Monthly Archives: April 2018

Charm, colour & susegad… the many facets of Goa

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For as long as I can remember, the allure of Goa has intrigued my traveller’s mind. Was it browsing National Geographics’ as a teenager; coveting photos of pristine beaches, glossy palm trees and ‘hippy hide-aways’ in a tropical paradise? Or perhaps that Goa, with its distinct Portuguese culture, architecture and cuisine, is said to feel like you aren’t really in India – so much like Pondicherry with its French history – a destination within a destination.

But of course Goa is part of the rich diversity of India, and its west coast location placed it in easy reach from our southern home in Bangalore. Naturally, Goa beckoned and after two visits, I had most certainly fallen in love!

It wasn’t only the beaches that beguiled me, but the romance of that old Portuguese charm. Clanging church bells in quaint town squares, white spires reaching to palm-fringed skies, tangles of narrow crayon-hued streets and ageing villas, glorious even in decay. And the colour! I was utterly captivated by the embrace of colour; vivid, exuberant, unrelenting colour.

And infusing all of this is that Goan spirit of s u s e g a d. Derived from the Portuguese word sossegado for quiet, it evokes the laid back atmosphere that permeates Goan life.

The legacy of the Portuguese

Fontainhas, the old Latin Quarter within the city of Panjim (or Panaji), was love at first sight for me. During Portuguese rule, each urban resident was obliged to paint their house after the monsoon rains and it’s clear this tradition has continued. Many of the 18th and 19th century homes are still arrayed in pale yellows, ochres, greens and blues, with dashes of reds and whites. On two separate visits I stroll these streets until I’m intimate with the tidy back lanes, the tranquil siesta times, the aged villa from where gentle strains of violin drift, and the best verandah for morning coffee. I also return often to Fontainhas’ lovely whitewashed chapel.

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The pretty Chapel of St Sebastian, built in 1818, is white as mandated – the gaiety of colour was reserved for homes. The small church contains one of only a few relics remaining as testament to the Goan Inquisition, a crucifix that originally stood in the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa. It’s believed that Christ’s unusual open eyes struck fear into the hearts of ‘heretical’ suspects brought before the Inquisitors as they awaited their often tragic fate.

Nearby, in the heart of Panjim, the larger St. Mary’s Basilica is also striking, presiding over bustling streets from its hillside perch. A busy tourist spot, I overheard a conversation debating whether, with so many churches in Panjim, it was worth visiting  the UNESCO Heritage site of old Goa. A bystander implored, “Oh yes, so many churches are there, so beautiful.” And so we went. And yes, one must!

We journeyed through small villages on windy roads, arriving in Old Goa to a dizzying collection of vast cathedrals, chapels and convents. Often framed by tall Cook pines, colossal palms and fringed by forest, the effect of so many religious buildings is unexpected and impressive. I understood why it was once referred to as Rome of the East. 

The Portuguese made their headquarters here with the population reaching 200,000 by 1543. The number and scale of churches constructed to serve the settlement is staggering and our eye is drawn from dome, to spire, to bell-tower. Might I be in Rome, Lisbon, perhaps Barcelona? We wandered a few hours marvelling at the architecture, attempting to imagine ourselves in that distant, majestic past. Yet it was also a troubled one.

Malaria and cholera epidemics were especially cruel to this city, and by 1775 a mere 1500 people remained. In 1759, the viceroy had decreed a move to the future capital of Panjim, the once glorious city abandoned with the hope that 10 kilometres separation would make the difference between death and survival. The site became known as Velha Goa, old Goa, and Vasco de Gama who had first arrived to these shores in the late 15th century, surely would have been heartbroken to know that tragedy had struck the settlement he had envisioned. His arrival, and then of Naval commander Albuquerque, to battle and usurp the ancient Hindu kingdom of the Kadamba and Vijayanagara, resulted in control of the regions’s lucrative spice routes. The predominately Catholic empire lived on until 1961 when Goa was annexed by India.

To the beaches

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For many, the draw of Goa is its forty-some kilometre stretch of beaches. Yet deciding which beach to spend time on can be daunting.  Between the north, central, and the south, the beach culture varies widely – lively with vibrant night life, atmospheric fishing beaches preserving something of local life, beaches attracting busloads of tourists, those more soulful and reserved.  For the most part, what were once tranquil fishing villages are now pulsing with tourists; nirvana found (and lost) as seekers commune with the Indian Ocean, each other and the overwhelming array of accommodations from simple huts to five-star grandeur.

For many locals, the quiet charm of Goa will not return.

“The beautiful is gone in Goa,” a taxi driver lamented one afternoon as we inched our way along a main stretch of road clogged with tourist buses, taxis and local traffic. “These roads were to get from village to village, now the world is here.”

Part of the attraction is Goa’s beach shack culture. Not all shacks are created equal – some are fancy and others plain, but seafood, and a drink or two, is the common part of the experience. We learned that the key is finding a shack that you like, spending much of your time in its environs and developing a relationship with the owner. So a swim in the ocean, a beach-combing stroll, some leisure on the loungers, and a ‘cool one’ in your preferred spot in the shade of the shack… not too bad!

For a few days we find a spot that we love, soaking in the vibe, letting the feeling of susegad wash over us. Admittedly we’re not very good at it, sitting still, and we were happy when two of the ‘kids’ happen to be in the area and invite us to spend a day at a secluded beach. We cruise through the countryside on scooters, eventually climbing down a winding, stepped trail to what can only be described as, paradise. We spend the day free and joyful, and admittedly very sunburnt!

Scooting and strolling through the villages offers snapshots of tourism, eager entrepreneurs and iconic glimpses of culture. A cow pokes his head into a bar, children help their moms in the family shop after a day of school, and a bare chested sage offers travelling prayers. I relish in these vignettes of Goan life and perhaps no where more so than in the small village of Majorda.

The charm of a village

During my first visit with a good friend, we find ourselves in the tranquil village of Majorda. We settle into Vivenda dos Palhacos, a restored 100 year old Portuguese manor. The boutique hotel with its lovely communal areas, charming pool and the interesting ‘Lorry-Back Bar’, makes it very easy to while away a few days.

The joy is also its location. Tucked under the shade of tall coconut palms on a lane winding through the quiet village, it’s a place where early morning deliveries are announced with the squawk of a bike horn, chickens and piglets share the narrow byways, and serenity is interrupted only by roosters and bells from the nearby parish church.

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At VdP, we’re greeted by the laconic basset hounds lazing on the welcoming verandah, and by owner Simon Hayward. Simon and his sister, are from a third generation of British who have called India home. Simon stops to chat as Kristin and I enjoy a late afternoon drink on the verandah and I’m soon asking about the photos of the Haywards that decorate the bar area and the many bottles of Hayward’s beer above the bar.

“My grandfather arrived first and lived in Calcutta, where my sister and I were born. It was a great life growing up in England and India. My father owned horse races. There were hunting trips into the forest of Bengal. We were fortunate to have been brought up in that era.”

I learn that Simon’s father, the late Sir Anthony Hayward, was knighted for his commercial acumen, with enterprises including a brewery and distillery. They also held the rights to import and distribute opium across the country – a practice started by the East India Company and passed down to the British Raj. The practice was outlawed in the 1950’s.

Simon relates finding his property and how he knew there was a certain charm to it, the buildings and location. “There was even a ‘piggy loo’ outback,” he laughs. “Yes, an outhouse where pigs cleaned things up.”

IMG_0877He had not expected to return to India after a career in advertising in Hong Kong and New Zealand, yet he seems a natural in these surroundings. Fittingly, he and his sister have been given the honourary status of persons of Indian origin. Goa is most definitely home.

“Sure Goa is a little different to the rest of India I once knew, but we’re part of the local community now. And there are some characters!”

I mention to Simon that the character of VdP seems a perfect mix of colonial and traditional Goan character.

“It’s turned out well. We don’t advertise the property, but rely on word of mouth. And this really does seem to draw in some real characters to stay with us.”

Our time here is shared with expat families on holiday from Dubai and Hong Kong and dinners in the lovely dining room are lively. The next afternoon, a BBC journalist arrives in time for cocktail hour having just finished researching a documentary about the impact IT plays in Indian romance. When I relate that I’m a writer, the journalist’s response reads my mind perfectly.

“I could easily spend a week here writing, couldn’t you?”

Such an understatement and I lament that I hadn’t made Goa more of a getaway from Bangalore. I’ll just have to be thankful for the two visits and yes, give me the charm and the colour of Goa. And a bit of that susegad!

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If you go:

Stay at the heritage hotel, The Panjim Inn, in the heart of Fontanhas. Their restaurant, The Verandah, is also a good spot for coffee, and wine! panjiminn.com

Black Sheep Bistro in Panjim is a great spot.

Ciaran’s in Palolem, is on a busy beach with kayaking, local boat rides and fishing boats and was a great stay.

Local buses can take you cheaply to Old Goa or hire a car for about 1500 rupees return.

From Vivenda dos Palhaços, it’s a peaceful 15 minute walk to Goa’s longest beach  vivendagoa.com

For more, check out Luke and Trixie’s tips on Goa, https://www.howlblog.ca/travel-guide/goa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two suitcases, maybe three… and the gift of lettuce

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Yes, for the next two or three months, those will soon be my possessions at-hand… two suitcases, maybe three. Oh, and my trusty white fedora. I find it interesting that in my writer’s biography I mention that, At the age of 26, I packed my hopes and dreams in a 55 L backpack. It was thrilling, liberating, I was free!

Now, the prospect of living out of suitcases is confining and downright inconvenient. We have a little more than one week in our Indian apartment before we close this door and walk through the next. Naturally I’m emotional and a little overwhelmed. That supposed euphoria of packing those suitcases and flying off to ‘freedom’ is inching closer, but the romance of it all still mostly eludes me. Today feels like a Monday Morning Email kind of morning, so writing becomes my solace.

If I were to write an MME to you, it would convey these thoughts…

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Wednesday, April 18th, Bangalore, India,,

Dear Reader,

As I write on this Wednesday morning, song birds serenade, my potted palms colour and cheer as usual, yet boxes already inhabit my once-serene surroundings. Getting ready for the next chapter is a lengthy process, but then its upon you like a fast moving freight train. Transition started months ago when we learned that my husband’s posting would come to an end here. Even though we were part of this decision, we then started discussing, pondering and planning. But in previous moves, we had known where we would next be living.

This time around, I face the difficulty of packing without a destination firmly set, though it will be somewhere in Europe or Canada. And with this, I chuckle a little. For us that is nicely ‘narrowed down’ in this wide, wide world. Asia has been a meaningful experience, yet it’s time to be closer to home. And though I agree with this, I’ve still managed to have two very emotional days over the past few weeks. But even those are part of the process of detachment, acceptance and transition.

The first difficult day happened to be on Easter Sunday. Ironically, after having ‘kids’ living with us for almost a year, Bruce and I happened to be alone. Luke, Trixie and Matt were off backpacking in Sri Lanka and I’ll admit to enjoying some time on our own. I preface this by saying how much we’ve enjoyed this multi-generational living, this ‘suddenly my nest is no longer empty’ phase. I would not have changed it for the world.

It’s been wonderful having them here – days of working, conversing, dining and traveling together. Matt has been with us almost a year, Luke and Trixie since Christmas and I’m conscious that this particular phase will likely never be repeated – I will miss them tremendously on a day to day basis. And on that Easter Sunday, mostly I worried, I found myself frozen with trepidation, then finally I felt sadness as soon we’ll all go our own way; the reality of it all was suddenly breathtaking.

That leaves me and Bruce. After a holiday in Greece and the UK, we’ve decided to be in The Hague for a month or so – to a place that is home for us and also close to head office for Bruce. Things will transpire from there. In the meantime we’ve gone back and forth… where do we send our furniture?

img_1086“Forget the ‘ball and chain’ of the furniture,” Bruce consoled me that day. “It can stay in storage in Vancouver and we’ll see where and when we’ll need it. We’ll go home for the summer. We’ll write. We’ll kayak. We’ll see Andrew and Ayla, family and friends. Look at it as an opportunity, not a fear. And Ter,” he said with a comforting hug,” everyone will be fine. The kids have their own journey to figure out.” And he’s right. Matt is heading back to university, Luke and Trixie are working virtually. They’ll do a little more travelling, then settle in Europe. They are certainly living their dream and history repeats itself – they’re doing what we did at the same age

So I got on with my ‘lasts’ and my farewells. In Marilyn Gardner’s poignant book, World’s Apart, she mentions that rarely do people ask, ‘What have you left behind… those things that we lose when we transition.’ So true and indeed we must say our farewells, both internally and verbally, conscious of what we’re parting with. The places and people we often won’t see again – ever –and it’s difficult.

A week ago brought me to the next overwhelming day. There I stood in my bedroom, surrounded by clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery and scarves… so many darned scarves. Do I unconsciously collect them? There are a few from Azerbaijan, from Italy, Malaysia, even Kazakhstan. And don’t ask me how many from India! Indeed, how to choose which ones travel with me and which ones circumnavigate the world in a sea container. In reality, the scarves are really a metaphor for it all; for a household that gets picked up and shunted along.

I became even more emotional not knowing where I’ll have the opportunity to reunite with my personal things. Will it be a place I get to ‘dress up’ like I do in India for luncheons and events? It’s far different than what I would wear on a daily basis in our home base in Kimberley, or maybe cycling in The Netherlands. It feels like I’m packing away part of my identity.

On that particular day, my chivalrous soulmate again comes to my rescue. “Honey, I img_1088understand, I’ll carry an extra bag for you so you’ll have what you need. I’m sorry this is difficult for you.” But there’s some light-heartedness that also resonates. “You know my things barely fill one suitcase, more space for you!”

Yes he’s the sensible one, the minimalist when it comes to clothes. And to be honest just the acknowledgement that this was difficult for me, gave me strength. I began sorting and setting aside things to give away – to Priya, to the security guards, to the school we support. Finally packing could begin.

Now a week later the suitcases with carefully chosen clothes and accessories, begin to fill – an intro to minimalism has been good for me. Going forward, I’m determined to be more mindful. And yes, I’m well aware these supposed hardships and challenges pale into comparison to what many face. It’s never far from my thoughts.

As I was about to finish this Wednesday morning musing, my doorbell rang. I opened my door to Raj, my vegetable wallah.

“Madam, good day,” he said with his gentle, but exuberant manner that I have come to adore. “Lettuce for you,” Raj offered delightedly, handing me a tiny bunch of red lettuce. It is not something he normally stocks in his heaped cart of vegetables and he’s pleased to present it to me. It’s a bit of a luxury – indeed it felt like a gift.

“Thank you Raj, so, so nice. Yes thank you,” I accepted gratefully.

“Madam, my brother’s marriage is soon in Mysore. Family come?” Reluctantly I shared with Raj that we’ll be leaving soon. He’s taken aback and I found myself apologising.

“Yes Raj, I’m sorry too. I will miss India very much.”

Even those moments help with parting from a neighbourhood that has embraced us whole-heartedly. But it’s been like that this past week – gifts from the local pub that we love going to, heartfelt goodbyes at the ladies groups I’m involved with, and farewell drinks with our landlord and his family. “You must come back for the wedding in August,” they implored many times throughout the evening.

And yesterday, a handcrafted gift from the school we support was presented to me with a sincere note of thanks. Jagruthi enables disenfranchised children the chance of education and security, and is a poignant reminder of the severe hardships many in India face. I will write more, but our involvement has shown me humility and gratitude – for my loving family, the experience of another country, the calling-card of my new book and my speaking and workshop endeavours.

As I wrote a number of years ago in A Fine Set of Luggage when we live a global life, there is much more in those suitcases then meets the eye, thankfully it’s never been more true then now.
So when those two, maybe three suitcases are waiting and we lock the door for the last time, we’ll do what we’ve done in other countries. We’ll say farewell to the country and people who have hosted us so graciously. I know it will be with tears, and I know I can’t imagine not having lived in my beloved India.

For now, I continue the packing… I’ve narrowed the scarves down to a mere twenty!

Until next time, dear reader…

 

Luke and Trixie blog their adventures at howlblog.ca