A Cave for the Body…Paradise for the Mind

The house is dark. I’ve justified my time here by telling myself that Bali is so bright, the sun is so intense, the green is so green, and having a dark cave to come home to is…good. It is good, and I’m grateful.

There are exciting features to this house. The yoga platform floats like an enchanted thing at the edge of the jungle garden.

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I get up early to practice as the first fingers of sunrise penetrate the narrow opening between it’s floor and the overhang. I want to catch those rays!

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The roof is high and assembled artistically, adding volume and beauty to the space.

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Brick walls and ochre floors create an earthy womb of safety. And it has a kitchen.

So what’s the problem? I figured it out yesterday. I live in Bali. I don’t want to turn on the lights at 4 in the afternoon to be able to see, when outside is still a sunlit feast. I’ve always loved tree-tops, open meadows, and glass houses that may get hot but, oh! the light! If I were up at the crack of dawn and gone, not returning home until sunset it would be fine. But I’m a home-body. I work at home. I love to be at home. I don’t want to be forced out to get my quota of vitamin D.

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Armed with revelation, I took a long walk. What to do…what to do? I love the neighborhood, the people and the location. I don’t want to move. I returned to the darkness. The breezy cave after my sweaty walk felt good…for awhile. I wrote a poem. I tuned the guitar and tried to turn the new poem into a song. I answered e-mails. I spread some crackers with peanut butter and ate them staring off into space. I fidgeted. Then suddenly I knew.

I spent the rest of the afternoon designing a second floor. I didn’t study drafting and building construction for nothing! The more I doodled the more excited I became. The interesting aspects of the main house could be amplified into a stunning second story. Oh the view from up there! I worked out how to creatively allow light to stream into the dark first floor from an open balcony above. I stacked the plumbing for efficiency and economy. There is a perfect area for an outdoor stairway, a private entrance to my paradise. By the time I finished I had moved in. I could feel every inch of my new, sun-bathed home as if it already existed.

There are two minor roadblocks. One: money. Two: ownership. I don’t own this house and the current lessee probably wouldn’t cotton to having the roof ripped off. And there is the issue of money, but why go there when the whole scheme is imaginary anyway? The task accomplished its purpose. I distracted myself from writing and exercised other creative outlets. And now I have a marvelous new space for my mind to inhabit and enjoy, even if my body remains, at present, in the cave.

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Taking Tea with the Prince

 

I’ve had tea with the prince. My life is complete.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a construction site. Looking at it from the other side of a yawning gorge it appeared an ambitious project. I followed steep steps beside a waterfall to the bottom, crossed the bridge, and huffed and puffed my way up the equally steep steps to the top of the other side.

Construction site

I wondered if it was another new hotel being built for the booming tourism business here in Ubud. But there was no one to ask so I carefully picked my way through building materials. The project took on a more finished appearance as I progressed. Then suddenly before me was the entrance, a towering edifice with not one, but four tiers of carved Barong faces guarding against unwanted visitors, earthly or otherwise. I began to wonder if this might be a private home. The doorway was constructed in traditional Balinese style, but I have never seen embellishment of this refined detail, even at the Ubud Palace.

Entrance edifice

I crept up the steps to peek, just peek, through the gilded doors standing slightly ajar. In front of me, barring further view, was a splendid Ganesh. Should any of those said unwanted beings happen to pass the first line of defense, his placement directly in front of the entrance was guaranteed to finish the job. My curiosity insisted on seeing what lay beyond.

Ganesh

So I proceeded, and Ganesh didn’t seem to have a problem with that. The scene that met my eyes when I cleared the final barrier was like something out of a fairy tale, or a Disney theme park! On my right, 15′ stone maidens poured the contents of their jugs into terraced pools.  Between the maidens water cascaded over lapped panels of metal. The landscaping was a glorious profusion of Bali’s most exotic vegetation.

Fountain wall

There are few places where I’ve stared with my eyes bugging and my lower jaw gaping…the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Vatican…my standards are significantly elevated. It takes something pretty special to impress me. This gilded oasis at the end of the rice paddies definitely made the grade. After ogling shamelessly for several minutes, I tore myself away and went home. But I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.

So when I asked Ketut this morning if he wanted an adventure, my plan was to return and see what progress had been made in the past two weeks. We hopped on ‘Pink’ (a fitting name for his pearlized mauve colored motorbike) and were there in a matter of minutes. My jaw dropped again. I hadn’t glamorized it in my mind. If anything it had grown grander in two weeks. We strolled the path toward a group of workers installing a pair of dazzling chandeliers on the porch of the main structure. It would be good to ask permission to be there, I decided.

One of the men was obviously not a worker. His diamond encrusted watch probably cost more than a small oceanside villa, and the two rings he wore, one on each hand, would make Tiffany’s drool. Ketut had addressed one of the workmen but I approached the jewelry and said, “This is amazing. Who is the owner?” The man smiled benignly, almost humbly. “I am,” he said. Then he proceeded to introduce himself as Cok Wah and invited me to sit on the floor of his glistening black marble porch with him. He said a few quick words of Indonesian and I knew he had ordered drinks for Ketut and me. I quickly said, “Not necessary,” also in Indonesian. Again the beneficent smile. “I want you to feel welcome in my home,” was the gracious reply.

So I sat. And as we shared tea and Balinese sweet cakes, Prince Cok Wah told me about his father, the king of Ubud, and how he was building this palace to honor him. He seemed in no hurry to be anywhere else. He explained the two female statues flanking the gold bust of his father at the great entrance. They represented his father’s two wives, the women who had raised him and his five siblings. He talked about other plans he had for the unfinished portions of the project. Then, as I’ve often experienced with Balinese people, the conversation turned philosophical. We contemplated good and evil, light and darkness, and the necessity of maintaining balance in our lives. I kept checking in with myself to make sure this wasn’t some surreal dream, but the tea was wet, cake crumbs were accumulating in my lap, and I was sweating. In a dream I wouldn’t be sweating.

Two chandeliers dripping with crystal were being installed on the ‘front porch’

Then he told me that I would have to come back and see the palace after dark. “The lighting is automatic,” he said. “It comes on at 6 p.m.” He whipped out his iphone (seriously) and showed me pictures of the palace after dark. I told him I would like nothing better and made polite leave-taking noises. On the way out he took us behind the aquarium that is built into the entrance stairway. The aquatic scenery that appears to be in the tank itself is actually painted on the walls of the room behind it.

Aquarium after dark

Ketut had been uncharacteristically quiet during our tea party. As we putt-putted back home he told me that Cok Wah is a member of the Ksatriya Caste. In the Hindu system, they are the rulers. There are three Balinese languages, one for the lowest caste, one for the middle caste, and the most formal one for addressing royalty. Ketut admitted that he did not know the language well enough for addressing a person of Cok’s social status. Rather than insult the man he had opted for silence.

We did return to the palace after dark. Prince Cok Wah was still there. He greeted me by name and apologized that he had to leave but told us to stay as long as we wanted. Evidently a TV crew had been there about a month ago and filmed the palace extensively. The special program was due to air that night and he was going home to watch it. Before he left he escorted us into the compound and seemed terribly pleased to hear our exclamations of astonished awe. Then he was gone.

The main house

View of the entrance from the main house

Detailed carvings on the entrance edifice

The lighting effects on a dragon’s head

Steps ascending to the family temple

The family temple

Gilded woodcarving adorning the structure where important ceremonies are performed, weddings, cremations, tooth filings, and the like.

The pavilion for gamelan and Balinese dance performances is still under construction

We stayed a long time. The almost full moon watched as I took 164 photos. Ketut chatted with the security staff. When it just didn’t make sense to take another picture we found our way out of the magic kingdom, located Pink, and headed home. Ketut, faithful scout that he is, was eager to tell me what he had learned. Evidently the project has been underway for five years. So far it has cost over $80 million (that’s in U.S. dollars). It will take another year before it’s completed. On the back of the motorbike my jaw fell open for the final time today and I repeated the worn-out word that my lips have reverently breathed over and over and over again…

“WOW!”

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