Monday, May 30, 2011

Fort Cochin: Sooo Jewy

Fort Cochin, India is a fascinating mishmash of cultures.  Located in the southern Indian state of Kerala, between the Arabian Sea on one side and a maze of backwater canals on the other, it has been the most important port on the Malabar coast since the mid-fourteenth century.  Where else can you see Chinese fishing nets rubbing shoulders with a Portuguese palace, Dutch houses, European churches, Middle Eastern spices, Jain temples, a British park and a Jewish synagogue?

The incredibly photogenic Chinese fishing nets
Fishermen use the same technique today as they have for hundreds of years.
Dave and Russ try their hand at hauling in an empty (but still super heavy! (so they claim)) net.
(For a small donation, of course).
Just one of hundreds of "fishing nets at sunset" photos
And just behind the fishing nets, fish vendors display their wares.
(These, surprisingly, were on ice.  Food safety!)
Most of the other fish, not on ice.
This fellow really, really, really wanted Dave to buy his giant fish.
I think this is the cutest fish face I have seen outside of a Disney movie. No way I could chow down on him.
The old Dutch cemetery.  The 104 tombs date from 1724
The oldest European church in India.
Jain Temple
Indian families enjoy the ocean.  In their jeans.
Who would've thought that Cochin also boasted the
International Tourism Police Station and Police Museum?

Clearly Cochin (or Kochi, as it is also called) is rich with history and culture.  But it is especially - and surprisingly - rich with Jewish history and culture.  Jewish people first came to India as early as in the time of King Solomon, but after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE whole communities immigrated to Cranganore, near Cochin, where they were granted religious freedom and special property rights.  When flooding silted up the port at Cranganore in the fourteenth century, the Jewish community (along with all of the trade) moved to Cochin.

Just two Jews, hanging out on Jew Street, located (of course) in Jew Town.
Disappointingly, Cafe Jew Town did not serve bagels and lox, matzoh ball soup or noodle kugel. 
In the sixteenth century, European Jews fleeing the Inquisition settled in Cochin, dividing the Jewish community into "Black (Malabari) Jews" and "White (Paradesi) Jews."  The Paradesi Jews built the Paradesi Synagogue in 1568 - the oldest active synagogue in India and the entire British commonwealth - and denied access to the Malabari Jews, dismissing them as racially inferior.  This schism continued for centuries, and the Jewish population of Cochin slowly dwindled, culminating with the emigration of most of its people to Israel.
While most of the shops along Jew Street are now run by Kashmiris,
there is still plenty of evidence of the area's Jewish past.
Today, there are only a few dozen Jews remaining in Cochin, and even though the Paradesi Synagogue is the only one still functioning, there are not even enough worshippers to make a minyan.  The synagogue is open to visitors (although there is no photography allowed) who must enter barefoot and modestly covered.  There's also a somewhat run down cemetery, and a short but interesting exhibit about the history of Cochin's Jews.

The notoriously surly ticket taker (who even has her own wikipedia page!) is the only remaining Cochin Jew of childbearing age.  Her refusal to marry a cousin in order to ensure the survival of the community has led to accusations that she is responsible for "the end of thousands of years of Jewish history."  No wonder she's in such bad spirits.
[Photo credit: Wikipedia.  We wonder who broke the rules to take this photo.
Good thing there is only a loose conception of hell in Judaism.]
We hadn't expected that, in our travels around the largely Christian state of Kerala, we would learn so much about our own peoples.  Now, when Indians and Nepalis point to Dave and ask, "Kashmiri boy?" he can respond, "Cochin Jew."

You can read more about the Cochin Jews at Wikipedia, World Monuments Fund and the Jewish Virtual Library, and if you're really interested, several books have been written about the topic, including The Last Jews of Kerala (which I haven't read).

All of our Cochin photos are available here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Week Twenty-Three Daily Journal

Friday, March 4
Goa, India

The boys did a workout on our patio

I got sick today :( and everyone hung out at the hotel.  Russ went to the casino at night and Jenn and Erica went out to a bar where - small world! - Erica ran into an old real estate broker she'd used.  An Indian doctor made us a house call for only $10 and told me he'd already treated over a hundred people with my very symptoms that year.  Great.

Saturday, March 5
Goa, India

I still can't decide which hit song I like better:
"Girl You're Mine" or "Shh, Pappa's Sleeping"

I still wasn't feeling well so stayed at the hotel.  Everyone else went up to Aswen beach to the north and had a long lunch at La Plage.  That night we had dinner at the hotel and then watched Housefull (a wacky Indian musical comedy).

Sunday, March 6
Goa, India

(With Thomas, the owner of Hacienda de Goa)

Russ, Jenn and Erica left :( to go to Jaipur, and we stayed at the hotel again all day to recover.

Monday, March 7
Goa, India

Scoot scoot scoot!

I woke up feeling healed!  We rented a scooter from Yogesh (our taxi driver) and it was life-changing!  We scooted ourselves all the way to dinner at Mezcal, a pretty good Mexican restaurant (although maybe not the best choice for my first real meal, after days of toast and plain white rice).

Tuesday, March 8
Goa, India

We checked out most of the northern beaches today on the scooter, and had lunch at La Plage.  We went to Ganesh Juice Bar, dropped off laundry, and had dinner at the hotel.

Wednesday, March 9
Goa, India

We drove all over the place in the morning, looking for Brahmani Yoga, but we couldn't find it.  We had a healthy breakfast at Blue Tao.  Finally we found the studio but it was too late to take a class, ugh.  We scooted around the rest of the day until Russ came back from Mumbai, and then we all had dinner at Xavier, pretty good Indian food.

Thursday, March 10
Goa, India

Dave and Russ scooted over to the Thivim train station to buy train tickets, since the entire India rail online reservation system was down and we couldn't buy tickets any other way, even though we'd been trying for days.  Thankfully they were successful, and we can finally get out of Goa!  Much as we're enjoying it here, it's time to leave.  We had dinner at La Cantina.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Goa by Motorbike

There's nothing quite like the freedom of having your own wheels.  And Goa, with its winding beach roads and surprisingly light traffic, seemed to be the perfect place to explore on two wheels.  So ignoring Scott's warnings of the danger and impossibility of safely riding a scooter (despite his long-time AOL screenname of Lil'Scooter27), we forked over 250 rupees ($5), begged and pleaded for two helmets (apparently the only two helmets in all of Goa) and hopped on the Big Banana.
This was our first motorbike experience, so we didn't know it at the time, but this bike was a piece of crap.

After the disastrous ATV Incident of 2010, I declined my own bike, preferring to ride behind Dave.*    At first I was nervous, holding tight and trying desperately not to squeal at Dave to watch out any time another bike or a cow came within 10 feet of us. But by the end of that first day I was a pro.  I didn't sit side-saddle like the Indian ladies, but I could text and ride with the best of them.

* This was probably a good thing.  When I finally took our motorbike in Thailand out for a practice run, I got lost within about 30 seconds.

Ready to roll.  Or ready for launch. 
I am equal parts scooter-passenger and NASA astronaut.

When I wasn't using the iPhone to text, email or read the map, I was entertaining myself on the back of the bike by taking pictures with it.  Here's some of what we saw, cruising the roads of northern Goa.

Practicing in the hotel driveway
Nary a helmet in sight
Entering the town of Anjuna
Sugarcane juice stand
Fire buckets at the train station.  What were we doing at a train station with our motor-bikes?
Well, because India Railways (with its 1.5 million employees, 63,000 km of rail routes
and 6,800 stations) was only taking reservations in person this week.
Samosa cart on the side of the road, near the gas station.
At ten US cents a pop Dave could not get enough of these freshly fried pockets of health.
Women working and boys playing cricket.
The men are surely idling somewhere nearby.
Mail drop-box.
Approximately 2/3rds of our postcards successfully made it to the States.
If you are our friend, but did not get a postcard, yours was sadly in that third batch.
And the letters from the drop box go into a sack which gets haphazardly strewn about the floor of the post office.
A peaceful road
A roadside fruit stand
Hot! Hot! Hot!
Chili peppers for sale.
Laundry drying
Hints of the region's Portuguese influence
Hello sir. Corn?
This guy stood no chance as he was located just outside the Ganesh Juice Stand.
Also his corn is disturbingly neon green.
The open road (but for the cows)

Lush fields 
And finally, Dave's favorite roadside samosa cart.  Yum.
All of our Goa photos are available here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Juice Is Loose

No morning in Goa was complete without a visit to the Gannesh Juice Bar.  It was the place to be: Aging hippies found raw vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants; All-night partiers in leather-chaps and vests (men) and their dates in tight, short skirts, recovered with (fat) joints and avocado shakes; Aging Indians sold trinkets, tapestries, and psychedelic 3-D posters; And everyone else came to drink their delicious (and cheap) juices and do what is surely some of the best people watching on all of India’s west coast.

His chaps and vest are on his hog (sadly, not pictured).
It's a perfect casual juice-breakfast dress.
Hello Sir!  You like?  You buy?
Jesse, overwhelmed by the people watching
and eavesdropping opportunities.
We fit squarely into that last category.  (Though with the slightly rattier clothes and a bunch of crap no one wanted, I likely could pass for the third category.  There is no way we could fall into the first or second categories.  This is a good thing.)

The juices were fantastic.  Fresh fruit, the right amount of sugar, sometimes a little milk, these were dreamy.  Ranging between 40 cents and a dollar twenty (for fresh strawberry juice) one might consider drinking more than just one. 

Pineapple.  So good.
In fact, one might consider trying three delightful juices.

Or four.

Watermelon, avocado shake, pineapple, orange

Or, would you believe, five.

We actually ordered eight, but as you would expect from any respectable Indian shop, the orders came out without any rhyme or reason.  As we’d come to learn, however, you don’t question India.  You just accept it.

With five beverages on the table I was no longer able to keep Russ & Jesse at bay.  They dove in, ruining my dream of a rainbow of juices, and in the scramble that followed we all got slight freezeaches (brain-freeze?) and perhaps more than slight stomachaches.  But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

and we’re done.
Jesse samples the avocado shake.