Thursday, November 03, 2011

THE ROAD TO BALI- sans Hope and Crosby

So I am looking out at rice fields, grown high now, and, I would imagine, almost ready for harvesting. There are streamers of all different raggedy colors, waving in the not-very-strong wind, to scare off the birds. One man in a black and white cap was out there early this morning pulling up a few sheaves-- are they sheaves?-- and laying them on the side. To me they looked no different from those he left, but then rice fields are not mother's milk to me. But then, if you knew my mother, neither was mother's milk.
I just know that an almost fierce sense of peace has settled on me, that I am rejoicing in my heart, as Ingrid Bergman said in not so many words at the end of Gaslight, and that I left New York without a shred of regret, which she did say exactly. The scene I left behind me was one of an ugly skyscraper being built in orange and black, on its way to blotting out the sky, with scaffolding on the roof opposite my 'Juliet' balcony, (yeah, sure,) the scaffolding strung with rope that looked like thick clothesline. Right. Not a shred of regret.
I woke last Saturday morning in Manhattan with the first small ripple of trepidation at the prospect of moving to Bali in my soul, which feels almost palpable now, only to look out the window a few moments later to see the blizzard. And I thought, no, I am not making a mistake. Right after that Jack, my Jewru, called and concurred: NOT A MISTAKE. I had travel advice from my wonderful friend Neil, the Divine Hotelier, and he told me to stay awake on the plane until I fell asleep-- I never did-- and then when I got here to walk in the sunlight-- I didn't have to, as it shone into the car where Yoni was waiting for me to bring me back here, to Umalas Kauh, which means horses, where Jordan the gelding sleeps downstairs, and having sorted out what I brought of my belongings(Yoni had washed and ironed the ones I left and hung them in my closet) spent some time with the owner, Sabine, a German in her young forties who has lived here for twenty-two years and has trouble when she goes back to Germany because how could they have killed all those people, arguing now they didn't know what was happening, and suffers over the bears having their feet cut off in China and how can people do that to animals. I sent her off to bed, as I have written about the first in LORELEI, the novel I wrote when living in Weinheim during the Reunification, when the joke was, in Munich, "What's the difference between the Jews and the Turks?" Punchline: the Jews are already dead. That novel was never published as the argument was 'There was no more anti-Semitism in Germany.' Ha.
Anyway, that is in the past, and I, like the Indonesian language, intend to have only a present tense. Or rather, a present relaxed.
New York Magazine had on its cover as I left the newsracks behind me, my hero Gloria Steinem, still beautiful, which I know doesn't count for the Feminists, but it makes me really happy, especially around the eyes, starting MS. magazine forty years ago. There was a picture of her on the cover, with that hair, that I didn't know if it was now or then. But she was smoking, so it must have been then, as she is much too smart to have done that in recent years. I met her for the first time when The Pretenders, my bestseller, was happening, and Bob Gutwillig, my then editor, brought her to have dinner with Don and me at Stefanino's in L.A. I was frightened though excited to meet her because she was such a serious, important figure, and I was having this shoddy success. Then she arrived and said "A novel. That's Grown-Up time," so I fell in love, which anyone of sense had to do with Gloria. Over the years I got to see her from time to time, at a distance-- she was the woman of the year with the American Library Association, where I was honored to be a footnote, and she said, in front of all those librarians "I am told I am one of the twenty-five most admired women in America, which shows what deep shit we are in," so I fell in love with her again.
Then I got a chance to really be with her when she was married, at long last, at sixty-two, to a wonderful man-- she had had a treasure chest full of interesting opportunities, and passed on all of them until Wilma Mankiller(I couldn't help smiling) an Indian chief(tess?) told her to marry David Bale, which she did. He was tall and devastatingly handsome-- he was physically not unlike his soon to become a major movie star son, Christian-- with those same carven features and eyes that were obviously adoring Gloria, a wit that was sharp enough for her, and causes of his own, a social conscience that was on a plane with hers. It was a gorgeous match, and I was lucky to interview them for the Wall Street Journal for which I was stringing at the time, doing a feature called Shop Talk. We went dog supply shopping, as they had a dog, and they bought things at Socially Aware pet stores. We ate breakfast at a coffee shop where she told me she had been addicted to ketchup as it was filled with sugar. Now I loved both of them. The article was never published as it read too much like a "puff" piece, critics said, as I could find nothing to carp about with either of them, they were so wonderful, so ideally suited.
But as we know, happy endings do not often come along, or if they seem to, they abort. He died painfully and unfairly of cancer, as Don had. I didn't see her again for a number of years, but when I did, even in passing, she was beyond gracious and still beautiful, which I know shouldn't count, but it does. Then, when I sent her an e-mail to congratulate her on her HBO show, she told me she envied me Bali. I hope she will come visit me, as it is beyond beautiful and peaceful, as I think she is, too, though in an Activist way. Serenity can come from being on track, which I believe she has always been, and continues to be.
And there is work to be done here, in a gentle way. Yoni, my driver, this darling young woman who has two little girls which doesn't count for much in Bali where the men want sons, has an ex-husband who holds onto the two little girls and doesn't let them see their mother, not because he loves them but wants revenge on her for divorcing him. And Komang, my advocate who helped me get my visa to stay here long term, had three girls with her husband, which didn't count, and found out he had another woman, so divorced him. Then he had a son with the other woman and she has to take care of the little boy because-- if Yoni had the story straight, --the other woman ran off, leaving him with the son. So I am thinking of writing The Yoni Monologues, since I think that is the word from the Bhaghavagita or however you spell it, for Vagina. Women here do not have it easy, which is putting it mildly.
And still they smile and look happy. And all the children are black-eyed and beautiful. Today I met a two year old named after Mohammed's second wife, (can't spell it yet,) who come here to ride a horse (clip clop outside my window) before going to nursery school which she doesn't like, so her father, an Aussie who thought he couldn't have children and was put in jail for adultery before the baby was born and came out white, so they are married now and have a second who is the little rider, but that is another story. She is invited to the ice cream party I am having to celebrate Kurt Vonnegut's birthday next week, as are all of you. Hop a plane. I'll be waiting at the airport.