Desperate To Feel Normal – What’s Your Name?

Sweet Orange is a special place hidden deep in the rice fields. Its Vietnamese coffee, ayam sambal matah, and black rice pudding with coconut gelato is a meal fit for the goddess. I fall short of that label but I was hungry and desperate to feel normal.

“You want lunch?” I asked Ketut. He’s yet to turn down a meal.

“Ya.”

In the past I’d always walked the rice field trail to Sweet Orange.

This was the first time I’d ridden a motorbike there. It will also be the last. The narrow path between paddies was so broken and bumpy I thought for sure I’d end up head first in the muck with the ducks. The bike bucked and jerked. I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth so they wouldn’t shatter.

I should never doubt Ketut’s mastery of his machine. He got us there safely, all body parts intact.

We found a place to sit – it wasn’t difficult – a mother with twin toddlers were the only other diners. We ordered. Then, as if conjured, the twins appeared next to us. “What’s your name?” one asked.

“I’m Sherry. What’s your name?” By now their mother was standing behind them. They were blond, blue-eyed sweethearts and reminded me of my twin grandsons far away in Minnesota.

“Avianpuppychocolatepigbirdcatpillowyellowicecreamstars…”

You lost me at chocolate,” I said.

His mother laughed. “This is Alexander. But he likes to be called Avian, and when asked his name he lists all his favorite things.”

They were almost three years old, bright, precocious, and verbal. When their dad came to pick them up they shouted their goodbyes and ran to him.

I’ve missed that about Bali. When I first arrived I met someone new every day. There weren’t as many visitors back then, and the ones who came were friendlier. With the pandemic there are so few foreigners we’re all a bit starved for each other. Once again conversations spark spontaneously and new friendships are birthed.

Our Vietnamese coffee arrived.

I’d bragged about it to Ketut, “Like Nescafe but better,” I told him.

He took a sip. “More like Luwak,” he said.

“What? No way!” For the uninitiated, kopi Luwak is fondly known as ‘poop’ coffee since the beans are eaten by civets and pooped out undigested. They’re collected, cleaned, roasted, and become the outrageously over-priced Luwak coffee.

Ketut just chuckled.

I turned my attention to the flowers blooming beside us. They looked like impatiens, super-sized.

Bali’s tropical climate does that to plants. What was a potted poinsettia on the table at Christmas in Minnesota, in Bali becomes a tree.

By now I was starving and quickly lost interest in the flora.

Because patrons are as rare as feathers on fleas these days, there was only one person working. My stomach let out a growl loud enough to be embarrassing just as he set heaping plates in front of us.

Sweet Orange makes ayam sambal matah like no one else. You can too, and here’s how. Put the following in a bowl:

  • Roast chicken breast sliced fairly thin
  • Sliced shallots
  • Sliced clove garlic
  • Sliced lemongrass
  • Birdseye chilies julienned

Squeeze fresh lime juice. Add a pinch of salt, a little olive oil, and shrimp paste to taste. Lightly toss the above ingredients with the dressing. Serve on salad greens beside a mound of red rice.

So easy even I could do it. But I’d rather go to Sweet Orange because I can’t make their Jegeg. Oh bliss! It’s chilled creamy black rice pudding topped with coconut gelato.

I ordered one and enjoyed the heck out of the first bite. But after polishing off my heaping plate of chicken, one bite was just right. Ketut happily finished the rest.

Soft Balinese music, tinkling wind chimes, and breezes sighing over rice paddies creates a serenity that makes leaving hard. I was nervous about climbing on the motorbike for the return trip. “Maybe I should walk. I’m a little afraid.”

Ketut turned to me with that smile that makes everything sunshine and rainbows.

“It’s shorter going back,” he said.

“And how is that possible?”

“I’ll show you. Climb on.”

I reluctantly obliged. I thought maybe he knew a different way. He’s famous for his back-road detours. We retraced the exact same route we’d come, yet it did seem shorter.

“Ok, Ketut. It was the same road but it felt like half the time. What happened?”

“Going home,” he said. “It’s always like that.”

Monsoon Yoga

Holy buckets of water Batman!

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What do you do when the house is clean, you’ve already written the great American novel (unpublished as yet…a minor detail), the laundry’s done, and rain is thundering down? Build an ark? I could, but that’s kind of stealing someone else’s idea.

First I slept in. My phone said 9:18 a.m. when I peeled back the mosquito net and rubbed the sleepy dust out of my eyes.

Then I made a boiling mug of Nescafe, mmmm, drank it on the yoga platform contemplating the sheets of water cascading from the roof.

Then I made another boiling mug of Nescafe.

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Serious rain. This calls for Leonard Cohen and incense. I found Leonard in iTunes and lighted the sweet, tangy dupa. Ahhh, the perfect environment for monsoon yoga! If you’ve never practiced yoga two feet from cascading sheets of water with the inimitable Leonard’s dark, scratchy voice just barely audible above the downpour, I can tell you, it creates a rather rare and wild mood! Truly delicious!

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King Dancer in the rain

Here’s a glimpse of my world. Who took the photo? I had 10 seconds to position the camera, hit the button, and strike the pose. So for you perfectionist Iyengar yogis out there, cut me a little slack if my form isn’t perfect!

I wish I could put into words the exquisite thrill of this morning. I’ve always liked the rain, but here I’ve grown to love it. When water forms a solid wall of sound, and the wind brings a dewy film of moisture to my skin, a shiver of excitement vibrates through me.  It is as though the rest of the world disappears. I have shelter, and music, and the day is mine to explore uninterrupted. Does that make sense?

Oh! Gotta go! Leonard’s singing  Nightingale and I have to join in. It’s like singing in the shower. There are some things you can do better during rainy season. Belting out a song at the top of your lungs is one of them. And I’m told a lot of Balinese babies are made in January. The communal lifestyle where everyone hears everything puts a bit of a damper on some activities, until it rains!

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