Lost: One Castle

 

Memory is a tricky thing and the older I get the truer that statement becomes. It’s not that I’m forgetful, it’s just that there’s too much to remember – trivia stored in the limited capacity of memory from decades of events and people and places. That’s one of the reasons I journal. Not for the eminent now, but for the future when the past is a shadowy impression at best.

I saw many castles in Europe in 1995 when I studied abroad on a University of Minnesota UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) grant. But one was unique, spellbinding, and mildly disturbing.

Now and then when I revisit the memory of that time I’m there again, walking the cobblestone street up to soaring gray walls, through the massive gate, across a sun baked courtyard to the far edge where the mountainside dropped away, a vertical cliff.

The view from that vantage point remains indelibly imprinted, unforgettable. On a pinnacle of rock some distance below stood a structure, a castle in miniature. I was certain the round tower once held a willful princess who had been banished by the king to that forlorn aerie where she awaited rescue by her handsome prince or frog as the case may be. But the thing that made it eerily sinister was the fact that no visible means of accessing the mysterious place was apparent. It floated untethered from the land, a severed appendage.

I remember gazing into the chasm, sweating in the midday heat, trying to work it out. Why had the people in this 12th century town built a mini-castle on that impossible promontory and how had they gotten the materials out there to do it? Other queries flashed through my vivid imagining as well: Was it a prison? Were there underground tunnels to connect it with the main structure above? Was it an ascetic’s retreat? Was its purpose benign or malignant? So many questions!

After countless futile efforts to locate the lost castle, I gave up. Perhaps I’d fabricated it, chunked together bits and pieces of all the cathedrals and palaces I’d seen and created a fantasy. It’s the story I settled for but never fully believed.

Last night, scrabbling through old folders, I unearthed some pages from a journal documenting the last half of June, 2007. Why I brought them with me when I moved to Bali and ignored bins of notebooks filled with writings of other years, I don’t know. But I did. Fascinated, I began to read.

From Segesta, we headed toward the medieval town of Erice. That was the high point for me. It was stunning beyond belief! Cobblestone streets, well maintained though worn smooth from hundreds of years and thousands of footsteps, led to the castle itself. Looking over the edge of the walled precipice into the chasm below, was another turreted structure, much smaller but exquisite. It seemed suspended in mid air.

I caught my breath. My fingers flew to the keyboard. Castle in Erice, I typed into the salivating jaws of Google. And there it was, exactly as I had remembered it. I read the description and discovered the name I had never known: Castle of Venus. It hadn’t been the 1995 trip at all. It was twelve years later that I’d visited Erice in Sicily.

It feels as though I’ve discovered hidden treasure, or an item of great value that I thought was lost forever. My friends have lists of places they’ve yet to explore. They’re intent upon ticking them off one by one. But the pull for me is back to the sites I’ve seen and loved. The Adolphe Bridge in Luxembourg, Unmunsa, the cloud temple in South Korea, the Trulli houses of Alberobello, Materdomini and the unforgettable Hotel Albergo, San Genaro on the wildly romantic Amalfi Coast. And now heading the list is the long lost Castle of Venus in Erice, Sicily. It haunts me. I must return. I will.

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What to do when life throws a curve ball? Catch it!

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When I was a senior in high school in 1968, the year 2000 seemed impossibly remote and the likelihood of ever living that long was unthinkable.

Well, 2000 came and went. So did my 50th birthday that same year. If the thought of retirement ever came up I squelched it. I couldn’t imagine anything so boring.

But life has an interesting way of throwing curve balls. I couldn’t have dreamed in 2000 that in 2012 I would indeed retire and move to Bali. Nor at that point could I have envisioned my life now, 5 years later, so full of fabulous friends and adventures that boring has been forever banished from my vocabulary.

Take last Monday, for instance. A friend and I decided to spend the morning at the Arma Museum. She had never been and it’s one of my favorite locations in Ubud for many reasons: the grand Balinese architecture, extensive gardens, a broad spectrum of art both traditional and modern, and the free beverage in the Arma Warung Kopi that is included with the ticket.

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We toured the exhibits, marveling at the intricacy of the traditional Balinese style, remarking on the vibrant colors of the more current pieces, and wound up at the coffee shop about an hour later. We’d just settled in when a Balinese man in an old sarong, a none-too-clean semi-buttoned plaid shirt, and an iphone pulled up a chair and joined us. One of the wait staff set a cup of coffee in front of him.

Permission had neither been sought nor granted but that made no difference to the gentleman and it was obvious that whether or not it made a difference to us was of no consequence. So we visited. He wanted to know where we were from, how long we had been in Bali, where we were staying; all typical conversation starters here.  When we’d answered I had a few questions of my own.

“So, Pak, what is your position here?”

“You mean what do I do for work?”

“Yes.”

“I’m the gardener.”

“These gardens are spectacular! How long have you been tending them?

“Fifteen years. And I found a plant down by the river that I’ve never seen before…here…I have a picture on my phone. I’ll show you. Have you ever seen anything like this?”

We agreed that it was very unusual and neither of us had seen such a thing before. After a few more pleasantries, one of the servers whispered to him that he had a phone call. He excused himself and left. My friend and I exchanged looks, finished our iced tea, and moved on, not giving the incident another thought, at least not then.

That afternoon she called me. “You know that gardener at the Arma?”

“Yes…”

“Take a close look at the brochure they handed us at the ticket booth and call me back.”

You probably know where this is going. Our mystery guest, cleverly disguised as a gardener, was the owner, Agung Rai.

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We admitted to each other after the fact, that it had seemed a bit strange that the gardener could take time out of his work day to have coffee with random patrons. And the fact that he was treated so obsequiously by the staff had also been puzzling at the time. Then,  after I mentally took inventory of what exactly I had said to the man, hoping it was nothing too terribly inane, we had a good laugh. But I’ll bet Bapak Agung Rai laughed louder and longer than either of us.

kkkPosing beside offerings in front of a collection of ceremonial costumes in a corner of the museum.

 

Over the Top on Christmas Night

After five years in Bali, my blood has thinned to the consistency of water. I can no longer tolerate winters in Minnesota, not even for the holidays. Since Indonesia is largely Muslim, and the Balinese are Hindu, Christmas here is a non-event. I didn’t realize how refreshing that would be!

Many visitors from the West assume they will be able to eat their traditional ham, or turkey and stuffing, that carols will boom from every corner day and night, businesses will close, and the typical trees, stars, angels, and tinsel will manifest everywhere.

Not so, at least not yet.

I say that because the Balinese are ingenious copiers. If I give my tailor a dress and a length of fabric, he’ll make one identical to it and hand me the original intact when I come to pick up my order. And if a Christmas tree will bring people into a restaurant, the proprietor will make a Christmas tree! Since I moved here, a little more Christmas shows up every year. But I still have to hunt for turkey with stuffing!

This year a group of friends decided to splash out for Christmas Day. We’d get a driver for the 1 – 1/2 hour trip to Seiminyak, stop at the W Hotel for sunset cocktails on the beach, do a White Elephant gift exchange there, then continue a few blocks to Biku for a traditional Christmas dinner.

Pictures are so much better than words! Come along with me and celebrate Christmas Bali style!

The entrance to the W Hotel is flanked by bamboo which has been bent to form a feathery green arch overhead. I didn’t photograph that, but you can imagine! As we explored we passed pools upon pools overlooking the Indian Ocean.

After touring the grounds, we came to rest in the Ice Bar, completely empty and perfect for us! The drink menu required intense study. A Ginger Pepper Sour topped with key lime fizz and dried dates: where would I ever find something like that again? I ordered it, and with my first sip knew that it didn’t matter. Imagine drinking red bell pepper juice with a hint of ginger and a splash of lime. The dates saved me.

When my drink had been sampled or sniffed by all, we dove into the White Elephant exchange with gusto! What a hoot! Remember, the idea is to wrap an object that you no longer want and get rid of it cleverly disguised as a present. But some of the gifts might appeal to one more than another so after opening them, there’s the opportunity to steal the one you want. If you’re lucky, someone won’t decide they need it more than you do and steal it back!

It was unanimous that a curly gray hairpiece and the bald eagle ash tray were the most disgusting. The exchange was everything it was designed to be, hilarious! And then the sunset. If you’ve never seen the sun set over the Indian Ocean, well, put it on the bucket list!

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It was hard to leave. If our stomachs hadn’t been growling, we might have squeezed another hour out of that gorgeous setting. But dinner beckoned and Biku was everything it promised to be. This cozy restaurant feels like you’re dining in someone’s living room. It oozes warmth (not the 90 degree kind) is adorned to the hilt, and exudes elegance in a Victorian overkill kind of way.

We were greeted and ushered to our place in front of the tree. I was delighted to see that there was ample space between tables and the mixture of seatings for two, or four, or in our case, six, were arranged for maximum privacy and comfort. The musicians began with well-known carols, then branched out. In the video the men are wearing the traditional black and white checked sarong and the lead singer is in a modified version of Balinese women’s temple wear, not including the antlers or Santa hats!

Have I forgotten anything? Oh, the food…which was the purpose of this outing in the first place! It was plentiful and rich. We kicked off with a Christmas cocktail. Then our choice of a starter: tea smoked salmon with Asian salad or warm Vietnamese beef. The buffet had it all: roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, glazed ham, roast leg of lamb, potato au gratin, roasted vegetables, medley of spring vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. There were three salads, watermelon feta, strawberry chicken, and mixed garden salad.

But the desserts…! When I didn’t think I could eat another bite, I loaded my plate with sweets and didn’t miss a beat! I loved the Christmas pudding with brandy butter…what’s not to love…and the ice cream with candied fruit mixed in. The Christmas cake and the trifle and the little tarts put me over the top. But over the top was a fine place to be on Christmas night!

My dinner plate:

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My dessert plate:

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And did I mention the smooth Savignon Blanc from New Zealand? Mmmmm.

Today my stomach is, shall we say, iffy. Based on what it’s used to, it has a right to complain. I’m hoping there won’t be an outright rebellion. So far so good.  And here’s one last video as the evening was wrapping up.

Happy happy holidays to all!

2016 in Retrospect

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2016 was a year of significant change. I became a granny, something I’ve cleverly avoided until now!

Hadley Sophia was born July 1, three weeks early. I was in NYC with them by the 5th and spent a blissful six weeks studying the fine art of granny-ing and falling ever so hopelessly in love.

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Jenny and Kennen, tired of the dot.com madness of San Francisco, pulled up stakes, moved to Minnesota, and bought a house. Along with them in the move was an old chair that was earmarked for reupholstery, Jenny’s hobby. I cannot believe the gorgeous transformation!

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Jessa and Dan did their yearly trek to Bali (bless them) and presented Ketut with a Superman tee-shirt, of course! Dan is a master guitarist and gave a few lessons. There was pool time, computer time, lots and lots of talk time, but best of all…togetherness.

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I had a birthday. Seems to happen every year. But this one was a gorgeous evening on Jimbaran Beach with a motley crew of dear friends, Carol, Janet, Bayu, and big-hearted Steve, who master-minded the event. I’d have a birthday every month if they were all as special as this!

The day wouldn’t have been complete without a quick escape to Watercress restaurant with my busy, wonderful neighbor, Nina, who treated me to birthday lunch and kombucha.

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I had another fun day in a beach town: Seminyak. Shane, Terry, and Mu needed haircuts and the ONLY hairdresser they’ll THINK of seeing is in Seminyak. So Denise and I enjoyed coffee and snooping the shops while the others went under the scissors. Then they introduced me to La Lucciola, a beachfront cafe where we spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing ourselves!

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I met a new friend, Margaret Manning, and took her shopping at the Klungkung market for traditional Balinese temple clothes. She invited me to write for her online magazine, Sixty and Me, and the Huffington Post, proof yet again that it’s not what you know but WHO you know!

 

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There were some seriously wild times entertaining with my empty yogurt cartons! Ketut built towers, Nengah knocked them down then scooted to fetch when they scattered under the daybed. Patient Komang provided refuge on her back when things got a little too crazy.

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The Ubud Writers Festival was sheer brilliance this year. It just keeps getting better! The panel discussions covered a multitude of pertinent topics worldwide, and several centered around the U.S. election since at the time of the Festival that event was only a week away. But the closing party was icing on the cake. My Bali family, Ketut, Komang, Nengah, and Komang’s sister, Wayan, went with me. We were awed by the fire dancers. Truly spectacular.

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And finally, in his 94th year, my Dad died. I was with him day and night during the weeks before, and it was the most profound experience of my life. I will never see death the same. I loved him fiercely and I miss him every day. But there is no question it was his time. He knew it, and his infinite peace during those last days was a testimony to the life he lived. I was alone with him, holding his hand when he died. I cherish that sacred final gift.

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I bid farewell to another year and to you, dear friends and family who take the time to read my scribbles. I leave you with the lines of a poet whose ability to capture the essence of life and death in words always astounds me: Mary Oliver

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The Momentum of Intention and the Healing Power of Ritual

P1110803Today I did something I’ve never done. It felt important to remember Dad in a special way on Fathers Day. In America that falls on Sunday, June 19th.

When the idea dawned to assemble mementos, the 19th was still two days away. As I went about the normal routine ideas floated to consciousness: Dad loved to play Texas Mean! I’ll find the game and set it up. What were his favorite foods? He liked hot stuff, chilies! And raisin pie, and, oh! Flowers!

I fell asleep anticipating Fathers Day morning but awakened at 2:04 a.m. Where was that photo of him that I brought back with me from the States? As I was scouring my brain trying to place it I fell asleep only to awaken again at 4:18. His purple heart and dog tags! Those must be displayed, and pictures of our family…I dropped back into sleep. At 6:00 a sunrise befitting the magnitude of the day summoned me. I scrambled out of bed for the camera and captured a stunning sky.

Still in pajamas, I set about looking for his photo. It wasn’t in any of the expected places, but in the process of the hunt I found others. Perfect! While unearthing the Texas Mean game from its place in the cupboard a collection of old calendars caught my eye. Inserted between March and April, 2015, was my handsome Dad on his wedding day. Beside it was the program from his funeral. Did I want that reminder? It took a few minutes to sort through how I felt. Then one line caught me eye: Died January 29, 2016. Yes, his death was a fact of his life.

As I assembled the keepsakes, a carved Buddha head on the wall just above the display felt off. The eyes, locked into an unwavering stare, didn’t fit. In my scarf drawer was a black loosely-woven shawl. I draped it over Buddha’s head so just the shadow of a face could be seen. That was the missing piece. It represented the veil of sadness and loss that today I’m allowing myself to feel. Then the tears came.

A time-out to shower and dress restored my composure. Barefoot, I walked outside, down the stairs, and into the garden breathing the moisture and aromas of breakfast being cooked. I sensed Dad’s presence with me. He loved gardens! Damp and cool underfoot, a slow amble around the perimeter produced yellow, purple, and hot pink blooms. I’d just added two green chilies to the mix when Ketut appeared.

“Ya, good morning. What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing a ceremony for my father.”

His face lit up. “One years, same as Hindu?”

“No, it’s six months since he died. But in America this is a special day for fathers.”

“I will bring offering,” he said. A few minutes later he returned with two palm leaf creations filled with the appropriate grains of rice, flowers, and mossy bits that appear everywhere on ceremonial days in Bali. I asked if it was okay to put raisins, the chilies, and a sweet biscuit on top. He assured me that this is how it should be.

All in readiness, I lit a candle and incense.

The raspy voice of Johnny Cash came to life on the computer: I Walk the Line. It was a song we loved to sing. While it played I made coffee, one for Dad, one for me, and we had our time together.

Underlying the sadness was intense joy filled with loving energy both his and mine. From the moment of intention, my subconscious mind had spun the story. When it was time to bring the idea to fruition, all the needed elements were there for creating an altar of memories.

Ritual is healing. I’ve heard that but I didn’t really understand. Now I get it. It can’t just be a concept. It has to be performed. I’m grateful that I took the time, made the effort, and followed the subtle promptings of my heart.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad, and all my love…always…

Sherry

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A Fathers Day Farewell

Sherry and Dad on guitarDad died in January. It’s my first Father’s Day in sixty-six years without him. I don’t know how to be with that truth. He was the most important person in my life. I was alone with him, holding his hand, when he took his final breath.

The last years weren’t easy for him. I was glad when he shed the troubles of his worn out body and escaped to wherever kind, hard-working, beloved men go. His presence hasn’t left me. He’s the blue butterfly that flutters around the bougainvillea and threads in and out of my house. We commune in a language free of words.

But when I saw an ad for Father’s Day, my heart lurched with pain, searing, immediate, deep. I was bereft knowing that this year I would not scan Amazon for a book with pictures of Norway, or stories about boyhood in the Midwest to send to him. When Dad stopped reading I knew his life-force was weak. He loved to read. When he was no longer interested in food, I mentally prepared for the inevitable. When the message reached me that he was failing, I took the next plane.

How will I navigate Father’s Day without him? I need a plan, a ritual, something that will not allow the day to pass like any other day. Perhaps….

…I’ll gather flowers. Dad loved them and taught me their names: bloodroot, honeysuckle, clover, buttercup, lady slipper, goldenrod, and many more. I followed his footsteps through fields of alfalfa bordered by marshy swamps as he pointed them out. None of those exist in this tropical climate, but Dad won’t care if it’s frangipani and heliconia instead.

I’ll listen to some old Johnny Cash tunes, maybe strum a few lines of Down in the Valley. Dad loved to sing and play guitar and he taught me the chords. We spent hundreds of hours playing and singing together.

And because this is Bali and offerings are an integral part of every-day life, I’ll prepare one for the ancestral spirit that is now my Dad. It will have raisins, chocolate-covered cherries, and the hottest chilies I can find. He’s the only Norwegian I’ve known who popped them in his mouth like candy, grinned with sweat beading on his brow, and asked for more.

Then I’ll play the video Jessa made with the song she sang at the funeral while her partner, Dan, accompanied her on Dad’s old guitar and I’ll cry. Of course I will. There have only been a few tears so far, but I’m ready. They’re stored up behind my eyes like a pressure in my skull that reaches all the way to my heart. And it will be the first time in many years that I’ll be with my Dad on Father’s Day.

Background song: Fall Down as the Rain written by Joe Crookston. Guitar by Dan Gaustad and vocals by Jessa Walters and Dan Gaustad.

SOLAR ECLIPSE: Compelled toward CHOICE

solar eclipse embodiedA Solar Eclipse happens the morning of March 9th, 2016. Energetically this is a moment of profound choice that will deeply affect your fate for the next 19 years.

When I read that statement, my body tingled and sprouted goosebumps.

The event is the equivalent of a monumental power surge supporting transitions. Actually, forcing is the better word. In this crucible of opportunity we are forced to choose only one specific and critically important area of focus in order to make use of the energy.

In recent months I’ve felt a minor irritation, like a wasp circling my head, not too close but close enough that I can’t fully relax into my life. I’ve noticed uncertainties toward specific writing goals and family relationships. The questions spin through my mind, searching but finding no answers.

In the past, these sensations have preceded major adjustments to the status quo. Evolution cannot remain static. It’s essential to listen to the sounds pounding in the psyche, the discomforts rattling through the nervous system calling attention to the need for change. On one hand, the past offers a familiar path, the karmic conditions that dictated what life looked like before. Slipping into old patterns is tempting. But ahead, in the strange mystery of the future lies limitless growth. It challenges everything and promises only to pay your experiences forward with wisdom and empathy.

solar eclipse islandMarch 9th is also Nyepi, the Balinese New Years Day. It follows a night of chaotic wildness as dark spirits are driven out and the island experiences a re-set of benign peace. The eclipse and Nyepi taken together are formidable in their potential for effecting transformation.

It’s entirely probable that this supercharged moment provides the ideal frequency to connect with life’s purpose and core soul unity, part of the answer to Why Am I Here.

On the morning of March 9th as the sun disappears and utter quiet reigns over the island, planes grounded, the airport closed, people confined to their homes for silent meditation and reflection, I’ll sit in waiting, acknowledging the power of wounds, empty spaces and the sacred darkness, refusing to re-live those wounds or identify with them. But as I sit, will I contract with the universe to discard karmic patterns and re-assert my agency in the process of consciously driven evolution? Will I re-examine my belief systems, questioning roles, rules, and narratives I have held as sacred, unquestionable, or absolute? Will I release and walk away from anyone or anything that isn’t on my energetic wavelength? Will I trust my intuition, gut instincts, imagination and dreams?

Will I resolve to do only what is mine to do?

I’m excited and more than a little apprehensive. I’ve enjoyed four years of deep healing and explosive joy, unequaled by anything in my former life. It’s been a time of sacred idleness, a holy reprieve and I sense the chapter ahead will stretch me. On March 9th I’ll seal my fate for the next nineteen years. Will I lean into the unknown, embrace fears and plunge headlong into the vortex of change? Or will I stagnate, immobilized by the immensity of my own power to choose?

 

Credits:  Quoted text from an article, The Eclipse – Another Roll of the Dice, by Lorna Bevan

Image #1  –  http://www.globallightminds.com

Image #2  –  Holly Sierra, American Magical Realism Painter

 

 

THE LONELINESS DEBATE

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Lonesome. Lonely. What’s the difference?

My Aussie and British friends say there’s no difference. If you’re lonesome then, by default, you’re lonely. I disagree.  I’ve not once been lonely since I arrived in Bali early in 2012. I do, however, from time to time miss my daughters and other family members back in the USA. A wave of lonesome washes over me. Then Ketut appears, or Wayan, or Nina, or any of a vast assortment of Balinese and expat friends and the moment passes.

It hasn’t always been like this. I know how lonely feels and for years I avoided being alone even though some of the loneliest times of my life were with mismatched others.

In this communal culture I have to work hard to be lonely, or even to be alone. Today is Kuningan, the end of the twice yearly, ten day celebration dedicated to ancestral spirits. At 9:00 a.m. Ketut appears in his sarong with food offerings. Bananas, snakefruit, peanuts, various kinds of Balinese home-made sweet treats, rice, a sugary milk drink in a small bottle, are heaped on a palm leaf plate and placed on my kitchen cooktop for those spirits.

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P1110084 He lights incense and prays for the blessings of the ancestors, abundance, safety, good health, long life.

Two round bamboo talismans secured to my terrace will ward off negative spirit energy. For the prior nine days these symbols have been rectangular in shape. Today they’re replaced by round ones, a significant difference indicating completion, fulfillment, and the circular nature of life.

Prayers and offerings complete, we chat briefly and Ketut leaves.

Fifteen minutes later he’s back with a morning treat. One item on the plate is a mysterious concoction of chocolate, rice flour, palm sugar, banana, all mashed together, wrapped in a palm leaf, and formed into a Balinese tootsie-roll! Yum!

I’m snacking when Ketut pops in again…

That’s what I mean. With these pop-ins there’s always laughter. Either I’m trying to convince the hard-headed Leo of something that he’s dead-set against, smiling at me as he disagrees, or he’s cracking a joke.

A neighbor stops by in full Kuningan regalia, sarong, kebaya, Mona Lisa, for a quick hello. About that time my phone sings the message jingle and another neighbor wants to come for an afternoon chat. Every day is some variation on this theme.

Of course the sheer number of interactions per day doesn’t guarantee anything. But that isn’t the question posed here.

So tell me please, who’s right? Is there a distinct difference between lonesome and lonely, or is it just one of those cultural misunderstandings that American English has with the Queen’s English and we’re both right in our own obstinate ways?

Suncatcher! Time Stops in Jimbaran

 

January 6th I woke up to an email from my 87 year old mother. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Sherry, happy birthday to you! We love you, Mom and Dad. Ever since I can remember, and wherever I am in the world, my parents have called me to sing this song on my birthday. So there was no way I was going to let her off the hook with an email version. I punched in their number on Skype.

“Hi Mom. Thanks for the email, but I want you and Dad to sing to me like you always do.”

“Sherry?! Oh honey, your Dad just, well, he’ll be back in about 5 minutes.”

“I’ll call back in 15!” And so I did.

Dad (93) was quite a star in his day, playing guitar and singing with the Northwoods Opry. His voice is more whispery now, but together they did a fine job. Emotion welled up as I cherished, perhaps for the last time, that intimate moment

Nostalgic memories persisted as I bypassed the usual heaping breakfast bowl of papaya for a more delicate serving of mouthwatering mango and ate in a shady corner pondering life. My new bamboo blinds kept the blistering morning rays at bay.

P1100961The rest of the day there wasn’t time to think, just play! The Bali wife next door had plans for me! Nina passed newborn Nola to her husband, gave me a death-grip hug and trotted me to the new restaurant down the street. Watercress, she told me, had a kombucha bar and I was about to be initiated.

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Refreshing apple turmeric and a ruby mixed berry had the astringent tang of vinegar, a healthy, virtuous drink! But those would be finished long before we’d had enough chatter time so, lunch? Why not!

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A towering tempe burger and fat little fried potatoes with aioli dipping sauce seemed a perfect nursing mama’s meal. But I wouldn’t have traded roasted pumpkin salad with sundried tomatoes, walnut pesto and feta cheese for all the tempe in Bali. Oh, those flavors! The beautiful harmony of colors! My first bite was proof that the dish was a serious palette pleaser, not just another pretty face.

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Babbling for three or four hours has never been a problem for Nina and me, but Bapak Sudi, in charge of hungry baby Nola, can’t keep her happy forever. Another bone crushing hug and I was back at home in time to prepare for dinner!

I’ve heard tales of ocean-side dining in Jimbaran, but I’ve never been. A romantic, sunset dinner for one doesn’t do it for me. Ketut is willing to take me just about anywhere, but dining out with a beach full of foreigners is not his idea of a good time. And if the strolling minstrels came to our table singing love songs, I can only imagine the look of abject horror that would cross his face!

So that’s where I’m going tonight! The car arrives and I pile in with Steve, Bayu, Janet, Carol, Oni and Princess Rina for an hour’s ride to the south.

When we arrive I’m sucked in by the party atmosphere and cooking smells as saliva dribbles down my chin. Seafood being charred to perfect done-ness wafts from doorways of restaurants lining the street along the beach. Steve heads straight for one of them. I notice the sign, Jimbaran Cafe. As we enter, flat bins of ice bristle with fins, tails, and great buggy eyed heads. The fish man with gleaming tongs, pulls out granddaddy red snappers, slime covered calamari, and prawns that look prehistoric. He plops them in a pan and weighs them. “That’s too much!” we mutter among ourselves, but we’re ignored as Steve gives the nod and our dinner disappears into the kitchen.

“A table in front,” Steve says to a waiter in a red bib apron.

“Nothing available by the water,” he’s told.

I scan over the heads of diners, thousands it seems, digging into heaping plates. I don’t see an open table anywhere.

“I think there’s one coming,” Steve says and we shuffle after him toward the steady roll of waves breaking on the beach.

P1100988There’s a huge expanse of wasted sand here where tables could be. The thought passes through my mind as I instruct my friends to line up. They pose for a photo and then…

P1100985 Like magic, a table appears! Of course! Prime real estate comes at a price. “How much?” I ask Steve and he smiles that saintly smile.

A tablecloth and chairs follow. Then the purpose of the green thing that has been passed between Steve and Bayu on the trek from the car to the beach comes clear. Out of it appears a bottle of white, a bottle of red, and iced glasses. You thought of everything, you darling man! Let the party begin!

We toast and pose for pictures enjoying the music and the innovative guitar strap!

A platter of snapper arrives followed by calamari, salads, veggies, rice, and it just keeps coming! There’s no more room but still it comes, piles of prawns and more snapper. The table is too painfully small for the abundance, but we don’t care!

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That’s when the Suncatcher stops time.

sun captured

Our world is touched by Midas. We dine bathed in gold.

I’m deep in calamari heaven when I hear them:  “She was just sevente-en, you know what I me-an, and the way she looked was way beyond compare…” The minstrels are singing to me in the candlelight, years melt away and I’m 17 again!

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That’s what happens when the Suncatcher stops time in Jimbaran!

Aussies…pick your battles

Australians are people. I’ll have to admit, my first encounters with that unique breed left me unconvinced. All I knew about Australia I learned in 9th grade history class, and I wasn’t impressed then either. When I came to Bali they were everywhere, loud, behaving badly, at frightful odds with my Victorian morality and Scandinavian reticence.

A lot of things got shaken up when I moved to Bali, and any people group clumped together and referred to as they, tend to bring surprises when they grow individual faces with real names. It wasn’t long before I met Steve, the organizer of the Ubud Writers Group, an Aussie. Suddenly one of them had a face, and even though he was loud, behaved badly, twirled my moral compass and trampled my Norwegian sensitivities, I LIKED him. Then I met Janet, his sister, a milder version, and I knew there was hope.

It’s a process, warming up to these undiluted characters who seem to revel in the discomfort of others. It’s all in good fun and harmless if you have serious rhino skin and know how to pick your battles. But underneath the gruff and bluster, there’s generosity and a loyalty that forms deep attachments.

So when Steve and Janet invited me to accompany them, and Steve’s poodle, Princess Rina, for a pre New Year’s getaway to Sidemen, I was equal parts surprised and delighted.

From the moment we arrived and settled in, conversation flowed around and through every conceivable topic. I alternated between straining to bridge the language barrier and blushing crimson when I did. There were many occasions when I had to stop them and beg a translation of their repurposed English!

Fluffy clouds lazed across the sky all afternoon as we moved from the pool to Janet’s terrace, to the dining area, and back to Janet’s terrace accompanied by attentive staff bearing trays of alcohol. That’s another thing I noted: these Aussies can out drink me five to one, and it’s a little sad because they’re not the ones who need loosening up!

At first there was no hint of Mt. Agung, just the sweeping view of rice terraces. But as cooler air pushed up over the ridge it appeared, the highest holiest peak in Bali, through a necklace of clouds.

Somehow I’d snagged a deluxe upstairs room with an unobstructed panorama from a deck larger than my entire Ubud apartment!

Although slightly less sticky than the lower altitudes of Ubud, the refreshing gurgle of the infinity pool beckoned so we stationed ourselves for deep relaxation and more liquid refreshments.

After cocktails, liquors, and nighttime chocolates (we did eat dinner at some point) it was lights out with the plan to meet for breakfast at no specified time.

I’m an early riser. Catching the view of sunrise over Mt. Agung was ample inspiration to set my alarm for 5 a.m. just to make certain I was fully awake by showtime. I’m also directionally challenged, so as I fixated on the emerging purple outline of the giant mountain, the sun quietly rose somewhere to my right. Orientation miscalculations aside, the reverence and awe inspired by the early morning vigil stuck to me for hours.

It would be easy to develop an obsessive fascination with Mt. Agung. At six in the morning it was crystal clear. By midday the clouds so enshrouded it there was no hint it ever existed.

Sometime later we hiked through the village seeking a more palatable lunch than the options available at our place. Our stroll produced new photo ops and a group of schoolboys who showered the Princess with proper devotion.

Like homing pigeons with a bead on eats, my Australian friends sussed out an exquisite site for dining pleasure at Sawah Indah Villa.

I might add at this juncture that Australian dogs, unlike their owners, adopt the cultural norms that resonate with my comfort level. They’re seen but not heard and speak only when spoken to. Princess Rina excels in the social graces and her dining etiquette epitomizes perfection. That’s why she’s allowed a seat at most establishments and we don’t patronize those that fail to appreciate her advanced evolution.

The walk back was blistering. As a hint of chlorine tickled our noses, Steve shed his shirt and shoes leaving a trail of cast off clothing on the path to the pool and plunged. Janet and I weren’t far behind. Oh delicious clear blue water!

A little nap sparked renewed appetites and we ended the day at a pizza warung. I didn’t have high hopes. The tablecloths had seen more meals than ours and were still wearing some of them. The neon green walls did nothing for our aging complexions. But hailmaryfullofgrace – omg – the PIZZA! It was far and away the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere. A N Y W H E R E !!! Three very happy bellies said good-night and sweet dreams as we trundled off to our beds.

Next morning, packed and ready to return to the crazy bustle of Ubud, I bid goodbye to the magic mountain and the peace and pleasure of a unique escape with my outrageous Aussie friends. Thanks, Steve, Janet, and Princess Rina for this stimulating cross-cultural experience in a setting of unparalleled splendor.

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And a very Happy New Year to family, friends, and all the other beautiful Australians I’ve met and learned to love here in the paradise down under!

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