Kerala’s Stars Redux

We published this post in the early period of this site, but the beauty of the subject and the timeliness of the season begs its redux…

The colorful stars that begin to grace Kerala buildings in December from homes, to businesses, to places of worship have humble beginnings despite their current flashy status.  The were originally a simple white 7 point star that correlated with the beacon leading to the Christmas manger.

Many of these folded and cut paper stars are the handiwork of a group of women in a fishing villages around the southern Kerala city of Kollam. Continue reading

Onam, Kerala, 2016

img_5224-1Yesterday, the midday meal was a traditional one for this time of year. We have written about Onam festivities each of the years that we have been based in Kerala, since 2010. Now, during our seventh such celebration, we finally hosted an Onam feast in our own home. In order to be sure that the guests at our table would have the best of the traditional foods of the season we made the only sensible decision: we ordered the feast from a local kitchen we favor.

These dishes, which we have written about in previous years, tasted as if they were the best we have yet had. Maybe because it was all so easy and pleasant. Our guests, anyway, we knew to be not high maintenance. It was a cross section, functionally speaking, of La Paz Group’s Kerala team, including (from left going around the table in the picture below) engineering, finance, revenue management, reservations, sales, design, me, and front right is the man in charge of it all, who was also the photographer. Continue reading

Figs and Ficus

Photo by Milo Inman

A past employee who used to be a regular contributor here, writing about all things Indian – and in particular, from Kerala – would publish frequently about plants and animals, among other subjects, and once, he wrote three posts in quick succession about three trees in the Ficus genus: the Elephant Ear, the Country Fig, and the Sacred Bodhi. The following month, another author here wrote on his feelings about ficus. This week, journalist Ben Crair writes about figs for the New Yorker:

The produce section of the grocery store is a botanical disaster. Most people know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but so is an eggplant, a cucumber, and a spaghetti squash. A banana, which grows from a flower with a single ovary, is actually a berry, while a strawberry, which grows from a flower with several ovaries, isn’t a berry at all but an aggregate fruit. The most confusing classification, though, will start showing up on American shelves this month. Shoppers will find mission figs with the grapes, kiwis, and other fruit, but a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses. Although many people dismiss figs as a geriatric delicacy or the sticky stuff inside bad cookies, they are, in fact, something awesome: enclosed flowers that bloom modestly inward, unlike the flamboyant showoffs on other plants. Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

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Pepper’s Historical Place

A painting of Muziris by the artist Ajit Kumar. In 2004, excavations in Kerala sparked new interest in this lost port. Illustration: KCHR

A painting of Muziris by the artist Ajit Kumar. In 2004, excavations in Kerala sparked new interest in this lost port. Illustration: KCHR

Our first exposure to the name Muziris was during the planing stages of the 1st edition of the eponymous Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012. The flurry of activity in Fort Kochi not only brought Kochi into the spotlight of the international Art World, but added focus to the archeological works at Kerala’s ancient port.

Lost cities #3 – Muziris: did black pepper cause the demise of India’s ancient port?

Around 2,000 years ago, Muziris was one of India’s most important trading ports. According to the Akananuru, a collection of Tamil poetry from the period, it was “the city where the beautiful vessels, the masterpieces of the Yavanas [Westerners], stir white foam on the Periyar, river of Kerala, arriving with gold and departing with pepper.”

Another poem speaks of Muziris (also known as Muciripattanam or Muciri) as “the city where liquor abounds”, which “bestows wealth to its visitors indiscriminately” with “gold deliveries, carried by the ocean-going ships and brought to the river bank by local boats”.

The Roman author Pliny, in his Natural History, called Muziris “the first emporium of India”. The city appears prominently on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a fifth-century map of the world as seen from Rome. But from thereon, the story of this great Indian port becomes hazy. As reports of its location grow more sporadic, it literally drops off the map.

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Kerala Beef Fry

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The Kerala beef fry is the stuff of legend

Last week, sitting with a new colleague for lunch–I had ordered a classic north Indian version of the ubiquitous biryani served across the country; she had ordered a very Kerala dish, one with beef–I wondered why I had not ordered what she ordered, since it is the more local dish, and I am still not vegetarian. The BBC makes me wonder again:

The Indian state that is obsessed with beef fry

Not many people would associate India with beef. Spirituality yes, perhaps even vegetarianism, but certainly not beef.

But then they have probably never been to Kerala, the south Indian state that loves its beef – preferably fried.

The Kerala beef fry is the stuff of legend. Continue reading

#10 Of One Dozen Love Letters About Xandari

ADXHArchitectural Digest is not the reason we do what we do. But when they take note, in any manner, we feel the love. Xandari Harbour soft-opened, and within a very short time got an inordinate amount of good press even before the formal opening. Yet the AD mention, which was neither a cover story nor even a particularly huge feature, had a different level of impact on those of us on the team that developed it.

George M George, the visionary who saw the potential in the run down property and particularly the crumbling godown (waterfront warehouse) featured on the left above post-restoration, was that team’s source of energy, inspiration, encouragement–this would not have happened without his excellent leadership. Continue reading

#8 Of One Dozen Love Letters About Xandari

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Photo and pendant by Milo Inman

While we were in the early stages of shaping the look of Xandari Pearl, we had a team of design interns, and these highly creative collaborators sent us a constant stream of design feedback on the evolving Marari pearl concept. Little did I know that at that same time Milo, who at that time I thought of as a photographer-to-be, was developing another artistic talent. The photo above shows one example of that talent.

I consider that pendant as good an artifact of Xandari’s aesthetic legacy as any.  Continue reading

#7 Of One Dozen Love Letters About Xandari

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Dear Xandari Pearl circa 2026,

I hope the day this photo was taken (yesterday as I type this) will be remembered. Amie wept. Saji shared some wisdom–and we all embraced in the hopeful spirit of looking forward to this lovely property’s prosperity. I shared recollections of my first visit to this property  years before moving to India, and wanted each of the team members to know why this property is the most important work so far in my lifetime. It had to do with this location’s personal meaning to George M George, and how that meaning influenced the design process. Xandari Costa Rica was a big part of that process as well, and the Xandari community should be aware of that special link. Continue reading

#5 Of One Dozen Love Letters About Xandari

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Photo credit: Milo Inman

When the conversation about bringing the Xandari concept to India was in the early stages, Milo was in the early stages of mastering the camera. We spent a large percentage of our time in the backwaters in those days, working with our team at River Escapes, and this gave Milo time with his craft in an astounding setting. My father was a photographer, and his father painted landscapes, but for some reason their visual acuity skipped a generation and Milo got it. He saw in composition and captured with camera what escaped me. A  collection of these photographs has adorned our office walls since they were taken in 2011.  And they have influenced our thinking about what is now called Xandari Riverscapes.

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Photo credit: Milo Inman

The houseboat operation has been written about many times in these pages over the years, but in the archival diving of the last week I discovered some fascinating correspondence related to my first visit to Kerala.

George M George had taken me to the backwaters and showed me the first houseboat under construction. The craftsmen were doing something I had no idea was possible, stitching together a hull with no nails; and then afterwards the artistry of the upper deck, and all that we have written about elsewhere.

I have just reread a letter I wrote to Sherrill Broudy after that first visit to Kerala a dozen years ago, and had shared my snapshots with him, saying that what I saw reminded me of Xandari with the curvaceous, organic feel.

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#4 Of One Dozen Love Letters About Xandari

The Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, in Trivandrum, has been amassing gold for centuries. PHOTOGRAPH BY CHIARA GOIA

What I love most about Xandari is this fact: over nearly two decades, several tens of thousands of guests have trusted Xandari with their valuable vacation time, and that faith has been reciprocated with such authentic hospitality that Xandari has one of the most loyal clientele of any hotel I know of. Most guests coming to Xandari today are related through kinship or friendship to guests who have already been at Xandari before. That loyalty is like treasure buried deep inside of Xandari. Continue reading

Roots and Anchors

Anybody can welcome you to a destination. Tell you about the must-do and the must-see. Weave you through its facts and fables, seat you through its culinary journey. At Xandari, we welcome you to our people. And the living stories they are. From what’s cooking to an effective cure for colds, good ol’ ways of growing with the land to dreams by the beach, we hear them loud. And, are part of them.

Here’s to our pride. Here’s to our people. Here’s to our family.

Rosanna Abrachan

Community, Collaboration and Conservation are the “3 Cs” that we stand by, and crafting these videos felt like a large family gathering with a smorgasbord of experiences to choose from. Thank you Anoodha and the RAXA CollectiveXandari Pearl teams!

Stay tuned for more!

Walking In on the Sari

Walk. That’s my one-word gospel for all who will listen in on the best way to discover. Meander. Be curious, the good kind. Because stories wait around corners, discoveries often plonk themselves on one-way streets. And some are found in messy backrooms of squeaky clean shops lined with mannequins and smiles. Like this woven tale of the people, history, and fabric that go into the making of the Indian drape. There’s more than just five yards to the sari, trust me.

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Nutmeg – from Table to Design

You must have heard the phrase in a nutshell. Well, this post is not exactly that. It’s going to border on being a story in a nutmeg. Yet another tale to add to Kerala’s legacy of having a heart of spices. The nutmeg, though not as glorious as its cousins pepper or cinnamon, is integral for its medicinal, herbal properties and its place in the kitchen.

For me, it’s the embrace that links spending holidays with a grandmother whose heart had nutmeg all over it and a design sensibility at Xandari Harbour. The wispy haired grand lady is long gone, but the wind rustles up her memories among the nutmeg trees. So does a certain corridor at work.

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Come to Kerala, Devi

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Collecting stories by the river in Vicksburg, Mississippi. August 2013. Photograph by Devi K. Lockwood

You will be in good company, in terms of other “Come to Kerala” invitees mentioned on this blog. We appreciate the Folklore & Mythology, and especially the Art of Storytelling inspirations to your purposeful wandering form of activism. Come say hello.

LEO AND I SIT across the table from each other in the home his family rents in Dunedin, New Zealand. The kitchen smells of roast garlic. Two days ago I cycled up the big hill to his house with all my belongings strapped and clipped to my bicycle: clothes, food, audio recorder, and a tiny guitar. Continue reading

A Timeless Moment on the Backwaters

A scenic backwaters view. Photo by S. Inman.

During my stay at Xandari Pearl – another charming property that I visited recently – I had the opportunity to go on one of the Riverscapes houseboats to have lunch and spend a few hours on the famous Kerala backwaters. I think I will remember this experience as the most peaceful that I have lived. Indeed, everything is united to provide you a relaxing and timeless moment.

Obviously the first thing that I noticed is the landscape and each element that surrounds it. It was my first time on the backwaters, and I have to say that this large expanse of water and all the green nature around it is quite wonderful. What makes it peaceful is the fact that you can just enjoy the moment and the view. You don’t have to do anything else! The best part is that except for the lapping of water and some birds, you can’t hear any sounds. It’s the best place to go unwind.

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Still Standing – the Last Jews of Jew Town

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala.  Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

The Paradesi synagogue in Jew Town, Fort Kochi, Kerala. Credit: Alyssa Pinsker

Xandari Harbour, going beyond a hotel, doubles as a gateway to history. Located between the tourist paradise of Fort Kochi and the heritage rich bylanes of the spice markets of Mattanchery, it sees people and time come and go. Among the tales we hold precious is the heartwarming lifestory of the Jews of Jew Town. A handful left, behind doors and windows they sit – reminders of a people who found warm refuge in an alien land. Reminders of a page of a history turning to close.

In a small neighbourhood in the South Indian city of Cochin, Kashmiri shopkeepers in Islamic dress stand in front of shops emblazoned with banners reading “Shalom!” Inside, Hindu statues and shawls vie for space with Jewish stars, menorahs and mezuzahs. Although this multiculturalism might seem strange, the majority-Hindu city is well known for its substantial Muslim and Christian populations. Less known is that there’s also a fast-dwindling native Jewish community, known as the Paradesi (Foreign) Jews, who once populated the neighbourhood of Jew Town.

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