In Defense of the Dustah (and other shapeless garments)

Lottie Nevin is one of the most intriguing women I ever met. She was living in Jakarta with her husband, Irishman she called him, when our paths crossed. He was teaching at a university there but they were often at their vacation home in Bali. Lottie and I were instant friends. Then they moved to Spain. I miss her.

She was a sunny-side-up, can-do person and everything she said was hilarious. One comment in particular has stuck with me. She was talking about her garment of choice. “I hold comfort in the highest esteem,” she said. “Why would any woman want to be trussed up like a Christmas goose and totter around on pointy-toed, spikey-heeled chambers of torture?” Her look of baffled disdain spoke louder than words. Then she shrugged, shook her head, and groaned. “But Irishman hates my dustah.”

“What’s a dustah?” I asked. It sounded exotic and foreign. She looked at me aghast.

“You don’t know? It’s that shapeless thing that hangs off your shoulders and doesn’t come in contact with your body anywhere else…the most comfortable thing alive. You can go naked as a jay underneath – it’s heaven.”

A memory took shape in my mind’s eye of my mother’s floral pastel, snap-up-the-front housecoat. She’d called it a duster – dustER. Ah-ha!

So that’s what we were talking about. Lottie’s accent was decidedly not English in the Midwestern U.S. style. It had the delightful flavor of the British Isles that made ah’s out of r’s.

I remembered Mom wearing her gown in the morning. But after school lunches were packed and breakfast eaten, she exchanged comfort for clothing that fit her form. It sounded like Lottie missed that step and dear Irishman didn’t approve.

Mom had Dad to impress. Lottie has Irishman.

I don’t cater to anyone but myself. But Lottie’s words stick in my mind every time I slip into my most comfortable outfit. I’ll have walked a mile or more with intense tropical sun beating on my head. I’ll be dripping, my clothing drenched in sweat. As soon as my feet touch home turf, I beeline for the shower and peel off the soggy garments.

Showered and refreshed, I reach for the dress. As it slips over my head, pure joy floods my soul. Stress leaches out of my body. Invariably I inhale, deep and long, and release a blissful sigh. Nothing else even comes close to the relief of lounging the afternoon away in unbound ecstasy.

The pandemic has changed my apparel. Comfort is the ultimate driving factor and yesterday I came face-to-face with the consequences of that. For eighteen months I’ve worn nothing snug – nothing that requires me to suck in my stomach. I’ve sat way more than I’ve stood or walked. Now that I’m packing for a trip to see family in the States, I’m trying on ‘real’ clothes. To my horror, a fleshy spare tire seems to have settled around my waist and hips. I’m pear-shaped with toothpick legs and that is not okay.

There’s not much hope of remedying the situation in the eleven days before I leave. But once there…

Jessa and Dan have promised long hikes on the ridges along the California coastline overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

In Minnesota, I’ll stroll the path along Minnehaha Creek to Lake Nokomis and Lake Hiawatha with my twin grandsons.

Pennsylvania with Joy and Kellen and my very active, very precocious granddaughters will be anything but sedentary. By the time I return to Bali I’ll be whipped into shape.

Re-formed.

Or…Maybe I’ll melt back into my ‘dustah,’ breathe that blissful sigh, and revert to my old, wicked ways.

Do any of you out there share Lottie’s love of the shapeless, unconfined comfort of the dustah?

Has the pandemic changed the way you dress?

Has anyone else gone pear-shaped?

Pandemic life in Bali eighteen months and counting

We’ve logged eighteen months of Covid in Bali. Nobody thought it would last this long. Nobody had a clue how devastating it would be to the economy, to morale, to human life. I wish I could say we’re learning to live with it. We’re not. There’s still a never-never-land hope that soon tourists will return. Soon everything will be like it was before. Soon.

Soon was supposed to be June, 2020. That was scrapped and moved to August 2020. Each new date set for the reopening of international tourism was exchanged for a later one. The most recent was this month, September 2021. We all knew it wouldn’t happen as the Delta variant bore down on Indonesia making it the world epicenter for the virus.

I hate to preach doom and gloom, but the only upside I can see to this prolonged slog through hell is a return to the land for those who didn’t sell out to the highest bidder. Paddies, neglected for years while their owners taxied foreigners to and from the airport, guided tours, sold sarongs, or opened cafes, are being tended again.

Fireflies haven’t returned yet but birds and butterflies have. Roads aren’t clogged with trucks belching black fumes, and there are no drones, helicopters, or planes disturbing the peaceful sky. Only kites. Hundreds of them pirouette on unseen currents high above. These photos are from the annual Kite Festival in Sanur, Bali. This year it didn’t happen, of course.

When there’s no work there’s an abundance of time – time enough to go fly a kite.

For many Balinese, however, there isn’t enough money to buy food, and the lack of funds affects the animal population as well. This article, Bali’s tourist drought sees hundreds of hungry monkeys raiding homes, hit international news today. These are the monkeys that visit me. They never used to leave the Sacred Monkey Forest which is a quarter mile from my home. But now they have no food and no tourists to entertain them. They’re bored, hungry, and they’re multiplying at an astonishing rate. (Nothing else to do, may as well make love.)

The longer the situation persists, the more aggressive they become. They use my roof to stage their battles. I wake up at dawn to the sound of snarling monkeys waging war as clay roof tiles crash to the ground. If Ketut isn’t here to do immediate repairs, I know the next rain will pour through the ceiling wreaking unspeakable damage.

I captured a photo of this guy coming toward my upstairs landing across the old roof.

Hoards of roving monkeys, thirty to fifty at a time, appear multiple times a day every day. Whatever isn’t behind closed doors is fair game, a plate of fruit, a bottle of water, a bouquet of flowers. They’re looking for something – anything – to eat.

Their petty thievery was manageable, but the roof issue was not.

Ketut and I engaged in endless conversations attempting to arrive at a solution to the problem. The situation was dire. I had to replace the fragile tiles with something monkey-proof.

Last week we found the answer. Genteng pasir. Literally translated that’s sand tiles, a pressed metal shingle coated with a gritty substance and painted the color of a traditional roof. The look was perfect and the price was right.

Ketut lined up a team, placed orders for shingles, nails, lumber, and cement, and work began. First, the old tiles came off.

The three-man crew worked, ate, and slept here, on site. They began at 8:00 a.m. and stopped at 6:30 p.m. when the sun went down. We provided their meals, coffee, and beds.

Ketut was the busiest of all, running to get take out food three times a day, making coffee, keeping the necessary building supplies on hand. Food, coffee, and snacks were all part of the package to ensure that the guys stayed well-nourished and happy.

They worked seven full days, non-stop, and did a stellar job.

Isn’t that a splendid sight?

I didn’t realize how on-edge I was. Even now, three days later, I find myself stiffening with a lump of dread in my stomach when I hear the beasts coming. Then I remember, oh! My roof is monkey-proof. I can relax.

Just in time.

Rainy season approaches and there’s nothing as important as an intact roof when tropical storms shed their pent-up tears in torrents – gallons per second!

It doesn’t solve the greater problem. The economy is worse than ever. People and monkeys are still hungry. I’m acutely aware of my privilege as a foreigner living here. Because I’m a long-term expat with the necessary documentation, I was given my vaccinations free, same as the locals. I follow government protocol to the letter, grateful for the measures they’re taking to end this plague so living can find its rhythm and a better life for all can begin.

Soon. Hopefully, soon.

Flowery Curses for an Unfaithful Lover

There isn’t much to laugh about, and plenty to curse in Bali these days. Indonesia is the world’s pandemic epicenter with a surging Delta variant. But they’re doing the right thing. Lockdown has just been extended for yet another week.

All this ‘down time’ affords me the luxury of micro-spection – a word I’ve coined to describe the way I observe the very tiny universe that is my current world.

I have the house and garden, sky and clouds, plants, birds, butterflies, and monkeys. (I’ll save those hairy maleficents for another story.)

As a child following Dad through the fields and forests surrounding our farm, I learned the names of trees, weeds, grasses, and flowers. It felt important, and respectful, and matter-of-fact. It was as if they were saying to me, “You live here. You walk among us. Of course you will know our names.”

Moving to Bali opened a new realm of botanical mysteries. Just when I thought I had my garden memorized, look what popped up.

This apparition nestled beneath a giant fern, looked so blatantly incongruous amongst the mundane leaves surrounding it I nearly cried. I’d never seen a fungus even close to the elegance of this queen of mushrooms. She rose from the humble sod standing a good ten inches tall in her spotless white gown.

After photographing the spectacle from all angles, I googled ‘fungi with lacy white dress,’ and there it was: Bridal Veil Stinkhorn.

Bridal Veil seemed an apt description for this stunning presence. But Stinkhorn? Really? Why the shocking slur on a masterful creation? What did this glorious ‘shroom do to deserve that?

One thing leads to another and bored minds wander. A quick search affirmed that botanists possess a diabolical kink in their nature. So many plants have naughty names. In a matter of moments, I’d listed several prime examples. Caught up in the irreverence of my project, I imagined how a jilted lover might find the colorful monikers useful for cursing an unfaithful maiden.

In a cloud of fury he’d yell, “You Bloody Cranesbill Horehound!” Or, “You Stinking Hellabore Barrenwort!”

Then she’d shout back at him, “You Sticky Willy Nipplewort Knobweed!”

I kid you not. Those are labels assigned to innocent members of the plant kingdom!

But hold on…it gets even better. If you consider yourself an intellectual and you find the crude English used above distasteful, get down and dirtier with Latin. Formal nomenclature spares no feelings. I dare you women, next time you don’t relish the attentions of a persistent man, just say this:

“Darling, get your Phallus impudicus

Phallus impudicus

away from my Crassula vaginatus

Crassula vagnatus

before I Ilex vomitoria

Ilex vomitoria

all over your Narcissus assoanus!

Narcissus assoanus

That’s what happens when I’m denied polite company for weeks on end. I can’t be held accountable. No offense intended.



Your Rags, My Riches – Fashion Photo Shoot

What do you do when you’re bored out of your gourd?

Take a walk? That’s noble. Healthy, too. In the old, pre-pandemic days maybe you shopped. So did I. But I learned early on that my dollar stretched exponentially farther if I spent it at second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, or here in Ubud, the Smile Shop.

For the uninitiated, the Smile Shop is a non-profit organization that partners with medical teams to surgically correct craniofacial abnormalities for children in Indonesia. The store overflows with a cornucopia of merchandise from books, to games, jewelry, shoes, household goods, and cast-off clothing donated by visitors from all over the world. I go for the thrill of discovery, never knowing what I’ll find.

After a few soggy days, the walls were closing in. I needed a destination, something sufficiently motivating to warrant the effort of dragging my body out of the house. I’ll walk til I drop if I’m meeting someone for lunch. I had no lunch date yesterday.

Wait a minute…what about…?

The Smile Shop was open, a three-mile round-trip. I grabbed a bottle of water and slipped into my flip-flops salivating at the challenge of the hunt.

I’ve been shopping for clothing this way since I was in my teens and I’m a pro. The mish-mash is overwhelming to some. For me it’s like writing a poem – I just have to find the words that rhyme. Yesterday I was looking for cool and shapeless. In the current sticky-hot climate I don’t want form-fitting. The less intimately my garments connect with my body the better.

Within moments of arriving I had two items slung over my arm. Then a sweet vest with a crocheted back jumped out at me. I didn’t notice the label until I got it home – Guess – a popular brand in the U.S. I took a few minutes to browse paperbacks and saw a number of favorite authors but I was walking and books are heavy.

Another time.

Back home, sweaty and happy, I ran the sink full of sudsy water, scrubbed my new finds, and hung them in the breeze to dry. I was eager to try them on, but – well – unlike clothing off the racks of the big retailers, these garments come with histories attached. I like to send their old stories down the drain before I reincarnate them to their new life.

My sister and I have exchanged emails every single day for over a year. The first few months of Covid, there were many times when her newsy note was all I had to look forward to. I snapped photos of my still-wet garments, attached them with an overview of the day, hit send, and figured I’d done due diligence.

But not so.

The little minx wrote back demanding pictures of the clothes with me in them. If this post seems like the ultimate in narcissism, blame my sister! She made me do it!

My first find, this long, asymmetrical tee-shirt thing, has peek-a-boo shoulders and just hangs. It ticks all the boxes. I love it!

You can take the girl out of the Sixties but you can’t take the Sixties out of the girl. What is it with tye-dye? People seem to either love it or hate it. I can’t leave it alone. It speaks to me and this one was channeling Lesley Gore, “I’ll bring you Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows…Choose me! Choose me!”

Another thing I can’t seem to resist is lace. And black lace is the epitome of sexy drama. No! I DO NOT buy pre-worn underwear!!!! Let’s just be clear about that! Ewwwww! Sorry…

I’m still working with the vest. Black on white was a spur-of-the-moment no-brainer and it’s okay, but I can do better. That’s the other bit of fun – mix-and-match – see what creative combos emerge.

Thrift shopping has ruined me for anything else. I cannot abide orderly presentations by size and department in ‘normal’ stores. Where’s the sense of adventure? Where’s the mystery? Why would you spend $500 on a designer item making some corporate gazillionaire richer when you could spend $5 and help a child smile?

That’s another thing. Brand-driven capitalism. Don’t get me started. But here’s where I’m a shameless hypocrite: I like to LOOK like I’ve spent $500.

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