7
Sep 04

Best holiday drink

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Best holiday drink

Pete’s piece below about best meals didn’t evoke any holiday meals with me, but it did bring back the greatest drink I have ever had. We (my wife and I) had arrived in Calcutta early in the morning, and our train down the coast wasn’t until late that night, so we did some tourist stuff there. Calcutta has a dreary centre, all lawns and Victorian buildings, and keep the cows and beggars away. All the tourists were there, but some delving into guides had revealed the biggest mosque in India (or something like that, might have been in East India) wasn’t far away, so we went there. My wife stayed in the cab for reasons I can’t recall, but I wanted to go in. I got to the entrance, and there were people hanging around there. I didn’t know the etiquette at all, so asked if it was okay for me to go in and look around – and they spoke enough English. The problem came with my wanting to enter: there was no reason not to, but these people who, my strong impression was, spent A LOT of time hanging out there, were astonished that I was interested. No, I wasn’t Moslem. It was a wonderful building, all marble and peace and quiet and shallow pools of water. I can only assume that most tourists didn’t visit it. After that we visited a set of little Jain temples, arranged around another pool – these were small but absurdly ostentatious, countless tiny mirrors and inlaid mosaic and gold. There we were the attraction: we were looking at these buildings, like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and most of the people there – none seemed to be tourists – were trailing around after us, staring.

After that we went to the Botanical Gardens on the outskirts. The tourist cab we were in had no idea where they were, but with the help of Fodor we found it. This is a huge garden area with sections devoted to flowers and trees from particular regions of the world. The highlight was an enormous banyan tree (if I’ve not misremembered the type of tree). The branches droop down to the ground and become secondary roots, and this now had a few hundred of them, with a circumference of a couple of hundred yards, and the main trunk had rotted and been removed 75 years before. The branch-roots were often dead straight and thin, angling down almost like dowelling, and the whole thing looked fake from a distance, like a German Expressionist forest. Anyway, we’d been walking around for ages in 35 degree heat, and it was pretty dusty most of the time too. There were no stalls or cafes that we could spot, and we were gasping. We turned a bend in one path, and there was a guy with a small plastic tub, full of ice and cartons, and we bought a couple of very cold sweetened mango juices. I guess anything wet would have felt great at that point, but this was perfect. I’ve generally avoided that drink since that holiday (I think I’ve had it once in the intervening six, seven years) because I want to preserve that connection, and if I drink mango juice a lot it will stop recalling that exhausting but fascinating day, and India in general. (Similarly, I’ve not had a kebab since the one I ate in Istanbul, but that wasn’t a special culinary experience.)(The use of a memory-trigger that I deliberately don’t invoke is debatable of course, but I know I will want it occasionally.)

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