SPARE PARTS

I always associated the words spare parts with cars. That is until my charming and endearing old dad many years ago and aged well into his nineties, while resting on his bed chatting to a friend, made a crack about having so many spare parts. He was, of course referring to body parts, in his case, first hearing aids, much later false teeth and a pace-maker and finally, aged ninety, a hip replacement (a fine recovery he made too, assiduously and uncomplainingly doing all the follow-up exercises, a very disciplined gentleman!)

All this brings me to the anticipation of my first ‘spare part’, since in four weeks I too will receive a new hip! Naturally, I anticipate this with a little trepidation, having always enjoyed excellent health and never having been hospitalized for more than a day, and that, only once as an adult plus a tonsillectomy at the age of three. However, it is time and I plan to take a leaf from my father’s book.

The slow deterioration of my hip, first noticing reduced flexibility in my early ’40’s, has been mostly manageable and not really affected my life other than brief moments or periods, but since returning from visiting our ‘family’ Bali in February, I have noticed a marked deterioration. A once agile gardener and walker now finds bending painful, sometimes impossible as bone grinds on bone; likewise manicuring toe nails, reaching into low kitchen cupboards or picking anything up from the floor. For months now I have been dependent on several painkillers daily and sleep disturbance is often present. And much to my consternation, my regular daily walking routine has in recent months reduced to a few rather slower minutes up and down the street. And I have probably managed to walk on our lovely beach only once or twice this year. Favoring the other leg has now impinged on the so-called ‘good’ hip and both knees. So while the mind feels young, the body lags behind and I am definitely not ready to accept this as a permanent state of affairs! So we wont even mention hearing deficit, what did you say, I can’t hear you!

And so to the little girl on the beach who’s comment a few months (see my blog A Certain Age) was somehow prescient, an omen. Well, when asked how I feel, my I now answer is, I’m fine but my hip doesn’t share my feelings! Perhaps aided and abetted by all this, the sense of time passing, the awareness that way more is now behind than before me, I find myself increasingly drawn to thinking about the past, wanting to reconnect with people from long ago to learn of their life’s journey and see how they are doing now. And from this, and not for the first time, through some recent clever detective work, I succeeded to track down my Belgian friend Marie Claire, precious in my life in Rome fifty two years ago. We exchanged a few long emails and then the wonders of Whatsapp took over. I had thought perhaps emotion would overwhelm me and that I might cry when first talking with her, but instead laughed and talked our way through undoubtedly the longest phone conversation of my adult life. By the time we hung up, two hours had slipped by.

The conversation reinforces for me the notion that people’s essence changes little, with exceptions allowing for unforeseen traumatic life events. Though naturally age has changed our appearance, her essence remains just as I remembered, that of the young woman with long dark haired framing a classically fine-featured face, wrapped in a gorgeous crocheted yellow shawl, indoors or perhaps walking in the rain, bringing serenity and sunshine wherever she went. The paths we have taken in those intervening years may have diverged in ways but clearly have correspond in others. Creativity, music, travel with our respective partners, all important to us both and we both need and appreciate a quiet life surrounded by nature, tending our gardens. And, as if speaking with one voice she says she is really fascinated by encounters in our lives, how we meet and how it evolves, what makes you go or not go, yes, fascinating. So, many parallels.

Though my late teen and early adult years were emotionally turbulent, they encompassed some amazing experiences – the 60’s music scene; the outpourings, creative and political as a result of the Vietnam war; avant garde art events in London; discovering my creativity, a life changing experience resulting in leaving behind a decade working as a student counsellor to become an artist; and some remarkable travels, including an overland trip from England back to Australia in the early ’70’s. Quite unconnected to this, my oldest university friend Janet, ‘returned’ to me letters I had written to her in the 60″s and 70’s when living overseas. And now the synchronicity, as the 60’s letters refer to Marie Claire and her poet songster partner (now husband) Tucker, both really significant in my life.

In recent months, I have felt the urge to write another travel journal based on the above-mentioned overland trip, the six months in Africa in particular. I started working on it a few weeks ago and contacted Bruce, my friend (and husband of the time) with whom I shared this journey, as my memory of these travels is extremely fragmented. I had no photographs or diary writings to refer to but thought he may have. And now in possession of some diaries, letters and photographs, with colour transparencies still to come as he discovers hidden treasures in his Covid lock-down Melbourne home, I am, and will be even more able to piece together these ‘spare parts’ of life’s experiences. May be a while but stay tuned! Hope and trust you are all well.

Brief Encounters of a Special Kind

Something curious and heart-warming occurred today but, to be appreciated, requires a backstory. Rewind about fourteen years. I am walking along ‘our’ beach and encounter a boy, perhaps eight or nine years old. I feel a great affinity with children so, as is my want, I greet him. ‘Are you having fun?’ I tease.  Something about him immediately invites me to proceed further, and thus a conversation ensues and continues as we meander up the beach side by side, the turquoise Coral Sea lapping to our left, the established foreshore trees, dense foliage and  largely obscured houses to our right.

Our feet fall on warm sand, his eager face constantly turns toward me, we make a lot of eye contact, his voice is lively and he smiles readily as we converse. He is an intelligent little boy who is clearly comfortable with adults and we are having a fat time together. His name is Josh and he tells me he is visiting his grandparents who live a few doors up from us in a large house owned by their son Jamie. Eventually we part ways as he heads back through the trees to his grandparent’s place and I continue with my beach walk, heart full. When I return home, I tell Jon of the encounter with this child who has charmed me. When next I see his grandmother, I tell her of our meeting which has given rise to such a feeling of warmth. Naturally, she glows and from time to time over the ensuing years, I ask after him. I can no longer recall quite what he looked like, nor any detail of what we spoke about, but he was immediately engaging and engaged. He had a certain quality that left me feeling he was quite special, and the encounter filled me with delight. I don’t remember seeing him again, but when I next see his grandmother, I mention my meeting Josh.  Some years later, his grandparents move, their son Jamie and wife, Josh’s parents, want to use the place as a holiday home, occasional respite from the mining town out west where they run a tyre business. From time to time I pass Jamie on my morning walk and he too is now privy to my affectionate recollection of Josh.

Today, from my kitchen window overlooking the street, through the many palms growing in our front garden I glimpse two couples strolling by. They are enjoying the late afternoon sun, beer cans and wine glasses in hand, an uncommon sight.  I subliminally register that one of the men may be Jamie. They linger in front of our place, pointing to plants in our garden. I am about to step out for a short late walk and as I reach the road, two of them are now pointing at the house diagonally opposite, while the other two have already disappeared through the adjacent vacant block. ‘Hello’, I say in a friendly voice as I approach them. The woman smiles, returning my greeting. ‘Something over there seems to have your attention’, I comment, curious. ‘It’s the rock wall’, she says. ‘Ah yes, he’s a good stone-mason’, I add. She now indicates that she knows we have a similar rock wall which she has obviously spotted on a previous occasion, because it is barely visible from the adjacent block, being obscured behind thick tropical foliage. She is referring to our Balinese style, open-air shower. Would you like to see it?’, I proffer. She jumps at that invitation.

The pebbles on the path running beside the house crunch beneath our feet as the three of us duck under overhanging palm fronds. Much admiring of and discussion about the wall follows- how it is constructed, the pinkish hue of our chosen rocks, the way it has been laid, that yes, it is local stone and so on.  ‘That’s the sort of stone wall I would like in front of our place’, she announces. And so, inevitably I inquire as to where they live. ‘I live in Brisbane’ says the man, ‘and I live just up the road’ the woman adds, so now I presume that they are not a couple. ‘So, which is your house?’ I ask, curiosity having got the better of me. As she describes its location, I twig. ‘Oh, then you must be Jamie’s wife!’ which she affirms, ‘And Josh’s mother.’ And now I spin into a spiel about the great little kid I met all those years ago on the beach. Clearly, it’s now time to formally introduce myself. No sooner do I start, than she cuts me off saying, ’I know who you are. I know all about you. Josh still talks about you. When he met you, he came running to the house and told me excitedly about the wonderful lady he had met on the beach.’ I am delighted that he remembers me and gobsmacked that he still talks about me! I ask her what he is doing now, though I have received scraps of information from his dad on our occasional encounters.

I learn that Josh is now in is early 20’s, studying Business, majoring in accounting at QUT in Brisbane. She proudly adds, ‘He has also developed an App about dog-friendly ……  Pet ..…’ . I don’t quite take in all the details. Did the App name include the word ‘Paws’ and was it pet friendly camping places?  Anyway, it’s cool, he’s a dog-lover too! ‘Oh yes’, she states, and I suddenly have the urge to connect with him again. ‘Hang on a minute, I will grab my card for you to pass on to him, I would love to be in touch with him’. I run upstairs and return to hand her my now somewhat outdated Bonney Bombach Artist card with its coloured image of an artwork and my contact details, minus my recent web address.  Everyone is smiling as we part ways.

Thus inspired, I begin to write this blog, knowing I will work on it over several days. As I continue, I am frustrated at not remembering the name of the App and suddenly wonder if I could find him online. I move into detective mode- after all, this approach has brought unexpected and pleasurable results in recent years, connecting me with significant people from my past. I type into my search bar ‘dog friendly campsites Qld’ and various things pop up but nothing that suggests Josh. I try again, omitting the word ‘Qld’. Again, many nation-wide doggy campsites jump to the page but still nothing that gels. Maybe I can try with just his name but what is his surname? Patrilineal, must be the same as his grandparents but I can’t remember their surname. Ah, perhaps it is still on our type-written sheet of local phone numbers, and voilà, there it is! So now I type in his full name and am amazed.

The first thing that pops up is ‘Josh Fritz, Director PatchPets’ on LinkedIn. I learn that his studies include Business Strategy, Business Planning, Negotiation and Management Consulting. This entry is followed by ‘21 yo from country Qld makes mad app for pooches’ repeated in several rural newspapers and then Onyapreneur: Josh Fritz, Founder of PatchPets App tells me: ‘Match-making app is going to the dogs. PatchPets, one of top three business start-ups to watch  Congrats, QUT student entrepreneur..…with his dog Quincy who inspired Josh to build a social app for pets, to help all pet-lovers find parks, doggy play-date mates, services and more. It’s going global’. There are many images of an open-faced young man with short-cropped dark hair, grinning, arms slung around his dog Quincy, some with his two dogs. I totally lack entrepreneurial skills but am impressed with this young man’s creativity and get up and go. More to the point,  I am struck by trajectory from my one-off memory of Josh as a child to where he has come, to see so clearly that the intelligence, confidence, warmth and outgoing spirit exuded as an eight or nine year-old, has led him to where he is today.

Putting aside those boy children with whom I have had longer or ongoing relationships, there have been a couple of other such brief encounters, the memory of which has endured. Step back twenty-six years.  Jon and I are visiting his family in Michigan and spend a day with niece Sandy. We are walking along a rural track amidst greenery. Jon walks beside Sandy, a strikingly attractive young woman with thick black hair and coal dark eyes. They are enjoying each other’s company, laughing, and talking intensely. I am walking behind them with her son Nicolas, a beautiful seven-year old with olive complexion, dark hair and dark eyes like his grandfather, Jon’s oldest late brother, Roger. He is sensitive, alert and, it quickly becomes apparent, a nature-lover. We are holding what feels like a very adult conversation, though again, I can’t recall exact details. I think we spoke of nature and wildlife and perhaps things a little philosophical. I am smitten.

This branch of the family are not willing correspondents, so our contact has been intermittent. We hear snippets periodically. I remember that he studied Anthropology which somehow feels consistent with my impression of him as a child.  However, now that Nic unexpectedly enters this blog, I need to update a little, so I write to Sandy. She tells me that after our visit in 1995, I sent him a book (I would guess about Australian flora &/or fauna), and that he and I corresponded for a while. I have forgotten all of this. I’m interested to know that he has been with his partner for 14 years and is the Director of a County Economic Alliance in a poor area with fading family farming and antiquated manufacturing. Ah, a guy with social commitment, that tallies. He now has a 10-month-old baby boy, Henry. Sandy tells me that he has always been fascinated by my artwork and writing and used to do both himself, before getting tied up ‘with a lot of other stuff’. As per Josh, I am touched that he remembers me, that there is still some connection. She also sends a few recent family photographs. I need to gain both her Nic’s permission to quote from her letter and to include the photograph. She replies that ‘Nic would be pleased to be included’, and that he asks for my contact details so I  flick him a quick email, include my web address and next day see that he has chosen to Follow the site.

And so, to one last brief encounter still further back in time. In 1989 Jon and I set off on a four-month adventure in Mexico and Central America. We are particularly interested in seeing the ancient Mayan sites in both the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and in Guatemala, reclaimed from under dense jungle in relatively recent years. In anticipation of this trip, mulling over what work I might make while travelling, something in my practice changes. The Mayan culture suggests earthy colours to me, and so my colour palette will shift from the rich tertiary colours I have been using, to a reduced colour palette of earth tones. I select a few watercolours, a black and white oil stick, and some pre-cut squares of absorptive, oriental paper to work with.

One of the great sites in Guatemala is Tikal, who’s iconic, thousand-year-old ruins of temples and palaces include the giant ceremonial Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. A national park was created around the extensive site, thus, we seek accommodation as close as possible to it. We find a small, low key set-up, surrounded by jungle, a short walk from the park entrance. It is run by a rather beautiful and clearly well- educated English woman and her Guatemalan husband. They have one child, a boy about eight years old with his father’s dark colouring rather than that of his very fair mother. Naturally, he speaks both English and Spanish. He prances up to us soon after we arrive, and brightly asks if we would like him to take us on his ‘magic jungle walk’. He is charming and apparently quite a little entrepreneur. He offers us his ‘tour’ for $5, not an insubstantial amount for a little kid in 1989 but clearly an invitation into his world. His enthusiasm is delightful, the offer irresistible. Sometime later, the three of us set off, following narrow earthen tracks which meander through thick humid rain forest. He is alert, intense in his concentration, quite the little bush boy. ‘Look, jaguar tracks’, he says, pointing to tracks on the ground, ‘and here, baby’, he adds pointing to smaller footprints. He is confident and we have no reason to doubt him, knowing Jaguars prevail in the jungles of this part of Guatemala. ‘Have you ever seen one?’, I innocently ask, ‘Oh yes, quite often, mother and baby’, he replies as casual as anything. And so, we make our way on a small circuit with him pointing out the details of the magnificent environment in which he lives, trusting we won’t be devoured by such an animal.

Regardless of their brevity, the encounters with these three wonderful little boys have left their mark, mutually it seems (at least with Nic and Josh) and perhaps pour contact is not yet over. In any case, given the openness and warmth of all three of these children, I imagine they are or will become great partners in their relationships and, if they have children, will be loving fathers. Well nurtured boys grow into wonderful men. May there be many more of them!

A CERTAIN AGE

It’s happened! Another defining moment. Think of them as Life Lessons, they start early. The first – I am three years old, sitting up in a hospital bed awaiting a tonsillectomy. My parents are reading to me. I remember their goodbye hug. Next day, I wonder why the ice-cream, served with red jelly, has the texture of sand. Somehow the sensation doesn’t register as a painful sore throat!  I don’t remember being afraid. Clearly, they have prepared me well. Still, it is telling that I have such clarity of memory of an event seventy-three years ago, hence classify it as a defining moment- learning to deal with separation.

A lesson (or three) in loss. I am perhaps seven years old when our first cat Tuppence dies, and two years later our cocker spaniel dog, Rusty. I am in the USA with my mother, spending a few months with her brother and his wife. It is the first time she has seen him since they were separated as refugees fleeing Vienna in 1938. It is also the first time I have been away from my father for a protracted time. He must remain at home running his photographic studio. Beloved old Rusty is at home in Melbourne with him and dies of old age while we are away. Not only am I missing my dad very much indeed, but now he must break the news of Rusty’s death.                                                        

I am so grateful for the sensitive way he and they handled these events to ease the grief. My Daddy wrote me a beautiful letter, assuring me that Rusty had not suffered and suggesting that I could choose the type of dog we would next have- perhaps the same as the Dalmatian I have befriended next door to my aunt and uncle’s home in LA.? When we return to Melbourne, we indeed procure a Dalmatian puppy, having the thrill of selecting one from a large litter.  I duly name him Chuck, or Chucky, after the LA version.

I am now thirteen and spot blood in my nickers at home one morning. I have started menstruating. Oh, the sight of that blood excites me so. Our family ethos was one of openness and I remember proudly announcing it to my mother as I am already well informed about such matters-reproduction, human sexuality, and birth control. However, I have no recollection of what exactly menstruation signified to me-whether it was reaching child-bearing age or more generally about now being ‘a woman’. It was, nonetheless, a defining moment.                                                    

There have been others along the way, life-changing events such as committing to a full sexual relationship at a relatively young age with my first serious boyfriend. I am not quite sixteen, yep, not actually of legal age but quite a mature and responsible sixteen-year-old. Denise, my closest friend at high school and I, feel rather superior, believing we are the only two girls in our class to have ‘lovers’ and it feels like being part of a ‘grown-up girls’ club. We share our stories, both of us being in enduring relationships. Hers leads to marriage, mine does not which takes me to the next journey, the travails of love, the painful acceptance when deeply meaningful relationships do not take me where I wish to go between my early ‘20’s to early 30’s.  These learnings lead to greater self -knowledge and clarity in finally choosing the right partner in the clever, funny, eccentric, wise Jon, defining experiences.

I was the kid who couldn’t paint or draw, though always an ardent art-lover. As a young woman I live my creative life vicariously, having several friends both in Australia and in Europe where I live for several years, who are artists, writers, and musicians. In Italy I become obsessed with Byzantine and Renaissance art; while living in London, with contemporary art and the great sculptors of the 1960’s.

As a result of encouragement from various people over these years, in my mid ‘20’s and with great trepidation, I enrol in an adult education class in sculpture at the Camden Institute in London. A sequence of life-changing events unfolds. I am driven in a new and thrilling direction, discovering aspects of myself hidden until then. Back in Melbourne, now in my early ‘30’s I find my way into art school as a mature-age student, privileged with some prominent and influential teachers. I soon leave behind a decade of practice in Melbourne and London as a social worker and student counsellor to recreate my life as a practising visual artist, and in more recent years, in writing.

I have lost a few friends to death over the years but when my father dies, aged one hundred, I move back to Melbourne to care for my mother for three years. This is a great lesson in caregiving, especially since I have not had children, which decision was another protracted and complex defining moment. The loss of my mother feels momentous. The depth of grief is unlike anything I have experienced before and am now the only remaining member of our immediate family, and the only one in Australia.

So, to the present and the source of this story, expanding unexpectedly backwards into the past. Some days ago, I set out on a beach walk which, with one recent exception, I haven’t done for some time. Beach walking used to be a daily occurrence, but arthritic hips demand certain conditions these days, the sometimes-firm sand at low tide and a flat surface. It is a long weekend within school holidays so there are several people walking along the usually unpopulated beach.                                      

Late afternoon, mid- winter, a gentle 24C. The sky is cloudless, the sea a shimmering silver in the low tide. I am wearing well-cut beige shorts, a blouse purchased in Hawaii (all dreamy pastel tones, palm fronds and frangipani blooms), the usual many pearl studs in my ears, and the rings-on-my-fingers, bells-on-my-toes gig, hair up in its quasi ‘40’s style and feeling great. As I round the stony point at Blackcurrant island, a group of people, perhaps numbering ten, are approaching- two or three adults, the rest children of various young ages. I step aside, though the lead person, a young woman, has invited me to proceed first. A small, blue-eyed girl with long blond plaits, perhaps five years old, now approaches, looks up at me, turns to her mother and in her little voice says: be careful of the old lady.

Well there you have it! Old lady!!!! I start to giggle, smile at the child and, unable to resist, jokingly say to her: You’re famous now. This is the first time anyone has called me old. Her mother, by way of an unnecessary but kind apology, says: she thinks I am old too. I think the child is a little embarrassed, but she’ll survive.

I find this SO funny, and through her eyes, I must indeed seem quite old.  I am immediately taken back to nursery school, aged three, with my beloved teacher ‘Harper’. I thought she was as old as Methuselah, with her grey hair puffing out around her ears like my favourite toy koala. She was probably less than sixty, possibly even in her fifties, far younger than I am now.

Still, I cannot define myself as old, not even elderly – no pink perm and twinsets for me, though perhaps that is a long-outdated image. There are many other adjectives I might use to describe myself but old is not amongst them. It raises the question of what terminology would be appropriate. Perhaps I am simply a well-preserved woman of a certain age.

The Family of Man

I was perhaps 11 years old when on my photographer fathers’ bookshelves I found a publication entitled The Family of Man. I was instantly enthralled and many images within it remain embedded in my memory over 60 years later. Two come to mind immediately-the wonder of new life-a visceral, glistening image of a baby being delivered, a symbol of hope and renewal and probably my first exposure to this. The other, a gaunt faced young mother, possibly from the Appalachians, elbow on table, hand to cheek gazes through strained eyes into the unknown, two small, raggedly dressed  children bury  their heads on her shoulders, a depiction of abject poverty and despair.

I now know The Family of Man was conceived as a photography exhibition, hailed as the most successful ever assembled and opened at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in January 1955. It then toured the world for eight years to record-breaking audience numbers. The exhibition was curated by noted photographer and Director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, Edward Steichen and the book is a permanent embodiment of this monumental exhibition. It reproduces all the 503 images by 273 photographic artists and is a celebration of the universality of the human experience, a declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II and the Cold War. Poet Carl Sandburg wrote the eloquent prologue and the book’s title is lifted from one of his poems.

Amongst many other things of significance to me, I retained this precious book after my father’s death at the age of 100 years. Its striking cover made its way into my work, an installation piece, exhibited in 2011, Memento Mori: Tree of Life, Artspace Mackay and beyond.

It is interesting to reflect upon one’s life, to recognize how early are laid down the building blocks which come to later define us. I see a photograph of myself aged three, bending down to touch and rejoice in the fragrance of a flower; mountain walking at Mt Buffalo between my mother and a friend who  grasp my little  hands; digging in the sand at a Melbourne beach; or lovingly  embracing my first cat. It appears I am already a nature, plant and animal lover.

In my parents’ home, the radio was always tuned to the ABC, classical music filled the house and I was taken to concerts and art galleries. As refugees who fled Vienna in 1938 escaping Nazi persecution, human rights and social justice were of great import to them. The legacy this bestowed upon me was to be vigilant in the face of intolerance, oppression and persecution and my work as an artist since the ‘90’s has addressed these concerns. To remain silent is to be complicit.

And so, to where this ramble started. I recently joined a zoom event hosted by Grandmothers for Refugees. One refugee and two asylum seekers, both still in detention after seven years, spoke movingly and eloquently. At the close of the event, a poem was read and this is what I would like to share with you. It was written by a Warsan Shire, a prolific young poet and activist born in Kenya of Somalian parents who lives in London.

The poem is titled Home and I hope you will find it as moving as I do, for it is the task of artists and others to keep at bay the dest­ructive forces of bigotry and fear. To quote John Donne:

Any man’s death diminishes me because
I am involved in Mankinde
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

HOME

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a
truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in
your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
I don’t know what I’ve become
but I know that anywhere
is safer than here

Warsan Shire
2015

Copyright Warsan Shire, 2015

Reference:2019 Christine Cummins, Dignity in a Teacup-True Stories of Courage and Sacrifice from Christmas Island,  ARCADIA

More Poems!

Hello again to you all.                                                                                                                                                            Since coming back from Bali at the beginning of February I have, as you know, added the Bali Travel journal (in POSTS under the HOME page) plus many photos from that trip (under TRAVEL WRITING- yes, I know, completely illogical placement but for a reason,  the details of which I won’t bore you by repeating).                                                                                                                                                           The Corona virus was in its early stages when we left Australia for Bali at the end of January and it is astonishing to see and experience what has transpired since! Everyone’s life is altered in various ways and to various degrees and so there have been so many lives tragically lost.  While I am very concerned about friends and family in Italy and USA, our Balinese family are forefront in my mind. Like so many in less developed countries, they live a pretty hand-to-mouth existence at the best of times and now there are no tourists and thus no business in the warung (restaurant). And that’s before taking health and medical services into consideration. Ever resourceful, they have experimented with various little enterprises to bring in a few dollars, most recently making takeaway pizzas for the locals who love them. But the path ahead is very uncertain. Thank goodness for WhatsApp so we can at least easily be in frequent communication.

I hope everyone who reads this is safe and well. Those of you in countries other than Australia, of which there are quite a few, have my special thoughts and best wishes because we are most fortunate here with measures taken early, few deaths (so far a total around 90) and the curve flattening nicely, even though lives are restricted and large numbers of people are out of work and  all the implications that entails both now and into the future.

I have kept in touch with many people and have been writing something called Covid Times, sending it out more or less weekly via email, though I may not continue with this so regularly. I would LOVE to hear from those who have been reading it but haven’t been in touch with me, just to know you are OK. And if anyone would like to be added to the list to receive, should I continue it, please send me your name and email address.

Meanwhile I have been working on poems, some quite new, some written in recent years waiting patiently for me to re-visit and re-write to completion. So, seventeen new poems for you poetry buffs to discover. The new ones appear beneath the previously existing ones in each section. To SELECTED POEMS, I have added another eight; seven to THE NATURAL WORLD and two to PORTUGAL POEMS. Any thoughts/ comments welcome.

That’s it for now. Take care. Explore your new world.

Bonney

Bali 2020 photos

Hello again! Been home from Bali almost 2 weeks, Corona virus has spread far more, glad we arn’t out there travelling now, lots of hand-washing and care to you all! I do hope it wont impact too badly on any of you.

Today something unexpected and charming occurred- our old magpie pair haven’t produced babies for years but keep trying – building nests, taking food we give them back to the nests. Our geneticist friends, Pete and Jane, who are also magpie experts, think our pair are weirdos, trying to reproduce out of season etc. Father magpie, Dadita, turned up today, happily eating food I threw down onto the deck as usual; shortly thereafter, to my great astonishment, a baby appeared, so I put some food on the railing for it, stood back a little and before the baby could get to it, Dadita, grabbed it. I shooed him away, put more food out and behold, a second baby arrived! So there you have it, two healthy little magpies who no doubt will be eating from our hands in due course. My face could barely contain my grin!

Those following my Bali journal on the Home Page under Posts can now go to Travel Writing, Bali 2020, and find photo-documentation of the trip with headings mirroring the journal entries. Enjoy.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 2020, 5TH & FINAL POST

Ubud, Our Proper Room and Other Matters

Next morning we relocate to the room we booked, mirror image of where we were last visit – floor to ceiling sliding glass doors overlooking Mt Agung if no clouds and the dense greenery and the Ridge. Many huge frangipani trees are in full pink, larger and more slender-bloomed than those we have at home. So far, aside from lolling in pool, reading, writing, eating and doing the daily Yellow Flower Cafe Walk, we have had interesting conversations with two westerners who live in the area- one Australian woman painter who has visited Bali over many years and finally built what she describes as a mansion with pool for $300,000 including the land which is on a 25 yr lease (she hopes to extend to 50yrs.)

And a woman from Brooklyn, NY who has lived here for 25 yrs and owns five properties, the largest of which we pass daily. They spend extended periods eg 4 months in other places where they meet up with their kids.Vietnam and Mexico were mentioned.They live off the rentals of these accomodations; the big house rents for $6000 p.mth, a good earner. She explained that they had 90% occupancy in the past but as so many foreigners have built here, the competition is stiff and it’s now around 50%. We find the stories of ex-pats endlessly fascinating, a bit of vicarious stuff going on on our part I suspect.

A couple of nights ago, Dave and I went to the traditional Balinese dance/ gamelan orchestra performance in the magnificent outdoor setting and architecture of the Saraswati Temple behind the Lotus Pond in town, always an absolute treat.

Feb. 18,Ubud: Our Slovenians Have Arrived!

Long awaited pleasure to reunite with our ‘Slovenian family’, Petra and Bostjan and their daughters Lara, now 11.5 yrs and Tajda just 10 yrs. We’ve enjoyed quite an ‘ international’ friendship, starting in 2003 when they were a young unmarried couple Woofing with us, and since then having been together at their home in Slovenia, in our home again, in Denmark then Barcelona four years ago and now here! The girls’ English is now astonishingly good and they are impressive in many ways – mature, interested, interesting. This time together will be just wonderful. So after joining us here at Elephant for breakfast with protracted conversation, we taxi for a few minutes as far as the vehicle can go, after which we walk ten minutes in the now extremely hot sun along the narrow concrete paths to their place. The path, though similar in size, differs from the Yellow Flower walk as it passes some little houses, art/ craft stalls, fields of flowers and vegetables but is also busy with motorbike traffic so one is constantly stepping aside, pressed against the high wall to let them pass enveloped in smelly fumes (which are getting to me a bit in Bali now with unrefined petrol and many motorbikes, often difficult to avoid) . But their accommodation is delightful – three old houses in one compound-one for the owner, two rentable, in the midst of fields and sometimes rice paddies. The buildings are unique, incorporating parts of old traditional structures with some modern touches. Two-storey, the floors are solid dark timber, glass windows are interspersed with timber shutter doors and windows, one corner wall is of latticed brickwork to allow light and airflow. Some wall sections and internal doors are of pale heavy carved timber. The kitchen has polished concrete bench tops and the kitchen/dining/ living room is one large open space. Downstairs consists of a huge bathroom and one small bedroom. A modern spiral staircase again of heavy dark timber with black steel railings leads to the large open upper room where two more double beds with mosquito nets stand. A balcony with couch overlooks the fields facing back over both ridges toward our place. As the crow flies, we are a minute away. In fact from my room at Taman, I see the large house almost adjacent to their place! I was surprised at how cool their house felt with only ceiling and standing fans, no air-con.

Together, we go out for a late lunch in their little area five minutes from the house to a cafe raised on stilts overlooking the rice fields. The food, though local, is muted to the western palate, thus disappointing .

By 3.30 Jon and I head home to a darkening sky and make it back to the accompaniment of distant thunder. Within half an hour it starts raining, then pelting down and two hours later is still raining though not so heavily. This is only the third rain in our time in Bali. The thunder is close and loud and it’s moody and beautiful.

Feb.19, Ubud : Galungan

We awaken to overcast and humid but no rain. And so it remains all day. It’s Galungan today, one of the biggest festivals in Bali where preparations start days in advance. Penjor, tall bamboo poles with offerings suspended off the ends, line the streets. Various food offerrings are made in sequence over three days -cooked bananas, fried rice cakes and a pig or chicken is sacrificed the day before Galungan. The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

I oversleep after a not so good night, and one of the staff presents herself at 8.30 a.m at our room to inform us that the kitchen will close at 9 a.m. We already knew that Elephant, which supplies breakfast to Taman Indrakila guests, would be closed for the day after breakfast, but not the precise time. The Taman staff are already dressed in their traditional finery for the ceremony and there has been much discussion about scarcity of taxis, what will be open or closed etc for the holiday.The men have made it clear that they won’t go to town with me to see the festivities and I am having difficulty letting go of the idea. Obviously we are getting older  and I too sometimes have problems summoning energy or overcoming aches and pains. The extreme humidity also takes its toll…so, sad to say, none of us go into Ubud centre for Galungan. It doesn’t bother the men but I feel foolish and as though I am letting myself down, being the cultchavultcha that I am. Taxis will be difficult to find today especially for returning to our accomodation so I finally accept my decision, grateful that I have seen the big ceremony before at Kintamani and have good memories and many photos of it. Instead, I check out the street in front, watch a large number of locals, men all clad in traditional white with the head scarf, women in colourful sarong, kebaya and sash, riding to town on their motorbikes or in the opposite direction uphill, presumably to their family homes with their little temples.

I take a walk up the street, get talking to a couple who seem to be looking for somewhere to eat and offer to show them the organic gardens attached to Warung Pulau Kelapa, one of our favorite eating places. I always love walking through their magnificent grounds, over the sturdy, newly constructed bamboo bridge and into the extensive cultivated organic gardens containing ducks, a large variety of familiar and less familiar vegetables and fruits, including mulberries and asparagus, neither of which I would have expected in the tropics. And of course chillis, garlic, gingers, turmeric, lemon grass and much much more.

It transpires that the couple are Lebanese Australians, and we have interesting conversation about the migrant experience, how they met, (her brother in Australia is his good friend).She married him to get out of Lebanon and describes how difficult the early days were, neither speaking each other’s language. But here they are, thirty+ years , three children and four grandchildren later, energetic, attractive, youthful still and clearly happy. He is in the police force in Melbourne working as a cultural liaison officer, a nice man.

A dip in the pool. The two skinny black dogs we see around the place run down the steps and head for the small temple next to the pool, where more elaborate canang sari were earlier placed for Galungan. One skips back and out of sight, the other makes a grab for something and hurtles past me with a rice ball in his mouth! Every dog has his day.

The place is dead, no one in sight except for the unusually constant line of people on the Ridge Walk beyond, mostly locals dressed for ceremony heading toward town. I return to Warung Kelapa with the men for another outstanding lunch.Surprisingly, on our return mid afternoon, Mt Agung is fully visible but for some cloud streaks just under its irregular, blown-off peak. The constant stream of ridge-walkers continues, this time in the opposite direction, people returning from ceremony and the usual tourist/ traveller walkers.

It’s our last day with Jon’s brother and we go out for coffee in the as yet unexplored upper level bar/coffee room at Indus, owned by Australian Janet de Neefe.It’s just up the road saving the many steps down to the restaurant area where we usually go. It’s Happy Hour so we indulge in elegant cocktails- nice as I haven’t been drinking at all and Jon has only has a few beers in 3 wks. This is a magnificent space also, with high carved bleached timber ceilings, pale grey shuttered doors which slide completely open along two sides, marble floors and marble topped tables with heavy elegant timber chairs.

Feb. 20, Ubud: Leg Pain, Balinese Massage And A Night Out

My first massage on this holiday, more fool me! An hour later and $15 poorer, I am sure much tension has no been released from muscles overcompensating for a dicky hip! We see Dave off by taxi to tackle the long journey back to Michigan, brave soul and the day rolls past until it’s time to taxi to town and meet our Slovenians, Petra and the family, at Casa Luna, the other restaurant owned by Janet de Neefe.It also has marble topped tables, huge spaces, gloriously generous vases of exotic tangerine-colour gingers, a burnt orange wall with huge gilt mirror over the entry counter, gorgeous light fittings- the Bali aesthetic is everywhere. It’s Happy Hour again, a repeat performance and a delicious light meal of grilled chicken in Balinese sambal, rice and a green vegetable/grated coconut dish for me; breaded duck confit balls in a slightly

spicy sauce, a quite wonderful, European/ Asian fusion followed by nasi campur for Jon. It a delight to be with our young Slovenian friends and we now meet the friends with whom they are travelling and ready ourselves to go to a traditional dance performance, again in the Saraswati Temple. As we are about to leave the restaurant, the sky opens and it’s pouring soon after. Jon and I came with small umbrellas but the others are ill- prepared. Petra has no hesitation in asking the waitress whether it might be possible to borrow an umbrella and her request is immediately granted. How gracious and trusting. Can you imagine this anywhere else? Lara huddles under my little umbrella with me, and arm in arm we skip across overflowing gutters and in a short time arrive at the temple to be told to go upstairs into a charmless room with three other people already sitting there. Fortunately the rain eases, then stops, the performance will indeed proceed on the outdoor usual ‘stage’ in front of the great illuminated temple under huge frangipani trees and we are instructed to come back down. The plastic seats are wiped off, the stone paved stage area likewise, the gamelon players arrive and the performance commences. Regular flashes of lightening add to the already bright illumination of the temple structure, the orchestra and the performers but the sky remains closed. A perfect night enjoyed by all. Petra and the kids ask if the dancers have had their fingers broken, so astonished are they at the flexibility of their fingers of the dancers!

Feb.21, Ubud: At Last The Ridge Walk!

Yesterday’s massage gave me a very good sleep so I am determined not to leave Ubud without doing the Ridge Walk.There’s only so much a woman can forgive herself for! Jon agrees to join me so, concession to knees, hips, steps and heat, we arrange to taxi to Keliki, the village at the far end of the ridge from where we will start along the narrow paved road. Although a stone’s throw away as the crow flies, it is a circuitous route and a good ten + minutes drive to go round the ravine passing through densest rainforest.Blessedly it is overcast today so even at 8.30 a.m. it’s not too hot.It’s the first time Jon has done this short walk (less than 3 km in total), my third in several years and, although overheated by the end, he thoroughly enjoys it. Flanked with rice fields bright green with new shoots, we pass a few small warungs. The fields are sparsely dotted with houses and accommodations. Karsa Spa is the most obviously impressive place we pass so I lead him downhill on a path beyond it’s cafe and through their most beautiful grounds. Several ponds are brim-full of large pink water lilies;huge stone pots are overgrown with mosses and lichens containing large plants.The cafe and many small open roofed pavilions which serve as individual treatment rooms, overlook the paddies.

Back on the little road we continue, noting the various accommodations, as I have always yearned to stay up here away from the pollution and noise of Ubud’s roads, Jon has always been put off by its relative ‘remoteness’. My other issue is number of steps, irregular in height and large in number, at Taman Indrakila especially , even more down to the pool, as the premises is built on the side of the steep ravine. We look in on a fine-looking establishment, much younger in years than Taman and presumably more expensive and are delighted to find it traditional/modern, beautiful grounds, huge swimming pool accessed by only a few steps, all overlooking the steep ravine. Surprisingly it’. Not too much more expensive than Taman and if we were to stay a week, they would certainly cut a deal. We are both won over! The daily walk would be flattish along the level section of the ridge with many small concrete paths coming off it into the rice fields, a few little eating places, perfect for the future.

Back home, Jon takes a large load to the laundry lady which will cost something like $3! By 12.30 it is raining lightly, much cooler and I am ready for lunch.

Petra et al decide to join us so we take them to, guess where, Kelapa the organic (yet again- hard to beat a place of this excellence). I notice an unusual spread of small dishes at one table and figure it’s the famed rijsttafel (lit. rice table), a meal consisting of a large number of small dishes and sambals originating in W.Sumatra and adapted by the Dutch. We have only eaten this once before several years ago and certainly didn’t know it was available here. A separate menu is given to us and what a feast. The kids order individual dishes and the adults two of the above, each recommended for two persons but would be sufficient for three. After eating, we walk ‘the Slovenians’, (I love referring to them thus, sound formal and funny) through the organic gardens between rain showers and then back to a Indus for coffee. Heavy showers are keeping the temperature down. We say our good byes, as we all leave for Lovina tomorrow and will meet up with them again there.

Feb. 21, Return Trip To Lovina

The drive from Ubud takes an unexpected three full hours as, being Sunday and still school Holidays, there is much traffic around Lake Bratan, the Twin Lakes and Bedugul. The latter has a substantial and long-standing Muslim population and we pass some small mosques and see women with headscarves. Creeping up the mountains we head into a bit of rain but my bet of fine weather down on the coast proves right. Heavy traffic again as we go through Singaraja, Bali’s second largest city and one I always enjoy passing through because of its Dutch colonial architecture, impressive administrative buildings and tree-lined streets.

Again a feeling of ‘coming home’ as we are welcomed back to Summer Guesthouse. This time it is full, even the one dormitory room which has seven beds and the tent rooms.

Gardeners are drawn to gardeners, dog lovers to dog lovers and Ketut of Summer Guesthouse and I bonded over both on our 2018 visit. She has just finished grafting cuttings from the wonderful red flowering frangipani in front of Wayan’s warung and a second colour onto hers;likewise with her desert roses.

We spend time and enjoy lunch at the warung with Wayan and later Putu who is home for less than 24 hours, and borrow her large umbrella for the 2-minute walk home as the sky is black. A huge rain sets in and, as before, feels as if it will never end but an hour or two later the clouds lift. Coffee and the adored Greco Napoleon (custard with mille feuille pastry) early evening are followed by the walk down the the sea and back up the small parallel street dropping in again at the warung to spend more time with Putu. However, she has gone into town to a kids’ playground with brother Ciri and little Elina.

Feb 22, Lovina:A Busy Day

We wake to sun, blue skies and how beautiful are the tropics!The ‘green walk’ alone before breakfast is always a wonderful start to the day, still cool and shaded enough for almost an hour and so much to observe! I pick my way through puddles from last night’s rain and come to the nearby building construction which, in the five days since we were here, has almost completed stone foundations. A lorry is tipping off a load of gravel and an hour later on my return, has delivered another load of soil. Later, when we pass en route to lunch, a huge new pile of rock has been delivered.

Opposite in the wet field, a young man crouches down and I can’t make out what he is doing. In his hand is a fine metal thread one end of which is embedded in the ground and which he gently pulls on, as if fishing. What could it be? Frogs? Lacking his patience, I continue on my way after a few minutes, none the wiser. A small boy responds to my pagi (mornin’) with a grin, emerging from the field where his parents are working. Further along, three boys dressed in their Sunday best, sporting sophisticated hairdos, shyly greet me and call hello to me when they spot me on my return.

Many of the village houses I pass on these small concrete lanes have chickens running round the yard and several have a black pig or two, one of whom is clearly demanding breakfast from its owner! Another plot has a small structure with palm frond roof under which two doe-eyed Balinese cows are tethered together with two young calves, all curious about my close presence.

After breakfast, we spend time with Putu before she must leave to return to her new nursing placement, this time just two weeks in Infectious Diseases before two months in an out- patient clinic nearby here, an outreach service of a large public hospital.

We have decided to go to Buda Bakery and restaurant in the backstreets of the village, a hot 15-minute walk but well recommended by Trip Advisor which we haven’t used before.It’s a delightful setting one storey up in a tiny quiet residential street overlooking red tiled roofs and huge coconut palms laden with young fruit, large and very tall clumps of bananas, mango, other dense foliage and large trees. Jon chooses an asian coconut- chicken soup followed by chicken cordon bleu, something European for a change and I have a tomato and feta salad

and grilled fish fillet with sambal and rice.Somehow we are disappointed with the meal, appreciating Wayan’s cooking as far superior.

After a short time in the pool it’s time to meet up with Wayan to undertake a mission-a seamstress to make up something I want for Jon. This involves riding on the back of Wayan’s motor scooter, something I haven’t done for many years. Oh dear, hip and legs haven’t been brilliant for the last couple of days and getting the leg over the seat is a bit challenging and distinctly unpleasant. But once on, I brave the main road traffic for a short distance seated behind Wayan, both helmeted, before we turn off. After a few minutes on the village road we arrive at our destination. Now a very short ride to Wayan’s massage lady where we have been together once before. It’s a treat she can’t normally afford and needs.Two massage tables in a small room, two sisters, both had undertaken a six month course years ago in Denpasar and one had spent four years working in Turkey just as Ciri’s wife now is doing. She spoke positively of the experience and said it was no problem being a single woman there. Good to hear.

Getting back on the motor scooter after the massage was noticeably easier and the massage quite wonderful. I could become addicted! Heavy rain fell during our massage but luckily has stopped.

Just as I am about to walk home from the warung, Jon turns up so we set off for coffee at Cafe Greco and the delicious mille feuille pastry Greco Napoleon again, repeat the round walk to the sea, pass many empty or almost empty eating places and feel sad for the struggling locals. In The entrance to one shop is flanked with two cats looking like statues. Not far along, we see a tall European woman with a puppy in her arms and stop to chat. Dutch, married to a Balinese, she has already adopted six dogs and hopes her husband will accept this seventh, feverish pup!

The ‘busy’ day ends back at the warung and more quality time with Wayan and Kembar. We are pleased that she has had quite good customer numbers since our return yesterday and tomorrow brings more as our Slovenian friends, together with the other Slovenian family, seven in all, are taking her Cooking Class in the morning and in the evening, Jon and I have arranged a 40th birthday feast prepared by Wayan for Petra.

We have been joking with Wayan that by the end of the day she will be tired but rich!

Feb 24, Lovina: Ketut’s Garden, Learning More and The 40th Birthday Feast

Today the plastic wrap surrounding her new grafts came off the desert roses and frangipanis. Now she sits under the bale, the open-sided raised pavilion at the end of the pool, with sharp knife and palm leaves preparing offerrings for Kuningan, the next ceremony. While she commences this, Desi, one of her three employees, washes Domi the dog who stands patiently and seems to enjoy all the touching.

These offerrings, again made from sectioned pieces of palm leaves, differ again from the Galungan ones. The small segments are stapled together making a round shape, representing the earth. Prior to the use of staples, fine strands of bamboo were used and our Wayan still uses this method.

Kuningan marks the end of the 10-day Galungan period and the Balinese believe that Kuningan day is the day when their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during Galungan celebration. They make offerings to be given to the ancestors on their farewell day. The offerings include yellowed rice (Kuningan is derived from the word kuning which means yellow) which is placed in a small “bowl” made of woven coconut leaves. Other common offerings are chicken, seeds, fish and fruit like papaya and cucumber. The yellow rice is the symbol of human’s gratitude towards God for life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity given. The ‘bowl’ is placed on a woven tray and surrounded by fruits and the small, colourful canang sari described earlier, sit on top.

Due to the amount of preparation needed, the local government allows a two-week vacation period for (almost) everyone. That way, people can prepare for both Galungan and Kuningan.

Yesterday on talking with a Ketut, I learned that they own a shop near the beach which was her first business and behind which she, her husband and two boys used to live.When they accrued sufficient money, they built this guesthouse and she tells me they are constructing another accomodation nearby. Putting two and two together, I realize this is the building site with the stone foundations mentioned earlier which I pass on my daily green walk. So today I stop and chat with one of the workers,mention Ketut and Summer Guesthouse and get a warm reception. They plan to make the new accomodation exclusively a hostel, without swimming pool and convert the one dormitory room here into another large room for two like ours. They also own a third block of land nearby, not yet developed.

The Birthday Feast

Petra turns 40 and we have asked Wayan to prepare a feast for nine. She has also, said in consultation with us, ordered a black-forest cake decorated with ‘Petra 40’ on top and a few candles.The foodp, all Balinese except for the cake, is wonderful consisting of many different dishes – ikan pepes (fish baked in banana leaves), nasi goreng, tempe with roasted peanuts, fried chicken pieces with sambal, fish sate sticks, uraban( green vegetable and coconut dish) and more. Everyone is delighted and Jon and I feel so proud of her. She joins us when she has finished cooking and charms everyone with her engaging personality. As her kids help her in the kitchen when available, Kembar is ‘on duty’ and I tell the group a bit about this. Petra relates very well to this as she also leads a hectic life as a full time professional lawyer, now in partnership with her husband Bostjan,lectures part-time at the university and is a wonderful mother. An interesting conversation ensues. Petra has a lovely manner with people, empathetic and warm and there is something special for me seeing two younger woman ‘of my life’ connecting so well. Precious moments.

Later, twin Kembar and girlfriend Indra briefly join us and their grace impresses, especially given their limited English, their youth and Slovenian accents to deal with.

Feb 25, Lovina: A Visit To The Villa

We have never been in a Balinese villa which is what Petra et al have rented for a few nights. It’s in Dencarik, a 15-minute drive west of Lovina set well off the road on a rough track like our place, which then leads onto smooth concrete running parallel to the beach along which stand villas, each large houses on very large blocks of land. Five bedrooms and four bathrooms, full time gardener and staff of two who prepare three daily meals and clean. There is a huge swimming pool, a bale with soft mattress and cushions, many outside lounging chairs and couches and beautiful gardens.It faces onto the sea and the gentle breeze is noticeable.

I am curious as to the owner (I am curious about everything, and not being shy, ask lots of questions and learn much). The owner is Chinese- Javanese like the adjoining property.

We share a meal and spend several hours talking around the outside table.Sad to think our reunion will finish by the end of tomorrow when we will all eat at Wayan’s again. It is a special friendship.

Feb.26, Lovina: Dolphins And A Dandy Pampering

On my recommendation the Slovenians decide for the dolphin trip which Jon and I did a few years ago as this part of the north coast is rich with them. We start out at 7 a.m on an overcast morning with two outriggers and within fifteen minutes are amongst another ten or more boats already hovering out there. Almost immediately we spot small pods of bottlenose dolphins.They slip so silently and fluidly in and out of the water, sometimes breaching entirely and landing back with a loud smack; occasionally blowing air audibly from their blowhole. In fact they do this 4-5 times per minute but as they are constantly on the move one doesn’t hear it often. Nonetheless, there is something touching about it, being reminded that they, like us are mammals and air is their life source. The kids shriek with delight (sometimes the big kids too!) every time one breaches or spins in the air or a group come right beside the boat.They’re so endearing. The boats follow the pod(s) gently and it is apparent that the dolphins have no discomfort with this as they could easily out-swim us and don’t. It’s impossible to know how many individuals we actually see but the sightings must be in the hundreds. Looking back to land, the mountains behind the coast are partially shrouded in cloud, the water is mercurial, it’s a subtle vision of grey on grey, gorgeous!

I have badly neglected my fingernails and toenails and decide to treat myself, aged almost 75, to a manicure and pedicure for the first time in my life! Fussed over hand and foot by two beautiful young Balinese women who snip and file and buff and push cuticles and still more before washing, applying creams and massaging; they finally apply multiple layers- 1 clear, 3 coats of my chosen red and a final clear coat. Seventy-five minutes later and only $30 poorer, I emerge feeling like a queen and committed to repeating this indulgence as needed at home! Who could EVER do their nails like that alone (though I won’t bother with colour on the fingernails- too much housework and gardening to sustain it).

By mid afternoon the black clouds over the mountains once more break open, accompanied by some lightening and thunder and really heavy rain for an hour or two before easing. The thunder becomes more distant, the dropped temperature stays with us.

Feb.26, Lovina: Last Supper with The Slovenians

They join us for dinner at Wayan’s warung without their friends, everyone choosing individual dishes.My rendang pork is absolutely delicious and the others all enjoyed their food. Everyone agreed that it was perfect to just be the six of us alone. Our relationship with the girls is precious as they were little kids when we were last together and spoke little English. Our Skype and WhatsApp calls in more recent years where they are always present, indicated a deepening connection but this time together has moved the relationship profoundly. They are people in their own right with humour, grace, warmth, empathy, sophistication and the brightest of intelligence and, it seems, they can’t give or receive too many hugs! And the closeness between the sisters is something to marvel at. A wonderful family to have in our life.

Another unexpected joy is the way Wayan and Petra connected, starting with the cooking class the Slovenians did with Wayan and growing with each interaction.Little Tajda said of their connection, I think they are like sisters.From entirely different cultures and worlds, their paths have curious parallels, each having come from humble (relatively speaking) backgrounds, both being extremely intelligent (though educational opportunities were never available to Wayan and Petra is a Ph D), extremely hard-working and determining their respective paths.

Feb. 27, Lovina: The Sound Of Water, Buying Fruit & Tea With The In-laws

Last full day, up and out early on green walk much of which is, for the first time, accompanied by the sound of water gurgling down the concrete channel beside the dirt track.I have beaten the construction workers whose site is a mud bath after all the rain, but see them squatting on the ground eating breakfast(makan pagi)under the adjacent temporary woven structure where they appear to be living while working on the site.

At the next dogleg, a channel about two metres wide has a veritable stream of muddy water rushing along it! The mountains behind this area are nearby and rise at least 1000-1500 mt thus create much run-off. As at home, they experience the same prolonged dry season and I can’t help but wish there was some system of storing this precious commodity.

I zig-zag up and down a few of the little lanes walking along the main village road for only one block. The fruit stalls and the few shops are now open, so I take the opportunity to buy my favorite fruit, mangosteen and some rambutan. I know what this should cost so when the price is doubled I jack-up. Happily another local on her motorbike speaks reasonable English and intervenes, explaining that the prices are high as Kuningan approaches. Business is business wherever one is but we negotiate and I am happy to have a half kilo of each for about $3. A win-win, we are all smiling.

Once again I find myself in the lane where Ciri’s in- laws live and *Ketut(yes, another), the father-in-law, spots me and comes to greet me. We shake hands and he immediately calls his wife Tomy and they invite me into their compound for a cup of tea, first time for me although I had talked with Ketut when I first met him a few years ago selling jewellery on the beach before he was ‘connected’ to Ciri.

A handsome well built man with several decorative tattoos and a most beautiful smile, he is, like his wife,warm, open, personable and intelligent. They treat me as a member of the extended family, no longer attempting to sell me anything even when I pass Tomy’s clothing stall and are always pleased to see me as am I seeing them. Like most Balinese,he has a ready smile and a good sense of humour.

I sit on the tiled stoop in front of their humble home and drink sweet black tea with them and we talk for quite some time about life, the terrible floods currently afflicting Jakarta which leads to talk of moving capital cities, rising seas, extreme weather and the implications of climate change. He talks about greed and sharing and makes reference to god or a higher power. I can’t remember his exact words but his is not a guilt-based belief system. Several times he says this is life and that maturity reduces ego which the young still struggle with.There is much wisdom in what he says.His humanity and empathy come across loud and clear and I am struck by the fact that several Balinese people with whom we have had in-depth conversation express the same philosophy.

I ask about Kuningan preparations as none are evident, which gives me an opportunity to discuss ceremony. As there are at least thirty per year of which a handful are major, I suggest this is very time-consuming and must be quite costly. He explains that one makes offerings in accordance with ones ability,so if poor or suffering lean times, water,a little rice and some flower petals will suffice.

*A Little About Balinese Names

A complex subject which I have by no means mastered but here is a starting point.

The name most Balinese people will give you is not a personal name at all. In this ancient culture, the most commonly used names simply indicate the person’s position in the family as first, second, third or fourth born child.

There is only one ‘fourth born‘ name: Ketut.

While Wayan is the most common name for first born children, they may have the alternative names Putu, Gede or (for girls only) Ni Luh . The second child in the family is usually called Made, which means “middle”,  but is just as likely to be called Nengah, Ngurah or Kadek. The third born child is called Nyoman or Komang.

In previous centuries Balinese families were not encouraged to have more than three children and may have practised some form of traditional birth control. Nowadays there are plenty of fourth born children, so a name was needed. Ketut means “little banana” – the smallest banana at the end of a bunch.

A family with a fifth born child might call him “little Wayan”, the sixth “little Made” – and so on.

As most of these names are also the same for boys and girls, they might add the prefix “I” (pronounced “ee”) for boys and “Ni” (nee) for girls. They are similar in meaning to “Mister” and “Ms”.

There isn’t an equivalent of a family/surname which would indicate relationship, but rather a ‘personal’ name added to the above and also a name which indicates caste.It is endlessly complicated for the simple-minded!

Kembar has been interested to see my website and we arrange to spend time with him in the warung today. I show him some of my artwork, none of which he/they have seen and am astonished at the sustained level of interest, even with work that is not straightforward. He asks the meaning behind the work and understanding my explanations.

As there are no customers in the warung, we sit with Wayan and Kembar.It’s not often we get concentrated time for discussion. Wayan is really smart and there is a lot of give and take in our conversations. We also learn much from her. While we sit talking, someone appears at the front step asking for money and she gives him 5,000 IDR ( ca.40 cents). So we discuss the problem of to whom and how much one gives. She tells us there is an entire village of people who live in decent homes, have motorbikes and cars but live from begging.They drive to a given location in a van wearing tattered clothes, sometimes with dirty, ragged babies in tow and older children. They then separate out and commence begging. We have encountered three such children in front of the Cafe Greco(also two lots on the Yellow Flower Walk in Ubud, one with four kids in tow, too close in age to all be hers, a giveaway as to her modus opera did). Not long after she has given the man the money, a woman appears. She presumes it to be his wife or certainly of the same group hence gives no more. This sounds very much like the Gypsies of Europe we have encountered. She seems quite tolerant of it and says she feels guilty if she gives nothing, just like me and we agree that one can’t give to everyone

Feb. 28, Lovina: Lifting Heavy Rocks

Last morning walk and as usual I pass the construction site and the man who speaks a little English greets me again. Although not raining now, the site is a thick sludge of mud and in parts is ankle deep in water. The men are continuing to fill with rocks a trench which runs down one side of the new stone foundations. They carry the smaller, still sizeable rocks one by one on their bare shoulders, covered only with a piece of towelling. With this heavy weight they trudge through the sludge. Another man is slowly manuovering a large rock, perhaps 50mm in diameter, slowly this way and that in order to slip a rope around it to sling onto a bamboo pole in order that two people may lift it into a nearby metal wheelbarrow that has seen better days. I marvel that the barrow hasn’t yet fallen to pieces. This will then be pushed through the wet mud to where it is required. And all this under a punishing sun and sweltering humidity. I look at these small thin men and contemplate the stress this must place on their bodies and imagine them ageing well before their time and suffering with bad backs. Mind you, it is women one sees constantly, as everywhere in the less developed world, carrying huge and often heavy loads balanced on their heads

A Summation

I leave Bali with a tumble of emotions. I feel for the poverty that remains so obvious, the struggle of ordinary people, our Wayan included, the ridiculously low wages and the gulf between rich and poor, not exclusively the domain of Bali of course. Many things have improved however, in the years since we were first here- motorbikes, and to a lesser extent cars, replace walking and bemos though the infrastructure to support them lags behind. The resultant dense traffic on narrow roads emits considerable fumes, even penetrating many outdoor eating places.Really unpleasant especially around food. Nonetheless, life for many is much improved. When Jon first came to Bali in 1974 Kuta had no electricity and I doubt there are any places without it today. Everyone, but everyone, reaps the benefits of mobile phones even if internet connections are sometimes a little patchy and internet speed apparently on the slow side.

The landscapes, Balinese architecture including the omnipresent temples, the welcoming gentle people, the smiling faces, the food are all quite wonderful yet the grime, the lack of maintenance of buildings and footpaths with treacherously uneven surfaces and gaping holes, all indicators of poverty, sometimes depress.

It’s an ongoing lesson about appreciating all one has and not taking it for granted. A mere cosmic accident that we were born to such privilege. One inevitably must try come to terms with with the discomfort of this discrepancy, not easy.The bottom line is that I’m a privileged white(almost!)woman with my painted nails! But you have to laugh too, as the Balinese do so readily, laugh and smile…and be grateful and kind.

And A Funny Addendum

So, here we are in the Lounge at the airport in Denpasar, enjoying the comforts and food, this trip being our first experience. I decide to have a glass of wine and am somewhat surprised when, instead of pouring from a bottle, the barman takes the silver bladder of a wine cask and squeezes the dregs into my glass! Less than elegant. Jon had stumbled on an unseen protrusion on the floor where we sat and I hadn’t taken much notice. Not long after, having helped myself to food, I am carrying a plate of vegetables and salad back to where we are sitting and trip, almost falling over on the same protruding object.I instinctively let out a bit of a shriek as I think I am going to fall, exclaiming how dangerous this thing is. Pieces of cauliflower fly, Monty Python-style, from my plate to Jon’s trousers and then decorate the floor. Jon looks put- out but happily, a staff member on hearing my little shriek, comes to the rescue, bends down and forces the power point flush to the floor and snaps the lid closed as it should have been all the time. All is well. You’ve got to laugh!

March 1, Hydeaway Bay: Journey’s End, Home Sweet Home, From Green Walk to Blue/Green Walk

Yesterday we spent a total of nine hours at Denpasar and Brisbane airports with a six hour flight in between and only two hours sleep. My heart begins to sing immediately we fly our of Brisbane- the landscape below is green and as we approach Proserpine, the glory of the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday islands lays itself bare once again. Below, I gaze upon a myriad of greens in the patchwork of cane fields and then the hills dense with trees. The ground below is no longer brown but a velvet carpet of emerald. Nothing but nature with an occasional farmhouse at the end of a long dirt road winding between hills. How the Balinese would envy this open space and clean air! I rejoice at being home and consider myself blessed to live in such a beautiful area.

It’s amazing how exhaustion lifts, bringing enough energy to start the nesting process at home-things empty out of suitcases into washing basket or cupboards, a bit of sweeping and mopping, moving a few potted plants back into place, Jon sorting through mail and finally a deep long sleep.

Although we were told how hot it is here, it seems easy- 30C but only about 60% humidity, a far cry from Bali’s 90%. We have had many inches of rain in our almost five- week absence and the frangipani trees have grown much taller and filled out with foliage for the first time since the devastating cyclone almost three years ago. Weeds are rampant all through the paths and elsewhere.

Today I set out on my usual walk incorporating both foreshore and road. I go to the end of the sealed section where the houses stop, and then a few minutes further on the gravel section high above the sea, to the top of Oh My God Hill before turning back. It’s Sunday, so only one car passes, otherwise only birdsong, SO much more than in Bali, fresh unpolluted air and the familiar fragrance of a weed in flower. Before we left, the Kapok trees were just beginning to sprout new leaves and were full of large, fragile pods ready to release their white fibrous contents. They are now plush with leaves, barely a pod remains and they form a dense foreground to the sea below. Wherever my eyes fall, I see either blue or green. Sad as I was to leave Bali, I couldn’t be happier! Home sweet home.

RETURN TRIP TO BALI 3RD POST

Feb. 6, Ubud

It’s incredibly hot and humid, this is the time for writing, reading, swimming, family and friends as expected. Couldn’t sleep after 4 a.m so had the rare pleasure of sunrise, the palm studded silhouette across the gorge through a waking sky. I set off at 6.30 intending to do the Ridge Walk but my hip advised me against it so did a variant of the Yellow Flower Cafe walk exploring the smallest gangs (narrow concrete paved lanes) each with a series of steps at intervals following the drop of the small rice terraces sandwiched between ever-encroaching houses, quite a number of which are rentals for tourists.

My first encounter is as follows:

Rice Field Raga

Ducks offer their early song to the paddy
more Dvorak than Bach or Brahms.
Two dogs strain on morning leashes,
more confident than I on the concrete strip
that bounds the paddy. Tiled roofs throw
shadows to the shallow water, a tapestry
of shimmering silver and tufted green, the
infant crop cool as the wading ducks.
Heat rises rapidly, sweat trickles.
The ducks have it all over me!

Jon is so sure it will rain today as huge cumulus clouds grow, and though we hear distant thunder, by 7 pm still not a drop. And just as I write a few drops fall. But that’s it! It’s our last day here for the first ’round’, Candidasa tomorrow where we will meet up with Jon’s brother Dave flying over from the USA.

Feb 7. Ubud-Candidasa

She of the cast iron stomach has come down with a bit of Bali belly and as we made our way to breakfast up the steps became very poorly for a short time so not much food today.

The 1 1/2 hour drive, like any in Bali, is interesting and most enjoyable. We pass through small streets where artisans make and sell their various products – heavy wooden furniture, doors, wall partitions, stone temple pieces and as we get into the rural, plant nurseries. The road for the first hour was familiar as it was the route to the hospital Jon was in on our last trip. So great to see him managing this trip so well.

We pass through diverse landscapes of rice paddies. The sea appears on our right as we approach the Candidasa area, to our left hills, mountains and thick groves of coconut palms. It is intensely green and extraordinarily beautiful and I am somehow reminded of Goa, India.

Our accommodation, Bali Santi Bungalows, is set back off the small but busy main road, approached through a little lane and is located on the sea. Here we have free-standing bungalows all set on a diagonal along two parallel paths surrounded by lush tropical plantings, large handsome stone tubs with plants and at night large handsome rattan lights illuminate the paths. The room is a huge 32sq.mts. with a large L-shaped couch, desk, various lighting alternatives, large glossy white tiles and an outdoor mandi (bathroom). The front porch has a rocking chair and 3-person couch. All this for $60 p.d and much better value than our Ubud accommodation. The open dining area, bar and pool face out to sea overlooking Nusa Penida, a large island. Dave arrives an hour after us having survived the long flight from USA via Hong Kong and the coronavirus scare, good going at a young 78!

The infinity pool overlooks the sea and after an always empty pool at Taman Indrakila in Ubud, it is a change to share it with a few (overweight) Poles who entirely ignore me – suits me fine. No Russians so far.

Grey skies set in during the afternoon and this time it does rain dropping the temperature several degrees immediately, so much so that we have no need of the aircon and even lower the fan. Hard to believe that outside I feel a tiny bit chilled after a sweltering eight days! It pours down for an hour or more leaving a few centimetres of water on the paths and roads and flooding the little garden beds.

A stroll around the immediate area an hour later reveals several resorts, warungs (cafe/restaurant), two rated highly by Trip Advisor and an enticing place called Loaf, tiny with contemporary decor where everything including fabulous looking breads and cakes and espresso coffee is made on site.

Feb. 8, Morning Walk, Green Bananas/Afternoon Coffee and Cake

Breakfast at Loaf, a four-minute walk away but Miss Bali Belly eats green bananas (beyond delicious) and yoghurt. I chat to the waiter, another elegant, handsome young man with pierced ears wearing traditional clothes, and learn that it is owned by an older Australian man married to a Balinese woman for whom the waiter used to clean house. They became very close, we are like brothers, and the Australian announced his intention to build a cafe which he wanted the young man to run. That was four years ago. A great business with a small menu of excellent non-Indonesian food. A lovely story.

The men enjoy delicious food before we walk into the heart of Sengkidu, a village a couple of kilometres down the road, noisy motorbikes whirring. Only now do I see a high mountain across the rice fields and notice it has a blown off top. Behold, Agung the great volcano! We take a side turn down to the beach, by now very hot, time for a cold drink and Jon has another ‘breakfast’! Cab back and into the pool to cool. The place is filling up and, while not a Russian is here, the Aussies have taken over! A respectable but uninteresting lot.

Later, leaving a well fed Jon sleeping, Dave and I try out Warung Bintang, rated #2 of 80 local places by Trip Advisor and very inexpensive. It is wonderful. Very simple, no decor a raised terrace overlooking the glorious rice fields and mountains (Agung not visible), soft Balinese music plays and the wait staff dress traditionally. These are the places we most enjoy. I figure by now I should try some rice and order a chilli-less nasi goreng, very good.

It’s starting to sound like all we do is eat but the days are hot and humid and much reading and writing goes on in between. By late afternoon it’s time to try the after-4pm, low-rate coffee-and-cake at Loaf, the reduced price aimed to clear what is there and ensure constant freshly baked produce. The coffee is excellent and Dave orders a slice of incredibly rich dense chocolate cake of which I sample a small fingernail-size bit, and Jon an apple pie, choc full of apple of which I eat a third. Oh how good!

While there, we get talking to an older American woman, a teacher who has been living in Bali for 25 years. She is the only westerner living in her area near Tirta Gangga and in recent times alcohol has become a problem amongst the locals, leaving her feeling unsafe for the first time. She needs to relocate. She was there with her friend and driver Ketut whose family owns and runs a program called Side By Side, created by volunteers and globally concerned citizens and student groups around the world. Their aim is to preserve an indigenous way of life, encourage cross-cultural understanding and help the local farmers return to an organic, green way of life. It also offers a homestay and restaurant. The American woman has been teaching English to farmers and children of the local village. While talking to them about the disconnection of city kids from the natural world, Singapore comes into the conversation as an unusual example of an intensely urbanised city which has embraced greenness. Ketut informs me that Singapore imports rich soil from the Indonesian island closest to it, and that being only 20 minutes away by ferry, many Singaporeans come over for rural, replenishing weekends!

The men return to Bali Santi but I round the corner to explore a little of the side road I have been curious about. On one side it’s bounded by paddies for some distance, with houses opposite before a considerable hill covered with more houses, rises. Some wonderful traditional architecture so shoot a few more photos. Whenever I walk in local areas, dogs bark at me – they certainly recognize a tourist as different. Turning up a short small street running off the tree-lined road, I pass a few little boys, the slightly older one speaks a little English, the younger boys none but we communicate and then the youngest ‘secretly’ follows me, so I gesture for them to come and we walk together to the nearby end. Sampai jumpa lagi (see you later) I say in my very best Bahasa and we all wave bye-bye, only to be repeated as I turn onto the proper road and head home via a short stroll through the paddies.

Jon and I go to Warung Bintang alone for dinner after 8pm, Dave worried about slipping on wet surfaces. Quite a few people are already eating and we are surprised to see at least six manning the small kitchen. I order soto ayam, chicken soup with glass noodles and a little vegetable, no chilli yet thanks, very good, Jon has calamari followed by fried chicken with a great spicy tomato sambal and we share a black sticky rice cooked in coconut milk, figuring that would serve my stomach well.

The owner joins us and we talk for a long time. Has built this business over four years, the first two tough, making just enough to pay wages. He has three trainee cooks at any time but is happy to see them move on for better job opportunities after training , just as he did. Hotels can offer better wages of course than small warungs.

Feb.9 Candidasa: The Rain Sets In

Rain overnight but a clear patch to walk to Loaf for yoghurt/boring/banana and delicious food for the men! Yep, feeling Ok but the runs remain with me after last night’s food. More green bananas. We had thought to go to Candidasa proper to have a look see but it’s torrential by mid morning.

Ubud, Mt Kintamani, sunrise

More photos…https://bonneybombach.com/travel-writing/bali-2020/

RETURN TRIP TO BALI, FEB 2020

BALI BLOG 2020

Jan.31/Feb.1, 2020

You know the finally finally syndrome when for 2 days you tell yourself finally everything necessary has been done. Well, get thru that accompanied by the first decent rain in six months, 75 mm….will we get through to the airport OK? Having passed that hurdle, we arrive early  and try to understand the mumbled announcements about planes unable to land due to poor visibility.Cutting to the chase, our plane is cancelled and  we spend 6 hrs at our local airport awaiting the only other plane for that day, unsure as to whether it will make it. Suddenly the winged giant roars down the runway, ‘yeah’, I sing out, a lone voice amongst so many- oh that Anglo Saxon reserve gets me all the time! Luckily the late plane could accomodate us and packed to the gills, takes off. We spend three days in Jill and Al’s beautiful  river house in Murwillumbah for the usual catch- up with old besties from our farm days.

The background to this trip is the corona virus scare. All day in the overly air-conditioned airport and plane leaves Jon quite unwell for a couple of days just when reduced immune system matters most. Ah, the joys of travelling as an older person! Just in the nick of time he improves and, armed with pharmacy products, we have arrived safe and sound in Bali.

Arriving in Bali is fun. We are at the front of the plane queued to disembark, delayed waiting for a bus to the terminal. The  Captain stands right beside us and so we engage in what turns into quite a conversation. A friendly man, tall, lean, 40ish, I ask about his flying schedule & he tells us pilots love to surf while on layover and all rent motorbikes while here but the other crew are not permitted to do so. The idea that pilots are somehow better positioned than the other staff to survive the Kuta traffic on motorbikes amuses Jon.

Jon’s first trip to Bali was in the early ‘70’s when cows still roamed the sand streets of Kuta. My only stay in Kuta was with him maybe 20 yrs ago leaving me with abiding opposing impressions- delicious frog legs and our charming, frangipani-lined laneway, and the narrow crowded streets full motorbikes and cars and stalls with vulgar T- shirts and drunk young Ozzies. Nonetheless, as we are to arrive late at night, we decided to have two nights here and have a poke around. I booked a lovely hotel ( Adi Dharma, Kuta, recommended) for about $70 AUD which promised to be quiet. 

The taxi doglegs its way left and right from the airport for what seems a long time. In the throng of Kuta/Legian lined with small restaurants and people eating late, we finally turn off the narrow noisy street into our tiny laneway, instant quiet. The ubiquitous yellow frangipanis, many little shops, now closed, and several nice accomodations, ours being at the very end.

One almost forgets how beautiful this culture is so I am immediately enthralled as we turn into the property with its 3-storey, traditional style buildings surrounded by gardens, the usual open- sided, gleaming tiled reception area  furnished with traditional rich timber and the large adjacent  dining area. Generous room with two 3/4 beds, aircon, mini fridge & our own little balcony. And a great sleep! I include a photo of the hotel brochure showing the ‘usual/ unusual’ hazards of travelling here!

Breakfast is included but what a spread -fresh fruit salad, other salad items, three traditional Indonesian dishes, and egg area, a pancake area and seven young preparers and serving  men wearing  traditional sarong and head gear. The manageress, graceful and gracious, welcomes us and comes to talk to each patron.This is a large establishment, 100 rooms, 30 years old but I only realize this today when I scour the grounds arranged around a large pool where I sit writing.

We set out at 8 a.m to explore the immediate environment and beat the heat heading to Kuta beach, 10 minutes away. Our laneway is devoid of people, quiet and peaceful, too early for “morning price” quips Jonny & still a pleasant temperature.

Jon says if you want to know the value of your currency without reading the Wall Street journal or the Financial Times, the money exchangers have a much more realistic rate, a great barometer. As we near the beach, more little shops, mostly selling cheap clothes etc, are opening and then we arrive at the beach. It is a glory of wide flat sand, gently rolling surf and a wide treed strip, freshly raked and swept dotted with large umbrellas, little stalls with seats  and some tables.Vendors are selling drinks and fresh coconuts for juice. This extended area leads onto an area specialising in surf board rentals and lessons and the boards lean  clustered against tree trunks where squirrels scurry and scour the gelatinous insides of the coconuts wedged between branches for them.

Jon loves the T- shirt he sees on the drippingly hot way back to leap into the pool:’I’m not gay but $20 is $20’. I wasn’t quite as amused!

And as the afternoon proceeded, clouds gathered and just I managed to drag the man to the pool area, a rare event, it started to gently rain. Within a few minutes we moved to our little balcony off our room and watched the rain pour off the roof and drench the gardens below. We decided to eat ‘in’, dinner as excellent and authentic as the Indonesian selection at breakfast- cap cay ( mixed vegetables with seafood) and Soto Ayam (chicken soup on fine noodles with hard boiled egg on top), both really delicious.

The rain cooled everything down so immediately that we took a short stroll to the end of our now deserted little laneway chatting to a couple of indifferent typical stripes Balinese dogs en route. And so ended our short Kuta stay. We would do it again.

Feb.2, Ubud, Feels Like Coming Home!

We are back at Taman Indrakila where we stayed 18 mths ago a little out of the centre of Ubud so go out for dinner. Indus, the upmarket restaurant run by Australian Janet de Neefe (also,of Ubud Readers and Writers Festival and the Ubud Food Festival fame) is just up the road but undergoing renovations. The nearby temporary premises is part of the Writers Festival site and is as impressively beautiful as the ‘real’ one.  A huge open-sided space with high thatched ceilings finished with detailed Balinese carving, overlooks the gorge. Round timber tables with a Dutch colonial touch, candle lighting throughout, all surrounded by lush gardens create a plush exotic ambience.

Our delicious meal consists of tapas for two- two pieces each of sate stick mushrooms, fried chicken, tempe and mini spring roll accompanied by three little condiments in mini banana leaf trays- sate sauce, sweet pickled cucumber and spicy chilli dip. For mains,Jon chooses a Sumatran chicken coconut curry which is served in the coconut shell and I a balinese version of Sumatran jack fruit curry. I haven’t eaten jackfruit before and found it reminiscent in texture to eggplant, absorbing the flavour of the curry sauce and quite filling. Including two beers and a lime soda it came to about $20 per head which is expensive in Balinese terms but reasonable for what we ate. At a local Balinese place it cost approximately half this.

Nearby, two men, one extremely heavy set, are struggling for minutes trying to convey to the skilled waitress what they want.Clearly their English isn’t good. At last I step forward and ask if I may assist, understanding where the confusion lies. What language do you speak, I ask, Russian they reply. Oh I don’t speak Russian, but in no time have them sorted to get a large plate consisting only of prawns, only being the stumbling point, lost in translation. They are unnecessarily appreciative and gracious and Jon makes a gentle joke, they beam at us. This all repeated as we depart.

Internet access is sporadic here and makes one conscious of our absurd dependency on immediacy. Nonetheless, I want to check that we aren’t the only ones having difficulties, so ask a couple of younger women sitting their little balcony a few rooms up from us. The usual where are you from question comes from them and it transpires that the too are Russian and lively and engaging, one speaking better English than the other. Good to see they dont confirm our rather negative experiences of Russian travellers. As Jon says, in general Bali is so laid back that even the Russians are smiling! He feels this reflects more about Bali than about nationalities.

Feb 3. The Yellow Flower Cafe Walk And General Delights

No rain last night so we decide to beat the heat and take a morning walk before breakfast. Let’s do the Yellow Flower Cafe/ rice field walk I brightly suggest and am delighted that Jon agrees. In his words: Early morning walk following my leader who knows where and how to navigate through the winding pathways around the back lanes. As it is fairly early shops still closed but Westerners emerging from their digs going to yoga, mostly women of various ages, long hair of a type going to do the downward dog and other tricks.  They appear to be recovering from failed relationships,my vibe, and are probably bitter and twisted, much like the men in our home neighbourhood.

 As it was fairly early…shops still closed but Westerners emerging from their digs going to yoga..mostly women of various ages…long hair of a type going to do the downward dog and other tricks.  They appear to be recovering from failed relationships…my vibe and are probably bitter and twisted….much like the men in our neighbourhood.  In general the place is so laid back and even the Russians are smiling.  

Having written in detail about it in my 2018 Bali diary, I won’t elaborate much except to reiterate that to me this walk is the quintessential Bali, and to comment on changes and people. As it’s wet season, the verges of the narrow concrete path are quite overgrown, several new buildings and little cafes have popped up, all charming. It is amazing to see so many new eating places, also along our main Campuan road. One wonders how everyone eeks out a living especially as tourism has been down. Due the coronavirus scare, the Chinese tourists have stopped. As they come in large numbers, I worry that this would have a huge impact on their fragile economy so asked our taxi yesterday driver, an intelligent man we have used before. He, like Jon, feels it is not so, because the Chinese, as in Australia, stay in hotels and eat in restaurants etc wonder by Chinese and hence not much of their spending here would benefit the local economy.

If you have never visited Bali, it is difficult to convey how dominant the aesthetics of this place is, how surrounded by beauty one is everywhere- from the larger scale of the landscaping of grounds and traditional architecture, to the smallest detail of small offerings on the ground, tiny personal temples, walls decorated with Hindu sculptural icons, huge pots filled with plants carefully placed, the traditional clothes worn not only for ceremony but by wait staff and hotel staff at ‘better’ establishments and so on. All the sweating and heat is worth it! And now I am off to leap in the pool at the bottom terrace of the vast grounds of Taman Indrakila, good compensation for the lack of soap in the soap dispenser or the fact that the room boy forgot to replace the hand towel he removed or wipe the taps to sparkle. 

Our room, same as last time, is at the end of the terraced path with the small offering temple next to it and has sliding plate glass doors across the front and two large windows on the external wall all of which overlooks the terraced gardens, palms,frangipanis,crotons, banana palms cascading down the slope and disappearing into the ravine from which the eye is led up the other side to the palm filled Campuan Ridge. At any time of day you can see a trickle of people walking along the ridge-walk path. If it’s too hot outside, you could lie on the huge bed in the aircon, as Jon does, and overlook all of this.

Just to let you know I am struggling a bit with internet access and technology here so will have to add relevant photos later, maybe after the one month trip is complete, so check back in the site again if interested.

More poems, a little rap about (mostly) bird life and happy 2020

Hello Again and Happy 2020! Perhaps this will bring its own special inspiration and insights, which would be welcome in the face of much that is ailing here in Oz (most immediately the unprecedented bush fires) and in the world at large. I feel blessed to be able to balance this by staying ‘present’ in our immediate environment, which offers up a variety of treasures. Bird life takes precedence in recent months

Amongst the many birds we supplement feed through this great extended dry, three Butcherbirds grace us with their presence daily. Two of them are operatic virtuosos.  For the most part, they make their little cheeping sound requesting food. Two take it from the hand, the third, younger or shyer, comes within a metre of us. He is expert at catching on the fly, never failing regardless of where we aim.

Today’s delight –one sings to us for about five minutes, then  the second takes over and fifteen minutes later is still at it. It is spellbinding and I sit with him and interact making the odd whistle. For those of you unfamiliar with this bird, do yourself a favour; go online to seek their song. It is remarkable for its variety of sounds which are clearly generated from different parts of the body-beak, throat, chest etc ranging from tiny squeaks to chirps to lyrical unfurling passages.

A few weeks ago, two baby Kookaburras left their nest in the hollow of the eucalypt on the foreshore. We had been feeding the family members for about four weeks, watching them eat a little and conscientiously take the rest back to the nest. Within a week or two, I spotted the first tiny fledgling perched in a high branch on my morning walk. Then I spotted a second one. The family continues to come to our balcony railing for hand-fed treats to take to them and in the last few days the babies have come much closer to the house, perching on the Poinciana trees at the back of our garden facing the sea.  Next step was to see the babies landing on our railing, bit by bit allowing us closer, still being fed by a family member. Thrillingly, it was graduation day a few days ago when for the first time I threw some meat to the far end of the deck where one had landed and watched it tentatively hop to and then take the food. Its sibling flew from the railing to the same place and followed suit!

Finally some rain! 45mm over the last few days after nothing to speak of since March!

Already new leaves, citrus blossoms and tiny shoot of grass emerge. And the frogs. There will be more insects for the birds and we can reduce the hand feeding. We are in a rain shadow here so, as per usual, Airlie Beach & Proserpine, less than 50 km away, have had over 200mm in the same period.

So that’s the rap but also to let you know that I have added another six poems to the poetry section today and about the same number a few weeks ago. Poetry fans please enjoy.