by Mordecai Feldman
Editor’s note: My cousin, Mordecai “Morty” Feldman, occasionally writes articles for the Travel section of the New York Times. Last winter, Sweet Pickles & Corn’s Eli Toast and I joined him and his wife for a trip to Goa, India. He sent me the following story, which will soon be published in the Sunday magazine supplement, pending a few revisions and editorial streamlining. In exchange for me and Eli keeping quiet about a few indiscreet moments of the trip, he agreed to let the readership of SP&C have the first look at his dispatch. You’ll note that Eli and I do not appear in his article. This is not because we asked to be left out, it’s because Morty told us that he didn’t like us very much.
–Steve K. Feldman
Good old Goa! Good-as-gold Goa: the golden jewel of the Indian Ocean coast, former Portugese trading colony, cradle of Full Moon Party hedonism, famed stop on the Hippy Trail from Istanbul to Bangkok in the swinging 60s, and my home for a month the summer after my sophomore year at Dartmouth, where I truly found myself.
Laugh if you want. Yes, I was strolling along Goa’s fine white-sand beaches, watching the sun, the color of a ripe pomegranate, sink into the placid sea, watching a team of locals drag a fishing scow up onto the sand. When they finally had the boat stowed next to a grove of coconut palms, they collapsed from near-exhaustion, but smiling and laughing in easy camaraderie, sharing cigarettes, their thin, lithe brown bodies oily with sweat—perfectly at ease and peace, content with their hardscrabble existence. They had everything they needed in their little world right here—and how lucky I was to share just a sliver of it. It was at that moment I decided to switch majors from Hebrew literature to finance and management. So I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Goa, and let me tell you, as an Options trader at JPMorgan-Chase, I don’t often get accused of having a soft spot for anything, except for making great gobs of money.
Of course the whole Full Moon rave has long since moved on to Koh Phagnan in Thailand, and Goa has a whole seems to have suffered from the “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” Yogi-Berra-ism, with most of my friends these days, when heading out for Asian vacations, opting for eco-tourism in Myanmar, Sumatra, and Borneo instead of the sandy stalwarts of Goa, Phuket, or Bali. So, with my trading desk closed for a few weeks as SEC agents combed through our hard drives looking for the evidence of insider trading I’d erased months earlier, I found myself with time on my hands. I thought Goa was fresh for a re-visit to see if the tandooris, the masalas, the chais, and of course the fiery vindaloos were as good as I remembered, or at least were better than Sammy Najapur’s on W. 53rd St., which always catered our casual-Friday lunches until our real estate subsidiary bought their building and tripled the rent, forcing them to move to Hackensack but hey what are ya gonna do?
My first pleasant surprise came when we found out that Goa had its own international airport. ( “We” being my latest wife of 10 months Tayghan, who insisted on being mentioned in this article. Okay Tayghan, you got your wish. You got mentioned in the New York Times Travel section! Congrats! Happy now? Do your friends and family down in Richmond even read the Times? ) With its own airport, that meant we could fly straight in from Charles de Gaul without mucking about in Mumbai, which still seemed to be reeling from the latest Pakistani-funded terrorist attacks. It would have been nice to stay at the Taj Hotel again, and taste the excellent brioche from their patisserie, but apparently the last of the jihadists had holed up there, and the Indian security forces’ elite Black Squad had to pry them out with tear gas and flamethrowers, and since then, word is the espresso there just doesn’t taste right anymore—residue from the tear gas perhaps?
From the airport, I decided to rough it for the ride to the beach. I was already in the spirit of my old backpacker days, so we hired a private car for $80 instead of a private limo for a still-reasonable $250. Tayghan protested, but I insisted we start out by getting an up-front, up-close-and-personal, boots-on-the-ground taste of Goa, and what better way to start than by sitting only 3 feet away from our private driver, instead of 9 feet away and separated from him by a plexi-glass divider? India is all about the smells, and I wanted to smell our driver—that strange cumin / coriander / fenugreek / turmeric smell that Indians tend to faintly exude even when freshly bathed.
Goa’s accommodations truly run the gamut—there is something there for every taste and every budget—from the flashy 5-star resorts like the Amari Golden Mandala upwards of $1200 a night for an ocean-view suite, all the way down to charming little boutique resorts like the one we opted for, called the Anjuna Beachcomber Inn, at a wallet-friendly $280 a night!
Upon check-in we were greeted by the owner himself, a charming rotund little Bengali gentleman named Naresh who had somehow escaped the “shithole of Kolkatta” (his words! His words!). He was now living his dream running a little beach hotel, serving spicy curries and cold Mai-Tais and making friends from all over the world (You just made two more, Naresh! Good job! You have the cutest little head-wobble!)
After stowing our bags, Tayghan immediately wanted to go shopping. I thought she might have been all shopped-out from the Duty Free in Paris during our layover—but guess again! So I forked over my credit card and we strolled along the little strip of shops in the lane behind the beach. We bought some silk saris ($70 each), a teak incense holder in the shape of a hooded cobra ($135), and some bronze wind-chime mini-gongs at ($325). Make sure you bring your hard-bargaining skills to Goa—you can easily get 30-40% of the first quoted price, if you’re not worried about being seen as a cheap Jew. Tayghan was soon oohing and ahhing over some driftwood sculptures of Shiva and Vishnu that she thought would look great at our cottage in Easthampton, and picked out three or four. Tayghan stayed to work out the shipping details with the owner, and I continued on down the street.
Music was coming from several different shops and beach bars, creating a hypnotically mellow mash-up entwining Bob Marley, sitar-and-bamboo flute melodies, Hindu chanting, and Coldplay. I passed by a incense and wall-hanging shop with its owner standing in the doorway surveying the passers-by with an easy grin and a twinkle in his eyes.
“What do you need, Boss?” he said. “Weed? Coke? X? Acid? Anything you want, no hassle, boss!”
Well! Soon I found myself sitting on a coach in the shop’s back room, waiting for the runner to return with my order, the owner and I chatting about the changes to Goa in the last 20 years. “So many Russians now, my friend!” he said. “They are completely exasperating, I must admit to you!” And then the head wobble, followed by, “But they do have lots of money you see! And so we must be welcoming to them!”
“The men are pigs, but their women are hot!” I remarked.
He gave me another wobble, and said “On that we can agree, my friend!” and then the runner came back with my order. Three hits of Israeli ecstasy (Flash! lightning-bolt imprint–$25 dollars each). A gram of coke (Columbia, shade-grown coca leaves, fair-trade certified–$80). Two tabs of acid (Amsterdam, Snoopy Sopwith Camel imprint—$15 each). And a half-ounce of cheap Cambodian weed ($30). I added 10 Goa keychains and bottle-openers (50 cents each) for our secretaries and cleaning staff back at the office. Can’t forget the little folk!
With both Tayghan and I worn out but satisfied from our shopping haul, we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool. For dinner, we opted for the restaurant at the Imperial Lisbon Coconut Hideaway, where the pistachio-crusted sea bass and curried king-prawns with the truffle glaze were simply to die for! The wine list was surprisingly impressive—as I sipped from an impressive bottle of Argentinian Torrontes Ugni blanc ($280), I thought, wow, am I really in Goa? And as I did a line of coke in the men’s room while Tayghan was chatting with the young Russian couple at the adjoining table, I thought, “oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Whooooooo, FUCK!”
I came back to the table, and found that Taygan’s new friends Dmitri and Sasha had invited us to a rave party on the beach by their resort! Well, I was a little too old for raves, but what the heck! Goa was truly a place for making new friends, and the X and the acid would make the music palatable, I thought.
“So are you guys married?” I asked our new friends while Tayghan was off in the ladies’ room.
“No, not married,” grunted Dmitri. Sasha, a thin, stunning blond rolled her eyes and looked away, an expression on her face of perfect boredom.
“Ah, how long have you been dating?”
“We are not dating. She is Ukrainian whore.”
“Oh, how interesting,” I said. “Um, how much was she?”
He gave me the rundown: $300 an hour, $2000 for all night, $4000 for 24 hrs, long-term engagements negotiable with her pimp back in Kiev. “Yes, I bring three with me,” he said. “You want one? I give to you, no problem. You have threesome with wife.”
“Oh, haha. Thanks, but I don’t think Tayghan would go for that!” I said.
“You are man, you make the money. You tell her—this is your vacation, you fuck who you want to fuck. You must be hard, and she will understand. You American men, so afraid to hit a woman!”
Tayghan came back and soon we were off to the beach rave, where Teghan and I danced with one of Dmitri’s whores while the other two fellated him as he stood knee-deep in the ocean, hands clasped behind his head, gently swaying as the beat of techno matched perfectly the rhythm of the twin blond pony-tailed heads bobbing at his crotch. It was the perfect ending to our first day in Goa!
Up next for tomorrow: paragliding, an Indian cooking class (yum yum!), and visiting a Hindu temple while tripping BALLS!