The Pettah: Colombo, Sri Lanka

First impressions of Colombo are of a noisy construction site, as the modern capital busily reclaims land from the sea and erects new skyscrapers, five-star hotels and shopping centres. It seems a far cry from the tranquillity of the beaches on the south coast, the scenic hill country and tea plantations inland, and low-rise indigenous or historic Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial buildings dotted across the rest of the island. Head inland from the Fort district and coastline, and into The Pettah (bazaar) and you will find something completely different and far more seductive… the streets narrow, the humid air thickens, and there is barley room for pedestrians to squeeze through the buses, tuk-tuks, bicycles and manually pulled carts all sharing each narrow road. Following years of civil and religious unrest, it was also reassuring to see Buddhist temples, Hindu kovils, Muslim mosques and Christian churches all sharing these tight spaces in much the same way as the various modes of transport do. The largest thoroughfare through the district is aptly named Main Street and houses the stunningly kitsch red and white Jami ul-Aftar mosque built in 1909. A few roads on brings you to both the New Kathiresan and Old Kathiresan kovils; Hindu temples which could easily have been taken from the set of an Indian Jones film, both dedicated to the war god Skanda and pyramid shaped adorned with innumerable colourful carved sculptures all the way to the tip. Finally you reach Sri Ponnambula Vanesvara kovil – seemingly inconspicuous from the street, but once you remove your shoes and make your way around the building to the main entrance, it again renders you speechless! Whilst it lacks the lively colours of its’ neighbouring temples, instead being constructed from stone blocks and carved columns it has a quiet, regal impact. Inside, ten shrines add hints of colour via painted wooden peacocks and mythical figures, all flickering in the light of ghee lamps and cracks of sunlight.

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Alcoholic Architecture: London Bridge

Bompass & Parr’s new breathable cocktail installation ‘Alcoholic Architecture’ is cloaked in mystery and those with tickets are provided with very little information prior to their experience. It is located behind Borough Market next to Southwark Cathedral (the UK’s oldest gothic cathedral and site of an ancient monastery) and certainly plays on this monastic theme… guests are greeted by robed monks who stamp your hand with a cultish symbol before allowing you to enter the basement. This theme continues with archaic signage, faux stain-glass windows, bar staff dressed in robes, and the ‘Holy Orders’ drinks menu is similarly designed to look like a church service offering Heavenly Tonics, Canonical Cocktails, Sacred Shots, Trappist Brews and Celibate non-alcoholic options. Don’t be fooled by these names – this is a dangerous cocktail list comprising absinthe and Buckfast, the fortified wine Scottish parliament is currently trying to ban from entering the country. Attendees are given a fifty minute time slot and at 9pm I was given a disposable mac before entering the ‘Walk-in-Cloud’ installation. A neon sign warns those entering to “breathe responsibly” as the cloud is composed of spirits and mixer at a ratio of 1:3 and uses humidifiers to saturate the air, allowing alcohol to enter the bloodstream through your lungs and eyeballs! The macs are certainly necessary as it is very sticky inside the cloud and my companion and I likened the experience to an upmarket version of the sweaty nightclubs you went to aged 16 (in my case pre-smoking ban), complete with sticky floors, dense alcohol permeated air, and an eclectic playlist! My only criticism is that the cloud is fairly small and once you have walked through it a few times (I couldn’t stay in it continuously) there were a couple of ‘what should I do now?’ moments where a talk or having more information available would have been welcome.

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