Which way to Versailles? The bride wants to know!

The subway doors whooshed shut behind us and we settled into cozy little groups for the 45 minute ride to quite possibly the most magnificent chateau ever imagined. The coach rocked rhythmically back and forth between stations with romantic names.

Earlier I’d slid the Jessica Simpson Boots onto my feet, praying that the night’s sleep had erased their memory of torture. That wasn’t the case however, and the moment I tried to walk I knew that I’d have to find alternative footwear for the rest of the time in Paris. I scanned the room hoping for…what? I’d brought my blingy slip-on sandals for wedding attire, the JS Boots for walking, and that’s all. Except…there, skulking like naughty kittens peeking out from under the bed, were my shabby black Merrell sandals.

“But it’s too cold to wear those,” I argued with myself.

“You bought warm socks in the market…”

“I refuse to wear sandals with socks!”

“Suit yourself, I’m just sayin’ you want to be comfortable? Those butt-ugly sandals are the most comfortable things you’ve got goin’ sweetheart!”

I found the socks, pulled them on and strapped my feet into the sandals. Ahhhh…heaven!

So rocking along in the tube with happy feet, I noticed Joy’s face. Joy’s face wears her thoughts without filter. When she’s happy, light radiates through her skin. She glows. When she’s sad, liquid brown puppy-eyes break your heart. But this was neither of those and I instantly knew that something wasn’t quite right. Intensity crackled and sparked around features that were frozen in concentrated focus. It was her problem-solving face. As the train slowed she jumped out of her seat.

“Everybody get off here!” she commanded, and without question we stood as one body and sluiced out the door.

“Hurry…the other side…yes, that’s it…get on!”

At some point as those sexy French names flashed by, she had realized our train was going the wrong direction. That little foible in her plans didn’t rattle her in the least. Once again I felt love and pride well up in my heart. Her competence, her smart easy way of turning a situation around without drama or fuss, impressed me right down to my ugly black socks!

We departed the train and followed the crowds for the five minute walk. Passing through a stand of trees the grandeur of the grounds and buildings of Versailles lay in a hazy sprawl before us.

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P1080490Joy handed us our tickets. We moved quickly along the corral, passed through a scanner and entered the vestibule. Twelve people with distinctly different passions cannot be expected to absorb the sights at the same pace. We agreed to meet in the courtyard at 4 p.m. The group evaporated like morning mist.

The gardens were closed when I saw Versailles for the first time. I mentioned that to Jessa and Dan.

“Let’s go to the gardens then,” they said. “But first the Hall of Mirrors…”

P1080485Perhaps even more spectacular than I remembered, the glittering, over-the-top extravagance of that room makes sense of the French Revolution. Let them eat cake, said Marie Antoinette when the peasants bemoaned that they had no bread. Royalty cavorted, feasted and played at Versailles while the people grew hungry and furious. They no doubt cheered when her head rolled from the guillotine.

Gardens and food were on the agenda as we passed, jaws gaping, through the queen’s bedchambers and room after damasked, draped, over-decorated room pressed into the herd of other bedazzled lookers. Finally we spilled through the exit into fresh open air. Checking our map we noted the spoon and fork sign near the Petit Trianon, the private residence of Marie Antoinette.

“Shall we?” one of us asked.

“Let’s!”

So off we went to the area of Versailles where two teachers from St. Hugh’s College in Oxford, England, visited in 1901 and saw things and people that hadn’t existed since 1789. As we strolled through a landscape grayed and damp, it wasn’t difficult to imagine losing our way, stumbling on a different path, and ending up one-hundred years in the past. Such adventures need fortification, however. We decided to eat first.

P1080486P1080487P1080489Have you ever in your life seen French Onion Soup like this?! Mama Mia!!! Is it any wonder I gained ten pounds in five days? And of course we didn’t JUST have French Onion Soup. We had hot mulled wine and the apple custard tart for dessert.

Versailles is an amazing place that occupies a significant part of European history. It was a fitting finish to a fairytale wedding week. Joy and Kellen, thank you! You planned and executed an exquisite event. And to repeat once again, the words of my blessing for you:

May your troubles be manageable,

may your heats remain true,

and may your lives be blessed with peace, abundance, and JOY!

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Paris! The Eiffel, and Jessica Simpson Boots

Our elegant apartment had motorized blinds inside double glass windows that allowed not one shard of daylight to pass through. This, coupled with the fact of my 4:30 a.m. bedtime the night before, made for a very late morning. It was to be our free time, the one chance to SHOP, and I slept through it.

By the time I ventured out of my bedchamber it was close to 11. We were to meet as a group at the Eiffel Tower in two hours. With a few quick texts I learned that Jessa and Dan had experienced an equally slug-like morning and were just making their plans. On one of their nasty little Apps (What are those things anyway? They make me anxious.) they saw that walking time to the Tower was an hour. Jessa wanted to go back to a street market she had seen. We decided to hook up, skip the cab ride, and dawdle our way along.

The temperature outside was holding mildly in the 50’s so I bandaged my blister, donned my pure synthetic Bali market socks, and my all-man-made-materials Jessica Simpson boots, and off we went.

Paris streets contort and twist like fisherman’s knots.

“I think the market was that way…”

“No, we turned left here at the Patisserie…”

Dan seemed to have the best directional intelligence, he also had a map App, so we yielded to his guidance and came to the exact place where the stalls had been. The street was empty. Every shred of the bustling market was gone.

Disappointment was a brief sigh but didn’t deter us. We continued on to the Tuileries Gardens and the River Seine. It was then, standing on the opposite side of the fountain taking a photo of Jessa and Dan through the spray, that I knew I was in trouble.

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Inside the boots, my feet were having a melt-down.

“What were you thinking?” they screamed at me. “You haven’t caged us in torture chambers like this for three years! We want our flip-flops! We want fresh air and sunshine! Let us out of here!”

“Calm down, nice feet, nice, aching feet. Just this one day, I promise! Tomorrow will be better…” and I wracked my brain trying to think how tomorrow would be better.

The lying App. A one hour walk?  At 12:55 Joy texted: Where are you guys?

Jessa texted back: Getting close…

P1080413We had it in our sights but it was the same sensation as running in a dream. Our legs were moving but we weren’t going anywhere. Or so it seemed. When we finally navigated the approach from the wrong side, there they were, clustered in the middle waving, shouting, “Over here! Over here!”

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The Eiffel Tower is a stunning sight, from the bottom…

and from the top.

We shot photos and wrapped scarves more tightly around our necks as the wind snarled and tore at our jackets.

“It’s cold up here!”

“Yes!”

“Let’s go down!”

“Okay!”

This time I knew better than to walk. A quick cab ride had me back at the apartment in a wink. I freed my mangled feet and dove for the bed. Two hours…two blissful hours before I had to re-enter the boots and dress for dinner…

“Mom…” Who? What?

“Mom…it’s time to get up…”

Frilly black skirt, chic black shirt, and back into the boots…just a brief walk…a few blocks…

The Auberge de Nicolas Flammel couldn’t have been more Frenchy quaint and picturesque.

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For this gastronomic extravaganza we had pre-ordered our dinners online months earlier. Some of us remembered our selections. Some didn’t. But it got sorted to everyone’s satisfaction and again, the wine flowed.

P1080462Our waiter kindly offered to photograph us. The whole crew. And this was what we ate for dinner…!

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Seeing those masterful creations was a holy experience, almost like Genesis…In the beginning….  Across the table, heads were bowed in awestruck reverence. The Nicolas Flammel took food to a whole new level.

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And these were our desserts…

P1080460 P1080459 P1080454 P1080449 P1080447 P1080446P1080445It should have ended there, fat, full, and happy. But fat, full, happy intoxicated blokes don’t always make good choices. We tumbled into the street and lurched toward the nearest pub. Why not? It’s Paris after all, and tomorrow is only Versailles.

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We made an impressive spectacle, emerging in full bridal splash as one after another of our cabs pulled up to the entrance of Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole.

An emissary was dispatched to announce our arrival when the door burst open and Georges flew out in a fluster of French to greet us. Wrapped in his exuberant hug, Joy looked like Beauty with her Beast! Comical, cartoonish even, from the white curls springing uncontrolled from his head, to the overstated nose, pouchy cheeks, and ponderous jowels, Georges, taken in parts, was a troll. But mere seconds later, we all loved him.

“Please, follow me to your private salon,” and we did, up a winding, storybook staircase lit by amber lanterns. Once there, Georges passed cups of a savory broth and poured champagne like a Frenchman!

P1080389The first of many toasts began here, to the night, to the future, to Paris, and to the bride and groom who made this exceptional experience possible.

P1080388There were other delicacies offered by Georges and his minions which we nibbled and slurped with giddy abandon. My eyes wandered over each one present. They were chattering or listening in happy enjoyment, and I was awed by the utter incomprehensibility of this random group being brought together by fate, or perhaps, by love.

Georges’ next appearance summoned us to dine. Once again we trailed his awkward form into a room grander, if possible, than the first. Red damask wallpaper, gilt mirrors, and a table glittering with glassware brought gasps of delight. In a conversation earlier that day, Joy had recounted to me some of the e-mail conversations she and Georges had exchanged while preparing for this night. He wrote that wine was included with dinner. That wasn’t enough information for Joy. How much wine? she wanted to know. His answer, Unlimited! satisfied her.

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P1080390Joy and Kellen presided over the evening like royals. They had asked each of us to prepare a blessing or some words of advice to read to them at dinner. I debated…blessing? Words of advice? Blessing? After all, with my track record, who am I to be dispensing marital advice? But in a sudden flush of defiance I stamped my mental foot. “No! Dammit! If I haven’t learned something from all that effort, shame on me!” I went with advice. They’ve had my blessing for years!

I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember what I ate. It was good, but the wine was better, and there was so much of it!

What a day. My sparkly shoes walked miles with only one blister.

Back at the apartment at last, there were groans of relief as corsets came off and Kellen ditched his tie. As soon as she was freed from her bridal finery, Joy’s voice echoed from the kitchen.

“I’m going to make pizza.”

“You’re kidding, right? Tomorrow is the Eiffel, and another late night dinner. Wouldn’t it be good to maybe sleep a little?”

“Oh no! I’m hungry for pizza and we picked one up when we did the food shopping.”

So Joy made pizza and the three of us sat in the glossy, red kitchen, in the chic Paris apartment at 36 Rue de Turbigo, sharing the night until 4:30 a.m. That probably wasn’t smart…I told myself as I dragged the blankets over my body without bothering to wash my face or brush my teeth. But this is Paris after all…

 

Paris!

The plane was boarding when I approached the gate at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar. Snarly traffic stretched the drive from the usual one hour to an additional forty-five minutes. It was perfect. Engaged in Made’s gossipy prattle, I was spared the boring, clock-staring wait in the airport.

Jostling my way down the congested aisle to 28A, I saw that the seats beside mine were occupied by two women who appeared to be in their mid forties. Bridget and Lizbeth were just the right combination of reserved friendliness. A few pleasantries then they busied themselves and left me alone. Perfect.

Nine point five hours slid by with two Hindu vegetarian meals, wine, tea, four movies and a cat nap which landed us in Qatar for an eight point five hour layover. I hate long layovers. As the shuffling line of passengers departed the plane, I bid my new friends farewell, safe journey, happy life, and set out to find an internet kiosk where I could alert the world that, “Here I am in Qatar!” via Facebook. That done, I scoped out a lounge area where the barrel-shaped chairs upholstered in red faux suede were draped with sleeping bodies. As I passed, one form came to life, shook itself, and hurried off. I claimed the vacated space. It felt like a king-size bed compared to the cramp of the airplane seat and I dozed on and off through the relative quiet from one to five a.m.

But even at 5:00 it was still two hours to boarding. I walked through the glitz of fragrance laden retail surprised only by a shop selling high end hijabs. Until now I’d only seen basic black. The store was a feast for the eyes. Fabrics in bright colors, jeweled trims, embroidery and lace made it clear that the garments on display were not for the budget conscious. They fairly screamed wealth, excess, and Western values in this predominantly Muslim country.

I found my gate, not yet open, and an empty chair along the corridor. After a few minutes I kicked myself for not coming sooner. It was people-watching paradise. Arab men in white robes with billowing scarves arranged nomad fashion on their heads strode with pride and purpose, deep in conversation. Black shrouded mysteries whose eyes peered through small, rectangular slits, floated by. Petit Asian women with tight leather skirts, over-the-knee-sliver-studded boots, and swooping necklines giggled as they wobbled on stiletto heels. A granny wearing vintage Converse hightops, skin hugging violet leggings, and a bouffant, sheer blouse that ended at her waist exposing to full view the effects of time and gravity on her ancient buttocks, passed, stopped, turned, and retraced her steps. I felt terribly ordinary.

It was almost a disappointment when the boarding call tore me from the fascinating view.

For the second leg of the journey, a mere eight hours and thirty minutes, I would be on the largest passenger plane in the industry to date. With seats for 800 people on two levels and a wing span that could stretch across a small country, I settled into my seat with appropriate amounts of awe and trepidation. How does this work again? Air passing over the wings creates lift…? The laws of aerodynamics…ummm? I turned away from the window and there, sliding into the seats beside me were Bridget and Lizbeth.

“Seriously?” I said. They nodded, laughed, and just like that we bonded more intimately than best friends. “Did you choose these seats online?”

“No, we should have, but they were assigned to us at the ticket counter.”

“I selected mine online…what are the odds?!”

The rest of the journey passed in the comfortable presence of familiarity. Departing the plane at Charles DeGaulle in Paris I told my new bff’s that I expected them to meet me in five days for the flights back to Bali, that I really couldn’t bear to sit beside anyone else. They assured me that they’d be there. Liars!

As I traversed the long jetway, cleared immigration and then customs, my mind raggedly shifted gears. I mentally pulled up the map of the Paris subway system that I’d studied in great detail online: airport shuttle to terminal two, red line to Paris center, one transfer at Halle, then two stops…

“Mom!”

“Joy! You’re here!” We threw our arms around each other, squeezing and swaying in the mother/daughter hug that is so familiar and so deeply missed.

“We got in an hour ago and waited for you….Kellen’s with the luggage right over there…”

………

So it began.

……..

From the subway we trundled our bags to 36 Rue de Turbigo, an apartment in the center of Paris. Towering blue doors and wrought iron balconies dripping red geraniums, screamed charm.

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Francesca met us with keys and instructions for the state-of-the-art appliances that occupied the glossy, red kitchen. With hardwood floors, an ornate Louis XIV fireplace surround, and soaring ceilings, the two bedroom apartment held a boggling mix of sleek modernity and historic charm.

Up to that moment, Kellen had been leading the charge, way-finding in the underground tunnels and navigating the twisted streets. But when the door closed behind Francesca, Joy assumed the role she was born to: Commander in Chief. Joy plans. Joy makes lists. Joy multi-tasks and organizes. Joy delegates. But mostly, Joy leads and others willingly follow. Such was the case the moment suitcases were stowed.

“Time to buy groceries! Who’s coming?”

Kellen and I snapped to attention stopping just shy of a heel-clicking salute. Fired by a tireless energy that thrives on over commitment, Joy had invited all ten of her wedding guests to a Thanksgiving dinner in our apartment that she planned to cook that night: herbed chicken, sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, baguettes and a cheese plate served up with bounteous bottles of wine.

“There’s a market a few blocks away, and a cheese shop, I saw them on Google Earth,” she says as we follow like obedient ducklings. And she’s right.

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An hour later, laden with produce, poultry, smelly cheeses and bread, we met Jessa, Dan, Jenny, and Kennen on the street. It was a fresh round of hugging and happiness. Then Joy lassoed her herd and ushered us into the wine shop.

“Everybody choose a bottle,” she said.

Kennen glanced at me, “I know what you want,” He pointed to a Maison Louis Jadot Pinot.

“I can’t believe you remembered…it’s my favorite!” Dimples creviced his cheeks as he gave me a knowing grin.

I don’t know how she did it, but when everyone arrived at seven p.m. a veritable feast lay steaming on the table.

P1080271 Jenny and Kennen added dessert to the mix, two tarts, one raspberry, one chocolate, so beautifully contrived that to cut into them took some measure of courage.

P1080266 P1080268Conversation hummed, animated, excited, expectant, until each one hit the jet-lag wall.  Another round of hugs and the group shrugged into their coats and left for their hotel two blocks away.

“Brunch back here in the morning…eleven o’clock…then home to dress for pictures!” Joy chirped to each one as they left. In spite of the wine, the overstimulation, the belly full of rich, unaccustomed food, I remember nothing from the moment my body found the bed.

Joy, ever the morning sprite, was mixing eggs for omelets when I peered into the kitchen the next morning, rubbing the grainy remnants of sleep from my eyes. P1080285The meaty salt smell of bacon accompanied the sizzle and pop as it rippled into crisp brown strips. The fairies, or gnomes, had come in the night and cleaned the kitchen. Joy said it was Kellen. My love for the man doubled in that moment.

The wedding party arrived, boisterous and rested, heaped their plates with buttery croissants, pancakes, omelet, bacon, yogurt, and strawberries, and ate until their eyes rolled back in their heads.

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It was a good thing that the wedding festivities were planned for today. By tomorrow I might not be able to zip my dress. My diet of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and a little rice in Bali keeps me trim. Joy doesn’t consider that food. She made certain that we had our daily quota of bread, cheese, meat and unlimited quantities of wine. Nobody complained.

Stuffed to a fine stupor Joy issued the next set of instructions. Be dressed for photos and back at the apartment to catch taxis to the Pont Alexander Bridge at one o’clock.

There was no time to lose. My most important job was clearly ahead. I’d been entrusted with the task of lacing Joy into the corset part of her bridal ensemble and buttoning the bustle. In a flurry of frothy white she donned the gown and I commenced lacing and pulling until the perfect hourglass shape was achieved. I felt tears welling as I gazed at her. She was busy applying makeup so she didn’t notice, but memories washed over me in a churning stream of nostalgia and my throat constricted with remembering. It passed so quickly, childhood. Birth to graduation to marriage, a blur. Now, in the presence of this beautiful, accomplished woman, I felt the weight and the privilege of motherhood. All of my fumbling best intentions that fell so far short hadn’t ruined her.

“Can you bring my shoes, Mom?” Her request shook me out of the past and I hurried to do her bidding. The final result was ravishing and I caught her essence as she turned from the window and flashed one of her heart-stopping smiles.

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The afternoon took us from the bridge, to Notre Dame, to obscure Parisian alleyways. Thousands of photos were taken, but these are some of mine:

We were lucky with the weather. Paris can be nasty in November, snow, sleet, rain. We had a mild day in the high 50’s. Perfect. But there was more to come…so much more…

Good day to buy a temple…

“What does your typical day look like?” she asks, sitting across from me shiny-eyed and expectant. And I want to tell her so she’ll have a definition of me that she can take out and look at when she’s back at home shoveling snow. But it’s impossible. There are no typical days.

For example, last night it was approaching that hour when I lower the lights, slip into my shapeless soft bedshirt, and go limp. I had gotten as far as lowering the lights when a knock came at the door.

“You beezy?” I couldn’t lie. I hadn’t been this un-beezy all day.

“No, not busy, please come in.” Pasek, all showered and slicked-back hair, asks if he can speak with me. I switch on dazzling overhead lights and lead him to the dining table. Then I notice he has the calendar with him.

The Balinese calendar is a thing of frightful significance. It governs life. From the full moon to the dark moon and everything in-between, the calendar identifies auspicious days for weddings, cremations, pouring foundations, or starting a new business. The dates of ceremonial days are listed, and when to bless the plants or the motorbikes and cars and other machines. I haven’t scratched the surface. If you flip it over to the back you can find out who you should or should not marry. There’s so much information on that calendar even the average Balinese person has to consult a higher source to get it right.

Pasek spreads it out between us. “This today,” he says pointing to the 24th of November. Then he moves his finger to the 26th. “This you go to Prances (France).” He turns his head to meet my eyes. His are serious. “Must buy temple tomorrow,” he says.

When my gaping mouth, raised eyebrows, and furrowed brow indicate that I have nothing to say, he continues. “If not make temple on 26 Nopember, no good Desember. Not until end of Januari.”

I find it ironic and sweet that a sizeable part of my life is governed by that calendar. I’m not Hindu so my personal involvement isn’t much, but the people who work for me and with me, are. For them, the temple is the security system. Without that structure to receive the daily offerings that seek blessing for the house and grounds, there is no protection. I may as well issue a personal invitation to the dark energies, “Come and party here!” Not only that, the property becomes suspect, achieves a haunted status and is considered a place to be avoided.

We’re on the road by 8:00 a.m. “You want from stone?” Pasek asks. How do I know what I want? What are the options?

“I want to look around, okay?”

“Ya, okay”

We cruise along and I watch the roadside for examples. There are many. Some are bulky, massive, scary-looking. None are appealing until my eye lights on one more delicately detailed.

“Pasek! Look! I like that one.”

“Cement? Not stone? You like cement? More cheap.”

Now I like it even better. I have no clue how much a temple will set me back. Then I have the presence of mind to ask, “Is cement okay?” I’ve already been told that the kind of temple I need cannot have a roof. The roofed variety is used beside a river. Mine should be open on top.

“Ya, okay.”

After a few more miles Pasek pulls to a stop. We’re sitting in front of the exact, massive stone structures I don’t want. But I’ve learned to hold my tongue. Then I get instructions. “You tourist. Don’t speak. I speak say temple for me. Good price.” Then he states the obvious, “These stone. You want cement, ya?”

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“Yes, please.”

But just for kicks he goes off in search of the owner and comes back with a price. I breathe again. If the cement ones are cheaper I’m in good shape.

We’re on our way until a quick swerve across oncoming traffic lands us in concrete land. I pull out my camera, put on my most inane, clueless tourist look, and follow Pasek. So far we’re alone and I already know the one I want. “This one,” I point, then fall back as a woman approaches.

Pasek is slick. He negotiates, points out defects that I can’t see, and massages the shopkeeper in the subtle, alpha male kind of way that he’s mastered.

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It will be delivered this afternoon, he tells me. It’s one-half the price of the other one and it’s pretty, not a stodgy, box-like block of stone!

Commerce completed, we slide onto the motorbike and hightail back to Ubud. Tomorrow there’ll be a small ceremony. I’ll put on my kebaya, sarong, sash, and do what I’m told. Then I’ll zip up my suitcase and catch a plane for a wedding in Paris….all in a typical day’s work!

Four days til Paris and…uh oh

It’s a daunting task to assemble the appropriate attire for a winter wedding in Paris, the height of the fashion world, when you’re living basically barefoot in a small tropical village in Indonesia. But given enough time and a little ingenuity, it’s possible.

One essential item for the trip, however, eluded me. Socks. I no longer own a pair of socks. Socks were not even a remote speck on my radar until I googled temperature in Paris today and read 4 degrees Celsius. That’s a balmy 40 degrees Farenheit. At that moment I knew I was in trouble. I’ve acclimated to hot. Eighty feels chilly to me now. I imagined my feet without socks at 40, a sickly bluish purple color. Not acceptable.

In the mountains in Kintamani I saw people wearing socks. Ketut is from Kintamani so I asked him where I can find a pair.

“At market,” he said. “Many many.”

I confess, I’m not comfortable with the Ubud market. First of all there isn’t a breeze ruffling the tight packed stalls and repugnant odors waft through like incense. The air sits hot and still and sweat pours off me in torrents. There are hundreds of cubicles selling everything from penis bottle openers to raw chicken feet and they all have hawkers offering “good price,” some more aggressive than others. But it can’t be helped. I must have covers for my poor feet.

The Ubud market spills out into the street

Outside the Ubud market

It was probably just shy of 95 degrees as I entered the first building. “Buy sarong?” the woman asked as I approached.

“I’m looking for socks,” I said in my most confident Indonesian. “Can you tell me where to find them?” The woman jumped up gesturing and waving her arms uttering a string of sentences so fast it sounded like one, long word.

I watched the direction she was indicating and I pointed, in a comradely sort of way, in that same direction nodding my head up and down, eyebrows raised as if to say, “That way? Yes? Is that what you mean?”

“Ya, ya,” she said and gave my shoulder a little twist and shove in the right direction.

I took off the way that she’d indicated until I rounded a corner and a new vendor vied for my attention. “I’m looking for socks. Can you tell me where to find them?” It worked before and this time the response was similar. Her directions brought me to the old part of the market where everything negative about the place is intensified about 200%. But another shopkeeper was offering “morning price,” so I rolled out my question a third time. This woman didn’t waste words. She grabbed my arm and hauled me up the broad concrete steps to the second level. Then pointing down a cluttered alley she sent me off. At the end of the aisle was a pillar covered with socks.

I paged through the ankle socks, the Hungry Bird socks, the Nike sweat socks, my hope dwindling. But then, right there behind all the others was a pair of black knee-highs. A brown arm reached over me and plucked them off the rack. “These you want?” she said.

“Are they my size?”

She eyed me, “Ya, good for you.” I asked the cost and she told me.

“Local price?” The price for foreigners can be significantly more than what the Balinese pay for the same goods.

“For Bali people same,” she said.

I fished out the bills, handed them to her, and stuffed the socks into my purse. A sense of well-being drifted over me. I’ve braved the market, tracked my prey, found it, killed it, and dragged it home. It’s taken months to assemble all the pieces, but the Paris look is complete and I’m so ready to BE THERE!

Part Three: Kick-Ass Granny

The morning of Day Three is like hitting the replay button. It’s comfortable and familiar with no surprises. I slept fairly well before and after some distressed wild thing shrieked in agony for about an hour in the night but I don’t mention it. Nobody else will have heard it, and if they did, they won’t say so.

I’m invited to a wedding reception today. Gede, the sweet, sensitive jokester who works in the house next to mine, is thrilled. His girlfriend of several years is finally pregnant. Children are important, if not essential to the culture here and often a wedding is forthcoming only when the woman’s fertility is a proven fact.

I’ve been told the reception will be in the morning, but a message from Gede to Ketut let’s him know not to bring me before 1 p.m. The couple is still having their makeup and costumes done. I find a straw broom and sweep the baked earthen yard halfheartedly, kicking up clouds of dust. I recharge my camera and delete several dozen photos to make room for a few wedding shots. I walk to the side of the cliff and gaze at Mt. Abang in the distance. Then, when I’ve exhausted all my options, I twiddle my thumbs.

“Maybe relax, you go in room, relax.”

“Okay? I won’t disturb anybody?”

“No. It’s okay.”

I stretch out and allow my body to melt into the bed. When I wake up and look at the clock, two hours have passed and it’s time to go. Today the temple clothes aren’t a requirement and I’m grateful to be able to grip the bike between my thighs for the plunging drops and zig-zaggy turns. My sparkly sandals are the only dressed-up thing about me, but I’ve learned that as the token foreigner I’m going to look unusual no matter what I wear.

Upon arrival we’re told that Gede and Ary are still inside. We’re offered Coke, Sprite, and sweets. Ketut sits with the men. I chat with the women and Gede’s father who is a round, jovial gentleman and has the same sense of humor as his son. We’re having a fine conversation when right in the middle of a sentence, he jumps up, pulls back a blue curtain that I hadn’t noticed before, and says, “Eat! Please! Eat!”

The row of chafing dishes lined up on the buffet table is impressive and as our host uncovers each one, spicy aromas fill the tent. I heap my plate and every bite is more delicious than the one before. As I’m shoveling the last morsel of banana tree trunk into my mouth, there’s a ripple of excitement from outside. The bride and groom have arrived.

P1080105I take a volley of photos, then Gede joins the men and Ary and I join the women. She asks me about weddings in America. Does the bride have her makeup done? Does she wear traditional clothes? I reassure her that many brides hire a person to do their hair, makeup, and nails and that for traditional weddings, the bride wears all white. She thinks an all-white dress sounds boring. I start to argue then glance again at her elaborate costume and say no more.

P1080108

After a dignified length of time I thank the parents, say goodby to Gede and Ary, and let Ketut know I’m ready to point my nose toward home. We pull out of the gate and bump along for about a half mile when Ketut says, “Want to see my grandmother? She 150 years old.”

“One-hundred fifty? Are you sure?”

“Oh ya. Very old.”

I’m at that point where the horse can smell the barn. I just want to be home! But I’ve learned that when Ketut throws out an off-handed suggestion, I’m a hundred times the fool if I don’t jump at it. In a few more yards he hangs a hard left and revs the gas for a vertical climb. We’re now on a dirt trail about the width of the bike tire.

“Where does she live?”

“On mountain. No more house, only her house.”

“She’s 150 years old and she lives in a house alone on the mountain?”

“My grandfather also.”

“Your grandfather is still alive?”

“Oh ya, very strong, still in garden, feed cow, good body.”

I marvel silently at this information while trying to ignore the fact that all signs of civilization have disappeared and we’re still going straight up. With a lurch, the bike swerves right and a cluster of concrete block buildings lays dead ahead. Ketut kills the motor and I swing my leg over for the dismount. It feels like we’ve warped into a different universe surrounded by a vacuum of silence.

I follow Ketut through a gateway into an immaculate courtyard. The black dirt is smooth and hard as concrete without a tree or shrub or blade of grass and there isn’t a soul in sight.

“Maybe in garden,” Ketut says.

We walk around the corner of a building and a broad, parched meadow spreads before us. Several yards away a stooped figure rises to look at the intruders. Communication passes between Ketut and his grandfather.

“She not here,” he says after the exchange. “She cut grass for cow.”

“Well she couldn’t have gone far. Let’s go find her.”

We set out along the treeline bordering the meadow. Within a few minutes we’re passing mounds of fresh-cut grass. Another figure comes into view, swinging a curved knife that mows down the long green blades with stunning efficiency. She sees us and stands, erect and alert. I don’t know what I expect a 150 year old woman to look like, but I flash on a memory of a proud buck, frozen in a meadow, watching me. She’s elongated. Her thin, bony body and face seem stretched out rather than the slumped and shrunken form so common to the elderly.

I smile. She glares and stares for a moment, then issues a command to Ketut. He jumps to attention and gathers up a pile of grass while she picks up another. I trail behind gleaning the shreds that drop from their overloaded arms. The cows are excited to see us as we dump dinner in front of their noses. Then granny disappears inside the house.

“Wait a moment,” says Ketut and we stand in the courtyard until summoned a few minutes later. There’s been a transformation. Field worker granny has donned a coral satin blouse and a fresh sarong. We’re invited in and grandpa, not to be excluded from the action, enters behind us. They sit side-by-side on the low bed and agree to a photo.

P1080116Granny still hasn’t smiled, but Ketut engages her in conversation and the more they talk the more animated she becomes. They’re speaking Balinese so I understand nothing. All at once she jumps up, bustles to the other side of the room and rummages in a cabinet. She returns holding a tablet and opens it to a page covered with what appears to be tiny circles. But the longer I look, figures emerge. The detail is dizzying.

“Spirit picture,” Ketut says. At that she moves to another corner and returns with a fabric pillow about two inches square. Once again she rattles a string of words at Ketut. “Oh, she say cut cut picture, put inside. People buy. Make good spirit come.”

“So besides the cow, she has this business?”

He turns and asks her a question. Suddenly she’s very animated, talking fast and with intense feeling.

“She say before, she fighting.”

“Fighting?”

“Ya, she study fighting.”

“You mean like martial arts? Kung fu sort of thing?”

“Ya, ya. Like kung fu.”

It takes me a minute to digest this when he turns back to her and asks her something else. As she answers, her cheeks grow pink. A youthful energy shoots through her body. Without warning, granny’s hands clench into fists. Her feet come off the ground and with lightning swiftness she kicks and punches the air.

P1080117My mouth flies open and I gasp. She doesn’t stop.

“Wow! Wow! Wow!” It’s all I can say. The woman is phenomenal. Her face glows with a beauty beyond anything I’ve seen on glamorous stars. She radiates a fierce, fabulous, power that captivates and stuns me. Long after she stops, I can’t take my eyes from her face. She fires another string of words at Ketut and he translates.

“Oh, she say study in many place and king of Bali ask her to teach all police how to fighting.”

“The king asked her to teach the police how to fight? Really!”

“Ya, but she say no. She say no good for woman to teach man how to fight.”

“Wow,” I say again for the hundredth time and then we all fall silent until granny once again breaks the spell.

“She like your sandal,” Ketut translates. I kick one off and slide it over to her.

“Ask her if it fits.”

She slides her foot into my newest, sparkly-est, sandal. It fits. Not perfectly, a half size larger would have been the best, but for all intents and purposes, it fits.

“Does she want them?” I ask as I kick off the other one. The delighted grin on her face is my answer.

P1070406

“Tell her I want her to wear them when she cuts grass for the cow.” Ketut translates and granny nods vigorously through her laughter.

“But you no shoe,” Ketut frowns. Miles and miles on the motorbike barefoot isn’t going to cut it.

“I have extra.” I pull my everyday pink rubber flip-flops out of the bag beside me. Meanwhile granny slips on the other one and she’s back in kung fu mode, her new sandals flashing with each thrust.

Twenty minutes later we’ve taken our leave.

“Did you know your grandmother was a fighter?” I’m working hard to assimilate the mind blowing encounter I’ve just had with an ancient kung fu warrior on the side of this mountain.

“No, don’t know. She don’t say before.”

I lean forward and close my eyes as the plummeting path ahead presents a perilous reality. The kung fu granny image is burned into my retinas. She moves like a twenty-year old. Her mind is clear and present.

“Are you sure your grandmother is 150?”

“Maybe 150, maybe 115. She don’t know.”

I feel the bike flatten out and open my eyes. We’ve reached the main road, safe. One hundred fifty, one hundred fifteen, what’s the difference? Kung fu fighter, spirit pictures, farm girl deluxe. Do you want to see my grandmother? More than that, Ketut, I want to BE your grandmother when I grow up.

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