Paris! 2

We made an impressive spectacle, emerging in full bridal splash as one after another of our cabs pulled up to the entrance of Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole.

An emissary was dispatched to announce our arrival when the door burst open and Georges flew out in a fluster of French to greet us. Wrapped in his exuberant hug, Joy looked like Beauty with her Beast! Comical, cartoonish even, from the white curls springing uncontrolled from his head, to the overstated nose, pouchy cheeks, and ponderous jowels, Georges, taken in parts, was a troll. But mere seconds later, we all loved him.

“Please, follow me to your private salon,” and we did, up a winding, storybook staircase lit by amber lanterns. Once there, Georges passed cups of a savory broth and poured champagne like a Frenchman!

P1080389The first of many toasts began here, to the night, to the future, to Paris, and to the bride and groom who made this exceptional experience possible.

P1080388There were other delicacies offered by Georges and his minions which we nibbled and slurped with giddy abandon. My eyes wandered over each one present. They were chattering or listening in happy enjoyment, and I was awed by the utter incomprehensibility of this random group being brought together by fate, or perhaps, by love.

Georges’ next appearance summoned us to dine. Once again we trailed his awkward form into a room grander, if possible, than the first. Red damask wallpaper, gilt mirrors, and a table glittering with glassware brought gasps of delight. In a conversation earlier that day, Joy had recounted to me some of the e-mail conversations she and Georges had exchanged while preparing for this night. He wrote that wine was included with dinner. That wasn’t enough information for Joy. How much wine? she wanted to know. His answer, Unlimited! satisfied her.

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P1080390Joy and Kellen presided over the evening like royals. They had asked each of us to prepare a blessing or some words of advice to read to them at dinner. I debated…blessing? Words of advice? Blessing? After all, with my track record, who am I to be dispensing marital advice? But in a sudden flush of defiance I stamped my mental foot. “No! Dammit! If I haven’t learned something from all that effort, shame on me!” I went with advice. They’ve had my blessing for years!

I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember what I ate. It was good, but the wine was better, and there was so much of it!

What a day. My sparkly shoes walked miles with only one blister.

Back at the apartment at last, there were groans of relief as corsets came off and Kellen ditched his tie. As soon as she was freed from her bridal finery, Joy’s voice echoed from the kitchen.

“I’m going to make pizza.”

“You’re kidding, right? Tomorrow is the Eiffel, and another late night dinner. Wouldn’t it be good to maybe sleep a little?”

“Oh no! I’m hungry for pizza and we picked one up when we did the food shopping.”

So Joy made pizza and the three of us sat in the glossy, red kitchen, in the chic Paris apartment at 36 Rue de Turbigo, sharing the night until 4:30 a.m. That probably wasn’t smart…I told myself as I dragged the blankets over my body without bothering to wash my face or brush my teeth. But this is Paris after all…

 

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Paris!

The plane was boarding when I approached the gate at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar. Snarly traffic stretched the drive from the usual one hour to an additional forty-five minutes. It was perfect. Engaged in Made’s gossipy prattle, I was spared the boring, clock-staring wait in the airport.

Jostling my way down the congested aisle to 28A, I saw that the seats beside mine were occupied by two women who appeared to be in their mid forties. Bridget and Lizbeth were just the right combination of reserved friendliness. A few pleasantries then they busied themselves and left me alone. Perfect.

Nine point five hours slid by with two Hindu vegetarian meals, wine, tea, four movies and a cat nap which landed us in Qatar for an eight point five hour layover. I hate long layovers. As the shuffling line of passengers departed the plane, I bid my new friends farewell, safe journey, happy life, and set out to find an internet kiosk where I could alert the world that, “Here I am in Qatar!” via Facebook. That done, I scoped out a lounge area where the barrel-shaped chairs upholstered in red faux suede were draped with sleeping bodies. As I passed, one form came to life, shook itself, and hurried off. I claimed the vacated space. It felt like a king-size bed compared to the cramp of the airplane seat and I dozed on and off through the relative quiet from one to five a.m.

But even at 5:00 it was still two hours to boarding. I walked through the glitz of fragrance laden retail surprised only by a shop selling high end hijabs. Until now I’d only seen basic black. The store was a feast for the eyes. Fabrics in bright colors, jeweled trims, embroidery and lace made it clear that the garments on display were not for the budget conscious. They fairly screamed wealth, excess, and Western values in this predominantly Muslim country.

I found my gate, not yet open, and an empty chair along the corridor. After a few minutes I kicked myself for not coming sooner. It was people-watching paradise. Arab men in white robes with billowing scarves arranged nomad fashion on their heads strode with pride and purpose, deep in conversation. Black shrouded mysteries whose eyes peered through small, rectangular slits, floated by. Petit Asian women with tight leather skirts, over-the-knee-sliver-studded boots, and swooping necklines giggled as they wobbled on stiletto heels. A granny wearing vintage Converse hightops, skin hugging violet leggings, and a bouffant, sheer blouse that ended at her waist exposing to full view the effects of time and gravity on her ancient buttocks, passed, stopped, turned, and retraced her steps. I felt terribly ordinary.

It was almost a disappointment when the boarding call tore me from the fascinating view.

For the second leg of the journey, a mere eight hours and thirty minutes, I would be on the largest passenger plane in the industry to date. With seats for 800 people on two levels and a wing span that could stretch across a small country, I settled into my seat with appropriate amounts of awe and trepidation. How does this work again? Air passing over the wings creates lift…? The laws of aerodynamics…ummm? I turned away from the window and there, sliding into the seats beside me were Bridget and Lizbeth.

“Seriously?” I said. They nodded, laughed, and just like that we bonded more intimately than best friends. “Did you choose these seats online?”

“No, we should have, but they were assigned to us at the ticket counter.”

“I selected mine online…what are the odds?!”

The rest of the journey passed in the comfortable presence of familiarity. Departing the plane at Charles DeGaulle in Paris I told my new bff’s that I expected them to meet me in five days for the flights back to Bali, that I really couldn’t bear to sit beside anyone else. They assured me that they’d be there. Liars!

As I traversed the long jetway, cleared immigration and then customs, my mind raggedly shifted gears. I mentally pulled up the map of the Paris subway system that I’d studied in great detail online: airport shuttle to terminal two, red line to Paris center, one transfer at Halle, then two stops…

“Mom!”

“Joy! You’re here!” We threw our arms around each other, squeezing and swaying in the mother/daughter hug that is so familiar and so deeply missed.

“We got in an hour ago and waited for you….Kellen’s with the luggage right over there…”

………

So it began.

……..

From the subway we trundled our bags to 36 Rue de Turbigo, an apartment in the center of Paris. Towering blue doors and wrought iron balconies dripping red geraniums, screamed charm.

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Francesca met us with keys and instructions for the state-of-the-art appliances that occupied the glossy, red kitchen. With hardwood floors, an ornate Louis XIV fireplace surround, and soaring ceilings, the two bedroom apartment held a boggling mix of sleek modernity and historic charm.

Up to that moment, Kellen had been leading the charge, way-finding in the underground tunnels and navigating the twisted streets. But when the door closed behind Francesca, Joy assumed the role she was born to: Commander in Chief. Joy plans. Joy makes lists. Joy multi-tasks and organizes. Joy delegates. But mostly, Joy leads and others willingly follow. Such was the case the moment suitcases were stowed.

“Time to buy groceries! Who’s coming?”

Kellen and I snapped to attention stopping just shy of a heel-clicking salute. Fired by a tireless energy that thrives on over commitment, Joy had invited all ten of her wedding guests to a Thanksgiving dinner in our apartment that she planned to cook that night: herbed chicken, sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, baguettes and a cheese plate served up with bounteous bottles of wine.

“There’s a market a few blocks away, and a cheese shop, I saw them on Google Earth,” she says as we follow like obedient ducklings. And she’s right.

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An hour later, laden with produce, poultry, smelly cheeses and bread, we met Jessa, Dan, Jenny, and Kennen on the street. It was a fresh round of hugging and happiness. Then Joy lassoed her herd and ushered us into the wine shop.

“Everybody choose a bottle,” she said.

Kennen glanced at me, “I know what you want,” He pointed to a Maison Louis Jadot Pinot.

“I can’t believe you remembered…it’s my favorite!” Dimples creviced his cheeks as he gave me a knowing grin.

I don’t know how she did it, but when everyone arrived at seven p.m. a veritable feast lay steaming on the table.

P1080271 Jenny and Kennen added dessert to the mix, two tarts, one raspberry, one chocolate, so beautifully contrived that to cut into them took some measure of courage.

P1080266 P1080268Conversation hummed, animated, excited, expectant, until each one hit the jet-lag wall.  Another round of hugs and the group shrugged into their coats and left for their hotel two blocks away.

“Brunch back here in the morning…eleven o’clock…then home to dress for pictures!” Joy chirped to each one as they left. In spite of the wine, the overstimulation, the belly full of rich, unaccustomed food, I remember nothing from the moment my body found the bed.

Joy, ever the morning sprite, was mixing eggs for omelets when I peered into the kitchen the next morning, rubbing the grainy remnants of sleep from my eyes. P1080285The meaty salt smell of bacon accompanied the sizzle and pop as it rippled into crisp brown strips. The fairies, or gnomes, had come in the night and cleaned the kitchen. Joy said it was Kellen. My love for the man doubled in that moment.

The wedding party arrived, boisterous and rested, heaped their plates with buttery croissants, pancakes, omelet, bacon, yogurt, and strawberries, and ate until their eyes rolled back in their heads.

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It was a good thing that the wedding festivities were planned for today. By tomorrow I might not be able to zip my dress. My diet of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and a little rice in Bali keeps me trim. Joy doesn’t consider that food. She made certain that we had our daily quota of bread, cheese, meat and unlimited quantities of wine. Nobody complained.

Stuffed to a fine stupor Joy issued the next set of instructions. Be dressed for photos and back at the apartment to catch taxis to the Pont Alexander Bridge at one o’clock.

There was no time to lose. My most important job was clearly ahead. I’d been entrusted with the task of lacing Joy into the corset part of her bridal ensemble and buttoning the bustle. In a flurry of frothy white she donned the gown and I commenced lacing and pulling until the perfect hourglass shape was achieved. I felt tears welling as I gazed at her. She was busy applying makeup so she didn’t notice, but memories washed over me in a churning stream of nostalgia and my throat constricted with remembering. It passed so quickly, childhood. Birth to graduation to marriage, a blur. Now, in the presence of this beautiful, accomplished woman, I felt the weight and the privilege of motherhood. All of my fumbling best intentions that fell so far short hadn’t ruined her.

“Can you bring my shoes, Mom?” Her request shook me out of the past and I hurried to do her bidding. The final result was ravishing and I caught her essence as she turned from the window and flashed one of her heart-stopping smiles.

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The afternoon took us from the bridge, to Notre Dame, to obscure Parisian alleyways. Thousands of photos were taken, but these are some of mine:

We were lucky with the weather. Paris can be nasty in November, snow, sleet, rain. We had a mild day in the high 50’s. Perfect. But there was more to come…so much more…

Four days til Paris and…uh oh

It’s a daunting task to assemble the appropriate attire for a winter wedding in Paris, the height of the fashion world, when you’re living basically barefoot in a small tropical village in Indonesia. But given enough time and a little ingenuity, it’s possible.

One essential item for the trip, however, eluded me. Socks. I no longer own a pair of socks. Socks were not even a remote speck on my radar until I googled temperature in Paris today and read 4 degrees Celsius. That’s a balmy 40 degrees Farenheit. At that moment I knew I was in trouble. I’ve acclimated to hot. Eighty feels chilly to me now. I imagined my feet without socks at 40, a sickly bluish purple color. Not acceptable.

In the mountains in Kintamani I saw people wearing socks. Ketut is from Kintamani so I asked him where I can find a pair.

“At market,” he said. “Many many.”

I confess, I’m not comfortable with the Ubud market. First of all there isn’t a breeze ruffling the tight packed stalls and repugnant odors waft through like incense. The air sits hot and still and sweat pours off me in torrents. There are hundreds of cubicles selling everything from penis bottle openers to raw chicken feet and they all have hawkers offering “good price,” some more aggressive than others. But it can’t be helped. I must have covers for my poor feet.

The Ubud market spills out into the street

Outside the Ubud market

It was probably just shy of 95 degrees as I entered the first building. “Buy sarong?” the woman asked as I approached.

“I’m looking for socks,” I said in my most confident Indonesian. “Can you tell me where to find them?” The woman jumped up gesturing and waving her arms uttering a string of sentences so fast it sounded like one, long word.

I watched the direction she was indicating and I pointed, in a comradely sort of way, in that same direction nodding my head up and down, eyebrows raised as if to say, “That way? Yes? Is that what you mean?”

“Ya, ya,” she said and gave my shoulder a little twist and shove in the right direction.

I took off the way that she’d indicated until I rounded a corner and a new vendor vied for my attention. “I’m looking for socks. Can you tell me where to find them?” It worked before and this time the response was similar. Her directions brought me to the old part of the market where everything negative about the place is intensified about 200%. But another shopkeeper was offering “morning price,” so I rolled out my question a third time. This woman didn’t waste words. She grabbed my arm and hauled me up the broad concrete steps to the second level. Then pointing down a cluttered alley she sent me off. At the end of the aisle was a pillar covered with socks.

I paged through the ankle socks, the Hungry Bird socks, the Nike sweat socks, my hope dwindling. But then, right there behind all the others was a pair of black knee-highs. A brown arm reached over me and plucked them off the rack. “These you want?” she said.

“Are they my size?”

She eyed me, “Ya, good for you.” I asked the cost and she told me.

“Local price?” The price for foreigners can be significantly more than what the Balinese pay for the same goods.

“For Bali people same,” she said.

I fished out the bills, handed them to her, and stuffed the socks into my purse. A sense of well-being drifted over me. I’ve braved the market, tracked my prey, found it, killed it, and dragged it home. It’s taken months to assemble all the pieces, but the Paris look is complete and I’m so ready to BE THERE!

And…Here Comes the Bride!

But backing up just a bit…

A wedding aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a US Liberty Ship docked by Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, is the stuff of dreams. Planning and executing such an event is a joyous nightmare!

When I offer to come to San Francisco for two months to help Jenny and Kennen prepare, I have no idea what that means, but am elated when they agree. I float on a bubble of happy anticipation as I comb Craigslist for a place to stay. Lodging secured, I pack, say goodbye to Minnesota, and the adventure begins.

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SS Jeremiah O’Brien, US Liberty Ship from World War II

My first assignment after settling in is a visit to the site with Jenny to assess décor possibilities.

The massive, gray ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf basks like a giant whale in the Bay. It houses a maritime museum but is otherwise very much the same as it was during its working life. A narrow gangway leads from the pier to the deck. The stairs shake and lurch as we begin our ascent. Far below the churning sea is visible in the spaces between the treads. My stomach lets me know how unhappy it is to be put to this test so early in the game.

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Location of ceremony and dance

Once on deck, Jenny takes the lead pointing out a raised platform where the ceremony and dancing will take place.  The Bay unfolds before us, and the city skyline is jagged on the horizon behind. There isn’t much I’ll need to do to improve upon the setting. We take some measurements and photos, then head downstairs to the dining room.

The ship’s galley has all the ambiance of a Legion Hall. I begin mouthing Hail Mary’s while hyperventilating. Breathe, Sherry, breathe. It’s great advice, but the space isn’t speaking to me. Actually, that’s not true. The room is sticking it’s tongue out and laughing in my face! Every self-doubt I’ve ever had rises up to taunt me. “I have two months!” is the only consoling thought I can muster, while wondering if two years would be enough.

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Ship’s galley where dinner will be served

I’ve always admired designers who can step into a space and, with wild gestures, eyes glazed, seeing what isn’t there, wax eloquent as they announce ‘the vision.’ My eyes glaze, but it’s not with a vision.

Days pass, but finally an idea whispers to me. That’s all I need, just one thread of possibility to hook into. Then a torrent of  inspiration pours forth. I’ve been given a budget. I scour Berkeley on foot for items that will give form to the intangible images in my head. When I’m not roaming the streets, I search online, sourcing tulle, lights, and ribbon, in quantities that make my heart fibrillate. I run through the plan with Jenny and Kennen and get the green light. All systems go. Gulp.

The following weeks are a blur of Ted Talks. Assembly line workers possess a high tolerance for repetition and monotony. My vision for adorning the space requires hours of tedious crafting.  I’m not fond of crafts, but I’m hopelessly fond of my youngest daughter. So, tuned in to Ted, I while away the hours making centerpieces.

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The bouquets come together at the rate of about one every four hours. Two a day is my limit, and some days I only manage one. But they’re finally complete and it’s time to begin the chair back decor. I make a sketch for approval before beginning the second mind-numbing craft. By this time, Ted nauseates me. I graduate to Dr. Who. It takes 42 episodes to complete 87 ribbon swags. Thank you, Dr. Who.

P1040553Saint Melody, my landlady, notices my deteriorating condition and calls in the troops. A group of her friends gather to assist, and fingers fly. The lone male in attendance keeps us hydrated with green apple martinis. Bless him! When they leave the last project is under control. I have two days to spare.

It feels like I’ve been handed a get-out-of-jail-free card! Those two days are spacious and free, but my nights are filled with stressful dreams. The pieces are ready but the puzzle isn’t assembled. That has to happen in the four-hour window of time we’ve been granted access to the ship the day before the wedding.

While I’m behind the scenes doing my thing, Jenny and Kennen are multi-tasking robots. They interview caterers, party outfitters, DJ’s, photographers, liquor suppliers, day-of wedding managers, clean-up crews, and interface with the ship event coordinator. They taste-test food and create signature drinks. A week before the wedding, Jenny flies to New York for a four-day business trip. Kennen finalizes the flow-chart that will ensure everything gets done, creates a seating chart for guests, and that’s just the bit I am privy to. I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. My respect for their teamwork and the ability to keep it all together without melt-downs is immense.

D-day arrives. Everything is at the ship, waiting for me. I’m terrified.  One by one my help arrives. I outline the plan and I am blown away by the cooperation, focus, and determined energy harnessed for those four hours. They accomplish the impossible. What a team!

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Time’s up. We stand back and survey the transformation.  Even the cranky old codgers whose job it is to care for the ship day-to-day, appear dazzled.

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I stop holding my breath. That night I sleep like the dead.

The next morning dawns a perfect San Francisco day. The bride is in her suite with her bridesmaids, the hair and makeup artist, the photographer, and me. Breakfast arrives, a delectable array of fruit, quiches, croissants, and coffee.

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There’s music and happy chatter as each of us is transformed into our better self.

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The photographer is a feisty French woman who is petit in size only. Her personality overlaps the room, filling it with zesty enthusiasm. I lose it when she has Jenny pose by the red wall. Her camera clicks like a machine gun as she whoops, “You’re a stallion! A stallion!” I might have chosen a different word. Goddess seems somehow appropriate. I feel the lump in my throat as emotion wells behind my eyelids.

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Then it’s the first look on the mezzanine of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. I’ve never heard of the first look. These past two months have been a crash course in Wedding 101.

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After that it’s full bore to show time! We catch the limo bus to the pier for more photos.P1040777 P1040786

I am adamant about the flags even though their viability is questioned at every turn. To my aesthetic, the four fifteen foot white billows  are a necessary counterpart upstairs to the tulle and lights below. Here they form a dramatic backdrop as Jenny gazes, pensive, into the distance. I wonder what she’s thinking in these last moments.P1040787

I catch a kiss, then my camera dies. It’s great timing. I can be present for the rest of the day without the glass eye of the lens between me and the unveiling of a new life. I have no doubts about this partnership. It’s stronger than a ship’s knot. Mr. and Mrs. Kennen Pflughoeft, thank you. I love you.

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Wedding Countdown

Here thy come, trickling in, eyes big as smiles. Family.

And friends.

Jenny and I enjoyed another ‘last supper’ at A Cote. This one was ultra-special. It was her thank-you treat. What a privilege to be able to be here on hand to help at this amazing time. Gratitude.

Dinner was spectacular. We had a cheese plate that puts any previous cheese plates to shame. It was presented on a marble slab with thin wafers of a still hot, dark cracker-bread. There were sliced figs, candied pecans, almonds, and two varieties of cheese, both a buttery consistency but two vastly different flavors. The wine steward waxed eloquent over the varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, our preference with the cheese. Mine was rich and full, Jenny’s had a lighter, brighter finish. When the second course arrived, a dish of mussels in a cream broth with traces of anisette and cayenne, we switched. Jenny ordered a glass of my wine, and I choose hers. Delightful.

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We got the memo…wear red!

Mussels and wine consumed, we headed to Trappist Provisions near College Ave. and Alcatraz to meet Jessa and Dan for beer.

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Jenny and I arrived right on time. Jessa called announcing that they had just finished yoga, HOT yoga, and they were sweaty, stinky, and what kind of place was this? If they had to look presentable, it wasn’t happening. I assured her that they would ‘fit right in’.

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The beer menu could have been written in hieroglyphics. I recognized nothing but the alcohol content. I pointed out one to Jenny that said 11.5%. As it happened, when I asked her which on the list would be the darker beer, that was it. Jenny knows her beer, she said that’s the one I’d like, and of course, I did.

About that time, Jessa and Dan called. They were getting close but weren’t sure exactly… Jenny went outside to flag them in. How cute is she? Seriously!?!

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Finally, the yoginis arrive, tired but happy, and not looking nearly as unholy as they had led us to believe.

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We went over a few of the last minute wedding details, talked, laughed, and soaked up togetherness. I sort of sat and beamed on everyone because by then, two glasses of wine and my 11.5% beer had me feeling M E L L O W!

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Next stop, USS Jerimiah O’Brien docked at Fisherman’s Wharf for the Wedding Rehearsal. It’s beginning to feel very, very real!

Things You Learn at a Balinese Wedding

An invitation to a Balinese wedding is a rare occurrence for a foreigner, and an honor. When Wayan said she wanted me to come to her sister’s wedding I was very excited! I checked with Ketut to make sure he and his motorbike were available to spend the day in a remote village near Mt. Bratan. He was. He said it would take about an hour to get to Palian Banjar in Luwus where the festivities were to occur.

At 8:30 on the appointed day, I arranged myself side-saddle on the motorbike, in my temple clothes, and we set out. I was surprised that Ketut didn’t offer me a helmet. We passed police on the way and I asked him if I should have one on. “No problem,” he said. Usually he won’t let me out of the gate without one. Later, Komang, Wayan’s husband, informed me that when women are in temple clothes a helmet isn’t required. “It will break their hair,” he said. By the time we arrived, having spent an hour with the wind whipping my ‘do’ at 50 mph, my hair was pretty well broken anyway!

P1030401Weddings are an all day affair. When Ketut and I arrived at the bride’s family compound, neither the bride nor the groom was there. They, with the groom’s family, were all at his family home in another village about 45 minutes away.

Wayan and her relatives bustled around, preparing food and taking care of the children.  The pavilion that stages all the important rituals in a family’s life was bountifully decorated with rich fabrics and offerings, awaiting the return of the celebrated couple. An upside-down basket had been placed in the very center of the area with coconuts on top and offerings inside. The contents were offerings for the earth, Komang informed me. In another area there was an altar with more offerings. Those had been placed between the houses and the river. “If the spirits decide to check out what’s going on, they will see the food and stop to eat. This encourages them to come this far but no farther. P1030405P1030406

I asked the significance of the inverted basket. Inquiring minds want to know these things. I was told it was to keep the offerings safe from the dogs and the people roaming the area. Some things are simply practical.

I was invited to sit on the floor of a roofed terrace, and a bottle of sweet tea was brought with a plate of the Balinese kue. I love these sweet treats! They are usually stuffed with some combination of coconut, banana, or palm sugar, wrapped in a piece of banana leaf and boiled or steamed. There are many other variations of kue, slabs of striped seaweed gelatin, cupcakes in shocking colors, sesame seed balls, and coconut macaroon type confections to name a few. But those sticky-sweet rice confections are hard to leave alone.

The morning of the wedding, family members gather to socialize and continue preparations for the afternoon when friends and business associates will arrive. Wayan stir-fried a wok of fresh vegetables preparing mei goreng for the meal to be served later.

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This beauty posed by the huge cocoa pod.

Their property includes groves of trees that extend beyond the buildings and Komang offered to show me the gardens and the ‘investment’. As we strolled he pointed out jackfruit, squash, and many chocolate trees. I was curious about the investment, and I didn’t have to wait long. Two, soft-eyed cows watched us casually from their shelter. Hopefully they will produce milk and offspring.

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The family’s investment

We passed another area of empty stalls. “What are these for?” I asked. “Those are the pigs,” Komang replied. “Didn’t you see his head? We kill them for the wedding.” How did I miss a pig’s head? I followed Komang back to the sumptuous pavilion and there it was, right in plain sight in the midst of the towering offerings.

P1030436We see what we want to see, and the reverse is also true!

Back from our stroll, lunch was served. Wayan’s mei goring was perfect. The lawar, coconut sambal, shredded pork, and a number of dishes that will remain nameless because I couldn’t pronounce them, were enjoyed by all. But I was taken by crispy black chips in a serving dish. “Fried blood,” I was told when I asked. For some things, one taste is enough. That was one of those.

After lunch, I had ample opportunity to massacre the Indonesian language as I tried to communicate with the family. Maybe that’s why nobody’s smiling!

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I asked Komang to take a photo of me with my twin in yellow. We were both wearing our golden lace kebayas with the white, bone crushing Mona Lisa corset underneath! She has the traditional brooch and earrings that I see so many women wearing. That’s on my shopping list!

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Komang works in the hospitality industry and speaks beautiful English. As we chatted through the morning I learned a few Balinese idioms. One of the more portly women of the family sat down at a distance to us. Komang leaned over and said, “In Bali we say her plate is never dry.” That certainly says it all! A little later he told me that when someone thinks they know more than anyone else, they are called a Google mouth. I laughed until I thought I would burst right out of my corset!

The Balinese love to laugh. Their culture isn’t always subtle, and if they see something they tend to comment. Ketut noticed an attractive young woman and someone said, “Cuci mata?” They were asking him if he was window shopping! (Literally it means wash eyes.) He didn’t seem to mind.

I glanced off to the side and saw Komang retying his udeng using the window for a mirror. I admire the attractive, boat-shaped head coverings worn by Balinese men during ceremonies. I took the opportunity to snap his photo and did a little cuci mata myself!

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About 1:30 p.m. the bride and groom arrived. I was enthralled with the bride’s ornate headdress. She cooperated beautifully as I captured her front, back, and sideways!

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P1030446Balinese customs are radically different from those in the west. A couple usually doesn’t announce their engagement until the woman is pregnant. An elaborate abduction is planned where the man and his friends go to the woman’s compound and ‘steal’ her. After the ceremony, the wife remains with the husband’s family. In this case, the husband will remain with the wife’s family because there are no sons here to care for the bride’s parents as they age.

428619_10201026970344831_471840622_nAfter prayers in the family temple, and blessings on the ceremonial platform, the extended family began to disperse. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. I had logged 8 hours in the corset and was ready to uncage my midsection. Wayan took me into a private room and I changed into much more comfortable clothing that would allow me to straddle the motorbike for the ride home. She produced a helmet since I had shed my temple clothes and my hairdo was no longer exempt. We said our good-by’s and were escorted out of the compound. What a lovely day!

But I didn’t want it to end. We were close to Mt. Bratan and I hadn’t seen this area yet. Ketut nosed the bike into a climb and we headed toward the summit. After about 20 minutes the sky turned black and ominous clouds cooled the air to an uncomfortable degree. Ketut did a swift 180 and we headed for home just in time. The rain caught up with us for a few minutes. We pulled off to the side and I wrapped my sarong around my shoulders, Superman style. It passed quickly and we were once again on our way down the mountain toward home.

Balinese Fashionista!

Maybe you recall my post about the Balinese wedding I was so fortunate to attend. And perhaps you remember the photos of the women in their beautiful clothing, and me in my black T-shirt and sarong. Well, no more! I have been invited to two more ceremonious events in the coming weeks and I shuddered to think of showing up so inappropriately garbed. I asked Dewa about the lace blouse that so many of the women wear. “You mean kebaya?” he corrected me. “Yes, the lace blouse, kebaya, where can I get one?” Well, it seems if you want it to fit properly you buy the lace and go to a tailor. “Very expensive,” he said. I didn’t doubt it. A few days passed and I again broached the subject. This time his wife brought a bag of fabrics to show me. None of them were lace. “Too hot!” I exclaimed. “Need holes!” They laughed and again Dewa warned me, “Very expensive.” It occurred to me that something might be available ready made at the market. I asked and his answer was affirmative. “Yes, you can buy there, small, medium, large. Not tailored.”

The next day I took myself to the market. Even though that in itself is a challenge not for the faint of heart, I was on a mission. Passing stalls of jewelry, soaps, incense, carvings, and food, I finally found my way upstairs to clothing vendors. The first person who accosted me with, “Sarong? You buy sarong today? Good luck buy from me.” I said, “Kebaya?” It was like an army snapped to attention and suddenly kebayas were everywhere, cotton ones, polyester ones, every color of the rainbow, and yes, lace ones! I won’t belabor the details, but with much buttoning and unbuttoning (there is a row of 12 tiny buttons down the front and they are all displayed buttoned) and trying on and taking off, I found the perfect kebaya. Then with hand signals to represent the cummerbund around the waist the exact item was located. Some quick bargaining and I had hunted, captured, and bagged my prey! I actually found my way out of the market without getting completely turned around and hurried home. Assembling the outfit on my bed to get the full effect of the shopping expedition, I have to say I was thrilled. Here it is, my event-appropriate costume for ceremonies Bali style.

Here Comes the Balinese Bride!

A traditional Balinese wedding takes three days. It goes something like this:

Day 1: The groom goes to the home of the bride and informs the family that he wants to marry her. This of course has been planned for years so it comes as no surprise to anyone. The family and friends of the groom begin to prepare his family compound for the wedding.

Day 2: The groom returns to the bride’s home, gathers her and her belongings, and takes her to his home which is with his family. Family and friends continue with the decoration and preparations. Three pigs are slaughtered in the morning and two in the afternoon to make bbq’d pork satays for the 1500 guests that have been invited.

Day 3: The bride awakens at 3:00 a.m. and meets with her makeup team. Both the bride and groom are painted and polished until they absolutely glow. There is an abundance of gold in the headdresses, the fabrics, and the jewelry that they both wear. The groom has a sword tucked in the back of his cummerbund, similar to Prince Rama from Hindu lore.  The guests begin arriving early, about 9:00 a.m., although there is an order that is loosely followed, relatives first, then close friends start coming a little later, and finally the third tier of relationship. In this case he is a dentist and she is a professor teaching nursing students.  Their co-workers are invited and other business related acquaintances of the families.

Guests enter from the street through an elaborate arch of woven palm fronds and flowers. There is a long table with the guest book at one end and chafing dishes holding an array of delicacies. Each guest is given a small woven bamboo leaf plate and we help ourselves.

This is a picture looking back at the reception table.

As I arrive the Holy Man is blessing the couple and performing a wedding ritual in this highly decorated pavilion.

They are just completing the first ritual. There are many more to follow as the different groups arrive.

The bride and groom move to these elaborate thrones for family photos.

A very handsome family indeed!


The couple then moves to the Western equivalent of a receiving line. Note the exotic headdresses worn by both.

The bride is exquisite and the groom is so handsome.

I sat by this guest later and complimented her on her hand. “Tatoo,” she said. I murmured, “Beautiful.” and quietly thought, Ouch!

From the receiving line we move into another area of the compound that has been tented and a huge buffet awaits. As an uninvited guest I do not presume to help myself to the food but find a chair in the shade and watch, enjoying the colors, the people, the happiness. In a matter of moments a Balinese woman approaches me and in the universal language of hand signals and head nods invites me to partake. I smile and delightedly accept.

The tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape. They hold Indonesian delights: tuna tempura with sambal, curried tofu and vegetables, chicken rolls, pork satay, tempe, batter fried green beans, of course rice, and pistachio ice cream for dessert.

Guests mostly sit at tables and on chairs that have been draped with white fabric and red accents, talking, laughing, eating.

On the left is the tented buffet. This is a small section of the seated guests. I must say a word about the attire of the female guests. I take the opportunity to really scrutinize the outfits in their various forms. Most of the ladies are wearing a sheer lace blouse like the one front and center. But upon close inspection, underneath that lace is a tight CORSET!! The corset is sometimes the same color as the lace, sometimes flesh colored, and sometimes a bright contrasting color. The lace blouse extends down to mid-thigh but is usually secured at the waist by a cummerbund or scarf often of the same pattern as the sarong.

The lace plunges to a ‘V’ in the front sometimes secured by a lovely pin as you can see on the woman in brown at the left of the photo above. The Balinese are not shy about mixing patterns and color! I see every imaginable combination and it is all simply spectacular.

When I purchased my sarong for the event I had no idea if I would be appropriately dressed. Putu informed me that I should wear a T-shirt, not a sleeveless top. So here’s what my attempt at a wedding outfit looks like. Next time I’ll have my tight corset and lace shirt!

About now you’re probably asking, “How does Sherry know about Balinese weddings?” Let me say again, the Balinese people are incredibly kind and hospitable. At one point the lovely young woman in the next photo, Desak is her name, approached me to make certain I had eaten. She spoke beautiful English and was kind enough to explain what was happening. She is a cousin of the groom, a Kindergarten teacher, and is eagerly anticipating her own wedding in about six months.

She tells me she wants four children, then adds that the Balinese government is suggesting that couples have just two. “It’s for the population, so it doesn’t get too large for the island.” I think I must have looked shocked. “But it’s still okay to have four,” she explains with a huge smile.

Back in my room I am suddenly overwhelmed with intense gratitude for the people I’ve met, my precious time here in Bali, and the opportunity to learn first-hand about their customs and time-honored traditions. It is a privilege that feels sacred. It feeds my soul.

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