Beach Wadiya notches 30 with a book
Sunday Times Sep 3 2004
Prawns and poetry at Olwyn’s Beach Wadiya
"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
- Elegy in a Country Churchyard.
If you think that verse is by way of pretentious use of a flourish at the beginning of a newspaper jotting , something painfully becoming a trademark device of many Sri Lankan writers (who have nothing of their own to say?) - no, it is not. The quote from Thomas Gray figures here at the head of this piece on Olwyn Weerasekera and the Beach Wadiya, because it's a verse that Olwyn repeats like a mantra. Now and then he changes that last line, wags his head from side to side and ad libs. "Waste its sweetness in the ocean air.''
He then makes an exaggerated bow towards
the swirling waves of the Atlantic, which forms the picturesque backdrop for his
world famous Beach Wadiya, one of the ten best pubs of the world according to
The owner of one of the ten best pubs then sits next to us, and says "Putha, use your fingers for those crabs.'' His style is of simplicity without artifice, and he can prick pomposity as good as any hardboiled cynic. "They never used cadjan for the roof of a pub but since I began in 1974, the embassies themselves are clamouring for pol athu".He dismisses all talk of a "wreck'' that lies bobbing about the waters close to the Wadiya shoreline. "Wreck?'' he snorts "it's an eyesore if you ask me.'
Then he breaks into verse:
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
Except that your head will be seeing
sermons in cadjan, and good seafood everywhere. Wadiya insinuates itself into
your senses - then assaults them.
That in fact is what this paean to Olwyn is all about. On the 30th anniversary of the Beach Wadiya, Olwyn is launching a book of "world opinion'' about one of the greatest pubs in the world with an owner who is almost more colourful than its seaside ambience.
The youngest visitor to the Wadiya was a full 12 hours old when she was brought there by her parents for a baptism by seafood - noting fishy about that. The most famous eater was Princess Anne, who forbade all photographers, but could not stave off one from The Sunday Times who sneaked along the beach and snapped one of Anne attacking prawn.
Someone from down under writes in Olwyn's
"A book of verse, a jug of wine and thou in the wilderness.'' Omar Khayyam, who else? But then she improvises: "A piece of crab and a cooked prawn, at Wadiya and you are in heaven.''
It's these little pieces of rank-doggerel
in the end that almost outdo Olwyn in his ability to break into verse. People
getting so lyrical about a seafood restaurant?
The point is that the Wadiya is what Olwyn has made it. He has crafted the extraordinary by stubbornly, eccentrically, leaving out the mundane.
This for instance is a one-seating
restaurant. Meaning that when it's booked for the night, the table is never
readied for a second outing-- a second set of guests.
"No restaurateur after money would do that,'' says Olwyn, and almost breaks into verse again, before we check him. The waiter Banda chuckles. He figures in Olwyn's book almost as often as Olwyn does.
"This place is just what everyone thinks a tropical watering hole should be,'' writes D. V. Perry in his Newsweek review placing Wadiya among the world's ten best pubs. A watering hole is where you come to dig in, you won't leave the place in a hurry. It's the Wadiya credo. It offers a correct measure of celebrity hype, with just the appropriate dose of tropical cosiness and seafood that is tasty without being complicated. With that recipe, and an owner who is eccentric accomplished and talkative, Wadiya breaks the comfort zone for mundane pubs with a bang that breaks the sound barrier with a sonic boom.
Now, Richard Branson, who just launched
Virgin Galactic, wants to launch the Wadiya into space. Branson was in Wadiya.
So was Tony Greig, Sachin Tendulkar, Trini Lopez, Asha Bosle. Who wasn't?
The Financial Times says that Olwyn risked being brained by a cocoanut, all in the cause of food. That would have been some coconut.
For the simple reason that, in the end
it's all in the brains. Olwyn a former Medical Rep., knows his crabs cerebrally.
When a mega-apartment complex comes up opposite the Wadiya almost hemming it in,
Olwyn has no cause to bother because the complex secretly advertises itself as
being next to the Beach Wadiya. But in the end, it's all in the man - not in the
cadjan. Olwyn just knows how. Ask any prawn this side of the Suez Canal. It will
tell you and any old hippy-lippy lobster will corroborate…..
-By Rajpal Abeynayake