India 3: Colourful Fort Cochin
We are still here in Fort Cochin where I left you last but without telling you what we have done and seen. The first Ayurvedic massage was such a rip roaring success and confidence booster (not) that I went for another one! And no, it was not in the hope of more breast massaging (bet that brings in some punters for India part 2 !) This time there was a lovely sign outside the door giving the impression that this might be a zen like, spa like experience. Wroooong! Another example of do not judge a book by its cover. The reception area was small but reasonably clean. Not so the receptionist. A toothless old crone in a dirty sari led me into a steamy hot tiny room containing two massage tables side by side, a TV (on) in the corner and chairs and cupboards piled higgledy piggedly with rubbish. “All off ” she said, meaning I should strip, and I must have looked surprised which she quickly noted and said, “I am old woman but I give good massage or you no pay”. Fair enough. But to be honest I didn’t really want to stand bare foot on her carpet which was indescribable, brown, filthy and matted with hair (Cat? Dog ? Goat ? ) It probably hadn’t seen a vacuum since the partition.
1947 in case you didn’t know!
It was a pretty good massage, spoiled yet again. Last time I discovered that I was now shorter and fatter than I fondly imagined. This time when she said, “I am very old lady”, I asked how old are you….. and she was one year older than me ………..
Are you smiling? I didn’t! Next came the shower. Oy vey as they say in Jew Town Road! A door led to a bathroom. There was a very old pink toilet with a hole in the lid, a very dirty pink wash basin and a shower with no tray, no screen and some swinging bare electricity cables to add a frisson of excitement to the spa experience! I was handed a piece of soap the size of my finger nail and not provided with a towel so afterwards I had no choice but to step, stark naked, back into the massage parlour and onto the unspeakable carpet where the toothless one handed over a handkerchief sized towel. I think I might give up on the healing massages now what with the threats of diphtheria, electrocution and last but not least, my poor fragile ego getting a battering!
Fort Cochin is charming. It has a slightly arty vibe and it is big enough to be interesting for a few days and small enough to be manageable. It reminded me in atmosphere to Cusco in Peru which I loved. We have found some really cool cafes and restaurants for breakfasts, lunch and dinners. There are some galleries which have cafes such as the Kashi Art Cafe with a photographic exhibition front of house and a lovely airy space to eat french toast and watermelon with real coffee for breakfast. For afternoon tea we found The Teapot, all shabby chic loft style with funky tea chest tables, and a mezzanine floor, so level with the many colourful teapots suspended from the ceiling. Eating is certainly an attraction in Cochin and dinner ranged from the sublime, seriously sophisticated and beautiful restaurant at Malabar House and my favorite, The Old Courtyard with stunning lighting and delicious food. Equally, we ate street food twice, dire warnings given in the guide book but utterly delicious! A large plate of fresh grilled tiger prawns served with real chips, hot and oily and salty, all for about £3 each and we lived to tell the tale.
We have done all the things one is supposed to do in Fort Cochin. Went to the harbour to see the famous Chinese fishing nets and I did the ho ho pull thing with four Indian fishermen, I threw myself right into it too! They date from the time of Kublai Khan and are huge nets suspended from arched poles and operated by levers and weights. All very touristy but had to be done!
We went to Jew Town which is in an area called Mattancherry, there is the Pardesi Synagogue which is the oldest in Asia built in 1524. It was wonderful! I loved it so much. The walls were painted a lovely bright periwinkle blue straight onto the old plaster and its old Dutch influence is in the floor, tiled with 1100 wonderful blue and white Delft tiles. Each and every one had a tiny difference in the picture (I checked!) The front of the arc where the Sefer Torahs are kept is simply covered with just a piece of bright purple silk but best of all are the lights. Lots of ancient glass chandeliers and pretty coloured lanterns, pink, blue and green, hung randomly from the wooden ceiling, all over the room like a display in a lighting shop. It was like fairyland! It is the prettiest synagogue I ever saw and I loved the energy there. Places where many prayers have been said over hundreds of years are special and I added my own Shema to those of many centuries.
There are only 8 white Jewish people left in Cochin, 30 in Kerala and one of them, a taciturn woman, sits at the door of the synagogue, granting grudging entry and taking away your camera! She features in the guide book which says that she is reserved or some such euphemism, and she doesn’t like to answer tourist’s questions. Wrong job then! What the book should have said is that she is a miserable bugger!
Apparently there was no one suitable left in Cochin for her to marry (she didn’t think of J Date evidently!) so perhaps that accounts for her sour demeanor…..
I was SO happy to later come across Sarah sitting in her doorway selling beautiful chola covers and delighted to have a lovely chat about kosher chickens and so on! She was sweet. I asked how old she was and she said 87 and I then made a huge mistake and asked how old do you think I am? She considered carefully and I gotta tell you I made a big effort today with make up and my hair in a french plait and a new tee shirt ………… and she said
DO NOT LAUGH
So to move swiftly on! We have got in and out of many auto rickshaws which is maybe why I now look 75! It is a tad scary sometimes. One feels the need to pray and close one’s eyes as we hurtle straight towards a huge truck in our fragile vehicle. We went to a spice market which was old and picturesque and smelled wonderful and bought fragrant spices to bring home and then discovered them all over Cochin, cheaper and better packaged.
I did lots of browsing through pashminas and resisted temptation. We also spent a lot of time in the quite marvellous antique shops full of the most amazing artefacts, furniture and statues apparently left behind to be sold when the Jews of Cochin left, and wondered if new careers beckoned exporting these treasures to New York where surely billionaires would pay a fat profit to have these things in their Manhattan duplex! There are also lots of wonderful book shops in Fort Cochin, my favourite kind of shop by far and it was a wrench to look and not buy as that would defeat the purpose of the new Kindle but I photographed about a 100 titles ready for an Amazon fest sometime soon.
There has been another kind of feast going on while we have been here. I was it!
Give me credit, I have not moaned once in this post have I ? Well, I am about to.
As expected, I am the juiciest dish in town. Garnished with Burts Bees, AND deet AND lavender oil, they love me. I am appetizer, entre and desert…..
I got 12 bites on one foot and now it is very swollen indeed, huge in fact and looks pretty bad. It feels worse than it looks so it is spoiling my fun a bit to be honest. First job this morning was the pharmacy and then ice pack administering. I have got about 40 bites altogether so in the shower I look like a small pox victim. Add the huge fat ankles, plus mad afro hair ( hence the plait or braid for my US friends! ) so maybe Jewish Sarah was not being mean after all!
I am sorry to leave here, I really enjoyed this lovely little town but I am not sorry to leave the hungry mosquitoes!