Monday, October 10, 2011

French toast on the coast

Marc Delorme lives in a 150-year-old house in the Vypeen islands, near the city of Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Marc Delorme in his living room. Credit: Manu R. Mavelil

One day, a few years ago, Marc Delorme was riding around on a Bullet motorcycle in the Vypeen islands looking for a place to stay. “I was searching for an old house and a quiet environment,” he says. Accidentally, he saw a shuttered 150-year-old house with a tiled roof, set in a few acres of greenery.

“I looked through the windows and immediately wanted to live there,” says the burly Frenchman. He called the owner, M.A. Korath, who lived in the suburb of Tripunithara. Korath said he did not want to rent it out. Undaunted, Marc called him every day for a month before Korath acquiesced.

“The house, which had been shut for 18 years, was in good condition,” says Marc. “I just repainted the walls and brought in the furniture.”

The first room that one enters has an 18the century bench, spotted with shells, from Rajasthan. At one side, in an alcove, there are photos of Lord Krishna and Goddess Lakshmi. “Religion is the base of any culture,” he says. “So if you are living in India, you need to go inside the religion to understand the culture.”

On a low wooden table in the middle is a statue of St. Thomas, holding a Bible in one hand, and a stick in the other. On the wall, there are black masks, which Marc had secured from a visit to Nepal. A painting on another wall, done by a friend, contains Kerala scenes: unfurled umbrellas, elephants with upraised trunks, and several trees.

Another small room has been painted in a distinctive red. “The colours have been chosen in relation to the spices in Kerala food,” he says. “So red means chillies.” A yellow in the dining room resembles lime, while a bedroom has a saffron colour.

The most striking is the spacious living room. On a low wooden table in the middle, there is a large brass bowl, which contains marigold flowers and leaves floating in crystal-clear water. Just beside it is a small bust of a man with a goatee. Marc lifts it up and says, “This is my father Claude, a writer, who died last July at the age of 82,” he says. “It was made by my sculptor brother, Thierry.”

Other touches: ornate armchairs, an old grandfather clock, lamps on side tables, and silver candlesticks

On one side is a wooden bookcase containing French translations of 'The Good Earth' by Pearl S. Buck, Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, and German author Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’. “It was only after reading Siddhartha that I got interested in India,” says Marc, who has lived in Kerala for 18 years now and works as a freelance interior designer. Incidentally, Marc, a voracious reader, has a collection of more than 2,500 books.

Meanwhile, the kitchen is a traditional one, with a wooden stove at one side, and windows with slats on them. “This enables the smoke to get out,” he says. “I don't use liquefied gas for cooking. Food tastes so much better when you use firewood.”

The striking innovation is the conversion of the arra (in ancient times grain was stored here) into a place for guests to stay. On the ground floor, there is a massage room, with a bathroom just beside it, apart from a dressing room.

But what draws the breath is the bedroom on the first floor. The four-poster bed, with white drapes, is placed right in the middle. When you look up, you can see a sloping ceiling made of coir mats. Just behind the bed is a painting of Krishna and Radha. On the floor are mats. Coconut husks painted in red, blue and yellow are mounted on a wall. Muted lighting gives a very romantic feel.

“Good for honeymooners,” says Marc, with a laugh.

Yes, indeed, very true. Outside, Marc says, simply, “When people see my house, they will understand my heart. Both are intertwined.”

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)


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