I’m a Capricorn – the epitome of disciplined self-control…!

What high expectations I had for the regular Friday afternoon meetup with my neighbor. Our weekly chats run the gamut from current Visa regulations here in Indonesia, to quirky relatives, to where to buy the best bunkus in Ubud. If you aren’t familiar with bunkus, they’re cone-shaped packages of rice with various toppings: vegetables, chicken or pork, spicy noodles, egg, with a few mystery ingredients thrown in that you’re better off not questioning.

Besides stimulating conversation, I usually furnish beer or wine and something crunchy to munch on. Today it was Thai peanuts with lime leaf, carrot hummus, and krupuk – special crackers from the granny down the road who sells them in her tiny shop.

This time though, instead of Bintang beer, or Anggur Merah, the 14.7% alcohol Bali wine, I had a real surprise for my friend. Pu Tao Chee Chiew. I found it on a recent excusion to Grand Lucky, a grocery store that stocks things not available anywhere else in Bali. The name sounded like an exotic Chinese elixir and when I read the label and saw 37.15% alcohol I grabbed two bottles.

I feel the need to add a disclaimer here. Perhaps I’ve mentioned alcohol in too many posts lately because I had a very discreet email from a reader who wondered if I’d become a bit too dependent. I felt like saying, I’m a Capricorn, the epitome of disciplined self-control. There’s no way… but I didn’t. I decided to write this blog instead because I know she’ll read it and have a good laugh.

Here’s a snapshot of my life.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Read. Eat dinner. Answer emails. Shower. Go to bed. No alcohol.

Every Friday – wake up. Journal. Do yoga. Meditate. Eat breakfast. Write. Take a nap. Prepare snacks and some fun alcoholic beverage for the four-hour chat with my neighbor.

So…about my neighbor…

This woman is one of the busiest people I know. She works two online jobs, cooks for her husband and daughters ages 5 and 13, tutors a Balinese child in English, helps with homework assignments, writes middle grade fiction, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. How she carves out time every week to entertain me is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Of course, I do ply her with alocohol…

Speaking of intoxicating beverages, I introduced us to Orang Tua – translated Old People – a wine with a nasty flavor reminiscent of the hot grog we had at Christmastime in the Midwest. I’ve served Brem – a thick-ish, cloudy rice wine, and Anggur Merah, a decent red grape wine made in Indonesia. But when I told her about my latest find she was as intrigued as I was.

She arrived and settled into her usual spot just as the afternoon rain started. I popped the cap and poured sparkling amber liquid into two glasses.

“Mmmm. Bubbly. It looks like beer,” she said.

We toasted then took that first tingling swig. “Oooo, sweet.” She licked her lips with only a slight grimmace. “Like dessert wine.”

“Or communion wine,” I added. “Or like drinking perfume.” A cloying floral bouquet lingered on my tongue.

There wasn’t much else to say about it, so we turned to the snacks and commenced our animated give and take filling each other in on the events of the week, which, if you recall what my Saturdays through Thursdays always look like, could put a caffiene junkie to sleep. But her lively stories more than make up for my yawn-worthy tales. Most importantly, we laugh a lot.

Around about the third hour of chatter, my guest frowned. “How much alcohol did you say was in this stuff? Thrity-something percent?”

“37.15 %. Why?”

“Well, I must have built up a heckuva tolerance because I don’t feel a thing.”

I took a minute to assess my own buzz but found none. “Now that you mention it, neither do I. How can that be?”

She reached for the empty bottle. “This is it, right? Let’s have a look.” Still frowning she sqinted at the small print,then exploded into laughter. “Guess what?”

I shook my head. “No idea.”

“This says fermented green grapes 37.15%. But up here at the top – see?” She twisted it so the label stared me in the face and pointed.

There it was, the sad truth if I’d taken time to actually read what it said. Mengandung Alkohol 5%.

“What?” I shrieked. “Five percent? That’s less than Bali beer. And I have another bottle of this worthless (expletive deleted) in the fridge?”

My feeling of betrayal was short-lived. We laughed until our sides ached.

So please, for anyone out there who might have wondered…I thoroughly enjoy my two glasses of wine once a week. But if my neighbor can’t make it for some reason, Friday joins the rest of the non-alcoholic days. I find no pleasure imbibing in solitary. And as for that extra bottle of Pu Tao Chee Chiew…it’ll make a great gift.

Bali Treats, Bali Terrors, and Weight-Loss Wisdom

It started out innocently enough – a little rain, smatters of lightning, distant rumbles. I paid no attention. It’s rainy season in Bali and this is an exceptionally wet month. Showers come every afternoon. I can almost set the clock by their appearance.

I was distracted by my evening session with favorite night show hosts. But when the noise of the rain and thunder drowned out the sound of my entertainment, I began to pay attention. The storm had intensified.

A blinding flash and simultaneous cannon-blast boom jolted me upright. Ketut came flying around the corner of the terrace. “Unplug your electric. Turn off the fan and the lights and stay in your room,” he hollered. I did as I was told. Jagged streaks and thunderous detonations pumped adrenalin like too much caffeine through my body and I suddenly craved – more.

Thunder, by Imagine Dragons. I wanted to pitch its alien images and sound-power against the wild night.

I found the song, cranked up my external speaker to highest volume and let-‘er-rip.

My house was dark except for the computer screen. Rain in angry torrents pummeled the roof. There was flashing, crashing, and Dan Reynolds belting out, “Thunder, feel the thunder, lightning and the thunder, thunder…” The volume, the raging forces of nature and sound and suddenly my energy shifted from fascination to ecstatic terror.

Ecstatic terror. Those two words shouldn’t be used together, but that’s the only way I can describe the sensations – as though dark entities had been summoned by the music and were prepared to carry me away with them. Part of me wanted to go. The other part turned on the lights.


That was last night.

This morning dawned clear and clean-scrubbed. Ketut and I jumped on the bike and headed south to Kuta. I’d scheduled a carcinoma skin checkup, my first ever. The weather promised a pleasant ride.

Grand Lucky, rumored to be the source of groceries that appeal to the Western palette, was a few blocks from the clinic. Kill two birds. I’d gotten hooked on Kelloggs All-Bran in Italy and had been on the lookout for it in Bali ever since. Maybe, just maybe Grand Lucky would have it.

With a little help from Google maps Ketut drove right to it. The parking lot was packed. An attendant took our temperatures and motioned to the hand sanitizer pump. Wafting through open doors, the fragrance of yeasty-sweet bakery drew us in.

We entered and I went into immediate overwhelm. People. People. Everywhere. And cheese. An oval-shaped island of world-wide cheeses stretched in front of us and acres of fruits and vegetables flanked it.

I’m not sure how long I stood motionless, staring, trying to assimilate the frenetic vibrations of so many real live bodies. Ketut went in search of a shopping basket.

By the time he returned I was reduced to a basic primal urge: Hunt it, kill it, and drag it home. I had no desire to linger. Where was the cereal aisle?

After a few minutes of aimless wandering, we turned the right corner. Kelloggs’ products lined the shelves, Cornflakes, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Pops, Fruit Loops, Rice Krispies, Special K… Words and colors blended and smeared as I ran my eyes over the rows searching, searching. My hopes were sinking when – yes! There it was!

Not only did Grand Lucky have All-Bran, it had the biggest box of that cereal I’d ever seen. And the biggest price – 182.000 rph ($13 US Dollars). I didn’t bat an eyelash. Hunt, kill, go home.


So that explains the Bali Terrors and Treats of my title, but what about weight loss?

This past year I’ve added more stress, less exercise, and – I can’t deny it – a bit more alcohol to my life. Even though I’ve hidden the bathroom scale in a dark place, denied its existence, cursed it when it lies, my bra cups blab the truth. That’s where the extra pounds show up first. Don’t ask me why.

I’ve more-or-less dealt with stress, and compromised on exercise. But getting around the calorie content of alcoholic drinks is tricky. I prefer the buzz of two glasses of wine, a couple of mojitos, a large rather than a small Bintang beer. The buzz. Isn’t that the goal, the mildly fuzzy state Dr. Seuss must have been in to write nonsensical classics like Green Eggs and Ham or any of the other sixty-plus children’s books he churned out over the course of his career?

The question, then, is how to consume less calories but get the Dr. Seuss effect.

Weight-loss wisdom is really a case of simple mathematics: seek out drinks with higher alcohol content. I can drink less, buzz more, and minimize caloric intake.

Imagine my delight today when I stumbled upon a brand of sparkling wine I’d never seen before. My go-to most recently has been Anggur Merah, a sweet red with a fairly adequate 14.7% alcohol content. When I studied the label of Pu Tao Chee Chiew, I had to rub my eyes and squint. Yup, I’d read it right. 37.15%. A thimble full would get me to my happy place.

Now I need some brave soul willing to try this with me. It’s no fun to drink alone.

Instead, tonight while laughing with Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, and the Jimmys, Kimmel and Fallon, I indulged in a bowl of red bananas, dragonfruit, and Kelloggs’ All-Bran cereal. Not quite the same as Dr. Seuss, but there was enough fiber in that bowl to move mountains – another key to weight-loss!

Mind Control to Major Tom – No, wait…

I was certain that was the opening line to David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

It was 5 a.m. in Bali. Roosters crowed. Shadowy edges of sleep retreated. I reached for my phone and typed in those words, mind control to major tom. They’d registered so clearly as I hung in pre-consciousness. I wanted the lyrics – find out what message the Universe had sent through my dreams. I found it – whoops! Not Mind Control – Ground Control. Hmm, Freudian slip?

I read through the verses. The last one said it all:

Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.

Don’t listen to it unless you’re in a super cheery state of mind. It’s dark.

I could immediately relate. That sense of floating through the days, losing track of weeks, months. Planet Earth is indeed blue if you define blue as sadness. But is there really nothing I can do? Isn’t there always choice? Somewhere? I’ve built my life on the belief that there is, that I have sovereignty over my thoughts, that my thoughts dictate my reality.

So if my reality sucks, I’m the one to blame for not exercising mind control because, as realities go, I’m still living a golden life. It’s just different, very different from what it was before.

Once fully awake I felt the shift in energy. My gut told me this was a big deal, an opportunity to enter into a new agreement with myself. Mind control to Major Tom…get your shit together, human. Today’s the day. You need to jump on this power surge now. You’re being supported by forces beyond yourself to make this change.

After ten months, my morning ritual is sacrosanct. I don’t waiver from it. I don’t skip a day. To some, that may seem obsessive-compulsive but I’ll tell you what. It’s survival at its very basic level and I cling to that routine for dear life.

So I journalled, exploring the morning message with questions and words. Nadda.

Then I went through my yoga routine. Not even a whispered clue.

My last hope was meditation. I lit incense, put on my earth and sky mala beads, sank to the cushion and –

Woah!

I wish, wish wish I had words for what happens in those moments. Sometimes it’s a quiet knowing. Not this time.

It was as though someone shouted at me –

Mental Reset

However, and this may give you some comfort, I don’t hear voices. Instead, the words sailed toward me through the sky in Arial Black typeface and entered my skull with a jolt. My eyes flew open. In that instant, the landscape transformed from overcast to radiant.

Do you remember being in love? Or better yet, being loved? My insides felt like that. Happy. Hopeful.

Everything is the same, yet everthing’s different and I’m still sorting it out. There’s a tickle that feels like maybe, just maybe I want to start writing again. (Blogs don’t count.) I no longer feel panicky about the future and I’ve lost the compulsion to try to plan for it. What an exercise in futility that is! I still miss family. I still see transition in my future. But my present is here, now, and it’s populated by precious relationships and equatorial green.

My gratitude bucket is bursting it’s seams.

Normally I’d pull this phenomenon apart piece by piece, looking at all the angles, wondering what I should DO with a new perspective, a mental reset. I process. It’s who I am.

But that’s the most amazing part. It’s done. All I had to DO was sit on the cushion. The rest was a direct download from the Universe. Zap! And my new operating system was installed and running.

I want to encourage you if you don’t already meditate, start now. It’s not just for ‘those yoga types’. It’s the doorway to accessing your intuition – the things you know that you don’t know that you know – the most powerful tool the mind has to offer. Everyone has it but few take time to develop it.

Alan Alda said it well:

“At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

I’d love to hear your experiences with meditation. It’s a practice that is unique to every individual.

‘Go Outside and Play’ – My Conflicted Relationship with Fun

The message I got growing up was that play was something you were told to do when an adult wanted you out of the way, out of sight, out of the house. You were no longer useful, your chores were finished, now you were a bother so, “Go outside and play.”

Was that part of your childhood? Do you remember the tone of voice that delivered that command? It had a sharp, brittle edge. I knew it wasn’t negotiable. I couldn’t counter with, “Could I just watch TV…?”

No.

Mom was clearing her space of ‘kid energy’ and the only acceptable response was her view of my backside going out the door.

As an adult, I’ve tried to define what play means for me. The closest I can get is this: a non-work-related pastime that is supposed to be enjoyed. But I confess, I find more pleasure in work than I do in play. Work is productive, challenging, and it feels like I’ve accomplished something. It moves me toward a goal.

And yet, I know play is important, especially under the current circumstances. Something that releases endorphins, eases the pressure valve, and lets steam escape is essential to both physical and mental health.

Endorphins can make you feel more positive and energize your outlook, and may even help to block sources of pain in your everyday life. They even improve immune response and reduce stress. Through vigorous, active play, then, you can boost your self-esteem and even trigger a euphoric outlook on life, says Darryl Edwards of London.

A euphoric outlook on life…really?

Three things qualify as fun for me:

  • Going out to eat with friends
  • A motorbike adventure
  • Reading

All three involve leaving, either physically or mentally. I wonder if there’s any connection with that childhood demand: Go……..play.

So let’s just be up-front about this and say it like it is: I have a conflicted relationship with play. If someone asks, “What do you do for fun?” I’m tempted to lie. I mean, it sounds so lame. “I go out to eat or…sometimes I take a ride and…of course I read…”

So today I needed a sprinkle of that euphoric outlook because there isn’t a lot of endorphin-releasing activity going on in the world right now.

I read yesterday.

I ate out the day before.

A quick check of the weather app predicted a window of fair skies opening between eleven a.m. and two p.m. On Ketut’s motorbike, we could get to the fishing village of Lebih for a dose of ocean and salt air and be home long before the rain. I already felt more positive and energized.

I corralled Ketut. In no time we were on our way! Click here.

There isn’t a beach at Lebih. The coastline is a tumble of black volcanic rock that reduces the breakers to a frothy foam.

Special offerings and children in temple clothes dotted the coastline. Today is Tilem – the day of the new moon, or dark moon as it is poetically called in Bali.

We strolled the beach. Click here to come along.

It doesn’t take long to see the length and breadth of Lebih and I was getting hungry. “What do you think, Ketut? Shall we eat here or stop at Janggar Ulam on the way home?” I shouldn’t have to ask. Janggar Ulam is his favorite restaurant.

I, too, used to love the place, but not for the same reason. Ketut liked the food. I, on the other hand, was captivated by the vast expanse of rice fields bordering the restaurant. They seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. The restaurant itself occupied a large portion of real estate. There was elbow room, privacy, and always cool breezes off the paddies.

Then they built the wall.

A developer with a vision for a hotel marked his territory by erecting a cement block barrier between the restaurant and the paddy. The view was ruined, the breeze stifled, the ambiance destroyed.

I’m not sure why I suggested going there today. Actually, I know exactly why I suggested it. I am so grateful to have Ketut in my life. A view doesn’t matter to him, but food does. And he matters to me.

We took a different way back from Lebih. As we passed through Gianyar Ketut shouted, “Penjors!” The new streetlamps look exactly like the elegant totems that appear during Galungan every six months. Gorgeous!

Streetlamp Penjors in Gianyar
Real penjors on Jl. Gautama in Ubud

When we pulled into the parking lot at Janggur Ulam, it held one motorbike. Pre-covid it would have been full. We entered the grounds through a brick archway and I gasped. It had been transformed.

Now the view was centered inward on lotus pools and fish ponds. The wall had been treated with a screen of greenery and Janggar Ulam had added artistic tiles to mask the stern, Eastern bloc look of naked cement. I stared, my jaw gaping, enchanted. Nobody saw my open mouth since I was fully masked. Sometimes it’s a blessing!

Ketut ordered his usual fried chicken and fresh sambal with a mountain of rice. I tried their vegetable stir-fry, hoping for the best. Our meals arrived and mine looked suspiciously like spinach soup. I’m still not impresssed with the food. Ketut was happy.

Then just as we climbed on the motorbike for the last leg of the journey home…

Rain.

I played today. I had fun. For a little while I forgot about corona, sedition, impeachment, Amendment 25, and a United States of America that’s gone off the rails. I can’t say it’s given me a euphoric outlook on life. I remembered all those things as soon as my helmet was off and stowed in the cupboard at home. But for a few hours I was ridiculously happy.

Survival = Free-Range, Low-Calorie, News-Light

The nightmare that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of January 6th was almost a relief in the grimmest of ways. I’ve been holding my breath for four years wondering when something unspeakable – more unspeakable than everything that’s already transpired – would happen.

Because of the time difference in Bali, I awoke early the morning of the 7th, clicked on the news, and caught my breath. There it was. That forbidden thing, so dark that even my Pluto soul was horrified.

Since then, I’ve only been able to watch the news through the lens of late show hosts. Those born comedians handled their reporting of the insurrection brilliantly – there were no jokes that night. Seth Meyers’ scathing rebuke gave me chills. Stephen Colbert’s outrage mirrored my own. Even Jimmy Fallon, that spotlight-loving, delectable hunk of eye-candy, delivered a compassionate message that went straight to my heart. James Cordon and Jimmy Kimmel – all of them dropped the funny-man persona and rose to the occasion.

In the days following that one-time needful deviation from their norms, the news delivered by those comedic commentators has come through more solemnly than usual but with a sprinkle of humor. It’s just enough to make me – not laugh, not yet. But I’ve managed a grunt of appreciation.

I confess I watch all of them. Every night. Sometimes in the morning too, if clouds threaten a rainy day. It’s that season in Bali – wet, wet, and wetter.

We cope with the devastating events of 2020 that have now spilled over into 2021 in our own ways. For me, the process has evolved from numbing with food and alcohol, to making myself feel the fear, grief, loss, uncertainty, and loneliness, acknowledging the pain of those emotions, and allowing them to pass through me.

I don’t do it perfectly. I don’t even do it well. It’s sloppy and prone to sinkholes. Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in one of those cartoon scenes where I’m dangling over the side of a cliff, clinging to a rope that is fraying strand by strand. But there are good days too.

What I’m finding is this:

There’s no right way to manage the un-imagine-able. There’s no guidebook. Nothing before prepared us for now. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants trying as best we can to simply survive. But the more we can tune in to what our bodies need and (safely) give ourselves that, the more loving and gentle we can be with our nervous systems, the more space and acceptance we can offer our emotions while grabbing every opportunity we can to laugh – that’s what will get us through.

Oh! And meanwhile…or quarantinewhile as Stephen Colbert would say…if you haven’t tried the lighter approach to the news, maybe give it a go. There’s nothing much to lose.

Bali Beaches and an Un-Planned Christmas

I’m sold on the un-planned Christmas.

I told people I wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t going anywhere. Would stay home and think happy thoughts and that was absolutely my intention. Then a get-together scheduled for December 21st had to be moved. How about the morning of the 24th? Christmas Eve Day? Does that work?

Well..I wasnt’ going to…but…sure. That works.

It turned into a psuedo white-elephant-gift-exchange, great coffee, and lots of laughs. Santa appeared out of nowhere, and carols played non-stop.

Warm and fuzzy inside I walked home with a gentle breeze cooling my face – one of Bali’s stellar-weather days – glad that I’d had Christmas Eve morning with good friends.

I’d barely gotten inside the house when my phone beeped a Whatsapp message. It was my neighbor next door inviting me to an impromptu lunch – if I didn’t already have plans for Christmas tomorrow. The complexion of my solitary holiday was changing fast.

I’d love to!

The high-octane energy of a family with a young child is a whole different ball game from the gray-haired gatherings I’m used to. But who can resist a five-year-old dynamo on pink roller skates?

We were well entertained and the meal of four-hour Balinese green beans, chicken betutu, cream-cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade frosted Christmas cookies was magnificent. The wine didn’t hurt either.

All that and a mystery guest. I finally got to meet a person I’ve been hearing about for years and if anything, the glowing reports were too humble. He’s one of those down-to-earth, funny, sincere, fascinating VIPs that you just wouldn’t expect to run into at your neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas lunch.

After two celebratory days I didn’t want the fun to end. I suggested to Ketut that it was time for another motorbike adventure. My back took weeks to recover from the marathon ordeal I put it through three months ago, but a visit to the beaches south of Ubud wouldn’t be a taxing trip. I wanted to check out the rumors that there are actually people down there – visitors – domestic tourists – because in Ubud they’re rare as unicorns.

As with most outings, eating figures in at some point. For this trip I wanted to stop at Cantina Warung. It’s on a dirt road that dead-ends somewhere between Seminyak and Canggu, and it’s so close to the ocean you almost feel the salt-spray on your skin. We’d check out Sanur and Kuta beaches on the way and easily be back in Ubud before the predicted afternoon downpour.

There was no traffic as we approached Sanur. The bodies standing in the water were fishermen, not tourists. Ketut thought he saw one family that probably came from another part of Indonesia but the few people enjoying the sun and sand were local. I’d expected that. Sanur isn’t the hotspot for vacationing party-ers who want a nightlife.

We hopped back on the bike and continued our search. Traffic by the Mall Galleria was almost non-existent.

In Kuta and Seminyak the story was the same with a slightly different twist. Here there were no locals, just a smattering of visitors and miles of empty lounge chairs on the deserted beach. Were we too early? Were the partying people still in bed nursing hangovers? It was getting on toward noon – surely they’d be up by now – if indeed they were here at all.

On the bike again I hollered through my mask at the back of Ketut’s helmet. “This adventure’s making me hungry. Let’s get lunch.”

There are several restaurants in Bali that are so enchanting I just want to keep eating so I can sit there for hours guilt-free. Cantina Warung is one of those. A constant ocean breeze, the rumble of breakers rolling in, comfortable chairs…don’t ever underestimate the importance of cushy seating – it’s huge…and today there were people sunbathing. People swimming. People walking dogs. We’d finally found PEOPLE!

We settled in and ordered lunch. Ketut is predictible – fried chicken and coca-cola. I had the BBQ chicken burrito with fries and a mojito. Not sure why the french fries came garnished with herby greens. They were easy to remove. But I have to say, that chicken burrito with chunks of avocado, crunchy lettuce, a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce on the melt-in-your-mouth grilled poultry – oh my! I’m drooling just remembering.

We’d whiled away about an hour and a half when Ketut pointed to a sign that I’d ignored and said, “Look. Our table is reserved for eight people at four o’clock. We can stay three more hours.”

That’s when I ordered two cups with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each, and a pot of coffee to pour over it. We stretched that out until about two o’clock when all of a sudden Ketut said, “Mungkin hujan di Ubud sekarang.” Whoops! In my idyllic reverie I’d completely forgotten about the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid.

The ride home took us through Canggu. There was a lot more traffic there than we’d seen anywhere else. Shops and cafes were open. Perhaps what I’d heard was true, that Canggu is the hot spot right now. Hot may be too optimistic a word. A warm spot.

As we approached Ubud the road was wet. “Maybe rain is already finished,” Ketut said. Three minutes later we were pelted with huge sloppy drops.

“Do you have your plastic, Ketut?”

“Ya. You?”

“Ya.”

“You want to stop?”

“No.”

“Good.” He laughed.

How precious, memorable, and unexpectedly rich this holiday has been. I could have sat home and survived. I would have called it a fitting end for a year during which many of us have done little other than sit at home and survive. So I’m going to see my unplanned Christmas as a positive energetic shift, a vital lurch propelling us toward a brighter 2021.

May it be so.

Bali: Before and After

My love for this island hasn’t wavered. I’ve written poems and posts praising her wondrous landscapes and warm-hearted people. My taste buds have acclimated to chilies and fish sauce. I can’t imagine going back to canned-soup casseroles after thriving on fresh-off-the-tree dragon fruit, papaya, mango, and the magnificent red banana.

Here’s what I wrote in June, 2013, a word-picture of the old Bali that put all her eggs in the tourist basket. And the last verse, the Bali now, is a much different scene. As you read it, the word Bule means foreigner and is pronounced Boo-lay, accent on Boo.

Bali Beats

  • Kuta Beach, braid your hair?
  • Won’t take long…buy sarong?
  • Maybe two…good price…
  • Kuta Cowboy nice, you want
  • Mushroom? Weed? Speed?
  • What you need, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Gamelan in the streets, cremation tower
  • Dodging power lines, three times
  • Black bull circles
  • Dizzy spirits flee
  • Can you see it, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Kecak chorus, chant, trance
  • Women dancing
  • Golden deer and Hanoman
  • In the night by firelight,
  • Are you frightened, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Rubbish smoking
  • Choking when you breathe it in…
  • The din of tourist bus
  • Clogs narrow streets
  • Defeats the purpose, Bule…
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Trash in ocean, river, piling up
  • While Bali smiling for you, Bule…
  • Taxi, yes? Today? Tomorrow, maybe…
  • Where you stay?
  • What you pay, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali bleeds…
  • Covid came and Bule fled
  • Business dead, no smiles here
  • Just fear, uncertainty
  • And empty streets
  • So quiet I can hear
  • The beats…of Bali’s…heart

The situation is bleak, and it’s a stern wake-up call. An economy based almost solely on tourism is fragile indeed. But the Balinese are resilient and creative. They will adapt. Many have already gone back to resurrect their paddies and vegetable gardens. But those who no longer have land, those taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners who depended upon a steady stream of tourism for survival, are suffering.

I’m a Bule who is still here, and while I grieve for my Balinese friends, I also watch wildlife return. Birds and butterflies I haven’t seen for years twitter and flutter about the garden. Fumes from the exhaust of too many cars, buses, and motorbikes, jammed in gridlock, have faded away. The air sparkles clear.

They say it’s like Bali twenty years ago…before the Bule stole her heart.

When It All Comes Crashing Down

Hibernating gets old. Just ask any grumpy she-bear who’s been holed up in a cave all winter in a state of suspended animation…

Does this sound familiar?

Of course Bali doesn’t have cold weather…or bears. But it has more than its share of expats who are feeling the effects of confinement. For the past few days I’ve barely stuck my nose out of the house. I meant to, but it was easier not to.

This morning, for some inexplicable reason, I woke up at 5:30 supercharged. The sky was brightening but the sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour. I made my bed, certain this was a fluke and the jolt of energy was just that, a jolt, and would quickly pass.

It remained.

The voice I’ve come to recognize as my stern grandmother (if you’ve never had a Norwegian grandmother you’ll have no idea what I mean) pulled me up short. Skam på du! she said. I think that’s the only Norsk phrase I ever learned. Shame on you!

She washed my hair once. I was about 4. My scalp was raw from her vigorous suds-ing. When she dumped buckets of water over my head to rinse out the soap, I came up spluttering and choking. That’s my most vivid memory of her.

I threw on yesterday’s clothes, masked up, and bolted out the door.

At 6 a.m. the air was cool and sweet. A brisk pace took me to Ubud Palace. Across the street the traditional market was already bustling. I don’t blend into the crowd very well, so I didn’t stop and shoot a photo straight into the market area where bodies moved shoulder to shoulder in a dense sea of commerce. Had I done so, my actions may have been misinterpreted, or at the very least, unwelcome. I don’t want to be the Ugly American.

But a few paces farther along, I captured the motorbikes lined up in front.

I stuffed my phone back in my bag and continued past the glistening Arjuna statue that marks Jalan Raya’s east end. For probably the 2,578th time in my nine years in Bali, I stopped, backed up, fished my phone out again, got the perfect angle, and took the photo. I’m still awes-struck at the elegance, the intricate detail, and the sheer size of these artistic works depicting scenes from the epic Hindu texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Still brimming with energy and smiling under my mask, I continued to Delta Dewata, one of two major grocery stores in Ubud.

I assumed it would be open. There was a patch of shade on the flight of steps leading up to…locked doors. I sat on the stairs and checked the time. 6:35 a.m. Their website said they were open every day, 8 – 10.

It wasn’t that I’d intended to shop. But I’d have browsed and found something I didn’t know I needed before resuming my jaunt.

I sat there, plotting my next move only semi-aware of the person working in the shrubs beside me. When a cracking sound caught my attention, I looked up – just in time.

WHACK! A huge penjor crashed onto the pavement, almost taking my nose with it.

I jumped. Probably squeaked a bit.

Then the ah-ha moment. Today is the day for removing these elegant, graceful tokens that are erected every six months during the celebration of Galungan-Kuningan. They invite the spirits of the ancestors back to their family homes to be remembered and honored. It suddenly made sense: That’s why the offerings I’d been seeing were more extravagant than usual.

Now I had a mission. I continued my meandering journey photographing the bountiful offerings and the women making their way to the temple.

Throughout the day, thousands of penjors will be removed. Their splendor has faded. The once-brilliant fabrics adorning them are now washed-out pastels. The spirits of the ancestors left weeks ago.

The penjor crashing down in front of me woke me up. It’s as though Grandma Rakel was scolding again. “Pay attention!” she said. “Don’t walk through your life asleep. Be present for the small things – they are your reality. They are right now.”

Wise and terrifying Norwegian Grandmother Rakel, thank you.

Ramping It Up To Highly Contagious Joy

Time passes. Covid remains. I adjust.

For thirty years I’ve been digging around in my psyche, excavating fascinating beliefs about myself lodged there, some true, many not.

By my 70th birthday, in my opinion, I’d achieved a decent level of awareness, had banished the more bothersome demons, and was living my dream life in paradise.

Then Covid hit. I quickly discovered what I didn’t know that I didn’t know about me. I didn’t know that overnight, trauma would erase the progress I’d made and send me careening back thirty-plus years to my un-awakened past.

In that state, I made impulsive decisions based on fears I thought I’d overcome.

Now, seven months later, the more progressed me has been restored and I’m in awe of human resilience – our ability to adapt to bizarre circumstances that defy imagination.

  • I automatically don the mask when I leave my house and have gotten accustomed, here in Bali, to seeing almost everyone’s nose and mouth covered, some more creatively than others.
  • I think twice before I meet with a friend if I’ve been in contact with anyone other than Ketut whose village still has no cases of the virus. I don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading this plague.
  • Even in my own house compulsive hand-washing has become second-nature.

I’ve reached a level of contentment just to be in the present with the way things are because the way things are isn’t 100% bad.

This was recently made clear to me during meditation – that I must accept and unify the dualities in life. Every circumstance has it’s positives and negatives, pros and cons, gifts and challenges.

Acceptance. Allowing what is to just be, without judging it as bad or good, without assigning blame, without getting attached to one outcome or another. Acceptance without expectation. Acceptance with gratitude.

Adopting that attitude creates a peaceful heart.

But for me, there’s a ramp-up mechanism that goes beyond peace and takes me straight to the next level – joy. I heard it in operation this morning.

Hack.

Hack.

Hack.

I ignored it for a while, then curiosity got the best of me and I looked out the window toward the back garden. In the far righthand corner I could see the shivering tops of a two-story cluster of bamboo.

I dashed downstairs, picked my way through stacks of downed trees, and there it was. There HE was. Ketut. The ramp-up mechanism himself,

Uh-huh. See what I mean? What man, woman, or beast could resist THAT FACE? He radiates pure joy and it’s highly contagious, especially without a mask.

Do You Remember The ‘Fuller Brush Man’?

After three days of solitary confinement I was teetering on the brink. I don’t even have to say the brink of what because you’ve all been there and YOU KNOW.

As a result of my two rather extensive motorbike adventures, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms to give it a rest. So that’s what I’d been doing for the past sixty-two hours – seeing nobody, hearing nobody, speaking to nobody – I was over it.

There’s a Japanese bakery two miles (3.3 km) from my house, Kakiang Garden & Cafe. Pizza is on their menu and for some reason I’d been craving a deep dive into dairy and carbs. Such an indulgence is justifiable after walking two miles, wouldn’t you agree?

I set out.

Photography doesn’t come naturally. I don’t like the camera between me and what I’m looking at. It’s a degree of separation that feels invasive, like I’m robbed of the intimacy of that moment. On the other hand, I believe the old adage: A picture’s worth a thousand words. So when I want to communicate what I’m experiencing with others, I try to remember to take photos.

It didn’t occur to me there would be much worth sharing on this walk until I happened upon a roofless graffiti gallery and suddenly remembered my phone had a camera.

Within a few steps there was another work of art. This rice field abuts one of the busiest streets in Ubud, Jalan Andong.

So many paddies were left fallow for years while money poured in from tourism. Now they’re being revived and what a feast for the eyes.

Once started, photo ops popped up everywhere. Do you remember door-to-door salesmen? One used to come to our house in the 1950’s. Mom knew the sound of his car and she’d say, “It’s the Fuller Brush Man.” He sold pots, plates, brooms – not brushes – yet I never thought to question why she called him that. So I asked Google, What’s a Fuller Brush Man, and found a fascinating story.

This is the Bali version.

Most of Jl. Andong is a serious shopper’s paradise. Many businesses export their goods but they’re always willing to sell to walk-in customers. I haunted this stretch of roadway when I was buying pieces for my house.

As I strolled past a virtual cornucopia of visual delights, I almost wished I could start the treasure hunt for furnishings all over again.

And then…I arrived.

It was too early for lunch and I’d already eaten breakfast, but there’s always room for dessert. I ordered an avocado coffee. And, yes. It is absolutely as decadent as it looks, avocado blended with ice cream poured over espresso with a squirt of chocolate and another scoop of ice cream. Pure heaven.

For a couple of hours I kept company with my thoughts, scribbled ideas in a notebook, watched butterflies flutter their mating dance, listened to chatter in the kitchen punctuated by frequent laughter, and absorbed the energy of life going on around me.

I still wasn’t in the least hungry, but I’d come for pizza and no way was I leaving without it. I managed to eat one piece. The rest is in my fridge.

More than delicious food, the day refueled me. It smoothed my frayed edges, loosened my knotted muscles, quieted my buzzing nerves. I was reminded that there’s still a world beyond my four walls and it beats with a strong heart.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: