Archive for July, 2009

Take me to the temple

July 29, 2009

Next stop, courtesy of another lengthy train ride, was perhaps India’s most impressive temple town. Madurai is one of the oldest cities in south Asia. Greek and Roman travellers wrote of its beauty and riches. Its wealth was garnered from its trade in silk, pearls and spices and provided money for the ruling Pandyan dynasty to build the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple.
Nothing prepares you for this temple. We’d seen pictures of what we assumed was ‘the’ gopura (a pyramid shaped tower above the main shrine), only to find that the Meenakshi has 12 such towers.Madurai (8) Apparently on any day of the week no less than 15,000 people pass through its gates. There’s a constant stream of ceremonies, festivals, and processions, which take place in the temple and spill out onto the surrounding streets. Many of the ceremonies haven’t changed since Egyptian times.
We went in before 9am – always a good idea in India to visit early. It’s cooler and not as crowded. Rather than just being bystanders we bought flower garlands to place on the main shrines. Non-Hindus cannot enter but we asked a priest to place them for us and he blessed us and bought us gifts in return – jasmine and rose garlands. Madurai (15)It made the visit extra special and we felt so welcome and included.
It was very moving and exhausting as well, given the scale of the place. Even with a map you could easily get lost. However we were lucky in one respect – they repaint it every few years and the last time was 2008. If we’d come last year, it would have been covered in scaffolding, which would have somewhat spoiled the effect.


A corner of France, in India

July 29, 2009

We’ve been on our travels again, this time circumnavigating the south of India. A long first day and a half saw us cross the sub-continent from Goa to Chennai by train (more than 20 hours) then take on a four-hour bus journey to Pondicherry. This coastal town used to be the capital of French India and it remains decidedly schizophrenic. You arrive in a typical Indian town – rather dusty, litter strewn and like an untidy building site cum rubbish tip – but a fairly short rickshaw ride and you’re in another world.
Cross the central canal – the town is built on a grid system bisected by a stretch of water separating West and East – and suddenly you’re in a French seaside resort, complete with French road signs Pondi (2), policemen in Kepis, and broad, quiet, clean streets.
To get to our hotel we walked through a bar that looked as though it had been transported from a French provincial town. There isn’t much in the way of sights to see in Pondi, but it’s worth the trip just for the food. European standards of service, setting and cooking – all we might add from Indian waiters who spoke French, and an Indian chef – in a place called ‘Satsanga’. (Martin had an excellent steak tartare). And croissants and good coffee for breakfast looking out to sea. Heaven.
Pondi (13)

Green and clean and fun

July 13, 2009

Monsoon brew (13)No, not a plug for the ecology but a comment on monsoon. Monsoon really does help with keeping us and our enviroment so much cleaner. The torrential rain lays the dust, washes down the streets and all the greenery becomes a lot lusher. The temperature is reduced and takes time to build up. It’s fun to hear the wind and rain approaching, it really does crash down. It’s fun to avoid getting soaked and it’s usually fun to get soaked.
Not sure if monsoon is better for health than day after day of sunshine. Probably not when you notice the mildew that appears on walls and clothes and leather things.

Another downside is that monsoon sends the local population into hibernation and those not hibernating seem disoriented by it all, not at all sure whether they are going or coming. Or should that be the other way round? Anyway, it all adds to the fun and we certainly wouldn’t want to change it.

When is a credit card not a credit card?

July 13, 2009

When it’s not what you asked for. Some months back (sorry, so long lost count) we requested an add-on card for our existing credit card. Several months of phone calls, forms, rubber stamps, and trips by us to the bank (and them to us) a courier duly delivered said card. Except it’s not what we asked for. Instead the whole rigmarole has produced a brand new credit card account and a different card. We’d like to say we knew where it had all gone wrong, but we don’t and neither do the people at the bank. So we are breathing deeply and contemplating whether to just settle for what we’ve got, or make a second attempt which will probably mean starting the whole process again. It’s hard to credit (no pun intended) that it’s so complicated.
One hour on: after a visit to the bank the bank people have said they will come to our flat with a new form to fill in. They took a lot of convincing that Alison really did want a joint credit card and not a new account with a different company but we finally managed it.
Monsoon has finally got into full swing after a laggardly start. It’s wonderful when the heavens open and the streets turn quickly into rivers and the temperaturte remains reasonably cool.

One hour on: We think we’ve figured it out. The people at the bank are on commission to open new credit card accounts so they have been getting us to fill in forms bit by bit so that we don’t recognise what’s really going on. Perhaps they should have offered a cut of the proceeds so that we get fully integrated into the system of backhanders. Could be a profitable little business for a couple of months while we exhaust banks and credit card providers.

Patrolling Goa

July 8, 2009

Not much happening at the moment. Grey skies leaking rain, business slowing down, trying to take advantage of a slack period… but feeling a bit guilty about not doing much.

The bank has at last managed to open our new account, but the credit card business seems to have fallen again.

Three months ago we read in the papers that about twenty of the thirty patrol motorbikes belonging to the police force were off the road due to shortage of funds for repairing them. Today we read that the police have launched with much gusto a select band of police motorcycle cops who will operate 24/7. They will have thirty motorbikes, ten new and twenty repainted (no mention of repair, so they probably are still not working). Also there are only twelve cops on 8 hour shifts leaving some difficulty in covering the 24/7 idea.

It is in the paper and therefore not necessarily accurate, but the numbers indicate there may be some truth in the matter.

Goan Appointments

July 8, 2009

The title is accurate in so far as Goan and appointments can be put down in the written word and appear to make sense; in actuality they are near impossible to put together. We give you today’s example. Alison has only two appointments. A Mr da S at 10 am and a Mrs F at 10.30. Both appointments have been requested on the previous day, both are regular clients so know the score.
Mr da S does turn up; 90 minutes late. At 12 Mrs F phones to ask when her appointment is. Alison tells her she has missed it. Mrs. F then asks for another appointment; no apologies.
Changing tack on fixed time appointments, Alison says ‘Come this evening’. In Goan speak this means between 3 and 7.
Mrs F asks ‘What time?’.
Alison says ‘Just come when you are ready.’
Mrs F: ‘What time?’
A: ‘Anytime this evening’
Mrs F: ‘Shall I come now, doctor’
A: ‘Yes, please do’
Mrs F: ‘But doctor, it’s raining’
Alison wonders inwardly what she can do about this.
A: ‘Sorry, I can’t do anything about the rain. I suggest you come after monsoon’.
This little joke falls flat and the appointment making starts again until Alison correctly guesses the time the Goan client had in mind anyway. Then everyone is happy – until she didn’t turn up.

Refer to above.

Political interference gone mad

July 8, 2009

Goa’s in such good shape that the honourable leader of the opposition has had time to table and get through a motion banning the use of religious names eg Shiva, Jesus for bars and restaurants. A noble undertaking on the face of it, as the use of such names could be inappropriate for what some people here clearly regard as ‘dens of iniquity’.

The new law came into force on 29 June and guess what. It’s already in trouble. You see, Indian parents routinely name their offspring after religious figures. We personally know people called Shiva, Jesus, Maruti and Pavarti. And as for the many Peters, Pauls and Johns, not to mention more intriguing Goan-specific offerings eg Nazareth, Ignatius, Halleluia, Milagres (Miracle); well it’s easier to spot the people who don’t have religious-oriented names. No surprises also to find that Goans do name their bars and restaurants after members of their family – ‘yes, my mother really is called Shantadurga’.

‘We know the bar’s called Jesus – but that refers to Jesus Gonsalves my grandfather, not the son of man.’

What to do? as they say here. Still if anyone decides to fight the closure of their bar through the courts, they’ve got at least 10 more years of operation given the state of India’s judicial system.