Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Holy Cow! Tour
India 2008

So we Goa to Goa. Many thanks to Injun Joe for this line. Goa was the Portuguese stronghold on the spice route sooooo surprise, Goa is Catholic. All Catholic. All the time. It has a distinct Mediterranean feel and look with seafood second to none anywhere. Dear god, the seafood is good.

The thing about India is this: it is a travel challenge. To the nouveau, it is imposing beyond full description; to the experienced, it is daunting. The two primary factors are the poverty and the hygiene. The first is confronting, the second is elusive. Or non-existent. One. A dear, sweet friend recently said she yearns for the moment in her life where she will kneel and kiss the earth of Mother India. I savor the anticipation of that moment for her as well, but it is my heartfelt concern that she first Purell her lips and face, hands and fingers and then, lather and repeat.

In Goa, as everywhere, we wander among cows, fresh cow mess, dogs and fresh dog mess, and piles and piles and piles of garbage. Garbage and dust, dirt and filth everywhere. Everywhere. I believe I mentioned that I'm from the Lake City; at the lake, we had trash, refuse, rubble or reject material of any nature, we raked it up and burned it. They do this in Viet Nam as well. Not in India, it sits around. And this is how it is. It is Indian culture in its purest form but for us Lake City girls, it's unthinkable. Because it's causal and simple. You got a mess, you clean it up. In India, you got a mess, you live in it. And the homeless do live in it, make no mistake. Visually, it's not dismaying. It's horrifying. But to the Indian people, it is immaterial. Doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. And it's pretty easy for me to see that I impose my values and standards on these people, like a good, white, Christian missionary would do. God, old habits die hard.

So we amble about two distinct parts of Goa: the grounds of our gorgeous resort on the ocean, where we all checked into individual villas that are drop dead fabulous and the Goa of the real world, outside the gates of the resort. The former is surreal, because there is a whole community of people whose only aim is to serve you. The latter is quite exasperating, bewildering, because there is a whole community of people whose only aim is to sell you. So you bounce around between the two worlds, each very real, however, and each a legitimate response to existence.

We take the bus up the road and get off and wander about a half a mile down to the beach, running the gauntlet of stalls and vendors, making deals for shoes and glittery handbags and bangles and silver jewelry. We are headed for a restaurant that has been highly recommended to us by some Indian friends in Bombay. As we hit the beach, we see the sign. Yahoo. We turn left onto a makeshift boardwalk atop the sand, probably twelve inches wide and wander about and around until we come to eight feet high piles of garbage. And the restaurant! right there together! The garbage and the restaurant! Wonderful!

We hesitate, but plunge on because our friends say the fish here is absolutely fabulous. So we go in, get a beautiful table seafront and order. Me: a Kingfisher beer and tandoori pomme frette and the GNY, a bottle of water and lobster. After they pour the beer, they place the coaster atop the glass. Should of tipped me off, but it didn't. I take the coaster off and take a big long gulp of beer and as I put the glass back on the table, the flies descend. Long story short, this is how it works: the fish comes and the air around us is black with flies. You inadvertently swallow a few while talking. So . Even more descend upon us as the food is served and the GNY pretty much loses it. Down the table, our travel friends suggest that everyone debone and create fly bait at center edge of the table in a big serving platter. The GNY snaps a lobster tail out of the shell that is the size of her forearm. The shell goes in the center of the table and in a few moments, we look up and this pile of bones is completely black. Entirely black. All black. Whine and cry or shut up and eat. We look at each other and begin eating. I order more beer. Small mercies do abide: it comes and it's cold. Best damn whitefish I've ever eaten. GNY's lobster tastes like cake. Buttery, barbecuey, expertly cooked cake. I order more beer, drink it quickly and we get up and leave.

We walk back through the sand on the little, wobbly boardwalk and a guy stands there urinating in broad daylight. The bus ride back is quiet and the resort with our beautiful villas looks extra good that night. I scrub every inch of my body until I am red all over.

I am positive I came to India to learn to understand better.

The Maharani Jabel
On Location
Goa, India


Julie said...

Are you making sure that Malcolm is reading this? He has some pretty interesting stories about India. After his "out-house" stories about India, I decided it was not where I wanted to go.

Anonymous said...

That. was. fabulous.
In many ways.

And that last line? I felt whooshes of energy in my body and "heard" a big Yes! You've got that right! when I read it.


This is worth my re-reading several times. Great descriptors. I was there with you. Not so big on swallowing flies, though. That might have required a bit more than a few Kingfishers.


Inland Empire Girl said...

I am continued to be amazed by what you saw there. I had heard it was dirty, but I guess this is hard to wrap your brain around. I am glad they had good seafood.

toadman said...

This is beautiful. I'm glad you're seeing such a different culture from the one you're used to...that does make one understand better. You understand yourself better, and you'll understand the world better. I remember thinking some of the same thoughts you're thinking when I drove through Nairobi slums with my dad...I learned and understood a lot that day.