SCARLETT’S LETTERS: Baliesque
Dear James —
I am on holidays, holidaze, and holy days!
The last time I went on adventure like this was twelve years ago, backpacking though Europe. I think I’ve left my brain and wit back in Paris. I rarely get out of my enchanted bubble or beyond my traveling comfort zone. Yes, I am a bit scared. Okay, let’s be honest: scared shitless.
So, so much has happened here in Bali. So many new vistas, smells and experiences. I’m still absorbing it all, or maybe truer to say is I’m still absorbed in it all and yet still have the distance to depict it.
I had an idea that I may be practicing some yoga and meditating in the tropical garden of our villa, even have some life-changing encounter like in Eat, Pray, Love. So far I have only made it to one class at the local yoga barn.
Recently I read the word meditation and medication share the same root (obviously); quickly it became clear the medical meditation I require is the swallowing of the new, the unknown, the unplanned. So I grabbed onto the tassels of a Russian ninja clown, who was kind enough to invite me to join the fun, wherever his magic carpet would lead us.
Since I landed we’ve mostly zigzagged through existence, me on the back of his scooter. Bali’s heavily trafficked roads and lushes sceneries are… I think “WOW” is the word that bursts most often from our mouths, especially when you get out of the so-called city. One glimpse at that supernal green foliage speckled pink and yellow with blossoms and I am a child once more, embraced in the goddess Tara’s bosom, healed and revitalized by her nurturing heart. Then again that’s me to a T — take me anywhere in the world and I will always prefer the country acres to the urban hustle. This doesn’t mean I am allergic to clubs and dancing, such as Seminyak’s fashionista haunt at the W Hotel, where we got pretty sweaty afterhours on Valentine’s Day.
I’ve got to say, as gorgeous as every palm tree-encircled rice field and crystal-blue wave is, as juicy the nectar of dragon fruit, or as radiant the light behind a Balinese smile, my favorite time is after the sunsets, when the cool darkness becomes intoxicated with the smells of burning incense and sage, with spiced foods and tropical air, mingled with the not so pleasant un-smog-checked car exhaust. This is coupled with a soundtrack provided by an orchestra of temple ceremonies and chanting insects. I am filled with a day dreamy sense of peaceful pleasure.
Cursing on the bike in this easy-breezy life, I repeat the phrase looping on the electro track playing in my headphones: To say I like, to say I like, in fact I love what you are doin’ to me.
Before I get into the photo-roman portion of this road trip tale, let’s talk about globalization. How long will Bali retain its paradisiac qualities before the inevitable fate of the rest of the world reaches inside every nook and cranny of purity? As I take the taxi back from Seminyak to Ubud tonight I see at least seven McDonalds and who-can-count Starbucks. There was even a Hard Rock Café and supersized Carrefour, a French chain of supermarkets.
What the hell are you doing here? And why welcome Hell into Paradise?
It reminds me of when I was a kid and we had a weekend house in Palm Springs. At some point on the drive there, the mini malls and residencies would break and the night was filled with unadulterated starry skies. These days, the only way to escape into true night is to get lost in the backend of the desert at Joshua Tree.
I read in a local newspaper paper how, due to the overwhelming development of new hotels, which are not required to be responsible for the cause and effect of their waste, half the beaches are poisoned. In turn typhus is on the rage. Furthered by the locals’ understandable lack of understanding that coke cans and plastic packaging are not biodegradable, little wastelands sprinkle the evergreen land and envenom the bathing rivers.
Weirdly funny: many tropical plants have this plastic-fantastic quality. Just when I wonder why we can’t find a way to cut the oil-based products and use these slick leaves instead, I realize that real leaves are what they traditionally used for tableware, pre-industrialization.
Westerners are a double-edged sword. We bring the wealth, occasionally we bring the savoir-faire of organic hippy life. But closely treading behind us always is the greedy monster of our common character, ravenous to eat and demolish every inch of this noble savage earth as if it were a human right.
Still, I am amazed and admire the beautiful creations of some expats here; you can feel there is a greater sense of free-spirited imagination they would not be permitted to have back home. Shamefully, I am comforted that the city’s centers look like L.A.’s Silverlake or Sunset Strip. Yet I wonder bitter-sweetly how long will it take for this place to look like a highly manicured and flattened Club Med. My new Russian friends give me confused looks when, over vegan breakfast, I bring up the question. When you’re confusing the clowns, maybe it’s better just to leave it.
I indulge myself, let my fantasies run free. For a moment I am Joan of Arc, but it’s not God talking to me, rather the fast-beating core of the Earth’s heart. Can I use my sun star as an excuse, as the group around me does? I’m a Virgo. Apparently I observe, I analyze.
A storm is falling. Water and wind caress my skin. So refreshing. It temporarily drowns those annoying little flying bloodsuckers that rush at my veins as if they flowed with gold. As the Russian clown reminds me, not everything is perfect in Paradise.
From here, far beyond my normal beaten path, a few snapshots become tales from a thousand and one nights. I’m sharing the attached pix and commentary with you to enjoy.
Love is in the air, all ways, always,