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Friday, 22 February 2013

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How legends are made

Juliet Coombe enjoys the now monthly Galla Pola/Galle Fort Golden Flea Market, which takes place on the last Sunday of every month except April, May, June and September.

The Galla Pola or the Galle Fort Golden Flea Market in its third incarnation this coming long weekend is a cornucopia of colourful stalls, splendid eateries, teaming with abundant activities - an event that has something for both the young and the old and also for kids who want a magical space to run around in.

Strolling about the luminously hued conical domes of the tents in Galle Fort's Law Court Square, stalls bedecked with tables of treasures and bargains, we find groups of friends and families taking respite under the old Banyon trees, enjoying French baguettes and spicy delights while deciding which stall to tackle next.

Some browsing through the vintage old and new designer clothes, the arts and crafts, the antiques, the Afghan rugs or the home furnishings, the trinkets, toys, bric-a-brac, organic fair trade products, souvenirs, home made soaps and so many other delight.

While others wile away a few more hours in recline under the shade of the ancient wishing tree at the atmospheric pop-up cafes such as Liam's from Fortaleza, creator of delicious wraps and ice cool tea - a fascinating character whose family comes from Kandy who is always full of wonderful stories about Sri Lanka. Also, for the naughtier members of the community, there are simply delicious home made cakes with ice coffees produced by the lovely team at the Crep-ology Restaurant's stall, reflecting the spice trade with cinnamon and freshly cut bananas.

Home made

Take home a deft and neat stack of homely jam jars filled to the brim with thick red oozy goodness wrapped on top with twine rope on a soft rustic muslin cloth sitting aside another table with refreshing fruits being made into juices.


Hand loom material

Elsewhere, the lace making lady with ponderous patience explains to a Chinese lady the fine art of the local lace making (Beeralu) including ex-positing the intricate, delicate and almost fragile looking lattice work ornamentation and embellishments that have been honed by years and decades of perfection and dedication to a vanishing yet vital craft and art now used in international movie costumes giving the ancient art form a new lease of life.

Handed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter - the years show in the wizened yet wise faces. In a complete breakaway from the standard fair we have the unusual lantern or Wesak pandol making stall where one can enroll in a DIY with help of course given if needed in a lantern-making workshop which doesn't take long as one has free will to choose the colour and the exact design one would like to have. Now that is something for all you who have by now had that sugar rush from the French patisserie stalls or have caught the art bug and can't wait to create something unique with your bare hands.

If art is not your thing you can buy some beautiful cards both hand made and Vintage, and from the Exotic Roots stand a Technicolor poster map of the fort to remind you of this beautiful place. Above all, enjoy the warmth of a smile as everyone revels in the many odd delights of second and first-hand fair trade goods; all part of the uniqueness of Galle's 21st Century flea market that makes this an excellent Sunday trip out for all the family to enjoy the enchanted environment of the Fort which, along with its historic sites, now has a monthly market that echoes times gone by.

World Heritage Living City

The Galle Heritage Foundation founded the Pola in December 2012 to boost trade, tourism and heritage awareness in Galle's historic fort. As such, the Galle Pola, now into its third month, has become a critical enabler of the Galle Heritage Foundation's mission to "make the World Heritage Living City a site of archaeological importance and a global cultural tourist destination par excellence".

The Foundation has been delighted with the positive feedback from vendors, both local and international, who have participated in the first two Polas, indicating excellent business was done by all and that, as word spreads regarding the success of the event, more and more vendors and strollers will take part each month.

One British tourist who came to the January Pola with his wife and four children was absolutely enthralled by the vibrant atmosphere, the delicious international cuisine being offered at the pop up cafes and the eclectic mix of weird and wonderful wares on sale. In his words: "Our kids are having a wild and magical time running around the square with all the other young and I just can't believe how entrepreneurial, creative and family-friendly the atmosphere is here today. Who would have thought it? This is like stumbling upon a treasure chest in the sleepy southwest corner of a mesmerizing beautiful tropical island".

A businesswoman from Colombo who journeyed down the highway to Galle to browse for bargains at the last Pola said: "This is not just about buying and selling. This is about people having fun. Long live Galla Pola!"

Making everyone comfortable

One half Sri Lankan half English owner of a restaurant in Galle Fort who erected a temporary café under the shade of the enormous para trees remarked, "I saw that loads of shoppers had to leave the first market to go and find food and drink, so I decided to bring my restaurant to them and help create a vibe where people can really make a day of it, put their feet up for a while and do some people watching. I'm now proud to declare myself what you might call part of the Flea Market Furniture." The Pola was launched in love of local heritage, multiculturalism and community spirit and in celebration of the community of Galle reaching a 'critical mass' or even a 'zenith' in terms of its volume, sophistication and diversity.

A market, bringing everyone together in the exquisitely beautiful and majestic setting of Court Square, felt like a natural step forward in the evolution of the Fort as a millennia-old emporium of global trade. Galle Heritage Foundation Chairman Parakrama Dahanayake says, "I am glad we are able to be partners with the community in the development of this great event. In a sense, this is not something new to Galle Fort. If we catch the threads of the history of this location, for many centuries it has been a meeting place for voyagers and traders from many parts of the world. We look forward to seeing you at the third Pola next Sunday, February 24 from 8am till 4.30pm."

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