Bali – Life in Technicolor!


When I practiced interior design, I told clients that their homes should reflect who they were (private persona) and how they wanted to be perceived by others (public persona). We spent significant time discussing this and often who they felt they were inside differed vastly from how they wished to be seen.

Personally, I wanted my home to tell the world how sophisticated I was. My mother modeled flawless manners: setting a proper table even for breakfast, insisting that I learn piano and listen to classical music when I much preferred playing guitar with my dad. Her need to look perfect to the world lodged in my psyche.

As an adult that ingrained training dictated appearances. The color palette in both the clothing I wore, and the furnishings I chose, blended a dazzling array of – you guessed it – neutrals. The absence of color was chic and classy. The only divergence from the black, white, beige theme was a red brocade jacket pulled out of mothballs at Christmastime.

I brought that aesthetic with me when I moved to Bali. The first thing I noticed after the two thousand shades of green, was the Balinese’ flagrant disregard for subtlety in their attire. Bali style was as far from neutral as Minnesota winter was from tropical paradise.

Layered patterns in bold, clashing colors challenged my tightly held conceptions of what worked and what most decidedly didn’t.

I searched the entire island to find quiet earth tones for accent pillows and cushion covers, but Bali would not be subdued. I settled for a dignified combo of black, rust, and avocado. Now, six years later, in response to a growing community of permanent Western customers, gray, taupe, and putty batiks and ikat fabrics abound, all those lifeless non-colors that no self-respecting Balinese person would ever want.

As the years passed I was unaware of my continental drift away from ‘safe.’ The change came so slowly I didn’t notice when the vanilla person hiding behind beige, went missing.

Upon reflection, blame settled on the Bali Blue Bed. When that precious antique handcrafted half a century ago by Ketut’s father for his growing family became my most cherished possession, my relationship with color began to expand.

Tentatively I added a little china to carry the emerging theme into the kitchen.Not long after the new dishes brightened up the far end of my quarters, I discovered skirts. Until that time, capris had covered my lower half, white ones, black ones, and of course non-threatening beige. I don’t remember when the first flowy, legless clothing crept into my closet but I remember the color: hot coral!

I loved flouncing around Ubud with naked legs! Breezes reached all those previously confined areas and I was so much cooler underneath! Soon the mid-length pants occupied a drawer that never got opened and the closet was full of skirts: blue, green, some with birds, others with flowers. Loose-fitting tops were the natural accompaniment and they came in various shades of bright. So the wardrobe morphed along with the house.

On the way back from the supermarket one afternoon, the bead shop lady greeted me on the sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was the proud and somewhat surprised owner of an enormous beaded basket!I’d ordered one that was half the size but when I had gone to the shop a month later to pick it up, the dear lady apologized. “So sorry, Ibu, but no small now, only this kind.” Evidently the current shipment of imported rattan baskets from Java that the woman used as a base for her beadwork, had only come in large.

As so often happened to me here, the Universe conspired to give me my heart’s desire. I’d lusted after the monster baskets so why had I ordered a small one? I knew the answer to that as well as I knew the reflection in the mirror. It was a lie as old as I was, instilled in the subconscious where it reared it’s ugly head from time to time when I wasn’t vigilant.

Thankfully, the ‘you don’t deserve such abundance’ story was overridden. I hugged the prize to my heart as the happy woman gave me a lift home on the back of her motorbike.

Then the heron came home to roost on top of the bookshelf.
It was a similar story with an interesting twist. I’d passed the bird in a shop window, stopped to look, decided it was unrefined, folksy even, and continued on. I did that several times over the next few days. Curiosity finally forced me inside to ask the price. Expensive. I left. Several weeks went by. Upon rearranging a few things in my house, a space opened up where none had existed before. The memory of that colorful creature popped into mind. I can’t explain why or how, but by the time I arrived at the shop, desire burned in me with all the passion of first love! Now every time I look at the stately bird, I smile and wonder how I could possibly have thought him provincial.

When the pillows and mattress cover on the the Bali Blue Bed recently grew too faded to tolerate, I went shopping. It was a shocking pink batik boasting mythical birds with glorious chartreuse tails that captivated me first. There followed a shimmering array of metallics for accents and a purple, orange, red geometric weave for back pillows. Handwoven eggplant colored fabric became the grounded base for all that whimsy.

The burst of color thrilled me. I loved to nestle deep in those delicious hues and absorb their intensity, to be cradled in the very essence of myself. Then it struck me: in my non-stop, stressed-out, U.S. workaholic life, I had to surround myself with boring neutrals. It was survival.

But in my laid-back, joyful Bali life, my nervous system has re-calibrated. I thrive in an atmosphere of visual stimulation, no longer living a schizophrenic existence. Who I am is on display for all to see in bold designs and brilliant hues. My house validates me the way insipid neutrals never could.

I’ve even ratcheted up the intensity in my clothing. The new temple outfit for the ultra important Hindu ceremonies I’m frequently invited to, is a hunting-jacket-orange kebaya with a fuschia sash over a hot pink-yellow-blue-etc. etc. sarong! And it just feels right.

Why did it take so long to come to this, to embrace the complex, colorful person hidden  somewhere inside? The answers have to do with fear, with the need to fit in, with concern about the perceptions of others, with self-denial, with…nevermind. Needless to say, the list of reasons is long. But the realization that all are now in past tense is sheer delight! I’ve burst the confines of conformity and traded suffocating sophistication for my technicolor Bali life.

For the love of beautiful stuff…

It’s not fair. Here I am, trapped in paradise, surrounded by the most exquisitely crafted objects of art, and I’m committed to a simple, less is more kind of life? That’s just wrong!

But I’m adamant about keeping my possessions minimal and until now I’ve done well, buying only functional items that I need. One of those, the Bali Blue Bed that Ketut’s father made for his family over 30 years ago, is a treasure. It’s also my couch. I love it…cherish it…and so do visitors!

P1100176Then, lacking storage space, I commissioned a carved teak door from a craftsman near the Tagallalang rice terraces and hired a local tukang to create a pantry for my kitchen.

P1090999A cavernous refrigerator once occupied that space. It woke me up in the night growling because it was empty. Now I have a tiny, under-the-counter frig that I keep comfortably full, and a new closet that is functional, practical, and beautiful!

But then…oh dear.

You know how it is when you fall in love? The object of your affection becomes an obsession. You try to put it out of your mind. You tell yourself all manner of stories to reduce its importance, to diminish it. But nothing works. You make excuses to see it, to hang out in its neighborhood, to just stop by. And then, in a moment of weakness…you marry him! Whoops, no! You BUY IT!

Here’s what happened…

Penestanan is a village of master beaders. The first time I saw their creations I was smitten. But I had no home and less money so I tucked the memory into the ‘save for later’ corner and went about my business. That was three years ago. The other day I passed the shop. Except I didn’t pass the shop. I stopped and went inside. The array of shapes, sizes, and colors of baskets entirely encased in glass beads dazzled me all over again. My resistance melted and dribbled out the door. The bargaining went well and I placed an order. I’d have to wait a month, she said. No problem.

Yesterday I got a call from the shop. It was ready, but, so sorry, too tall, no short baskets, if you don’t like no problem, so sorry. All this was uttered in rat-a-tat-tat Indonesian and I caught the gist but had no idea what it really meant. I told her I would come right away.

She began apologizing again the minute I walked through the door. Please slow down. My Indonesian is no good! Uttering a few moreĀ sorry’s she disappeared into the back and returned carrying a fabulous basket, by far the biggest one I’d ever seen. Over the course of the next half hour I learned that the rattan structures that form the framework for the beading come from Java and the size I’d ordered hadn’t arrived. Of course this one, more than twice as large, was also twice the price.

Negotiation is a process I enjoy. It often takes unexpected side trips, and this was no exception.

I have villa, you have friend, maybe your friend like my villa, maybe rent, stay long time, maybe I give you good price and you tell your friend…(she quotes a price.)

Oh, sorry Ibu, that’s too much. I’ll wait until the smaller baskets come.

Long time, maybe not come…

I’m not in a hurry…

Okay, okay, what you pay?

No, it’s beautiful, and the price is good, but too much for me. I don’t want to steal it!

Okay, okay, you tell friend I have villa…(she quotes a significantly lower price and I’m hooked.)

Now I own the biggest beaded basket in Bali.

P1100232And I’m done. Really, I am. There’s nothing else I need, nothing else I want, my home is complete! And every time I look at that incredible, non-functional, impractical basket, I smile.






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