Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kerala, part 4

Fulbright arranged for a tour of some of the historic places in Cochin on the last day of the conference, so of course we signed right up. Free tour that someone else organized? Yes please!

First though, we ate. Lunch that day was a traditional Keralan style meal, and it was so delicious that I'm still dreaming of it.

Here we have a banana leaf plate loaded with Keralan red rice topped with a banana yogurt curry. Moving clockwise you'll see salt, dried and fresh banana, mango and lime pickles, something horseradish-y, a tamarind chutney, three types of vegetables, and a papad. I stuffed myself as thoroughly as possible, and regret that I don't have a bigger stomach. Oh Keralan food, I will remember you and miss you always!

After that we loaded onto several large buses, and set off for St. Francis church. Our guide seemed very knowledgable, but the PA system at the bus apparently had only one volume: deafeningly loud. I spent most of the time with my hands over my ears. Somehow both kids managed to fall asleep!

Anyway, here is St. Francis church. It was the original burial place of Vasco de Gama, but his body was later removed to Portugal. There's still a sign and arrow in the church pointing to where he used to be.

Then we walked a short ways down a street filled with tempting stalls full of colorful things to buy. But our guide was firm: we were to buy nothing until later. I can't blame him-- the idea of trying to herd a group of 35 shoppers down the street sounds pretty unfun!

But still, I wanted to stop and examine the goods, you know? Liel did too. She told me, rather wistfully, that she'd noticed there were a lot of pretty things for sale. Nonetheless, we pushed on, to see...Chinese fishing nets!

That's the Arabian Sea right there. Our guide explained that these nets are the traditional way of fishing in the area, and they're not used for commercial purposes, but by families catching their dinners.

What really struck me about the Arabian Sea though, was it's lack of bathrooms. Liel can go all day without visiting a bathroom when we're out, but that day not so much. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've helped your child crouch down to pee next to a rock on a beach on the Arabian Sea, feet away from hordes of tourists, vendors, and locals out for a stroll.

Luckily there was a really pretty shaded park area nearby, with a cool painted tree and some great wall art, so I was soon able to put the whole "peeing on the beach" incident out of my mind...or so I thought.

I really like the way Jesus and Krishna are cuddling up next to sign that says, "Please help me".

Then we got back on the bus and headed to Fort Cochin to visit the Dutch Palace. It's a museum now, and no pictures are allowed inside, so you'll have to make do with some pictures of the outside, and the knowledge that there were some amazing murals from the Ramayana inside.

And here we have Zion, looking awesome.

Not pictured is Liel, telling me that she had to poop. Also not pictured is a bathroom, because of course there wasn't one. However, you can see a field in the background, right? It's amazing how much an empty field starts to resemble a bathroom when you have a desperate child, that's all I'm saying.

Moving on!

Our last stop was a 16th century synagogue located in a part of Cochin known as "Jew Town". You can't take pictures inside it either, and it's quite beautiful. The floor is made entirely of hand painted blue and white Chinese tiles, there's a gorgeous Ark, tons of crystal lamps and candelabras, and big airy windows. The outside is rather less picturesque, I'm afraid! At any rate, the synagogue is still in use by the 8 remaining Jews in Cochin. I couldn't hear everything our guide said, but I believe that most of them left in 1948, presumably for Israel.

Jew town was full of shops, which were now allowed to visit. I would've liked more shopping time, but beggars can't be choosers!

And anyway, what I really liked were all the Jew Town signs. I can't get enough of them!

Cafe Jew Town! I should open a cafe by that name when I get back to NY, don't you think??

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