Day 4: A Fairy Fine Day

Day 4: A Fairy Fine Day

Working on the balcony of the Nest isn’t exactly working in a coal mine. I read in the Largo Times that morale among city employees is low. That is simply not true. The barefoot, helmet-less guys working on the new handicapped accessibility ramp are truly in good spirits. They have donut breaks, water breaks, chicken breaks, and sent a runner for beer so they could relax after resinking the timbers the third time. I took a conference call, listened happily to three Statistics lectures and am proud of my newly honed ability to calculate Box Plots as well as Upper and Lower Inner Fences. My homework is to do a forensics problem to date skeletons. Very University of Toronto, I think. Since we are here playing with Canadians they are affirmative of my new knowledge set.
After a productive full working day, I kept my promise to Andersen’s two grand daughters from Saskatoon and taught them how to build Fairy Homes. Nothing artificial. Being good stewards of the environment, whenever they found something not organic on the beach they pitched it. IRB

George and I went to Crabby Bills for dinner and slurped raw oysters and steamed shrimp. Best news of the day, besides the four new Fairy Homes, is that they have resumed giving out Crabby Bill cups with the cheap draft beer. We will once again be able to stock the Ex Libris with high class glasses.
Poppy bought himself a new sleeveless shirt, just like Uncle Philly CheeseCake in RI wears. But this is as classy as a Crabby Bills Go-Cup. It says,” Indian Rocks Beach, quiet drinking town with a fishing problem.” Oh, that Poppy.
Everyone is getting along today. Mike Davis’ Mom, Dad and Aunt visited so people were on good behavior. Cecil is very proud of Mike who just got rehired as a big exec at La Quinta Hotels, Not the source of Poppy’s bedbugs. He will be moving his family up to Atlanta and enroll Jessica is a good school where she will be in Kindergarten. My goodness, we certainly will miss our neighbors here at the Nest.

IRB

IRB Road Trip Day 2

Greetings from Gainsville,

We rode up and down the Smokey Mountains, across Tennessee and all the way down
Georgia and wound up at a pet friendly LaQuinta next to Mr. ha’s Number One Best
Chinese food. It is next to La Fiesta, Número UNO Mexicana Cantina which shares
a building with the County Parole Office. It’s quite nice. They have Showtime
on so I’m watching Shameless until we go out to Mr. hann’s.

George is reading in the paper that people are negotiating cleaning fees on
condos. We are so ahead of the game. On the way I drove awhile which is always
a rare event. Poppy said his feet hurt from driving, you’d think I tied him to
the bumper and made him run behind.

This was one of Mom and Pops favorite winter hangouts. Ocala they always said
was horse country, even though they never rode horses or played the fillies at
Church Hill Downs. We are going to keep moving toward the shore in the morning.

Marina and I seat wrestled for dibs on the front seat, it’s a tie.

IRB Road Trip 2013: Day the First

Good Morning Team Levesque,

What a fine Sunday morning. We have a nice handicap or pet room here
inMansfield Tennessee, close to Chattanooga. Marina loves the sounds and scents
so much she got us up at 6:45 so she could go outside to sniff and whizz.

We hit about 75 minutes of bumper to bumper construction slow downs, you know,
“Merge to One Lane” so everybody cheats, the lanes clog with semi trailers in
first gear and unregistered vehicles over heating and under fueled, and
strangely enough, there is no construction. The sequestration in action,
federal highway Improvement at its best!

Lots of spring breakers headed north. You can tell the family/college cars from
the old farts going home to pay their taxes… The cars with kayaks, bikes and
small children attached to the exterior versus the Crown Vics.

We listened to the Louisville game first half and watched the second half in the
room. Poppy brought a cooler with 5 apples, 4 beers, and a dozen raw eggs in
their cardboard container securely packed in ice. Today we are left with 3
apples and 12 raw eggs in a muddle of deconstructed cardboard. I don’t ask why,
I am along for the ride.

You can roll a wheel chair into our shower, and water can run out. It’s
daunting.

Poppy reports he is peeing every two hours en route, as is Marina, a triumph in
his book. He has shown me every single one of his favorite rest stops and we
bypassed half of them. This, my children is what “they lived happily ever
after” is all about. You recall many of life’s pathways not by the potholes but
of the places where you found relief. And someone you love comes along for the
ride and doesn’t make fun of you.

10 Years Beyond the Masts

There’s a book by Charles Dana, Two Years Before the Mast. It is a tale of courage at sea. The author knew that choosing a life at sea during the 19th century was a dangerous choice – but it was a decision he made of his own free will. Today is a decade past one of the more difficult days of my life. It was the eve of my breast cancer surgery to have both breasts removed and then be artfully gutted to reconstruct faux-boobs from my abs. I spent the day with my kids, George, and much loved “cellar dweller”, “Brother Lee”. I remember preparing a family meal and reading this piece I’d written while the pasta sauce, Gram’s recipe, simmered. Okay, I also seem to remember downing my cleansing prep with a couple of shots of vodka and then going right to sleep – only to awaken to horrific cramps and abdominal explosions. Surreally, few Americans had even a hint that real explosions were to take place an usher in a reign of fear and terror in just over a day. I prepared to gain a new lease on life as others slept unaware that their leases were to be abruptly, tragically terminated. I’d like to share my brief chapters of Tidal Times written 10 years ago about the next few days. My losses were so minor compared to those lost by too many. Sadly, they had no choice to alter their fate. Luckily, I did.

Strain on the Line

 

    Ropes can only take so much strain over long periods of time. They can bear heavy loads without aparent wear and tear, without signs of frays or loose ends dangling on the deck. Then suddenly without warning, the rope (line) snaps and the consequences can be dreadfully dangerous. There are a few lessons to be learned about releasing the tension on a sailing line that relieves the stress of maintaining sail trim. However, there is little forewarning from a rope that one more ounce of stress will be too heavy a load to bear – the line just snaps.

This is the day before surgery. My lines are taught but not unusually over loaded with strain. My impending surgery seems almost anti-climatic after seven-years of vigilantly monitoring the misdirected macrobiotic evolution within my breasts. There have been so many heavy loads for my psyche to bear; four biopsies, nearly a dozen diagnostic mammograms, and numerous consultations with surgeons, radiologists, nurses and the lot.  Over time I’ve also kept watch on my own “ropes”, known on sailboats as running rigging. These working lines are used to position and secure the mast, sails and boom which in turn power and direct the sailboat. If you look at a sailboat from a distance it appears that the hull, mast and sails are the sole triad that harvest and control the wind to power the vessel. What you can’t see are the myriad of ropes (lines) connected to either the hull, mast, or sails, with each dedicated to a specific task critical to directing the boat’s course and speed.

Running rigging has helped control the sails aboard my boats as well as being a metaphor for living. I navigate life with the help of strong lines that affect my attitude, confidence, goal orientation, emotional wellbeing and cognitive clarity. My running rigging connects

me with my inner-self and then I connect with friends and family. These lines harness the necessary strength to accept the simple principal of physics that I cannot control the wind but I can adjust my sails.

One afternoon last summer, I set out to sail my Sunfish on the Narrow River. The sky was clear, sun bright and breezes light. The water was womb-warm and inviting as I slipped the halyard through its block and gave a mighty tug to hoist the rainbow colored sail. The instant the boom responded and the sail leaped up the mast I realized that my abdominal muscles were doing a yeoman’s job of providing strength.

I froze with the understanding that the upcoming reconstruction surgery called a TRAM Flap procedure uses both front abdominal muscles to rebuild the breasts. The consequence of this alteration is to lose any strength associated with these primary abdominal muscles. I dropped the halyard as if it was a hot electrical wire, fell backwards and landed hard on the damp beach. There was too much strain on my lines. How could I possibly consider a health protocol that could possibly diminish my independence, strap my strength to raise sails, and possibly obliterate my chest and upper arm nerves? I snapped.

Sitting there, catching my breath, stanching tears, eyeing the river and tidal marsh over the mangled mess of boom and sail, I thought back to a recent break in my lines that took place atop Vermont’s tallest mountain on the first evening of May. Six days earlier I had endured the surgical biopsy that removed a golf ball sized chunk of tissue. Only four days before I had confronted the diagnosis of lobular carcinoma in situ and made the tentative treatment decision to opt for a bilateral mastectomy. Nevertheless, I refused to cancel my speaking engagement and subsequently flew to Burlington, Vermont. I was honored to serve as keynote speaker for the State of Vermont’s Family Literacy Project First Annual Conference.

I arrived the day before my engagement, savored a lovely lunch at a local pub, and purchased a half dozen books at the independent bookseller across the road. Anticipating time to unwind before sunset, I bought a few beers for my room, wandered outside to the resort grounds, and settled into a chair overlooking a mountain meadow. I popped the cap off an icy cold beer, relaxed and began reading a newly purchased novel, The Power of One. As I was reading, the sun hunkered down toward the mountaintop. The theme of the novel, that to act with one mind and one heart is the true measure of character, was boring into my soul. I kept fighting the thesis by pushing back pent up emotions with a strong rationalization that now was my time to think but not to feel.

The flight from St. Louis had left me tired with a sore breast. This post-surgical condition severely compromised my energy reserves and made me very edgy.  I was anxious about my presentation, for while I knew the content I felt distracted and unfocused. Passion for content and outcomes is the hallmark of my presentation style, without it, I am just another pedantic academician. I struggled in vain to stop obsessing about my diagnosis and decision to barter for health by sacrificing two breasts to the vile God of Carcinoma. I felt a slithering coil of fear in my bowels that questioned my ability to endure any surgical or chemical tactic that could possibly protect my wellness.

The majestic mountains were unmindful of my internal turmoil. It was surreally calm and peaceful.  The mountain foliage swayed in the clear sunlight from brilliant vermilion to crimson. Broad swaths of fuchsia, silver, cyan, and violet danced across the sky. I savored deep breaths of sweet pine tinted mountain air. The wind sighed as the meadow grasses shivered with her gentle touch. A chipmunk scampered up a nearby stone wall. It sat comfortably munching on a seed and enjoying the vista.

Two young female physicians interrupted my solitude. I overheard their conversation clearly in the thin and quiet mountain air long before I spotted them crossing the meadow. They were doing Tai ching or some other form of yoga. They chattered noisily like squirrels and recounted their busy day at the hospital. Their conversation reverberated with delight as one blithe spirit described how quickly a nurse had responded to her orders, “This is so real! We’re actually taken seriously as physicians!”  Then they quieted, stretched, bowed, and continued their serene regimen.

I held my book quietly and watched the sun nuzzle the mountain crest.  Yes, I mused, even young people of medicine who bear the sacred Cruces symbol of the healing arts, make decisions and call out orders that alter lives for better or worse. Reflections of my recent biopsy surgery; including vivid memories of neo-technical image monsters, soft words of comfort, disinfectant scents of medicine that sear one’s soul and catapult confidence came raging down the mountainside.

I squinted into the burning bowl of sunlight and prayed to God for the strength, power, faith and serenity to overcome my medical challenge. The sunbeams warmed the crown of my head as I bowed and prayed.

Silently, the warmth faded, a cool breeze lifted. I was overwhelmed with new freedom and security that released my fears and pain. I gasped sobbing aloud and unfettered. I swallowed huge gulps of air that were rashly expelled by deep blasts of anguish formerly hidden deep in my gut. Tears spurted like a severed artery from my soul into my hands on down into the mountain grass. I had just felt the power and compassion of God. My faith was confirmed. I was blessed with a grace that would carry me safely to a healthy recovery.

The torrent of wild weeping purged my soul of self-doubt, regret, anger and remorse. Breathing deep drafts of clean mountain air replenished my spirit with a bounty of peace and calmed my soul. The sobbing ceased and I gently took back the reins to my head and my heart. I pulled myself together as one, autonomous woman; stood, raised my hands in a humble salute, bowed and offered deepest thanks. I walked back to my room, each step directed toward conquering the health liabilities on my life.

The hotel room had a large picture window facing east toward the mountain range. I sat down and watched the mountain fade from view. The colors shifted from deep purple to black until the mountain was indistinguishable from the night sky. Eventually, the window was empty with only a shadow reflection of the hotel room. The world beyond the glass had ceased to exist. The mountain was gone only the window could be seen. That is what faith is all about. Believing something is real even though it is hidden from our senses.

I understood that there would be a price to pay for whatever security the mastectomies may provide. It was time to believe that I would be able to preserve my health by retaining hope and acting rationally. Wellness was dependent on achieving a balance of God’s investment into my spiritual account with regular withdrawals of memories from this mountain epiphany.

I jogged from mountain memories to my present situation on Narrow River. I thought of my pact with God to reinvest my energy. It was time to dock my rough water fears in a safer harbor of hope and confidence. I appraised my yellow life jacket clad chest and the lufting blue line attached to the rainbow sail. The sun was still high in the sky. It was the same sun that had set on Mount Stowe back in May. The day was still ripe with opportunity. July is endowed with long daylight hours that afford us time to soak up sunshine vitamins and establish a reserve account to help us survive the shorter, darker days of winter. I counted back three full moons since the mountain epiphany. I was closer to living a healthy life free of breast cancer fears today than I was back on the mountain.

I stood slowly, dusted the sand off my backside, swiped my hands clean on my shorts, put one foot on the starboard hull, then firmly clasped the halyard with two strong hands. I drew a deep breath, and using only shoulders and arms, adjusted my stance to raise the sail. The gooseneck hooking the boom to the mast rose jerkily upwards toward the sun. I nodded a quick prayer of thanks for God’s refresher course about accepting my lot in life. I twisted the halyard neatly on its cleat, adjusted the thick blue running rigging that controls the sail’s direction, climbed aboard and sailed away.

During heavy wind, if the running rigging is adjusted too tight, the sails become so taught that the boat strains to meet the wind head first and heels heavily into the sea. This is known as weather helm. The boat is fast but difficult to control. The helmsman is stressed to maintain a steady course and most of the cruising passengers become frightened as the boat dips and bucks angrily through the rushing sea.Sailboats have elaborate winch systems that mechanically add strength to the sailors straining to adjust the line’s tension. Simply put, the winches allow the boat to share the load with the rigging and the sailor. Learning to cope with strain and stress demands rigorous attention toward developing and using alternative strategies. We have to learn how and when to relieve the heavy load that burdens our running rigging.

Left untended the running rigging becomes an invitation for disaster as the inexperienced skipper loses control. The sails and wind explode violently as a line snaps of the winch. Other lines holding the sails may tear lose of their insane captors. The commonsense action is to bear off the wind, lessen tension on the running rigging and dump the excessive wind force from the sails. Once executed, the boat immediately bobs upright, settles into a stable groove and plows gracefully through the chop.

Writing has been a two-speed winch easing the heavy load that’s burdened my mind and soul during the past season. Committing my thoughts and observations to print liberated my hopes, fears, rationalizations, and reflections about living through a health crisis. I’ve been able to concentrate on selecting the right words to construct images, describe smells and relay sounds to other people. The words have illuminated my mind with new insights about living simply, clearly and comfortably with myself. I’ve learned to understand my flaws, redirect my insecurities, and listen more to the world around me.

Today, on the brink of my emersion into the sterile confines of a surgical suite and painful recovery I do not feel fearful. I bear an aura of acceptance and am centered. I find my mind more tuned to recalling clear, sweet mountain air where I learned a song who’s sole refrain I hear clearly in my head:

It’s a good song, playin’ on the radio,

 It’s a fine fine day

 I tell you cause I think it’s so,

 It’s a good life that comes upon you now and then

 and I tell you cause I think it’s so.”

Sailors know that snapped lines could be mended or replaced. They also know that it’s easier to prevent an accident than to recover from a disaster. My running rigging is in

Good shape. I’ve relieved my heavy load wherever possible then coiled my lines in a neat and tidy manner.

Today I lowered and furled my sails, cast docklines around secure cleats and settled comfortably into my cockpit. My hand will remain on the tiller until morning when the anesthesiologist will put me under and the surgeons take the helm. I have been blessed with many lessons about living a full life because of an illness that threatened to compromise my ability to thrive.  My upcoming trek is a unique opportunity share with others the most meaningful lesson of my experience, “It’s a good life that comes upon you now and then.”



 

Singapore & Bali

Singapore is wild – New York City on steroids with an LA lifestyle! The culture epitomizes the mantra “rules count”.  I saw a warning in a restaurant that there is a $150 fine for not flushing a public toilet. One of our cab drivers charges $15 to take any cigarette butt from his customers before they board less they drop it on the ground and must pay a $150 fine. Residents explained that with strong rules and consistent enforcement with strong penalties there is no crime. While NYC may employ a load of street sweepers, Singapore employs a solid cadre of undercover police and discretely positioned cameras to monitor cleanliness and good behavior. A benevolent big brother watches over the good people of Singapore.

 

Citizens also believe that anyone  qualified to do a job should earn a living wage – and be able to enjoy living in the city. They believe that by providing high wages there is little incentive to cheat one’s employers and no motivation not to work as there are no economic supports beyond one’s family. I think international banking and finance are the big employers as well as high-end retail and hospitality. According to the newspaper, a starting salary for a college grad entering the banking system is $120,000 per year.

One day we walk-toured Singapore.  Singapore is probably the most expensive city on earth with more millionaires per square foot than Silicon Valley had before the dot com bust.  It is vibrant, clean, green, with comprehensive city planning and a cohesiveness of urban design. Singapore is rooted in the present with one foot touching tomorrow.

 

The architecture of hotels and business stretches to the future and blends with the tropical climate and global position of an island in a very large sea. It’s citizens work hard to enjoy the fruits of their labor and believe the robust economy is the direct result of their innovation. That and being the center of eastern banking probably helps. They can afford to dream and take pleasure in their waking hours – more of sense of champagne pockets rather than beer tastes. A 12 oz. bottle of Tiger, the local beer, was $17 everywhere. At 7 11, the top convenience stores in the city, a six-pack costs $47. Noting the economy of scale associated with cold beer, I gave a silent prayer of thanks for former first lady Betty Ford (RIP) who established the concept high-end rehab centers rather than making the price of alcohol so high that only Carrie Bradshaw and her friends could afford to imbibe.

Our Singapore hotel was clean and comfortable – much more business centered than recreational in design and functionality. Breakfast was excellent and the service was outstanding. Staff remembered guests by name every morning. The room was large and comfortable with ample pillows and a sanitized down comforter/duvet. It is not at all like Italy where a room was about a foot larger than the bed – or typical of the size of a cruise ship room.

For most of the events we attended it was a $5.20 cab ride one way and $10.50 the other as rates change mid day and the one way street design doubles the time/cost it takes to go east. Without advance planning there really isn’t much to see aside from the architecture etc. I highly recommend the Singapore Museum and the Buddhist Temple in Chinatown. Of course little India as well just to see the bangle bracelets, famers market, flower stalls, and Indian dress ware. Elsewhere shopping was extraordinary – much more upscale than 5th Ave NYC and more selection than Rodeo Drive.

We saw the Chinese Terra Cotta soldiers exhibit at the Asian Museum of Civilization. It is extraordinary. Every soldier has a unique facial shape and expression. I’ve read that the army of a thousand soldiers, horses and armory are all unique individuals.  One can hardly imagine what they were like when commissioned thousands of years ago with full color details. One of our wedding events was at the museum as well – it was quite the extravaganza with guests performing Indian dances and skits. The view of the city from our outdoor balcony was breathtaking. The way food is presented accentuates the art of dining and the joy of good food.

Singapore is run as a corporation – as explained to me at the wedding. This means expecting a return on investments, keeping the flow of goods profitable and making sure there is a healthy balance sheet. Properties are well maintained. There are Chinese tailors making suits a block from the mall selling Hermes ties and Thomas Pink shirts. You can buy sex in well appointed “naughty shops” rather than cruise a sleaze street for a hooker. The penalty for selling drugs is a slow but certain death.

We had one event at Raffles, the absolute high standard of the old colony days prior to independence 46 years ago. It is more British than the East India Tea Company. I passed on ordering a Singapore Sling – knowing there was a long evening ahead and attending an event sideways is not socially acceptable for those of us cruising out of middle age. We also enjoyed a reserved area at the Sands Hotel Rooftop Night Club. The hotel has an upper structure designed to look like a cruise ship atop two towers. The deck sports an infinity pool that gives an illusion of swimming right into space. This is a five-star venue with a red carpet entry way jammed with Manolo heeled guests having abundant fun.  I had a single beer while the young crowd in our group ordered bottles of vodka and scotch sent to their private tables- wow – the recession has not yet hit the Far East. This was as close to Sex and the City as it gets. Another event was at the Tanglin Club – under-stated elegance at it’s finest. One can imagine the early English colonists gathering here to exchange views about an Empire upon which the sun never set.

The wedding we attended had special events for three nights – one more elegant than the next. The theme was consistent; happiness, harmony, and growth for each of the life time partners and their marriage. The ceremony was Hindu traditional – with many customs that were as entertaining as they were spiritually and emotionally moving. The family is Indian and they chose to honor family traditions. Their wardrobes were a cacophony of design, color and texture. Dario, the groom was clad in a golden turban and traditional garb, his well trimmed beard completed the look of a sultan of soul and the pompituous of love. The bride and groom looked right out of a fairy tale with her luxurious, silken ruby gown and his golden t urban and soft supple shoes.

 

During the Saturday evening reception and celebration at the Tangling Club some of the couple’s closest friends presented a “dollywood” sort of movie production to document Ankia and Dario’s journey of love which began when they were high school sweethearts. We were amazed at the high level of cinema quality. This was no 8mm cam-corder production or cheap You Tube on the fly amateur flick. We were set upfor a “home movie” with friends acting and a montage of family photos. Not so, the video was witty with sophisticated photography, clever animation, real script, and “costumes”.  No wonder! One of the guests who produced the movie was also on the film crew of Eat Pray Love.

The wedding and reception were at the Shangri La. Truly over the top in glamour (close family friends own Prada and are the top designers), distinguished guests (the chief engineer of the Alaskan pipeline) and dear family from all over the world. It was an international gathering with strong familial roots and utmost care  and hospitality for all of the guests. The wedding couple was beautiful, regal, elegant, sophisticated and infinitely gracious to their guests. It was a scene out of Aladdin, as I’m not sure beyond the tale of a young boy with silk trousers being chased by tigers and later eating pancakes that I know a similar story for India.

Bali. Don’t tell George (he really put his heart and soul into planning the perfect 40th anniversary honeymoon – and it was perfect) but Bali was quite the let down from my reading about the island in Eat Pray Love. It is far, far from the sensual, serene love Mecca Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about. It’s a very noisy, crowded hyperactive country! The currency best represents the conundrum of Bali. Where in Singapore a beer was $17 (the exchange between Singapore dollars and US is pretty close) in Bali a 12 oz. Bingtang beer is $30,000 rupees. This translates to $3.50 USD.  One is expected to barter for most items purchased with cash – rps. Only those really good computing with the table of 8’s (ratio USD – Rp = 1:8.25). By the time a confused tourist translates $345,000 rp to US dollars budgeted for souvenirs the sly vendor has convinced her of such a good deal that later math just confirms Jimmy Buffet’s maxim, “Math Sucks.”

The dichotomy of Hindu spirituality is evident everywhere – a constant battle between earthly desires and heavenly respite, wealth and poverty, serenity and competition.  Hindus believe that at once we all have good and evil with our souls – it is through meditation, mindful prayer, and good actions that good overcomes evil. This is a daily challenge that needs much assistance from the Gods. The the typical Hindu makes many daily sacrifices and offerings to receive blessings. For example, cock fighting is illegal except during celebrations in temples as a blood offering is needed. So during a celebration there is much betting and cockfighting – but part of the winnings are shared as gifts to the gods. Those without a loose cock or two can appease the gods with artfully designed flower arrangements on palm leaves with a stick of incense and a sweet treat. Stray dogs and local birds must be deities and they often helped themselves to the humble tributes set on the lawns, beaches, shop fronts,  sidewalks, and curbs.

Our resort-hotel was lovely – though we had no hot water in our bungalow all week – the hotel is expanding and the construction was blamed. Sigh, we tried one bath in the enormous rock tub but it was too chilly to even make bubbles. Yet the beautiful appointments of the room were so wonderful we just chalked it up to ” perhaps taking a cool shower in the elegant outside facility is better choice when in the topics.” There were flowers, incense and an outdoors gazebos with cozy and comfortable twin mats, candles, pillows and privacy. There were sculptures of gods and bas-reliefs in concrete depicting parts of the Hindu episodes. The privacy, elegance and simplicity created a harmonious atmosphere and most romantic setting to celebrate our anniversary. The experience was literally a world away from our honeymoon forty years ago.

Speaking of times past. My God, whatever Bali was when Rogers and Hammerstein wrote “South Pacific” it is no more. You think it might still be the land of love when sitting quietly within the confines of the wall surrounding the hotel. Here you’ll find the gardens, statuary, pleasant sitting areas, pool (whew – it’s too cold for anyone older than six as the water comes down off the mountains and is really nippy this time of year) are stark contrast to the dirty, crowded city streets. The beach at night directly in front of the hotel, with its soft lighted umbrellas and open-air bar and restaurant was more in tune to the visions of Bali.

The beach “strip” we were on is over built – perhaps 25 restaurants with hardly any patrons, at most a restaurant had 2 – 8 tables with diners. Many were empty all evening – just wait-staff standing idle and the maitre de inviting one to dine. The restaurants ran the gamut from raunchy to really nice with a variety of menu opportunities. Apparently the Europeans prefer the 9th street marketplace and eat on the cheap – or so a vendor mused. We were also told on many occasions that hardly any Americans ever come there. We explained the travel logistics. All of the service providers were kind, pleasing, and respectful in a delightful way. I was amazed at their English-speaking skills. Also, there seems to be a strong rotation of new young staff. Our guide said this was part of the training for many young people as well as summer jobs. The hospitality industry is doing quite well (hotel sold out by the weekend).

The beach also has its expected share of hawkers- from bananas to massages. It was nothing it all like I’d imagined – isolated, quiet, non-commercialized. This was an oriental Jersey Shore.  A hotel claims every inch of beach – oddly people don’t take long beach walks. Perhaps it’s the “too much sun” near the equator – most foot traffic is along the sidewalk, under the deep shade of flowering foliage, in front of the restaurants – but the view of the water is very limited.

There are many nail manicurists ($100,000 rp) with no clean utensils. A lovely manicurist approached me everyday on the beach for a pedicure. I promised one for my last day. She reminded me every day. So when I finally sat down with her an hour before our departure, we had a very friendly rapport going. She explained the crowds and empty restaurant tables – “too much competition”. I don’t know how she survives – my pedicure, $100,00 rp was her only booking of the entire day. I imagine after she paid for her space that day (a bucket for her to sit on and a plastic beach chair for the customer) she didn’t have much left. The men hustled sports boat rentals – jet skis (ugh), the glass bottoms and the sailing boat.  We sailed one day and only saw one other boat rented all week. Perhaps it was because they could only go out in the morning when the tide was up.

The beach was touristy – ours not as congested as either adjacent property. There was a pleasant sea breeze, and at high tide the pounding of the surf out on the reef was soothing. In many ways it was similar to being on the Florida Gulf coast – many Europeans, ample restaurants and only one boulevard for traffic. Here the traffic was by foot and bicycles.

On Thursday many many families from the Netherlands and Australia arrived and the atmosphere changed immediately.  Our quite hotel became quite the raucous family haven. Large families dining together, kids bouncing in and around the pool, strollers and nannies were everywhere.

One can only swim in Senur at high tide – as the tide goes out is a bottom-dry lagoon. Many dogs run wild on the beach and through out the lagoon at low tide. Then again, dogs are everywhere and why they aren’t seen dead as an armadillo roadside is beyond our understanding of traffic.  The lagoon is walk able all the way out to the reef. Not a particularly nice thing to do – but George had the proper sea sandals and gave it a whirl. While snorkeling is advertised the reef is dead and we never saw a fish while sailing. I think it’s advisable to recommend this particular venue as a 2 night max and then press on to another part of the island. Our guide recommended the north and northeast as more quiet. He said Kutet was very popular with the surfers yet is much, much more crowded and busy than Senur. Once you do the full day tour it would be better to stay in another part of the island and do a different regional tour.

The road from Senur, our “home base” all the way up to the north central region of the famed Volcano and Crater Lake is bumper-to-bumper traffic. The two lanes are jammed with thousands of scooters and dozens of dogs dodging in and out of traffic, up through Ubet and everywhere we went. It is a volatile contrast to the sculptured Zen design of the rice patties and serene countryside. Getting in and out of the scenic vistas was crazy wild driving! Never advise anyone to rent a car in Bali! Balinese roads make the route from Naples to Positano feel like a four lane straight shot across Nevada.

The tour guide was outstanding, and you were correct in advising taking two days to tour. Otherwise it’s just another day at the beach – which is beautiful, but not nearly as nice as Narragansett Beach. After traveling around the world one must get out and explore the culture and geography. One thing I noted from our cab ride through Senur was the river that runs through the city. At the time of my observation it was low tide – very, very low water. The river was a wide ditch composed of sandbars, puddles – and about 10 million non-recyclable plastic bags. The riverbed was blanketed solid from shore to shore with more trash than it would take to pave the Mass Pike. Our guide nodded, “It’s a problem”. Hopefully, if I ever use one of those bags again I’ll have that haunting memory.

Looking at what runs through the river into the bay Bali is the antithesis of Singaporean urban planning. It’s an environmental disaster. The coastal seawater must be sorely polluted beyond our imagination. Higher up in the mountains the river runs adjacent to the road. We saw families doing laundry in it – later, upstream, a young boy was squatting astride the ditch taking a public dump, nearby dogs ignored his production while they were slurping up the water. Many spots along the stream were queued up with construction workers who were siphoning off water to make mortar near piles of thick, black volcanic sand. Our guide said Bali’s rivers are vital water sources for the rice fields and the people. I gave a quick thanks for George’s insistence that we had typhoid and hepatitis shots and for bottled water.

Somehow, we missed the monkey temple and I wasn’t sure whether riding an elephant is eco abuse so we passed on that. Wylan the tour guide told us to ask him to stop anywhere and he’d be delighted to guide our excursion. We invited him to choose some of his favorite spots. The working garden (coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, pineapples, saffron) with the luak coffee was really neat. The silver company was fascinating because we saw the process from raw silver nuggets to exquisite jewelry. The factory process from artist to artist working in 19th century conditions with minimal tools and no OSHA with acetolyne torches in hand is daunting. The art galleries were impressive and very expensive. The Barong Dance was quite fun. It’s a colorful classical tale of good vs. evil with a good monkey a bad bull and huge but good god all with grand costumes.  Seeing the play made all of the black and white checkered adornments on statues make much more sense.

This was a journey of epic proportions that enhanced my appreciation for Indonesia and Malaysia. We were fortunate to share it with Amberley, Nick and so many friends from Loyola, as well as Amberley’s dearest friend Kerry who we’ve known since kindergarten! It was an honor to be a guest at Anika and Dario’s wedding. I will long remember their family’s gracious hospitality and their devout love. What a wonderful way to celebrate my 60th circle round the sun and 40 years with a gold band on the left hand.

Hey, June Gray

Another circle ’round the sun brings me back to the shores of Narragansett Bay, fresh from the June Rise on the Mississippi River. The weather is typical for this time of summer as Mother Nature tosses back the last dregs of spring rains. The Narrow River is quiet today – ducklings are dabbling for their mid day meal while floating lazily down stream with the ebbing tide. Their tail feathers are pointed aloft. The skies are overcast with nary a breeze.

Mid June in coastal New England towns generates a feeling of leaving something behind – such as the dreary spring rain season. No grief – simple relief. Personally, I feel like a young kid who just pulled down the safety bar on the Ferris Wheel seat. I’m a little nervous as I anticipate the ride ahead when the wheel will rise me higher toward the sun.  I’ll have a great view the horizon and those who live beneath the sky. Yet summers are brief by the northern seas. The season’s peak at the top of the wheel. Then begins a gentle fall in August when I will circle back to to the life I’ve left behind.

As expected, everything is damp and the noun Must takes it’s place ahead of the verb Must. Instead of the Orange Ozone warning of a midwest urban heat inversion – I’m breathing deeply and savoring lungfuls of salty air tinged with the flotsam and jetsam of low tide. The air is rich with a breath all it’s own – a tribute to the ways of wind which usually robs us of the intensity of briny scents. Low tide has an odor that you chew in your mouth as when eating an over steamed clam. The tidal pools scurry with life. All that dies is quickly devoured by that which lives. It’s a circle – just like the ride on a Ferris Wheel.

The Ferris Wheel begins it’s rotation – the ride begins.