MINDFUL OF THE GOOD

I’ve found the best way to keep from dissolving into a state of overwhelm after reading the morning news is to walk. It’s essential for my sanity. Without it, doom and gloom tend to consume too much psychological bandwidth.

I go slowly and notice things. Pretty things. Funny things. Solid, recurring, timeless things. I don’t own a car – in fact, I own nothing with wheels. On the rare occasion I need to leave Ubud, I hire a driver. Forty dollars U.S. covers my transport for an entire day and I probably do that six times a year. Maybe less.

So come with me on my stroll. It’s a beautiful morning. A slight breeze carries traces of incense and cooking. At the bottom of my stairway Wayan and Ketut have already thanked Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa for peace and abundance.

As I walk past I wonder…what if I didn’t have to step over offerings on the sidewalk in front of every shop, every day? Could I still be happy? These bright tokens make walkways in other parts of the world seem drab.

As I cross the bridge that separates me from my favorite grocery store, I stop to watch a Ngaben in progress far below. The ashes from a cremation have been brought to the river to be purified – the final step before the spirit can return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation.

Hindu rituals have been enacted in Bali for hundreds of years. There’s something that can’t be destroyed here. I try to know what it is but it hovers at the fringes of my understanding and I can’t quite catch hold. Yet I feel linked with antiquity. Grounded. Safe.

At Bintang Supermarket I pick up a few supplies I can’t get at the traditional market: raisins, toasted muesli, ginseng tea, and gift bags. You can never have too many gift bags!

Then I’m on my way to Bali Buda Mart on the other side of Ubud. I’m addicted to their sourdough bread. For months I guessed at the mystery ingredient. Cardamom? No. Fennel? Not quite. What then? I was driving myself crazy and finally approached the bakery manager and begged for the recipe. Cumin! I don’t have an oven so I’ll never bake it, but I had to discover the source of that elusive flavor.

My route takes me past Ubud Palace. Could there be a wedding today? Is this the royal getaway car? Exquisite! I could apply perfect lip liner looking into the mirror finish on that classic automobile. What a shine.

It’s hard to pull away from the festive florals and over-the-top decor, but I must. Sourdough sells out early and I finished mine with a spicy omelet two hours ago.

Self-discipline is rewarded. I score the last loaf and continue my loop past Ganesha Book Store then to Sugriwa and Hanoman Streets cutting across on motorbike paths. It’s a quick backtrack north to Dewisita Street where another eye-feast awaits.

I laugh out loud at the sheer creative whimsey of a hot pink bicycle. The new shop is Pina Colada. Even the name makes me smile…and makes me thirsty.

Fortunately, Mingle Cafe is a few steps away and their frozen mojito has no equal on earth. Happy hour begins at 3:00. It’s a favorite afternoon destination.

I check my watch. It’s as I feared, only ten a.m. I order a cappuccino.

Image result for cappuccino Bali style

Tomorrow I’ll read the news again. Ignorance isn’t bliss. Denial solves nothing. I want to be informed.

Then I’ll take another walk.

Advertisements

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.

P1080491

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!

P1080400

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.

P1080410

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!”

P1080423

P1080420

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.

P1080464 P1080463

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…!

P1080431 P1080432 P1080433 P1080434 P1080436 P1080439 P1080440

 

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.

P1080435

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.

Paris! 2

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.

P1080391

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.

P1080260

P1080282

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.

P1080261

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.

P1080289 P1080300

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.

P1080304

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…

%d bloggers like this: