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.