One more week at Sunset Beach

 

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In our second week here, Gerard has started writing a story, an idea he’s had for years. This place is tailor-made for such a project. There’s not a lot to do other than the beach.

 

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Gerard and Martin meet on the beach

And for Gerard, a little beach goes a long way! Our room is quite spacious with a table to work at. He applies the same focus to his writing as he does to his painting. In the afternoon, with jazz playing through the portable external speaker of the laptop, it’s as if he’s replaced his studio in the basement back home with our room here. When I’m not playing the role of editor, I walk the beach looking for interesting shells, sometimes with our adopted dog, Blackie.

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Sitting on the verandah in the cool of the early morning we discuss the writing over our large mugs of chai. This is our favorite time of the day. Eventually, we stop talking long enough to make our breakfast: fruit, curd and chia seed.

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Gerard’s just getting over a cold and worried it was going to settle into one of his epic coughs. I on the other hand, suddenly and inexplicably woke up deaf in one ear the day we arrived here on the train. When I got down, the platform was spongy and my balance unsteady. At first, sensitive to music or any loud sound, my ear settled in to just being deaf. Our kindly landlord offered to go to the market with us to see a homeopathic doctor and do some shopping as well.

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He is the only doctor in the market (which in all practical sense is the town) meaning the locals have no choice but to rely on homeopathy. His office is up a flight of rickety wooden stairs. In a dark room, an elderly gentleman sits at a large desk covered with small vials and papers. First, he treats Gerard, asking him a lot of unrelated questions to his cough, such as, “Why did you become a vegetarian?” Some of you may know the story of Gerard at sixteen, at Easter, looking in the fridge at leftover turkey and seeing a dead bird, rather than something to eat. The doctor and Martin both listen attentively, neither of them is pure veg but the doctor responds, “OK, now I understand.” He turns around and takes a small vial of pellets from the cupboard behind him, adds a few drops and hands them to Gerard. Then he turns to me. He asks what kind of work I did, looks at my tongue, and says, “Don’t worry, the deafness is not permanent, just some inflammation.” We wonder how he can be so sure. He doesn’t look in my ear and I don’t think he has the instrument to do it anyway. He prescribes me my own vial of pellets. A week later, I’m still deaf. But Gerard’s cough has gone. To his credit, this doctor is the first to treat his cough successfully after all our years in India.

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A young Russian couple has joined us at the guesthouse. They’re not the vodka drinking rowdy Russians. In our experience, there’s two types and they fall into the more mellow, yoga group.

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He’s Armenian, living in Moscow and making films, now one set in India. She organizes photo shoots and used to work for Playboy Magazine in Moscow before it folded three years ago. She admits she cried when Hefner died! They both think Putin is good to control the thugs still in the Kremlin. But they have reservation about his foreign policy. They spend their days on the beach and via a Royal Enfield, evenings in northern Goa. So we don’t see much of them. But on their last day, Gerard suggested we have lunch together at our one and only local restaurant. Always curious to hear the Russian perspective we talk for three hours over a special feast supplied by our cook.

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We all end up agreeing we can’t believe what we hear on the news and the government is hoodwinking us on both sides of the boundary. After talking to them, it’s the second time we’ve heard that the Russian government controls the weather. It’s habitually rainy and grey but the sun always shines brightly for the May Day parade.

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Gerard doesn’t care much for celebrating his birthday so it’s not mentioned. But today, I let it slip out at lunch to Bonnie the cook, who said, “Wonderful, I’ll make carrot halvah.” When we arrived for dinner, there was not only halvah but a big chocolate cake also. Bonnie told Gerard, “You’re like my father, I do the same for his birthday.” His helper, Reagan, photographed as we sang Happy Birthday, followed with another version asking for God’s blessing, and Gerard blew out the candles. It was all very sweet.

Leaving at 7 am the next morning, Bonnie insisted on getting up early and making us chai and stuffed parathas for the two-hour train journey to Goa. While we waited for the hired rickshaw, Martin, Bonnie, and Reagan all chatted with us and then waved goodbye. Among the many send-offs we’ve had in India, this was one of the best.

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White Sands and Personal Chef in Maharashtra

 

fullsizeoutput_213Laying on the bed under an open window, listening to so many bird calls, I try to parallel the experience with something else – but I can’t and that makes it easier to ‘be here now’. So much time is lost either going in reverse or fast forwarding. Of course, our environment can help or hinder staying in the present, but for me, the biggest distraction is my own mind. I suspect others are also afflicted with this malady. A few minutes walk from the one lane road, our guesthouse is tucked away among the jungle. Black-faced monkeys leap among tall trees, butterflies glide on the breeze. A tree frog hides in a bucket. Not a vehicle to be heard. The only thing that reminds us we are in India is the barking dogs at night. And of course every paradise has its snake or two; in the jungle, the snakes take the form of mosquitoes.

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When we were in Goa a year ago Gerard had a running conversation with old-timers about where else we can go; Agonda has become too crowded. Someone said there was a small beach town with very few facilities in Maharashtra.

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Last summer Gerard spent many hours on Google Maps to find this elusive place. Eventually, he settled on Paradise Beach; then the task was to find somewhere to stay. No websites, just vague references, but we finally got a phone number and made contact. Arriving at a new location has never been my strong point and Gerard must have felt my rising anxiety because he kept asking me if I was all right. Eventually, I reminded him it took me time to settle in. Walking down the beach, commenting on how few people there are on this long stretch of white sand, I say, “This certainly isn’t Agonda.” Gerard retorts, “And a good thing too, that’s why we came here.” The following morning, when I walked along the shore alone, I felt so happy. Now I’ve settled in!

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The guesthouse owner, Martin, couldn’t be a more agreeable human being. Living here alone, he engages in conversation whenever we encourage it, always with a smile. Martin has an admirable lifestyle without the complexities of failing Internet, noisy motorcycle, problematic AC or hot water heater. He seems to prefer household chores (he has no maid to clean even the guestrooms) and pottering around his plot of land instead of the excitement of Mumbai, where he grew up and his wife and daughter still live. He goes to the market on his push bike. A man after my own heart! In the hot afternoon, I watch Martin sitting serene in the shade of his verandah. He chooses not to complicate his life with the computer, website and Trip Advisor, instead giving the enterprising young owner of the local cafe a cut of the profits in return for bringing him bookings.

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The first few days we were the only guests and Martin invited us to use his kitchen. Every morning he taps on our door at 8 o’clock with two large cups of masala chai. Not always easy to find in this part of the country. We linger over breakfast on the verandah while he tells stories of his childhood and summers spent here with his grandparents.

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Brought up in Mumbai, he returned to his grandfather’s land and built a guesthouse on the property. The ruins of the family home below the window of our room add a dimension to what could be a scene from God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s classic novel set in the jungle of Kerala.

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Even for India, the pace here is S L O W. There seems little ways of making money, beyond fishing and the seasonal fruit trees.

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There’s no farming and the tourist industry is here but not robust enough to support the community. Among the few tourists, the majority are Indian with a dash of Russians.

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“How do people manage to eke out a living here?” Gerard asks the waiter. “How long is the season? He replies, “Basically 5 months, December, January in full force.” “Not much of a season. What do you do the rest of the time?” “I do nothing. Just relax!” Maybe that is why everything is so slow here. When there’s not a lot to be had, it’s interesting to see that people can live their life in such a simpler style than that to which we’re accustomed.

The cook has adopted us at the small restaurant across the lane. His only customers, he takes pride in serving us more tantalizing veg dishes day after day. Even if there was an alternative, we have no inclination to go elsewhere. Our immediate connection with Martin and the overwhelming accommodation of the cook are wonderful but in our experience, this happens more than you’d think. A good friend of mine visiting before we left, commented, “You have such a beautiful home, why do you leave it for four months of the year?” My reply was, “Yes, we do have a beautiful home and enjoy living here for two-thirds of the year. Going to India shakes things up. The adventures we have there probably wouldn’t happen in Boston.”

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A man in a lowered tone of voice says, “The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent.”