The French Connection

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This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, November 16, 2004 was originally posted on November 21, 2004.

DAY 395:  Pondicherry, the one-time capital of French-occupied India, remains a city with a French influence, a place where curry meets crêpes.  Pondicherry, which is of course English for Pondichéry, was founded in 1673 when France took over the area as a base of their trading routes, so that they may have an advantage over the English and the Dutch — it wasn’t until 1954 that the French gave the land back to India.  Readers of Yann Martel’s popular contemporary fable Life of Pi will recognize the city’s name as the first part of the story takes place there, the part when the hero, Pi Patel, sneaks behind people’s backs to be a Christian, a Hindu and Muslim all at the same time.  (No, that doesn’t spoil the plot in case you were going to read it.)

I left Chrissy and the rest of the Christian/Hindu guesthouse for the day and hopped in an auto-rickshaw — whose fare was negotiated by a nice old random Indian man on the street who sympathized with confused American me because his son was also living in the States — which took me to the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus.  Buses to “Pondy” left about every half hour, and soon I was on the 1 p.m. one for the three and a half hour ride southbound through Tamil Nadu on East Coast Road.

Pondicherry’s blend of India and France mixed as well as oil and water; architecturally speaking, the two weren’t really integrated with each other, with the classical French part of the city and the modern, air-polluted Indian one separated by a dried up canal.  Accommodations were cheaper in the latter and I checked in to the Amala Lodge, a much more basic place than Kenneth and Geeta’s in Chennai, before taking to the streets on foot. 

On the eastern side of the canal the French influence on India was immediately seen, with its bilingual street signs, colorfully painted buildings and French embassy.  I walked passed the Government Park and the European-styled Pondicherry Museum and head for the shore along the Bay of Bengal.  On a stroll down Goubert Salai (Beach Road), I continued to see the Europe meets India influence, with its cathedral, lighthouse and war memorial, commemorating the fallen soldiers from French India in WWI.  It was a beach where Indian locals walked aside French tourists and ex-pats, a beach where a statue of Gandhi shared the sand with Marquis Dupleix.

Even the police in Pondicherry were influenced by the French, at least in uniform, with every officer patrolling the streets in red French police hats that made them look like brown-skinned gendarmes in Paris.  The police were a particularly busy bunch since Pondicherry had a lot of strict rules on public smoking and drinking, vehicle theft and swimming.  The few guys in the ocean didn’t seem to mind the strong riptides though.  Everyone else played it safe, I think mostly because, despite the cleanliness signs posted in the French part of town (picture above), the beach was really polluted and uninviting.  France On The Ocean usually invokes an image of the Riviera, but Pondicherry was nowhere near such a thing; in fact, Pondicherry, despite the photos you’ve clicked on so far that make it seem nicer than it actually is, reminded me more of a sleepy New Jersey shore town (sans the drunken frat boys, Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen playing out of an old IROC-Z).  Later on, I concurred when Kenneth told me he didn’t know what the big deal about Pondicherry was; it’s “just a big Indian village.”


I HAD DINNER AT SEAGULL’S, one of the few eateries with a view of the ocean, and dined on a delicious and spicy meal of prawn curry on rice with a side of Kalyani, the French Indian beer only for sale in Pondicherry.  It seemed to be one of the few places I could have such a refreshment; most of the guesthouses I’d seen seemed to extend the no drinking, no smoking rule into their private properties, many of them run by devout Christian-types.  When I went to the internet cafe across the street from my lodge, the zealous Indian guy there berated me for not loving George W. Bush — “You know The Bible says you should love your enemy…” — and when Windows 98 finally loaded up I saw his wallpaper was a quote from Deutoronomy

A chacun son gôut,” was a phrase I once learned in French class.  “To each his/her own taste.”  In a place like Pondicherry, where one could by an Indian newspaper in the Tamil language or an issue of French tabloid Paris Match, that phrase couldn’t be more fitting — with its eclectic mix of Indians and French, Christians, Hindus and Muslims — as long as everyone behaved himself on the beach.






Next entry: Mothers

Previous entry: Martyrs and Magicians




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Comments for “The French Connection”

  • I love that swimming sign!  Save your valuable lives everyone!

    Posted by Liz  on  11/21  at  07:22 AM


  • LIZ:  That sign is great, isn’t it?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  10:06 AM


  • Do the French keep an Embassy in New Delhi too or just the one in Pondy?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  02:14 PM


  • Do the French keep an Embassy in New Delhi too or just the one in Pondy?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  02:14 PM


  • That devil face on the swimming sign is enough to make anyone afraid to swim in the ocean - EVER AGAIN

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  03:23 PM


  • TDOT:  France is in Delhi too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  05:11 PM


  • did you hear any french in an indian accent?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  07:22 PM


  • MARKYT:  Just like Hindi mixed in with English phrases up north, Tamil was mixed in with French…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  04:47 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Mothers

Previous entry:
Martyrs and Magicians




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