Thursday, November 09, 2006
We went to Pondicherry because it had a nice-sounding name. It’s an old French beach resort, so the streets have those quaint blue-tin-and-white-writing signs that say things like “Rue du Renard”.
There’s a lycee in town, so every now and then a chic French girl will putter past on a scooter. All the restaurants serve gourmet French cuisine. Or at least, a version of gourmet French cuisine. And anyway, when a steak’s 40p, can you really complain?
Pondicherry contained the first nice hotel – Hotel de l’Orient. It appeared to be a restored chateau, with vast rooms, four poster beds, and slowly stirring ceiling fans. It was luxury, especially after Bombay, where Rick’s room overlooked a kitchen yard where the chef was butchering chickens. And it was about £20 a night.
Going out at night, we found a tiny little bar. The kind of place that North London bars aspire to be – the sort of chic filth you associate with Cuba. Cockroaches chased across the crumbling plaster, ashtrays overflowed onto the floor, and wires dangled from the ceiling.
When we walked in, a couple of “travellers” at the bar glared at us. The look said, “Fuck off, tourists. We’ve suffered to find this place. This is the real India. You have no part in it.”
Rick and I grinned and started to work our way through the interesting collection of fake whiskies behind the bar, with names like McSporran, Bagpiper and Old Tartan. Rick brough a packet of fake Marlboro lights. They looked like Marlboro, but were like smoking soap, and turned teeth instantly black, like joke shop cigars.
By the time we were a little drunk, Traveller Girl was dancing ethnically to that song about Milkshake bringing boys to the yard.
By the time we were very drunk, we’d spent £1.20. As we left, Traveller Girl was sobbing at her table, muttering, “I love this country so much.”
We were followed home by a little man on a scooter, who looked rather like Ralph from the Muppets. He kept asking us whether or not we were married, and grinning.