Monday, April 24, 2017

Villa Samika, Bali

My idea of heaven, this villa cascades down a hillside toward the river. Birdsong fills the air, flowers bloom profusely and we have nothing to do but lounge on our deck and swim in the pool. Thursday there's a big ceremony in the village near us with music, parades, offerings. We'll rouse ourselves to attend. Maybe....

Balinese Duck Speaks!

Our writing group is using the subject of a "tabloid headline" prompt for this week's fun. You can make one up or use one you like. A favourite of mine, "Severed leg walks to hospital" doesn't work here in Bali so I made one up. My fictitious tabloid name comes from my husband who has pet names for all the newspapers. He calls our paper The Village Idiot.
The Daily Intruder, Monday, April 24th. Dateline: Bali, Indonesia

Balinese Duck Speaks!

Farmer Wayan Sudari of Ubud, Bali, attempted a conversation with his head duck yesterday afternoon in the presence of this Daily Intruder reporter and others gathered for the briefing. Sudari, who calls himself a duckpoke or duck wrangler, claims this duck and others in the badling (name for grounded ducks) have been speaking to him for over a month, ganging up on him and threatening to form a union for better working conditions. “These ducks are not acting like Balinese ducks. They act like Hell’s Angel gangs I’ve seen on TV,” said Wayan.

“For centuries we’ve been working in the rice paddies!” Wayan claims the head duck, Donald, recently quacked to him, while stretching up to full height and staring into his chest. “Every day, we get in line and do exactly as you tell us . . . waddling down rows, cleaning up bugs, frogs, eels and grasshoppers before we dive into the water to swim.”

Wayan commented to the reporters he was surprised the ducks have kept an account of perceived abuses for many generations. He was astonished at the details of Donald’s grievances.

Wayan’s ducks move together in “rafts” from field to field following his lead. Like most rice farmers in Bali, Wayan uses a long bamboo switch flying a white flag decorated with duck feathers. Raised in the air for visibility, the flag guides the ducks from field to field where they clean and fertilize as they go. “Another unrewarded benefit,” Donald complained to Wayan as he plucked a grasshopper off the path, wiped his bill on his wing and pooped for emphasis.

Wayan reports that Donald and the gang have even complained about Wayan’s rice field clothing - shorts and a Bintang Beer t-shirt. “Bali farmers, in sarongs, we ducks can respect, but your old rubber shoes and ugly clothes. Ugh. Quack.” says Donald. “And that rap music gives us indigestion! Nobody can rest.”

Wayan guesses the ducks, in their enclosure behind the house, have been listening while he practises English, playing phrases over and over on tapes each evening. As Wayan practises, he claims he’s heard, over the normal quacking, a lone duck voice repeating over and over “The tailor is rich…” Sudari notes that he found an iPhone, lost by a tourist, in the duck enclosure last month. It was tuned to Netflix and playing the American film, Norma Rae. He thinks Donald was heavily influenced by the Sally Fields role.

In order to improve working conditions Sudari has been wearing a sarong and playing gamelan music in the field. Despite these concessions the ducks refused to speak in the presence of our small group of reporters. Wayan, claiming the ducks were trying to embarrass him, asked us all to notice the fish-eye Donald was giving him during the interview.

“Just like my wife,” Wayan said, “They make me look bad.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017

In Seminyak

We've traded a view of the Wallace line and across the sea to Lombok, twenty two miles of beautiful open sea, for a view of a wall.. a lovely wall, but still, a wall. It's a shock. Here in Seminyak, the price of land is sky high and every square inch is built on or being built on. We are residing in the neighborhood of the Oberai Hotel, a Beverly Hills-like location.

From a background sound of lapping ocean waves, we've gone to the sound of buzzing motorbikes, cars and endless chatter from behind our walls. Our villa is smack in the middle of the action and after nearly a week of serenity, it's huge change.

The garden designer for this villa squeezed many features into a space thirty-five by forty feet...a small pool, a covered bale, a pond and several fountains. The landscaping, behind a two foot high wall in a two foot deep strip, was well chosen - the big plants which you might think would overwhelm the space make it appear more spacious. The rest of the villa is unremarkable...the garden gets high marks. If it weren't for the noise.

Why are we here in the crowds and madness? Eating and shopping. Most of the better restaurants of Bali are here, as are the designers of furniture, home decor, jewelry, clothing. Although we don't intend to purchase anything, we do like to see the beauty on display. Inevitably, despite our best intentions, we haul something home which we have no room for and which will end up in the attic where our travel tsoshkes are squirreled away or should I say curated, the current word for a collection.

We can't stroll the streets here around here despite what the villa says in their advertising. Stepping out our front gate onto the road is daunting.There's barely a few inches of clearance between the villa wall and the speeding bikes, cars, vans and even buses. Wobbliness from my acoustic neuroma makes walking in a straight line for me impossible. I take three or four steps under control and whoops, I start an involuntary drift in the wrong direction. Too dangerous to navigate on foot. One ill-timed step and my next destination would be on a cremation pile having my picture taken by thousands of tourist cell phones and sent speeding around the world.

I'll admit I am prone to exaggeration, but cremations are, in fact, a tourist attraction here in Bali. It's been 14 years since we were in Ubud at a propitious time and got to attend one - a very famous business woman, owner of an iconic restaurant and a pillar of the community. There are volumes written about the ceremonies which Google will relate to you if interested. The Bali ceremony changed my attitude forever about death ceremonies because they are happy occasions - the deceased is only temporarily absent and will reincarnate or find final rest in Moksha.

At the ceremony we attended, half the town was present wearing t-shirts with the deceased's picture on the front. Everyone was laughing and celebrating. There was gamelan music. My sister and brother-in-law had just arrived for our wedding and were dazed by it all...the clogged streets, parades of people with offerings and the noise, followed by the huge cremation fire. For our western sensibilities it's quite a lot to process. From Wiki...

"On the day of the ceremony, the body of the deceased is placed inside a coffin. This coffin is placed inside a sarcophagus resembling a buffalo (Lembu) or in a temple structure (Wadah) made of papier-maché and wood. This sarcophagus is then borne to the cremation site in a procession, which is almost never walked in a straight line. This is done to confuse evil spirits and keep them away from the deceased."

Because I can't walk a straight line, am I keeping evil spirits away from us? At last . . . an advantage to being permanently off balance.

Last night we did manage to walk to our desired restaurant which seemed a lifetime away because of the near misses. When I dared look up from my feet and the uneven sidewalk ahead, I saw what???..wooden penises. They're displayed for sale on the street in bunches in large vases like bouquets of flowers. There must be a huge market for these tasteless objects, I presume with the Australians...they're blamed for everything untoward in Bali. I can understand a few of these things, but there are so many here! Later, on our shopping expedition, I found little packages of small decorated penises...packages of five. Who has five friends in need of flower bedecked pocket-sized wooden penises? Actually the number is just right for my writing group but no . . . they all enjoy a laugh, but I simply can't go that far. Book Club?? Perhaps. They know me well enough to boo me and or toss the offensive objects out without apology. I did take a photo of the little plastic wrapped ones after making sure there was nobody around but I can't post it. Too tacky.

Once in our restaurant we watched as the tiny graceful waitresses showed up for work, first bowing their heads in front of the building's shrine for blessings before beginning their shifts. They exude spirituality. You wonder what they make of the artless penii.

Sometimes, when I see what tourism has wrought, I want to go home and stay there.

Writing Group: Using a Cliche for Inspiration.

Finishing with a Clean Slate

Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s going to be my first time at confession in over fifty years and I feel sorry as hell for those in line behind me. If I were a nicer person, I’d pass the word along that they should all go home and come back tomorrow when I might be finished. Except it’s Easter tomorrow and everyone wants to celebrate with a clean slate.

Actually, a clean slate is almost exactly how the nuns that taught me catechism described the soul. Or did I get this from other authorities like Late Night Catechism or Do Black Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? Except it wasn’t square like a slate but about the size and shape of a football and squeezed in between the heart and lungs. When you were born it was blinding white with a grayish cast to it- the gray being the presence of Original Sin. Once you were baptized the gray lifted out and the football assumed a serene white color. I could describe this better with a book of color chips from Sherwin Williams - ”just baptized white” or “holy ecru, or “sinless soul white.”

When we were children preparing for our first confessions, the nuns assured us that few reached the age of seven without a whole shitload of sins accumulated. And these sins made black marks on the soul which could only be removed by confession, penance and absolution. For our first childish soul search the nuns provided us with an easy check-off sin list.
Did you fight with your brother or sister?
Were you disobedient?
Did you miss mass on Sunday?
I scanned the list for my big one: Did you steal pennies from your own family?
Uh oh...that one wasn’t suggested, so it was probably on a bigger list. I was in trouble - no way was I telling the priest I was a thief before I could even walk. Mom had sewn pennies into the hems of our curtains so they would hang straight. I discovered this low-hanging fruit when I was still crawling and as soon as I was able (pun alert)I worked the pennies out through the stitches and stashed them away. Even though I could barely talk, I had grasped the concept of embezzlement. I think I knew it was wrong but in my defense about this same time I ate a pound of cold lard thinking it was ice cream so I did have a lot to learn about a lot.

As I recall, there was an escape clause you could use in confession in an emergency, and this was clearly an emergency, something like…”and everything else I may have forgotten.” No doubt, like a sleazy insurance company or like United Airlines I used the clause to wriggle off the hook. Right about then I knew my soul was going to be grey forever. The few times I did think of it over the past fifty years..I fancied it up a bit by imagining it as “mother of pearl.”

Preparing for my confession now as a senior citizen, most if not all of my sins, seem silly and inconsequential. Many of them, bad at the time, turned out very well for everyone involved. Does a happy outcome started with a sin count in your plus or minus balance sheet? Years of perspective do make you realize that nothing is black and white.

I wish there was some special dispensation for seniors...where you could just kneel down in the box, confess to being an all-round, frail sinning human being and get forgiven for it all. Seniors with freshly-forgiven souls, lapsed Catholics such as myself, might be more inclined to bequeath cash to the church in their wills out of gratitude. Someone please put this suggestion in the pope’s email for his immediate consideration, so I can get up off my aching knees, go home and give all these folks in line behind me a break.

And speaking of confessions now you know why I was destined for a career in the food business. Ice cold lard, anyone?

Sepia Saturday 364, April 22nd: Blouses

Carshalton Convent (St Philomena's School) Sports Day, 8 July 1907

This week we are featuring another image from the online collection of glass negatives held by Sutton Archives and featured on their "Past On Glass" webpage. The theme prompt features a 1907 school sports day at Carshalton Convent and may give rise to a variety of interpretations.

The Sepia Saturday prompt this week is at a British school. Either it just rained or the event required the use of an umbrella. The girls look happy.

We were Canadian Girls in Training. CGIT. My father called us "the cutest girls in town" which I failed to appreciate. At that age I found him embarrassing and this kind of word play insufferable (as only a thirteen-year old can). Years later I married a man who likes to do the same thing. Yesterday he asked me a question about CYE. We have a kind of game...I don't ask, but try to figure it out. It was Curb Your Enthusiasm he was referring to.

The photo was was taken at summer camp and I chose it because of the blouses. I was so homesick I remember feeling physically ill. Once that hurdle was crossed the camp was great...swimming, bon fires, singing. Do your ears hang low? Do they wobble to and fro? And yes I do know the alternate lyrics.
I'm on the left front and on right front is my life-long friend, Linda. I look unhappy...some of the girls look thoughtfully posed which surprises me because we didn't practise a look in those days unlike today when kids have their photos taken by the hundreds and automatically assume a stance when the phone is readied for a shot. I'm sure the photographer asked us to smile and it seems I couldn't manage that.

A new athlete was recently added to the family. My four-year old great great niece Madison, entered her preschools bikeathon to raise money for the school. She completed ten laps, despite feeling sick, and she won a prize for best decorated bike. Look at her pounding over the lap line!

They didn't test the kids for drugging.

Run over to for more nostalgic stories about the prompt image.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Villa Dahlia, Candidasa

Leaving Villa Dahlia. Wish we weren' time we'll park ourselves here for a month. Photos don't do it justice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Weekend with Vladimir

Of all the possible mishaps I antipated on Bali, I didn't consider sunburn. Long past my sun-bunny days I no longer wear a bathing suit...just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the pool. No one, not even me, needs to see my cellulite, sags and sun spots. The youthful staff here at the Villa are better off to experience the ravages of age a little at a time and watch it happen on their own bodies, not see it on mine.

That mercy wasn’t granted to me. Grandmother Pulcherie was a tall, bosomy woman, compared to the rest of our wiry French Canadian relatives. When I was ten and she was seventy, I walked in on her when she was donning her bathing suit. I saw her pendulous breasts, blue veined and sagging to near her waist. I never forgot the sight but it didn’t dissuade me from hoping for her curves. Our gold standard for beauty at the time was Marilyn Monroe. Despite consuming copious amounts of Wate-on and doing the endless push-ups suggested by Seventeen magazine, a lush bosom, hinted at by Grandma’s bounty, never appeared. But, like the answer to the prayers of skinny flat-chested girls world-wide, Twiggy hit the scene, Marilyn temporarily fell out of popularity and my 32A chest was fashionable. At least with the girls.

The weekend when I experienced my worst sunburn, my sister and her neighbor’s families planned a camping trip to La Bufadoro, Mexico and invited my husband and I along. They had obtained a huge tent. I packed my red and white polka dot bikini and a copy of "Lolita." I’d recently been introduced to Vladimir Nabokov by my wannabe intellectual Japanese friend with whom I had heavy discussions about the pronunciation of Proust.

Slathered with the popular basting sauce of baby oil and mercurochrome, I arranged my blanket and reading chair in the open sun at ten o’clock in the morning. Lost in the antics of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, I barely looked up. The backs of my legs fried to a medium doneness as I rested on my elbows seduced by Nabokov, relishing his imaginary world.

That night in the huge tent we had a glorious and memorable time. The tent, as it turned out, wasn't quite large enough, so we had to all roll over together; exit en masse to pee. We were awake most of the night laughing and being silly, but at some point I began to feel the skin on my thighs shrinking. By early morning I was having trouble bending my knees. Eventually I had to resort to walking lock-kneed like a North Korean soldier. Monday, I had to call in sick...there was no way I could pull panty hose over my swollen tender flesh. It took a month to recover and I’m sure some of the dark spots and barnacles I sport today had their origins on my weekend with Vladimir.

Yesterday, here in Bali, on a lounge under an umbrella, I spent the afternoon with Khaled Hosseini, lost in his novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns." Just about when the two women protagonists are getting ready to murder their husband- it was a polygamous arrangement- I felt a twinge on my foot and realized it had slipped into the single hot Balinese sun. I yanked it back into the shade. My brain remained fully engaged with the thousand suns and I stayed glued to the words until in the story, a shovel rains down on bad-hubby’s head several times, and gloriously, the fat lady sings.

With her voice ringing in my ears, I examined my foot. It wasn’t a bad burn, just a singe which seems appropriate if balance is important to you. After all, Hosseini is a good writer but he’s no Nabokov.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sepia Saturday #363: April 15-Sisters

Fortunately I have many photos of my sister and myself. I'm guessing these were taken about forty years apart. My bright red fingernails and dangling earrings are reminders of a different iteration of myself. No doubt I was wearing high heels too. We had a running joke about how she was the taller, even though she had to look up into my face to make the declaration. It never failed to make me laugh.

I'd counted on us turning into little old ladies together but she died ten years ago. There was so much left to be said, so much more to do. Of all my family members, I've missed her the most.

Check out other's sibling memories at

Singapore Smiles

So I'm sitting on a tiny stool in Singapore waiting for Richard to bring our coffee
over when this little lady plopped down next to me. I look like a giant compared
to her...she couldn't have been more than 4 foot six inches, weighed maybe
75 pounds. As I'm writing a story about false teeth I was astonished at this

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Food day in Singapore

Jerry was our guide today in Singapore visiting hawker stalls. We enjoyed hearing about the past and possible future of the stalls and their operators. In short, young people aren't interested in carrying on this food tradition...the work is hard and the pay low so you can hardly blame them.

Was the cereal prawn dish great? I was too busy eating to get a photo. Prawns dredged in salted egg yolk, rolled in pre-fried baby cereal and pandan leaf. Delicious.

The above menu item is permanently unavailable so they had the menu printed this way to let people know. Can't explain this......

View from our hotel pool tonight.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Prince of Wales Museum

A second time through here to re-visit some favourites. Buying a ticket is the usual rigamarole with too many receipts and too much stamping. The gift shop has a nice inventory but everything is stacked unimaginatively in rows on the shelves. Even the postcards are just jumbled up. I know people who could triple their sales with a couple of hours of professional display work. Oh well, as we say...they do it their way. An end note: The Tata family has donated about half of the items on display.