An Ode to Gin & Tonic

During my angst ridden teenage years I had secret fantasies of becoming a poet when I grew up. I wrote a lot of teenage angst ridden poems, mostly scribbled on my bedroom wall. Fortunately I have no embarrassingly incriminating copies of those somewhat dubious masterpieces. Sometimes of late, on a long car rides, I have been known to compose a smutty limerick. Funny at the time, but quickly forgotten.

Last night as I was fixing myself a Dirty Gin and Tonic*, It crossed my mind that the more classic drink deserved an ode. Herewith, my first poetic attempt since high school. I won’t, as yet, give up my day job.

*G & T with a splash of olive juice (An excellent addition to the regular lime).

An Ode to Gin & Tonic

A spirited affair I have with thee,
Oh sapphire one,
My blue ruin.
Your botanicals sublime,
You taste of Empire,
And, of its decline.
No other has such happy chemistry,
So simple, yet such complexity.
A melancholy trail of broken hearts,
You exceed the sum of all your parts.
Tonic bursting at the seams,
Your effervesce furiously interrupts my dreams.
Ephemeral scents of fresh cut limes,
Tease me of summer’s grass and Christmas pines.
Add clinking ice cubes, fresh and pure,
As one, subversive and demure.
You sooth and you tantalise,
A supernatural entity in disguise?

On long dog days in tropic realms,
You pick me up and cool me down.
You’re in command, you’re at the helm.
By appointment, to the Crown.
My anti-malarial of choice,
Your potency a falsely claim.
When monsoons threaten,
I rejoice,
To have you by my side again.
Oh G & T, I’ll be your bride,
And you in turn, shall be my guide.
Your charms inverse the charmless,
And the badly dressed,
Gin and tonic googles…
Yet, I digress.

Your story, steeped in history,
Of exploration. Danger. Mystery.
‘Dutch courage’, as they used to say,
Gave empire builders supremacy.
Juniper and Fever Tree,
Defile my lips with profanity.
Are you profane, or are you sacred?
Your bitterness,
Infinitely sophisticated.
You sooth my world and my senses.
You compensate, give me recompenses.

Your ratios require great care,
Imbalance foretells an end to this affair.
Cautious to celebrate, yet not diminish,
Your parallel worlds that I doth cherish.
This non negotiable relation,
Of the mix in your creation,
Both of balance, and of proportion
The wise indeed will heed the caution.
Blasphemy? Depravity?
It’s such a bitter Alchemy.

You allure and you inspire.
Delight, beguile my heart’s desire.
You are magic, you empower,
You bewitch the cocktail hour.
And so I raise a glass of thee,
For in thy depths, a reflection of me.

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The Silence

How wonderful it is to be woken on Nyepi morning and listen. The morning birds are chirping extra loudly today, perhaps it’s just that there’s no other sounds to drown them out. No distant hum of traffic. No motorbikes on the nearby village path. No chopping of the day’s ingredients in the restaurant below. No idle chatter of the local construction women who spend their day walking up and down carting baskets of sand and bricks on their heads. No other sound. Hang on, is that a plane I can hear? It must just be just passing through Balinese airspace, as none can land here today. Today is Nyepi. Balinese new year. Silent day.

Once a year on a dark moon around March or April (the date changes according to the complicated Balinese calendar), is this special day. The belief is that if everyone is silent for the day, lights no lights, and burns no cooking fires; that the evil spirits will be led to believe that everyone has left Bali, that it’s not worth bothering with or disturbing for another year.  It is a day for reflection and meditation. No one is allowed on the streets, and must remain in their family compound. Tourists are not exempt and must remain in their hotels. The only people outside are the Pecalang, the local religious neighbourhood watch; patrolling the villages to make sure everyone is following the rules. Of course emergency services are able to operate. But at the local birth centre I support, Bumi Sehat, they tell me that it’s also a quiet day for them. The local women usually cross their legs and hold off giving birth. Tomorrow, however, will be busy.

Last night was the Ngrupuk parade. It was not so silent. In my village pots and pans were banged about and nearby Ogoh-Ogohs were carried through the streets with much revelry. Ogoh-Ogohs are huge paper machine and bamboo monsters made by the local men and boys in every banjar.  It takes them weeks. It is quite a spectacular parade to watch. They are a recent, but popular tradition here. The the idea of this noise is to wake up those pesky evil spirits, so that they are all aware of the silence the next day. The day when no one is in Bail, wink wink. A group of partying Russian tourists in the hotel next door took the noisy part a little to much last night. I heard the locals ask them to be quiet several times. ”This is not Kuta, if you want to be noisy go there. This is Ubud, it’s quiet here.” I heard the threat. Unusual, Balinese don’t often complain publicly. Today they are quiet.

I look forward to this day, and hope that my schedule has me in Bail for it. I love the undisturbed noisy silence. By evening it can be a little difficult to try and remember not to turn on the lights, or at least dim them and pull the curtains shut. A couple of years ago I had a knock on my door by one of the Pecalang. I had the light off, but my computer on. The glow of the screen could be seen from outside. You’re not supposed to work or partake in entertainment either. It depends how you define work and entertainment. For me writing is neither (well perhaps a little on the entertainment side). For me writing is reflection, which is what you are supposed to do today.

Imagine if Nyepi were to catch on worldwide. It would be like ‘Earth Hour’ for 24 hours. Imaging the huge savings to our resources. No coal burning electricity. No petrol guzzling traffic. No traffic accidents. No crime. Nothing consumed. The economy would go into a spin. People would have to talk to each other (quietly). There would probably be a spike in the birthrate nine months later (there is in Bail too). In Bali it is a day to restore the balance of nature and of the spirit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be restored everywhere. Imagine what it would be like where you live. Imagine the wonderful silence.

So I’ll spend my day in reflection. And gratitude that the demons will be tricked for another year. I’ll spend my day in glorious silence. It’s joyously deafening.

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A few very scary Ogoh-Ogoh, the stuff of nightmares. Ubud, Bail.

Toast & Honey

Honey makes you funny. Well that’s what I always said as a kid. Never cared for the stuff. I know I’m grateful for the bees for pollenating our plants and all, but they can keep that sweet goo. I was always a Vegemite kid. I didn’t really like peanut butter either, too sweet; but a nice bitter marmalade, now you’re talking.

When I first moved to Bali I tried to buy a toaster, a common and inexpensive household item in my homeland of Australia. Not so here. The only kind I could find were expensive industrial sized, aimed at the five star hotel market. My next trip to Jakarta I scoured the department stores and found an overpriced, but adequate one. It lasted two months before the inconsistent power surges blew it out. Again I tried – this time in Singapore, and found a cheap model similar to the ones I had used in Australia. If this one blew up, it wasn’t such a huge expense. I would try again. I still have that same toaster, and its still toasting as well as the day I bought it almost ten years ago. These days toasters can be bought in any supermarket here, it’s a different world now.

Vegemite however, is still a luxury imported item, rarely available. And expensive. I usually wait until friends from Australia are coming to visit and request a care package. Interesting fun fact from Wikipedia – In 1984, a jar of Vegemite was the first product to be electronically scanned at a checkout in Australia. There’s some great small industries producing delicious marmalades here too now. Inevitable with the abundance of delicious fresh limes – they have me covered there.

©Sally Arnold
Vegemite on Toast, You’re doing it wrong!

Butter isn’t something I ever used so much. I never thought it was necessary until a couple of years ago, my young niece made me scrambled eggs for breakfast. They. Were. Delicious. “The secret is butter, Aunty Sally” she told me. Mmmmm Butterrrr. The butter here is imported from New Zealand or France. I like the French brand, and these days sometimes even have it on my toast. With Vegemite.

In Australia I always had a jar of honey in the fridge. Sometimes a recipe would call for it. A jar could last me five years. I tried the ‘gourmet’ honeys too – the ones where the bees feasted on stringybark trees or rare wildflowers, but none excited my taste buds. The honey in Indonesia is thin and runny. I don’t think it’s just because of the heat, as the imported brands remain the same sticky consistency. I have tried pure honey from the environmental centre we visit on our trips in East Java, but it still does nothing for me. That is until I recently discovered NEW ZEALAND HONEY. What is it with the bees over there? I know it’s a big industry and that Manuka honey is said to have all sorts of healing powers, and an expensive price tag to match the claims. I recently bought a jar of New Zealand beech forest honey. OH MY, it’s thick, treacley, caramely, malty and I can now understand the fuss. The jar lasted one month. I am halfway through a second. IT. IS. GOOD. I know there is a world campaign to save the bees, as many species are endangered. If there were no bees to pollinate our food we would soon grow hungry. A world without bees also means there’d be none of that delicious New Zealand Honey. A sad day that would be. Even the ants think it’s better.

©Sally Arnold
Ants love New Zealand honey so much, they make a heart!

Things that I Didn’t Photograph

You know that photograph that you didn’t take, probably a time before smart phones? A time when every second of our lives wasn’t recored or shared. That time when you ran out of film. That time that you didn’t have your camera with you. That “Kodak moment”, as we used to say. Do you remember? I am lucky to have seen many wonderful things in my life so far, a whole reel of Kodak moments. For every memory I have recorded with photography, there have been countless times when I’d wish I had my camera with me. And times I was too busy enjoying the actual experience to think about photographing it.

Floods destroyed most of our family photographs, so I don’t have many snapshots from my childhood.  Consequently my childhood memories are mostly based on what I actually remember, not what was photographed. Although I do recall seeing some photos, so, perhaps it’s the memory of the photograph, not the memory of the event?

In more recent years the reasons for the lack of captured images are usually due to the camera being out of reach. Or out of battery. Or me just not being quick enough. So I have began a list of “snapshots” that will not forever just remain memories. Instead, I can have my Kodak moments, at least as I remember them. Writing things down, like photography, makes my memories real.

I had originally intended to compile this album of snapshots all in one go. As I began to remember, the list became too long, it would be a heavy volume. So, I’ll start with just three…


Snapshot #1 – That time, on the ferry to Lombok

The ferry trip between Lombok and Bali is a long four hours, with nothing to see except sea. I was dozing in the stickiness. The sea breeze wasn’t reaching inside the smokey airless cabin. The vinyl seat was sticking. Some of the other passengers were asleep on hired mattresses surrounded by half eaten nasi bungkus (take away rice packets).

A rumbling of voices woke me from my drowsiness. The ferry seemed to be tipping to one side. I looked up and it appeared that all the passengers had now woken and were leaning over the side of the boat. I jumped to join them.

As far as the eye could see, on every wave, large and small; pods of dolphins were surfing and playing. There must have been hundreds, five or more to each wave. They jumped through the wake of the ferry, twisting and turning, floating and sliding. Performing like synchronised swimmers. They were having so much fun. I had never seen this many dolphins before (nor since). Film like. Magical. But it was real. I didn’t have my camera.


©Sally Arnold
View from my balcony, sans squirrel . Ubud, Bali

Snapshot #2 – Early morning in Ubud

I was preparing breakfast in my small kitchen in the ‘burbs of Ubud. The dew clung to the leaves of the surrounding banana trees. The golden morning light flooded the room. Something caught my eye. A tupai – squirrel, or more correctly an Asian treeshrew, was jumping from leaf to leaf. I stopped to watch him. He then proceeded to perform his morning ablutions. Scooping up the dewdrops and washing his face and paws. His eye caught mine, but he continued with his bath. I ran to get my camera. In the moment I had gone he disappeared into the thickness of the foliage. I could have made a fortune on YouTube. Dam squirrel.


©Sally Arnold
Morning on the Kinabatangan River. Sabah, Borneo

Snapshot #3 – A Duel on the Kinabatangan

Our tour in Borneo involved a couple of days camping in the jungle and staying with locals as part of a community tourism project run by MESCOT. Our base near the Kinabatangan River, the longest in Sabah, is one of the most prolific areas to see wildlife.

The day began with a pre breakfast boat ride. Mist rose in whisps from the water, as early light filtered through the monochrome trees. The first birds were starting into song. Cicadas buzzed. A melodic whistling gibbon’s call could be heard in the distance. It was still cool, the closeness if the day was not yet upon us. The wide brown river flowed calmly, but we all know still waters run deep. A log from the upriver industry floated past. The encroaching palm oil plantations creeped up on one side of the bank, the other side still thick native rainforest, protected for now.

There was a movement in the mud flats. As we drew closer, two large mud-coloured monitor lizards embraced in a duel. They had both risen on their hind legs as their arms entangled. The weight of their meter long tails counterbalanced the huge bodies as they thrashed about in the mud, climbing upon each other. Muscles rippled, it was a well matched match. They became one large symmetrical monster as they clung upright, together. In this prehistoric wrestling match, all bets were off. As we floated past, I was too mesmerized by the scene to think of my camera.

 

The Kitchenware Specialists of East Java

All over the world, most pots and pans are machine made;  yet in Indonesia, many small home industries exist that produce aluminium cookware entirely by hand. Near Banguwangi in East Java a row of these small factories stand side by side flanking both sides of the highway.

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Making rice and bakso steamers by hand. Banguwangi, Indonesia
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Hand beating pots into shape. Banguwangi, Indonesia.

Banging and hammering noises rhythmically reverberate from behind the street-front shops displaying all manner of utensils and containers. All are the same, every shop. They compete selling identical products.

A walk behind the scenes, and we enter a dimly lit world. Large rolls of Aluminium sheeting wait to be turned into rice steamers or woks. Groups of men bang and bend the metal, all sitting barefoot on dirt floors. Razor-edged curls of offcuts and sharp pieces of wire litter the ground. They are surrounded by half drunk glasses of coffee, overflowing astrays and mobile phones. Facebook statuses need to be updated regularly. One man had three phones, I joked that he must have three girlfriends. He smiled wryly. In the corner of most workshops a wooden fire burns, and a blacked pot sits steaming the rice for the next meal, or heating the water for the next coffee. The sheltered dark rooms are cool, but the lighting is poor. There are light fittings, but all are turned off. Electricity is expensive.

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Sheet aluminium to be made into cookware.
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Garuda cake tin, a perfect souvenir.

Back on the street, the shops are the women’s domain. Once you show an interest and ask a price, the bargaining begins. If they don’t have the item you’re after, they’ll get it form a nearby store – for a commission. Cake tins, biscuit containers, kettles, steamers, ovens, rice moulds, you name it they have it, or can make it for you. This visit we bargained for Garuda shaped cake tins, the eagle emblem coat-of-arms of Indonesia and the perfect souvenir for the cooks in our group. Several were to be purchased, so we had the bargaining power of a group sale. The first stall owner had none, but asked us to wait while she quickly ran next door to get one. Her price was too high, so we moved to the neighbouring shop, where the tin had originally come from, and settled on a price. My group and the seller were happy. Being the experienced businesswoman that she was, the owner was convinced that we would also like a  butterfly cake tin, or perhaps a rabbit?

"Just one more?" Banguwangi, Indonesia
“Just one more?” Banguwangi, Indonesia