The Jungle Strut

In January of 1971, I joined my parents in Ceylon, “The Pearl of the Orient” or “Serendip,” where Dad’s position as Deputy Chief of Mission had landed him. The hot white sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean, the cool green tea hills of Nuwara Eliya and the curry scented breezes of the capital city of Colombo offered us a heady experience.

During the day, the heavy damp air carried the endless cacophony of screeching birds and chattering monkeys; buzzing mosquitoes and trumpeting elephants; blaring horns and tinkling rickshaw bells; hollering vendors and chanting holy men; and the night’s black stillness was shattered by the clamorous chirping pings of bat swarms as they rose from the thick canopies of trees to forage for bugs.

The American Embassy in Colombo was sparsely populated. Because I was the only young American in town, I gravitated toward the cheerful young Foreign Service staffs of the Australian, British and German missions. We frequently enjoyed dance clubs, laughing and shouting to each other over the booming music, and quickly sweating out the copious ice cold gin and tonics we consumed on the dance floor as we danced non-stop to the wildly popular rhythms of Santana.

On an April morning, we awoke to the news of the JVP insurrection that interrupted our carefree island lifestyle. With the imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew, we had little else to do but re-read the books on the shelves and count the geckos on the ceilings. Those of us who regularly enjoyed the social life of the diplomatic service were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves, but after the poorly executed rebellion subsided and the traumatized island had somewhat recovered, the curfew was relaxed to 9 pm and my parents and I planned a “Matinee Dance Party.”

After locking Dad out of his own air-conditioned den to commandeer his reel to reel tape deck, my 20-year-old self set about recording music for the party, making sure to omit any of Dad’s music from the previous century. The resulting tape was top heavy with Santana and any other music I could dredge up that conformed to American Bandstand’s, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” Among my favorites and repeated several times on that party tape, was “Spirit in the Sky,” a one hit wonder that to this day I turn up full blast in my Volvo, Pearl. Years later, I asked my dad for the party tape, but being the frugal man he was, he had recorded over it with Mantovani.

The festivities started at 4 in the afternoon and ended in time to allow folks to get home before the skittish armed militia began patrolling the dark streets. In the few hours we had allotted them, our guests of many nations consumed canapés and cocktails as quickly as possible, and well before the 9 pm curfew we pushed them, still dancing, out the front door.

My music aficionado father liked most styles, but he loved classical, and one quiet afternoon of my Ceylon experience, he cranked up the volume of The Blue Danube playing on the reel-to-reel. In the spacious foyer under the sweeping staircase of our beautiful colonial home, he grabbed my mother for a waltz. Mom was wearing batik pedal pushers and Dad his old plaid Bermuda shorts but in spite of their casual clothing, they tilted their heads at the proper sideways waltz angle and expertly circled the foyer in a graceful sweeping glide.

An Australian friend had dropped in for a game of badminton and a cup of tea, but he and I decided to give the waltz a whirl. For ten dizzying minutes, we spun each other around in clumsy circles, grinning and giggling with pure joy despite our gross ineptitude.

The Blue Danube wasn’t the Jungle Strut and hot tea wasn’t ice cold gin and tonic, but it was nonetheless, an intoxicating afternoon in beautiful Serendip.

7 comments on “The Jungle Strut”

  1. Do you even realize what a best selling book you have at your finger tips?!❤️❤️

  2. Your vivid and detailed description of a time gone by allowed me to travel to an unknown place and see the sights, smell the scents and hear the city babble and music. I was there, though I’ve never been there. I loved it!

  3. I just love your posts❣️You are such a talented writer. And bravo to your memory. Sent from my iPhone

  4. Love your stories! I see you and your mom in this picture! Looks like fun!

    >

  5. It’s been ages since you were in Ceylon, yet you have vivid memories of the life around you despite the gin & tonics. Bravo, Susie!


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