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Blog 17 - Swiss Fibs

My very latest scarf acquisition arrived just after my birthday from a dear friend. I was thrilled to learn the silk scarf had been previously loved by my friend, had hand rolled edges and would be my first ever scarf made in Switzerland. It was made by Fisba Stoffels....what a great name!.... a very old Company started in 1895 in St.Gallen but whose name was lost after 1988. I can therefore date my scarf prior to then, around the time we were all trying to solve the Rubik Cube. Maybe that accounts for the geometric design of my scarf. Yet the colours are, lilac and blue.

So which memory of Switzerland does this evoke? I must confess it is of FIBS we told our children. Maybe the name FISBA reminded me. That's what happens with Scrabble players who move around letters! We had been visiting England to see family and my husband and I were en route back from London to Hong Kong. We had a plan to break our journey with a week in Sri Lanka with a day’s stopover in Zurich. At the time, there had been a big uprising of the Tamils in Sri Lanka with much bloodshed and the country was under curfew. Our children, whom we were leaving in London, begged us to abandon the trip. We arrived in Zurich, phoned the girls and told our fib that we would spend our time in the fresh Swiss air instead of the tropical climate of the Indian Ocean. We did stay overnight, walked along Lake Zurich, admired the scenery, gasped at the high prices, but boarded our plane for the Far East via Colombo the next day.

We were the only passengers to disembark in Sri Lanka. Then followed the weirdest taxi journey through a deserted, curfewed daytime Colombo with only police and army visible, all armed. I kept below the level of the taxi windows lest a stray bullet came my way. We reached the Mount Lavinia Hotel, a faded old hotel where my father had stayed for a whole year many decades before. I swear there was one very elderly waiter who must have been there in Dad’s time and I think he must have been wearing the same old battered shoes. This was a long time ago and I have returned since to a smarter Mount Lavinia with a doorman in magnificent costume with exotic bejewelled turban, a gym, modern hotel conveniences and no old tired waiter. Must say I rather liked the old shabby place. That’s by the way. The hotel was in curfew for our first four days so we were confined to the hotel and its private beach. Little did I know this would be practice for COVID lockdown in years to come. Later when we were allowed to venture out in daytime, shops which had been doing business in the morning had been set alight and were smouldering ruins on our return. We made friends in our hotel with an American diplomat from Jakarta. He and my husband became close, were fearless and planned a trip to Kandy in the centre of the island.

Let me tell you about the Esala Perahera, the most important Buddhist spiritual festival. As a young girl, I had been told of my father’s visit to Kandy to see this and how he was impressed. It happens once a year and it had always been difficult to secure a select viewing spot from the balcony of the old Queens Hotel. It was our good luck that the full moon occurred on the last day of our week.....this determines the date of the procession, and it was decided we would take a local bus for the long journey of over three hours to Kandy to see this amazing festival. There were few tourists in Sri Lanka at this time of internal strife. Only that week European tourists had been in a taxi for Kandy, their driver had his throat cut and they were left to drive the vehicle. My two fearless men and one diffident wife set off in the local bus, no taxi for us. I have to say what followed was the most amazing experience of my life.

Legend has it that one of Buddha’s eye teeth was brought from India in the headdress of Princess Hemamala and now is in safe keeping in The Temple of the Sacred Tooth. It is paraded once a year in a casket carried by a special elephant who also remains in the Temple. He is not a working elephant like the others in the country. He works one day a year.  That sounds to me like the ideal job! The parade was at night with burning torches, leaping dancers, music from shells, bells and drums, so many elephants adorned with magnificent trappings, their mahouts dressed like maharajahs and everywhere an explosion of colour and warm smells. Of all the sights in the world I have seen, this was the best for me. Maybe it was because of the extraordinary circumstances and no tourists around. We secured a viewing spot at the quaint old Queens Hotel and after hours of excitement, we got back onto our local bus to spend the night on its hard seats. We could not travel because of the nighttime curfew. The men slept. I kept vigil nervously, beggars on the street, lepers, howling dogs and was glad of the fibs we told our children that we were in Switzerland, drinking gluwein, eating expensive chocolates and window shopping Rolex watches and other luxury goods we could not afford. I felt the fibs were justified.

We kept in touch with the American consul over the years and the different countries he worked in....and yes, we made it back to the airport just in time to catch our plane back to Hong Kong. I have hanging in my sitting room a large batik of the Princess with the treasured tooth in her headdress, based on the Kelaniya Temple wall painting, bought on a subsequent, more tranquil visit....and now I have a Swiss silk scarf and an excuse to cancel those fibs with a longer Alpine visit next time.

Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Series 2, Blog 17.

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