And Then A Venetian Wedding
UK, March, 2015
Mumbai to London flight, and they are, most kindly, priming us for the British weather by turning the temperature inside the plane to that of a fridge freezer.
Lambs, ruins, meadows, brooks and stiles. Thank heavens for ancient England's “right to roam” laws, and thank heavens Queen Madonna didn't manage to change them, (when she lived in the UK she tried to have them revoked as she did not want the riff-raff on her property).
Another train, yippee, this time Guildford bound. Only thing missing is the chaichaichai masala chai, madam? of India Rail.
A cloudy solar eclipse here in Guildford, but it matters not, even what you can't see, you can just as powerfully feel.
Here's to the most profound of endings and beginnings.
Dreams, confusion or uncertainty, to steely intention and action.
I shall miss walking the glorious hills, meadows and river banks of England, but the vineyards of California will console. 3 more days and I will be there.
Cardigans, Crunchies and Marmite; the valuable loot I'm carrying away from England.
Just had a lovely long chat with the Mayor and Mayoress of Preston, who I just happened to sit next to while waiting for my flight, and they are on their way to Beijing by invitation of the university there. Delightful people who told me lots about their local customs, (with enthusiastic pride, they even showed me a video), apparently Preston is one of the only towns to still practice many old English community traditions. This is why I love travelling.
Los Angeles, Late March, 2015
Ms Smug got her comeuppance for gloating over extra seats on the flight, the plane arrived 5 hours late, and my suitcases decided to spend an extra couple of days in London, by themselves.
Of all the places that I travel to alone, no matter where, none feel as potentially threatening as a gas station minimart at 1:30 am, in central Los Angeles.
Hence, here I am ensconced in a Travelodge, attired in my one and only set of rather tired togs, after foraging for plastic food on the, (feels like), mean streets of LA in the early, early hours. But still happy to be back.
I've been wide awake since 3 am, and just got to see my first dawn on this particular, (short but always sweet), trip to Santa Ynez Valley. Years ago in my head I named this the "Valley of Magnificent Women", and it continues to live up to that name. I made a home here in 1982, brought my children up here, until they flew the nest, and then in the mid 1990's starting dipping in and out, pulled away by an insatiable thirst to see the world and to work and to study in different lands, yet I'm always drawn back, time and time again. Often I visit for very short periods, but there is never a time when I leave without being completely recharged by the energy and inspiration of my women friends, in this stunningly beautiful, Californian valley. Since those early years some of my closest friends have moved further afield also, but this is still the place where it all began.
I am blessed with wonderful friends in several locations in the world, but I don't know of any other spot with such a high concentration of dynamic, loving, supportive, creative, inspiring and powerful women. Who knows why? Perhaps it was my place to tap into that energy, out of single mom need, sheer luck in having work that threw me into contact with so many of them, or maybe it really is some mystical vortex of feminine power. It doesn't even matter why, this is where I woke up to the understanding of true sisterhood between women, and that changed my life. And I have no doubt that this is what gave me the foundation of trust and confidence to travel out into the world and have this marvellous life I am living.
Over the moon excited to see everyone.
Walking past an owl box, thinking to myself that we should have one in Bali, I turned round and Mr (Mrs?) Owl stuck his/her head out and looked right at me. I guess it was a day owl, or an insomniac, and I'm surmising it was agreeing with my thoughts, on behalf of its compadres in Bali.
Good Morning little(ish) snake; who I very nearly stepped on, I'm not sure if you are a baby rattler, because I can't see your tail, but I'm not going get any closer just in case.
Do you want water, or do you want wine? This is a very serious question, here in the parched hills, yet still verdant vineyards, of Southern California.
I am in the middle of a month of the fun and rewarding privilege of taking care of my friend's old dog. If I had one fraction of his good nature, serenity, appreciation, sweetness, simple needs, lack of complications, enthusiasm, patience and clarity of knowing exactly what he needs, and when he needs it, I might be one pretty saintly humanoid. Loving Butch.
Sitting on another rock, on yet another glorious beach; waves crashing, sun shining, knowing that my blessings are as many as the drops in this ocean, that unbrokenly connects these shores to those of Bali, where I will be heading back to in one short month.
Last night, sitting around in our comfies, with my friends, they were both looking rather quizzically at what I was wearing, (I have a penchant for over-sized men's flannel shirts, which I hunt down in thrift shops). It turns out they had just made a donation to the same store I discovered this particular beauty in, then I'd gone in and unknowingly purchased my friend's shirt... and taken it right back to its original home.
But it's leaving with me.
If I had a favourite quote it would be this:
As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world. ― Virginia Woolf
Venice, May, 2015
It’s official: woman can live on pizza, pasta, gelato and chianti alone, thank heavens that mother of the bride dress is a bit of a loose sack.
Having a magical time, especially since giving up completely on maps and guide books. Wandering, randomly and aimlessly, seems to be the most effective way to get anywhere, through these endless alleyways.
And I do wish I liked shoes, (I live in a world of strictly flip flops or Uggs), because I’ve never in my life seen so much gorgeous footwear.
Wedding Update: Today is the day, and it looks like we got the weather we ordered. Also, took my red wedding shoes on a test run last night, and they failed spectacularly. The horrid, uncomfortable things might well be seen floating down some Venice Canal before I leave. Luckily I have daughter-bride approval to wear my dressiest flip flops. There is no way my feet can can be that miserable, when the rest of me is so happy.
The most romantic wedding ever; the courthouse ceremony was democratic and gender friendly beyond compare, a gondola flotilla through the canals of Venice, while being serenaded by brilliant musicians. Tara and Ricardo, you dreamt the dream then made it real. My heart is bursting. Love is all.
Yesterday was one of those joy-filled times that reaffirms all, it was perfect. And I decided to see it with just my own eyes rather than from behind a camera, except for a couple while we were in the gondolas. But we had a photographer, and I will be poaching everyone else's pictures as soon as I can.
And in a few hours I'll be flying back to California, and then 5 days after that back to Bali.
Right now, I'm off to steal an hour of wandering the streets of Venice, pre the tourists waking up. There is a window of time, just after dawn when the streets are almost bare, (except for some bleary-eyed bar owls on their way home to roost), and it is so exquisite.
For all my fretting about shoes and handbags, I ended up carrying a paper carrier bag full of my daughter's stuff all day long, and wearing my comfiest sandals. Much ado about nothing, (as per usual)... will I ever learn?
Back to Asia, June, 2015
It's now 4 am and 85 degrees in Singapore airport, with it's swimming pool, free movie theatre, and to my great relief, a duty free liquor store, open at this very witchy hour.
In less than 5 hours I shall be back in Paradise.
Imagine having a contractor/builder who you can present with a group of ideas, (completely unfounded in any technical knowledge or logic), then you just leave for 6 months, only to come back and find that he has created something that far exceeds any hopes or expectations you may have had... and ridiculously within budget?
That's what I have arrived home to.
Thank you Jagi, (and crew), the humblest, simplest, wisest, sweetest man I have ever met.
Our lovely new housekeeper has never used or even spoken on a phone, in her life, and the thought of it completely freaks her out. I suppose that means I shouldn't ask her if she is on FB.
An enthusiastic shopper I am usually not, but yesterday I got to do the kind of shopping I like very much; rummaging in the dusty corners of a my favourite, (hard to call it), shop, discovering yet more battered and broken pieces of teak from old Javanese sailing ships, ready to start their new life as counters and benches at the land. I never touch them without feeling in awe of the stories they could tell that we will never ever know. This imagination runs happily riot.
The hammock is finally up. Life is complete.
Someone just reminded me of my father, and I was suddenly struck with the realisation that I don't feel any sense of regret about my story with him either. He, voluntarily, vanished entirely from my life when I was 14, and I don't even know if he's dead or alive today. Of course it's a significant part of my life story, but even the pain and loss I felt profoundly as a child, I now recognise as an important part of the fabric of who I am today.
I know so many good, steady men who always stay, and perhaps this is why I never feel in the least fatherless. Or maybe there is no why, just an absence of regrets.
The antics of the quirky chickens and fish, (who actually have huge personalities), keep me laughing all day long. When I write it down it sounds slightly sad, but it matters not, I'm a big fan of whatever makes me chuckle, and I'm becoming more vegetarian by the day.
Just planted 2 banana trees in each of the new bathrooms... as you do.
Life's Ironies: This astrologer has moved to the “village of no birthdays”. I'm finally comfortable enough with the staff to enquire of their birth data, (and of course have my own theories already), only to find out that their parents paid no heed to such trifles, (even those in their 20's). Very few know the year let alone the date, they just say they know they are older/younger than so and so. Then, when they enrolled in school they needed birth dates, so they just randomly picked them.
After being in existence for a full Jupiter cycle, (12 years), this wonderful glorious life in Bali, and Heaven and Earth Workshops has grown, evolved, transformed, blossomed and shifted, (all much loved Aquarian words), and now we are ready to launch a whole new chapter of "the unplanned plan". In the past I have only hosted workshops where I ran everything, (yes, I am a bit of a bossy boots by nature). Now we are on the cusp of having a lot more flexibility, and people will be able to rent the property and organise and run their own events, (with our experienced crew here to help in every way we can). We are almost ready to accommodate 20 on site, and it will increase to 25 soon, we have a full kitchen and restaurant facility, 2 pools, a 10 x 8 metre open air hall, a variety of comfortable and unique accommodations, and endless little nooks and crannies for relaxing, all in heaven on earth amidst working rice fields spilling on down into the most friendly jungle.
All the electricity is down, (thank you 3G), swinging in the hammock, sun going down, just found a jet black ladybird, reading yet another fabulous book about Catherine the Great, (one of my favourite heroines, and a slight obsession since I was in Russia). No idea when the lights might come on again, but one little pillow and a fluffy blanket and this could be a most adequate perch for the night, especially under the light of that Jupiter, Venus conjunction.
Every single little idea we have, they make happen, never a discouragement, never a negative vibe, and still never a single set plan. Everything has turned out far better than I could have ever imagined, and it is all down to these incredibly talented, ever humble builders. I stand in awe of their kindness, patience and innate knowledge of the land, born right out of simply being at one with it.
Found bedraggled and alone in our garden this rainy morning... a beautiful baby owl.The Balinese seem confident we can save it, and apparently we can feed it papaya.
Our brave little owl was finally well and released, and flew free and strong and high, no doubt grateful to be out from under that boring and unfamiliar overturned green plastic basket. The Balinese knew he needed to be calm and quiet after his stressful morning. What a great sight to behold, thank you all for the words of encouragement. I hope he decides to make his home within hooting distance.
Woke up this morning’ and had to pinch myself yet again, in case this fabulous life I am living really is just a dream.
Firstly, my darling friend Rick Levine will be here in Bali soon to celebrate the life of our brother Jeff, and to hold the 1st workshop on our land.
Then I spend a month in the US, then onto Portugal and Spain, for Xmas and New Year, then a month traveling around and exploring Morocco.
Then joy, onto India, and yet another fabulous event with my astrological alma mater, the Faculty of Astrological Studies.
Who’d of thought internet passwords and growing seedlings would have so much in common. But it turns out if you don’t mark them, or write them down somewhere, you are left with exactly the same empty stare.
Waiting to be surprised.
We have 10 dedicated German bloggers, spending a month at my land partners' property, next door. A blogging workshop of sorts, and they are always very quiet and focused. Today their Internet is completely down, and all I can hear is delighted laughter and raucous splashing in the pool.
Lovely Bali Sunday afternoon. Checking on those “mystery seedlings", visiting the chickens in the cabbage patch, listening to the melodious hammering by both of the builders putting in the wooden yoga floor, and the sweet laughter of our staff preparing the offerings.
One of my more unenlightened posts, but I detest Monsanto and co with a burning passion. Riding my scooter along the stunning back roads of Bali, I see the farmers unknowingly, walking barefoot through their paddies, dispersing the toxic chemicals they have been told is medicine for their rice plants, with their bare hands, and it makes me want to scream. Tumours, cancers, and bone disease are the price that others have to pay for these monsters turning their obscene profits.
Only when I actually cook myself, (a very rare occurrence), do I fully appreciate the alchemy and mindfulness involved in creating all the delicious foods I am privileged to savour all over this world, (that I normally take very much for granted). The only reason I am doing it now is that I have a garden that is behaving like Eden, and pumping out bounty almost hourly. I am often in an actual physical race to get to the ripening tomatoes before all the neighbourhood chickens, at that exact moment of full ripeness, I come charging down from one end of the garden and them from the other, (they usually win). But the person most responsible for these bubbling pots of marinara sauce at 9 pm, (when I am normally lolling around with my Kindle), is my Taurean Scottish Granny. She could not stand to waste a single thing, especially if you grew it yourself. She spent her whole life as the daughter, then wife, of a farm labourer, in the north of Scotland, living entirely off the land. Even when eventually forced to live in the city, (Aberdeen), she always had "plots" where she continued to grow all her own veggies. So my beloved Granny Lizzie's "waste not, want not" mantra is ever ringing in my ears, and hence the anti-cook is to be found, (a little obsessively), stirring away well into the Bali night.
I wish I'd bought a bigger freezer.
I'm sampling red wine in a box, grown and produced in Bali, (wine production in the tropics would surely be any serious vintner's worst nightmare), and I accidentally bought the cheapest and most reviled brand on the island. I am (seriously) doing this taste test so I know what to recommend to guests and students, and now I'm not sure whether to be happy about the discovery, or concerned about my plummeting standards, but I actually quite like it.
Yoga dancing in the jungle by myself, the world at it's most vibrant and alive. One of those moments when you want to scream out loud about how amazing life is, but I don't want the villagers to know quite how crazy I am... not yet.
Runaway garden: it has decided it doesn't need any of us, and shall just grow what it jolly well pleases. What was the compost bed, is now a mélange of pumpkins, tomatoes and red spinach. Go for it, garden, I support freedom of choice for all.
Beloved, well intentioned, spiritually wise, hard-working, Balinese friends, at the same time sometimes so woefully naive and unknowing. We're doing a big clean up, and disposing of all the old garbage from the building project. No matter how many times I say, don't burn the plastic, still they do, (often when I'm not around). With my sad language skills, saying you CAN'T burn it just doesn't convince, because of course you CAN burn it, and it appears to vanish.
For centuries, everything in their universe was organic and went right back to the earth, and now packaging has insidiously snuck it's way into every facet of their daily life. Consciousness isn't rising nearly quickly enough to keep up, while the piles of plastic have become mountains. Worse still, nobody knows what silent illnesses are rooting themselves through this innocent ignorance.
I don't know what to do besides rant and nag the point continuously, and I will if I have to, I don't really care if I appear half loony. We are literally living in Eden, with this black hearted plastic monster slithering around the edges constantly.
Wishing and racking my brains for a way to get this across.
Rick Levine is on his way to Bali today, and I can't wait to hug my beloved friend on this bittersweet occasion of the 1st time he will arrive here without Jeff Jawer.
I can never make up my mind which time of day is most beautiful, every one has a different palette.
Running into someone who wants to give out a lot of unasked for advise you neither need, want, or have the time or band width to deal with, makes me want to be extra careful not to be that person for anyone else... although I know I often am.
I know of few things as delicious as a steaming hot shower, under the sky and the trees, at cooling down dusk, in the jungle.
The students are started to arrive... all jet lagged, but happy, and already the coconut fest began, straight from our very own trees.
Living where every little thing has value, food is precious and appreciated, and a bag full of old plastic bottles will buy you a laundry basket that you are thrilled to have. When someone comes with a box of old used paint cans, and politely asks if it is okay for them to take them home, I need to deal with the discomfort and twist in my stomach at the amount of gratitude shown when I say yes, about giving someone something I would have just thrown away. I am one of the "privileged" in a land of spiritual riches, learning about caring without sentimentality, that everything can be used again and again, and that the beauty and grace in humility and simple living far surpasses anything money can buy.
After a week of learning, sharing and caring, we had a full moon day of remembering and blessings, then we concluded by planting a garden all around the meeting hall, dedicated to Jeff Jawer.
Treated myself to a few Skype hours of talking to bestest of friends. I wouldn't trade a week-end in Paris, a glittery bauble, nor any other imaginable luxury for the lift in spirits I'm riding high on right now.
Nothing is more precious than a friend.
Our wonderful staff; who without ego, hoopla, psychic claims or glitz just naturally live lives steeped in mysticism, spirituality and grace. It is as necessary and integral a part of their lives as the oxygen they breathe.
They have taught me more by simple example than any new age theory, self proclaimed enlightened type, or so called "spiritual" literature I've ever read.
The Empire keeps growing, and no trees died in the making of this movie, a blatant Sagittarian exaggeration, but not for the want of trying to make it true, and there are trees growing out of rooms. My reputation with the workers is that of a bona fide tree-hugger, to the point of if a tree needs to go, then you can’t build there. Yes, they think I’m a fruit-cake.
3 more old Javanese teak houses, in countless bits and pieces, ready to be put together by our brilliant building crew.
Excited to see what can be created from what looks like a ratty old wood-pile.
Less than 3 weeks and I return to California. Time is such an odd thing, (I realise that is the entire life span of many things, let alone more vacation time than most people get), but while still here, I've already shifted into yearning for Bali, and at the same time wildly, (not an exaggeration), excited about seeing US friends. It's an emotional paradox I'm very familiar with, and one that is exclusive to the highly privileged, who get to bop around this planet, with "good" passports.
An amazing lifetime.
Fast food in the rice fields, (it’s not yet 8am and I have a Skype reading in just a few). Green ginger tea, veggie juice, boiled egg and homemade chocolate. I do believe that is all the food groups covered.
A Tale of Two Trees
Our office is almost done, and there was one more idea, another frangipani/plumeria/jepun for more shade. Word gets passed to the staff, and after lunch 5 strong men are seen hauling a fully grown, 20+ ft tree along the narrow rice field paths. One of them had an “extra” in his yard so they just gave it to us. A giant hole, and a lot of huffing puffing later, and we have our gorgeous tree.
As it was being planted, someone noticed a tiny banyan tree attached to our other jepun. The verdict amongst the Balinese is unanimous, once that banyan tree has 1,000 leaves a spirit will attach itself and make that its home, and from what I understand there‘ll be another spirit for every additional 1,000 leaves. In both Bali and India I have seen how huge they get, plus we are directly behind the cemetery, so presumably we’d have no shortage of tenants. I am actually intrigued as to who might move in, but I was immediately outvoted on this. It has to go.
You gain a tree, you lose a tree.
Right now, I just stay wherever is not rented out. In the lowest field, my intention is to build an actual home where all my stuff stays, and whenever I am here that's where I will lay my head, (and I will definitely keep travelling for as long as this body allows). It will be the first time in about 7 years that I will have been rooted, (if I stick to the plan), in any sense of the word. It will be simple and open, and tucked away from everything. We won't start for a while but already my brain is bursting with ideas. It is west facing so has the sunset view, and I know in my heart that I could be happy watching the sunset of my own existence from here.
Paradox. How fantastic to have an idea, and then have a group of strong, skilled workers all say yes, and never ever question what you want to do, (but they will let me know if they will fall off the hill or such), while it is, at the same time, intensely daunting to have such freedom/responsibility. They just, most cheerfully, put all the panjung walls up and then took them down again, (at madam's behest), turned them around, and now they are building a random little pond that was an impulse design of yours' truly.
Just bought a new hiking/daypack and there tucked away in the little disclaimer section:
“Please Note: The Backpack is Not Bulletproof or Armoured”.
Why on earth would I want one that was, I have zero plans for a wander through any kind of war zone, have we officially slipped back into Wild West mode?
The greatest "spiritual teachers" in my life have certain things in common:
1. They have zero to do with "New Age" thinking, or that kind of community.
2. They would never claim to be teachers of anything, and would laugh out loud at the idea of being that for anyone.
3. They know how to appreciate, be fully present, and consistently kind.
And I am fortunate enough to have had a few; past, present and ongoing.
Two days in one; 5pm and all the workers have gone, the sound of their laughter, busy-ness and hammering has been replaced by the noisy silence of a symphony of crickets. I'm about to take my daily solo swim in our volcanic stone pool, cradled in its coconut palm, banana plant, hibiscus, frangipani and everything else delicious and fragrant jungle bosom. A very different, but just as full and rich, "day" starts as everything cools down, slowly darkens, and it's just me, completely alone, but hanging out a bit with friends on the social network, (which I'm not ashamed to say I'm highly appreciative of it), and my books and thoughts and ideas, until the brain says "enough" and I'm lulled into that other sweet place, sleep.
And all of it to look forward to again tomorrow, until in about 72 hours when the storyline changes completely.
California, here I come.