Everything is available …

EVERY FEW MINUTES, a ferry traverses Goa’s Mandovi River between Panjim and the village of Betim. This free river crossing is for the use of pedestrians and those riding two-wheelers. The ferryboat is loaded via an elevatable ramp.

As soon as the ramp touches the concrete landing stage, a wave of pedestrians and motorbikes surge from the boat onto the shore. As they do so, the waiting pedestrians and vehicles swarm on to the ferry.

On arrival at Betim, we walked away from the landing place along a busy country road lined with shops, shacks, and much tropical vegetation. It was not long before we reached the small restaurant set back from the road, which had been recommended to us.

Although it was nearly noon, the eatery seemed rather lifeless. Eventually, we saw a man emerging from it. He showed us a menu. We asked him if all the dishes were available. He replied:
“Everything is available.”
After a pause, he added:
“Today kitchen is closed.”

Art for all ???

I HAVE ATTENDED many art festivals. These have included the biennales at Cochin and Venice, and the trienniale at Folkestone. At each of these, the visitor is made to feel that the event is planned to encourage his or her interest in artistic endeavours.

This December (2022) we happened to be in Panjim, Goa, during the Serendipity Arts Festival (‘SAF’).

At the SAF, each event is swarming with volunteers wearing orange jackets. Attendees are required to complete an online registration in addition to registering for many of the various events in the programme. The poorly trained, often ill-informed, volunteers are obsessed with checking visitors’ registration passes (on mobile phones). Yet, we discovered that many of the visitors to the exhibits and shows have neither bothered to register nor been stopped from entering the SAF venues.

Yesterday, having made an online booking for seats on what promised to be a pleasant musical cruise on the Mandovi River, we turned up at the embarkation point well in advance of the departure Time, only to discover that the bookings were irrelevant and it was ‘first come, first served’. Furthermore, despite the boat being full to capacity, so-called VIPs and the ubiquitous volunteers were permitted to come on board. By force of personality, we managed to board the crowded vessel. I am not sure that after the struggle to get on board that I derived much, if any, enjoyment from the cruise.

It appears to me that unlike what we have experienced at Cochin, Folkestone, and Venice, the arts festival at Panjim seems to be mainly for the benefit of the organisers and the numerous volunteers, rather than for the members of the public who have travelled all the way to Goa to experience it.

However, I wish to conclude this on a positive note. We were fortunate to have been shown around one of the exhibitions by its curator, who seemed very pleased that we had come to see her show.

A grand hotel in Goa

OUR FIRST VISIT to Goa was in about 2007. We stayed at a state run hotel in Colva, a seaside place in South Goa. It was August and the middle of the monsoon season. Much of the time, there was rain and frequently the beach was inaccessible because if the furious waves and wind dashing against it.

One day, we were driven to Panjim North of Colva, and stopped for lunch in the city’s tall Mandovi Hotel. The food served in its grandiose dining room was good. However, what impressed me most was that the hotel, which was built as a luxury establishment when the Portuguese ruled Goa, was a perfectly preserved and well maintained example of an old-fashioned inter-war European grand hotel.

Because the hotel at Colva was, to put it mildly, very badly managed, we left it sooner than we had planned and spent a few days in the Mandovi. As far as I can recall, the hotel was both comfortable and well managed.

In 2018, we paid another visit to Panjim, and had a meal in its restaurant, which looked the same as it did in 2007. Sadly, the quality of the cooking and service had deteriorated.

The Mandovi Hotel was constructed on a plot that had belonged to a Noronha family. The seven storied building was ready to receive its first guests in December 1952, on the day that the Cardinal of Lisbon arrived in Goa. The hotel was where important Portuguese persons stayed. It was the best hotel in all of the territories ruled by Portugal. Stepping inside it was like taking a time trip back to the 1950s, if not before.

Behind the hotel, away from the riverfront, there is a domed Chapel attached to the hotel. This was built by the Noronhas family in 1827, and has been used ever since.

December 2022 found us back in Panjim. We walked over to the Mandovi Hotel and were horrified to find that its main entrance was padlocked closed and the place looked lifeless. A bystander told us that the hotel closed about 4 years ago because the two families who own it are fighting over it in a court of law.

I hope that the Mandovi Hotel will reopen and that it’s remarkable late Art Deco and Indo-Portuguese decorative features will be preserved. Even if it’s interior is modernised, which would be a pity, I hope that the terracotta coloured bas-reliefs on the hotel’s external wall will be saved.

A refreshing breeze in Goa

I SHOULD NOT BE TELLING you about a wonderful place in the heart of Panjim in Goa, but I will.

The Clube Vasco da Gama is situated on the first floor of a building beside Panjim’s lovely Municipal Garden. Founded in 1909, it occupied other buildings before it moved to its present site. With a pleasant decor, which evokes times long past, the Clube serves a wide range of drinks and superbly prepared Goan food. Today, we enjoyed baby squids stuffed with minced vegetable and chopped up squid, served in a tasty sauce. We also ate croquettes filled with a mildly spiced prawn purée. In addition, we consumed fried fish served in a very spicy sauce. Everything tasted wonderful, and as we will be in Panjim for several days, we will work our way through the menu.

We first came across the Clube in April 2018, when the weather was almost unbearable: extremely hot and humid. Quite by chance we came across the Clube and decided to enter it. We discovered that it has two small balconies, each overlooking the Gardens. Each of them has a small table with three chairs. All day long, there is a lovely, cooling breeze blowing across these two tables, making them the coolest places to sit in central Panjim (without resorting to finding places with air-conditioning).

It is because there are only two of these wonderfully positioned tables, it is with some trepidation that I am telling you about them. I do not want to turn up at the Clube to find them occupied by those who have just read this!