The inimitable Leonard

Where, where, where is my gypsy wife tonight? I’m obsessed with Leonard Cohen. His lyrics are heartbreaking, haunting, and too real at times. They’re complex. They make me think while I’m crying. They explore delicate subjects that may even be considered tabu, with raw honesty. The melodies seduce in dark minor keys, and the man can’t sing. What can I say. His voice is a gravelly cross between Bob Dylan and laryngitis.

But that doesn’t matter. I can’t get enough. When I hear the opening rift of “Take This Waltz” my feet automatically go into the 1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3…1, 2, 3 of that classic dance step. I can’t stop them, my feet that is, and I am elated even though the words paint a forlorn and dismal picture.

Now in Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where Death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with nine hundred windows
There’s a tree where the doves go to die
There’s a piece that was torn from the morning
And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost… (Take This Waltz)

…a piece that was torn from the morning…I can’t even articulate what those words do to me. You can’t tear a piece from morning, right? But have you ever awakened not wanting to face another day? Something big and dark has happened in your life and there’s a gaping hole?

Well, maybe its not for everyone…?

But I think I’ve figured out what it is for me, this fascination. It has everything to do with the craft of writing. Leonard Cohen is a master of the art. He sings about the same things that everyone sings about, but he says it in ways that nobody has ever said it before. Even if I don’t understand completely, even if it doesn’t quite make sense when I examine the individual pieces, he creates a mood that resonates. His words, incongruously strung together, make the message even more poignant.

I aspire to write like that. Maybe not as dark…definitely not as dark! But I want to own words the way Leonard does. He makes them his, twists their meanings, and bends them to his will. His work is sheer genius.

Deep Magic

The strangely discordant music of gamelan works in Bali. You can hear it emanating from open pavilions, raucously accompanying cremation processions, or drifting in soft tinkling waves on the humid night air. It is pure essence. It works because it is played in unconfined spaces with few or no walls to trap the cacophony. The cymbals, drums and the metallic keys of xylophones create an unparalleled din that is sucked up by the 100% moisture content of the atmosphere. Thereby muffled, blended, and slightly distilled it becomes dramatic background to weddings, cremations, and traditional ceremonies. It also accompanies the Legong, Barong, and a host of other dances performed by outrageously beautiful Balinese women and fierce, masked men.

But……when taken out of context, inserted into a bone dry climate, captured in a room with four walls and a ceiling, and visited upon ears that are tuned to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and even an occasional Led Zeppelin or Johnny Cash, gamelan assaults. It is instant headache. With every cymbal crash each delicate Western nerve ending spasms. Foreheads furrow, brows knit, the polite, politically correct audience sits on its hands to keep from covering its ears. It won’t catch on here. I guarantee.

I love gamelan. Is it an acquired taste? Not really. As I said, it works in Bali. It celebrates the rich abundance of the island. Life there is lived outdoors in the color and heat of nature. Gamelan proclaims in sound, tangled jungles, volcanic peaks, curling breakers, black sand, pounding rain, relentless sun, terraced hillsides, and deep magic. The complexity of ritual supported and enhanced by gamelan music is the heartbeat of the Balinese people.

I have downloaded a gamelan CD to my itunes. When I’m not in Bali something in me craves that sound. When I know I’m alone and won’t disturb the sensitive ears of my Scandinavian roots, I crank up the volume. Lighting a stick of supa-dupa Balinese incense I close my eyes and sink into the mystery. The frigid temps and monochromatic landscapes of my childhood melt away. In moments I have a headache. But in those moments I’ve been strangely replenished, fed, revived. It’s powerful stuff, gamelan…deep magic.

Mosquitoes, Music, and the Siren’s Call

It sounds suspiciously like a buzzing mosquito. The sound filters through the thick Balinese air from a temple some distance from here. The holy man is chanting. At first I am convinced there is a bothersome bug circling my head. Then I realize, no, someone is singing! Today in the main temple of Ubud there is a major celebration. Dewa explained it to me this morning. In a few minutes the women will begin parading down the main street with tiered offerings towering on their heads. I set out to observe from a distance. If I wear a sarong I can approach the celebration but cannot enter the temple. I would need a spotless white covering like this woman is wearing before that would be allowed.

This photo was taken by Damian White and I have borrowed it for reasons that will soon become obvious.

I exit my room heading south on Hanoman Street. It is hot. I am on the sunny side of the street. After going a few blocks sweat is literally creating little rivulets down my back. I cross to the shady side of the street and keep going. Passing a beautiful restaurant I feel the pull of refrigerated air. But I am determined so I keep going. I finally reach the intersection where Hanoman joins the main east/west artery in Ubud. I halt on the corner taking stock of the surroundings. Cars, buses, and motorbikes are whizzing and honking past me. The only sidewalk appears to be on the opposite side of the street. There are no stoplights. Challenge number one: get to the other side. I stand on the corner awhile longer, now completely drenched, licking my own salty sweat as it drips off my upper lip.

Suddenly a menu item from the Atman Kafe that I haven’t yet tried appears like a mirage before me! Watermelon Salad! In my fried brain delirium I do an about face and hoof it back to the Atman in record time. Diving into its shady, welcoming embrace I place my order and it comes quickly, unusual for this endearing establishment!

Ah! Bliss! The cool chunks of watermelon with julienne strips of apple, a hint of red pepper, walnuts, and mint leaves, topped with feta and a faintly sweet dressing revive me. My view as I feast is of a basket of coconuts and the neat line-up of sandals that guests leave at the door upon entering. The staff regularly retrieves any footwear that doesn’t make it properly into alignment and remedy the situation.

I am so happy to be here! After finishing my salad I smell coffee. The Atman advertises the best coffee in Bali. I haven’t tried it yet, but an iced coffee latte sounds like a divine way to finish this meal. It comes with a sprinkling of cinnamon on the frothy cap of sweet Australian milk. I don’t really care if I’m up until the wee hours because of this indulgence. It is worth every sleepless moment!

I finally tear myself away from Atman, my personal slice of heaven, and return to my room. There is no one to offend now if I get a quick shot of the burned roof. I am literally standing in my doorway to take this photo. It was that close!

Home at last, I settle into my comfy chair and open the laptop. Then the mosquito begins its buzzing. When the reality of that sound registers I know that I am missing the ceremony. But I am in Bali. There will be hundreds of ceremonies, festivals and rituals before I leave. I can attend or not as I desire. Today I succumbed to the heat and the Siren’s call of Watermelon Salad. It was the right choice.

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