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

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.

IMG_20170307_170102 Continue reading

The Others in our Heads

At a writing event the other day, someone read something out during which the main character licks their third left molar ‘and does all the other things we do when we’re uncomfortable’. As the rest of the paragraph washed over me, I automatically licked my own (having calculated at lightning speed which molar the author meant; third from left, third from right?) and observed several others around me discreetly trying the same. Yes, we all agreed in silence while not meeting each others’ eyes; this is what we do when we’re uncomfortable. We lick our third left molar.

Details make for good writing, which is all about truth, whichever brand of truth particularly on offer.

I looked up a book today after a personal recommendation (a book recommendation is a sort of gift; it should never be fobbed off lightly) and read some online reviews. The book had been shortlisted for a massive international prize. ‘Boring boring boring’ said one dissatisfied customer under a 1-star review (zero isn’t an option, as another reviewer noted) entitled ‘Stupefyingly boring’; she went on to announce that she ‘will never again buy novels about men living inside their own heads’. At this point, and after some other reviews (some adoring, some more mixed) mentioning themes of displacement and genre-defiance, I was positively salivating and I couldn’t order it fast enough. 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