Visits

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tropical White House

 I suppose that every time I visit a new villa, I end up reckoning that it’s the best I’ve ever been to.

Of course, they can’t all be the best; but, in a particular way, they can be the best at what they are, in an individual rather than a comparative sense. I’m talking about what we might call personality or character – that certain something – or coalescence of somethings – that sets each villa apart from all others, and forms, in those it hosts, a numinous complex of experience and memory that survives long beyond one’s stay, to mix and blend its defining thread to the unfolding fabric of one’s life.

For this reason, I can say with the utmost assurance that you will never visit another villa quite like Rumah Putih, nor can you hope for a more rewarding and enjoyable experience.

The villa is located on the island of Nusa Lembongan, a quick 20-30 minute boat ride from the southern shore of Bali,depending on how fast your choice of fast-boats proves to be. Far from being a natural-born sailor, I prefer as fast as fast gets – although, given the brevity of the seaborne phase of the trip, one hardly has time to become woozy. Before you know it, you’re wading on shore, picking up your bags and heading down the path to your home for the next few days.

Rumah Putih is a cliffside dwelling, so that if you are, as I am, getting a bit on the ‘well-seasoned’ side, you’ll have to take the long stairway at a leisurely pace – but that’s okay. You’re not in any hurry anyway. You’re on vacation, right? And in any case, there will be a staff member there to carry your bags (and you, too, if need be).

But the destination is well worth the climb. And that’s the most perfect of understatements, folks. For, now, you will enter a spacious, airy open area set between two two luxurious dwellings, each having its own cosy, cushy pavilion just at the verge of the overlook to the spreading expanse of the sea, and between the dwellings and pavilions is a stunning blue infinity edge pool, poised upon the lip of the view as if you might swim to the edge and continue into the air itself.

The view from almost every point of the villa takes in the fullness of the horizon – the aquamarine bay and the white sand of the shoreline, tourist and pleasure boats of every colour and size plying the gentle waters, along with traditional jukung boats parked like taxis atop the bubbly surf. Shops and restaurants recline at the edge, interspersed among lush tropical greenery and flora, dotted, as the land rises, by a meandering caravan of festive rooftops, from traditional thatched grass to bright new tile.

Each villa room is fronted by floor to ceiling windows and has a comfy king-size bed with bedside tables. In the rear is a luxuriant bathtub, a counter with twin sinks and then an private outdoor shower with pleasant greenery. Naturally, the rooms are air-conditioned and each has, as well, a powerful ceiling fan.

The name, Rumah Putih, in the Indonesian language, means, simply, White House, and the simplicity fits well with the clean, crisp lines of the villa and its dominant white colour, offset by the rustic brown of the thatched pavilion roofs, the mild green hues of the living room sofas and, of course, the stark, fresh blue of the pool, which, at night, is lit from beneath like a soft velvet carpet – a flying one, if you like to imagine.

Above this area are two additional dwellings, also with a pool and other special touches – but one would hardly know they were there, but for the presence of a service staircase near the villa entryway. These upper villas have their own private entrance and interfere in no way with the units below.

At the rear of your villa grounds is a spacious seating area as well as a dining area with a table with six seatings. Two delightful staff members, Ketut and Ika, will cook breakfast, lunch and dinner – and the spicy, authentic Balinese dinner is not to be missed! They produce their culinary creations in a full kitchen, which includes a walk-in freezer – just in case you want to stay for a year or two (and you will!).

But there’s more to come, for beyond the dining and kitchen area, you will find a private theater with a large screen TV, Blue Ray, Apple TV and DVD options, along with three rows of lazy-boy chairs and appropriate moviegoer lighting.

People come to Lembongan for any number of reasons – to surf, to go snorkeling, or wind surfing, or just to explore the shops and the shoreline. We came to relax, and that we did, in high style! It is difficult to describe the sense of ease one feels, the fading of cares, even of time itself, as if the common old world had been sipped up and swallowed by the lazy sun and left you floating in a timeless paradise – just exactly as you had always imagined it might be. I feel confident in guaranteeing that your stay at Rumah Putih will be the purest delight. Most probably, it will also be too short!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Who I Am

A little while back, my wife commented that I am different now than I used to be. It was not the first time she had said this, but there seemed something more significant in the way she she said it this time around. Maybe it is because she posed the comment in the form of a  question. “Do you realize how different you are now?

In every case, “now” has referred to changes she has perceived in the me who has MS as opposed to the me who did not. The me, in other words, whom she had married in 2006.

As usual, my answer to the comment was brief and essentially dismissive.

Yup, it’s the new, improved me, I said.

She made it clear, in a word or two, that she wasn’t so sure about the improved part, and then the subject trailed off in the usual way, like a wisp of momentary smoke or a passing scent of incense in the air.

Is it something that I don’t want to talk about, or is it something that she doesn’t want to talk about? Is she just making a statement of fact, as far as she sees it, or does she want me to explain myself?

This would require some thought, some introspection, a degree of honesty that might border not only on self-betrayal, but betrayal of all the promises I had made to her and to myself – to us - some eight years ago. I am strong and able. I will take care of you. I will be your strength and never your burden.

Harapan kamu adalah harapan saya; mimipian kamu adalah mimpian saya,  I had said to her in her native tongue in my wedding vows. Your hopes are my hopes; your dreams are my dreams.

So where does my weakness, the failure of my body, my unasked for illness fit in to all this? How has it happened that I have become what I said I would not be; and what excuse can I offer?

How, exactly, have I changed? In many ways, I think – and these changes turn out to be a complex mix and intermix of physical disease processes, unwilling but necessary acknowledgement and conscious alterations in emotion, attitude and approach.

Recently, I talked to a friend, and fellow MS’er, about stress and how, over time, we learn to appreciate the detrimental power of its effect on MS. We have either to suffer continual relapses and/or worsening of symptoms or we have to change the way in which we negotiate stress. We protect ourself in the interest of the greatest benefit, and yet we may seem to others, especially to loved ones, suddenly detached, insufficiently concerned. Is this one change that my wife sees in me? Is she disappointed at a seeming unwillingness on my part to to engage in a really good shouting match, as I used to do? Does she take this for a lacking in the intensity of my love?

I don’t know the answer, and she probably doesn’t either.

I do care, of course, but now I try to breath first, take time, take advantage of silence. Instant words of reply are easy, but often unhelpful. They are swords to be employed by people who have the health and stamina for fencing – and, like it or not, I no longer have the energy or the agility for the sport, for I know it would be the death of me, or, at the very least, the ruin of my health.

And so I have changed. But has my edge gone dull or merely my temper? Where once I was angry, now I’m contemplative. Where once I was quick, now I am slow. Where once I had a meltdown, now I merely stew.

I am different, yes. I have one-tenth the energy I used to have, yet ten times the patience. I have half the mental ability, but half again more tolerance and love.

But are gains such as these recompense for the multitude of deficits that come with MS? Are my original vows made null and void, and has my misfortunate – which is also, by default, her misfortune – become the center and usurped my own original intentions?

To the first question, my answer would be no. To the second, it would be that I hope not.

We like to say, defiantly, that we will not be defined by disease. But defined we are – for definition lies in the appraisal of others. I am, in some quite essential ways, different than I used to be, and it is my disease that has made me different. I return to where I started. “You are different than you used to be”. There you have it. We work with the clay that happens to be in our hands. We create and recreate, according to the combined patterns of hopes, dreams and realities. I am who I am this moment. I’m working on who I will be from this moment on.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Strange, Unworldly Sounds

Have you heard about the strange noises heard all around the world since 2011? If you haven't, that's okay. I myself had not heard about them until just today. Which is the first problem with phenomena which is said be be known worldwide, isn't it? In any case, these noises are said to be coming from the sky and are said to have been recorded all around the world. They are eerie, out-of-tune trumpet sort of noises and have occurred from Canada to Europe to the Ukraine. They have even been reported by several news stations, which have played recordings sent to them by people who heard the noises.

Upon beginning to look into these reports, I thought at first that I might have actually happened upon something was genuinely both strange and real. After all, there were dozens of recordings, purportedly from far flung locales. Could it be alien spaceships? Could it be the trumpets of the angels, announcing that the end is near? Was this connected to the end of the Mayan calendar? Or was this something more sinister - a secret military scheme, for instance, to control the mind of humanity through auditory echophonic sound waves?

Well, of course, the theories got weirder than the noises and the charm dissolved. The whole thing turns out to be a hoax, feeding on and growing, as all hoaxes do, from the power and the pull of imagination. People hunger for revelation, for magic, and long for the natural world to be, just once (and for all), unnatural. It is the grasping of modern man in search of a soul, as Jung put it. Give us something, anything, even a lie, to fill the unbearable void of not knowing.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ashes

For nearly 20 years, my parents kept my brother in a cardboard box in the garage, on a shelf in the tool cabinet next to a battery charger. In a strange way, one hardly knew he was there while at the same time his presence was felt every hour of every day. Or maybe it was not his presence that was felt, but the lack of his presence. Something was there and gone at the same time; always there, always gone.

Sometimes, my mother would tell my father that we should take him somewhere – somewhere that he loved – but those conversations went nowhere, for silence seemed better, more bearable, and so that would be the end of it for maybe a year or two. During that time, I grew older, got married, had children of my own, and sometimes I would tell my mom that we should really do something, that the time was long past but the case still appropriate, and she would speak to my dad again, but the box would stay there, in the cabinet, on the shelf, just next to the charger for when the car battery went dead.

In 1995, my father died, and the mortuary sent his ashes in a box to the house, just as they had done with my brother. My mother put this box in the drawer of a file cabinet in the bedroom that used to belong to my brother, but was now used as a guest room, although no guest, as far as I am aware, had ever stayed there. Mostly, my mom used it for a sewing room, and as a Christian Science reading room. My father and my brother were the same now, both there and not there, and the not part of the thing made the there part all the sharper.

I visited often. And sometimes I brought up the matter of the boxes. Now we can get this done, I said.

Get this done? she echoed.

We can take take them someplace, I said. Together, now. Someplace they liked in life.

I don’t know, she said. It’s not the same now.

It seems the same to me, I said. More the same than ever.

She told me then about Mary Baker Eddy and the philosophy of Christian Science. She said that life, illness and death were illusions, not real, and that there was nothing in those boxes, nothing at all.

But they seemed too heavy, to me, to be nothing.

Five years passed and many things changed, people came and went, and I moved back into my parents house to take care of my mother after she developed cancer and then Alzheimer’s disease.

She died in early January of the year 2000. She was 75 years old. My father had been 80, my brother 30. A small funeral was arranged in the chapel of the same mortuary where my father and brother had ended up. It was quiet, but nice. And after the funeral,  the mortuary sent a  box containing her ashes to the house.

I placed them together on the dining room table. Three boxes. One hundred eighty-five years worth of ashes. Three boxes of nothing but illusions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Camping

I must have been about 9 years old that year, or, really 9-1/2 by that summer, which would have made my brother, Gary, 11, Steven Upton 10 and Susie, his sister, just 8. We boys had decided to take our first solo camping trip together, and had chosen a secluded rocky spot on the western shoreline of the lake, just around a bend in the road, about of quarter mile from our parents’ cabin, number two among the eight owned and built by Steve and Susie’s parents and grandparents.

The cabins themselves were quite rustic and basic – but not rustic or basic enough for us. We had in mind some real live camping, where you had to set up your own spot, make do with what you could carry along and live off the fat of the land. We would catch or harvest our food, kindle our own fires, set up various precautions against wild animals and mosquitoes and sleep under the stars like the pioneers and mountain men used to do.

Each of us brought a blanket role, a hunting knife with sheath, a BB-gun, and Steven also had an ax wrapped in his roll. And a guitar. My brother brought a loaf of bread, but none of us thought to bring a fishing pole or bait. Or rather, we did think it, but then we all forgot the thought at the critical moment.

This was to be our first challenge, upon discovery of the same, after we had laid out our blankets on the smoothest looking rocks and gathered some wood, and kindled a pointless fire – for it was already about 80 degrees by that midday. How were we to catch fish without any fishing gear, and what else but fish were we supposed to eat?

We scouted about with this question in mind, but found only rocks and bushes and trees and a beehive. But they were hornets, Steve said, and didn’t make no honey. On the other hand, there were a whole lot of huckleberries, which made us feel relieved, for we could always live off of these if need be for the next three days.

We stripped down to our underwear and took a swim and then our luck got even better when Gary found an old nylon leader under the water with a hook still on it stuck under some rocks. All we needed was a limber stick and some salmon eggs or worms, and we’d got us a pole near as good as any of the fly-rods we had left back home.

We began to dig here and there for worms, but couldn’t come up with a single one. Of all the dirt in the world, we had camped on a perfectly worm-less patch. We all got pretty dusty in our efforts, and the day was even hotter now, so we took another swim. That water was cold – damn cold – and our teeth were chattering when we  sat back down on the shore.

Well, fish eats bugs, Steve said – probably even more than worms. And that’s one thing we got plenty of. Bugs.

So we set about catching bugs that would be large enough to stick on our hook, and would look tasty enough to the fish, and about the time we had twenty-five or so, of all colors, shapes and types, imprisoned in one of our pillowcases, we set about the task of fixing them, one by one, to the hook, and then casting the line out to where the water went deep and green and was doubtlessly swarming with schools of rainbow and brook trout.

The trouble was, we couldn’t find a single bug that any of those fish had a taste for. They didn’t want beetles, they didn’t want flies, they didn’t like crickets or potato bugs, and they didn’t even want dragonflies – which seemed the strangest thing of all, because Steve said he had once caught a 20 inch steelhead on one in the Metolius River.

In any case, it was dinnertime now, we were out of bugs, we had picked no berries and we were feeling pretty hungry. But once again, fortune smiled on us – for Susie showed up, quite definitely uninvited, though thankfully received, given that she had brought along a paper bag with three boiled eggs and a can of baked beans.

The fire was rekindled, the can pried open with some trouble, for she had forgotten to bring an opener, and then set on a rock amongst the the licking flames until the juice boiled to the top and began to drip over the lip. This was carefully rescued from the flames between two solid sticks and then Susie set out three paper plates with napkins from her sack. There were no forks or spoons, but we reckoned pioneers didn’t have such things anyway, and so we ate the beans with our fingers and sopped up the savory juice with Gary’s loaf of bread. We all agreed that it was a mighty good dinner, fish or no fish, and only wished that we had brought some coffee.

Susie had gathered some huckleberries while we ate, and gave us each a handful, and then set to fixing a line between two trees, upon which she hung our paper plates and our underwear with clothespins.

That night, we lay under the stars and talked about a thousand things and about how many billions of stars there were and about how very hard it was to try to sleep on rocks, and in the morning, we counted over 200 mosquito bites between us.

Steve’s dad showed up early in the Resort truck, surveyed our camp without expression and noted, in his customarily blunt way, that it had ‘dewed’ on us during the night. Which it had. We were wet. Our blankets were wet. Susie’s paper plates were wet.

Yup, he said. Sure did. Sure enough dewed on ya last night.

He gave another nod, stuck his hands in his pockets, turned back toward the truck, but then stopped and looked once once more.

Y’all wanna try another time, he said. I mean, when there ain’t so much dew?

We considered the thing pretty thoroughly for the next couple seconds. And seeing that we had no proper fishing tackle, and that we were pretty wet, and that the bread was gone and we had no other food, and most especially that it had dewed so heavy during the night, we reckoned that Mr. Upton had the matter about right.

There were more days to come, more summers, more years. We had all the time in the world and nothing at all to lose.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good News, Except for Paradise

I have been enthused recently to read about at least two treatments under study that would promote remyelinization after MS relapses. It seems that these drugs would not only decrease the severity of deficits suffered from MS attacks, but could also restore lost function from old deficits. Wow! I mean, that's pretty big, if it actually comes about, and I'm definitely in.  But hold on a sec ... Oh, yeah, I live in Indonesia, where doctors have never so much as heard of MS. Where MRI films are the size of chalkboards and have the clarity of 19th century photographs. Where the idea of a strong pain killer is ibuprofen and where a thorough physical exam consists of testing knee reflexes with a little rubber hammer. Hmm. Oh well. Therein lies the price of living in paradise. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Conspiracy theories

The most chilling thing about modern times, to me, is the proliferation of the conspiracy theory.
These alternative versions of reality seem to follow directly on the heels of every event of the
day and grow more absurd with every incidence. They cluster about real events like fantastic,
cancerous growths, obscuring the plain fabric of history itself. Despite being addressed and
disproven, one by one, they are repeated so often, and in ever evolving entanglement, that
they become prominent for repetition alone and ultimately fashion a mythology, though poor
and confused, that threatens to replace fact with fancy, comprehension with paranoia. In this
new world, nothing is as it seems; everything is a ruse, a plot, a trick cooked up by some
shadowy and sinister presence behind the scenes. An elite few – call them wizards, if you will –
are conspiring to control the common folk through the use of illusions so that they, the few, the
anonymous, can carry out their wicked plans, whatever those might be – for no one, you see,
can ever say. They are all things at once, whatever fits at the moment, even if the same thing
didn’t fit in the moment just previous. Whatever is most perfectly counter-intuitive, most
perfectly contradictory to both common conceptions of reality and to logic itself – this will be
the contorted substance of the myth and will, by its very idiocy, defy unraveling through the
use of traditional tools such as logic and common sense. The theories morph over and over –
again, like cancers – eluding the scalpel of truth by a redundancy of lies, until the disease has
become so thick that it has obscured the core beyond recognition. History itself is in vain, as our
new focus is not on the plain course of events in the world but on fantasy and falsehood.