My mouth has awakened from a long slumber. I am eating cinnamon for the first time. You might be inclined to say I’ve eaten it before, a powder sprinkled on toast, in chai or on top of pumpkin pie; but I would say that was only a taste of it. This cinnamon is a chunk of bark, boiled until soft and carefully blended into the spices of the dish I’m eating. I’ve never eaten cinnamon before – only tasted it’s essence. This is a piece of actual bark. My mouth is awake and alive.
I’m convinced my hosts are trying to kill us. The food so good we just keep eating, day after day after day.
I can remember the first time this happened, also in India. We were visiting the Mansingh Palace Restaurant on top of the hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan. In 1996 we ate a meal that was so good, we got a buzz. Served with a drink concoction topped with silver. The food was so good, we had to eat there twice, and we were desperately trying not to repeat anything to keep exploring. The food was that good.
From the front they looked like hedgehogs, from the side, sandcrawlers.
After freezing in Dehradun, we came to Kerala – and fell in love. Touring Jew Town in Fort Kochi was amazing. The prices: reasonable. Two days warming up before hitting the boat. Shopping and requisite attractions. They really want to show you the Chinese fishing nets.
I grew up on houseboats. One of the earliest photographs of me is reaching for the throttle and gear shifter on the Mimi III (my first family houseboat) in my father’s arms. This was one in a line of houseboats I grew up on, trolling up and down the Mississippi in my hometown of Dubuque, IA. Weekends meant we were on the river. We would go up annually to the Buenie Picnic through lock and dam #11. We would go down to 9 mile island, or occasionally 11 mile island (distance from Dubuque). We would moon the dinner cruise while tourists ate prime rib. We would toss clams. It was childhood as a river rat. The smell of the river, the moisture of the air, the coolness of the breeze, the sunset over Dubuque going under the East Dubuque bridge – these things are buried deep within my soul.
Saumya knowing this about me has booked trips on boats before. We saw Michael Franti on a Mississippi riverboat in NOLA. We’ve been in canoes on Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake in Minneapolis. We’ve been on Uncle John’s boats “Up North” in Minnesota. There were on boats on our honeymoon. For this excursion we booked four nights on the lake and canals of Kerala.
“You’ll get bored", we were told. Nothing can be farther from the truth. You know a trip is starting well when a flower mala is placed around your head and a water coconut in your hand. The mood set; we’re pulling out.
The frequent cannon shots would keep anyone from falling asleep in this mass.
Each night brings dinner along the shore, a sunset and precious warmth. Dinner! The food. I said they were trying to kill us.
The day starts anew with breakfast. We go through more canals again. I feel like Saum in a spice store, wild grin on my face. The air reminds me of my childhood boating on the Mississippi. The humidity and warmth of summer. I can feel my soul lightening. I’m over joyous.
I may be on the other side of the world, but I feel like I’ve come home.