from cut branches and rolled by cinnamon peelers into long quills that resemble giant cigars. the quills are cut into the familiar shorter cinnamon sticks. cinnamon peeling is a highly skilled technique that is still carried out by the salagama, who are quite separate from the cinnamon growers. the processes used are still highly traditional and non-mechanized. you can read more about the actual process at the spice of life; also you can buy best quality cinnamon straight from sri lanka through devi trading. be warned: much of what is passed off as cinnamon in the states is actually cassia, a much coarser plant from burma, which does not have the same delicate taste and aroma of true cinnamon.

the best cinnamon concoction i had in sri lanka was cinnamon and jaggery ice cream, yum! alas i never did meet a cinnamon peeler.

2.21.2005 at 12:44:00 PM

she would buy the flowers herself: creativity or psychoses

this is not really what i wanted to post about. but somehow it seems relevant. i remember standing on fountain's square with my dad one winter morning many years ago and somehow we were discussing the correlation between genius and psychoses. well maybe not actually psychoses, but definitely an inherent tendency towards reclusivity/moodiness/eccentricity (euphemisms for some sort of psychosis?). it sparked my interest, is there some sort of geometric relationship between the level of creative genius and psychoses. when i was in research, i did read some papers that found a positive correlation. i think i still have some of them. almost all that argued for a strong correlation were careful to exclude direct causation, i.e. there is no proof that one causes the other. or is it just that when the person is a genius, we tend to notice their acute social psychoses in greater detail? what if it is rather the scrutiny that a creative genius faces that leads to the withdrawal from the world? maybe it's just mind-altering drugs...

anyway a pioneer in gonzo journalism passed on sunday: dr. hunter s. thompson. he is renown for his strange ways, his drug use, and his biting commentary. he took his life in his home with a gun from his small armory, surrounded by his prized peacocks. read his the rum diary, fear and loathing in lv, fear and loathing on the campaign trail, the great shark hunt, hell's angels, and more. was it the creative genius, the drugs, or just life? and a fitting quote by thompson: "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over".

last week i watched the hours. i know it is old, but my roommate just happened to rent it. the movie has 3 women dealing with suicide in different ways. i had read mrs. dalloway in college (in a modern british lit class) and had enjoyed woolf, as well as waugh and d.h. lawrence. i have never read the hours, which inspired the movie, but i really liked the splicing of three stories. woolf, was herself a creative genius who was haunted by her own demons. she heard voices and was often anxious to the point of sickness. her own demons forced her to move away from bloomsbury (where one could argue existed a modernist literary and artistic cooperative like no other of its time). after several attempts throughout her life and several diagnoses from her doctors, woolf took her life in the river ouse, near sussex, in 1941. she is quoted in her note to her husband as writing: "I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been". the movie made me want to go back to mrs. dalloway. i was at my parents' house this weekend and found the book in the stacks of my college books in the basement. re-reading part of the book made me like the movie even more. mrs. dalloway goes through her day with the confidence that leads all to believe that she is stable and mentally sound, all the while hiding her own insecurities and inner turmoil. yet in the end it is the poet septimus that commits suicide, leaving mrs. dalloway at her party.

from woolf's waves (her husband chose these words for her memorial plaque): "Death is the enemy. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!" The waves broke on the shore."

i have no thesis here, just rambling. random things connecting in my head.

(p.s. for those who skipped my babbling- frosted animal cookies are grrrrrreat.)

2.16.2005 at 2:20:00 PM

sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away

wow, yesterday was a surprisingly beautiful and warm day. the temperature was in the 60s. the sky was so blue and the air crisp. in the middle of winter, it was a rare treat. i could definitely feel a change in my mood. everything was just better when the weather is nice. alas today we are back to cold, rainy, and dreary. oh please spring, hurry up and arrive.

there is a great traveling art exhibit entitled: "A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal". it has some great pieces. there is an article exploring the art in the nyt. the exhibit is a great way to expose people to the tradition of tassawuf in islam. an interesting observation in the article, recognizing the picasso-esque forms in the art: "Yet Picasso's adaptation of African forms is viewed as evidence of his receptive vision, while an African artist riffing on Picasso's riffs on Africa is a copycat."

yusuf islam (cat stevens) just got back from indonesia where he was doing relief work. he has now won a libel suit against two british newspapers. they also had two publish apologies to him for labeling him a terrorist supporter. he has been named a 'man of peace'. all the damages from the suit are being donated to tsunami victims. way to go cat!

"Our continuing uneconomic growth makes us complicit in a process that is triggering an ecological catastrophe for our children and generations beyond them. They will justifiably sit in judgment on our failure to have prevented its devastating consequences knowing that we chose to look the other way." (Mayer Hillman, environmentalist and author) read fears for a finite planet.

2.14.2005 at 11:43:00 AM

happy v day... boom

well it's the 14th of february. just another day for me, but in the world of bombers must be something special. a huge car bomb in beirut killed several people including lebanon's former prime minister. then abu sayyaf claimed responsibility for the v-day bomb in the phillipines. a series of 3 bombs killed many and wounded upwards of a 100 people. in bangladesh, v-day revelers were shocked by the three bombs that went off in dhaka. i mean i hate v-day as much as the next person, but what the hell is up with the bombings. well valentine's is not much fun in assam, where there is a strict curfew. and of course the whole thing is banned in saudi, so purveyors of hearts be aware. and of all things shiv sena is leading protest marches against the saint and his western culture (including calling it prostitution day and burning cards). not to be outdone, al-qaeda and pals are calling for jihad against valentines, because as we all know "human love is haram, al-hub is forbidden outside jihad" (you have to read their anti-love fatwas for yourself).

but if you were smart and invested in rose commodities, don't worry the price for roses is soaring (up some 90%), from pittsburgh to pakistan.

oh but how can i not at least leave you with some thing loverly (yes it is a word now). well here is a love poem emailed to me by a fellow compatriot.

The Ocean (Laura St. Martin)

the ocean is a strange
midnight lover
skinning dipping
when the beach patrol has left
she is a cool seduction
wrapping blue thunder
around slick brown shoulders
raising great foam-fringed arms
to a steel sky rushing over us sometimes
tumbling us to the shore
licking the rocks passionately
only to retreat into swirling indecision
tense always prancing and
the moon casts a furious gleam on the many-knuckled sea

p.s. another great one (much too long to post here) is maggie estep's "the stupid jerk i'm obsessed with", this one may be appropriate for some of my anonymous pals.
:edit: oh my dearies check out this wonderful anti-valentine's day site. pure genius.

2.12.2005 at 6:02:00 PM


Silentium. Fyodor Tyutchev (translated by Vladimir Nabokov)

Молчи, скрывайся и таи
И чувства и мечты свои -
Пускай в душевной глубине
Встают и заходят оне
Безмолвно, как звезды в ночи,-
Любуйся ими - и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймет ли он, чем ты живешь?
Мысль изреченная есть ложь;
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи,-
Питайся ими - и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей -
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их оглушит наружный шум,
Дневные разгонят лучи,-
Внимай их пенью - и молчи!..


Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.

(i came across this poem inside a book from the libary. the book was causes for war by blaney- for my conflict/peace class. i wonder whose bookmark was this poem. i can't read the russian but the script is so captivating. nabokov the translator intrigues me a great deal- i have read his book on gogol and invitation to a beheading. his lolita is the subject of nafisi's book. maybe i will read it next. i know he wrote poems as well, but have never come across them. send me one if you have any favorites. his butterflies are on exhibit in new york and part of the exhibit is online. finding stuff in old books or library books is always exciting, like someone left a message just for me, but usually it is old envelopes or random pieces of paper.)

2.10.2005 at 11:27:00 AM

do you believe in what you see... everyone's saying different things to me


i have been meaning to write since monday, but being out of town for four days puts you behind in your real life. yes it was nice to escape the daily grind if only for a little while. i slept for less than 5 hours over the four days- not good but lots of fun.

i flew to new york early friday morning and took the M60 from laguardia to columbia. a friend from sri lanka is doing her LLM there and lives at the international house. the pic above is the view from her window looking over the hudson, you can also see grant's tomb, etc. i didn't really think that i would like new york, but i ended up loving it. i hung out all day and met lots of interesting people, including my fave: a south african jewish gay buddhist scriptwriter. that is exactly how he introduced himself, quite the character. i ate great halal gyros off the street which was awesome as long as you can deal with the flirting of the vendor. we saw times square and all that jazz. later we went to moma (museum of modern art). some of my faves that i saw:

oh so many picassos

i really love klimt and dali. it was wonderful and the newly renovated museum is a wonderful structure itself. i ran into some friends from undergrad, which was very unexpected. new york started feeling like a much smaller place. later we met up with a friend from boston. the night went on and included meeting up with more people. washington square and the village kept us busy till about 4am. we crammed in as much fun as possible.

the next day, i was off to allentown for a walima. it was nice and pretty comfortable. the walima (as in comparison to the shaadi) was so much more relaxed and thus we could all enjoy it more. on saturday night we ended up playing taboo till 4:30 am (there is little to do in allentown). when we finally got back to our hotel rooms, there were drunk kids in the hallway with a keg. they were so hilarious but kept knocking on our door and we ended up getting into a bit of a verbal battle. they came back and apologized in the morning when they had sobered up. in terms of weddings: i never realized that there was so much to makeup. but i was educated quite summarily by my friends. i think my face is still burning from all the gook that was on it. the food at the party was great, desi catering on the east coast is much better than ohio (and dare i say chicago). we hung out afterwards with the wedding party and watched the super bowl. can i say that the half-time show was lame. though a guy there (who had been an mtv staffer) told us all about how the people cheering had been trained and paid to look excited. it was sad day with so many philly fans, yeah but most people were there for another game (having nothing to do with football). the whole singles game was so funny that it was sad. all i can say is trust no one!


we drove back to new york pretty late on sunday. the next morning was brunch with friends (including hijabman) at tom's restaurant (of seinfeld fame) then a quick tour of columbia, and finally my flight back. it was a fast weekend but non-stop amusement. things are extra boring now back in ohio. here is a pic from the plane:

*other random notes:
(a) as the title tells you- i am listening to the garden state soundtrack.(besides the obvious faves of coldplay and the shins, i really like zero 7 and thievery corporation) that and 99.9 degrees by suzanne vega arrived from amazon. wonderful. (the vega cd was one of the first tapes i bought in 7th grade when i emerged from the nkotb phase, great memories)..
(b) did you all see aishwarya rai on letterman? was it just me or did she give him some attitude? i think she is getting too big for her britches. i saw bride and prejudice (yes it was a pirated edition) and it had its moments. but all in all not such a great movie. i just couldn't get over bollywood style songs in english.
(c) in new york a friend suggested i read azar nafisi's reading lolita in tehran. i was intrigued by the premise and thus picked it up at the airport. (where coincidentally the bookstore lady was sri lankan and we ended up having a great conversation about asian writers, i got some good recommendations) by the time i had flown home i had already read half the book. i haven't had the time to finish it, but i really am enjoying it so far. great lines, including: "do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life, what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth."
(d) don cheadle and hotel rwanda. i have not seen this movie as of yet. everyone keeps telling me that it is life changing, except for friends of mine who have worked in africa. they feel that nothing can actually express the magnitude of the horrors. but even they admit that the movie is done well for hollywood. well last night on nightline cheadle did a piece on darfur. he and paul rusesabagina traveled there and visited refugee camps. quite interesting, take a look if you get a chance. read up on darfur. some interesting figures: in the last few decades atrocities have killed so many africans, idi amin in uganda killed 400,000 in the 1970s, the civil war in congo in the last 5 years has claimed over 3 million lives, and of course in 1994 in just a few days 800,000 perished in rwanda. now in darfur, UN reports are of 70,000 to 100,000 deaths, 400 villages destroyed, and over 2 million people driven from their homes. working with internally displaced persons in sri lanka (from the civil war and now tsunami), i learned that the war or genocide is only the beginning of a can of worms. It takes a society decades and generations to recover from this sort of trauma. also check out the African Union (made up of 53 nations) who were the first to try to respond and monitor in Darfur.
(e) there is an interesting photo essay about the recovery in sri lanka on the nyt.

2.01.2005 at 10:15:00 AM

no matter which way you go, you're out of my mind

1. happy tuesday to you all.

2. first and foremost a huge congratulations to sa-hore! (i know i am spelling it wrong, but otherwise some strange searches end up on this site) yay! she got into michigan law school. i know you buckeyes hate that school up north, but i don't care. she rocks and now can have fame and fortune. or at least many years of law school debt. now get to reading grutter v. bollinger. i am on call for that case in 14th amendment. so sorry affirmative action doesn't work for you- too many asians in professional schools.
(in your best desi uncle voice): "beta, wery, wery good, now you can become a top-class solicitor." but those of us who love you know that you were already into solicitation.

3. for all you turkophiles (okay lala): there is a great exhibit touring europe about turkish history and civilization. i want to see it in london! a great pr move to warm up eu nations. read about it in the nyt: Turkey Knocks on Europe's Door With a Thousand Years of Culture. Check out the cool helmet!

4. i am using crest vivid white toothpaste (this is for you azher). i like it a lot! it has a very refreshing taste and feel to it. it probably doesn't really whiten any better than the rest, but the placebo effect is great. nothing like paying more money for toothpaste just to make you think it works. ;)

5. as the title alludes to, i really like this new tegan and sara song: walking with a ghost. it gets in your head and just will not get out. I said please please don't insist, I was walking with a ghost. Listen and watch the vid here. Oh they are canadian and have a very folk band look.

6. the iraqi elections went on as scheduled. bushie was excited that the violence wasn't higher. the news kept doing human interest pieces like one where a humvee drove a man half a mile so that he could vote. obviously they had nothing better to do. but if you want the real story get it from robert fisk. he highlights the low sunni turnout all the while acknowledging the courageous turnout by shiias. read it, you will like it. One Iraqi stated it quite politely in the nyt coverage: "We thank the Americans for destroying the regime of Saddam," he said. "But often, they were not careful for the people; they did many wrong things. Now, we know what they are looking for. They are looking for oil, and military bases, and domination of the new regime. They will have their military headquarters for the region in Iraq, and when they will leave, nobody knows."

7. while at a groundhog day party (complete with groundhog hand towels and burrow shaped cupcakes) in madison county (yes in the middle of no where), we were listening to a lot of the smiths and the best of morrissey. i love the smiths, i came right home and bought the best of the smiths 2 cd set off amazon- i can't wait to get it in the mail. everyone should listen to the smiths.

8. the nepali saga continues. and just when you thought it could not get worse than the prince massacring the royal family. well last summer the state dept put out its warning, such that i was diverted to sri lanka- the rebels were getting very active. and now the king has fired the entire government. he calls it a "national emergency". this is just part of the whole semantic game. the US calls the rebels "maoists" (who by the way want democratic elections); in this way we can all be against the commies and really support the king! by the way these rebels are some of the most organized that i have heard of- a bunch of my friends who did the whole thamel/backpacking thing were stopped while on a trek. they paid the 30 US dollar fee and in turn the 'rebels' gave them a receipt. Thus the next time they were stopped by rebels on the road, they showed them the receipt and were allowed to go freely on their way. how sweet.

9. mohamed zakariya is among the best living calligraphers of the arabic language, definitely the foremost american in the field. he designed the famous eid stamp. there is a cool bunch of videos where he explains his work and calligraphy in general.


as davos (world economic forum) wraps up in switzerland with all its rich and flashy participants, the anti-davos also ended in porto alegre, brazil. at davos there was the sharon stone stand-up for africa (she got a million dollars in five minutes). but the world social forum (often called the anti-davos) was a meeting of activists, downtrodden groups, and other people on the left. zmag offers an insight into the conference and also coverage of its final manifesto (which this year was a move away from the past horizontal structure of the meeting).

okay kids have a fun weekend, i will be in new york and philly. bundle up, it is too cold out there. and please figure out the comment button, once you push it the comment will appear. ;)