Back to India Pt.2: Kochi & Marari

Wednesday, Day 2 in Kochi

(Photos coming later when we’ve a good connection)

Yet another yummy breakfast and a long chat with Soumya. Having seven days in Kochi we feel no rush to see everything at once, especially the Biennale. We walk towards the NorthWest part of town, stopping for refreshments at the Tea Pot restaurant. Leaving there we visit the Kashi Town House gallery and the David Hall. Both galleries are filled with some stunning artworks. We continue south and pop into Fabindia where Sue finds some very styling pants.
In the late afternoon we both go for Aryvedic massages. For 70 minutes we’re slathered in oils and massaged, followed by a bathing. It felt good but with oil sensitive skin it may not have been a good idea – the next day I developed a heat rash, usually caused by sweat trapped under clogged pores.
Later we were served a multi-course meal by our hosts, Soumya and Sreejith. The fish was only a few hours out of the water and was served with a chicken dish and several vegetable dishes. We were encouraged to eat it all and managed maybe two thirds of the large meal. We’re being spoiled by these home cooked meals.
Thursday, Day 3

After breakfast we walked east, starting down small lanes and eventually along busy Palace Road, which ended at Mattencherry Palace. We passed by the bus tour groups and walked along the waterfront finding several more of the satellite Biennale exhibitions. The International Photo Journalists show hit hard with images of war and famine leavened by some humorous street photography. We had trouble locating one exhibition until we discovered it was in a maze of antique galleries and the artists had interwoven recycled materials with the antiques and the building itself. Once again we were impressed by the quality of work exhibited outside the main venue at Aspinwall.
We stopped at a small, second floor restaurant and sat on their balcony, enjoying the view over the street corner. Tourists paraded by, often stopping to take photos of the colourful piles of pigments outside a shop. Auto-rickshaws, cars, small trucks, bicycles and zipping motorbikes mingled and weaved.
Refreshed we headed back along the waterfront road, stopping to see a couple of student art exhibitions. We left the touristic zone and passed through the old bazaar district with its funky buildings, wafting spice odours and busy commerce. We reached the tip of the peninsula and stopped for a bite and a beer at a seafood restaurant. It’s important to stay refreshed!
We wandered a bit and then stopped once more at the Kashi Art Café. We’d just sat down when I recognized Sue’s train companion, Tova, seated nearby. She joined us for an animated conversation about the Biennale etc. Sadly we had to leave quickly to get to a Kathakali performance. Kathakali is traditional Kerala theatre form. We sat for about a half hour in the old theatre watching the performers having make-up applied (while tourists jostled for photos and videos), then were given a short talk on the form and a demonstration by one of the actors of the gestures and eye movements used in the narrative. The performance was accompanied by live music (vocals, drums, sitar and small cymbals). The actors in their fantastically wild make-up and costumes acted out a short drama about young love. Some of the action reminded us of the broad gestures of silent film.
Friday, Day 4

We started another Biennale day with a visit to Aspinwall to view the works we hadn’t seen on our first day. Still feeling a bit woozy from the heat I enjoyed sitting watching videos in darkened rooms with air conditioning and fans. Nicely chilled we meandered through the various rooms. The incredible variety of artworks provokes a range of responses. From incredibly minuscule and intricate needlework to massive installations one is drawn in and knocked back. Two pieces in large rooms particularly impressed us: Shirin Neshat’s Turbulent – two opposing large video projections, each showing a singer (one male, one female) each performing a traditional Sufi love song. He sings, in a traditional manner, to a small male audience. She sings to an empty room, in a highly expressionist manner, the sound further manipulated in post-production. Stunning. In the next room Shilpa Gupta’s For, In Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit – 100 Jailed Poets creates an eerie ambience with 100 old microphones hanging over 100 sheets of poetry spiked on wood stakes. The audio swirls in the space, reciting the words of imprisoned poets and writers.
Outside again we stopped also at the IndiaPost display, purchasing sheets of stamps including sheets of round stamps featuring Mahatma Gandhi. I sat on some bricks and waited to capture a photo of people sitting in swings hung from a large tree in front of the Curator’s statement painted on an end wall. Eventually I got the photo and walked over to ask a young woman if she were OK with being in the photo. She was and I discovered that she was a volunteer. She asked if I’d like to be interviewed for the Biennale archives. Somewhere now there’s a short clip of my babbling on about the Biennale.
Leaving Aspinwall we walked to Cabral Yard for a meal from the Edible Archives where they featured several varieties of heritage rice. Super tasty and inexpensive. Then we visited the Pavillion where artist talks are cinema are featured. There I met more of the staff. I’ve been photographing and Instagramming all the volunteers and staff I meet. (My response to the Selfie phenomenon is to take photos of others.)
We walked, we refreshed, we continued to the waterfront for sunset. We sat, we chatted, befriended dogs and finally walked down the dusk streets until we found a flower shop and bought flowers for Soumya’s birthday. Upon returning to our home stay we found our hosts vacating to go to the local Hindu temple. They told us about a parade with an elephant would be passing by the end of our lane soon, so after some birthday cake we walked out to the road.
First musicians passed by, followed by a long line of women carrying trays of food and candles. We could see the elephant down the road with more musicians so made our way down the street. Traffic continued passing creating a surreal scene in the dark, mixing vehicle lights with torches and the lights form buildings. We stayed for half and hour, watching, photographing and following along as they slowly moved. I was concerned about photographing but participants waved to me to have their photos taken.
Saturday, Day 5

At breakfast we talked with Sreejith, Soumya’s husband, and heard a moderately conservative Hindu man’s point of view. We listened, nodded and ate another fine breakfast. We’ve learned quite a bit about the thoughts and feelings of a middle class Hindu family’s point of view by staying in their home stay.
Although we had a filling breakfast we walked again to Kashi Art Café and for multiple fluids. We both draw while sipping, enjoying the relaxed ambience. Leaving Kashi we meet Sue’s postcard seller on the street, buy some cards and photograph him with his friends.
We walk along Bazaar Road, stopping at galleries along the way. The day’s getting hotter and any chance for a sea breeze or blast of air conditioner is welcome. Bazaar Road is so funky and entertaining on its own. Traffic jams occur frequently as trucks, vans and auto rickshaws tangle in the narrow road. 
We wander back to Pepper House to meet Tova at 4. Sue and I sit and consume a couple of drinks before she arrives. Tova arrives and we spend a couple of hours talking art, genetics and India. Tova’s a writer and a wonderful conversationalist. Her son is one of the world’s leading geneticists and we discuss some of the projects he’s worked on. We then go to the Fort Cochin seafood restaurant for a relaxed meal and continue talking, this time about politics, getting the viewpoint of a Washington DC resident 
Sunday, Day 6

After breakfast we rent a couple of bicycles for the day. The bikes are newish but slightly funky; my seat is low, the back wheel wobbles and the brakes are almost non-existent. But we go slow and enjoy the breeze. We peddle down a variety of roads, lanes and pathways gradually making our way to Kayees, a biryani restaurant recommended to us by Soumya and Sreejith. Apparently it’s been around forever and is so famous that Bollywood stars stop by while in town. We find it, with the aid of GoogleMaps. A small place set on a small street with a throng of people coming and going. We’re seated at a table for four with another couple, visiting from Bangalore. We’d seen them at the Biennale and chat with them while they finish their meal and we start ours. They’re replaced by a couple who had their wedding catered by Kayees ten years previously. They say it hasn’t changed a bit. And, yes, the biryanis are amazing. We may be spoiled forever.
We continue cycling, passing through neighbourhoods of small old homes and then larger, contemporary design homes. Our bums getting sore and feeling the heat we return the bikes by mid-afternoon and using the workout as an excuse go for early beers. Completely stuffed by breakfast and lunch we return to our room and pack for our departure the next day.
Monday, January 21

Breakfast followed by a quick scoot around town to pick up cash for the next week and I trade a Canadian beer bottle opener for an Indian Kingfisher one. Sreejith arranged an Uber taxi for us and just after noon we start south for Marari Beach. We wind along a narrow, close to the waterfront road, passing an almost solid stream of homes. We also pass many large ponds, canals and the occasional glimpse of the sea. Just over an hour later we arrive at our next home-stay: Marari Siva Beach Homestay. Our host, Prajeesh, greets us at the gate and leads us to our room, one of two in a separate duplex building. We’ve a lovely room, a porch for sitting and dining and a huge bathroom. Outside we see his rescue bird, a small eagle that hops along in the lush gardens.
It doesn’t take us long to wander down to the beach, about a five minute walk away. We’re greeted by an almost deserted expanse of white, streaked with black, sand. We rent a couple of loungers with an umbrella and alternate flopping out with swimming. It’s a bit of a surfy beach but is easy to swim past the break and enjoy the warm, buoyant water. We day-tripped here two years ago and after the swim walk down the beach to the public access road where we’d parked our rented scooter then. In just two years many more restaurant huts have popped up and the once dirt access road is now paved. We return to our room, sit outside playing Bananagram and after sunset are served, yet another, amazing meal. We’re living the life here!
Tuesday, Day 2, Marari Beach

We sleep in and get up just in time for breakfast, served out on our porch. After breakfast I sit and sketch while Sue has a quick catch-up nap. Then we go for a long walk north on the beach. Even at 11am the beach is relatively deserted, with only a few tourists and a few fisherman. We discuss how Agonda Beach, our favourite beach in Goa, must have looked like this a few years back. Will Marari too eventually sprout wall-to-wall beach huts? We return to our spot, rent the loungers/umbrella and spend a couple of hours swimming and tanning. We’re loving this combo of sea/sun and lush greenery. Finally we’re walking on sand, not pavement. Between the walking, swimming, massages and good food we’re feeling positively re-invigorated. Eat, walk, swim, lounge and… Repeat…

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