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.
hole.jpg Continue reading

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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

Meditations (also: Houses, Curtains and Boats)

elephantjournal article

Elephant Journal has just published an article of mine:

‘Where God Is: On Home, Travel & Displacement’.

It’s very personal and confessional, a bit silly and a bit serious, and gets to the root of my eternal cravings both to travel the world and to be at home. I could gaze at the beautiful photo they’ve used (above; credited in the article; heaven in sunlight and flaking paint; they even have a sunflower on the door) for ages. Continue reading

‘Why you don’t like papaya?’

‘Why you don’t like papaya?’

He places the plate of fruit salad on the table on my terrace and waits for a reasonable response. I realise I can give none. I shrug apologetically and say I just don’t like the taste very much. (But already I am doubting myself; really, it’s just a bit nothing-y.)

He tilts his head to consider things for a while, then gestures at the watermelon and pineapple I have allowed to remain in my salad; ‘I think maybe you like crispy.’

‘Crispy? The texture?’

‘Yes. You know, like… potato.’ Continue reading

The Horse’s Mouth; clean as a comet

Excited though I am, I’m currently in the wild throes of pre-trip book-anxiety.

That is, as my must-pack-light head screws itself firmly on for a 7-week-ish jaunt around the southern hemisphere, I find myself eyeing up all of the books in my general vicinity and twitching at the idea of not being able to pack them (I once packed four books for a three-hour train journey, but I don’t think that sort of thing is to be repeated or expanded or extrapolated in the 7-week backpacking scheme of things). Continue reading

In Praise of The U-Turn

Like all sane people, I have occasionally had quite in depth conversations with my sat nav. When she throws her hands in the air, from her austere, square dashboard-universe, and commands her last resort (‘When possible, make a U-turn’) in her cut-glass, authoritative melody, she is giving up, or at least making a medium-sized sulky (not-angry-just-disappointed) show of it.

But this splendid brilliance called life would be deeply dull if we weren’t allowed to change our minds. How liberating it might be, I sometimes imagine in my most indecisive moments, to have to stick to your historical choices (even those you don’t particularly realise you once made), never to doubt yourself, never to wonder about the alternative possibilities you’ve shunned (or repressed or not had the guts to explore) along the way, knowing you need only power on through your once-made decisions to linear infinity, arriving, at the end, and with confidence, at some pre-determined place where outcomes are predictable, productive and planned.

But that’s a lot of P.

Continue reading