January 2011 Archives

Going for a Walk in Bali

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'When I first met Richard' says Wayan 'I didn't like going for a walk. I didn't see the purpose.'

We are on a splendid hike, edging our way along the soggy top ridge of one of the most beautiful expanses of rice terrace I have seen. In the pools grow the delicate young shoots, and the steel blue volcano, Gunang Agung, ringed round with its necklace of clouds, is reflected in them. Greeeeeen is everywhere! And the sound of trickling, flowing, lapping, gurgling water.

We stop for a break under a palm tree. Nyoman hands round a home-made snack wrapped in a palm leaf, a triangle of plump young coconut paste with a palm sugar filling. We unpin the eco-wrapping, let the sweet dissolve on our tongues for a moment, and we are on our way again. It is then that I lose my balance. I slip and make my second dramatic splat of the trip in to a rice paddy. Apart from Julian (the accidental mountain goat) we westerners are shamelessly rocky on the slim raised mud-bank.

I am thinking here a lot about posture and balance, and life style. 'Your spine is like a bamboo tree' says our yoga teacher. In the paddies women and men of all ages fold from the waist, their spines a parallel line with the ground. Their arms float down do do their work of planting or picking, or of scooping up a shovel. When they rest they do so on their haunches, feet planted firmly on the earth, the base or their spines hanging free. In the villages little girls flow in to the various mudras in preparation for the ceremony at the temple. I pass a bead shop and the bead worker is in the yogic pose 'cobra' on her workshop floor. Women carry concrete bricks on their heads with no help from their hands, their legs swinging effortlessly beneath still hips to move them forward. It is not a posture they have learned but a life style they have not un-learned. Movement is something that gets a task done or moves you from A to B and it is combined, it seems, with an extraordinary stillness of mind.

'You have to be in Old Mind' for this'. I am remembering my yoga teacher in Brighton, Pete, talking about balance pose. What is Old Mind? I ask myself as my foot sucks out of the mud in to which I have fallen and adds a loud squelch to my shaky step. 'Empty Box' said our Nepalese guide, I remember also. He was shocked at the amount we talked while we were walking in the Himalayas. There is laughter from the Balinese contingent at my stained bottom. Kind, but also sort of uncomprehending.

Suddenly Nyoman calls us to rush on ahead. He has spied two deadly poisonous snakes in succession, a root -black one and a bright rice paddy colored cobra. My fear gets the better of me and I slip again.

What is the purpose of this thing we do every day called Going For A Walk, I ask myself. For me it is to 'exercise' but also to try and become present with nature and still my thinking. For Julian it is to exercise whilst problem solving away from the computer and the temptation of more toast. But if, during your work of picking marigolds, planting rice, making your way to market across the hills, carrying a temple offering or a brick on your head, or weaving, your mind is stilled and your body released; if, while resting in the fields you stretch your ham strings and your spine rises up like a bamboo tree, or you bend your back in to the shape of the rice paddy cobra in between bead threading, what purpose indeed does Going For A Walk have?

'But now' says Wayan who lives half the time in Bali and half the time in New Hampshire with her husband, and who exclaims WOW all through the day at the vistas we encounter 'I love going for a walk!'

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Bali coffee

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After filling up the Honda from the Absolut Vodka bottle we took an early morning tour on little roads, ending in coffee in a thatched hut overlooking this....

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Though we have become adventurous with our morning fruit salads, eating all sorts of strange spiny slippery prickly beasties, we do not yet dare to taste Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world, which was described to us as made from a bean eaten, digested and pooed out by a big cat. Cat poop coffee! What a thought! Maybe later....

Two Puppies in Bali

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(Rice Nurseries near Ubud)

When we arrive on our first day in Ubud we are greeted by two puppies. All ears and puppy fat, they are! Brown bead eyes pooling with the potential for love. Their soft mouths glove and suck at our fingers. So cute! Leaving our cats, Manon, Babu and Oscar for five weeks in a house full of plaster dust, in the (capable, I'm sure) hands of our builder Olivier, has been such a wrench. Though I made several attempts at mouse-massacre-proof bedding (trying to find the perfect balance between plastic protection, goose-down and toweling robes with our smells on them) I was worried that they would feel abandoned and even miss us. Certainly we would miss them. Here, however, almost on our doorstep, are two bundles of joy to take away the pain.

Every day the puppies move closer to us, and begin to anticipate our rising with their little squeals. Mum, a tigery, greasy, rather unattractive dog, lounges on the step, teets at the ready, should they need sustenance.

'Dogs are at the bottom of social strata' reads Julian from an ancient Lonely Planet volume from which most of the Ubud pages have been torn. We are sitting by the small private pool enjoying our lime-drenched breakfast of papaya, mango, mangosteen and banana. Beneath us, beyond the towering cluster of palms, is a river over which men are building a bamboo bridge to link the latest EatPrayLove villa from the main road to the 'rice paddy walk'. On the other side of the river ducks swim and flap in an empty rice paddy and a worker digs in the rain-softened earth. Everything is lush, even luxurious. 'Few dogs have owners and local interest in them is nil.' Julian quotes, adding that when Linda Buller of Bali Adoption Rehab Centre asked the locals what they felt about the dogs, they apparently said 'I'm so wrapped up in my own spirituality I have no time for a dog'.

What do they eat? we wonder. The offerings laid out everywhere, every morning even in the pouring rain, one of which, we had recently noticed, contained a cigarette and a miniature mars bar amidst the petals?

We have been here three days, fairly busy with our own spirituality, when the boy disappears. He is daring, fun-loving, and he runs in to the road in front of four wheel drives, bemos and bikes. Whhheee here comes another one lollop. We are having some nondescript rice and tofu dish in the restaurant next door, watching the mother run after him. She screams as he runs in front of a car, hoping against all hope that this will not be the vehicle to squash his little life. We are hoping the same thing, of course. The restaurant owner takes the girl for the umpteenth time from his steps where she is looking for something - scraps, love, us? - and plops her back on her adopted home, the step next door.

That is Thursday. On Friday we open the door and there is only one puppy.

The girl is clearly distressed at the loss of her playmate. She is quivering in shock. Withdrawn. Cowering. We comfort her and as we do she seems, over the next few days, to come back her sense of fun, greeting us almost fervently now when we return from a trip. We have to admit that affection for this animal has turned to love. Whatever that means. The builders next door obviously think we are completely bonkers.

On Tuesday, as we curve the moped in to the path after a day by the sea, we are excited to come home to her and are looking for in her usual spot in front of our door, but she is not there. Instead we find her on the bottom step of the video shop. Thank God (or Hanuman or whoever/whatever) she is alive, I think we are both thinking. That she has survived one more day. When we close the door to the house behind us, however, we remember something isn't quite right. Was she is sitting funny with one leg at a strange angle? I go back to her and find she is indeed injured. Unable to stand or climb back up on to the top step to feed. I go back to the Lonely Planet looking for Linda Buller. I ring all the numbers but to no avail. During the night it rains hard and my sleep is intermittent. I resolve in the morning to contact Richard. Though we have never met him he is a friend of Shelley, whom we have also never met but who is one of Julian's subscribers. He lives here with his Balinese wife Wayan, and has kindly got in touch. We have got as far as emailing about the possibility of having tea when I ring him at eight o'clock. 'You said you were early birds…' I start. I have checked on the puppy and she is in the same place, in the same awkward position, shivering now, possibly with a fever. Her mother has withdrawn from her, knowing there is nothing she can do. Richard gives me the name of the Balinese Animal Welfare Association. I look them up on the iphone, see the words 'mission is to relieve suffering', ring, and am so relieved to hear an American voice, I almost weep. 'We'll send an l ambulance right over' she says. 'Will you wait there for us?'

'We're just by Jungle Run Video' I say to the Balinese driver who seems to be lost. We are standing at the end of the path with our tea being watered down by heavy rain 'Before Naughty Nuris. After Ananda cottages…'

'In the jungle?' the driver says.

Eventually the little white van with Animal Ambulance written on its side turns in to the path. Three Balinese and one English fellow get out. They explain that the puppy's leg is indeed broken. An operation would be possible but it is expensive there is no owner to pay for it. Amputation is an option but then there are so many dogs with four legs that are adoptable she would not have much of a life. The best thing, probably, to put her out of her pain would be….'

We assent. Not that it is our place. I'm almost sobbing now. I stroke her nose and say goodbye as they take her in to the van. When I get back to the house our maid, a beautiful Balinese woman who floats silently, almost invisibly round the house every morning, is standing watching.

'Me too love poopy' she says. Me too every day give Balinese potato'. We hug.

Rain Stops Play

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Settling in to a rhythm.

Posting the daily painting and the email check come from from Lala and Lili's Warung. We have tried the Toko Toko cafe where the coffee is bad, and the Yellow Flower caf� too where the coffee is good, but since we are off coffee and on mango lasso and ginger tea, lovely Lala's wins. In it, curvaceous and decorative teak chairs and tables are placed around a lily pond. A trolley is piled high with tropical fruit. A mammoth lily flower arises from the water with its creamy chunk of avocado in the middle of its stamen. You can have apple rubber pie if you wish but I go for the steamed vegetables and Julian for the noodles.

We have already breakfasted at home by the little pool, with a mound of highly paintable fruit: Mangosteen, papaya, midget banana and coconut from the tree outside our house (the latter torn apart with Julian's bare hands while marveling that carpets are made of its husk). Later, after his painting session, Julian will exercise his increasing skill at Indonesian shrimp curry, so lunch, (after yoga on mondays, wednesdays and fridays) is out and costs five euros for two. We are one of many westerners with MacBooks and falling occasionally into conversation about Tadasana or the thinking mind. We have both just finished Tim Parks' book 'Teach Us to Sit Still'. We are not running around seeing Bali (the back-packer's perfect way to avoid sitting still) but rather living in Ubud for a month, face to face with our aging thickening bodies and our obsessive thoughts. Help, we think, is at hand. We have a long way to go but we are hopeful that, with the yoga, massage and the break from the stress of daily life (yes, even in Provence), this may kick start us in to a healthier way of being.

On this particular afternoon, lunch is extended by rain. After two hours we decide to be brave and take the rice paddy track home. The rain however, becomes heavy. We plunge in to it and head back towards the road through Ananda cottages but heavy rain is turning to storm. We take shelter in a doorway. Then, sensing this downpour may be prolonged we run for the Toko Toko, only three minutes from our house, and by the time we get there the forked lightening is fizzing and cracking at the electrical wires in front of our ginger tea. Ginger tea turns to a too-early beer. People walk past the pond-side caf� with various forms of rain protection, a plank, a piece of MDF, an umbrella, a banana leaf. A couple with soaked rucksacks run in and ask for a room. A drenched golden Ibis hops on the sodden grass, offerings are flattened, the waitress' blouse is so wet it's see-through, but the exotic flowers bend and quiver glorious in their delicate strength.

It is almost five now. The daily painting is called off. We sit.

What better moment to be present. To repeat the old mantra 'Nothing to do. Nowehere to go…'. People pay tens of dollars for tapes of this sound of tropical rain and the birdsong, toad-croak, flutter of damsel fly, I think. But that, of course, is just another thought.

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Rice paddies, Bali

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A random road out of town led us on our hired moped in to a cascade of rice paddies and a huddle of villages.

You cannot tell the age of a person, observed Julian from underneath his helmet, till you see their face, so poised and mobile are they at all ages, bending to plant a seed or carrying bunched bamboo on their head.

Through the villages we trundled and over the rice husks drying on the road, past plaited smiling school kids and chickens in cages, and back in to the paddies where red conical hats and sarongs dipped in and out of the terraces as the tufts of sprouted grain were plopped in to the paddy pools. Oxen help with the ploughing. A break is taken under a palm tree...Everyone is busy and active and I haven't seen anyone frown yet.

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'Funny isn't it' I say, that speech takes us either in to the future or the past...'
'Yes' says Julian ignoring my attempt at conversation and staying present with the rain falling on the lily pond.

Meanwhile, we have started the yoga routine so we should come back able, if not to spend a day hunched over a field planting grain, at least able to move a little easier.

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The first day in Ubud

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Our first beer had to be in the Lotus cafe, a place to which we had both been separately in our single lives and wanted to revisit. In front of us lilies lounged on the pond with their floating jewels of dew shimmering in the storm-light. Beyond the pond offerings were being placed on the steps of the temple. Above Starbucks (ouch) to our left, the gamelan were chiming away warming up for the evening performance at the palace.

Julian is happy with his new garden, with its greens all tufty, velvety, spiky and lush. I have had my first massage, got the number of a meditation teacher and located the yoga place in the middle of the rice paddies. Someone makes a gentle call to prayer in the palm trees at dusk and I am bitten to death by mosquitoes on the terrace listening to it. Things are looking good.

The Last Clementine...

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A week of still life paintings and rain. For post-Christmas inspiration I went to the March�s de Provence and, in amongst the reduced panettone, dried figs and chestnut pur�e, managed to find two papery onions doux de Cevennes, two heads of garlic bursting out of their hoods, three bright green pears with a russet blush and these clementines. The clementines won and have been painted dressed and undressed, with pots, partners and solo. Now, however, Julian has painted last clementine for a while because tomorrow we are going on an exotic journey. A last five week indulgence before we adopt our baby from Mali and life changes for ever. You can follow the trip in paintings on his website but meanwhile I will do my best to post the occasional still life with Guava and Buddha from the rice paddies in between massage and yoga classes.....

L'Ap�ro

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This is the first year we have not had family or friends for Christmas for quite some time and so this year we have taken the opportunity, through a dinner party or two and the marvelous invention called l’ap�ro, of getting to know a few more people in our community.

Everyone in our neighbouring little hamlet knows me by sight because I jig past in my jogging sweats on most days. On others they see me tending to my little leaves or garlic sprouts, or the artichokes Marie Th�r�se scolded me (at one of the many ap�ros) for letting freeze. They know Julian because he walks past in his paint spattered sweats on many days. There is another artist in the hamlet too, and a potter in the village and a bow-maker in the next hamlet up, so all in all Les Couguieux and its surrounding countryside is a very pleasant community indeed.

So, it is 2011! We celebrated with an eight hour lunch yesterday, for which we picked these little pousses of lettuce from the garden before they too froze and…

…And the painter is back to work!

Happy Year to you all! May the new one be full of peace and beautiful music and art. (if you like that sort of thing!)