The history of the city of Pondicherry records the arrival of Dutch, Portuguese British and French colonists. In other words, everyone had a piece of it, actually starting with the Romans, and ending with the French.
We are in a reconstructed mansion named after an 18th century French governor, and once the home of the mayor. It reminds us so much of New Orleans or Savannah, with its heat and general air of lassitude and decay. Some of the staff here appear partly Asian, adding a somewhat Vietnamese flavor to the general decor.
The French colonial touches in the city are faded, but nicely faded. Some buildings are being restored, but it would take an enormous amount to return this city to the glory it must have once had.
We strolled through the streets – which is not always easy, given the traffic – and found a Catholic church near the beach. The caned backs of the pews were original, and are as interesting as the confessional. Note St. Joan and Mother Teresa being honored.
We are very close to the sea, and while the promenade on the beach can’t rival that of Nice, it still has a certain majesty.
Mostly it was the people and energy of the city we admired today. It is impossible to describe the most heavily traveled streets visually because you need all your wits to dodge the traffic coming at you from every direction. Sidewalks are few and in poor condition, but the drivers of all the cars, vans, tuk-tuks and motorcycles considerately honk – not to tell you to get out of their way – but to warn you that they are close. Quite a cacophany.
The coffee house below is evidently in the opening of “Life of Pi,’ which tells the story of a boy from Pondicherry.
Not all of today was spent calculating the safest moment to cross streets. We did take a tuk-tuk ride tonight from the hotel’s approved driver to pick up our laundry across town. Don had dropped it off this morning, accompanied by a hotel staffer who gave very explicit directions about our requirements and timing.
We picked it up tonight and found a tidy bag of perfectly pressed slacks, underwear, and even socks nicely cleaned and folded. While the ride was harrowing, there’s nothing like having clean clothes when you are traveling. (Even if your underwear was ironed on the streets of Pondicherry.)
Don’s Food Corner
Breakfast at the Le Dupliex could not be approached without comparison to the spectacular breakfasts we had at the Intercontinental. The verdict? They did admirably well but on a far more modest scale. I had poori bhaji — the puffy deep-fried bread served with a potato curry. I think this version represented a more realist reflection of a home-cooked breakfast than the elaborate presentations we had seen over the last several days. And it’s a very fine breakfast indeed. Simple and filling.
Jo tested the French side of the breakfast choices and had an omelet. Not exactly how you’d get it in France, but they had some authentic French pastries that made up for it.
Since today’s breakfast was of a normal size, we had room later on for dinner. We avoided the French offerings — which included steak with a red wine and peppercorn sauce — and focused on the Indian section of the menu.
We went for two lamb dishes — gosht rogan josh, the classic lamb in red curry sauce, and gohst biryani with lamb. Neither of these dishes are from the Southern Indian culinary lexicon, but it’s the first time we have encountered dishes we are familiar with (and have actually made many times) so we wanted to see how they compared nearer the source of creation. We were very pleasantly surprised that the versions we would get in almost any New York restaurant and the recipes in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook very accurately matched what we were served tonight. We gobbled it all up and wiped our plates clean with that most flexible of all Indian breads, naan.
Following a hot day on the streets of Pondicherry, I thought it would be refreshing to have a frozen daiquiri. (They love them in the French areas of Louisiana so why not here?) The drink came in a mountain of crushed ice that towered so high over the glass that the only way you could consume it was with a spoon.
But I overcame the challenge and finished it off. We were told not have any drink with ice in it while in India. (What water was used to make the ice?) So far I feel no ill effects, but if this turns out to be the last time you hear from me you’ll know that the ice warnings are true.