On breasts, ankles and backs of heads

I am finding it continually fascinating how other people take up pavements. The space on pavements, I mean; I don’t mean they take up pavements as a hobby.

I’m in the sort of place (though imminently won’t be, as I’m on my way home within the next 24 hours) in which people are languid en route from A to B, they stop and dawdle and look to the left and the right at all the colours and ornate doors and floaty dresses swaying in the breeze (though we shouldn’t look anywhere but at the floor, perhaps, since health and safety isn’t much of a thing here, unless you take an importantly-positioned plastic bottle as enough of a ward against your head being spiked, and a string barrier enough of a gesture towards the community’s hope that a person won’t fall down a two-metre hole where a pavement has collapsed). Pavements seem, on the whole, precarious; they seem to simply fall down, upon looking at the evidence. Maybe it’s the earthquakes. Nothing a bit of make-shift wood can’t make a bridge over, anyway; otherwise simply a cone (or, if you don’t fancy the long-jump, a detour) will do.
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On bellydance, warungs & beautiful armour

A few days ago, arriving at a local community space for a tribal bellydance class (which had me afterwards ruminating about my oft-visited idea of teaching it as a side project, though I later wonder if what I mean is that I would love to simply perform more; of all the dances I’ve danced over a dance-filled life so far, it is by far the most intricate and the most sensual; the most hypnotic and precise), I bumped into a man I’d met here a year ago (we played scrabble together when the whole island shut down over Nyepi; he beat me to a pulp with his easy familiarity with two-letter bizarrities of the English language, only later letting me know that he’d competed successfully for years, by which time I was pretty sulky on the inside). He is an interesting and energetic fellow – speaks Indonesian fluently (I’d forgotten this; it was a surprise when we were ordering our juices together the next day at a secret hideaway warung I’d never been to before) and attends a multitude of AA meetings, dipping in and out of the UK doing short stints of social work to fund his spins on his bike around Bali. Anyway. He introduced me to the local library, which is just inches from my homestay but so tucked away I would never have known about it. Outside, the corridor of approach is lined with what appears to be an installation of giant water bottles; anyone can refill their own bottles for a fee. You have to crouch to hold your bottle neck under the giant bottle as though receiving a blessing.

As I entered the library, I felt like I was walking into a wonderland; Continue reading

Ketut in breakfast conversation: on Dharma & Paths

Further to this post (‘Why you don’t like papaya?’) last year…

…This morning’s conversation with Ketut, the perpetually yawning, hand-shaking, backward-cap-wearing, eye-rolling, giggling, 24-year-old chatterbox (when not just woken up) and pillar of this Balinese homestay:

Me (stoicially eating papaya on the terrace outside my room after breakfast was delivered, total paradise and luxury but quite standard for low-cost accommodation here in Ubud, and something achieved either immediately upon waking or after a series of small coughs aimed to invite the offer of a fruit salad; there is no restaurant area; a tray comes when you have shown sign of life; in fact I have no need of a morning alarm, since part one of the morning ritual, at roughly 7am, involves tiny footsteps padding barefoot past my first-floor room and the slight music of a cup and saucer making contact on the wood-carved table outside; a huge flask of hot water and a tea bag is left for me to enjoy until I make myself known to the garden below by way of movement; wearing bright colours aids one’s ability to be noticed, which is fine by me, since I have a near pathological addiction to bohemian dresses in all colours of the rainbow): Good morning. Continue reading

How to carve a life

It’s Nyepi Day here in Bali; day of silence (we are not allowed to go out onto the streets among other rules; patrol men say so!) after the night of monster spirits, the Ogoh Ogohs, being paraded through streets across the country and ending in fire. Today is a new year, day one, blank slate, day of reflection (from 6am this morning until 6am tomorrow morning) and, in my case, laundry day.

Yesterday, the supermarket (to which I was kindly driven by the homestay family member, Made, with some friends I’d acquired within hours of arriving here and invited along for the group outing, much to his enthusiasm), was absolutely packed with a long line of kitchen-less tourists stocking up on storecupboard essentials as if an apocalypse was nigh. If apocalypse just means ‘new beginning’, ‘revelation’ or ‘uncovering’ (from the Greek apokálypsis), it’s kind of true, of course, according to the Balinese. A box of walnuts cost nearly a fiver, and some heartily healthy granola (coconut, banana, rosella, red rice, oats, cassava…) cost about the same. I stocked up frivolously (peanut butter, juice, a peach, that kind of thing), and took great refuge in the fact that spending in a different currency doesn’t always feel like spending real money.

I write this on a terrace, eating some unidentified green substance with a spoon Continue reading

Road Rage & Journeys of the gods

The day I first arrived in Delhi over a decade ago, the rickshaw my friend and I were in tipped over and landed both of us on the floor. It still bothers me slightly that I can’t remember whether or not we paid the man for our few successful metres before running away; it wasn’t his fault he lives in a mad, mad country of unstable vehicular reality and impressionistic trajectories; he would have preferred to have remained upright, too.

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The Country Hello

Walkies is always intoned as a question (walking around a field or two is a collaborative endeavour, after all – a joint decision even if a predictable one); the response comes always via immediately expressive eyeballs (she would fold her arms at a policeman if she could, to show willingness) and, today, came accompanied by a sneeze and a lightning-quick circle on the spot. I needed a walk as much as she did; if indoors is deadlines and computers, stress and anxiety, outdoors is space and wind, trees and open sky. So off we went. I carried her over the initial muddy bit (she is too small, too pristine and too fair to want to wade through it, though she probably would have, with raised eyebrows as a challenge [it’s I who’d have had to bathe her], if I’d not intervened) and plonked her down again for her parade.

Walking my dog is often a sort of parade; she is a bit of a princess, even while sniffing and widdling all over the place, and is met with admiration and ecstasy wherever she goes, mostly because she looks like a cross between a small piglet and a fairy. She is a long-haired chihuahua, built for seasonal jumpers and a penchant for puppy food (by which I mean she refuses all else). When I occasionally mention her on dates (looking after her is an excellent excuse for leaving one early, if necessary), I am on the alert for any judgement; it is an interesting thing that dog breeds can be gendered (as baffling, really, as the fact that colours so often are); I admire a man who can admire a chihuahua and not have to check he’s still got a willy. Continue reading

Amphitheatre

We were backpacking. Always backpacking – or often. We had no bags with us but were in transit; I know this. Sometimes I wake up remembering how we were, him sitting behind me in a bus, not quite there, not quite not there; me unwinding earphones. This time, we were moving through some station or other, bagless again, not noticeably so, just factually so; except the station wasn’t making much sense – there were trains, I was certain, but also planes and buses and, perhaps, boats. And the central part of it was sunken like the centre of an amphitheatre, its low, vast base a stage, covered with bright green lawn and families picnic-ing. It was some kind of open-air stadium; some foreign, metropolitan quirk; amusing to us that that a station would be so multi-purpose like this; so shaped like a giant amphitheatre; like some great festival we were swinging our way around in this country I don’t know what. We were in the thick of the space, wandering, moving, winding between, wasting time in the midst of dotted groups and families. He was behind me, dawdling, pointing things out and I turned to smile, to say something, or to hear him say something, perhaps wondering if we should find which train or a boat or a plane to catch; perhaps about to suggest we go up the steps to the real part of the station, when, 100 metres behind his shoulders I saw a thing (some temporary thing; maybe a food van) explode. Bang, and the world was a heady, cosmic mess. Continue reading