Home is where…???

I think she said the 21st floor. Their apartment in Manhattan, just off Times Square, has a twenty-four hour doorman and a gleaming…GLEAMING marble floored lobby bigger and shinier than a skating rink. I took the express ground transport from LaGuardia Airport to Port Authority Bus Terminal and she met me there, all smiles, hugs, and anticipation. Joy. So aptly named.

I’m in New York for Thanksgiving and a long overdue visit. We walk the few blocks to their apartment talking non-stop and I don’t realize we have taken the elevator until the doors slide open. Joy shows me the  room she has prepared so beautifully for my stay and I immediately go to the window overlooking…OMG!

I gasp and take an involuntary step backward. It’s a long way down. They are in a penthouse apartment and the rooftop garden is directly above. She takes me up for a look. It is surreal. We can see the Statue of Liberty, the Hudson River, and Times Square. The lights from thousands of windows shimmer and dance. I’m suddenly dizzy.

Contrast. I have come from the tropical village of Ubud where my view includes infinite shades of green by day and velvet darkness at night, to the sensory overload of New York. Instead of the frogs, crickets and geckos singing me to sleep, the hum of traffic and an occasional siren lull me into slumber. I awaken, not to roosters crowing, but to blue skies, sunshine and honking horns. In spite of the altitude and my terror of heights, I’ve had an amazing sleep and can’t wait to get going. Joy has plans for the day.

We start out on foot toward the Hudson River. The Intrepid is docked there and the space shuttle Enterprise is now a permanent part of the exhibit on the immense aircraft carrier.

We do some power shopping and wind up at the Eataly for lunch. It is sensory overload! From the fruit stands to the endless varieties of artisan breads, the scents, sounds, and colors are a feast all by  themselves.

Joy has a Roasted Beet Salad and I order the Tuscan Bean Soup. Then we share. Delicious! Fortified, we continue on to check out tickets for Wicked on Broadway. A man playing a saxophone really really well, prompts Joy to trot over and make a financial donation to his effort.

And then we are in Time’s Square. It is a jaw-dropping spectacle no matter how many times I see it.

It’s Tuesday. What are all these people doing on the street? Shouldn’t they be at work somewhere? Unbelievable! Joy reminds me that it is Thanksgiving week and there are thousands of tourists here for the Macy’s parade.

About the time my feet go numb, we are home. Kellen arrives a few minutes later with bags of ingredients that will be essential for Thanksgiving dinner. After eating way too much of Joy’s killer lasagne, we curl up to watch a movie. It is a perfect end to a fabulous day. And in spite of the glaring contrasts, there are similarities that make me feel almost at home. For instance, diversity. People of every ethnicity are plentiful. Languages other than English are spoken everywhere. There are snarly traffic jams and crazy drivers but I didn’t see a single motorbike…not one.

And, come to think of it, there were no offerings to step over on the sidewalks, and no fragrant incense wafting through the air. Nobody offered us transport. There were no sarongs for sale. I didn’t see a single woman carrying a basket on her head. And there were no monkeys in the street. Grover, Cookie Monster, Mini Mouse, and Batman made an appearance, but not a single monkey.

The contrasts make me think of the things I appreciate about Bali. I can marvel at all this phenomenal city has to offer. I can immerse myself in it and fully enjoy the experience. But I will always feel like a visitor. And even though it is my country, and the culture is familiar, and I have loved ones here, it has not called my name. No place but one has ever spoken to me. A little dot on the map on the other side of the world found me and I know it patiently awaits my return. Who could have guessed…?

Photo from the back of Ketut’s motorbike, waiting for the light to change.

Rumah Kita…way better than “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel!”

If you haven’t seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I highly recommend it. That and four other movies helped me pass the 26 hours en-route to paradise. It is one of those heart-grabbing tales that touches truth with humor and sensitivity. The movie evoked tears and laughter, both in abundance.

And now I’m back! I’m living in the house of my dreams,  in the place of my dreams, doing what I love. (Pinch me!) When I first saw these rooms filled with light from the 8′ windows on three sides, my first thought was If I ever have the chance to rent this house I’d take it in a heartbeat. I inquired and my name was added to the bottom of a long list of “hopefuls.”  In early June, about a month after returning to Minnesota, I found out my name had, by some miracle, risen to the top of that list. I could have the house for 4 months starting mid-July but had to decide in 24 hours. Although I pretended to weigh the pros and cons, the decision had been made months earlier when I first walked through the door.

Here is my 10′ x 25′ balcony overlooking treetops and rooftops.

My breakfast is served here, on the balcony, by Ketut, my ‘house helper.’ Just so you can be completely envious, this house comes with staff. There is a house manager and a house helper. Pasek, the manager, takes care of the financial affairs of the property and shops for food and other necessary supplies. Ketut’s job is to take care of me. He prepares and serves my breakfast, cleans daily, and changes the bed and bath linens every three days. He keeps the house filled with fresh flowers…truly filled…and tends the gardens. When I want tea, or coffee, or a blended fruit drink I simply request it and it appears with Ketut, on a tray, along with another fragrant bouquet. I am already spoiled beyond recovery!

The night I arrived it was approaching 2:45 a.m. and I had told them to expect me between 1 and 1:30 a.m. But I no sooner stepped out of the taxi and Ketut was beside me, all smiles, in his grey hoodie sweatshirt. He hoisted my HEAVY suitcase over his shoulder and off we went, winding down the narrow path that leads to Rumah Kita, my beautiful new home. As I turned in at the gate I glanced up. The upstairs shined like a beacon. We walked up the staircase to the private entrance and opened the door. Every light in the house was on, the white tile floors were spotless and glistening. And flowers…the perfume of frangipani and blooms of unknown species wrapped me in fragrance and welcomed me in.

Ketut made sure I was comfortable, told me he would see me in the morning, and left me to unpack. Yes, I’d been up for about 28 hours straight by then, but there is something about unpacking that grounds me. When I finally peeled back the blue quilted comforter on the bed it was approaching 4 a.m. But all I could do was gaze in awe out the windows at shadowy palms and a sky full of stars and laugh and laugh and laugh. I was home.

As promised, Ketut appeared in the garden below about 7:30 (sunrise is 6:30 and the roosters and I were up at the crack of dawn!) “Would you like your breakfast?” he called up to me. My stomach had been rumbling for several hours by then…”Yes! Please!” He flashed a big smile…”What would you like?” Uh oh! I didn’t realize I might have options…”What are my choices?” I asked. Come to find out, I just have to let him know and I can have anything I want. I settled on fruit, omelet, and coffee, took my journal out to the balcony, and within moments breakfast (and more flowers) appeared before me.

I dined in sheer bliss listening to the Bali morning noises that I love. The house is near the river and overlooks banana palms, coconut palms, and a profusion of flowering bushes and trees. Some of the sounds are different from the chorus of the rice paddies that had become so familiar during my last stay. I love them all!

And I am intrigued by what I am beginning to call the ‘bliss factor.’ There have been times when there were one or two aspects of my life that brought me happiness. I learned to focus on those and if you asked, I would have told you that I was happy. There have been times of tremendous stress and pain but still there was happiness.  Here I experience something else. When I step off the plane and feel the warm softness of the air, see the brown faces and white smiles, my heart leaps into my throat. Tears well in my eyes. I feel a blinding shock of joy explode in my heart. It is a sensation I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I can only call it bliss. Some people meditate for years to achieve this altered state. I simply step off the plane.

From the edge of my balcony….Bali night.

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