Kochi Open Air Dialogues: Finding the Characters

I can’t stay quiet for long. My good mother always told. I do appreciate the languid moment of a good book, the idleness that always sounds better in Italian (“dolce fare niente”)… But I do get itchy feet, and itchy tongue. More than moving, I need to communicate, it’s one of the things I most love when I travel. A small chat with the conductor of the train, a heart-to-heart with the fishermen, a small talk with the lady passing by… There are just some days that few things give more pleasure than walking aimlessly and talking to people, hear conversations, watching people smile among them without hearing what they say… It really gives me the kicks. That’s how I immerse myself into someone’s culture, by looking them straight, by hearing what they have to say…











Working Hands: The Ginger Ways

Wandering around Kochi. I try to avoid the constant offers of western food, tuc tuc rides, ayurvedic massages or even salvation. I try to do that by getting lost. The less stores I see, the less neon blinds my eyes, the more I feel attracted to. And so I draw my map, my mental map that adds up details in real time. I sometimes feel like the deranged castaway that burned the map, because he couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when you find the best things. That’s when an auto rickshaw driver, approaches me. A stylish guy, hair gel and fancy shirt. He looks like he will suddenly transform his shaky vehicle into a sports car. He’s dressed up for it. “Hello, sir! Where you going?” You know, the usual driver’s lingo in India. “I’m just walking, man. Just out for the exercise” He looked surprised, in sheer awe that I was walking in such heat. “Sir, you don’t walk! 4 kms to Palace! I take, I take!” When I explained him that I really wanted to walk and not know where I was going, he was struggling not to look shocked. “That’s fine, Sir. But I can take you to ginger factory.” Ok, now you got me, I thought. A ginger factory? That actually sounds like a good change from temples and churches and all that jazz. And so he took me. A triumphant smile on his face. Not a mean one, just a childish chuckle now and then, tasting his convincing skills. What he showed me though, was fantastic. A true experience of manufactured work. In a 400 years old building, ginger is still dried, sifted and packaged by hand. As I get in, my nostrils are invaded by hordes of this intense, concentrated fragrance. It’s so aggressive at first, that my eyes water. After a while it gets better, quite pleasant actually. I just stood around, talking to the workers, trying to ask questions. They wanted to hear my story, which I told in brief words. Communication was quite hard, but I was amazed by the generosity of those who work there, just by letting me witness their work, just by letting me shake their hardened hands. I can’t help but think it was a good day. In the middle of all the 5 star resorts and hotels, there are still people that work hard, just as their ancestors have.







A Fisherman’s Tale: Chinese Fishnets in Kochi

The Sun laid down lazily on the horizon and there was a lethargic atmosphere in the air. By the harbor, crows kept the waters company, the good old seagull was absent. Walking by the river, a strange structure draws me, slowly shaping over yonder. It’s clumsy outline came to me as an articulated spider diving into the water. While I was still trying to work out what it was, a strong hand touched my shoulder. A short, dark skinned man, his weathered skin glaring in the afternoon sun. rugous The classic “Hello, where you from?” Popped into his lips almost mechanically. “I’m from Portugal”. His smile took a short turn vertically down, not so much of disappointment, but more of surprise. “Serial, Sir?? You not Portuguese… you not!” I just smiled and told my name. The familiar tilde sound caused some sort of reaction as he seemed to recognize it. “Portuguese brought these nets, you know? Long time ago. But you don’t look like any of them, sir.” He took a bidi out of his pocket and lit up as he offered me a seat. We both stared at the pre dusk brightness, not speaking a word. “You know, I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Damned life, but I couldn’t stay away from the sea. I tried, but just cannot, sir.” These last words acquired somewhat a very proper cockney accent. “I know what you mean, Benjamin, it’s a hard thing.” Benjamin opened a huge smile “Problem? Sir, no problem! River washes away!”







Kerala Monsoon Routines: A Kannur Spontaneous Glance

Rain… The blessing from the skies. My friend Amit from Mumbai told me so. It’s a time of abundance, like no other. Travelling India at this time can be challenging and something to test the patience of an impatient traveller. I know I have no term of comparison, this being the first time in India. But I like to think I can read people’s emotions. And the truth is that there is a sheer optimism, and a genuine warmth when you approach someone around these parts… The heavy showers are so thick that you can’t see 2 metres ahead of you… Streets flood, kids play in puddles… But the spirits are high, you can definitely feel it… Kannur was just a short stop, but a fantastic introduction to Kerala…

India Shouts Color: Mysore Chromatic Walk

Sometimes it catches you off guard… This will to go. After the thrill of the first days parade, I wanted more. So, I walked… Chased the morning slumber away and turned left. And then another left, and straight up a street where I could hear the Muezzin from a mosque calling people to pray. Drawn by the mournful, circular cries, I followed it. The streets were as bustling as any other city in India so far, so I stopped on a corner, tasting the frantic. A fruit salesman, a stalky, firm man with Hena dyed hair calls me over and offers me Jasmin. Winks smiling and opens ins arms in an offering gesture. He couldn’t speak. At that moment I saw… I just followed his outreaching arms to the mangos, apples piled up in front of him… That’s when it hit me. Under these grey, threatening monsoon skies, there’s color. Not such an amazing conclusion, but that’s what came to me that precise moment. I don’t normally think of these things, romanticize color as an semi esoteric artefact. But right there and then all I saw was a palette of colors… For the first time it really hit me. The traveller celebrated colors of India… The ones I had heard about from guests back in Lisboa… India does shout at you… in colors. The ones I decided to chase…











Street Rhythm in Mysore: The Maharaja’s Birthday

Getting to a city tired and sleepy, feet dragging, grabbing a morning chai, no points of reference… Eyes open, bust station, wow! No points of reference, nothing…The eyebrows are heavy and the city is a busy, grey, no contrasting normality. Mysore is moderately frantic, moderately colorful and busy… until a certain extent. Sipping the chai, speaking to my buttons, trying to solve IT problems and such, trying to place myself… Thoughts and time drag, swung by the tedious regular honking of the Indian traffic tradition. That’s when it hit me… The first time was just a whisper. It became a rattle and grew, all bold and intense. It became noise and defined itself into rhythm. This raw, untamed rhythm that invaded the once monotone arteries. Then it gathered with color. I remember jumping outside and spiked by that spectacle in front of me, I just dove… There was a crowd outside, chanting and dancing frantically, like hyperactives in New Orleans. Looking around me, there were colorful people in drag, clumsy giant puppets, that grooved in a ruminating, slow groove and other shy voyeurs… Took my camera, and dove. I bring you the result. A stranger walks into town and the city flash mobs him. That’s how I felt. I didn’t resist, went with the flow and danced the steps the drums taught me. It was the Maharaja’s birthday, they told me. Well, congratulations Maharaja, I think I’ll just enjoy your surprise…