It’s the flavors and the colors I remember most from the summer I spent in Barcelona with my family when I was eight. Sitting on a park bench and biting into a doughy pastry, Gaudi’s dreamy tiles and stained glass that take you to magical places, the briny buttery rice in paella, the way the sun streams through the trees’ thick canopy and sometimes bounces off the green wing of a parrot. Coming back thirteen years later, it’s still the flavors and colors I’m drawn to. Spending a morning by myself wandering through the Picasso museum, meeting my husband after he gets off work for bubbly sangria and iberian jamon, jumping into the salty Mediterranean that’s the most perfect shade of blue. I can’t tell if everything is more enhanced now than it was when I was eight, or if the profoundness of experiences fades as the years go on. Our time here now will probably fade too, but I hope the best parts stay.
The morning was fresh and warm, and sweet with flowers and something frying and canang sari, the daily Balinese offering. Or maybe we couldn’t quite smell the offering, but we knew it was there because the gratitude, the presence, the mindfulness, and the devotion permeated the air. People say Bali has a magic to it - I think this is why.
Lorenzo went to get us coffee. I put on my swimsuit and walked the ten feet from our porch to the rectangle blue swimming pool. It was a shared pool, between the six or so rooms in the hotel. A homestay, it was called, but no one else was out this early.
I swam without direction, flipping underwater every now and again. I thought about what I wanted this trip to be, about why I had flown halfway around the world to be here, about why here of all places. Healing, discovering, connecting, manifesting - vague, broad hopes that I wanted to more clearly define. I knew Bali could help me with that, and not just because Eat Pray Love convinced me. I travel because it frees me and helps me reshape my story, and better understand what I want it to be.
Lorenzo came back with the coffee. Still glaze-eyed from jetlag, he held up two plastic bags heavy with hot black liquid. “This is coffee to-go,” he said. We emptied the bags into mugs we found in our room. The plastic bags, now relieved of their contents, were soft and sticky from the heat.
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t think I can drink this,” I said, thinking of BPA and all the other toxins sure to be floating in my cup. Just then, the owner of the homestay appeared around the corner with a big tray and a bigger smile.
“Good morning!” his smile showed his molars as he set down plates of papaya, scrambled eggs, and soft white wonder bread in front of us. And a porcelain pot of coffee. “Oh, you have coffee already?” The smile was replaced by a furrowed brow.
“Oh, no, we will have yours! Thank you so much.”
He smiled again. A real smile. “Enjoy.”
The fluffy eggs with crystals of salt on top, the doughy bread, the fruit still warm from sunshine, the hot rich coffee with a sweet tobacco taste filled us. We ate until only a few pieces of bread were left and leaned back in our chairs and felt the air on our skin and thought, thank you.
Thank you for reminding us of the wonderful simple extraordinary pleasures. Thank you that we’re here. Thank you for right now.
The waves were higher in Condado than I’d expected. They didn’t appear powerful from the shore, but once I was waist-deep in the light blue water it became a constant game of jumping over or diving under. I held my nose but water still crept in, filling my mouth with the taste of brine and salt. The taste didn’t bother me — I love oysters and seaweed and other ocean foods — but the residual puffiness did. Once, I reacted too slowly and was knocked off my feet, tumbled against the rough bottom, sunglasses ripped away. Yet I stayed in the water, because it demanded my full presence.
I started coughing after dinner. A dry, hacking cough that seemed completely pointless yet couldn’t be stopped. The little numbers on my inhaler read 000. Nothing left. “There’s a urgent care center nearby,” our host said. I was scared of this — I didn’t know anything about the Indonesian healthcare system. I was more scared of not breathing, so we walked down the dusty sidestreet. The building was filled with children holding gaze to cut arms and men slouched with glazed eyes. The host accompanied me to the counter. Five minutes later, I walked out holding an inhaler and ginger herbs. The trip cost me less than $6.
And yes, you will pay too much for your handmade gnocchi that chews doughy but melts like butter in your mouth or your sourdough bread spread thick with avocado and sprinkled with pink himalayan sea salt. And yes, the husky banker at the bar will lean too close to you, unaware of elbows and shoulders until he decides he wants something.
The West Village doesn’t care. It wants you to learn to savor, and to learn to wait, and to learn to push if needed.Read More