Thursday, November 10, 2011

NOW,VOYAGER: Mimi goes to Sea

The placing of Mimi's ashes in a young coconut, and sending her to sea off Bali, had to be postponed until the day of the full moon, which is now, because when you do ceremony in Bali it has to be at an auspicious time, or the souls do not rejoice as they should. At least, I think that's the reason. There's so much mystery and superstition around Bali that one cannot be quite sure. You just have to leave your heart open and see what happens. At any rate, I do.
So Mimi, whose last great earthly journey was to Bali in my suitcase, in a little flower-printed metal box from Hartsdale pet cemetery where she was cremated, got taken to the beach at Canggu, because that is where you are allowed to do your ceremonies. Yoni, my darling driver came today bearing five little baskets woven from palm, with tiny flowers and petals from flowers in them, and we went there, pausing for her to light the incense, and scatter a few of the petals. Then we went down the stone steps to the sand. The waves were very strong and forceful so even though I had been ready to take the coconut into the water and send her on her journey to the Infinite, I thought better of it and signaled to the single surfer taking it all on, and asked him if he'd carry her out beyond the crash of them, and he did. His name was Alex, a French Swiss, very handsome and blond and young, so I think she would have liked that. He said I spoke excellent French, so you know he was that rare Frenchman who doesn't turn up his nose at Americans and say "I speak English." I invited him to the ice cream party I am giving at Gusto on Saturday to celebrate Kurt Vonnegut, whose actual birthday is tomorrow.
I never really knew the exact date of Mimi's birth, but I do know the exact date she died, June 17th. It was all very sudden and hard, because I hadn't really known she was ill-- there was just a few little signs that something was off. As my friends knew, she was brilliant, and could spell, so when I said 'You want a T R E A T?' she would run to the closet and stand on her hind legs. Lately she had stopped jumping up onto my bed-- I had to lift her-- and when I spelled TREAT, she started running to the wrong closet. But I took her in to see the vet just as part of a regular schedule, stopping first at the very pricey groomer so she would look her best for her appointment. I had told the vet she seemed to be favoring her neck, and the vet, a very sharp woman, said 'Call the neurologist.' And I said 'What?' And she said 'Little white dogs.' By the time we got to the hospital, it was like everyone knew, and they put their arms around me, knowing. They did a spinal tap and an MRI, and she had eight spots on her brain-- there's a mysterious virus that attacks toy dogs, mostly female. A sexist virus. There must be something we can do. Gloria?
Carleen, who loved her as much as I did Had been up all night, as I was, and said: "We will see her in the clouds." When we went back the next morning and sat with Mimi, she wasn't really there anymore. So I sang her a lullaby and they put her to sleep in my lap, and somebody came from Hartsdale to pick up her body for the cremation. She was all over the sky in New York, but clouds in Bali, where I came to recover from my loss, courtesy of Denise, are different from the clouds in Manhattan. They are pretty much strung out across the horizon, instead of fluffy with holes in them that looked like her big black eyes. But today, after we sent her out to sea in her young coconut, there were Mimi clouds, puffy and lush and generous, some of them gray around the edges like the day was, I guess from the ashes.
I had lost an earring in my bed before leaving New York for this move, and Carleen, who is very good at finding things that seem to have disappeared didn't feel like looking for it. So I'd brought the other one, the one I still had in my ear when I woke up. It was a star, a diamond. I put it in the young coconut with Mimi's ashes. It is only right that she should have left with her own diamond. She was a star.

Monday, November 07, 2011


So as I was immediately informed after my arrival by the Tarot reader who may or may not have cancer, and may or may not have been looking to excite my sympathy(she did, I find it hard not to care about people who are suffering, especially when they can tell fortunes or pretend to) that Bali is full of demons, which claim I put aside, except it would probably sell well, unseating vampires, I could not that easily dismiss the caution of my smart sort-of-friend Rex Reed, who says if there are rice fields, there are cobras. Not too long after that e-mail, I met a nice English couple(they are careful to say they are not British, but English, insisting there's a difference, not being Scottish or Irish which I know from Belfast friends is someplace they were not meant to be anyway) and she told me of a favorite cat who was killed by a spitting cobra. Well, there's something to avoid.
Woke up in the middle of the night with absolutely no sense of having to go back to sleep or attempt at meditation, just content to be quiet and wait for the light, which does, eventually come if you're still alive, and saw a man working the rice field with his right hand, while he carried his baby on his left arm, little head cloaked in white like a lama, the wise kind not the animal. Babies do not cry in Bali, mostly, I think, because they are held in someone's arms until they are two or something like that, because the soles of their feet are not closed, according to the locals, so if they were set down, demons could come in. But what about spitting cobras, while Daddy works the rice?
Spent yesterday as a kindergartner learning how to touch type from the BBC online tutorial, which has music, cartoon yaks, and Oops aloud if you make mistakes. Had a good time finding out I am still a student but I was only up to 16 words a minute after graduating from that level, and I think I am faster than a speeding bullet if I type wrong, which I have done for eighteen books, more if you count the ones that never saw light which doesn't necessarily come in the book world even if you're still alive. So am abandoning my attempt to touch type and will simply try not to go blind, so I can still see the keyboard and whiz into my next literary adventure. Have no idea what it may be, which would be partly the definition of adventure, according to my wonderful friend Sandy who was murdered here but we won't go into that, as my wonderful friend Denise who is still alive says that way lie cement shoes.
Denise is the once-pastry-chef-now-restaurateur from Seattle who kindly sent me the e-mail when Mimi died saying 'Come to Bali,' so I did. She visited me yesterday afternoon at my present locale, a stable with rooms upstairs, a lovely pool and a not-bad restaurant, and a new French restaurant across the un-motorcyled road, unique in Bali where all is Vespa-clogged and buildings-in-progress. Went in there the other night in a rare moment of panic at What Have I Done? aka What Am I Doing?, and had a really bad pizza, but as Denise pointed out: "It's across the street." A gift from cholesterol Heaven.
Today, having been up most of the night, I had a true longing for French toast, so went to La Lucciola, Denise's restaurant by the ocean, at 8:45 only to be told they didn't open till 10, inaccurate, I found out later as most things in Bali are, but by the time that misinformation was corrected I was at Ku De Ta, the very pricey expat place near the Oberoi that I used to walk to mornings when I was staying there, to be served in those days by Mahar, a lovely boy-man whose wedding chest I contributed heavily to, as he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said "I will always miss you," which touched my soul and my pocketbook. I went to look for him last time I was here, but he has gone to sea with the cruise line that the Nation voyages on, so I guess he was looking for me.
Well, there I was at Ku-De-Ta where they didn't have French toast so I ordered ricotta pancakes, very disappointing, but happily there was a piece of plastic baked into the middle of them, which I got to show a waitress who remembered me, and she replaced them with a croissant. Then I passed two earnest young men who had been talking potential deals but had left untouched their plate of beautiful cut fruit so I also had a piece of papaya on my way down to the beach to visit Heimisch, or it's probably spelled Hamish, a 17 month old who had been working the faucets that wash off sand as you come up from the beach. That caused a bit of a stab to my heart, because I remembered Robert at that squeezable age, when he had a love affair with our garden hose. Power to a toddler. Our friend, great writer of mysteries, Bill McGivern, wanted to invent something called 'Stay Baby,' that you could spray on them and keep them that way. Alas, he never worked it out, so Hamish's Grandma Janet said he was inching toward the Terrible Twos, which count for nothing as compared to the Frightening Forties.
Maybe I'll take a nap.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


The Above Title will date me, as does almost everything these days, including the date.
The view below will help explain to you my move, as in Manhattan, in the beautiful and indisputably tasteful(see classic Deco lobby) Hampshire House, my 'Juliet balcony,' real estate jargon for a little thing that overhangs a fifteen-story drop, now looks out at a hideous 91-story-monstrosity-in-progress that will eventually blot out the sky. But one should never be arrogant about where one is going, as indisputable Paradise or no, Bali has flaws, among them, for starters, a very vocal frog that does not Gribitgribitgribit as Tommy Smothers used to imitate, but is a basso, relentless and very loud and all night long.
It really didn't bother me as much as it would have if someone a little odd hadn't pointed it out, along with the cockroach on my ceiling-- I am living at Umalas Kauh which means 'horses,' there being a well-maintained stable downstairs, but it is, after all, a stable-- and my first victory, having gotten here with no major jetlag, courtesy of a brilliant hotelier friend almost always enroute to somewhere, who told me to stay up the whole transit time(approx. 20 hours from New York to Hong Kong, 2 hour wait, five hour trip to Denpasar, Bali) until I fell asleep(I never did) and then go for a walk in the sun(didn't have to, it radiated the car in which Yoni drove me to Lestari, the more poetic name for Umalas Kauh, meaning Beauty or something like that) was that I have been rightside up the whole time, with none of the suddenly pitching over head first I am used to with jet lag.
But a vague sadness has set in, a low-level not-exactly depression, where I examine the Farewells of some friends who talked about how courageous I was to come here, which I didn't think I was. Courage would have been to stay in New York and watch the further disintegration of everything I loved about my country, including the country itself. But courage, as I pointed out in one of my books that may or may not have seen print, comes from 'heart,' and I like to think I still have much of that, the hope that things will turn out to be excellent, that love and kindness will prevail, that my children will be glad they have lived, my grandchildren be able to go to the best universities as I was privileged to do, in spite of the American Dream(not a cliche, it was, it WAS) seeming to have been co=opted by morons and lunatics. I was at the point in New York this past early Autumn where I believed America had been my Imaginary Friend, something I had attached myself to as a little little girl, two years and three months old, saying the Gettysburg Address, so believing I had an actual tie to Lincoln or I couldn't have recited it at that age, in exchange for a piece of Beech-Nut gum. Then came my affection for Ben Franklin, my particular pal among the Framers, his starting the libraries, which of course I loved and supported, the post office, which seems not long for our world, and swim fins, something I never used but could feature him wearing, jumping into whatever river it was flowing through Philadelphia. Those of course may last, as will electricity, but I wonder about the chances for the rest of his ingenuity.
An imaginary friend of course is what a child invents or actually sees to dispel the loneliness. It seems to me we are a very lonely nation now-- that everyone is frightened to some degree, wary. But enough of all that. Let's just focus on the rice field outside my window. The streamers are made of plastic, some looking like they were torn from garbage bags. There is no wind now, so they are not waving, but the rice is almost ready, and the birds come in the late day, so someone stands at the pole to which the string is connected and pulls at it, so there's movement, and some sound, as halfway along the string is a can with stones inside and they rattle like a castanet.
I sat here last night with the Tarot reader I found in the restaurant Biku, Christine, who may or may not have cancer-- medicine here is beneath iffy-- no real doctors and they don't let Westerners practice,-- and she told me of her son who is a Bali priest and can see the evil demons who are everywhere, and I of course silently chortle. I brought Mimi's ashes-- I left a few of them in Circo, where she used to love to go, and was well-received and entertained, stashed them in a plant outside the entrance of that New York restaurant-- with the intention of giving her some kind of ceremony here, ritual the Balinese have for just about everything, birth, death, clearing the throat, since it was her sudden and premature departure that brought me to Bali, it being the one place we hadn't traveled together, as bringing dogs in was not permitted. Oh, that's another thing: my landlady has five wild dogs and they bark all the time. I have written to Cesar Milan inviting him, which she wishes to do, for a segment of Dog Whisperer, but it is almost impossible to get through his highly commercial wall, ads, video auditions, really annoying, but the point is I also have these barking dogs. No place is Paradise.
Anyway, Yoni and I were supposed to put Mimi's ashes in a young coconut(who wants an old coconut?) and send them out to sea, but she told me her mother said that yesterday was not a good day, that we should wait for the 10th and the full moon. So I'm waiting.
And trying not to be impatient, my worst suit. Waiting for sleep, waiting for inspiration. Probably I'm jet-lagged and it's just manifesting in this vague pall of uncertainty. Jamie told me I could always go home, that this was just 'an extended trip.' But home doesn't feel like home to me anymore. When this vague queasiness descended on me yesterday afternoon I turned on the TV and Trading Places was on HBO, so I considered that a personal gift from the programming gods, who may or may not also have demons among them. I just don't know. But then, 'not knowing' is a great spiritual state, if you can accept it and be with it.
I don't know that I can. I am hoping for a great book, or even a fairly acceptable one. I am going to try and teach myself touch-typing-- 18 novels and never used anything but hunt and peck, and what if the eyes go and I can't hunt and peck? Jack told me of a Buddhist (I think it was a cartoon) opening up a package and finding nothing in it, saying "Oh, Look: Nothing! Just what I always wanted."
Wish I could be like that. Or maybe not. Maybe I just need a nap.

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.