Saturday, June 23

sunshine at kew gardens

What better thing to do on a glorious London summer's day than stroll the parklands, cobblestones and glasshouses of Kew Gardens?  I find carrying sunglasses far more respectable than a rain coat. Layers are most cumbersome, and I end up with a bag of stuffing when the sun appears or when I step into an overheated shop or steamy tube carriage.  No such challenge on this fine garden morning, as the mothers with strollers, animated school kids and retired couples would agree.  England is lucky the weather isn't consistently pleasant or there would be even more people wanting to immigrate. The Poms do a fine queue, and a delightful line in formal gardens.

I travelled through every climate zone which vividly demonstrated the power of the senses to dictate a sense of place. My first stop was the palm house, where the thick scent of dampness and humidity had be back in the tropics, then my brain tried to trick me into believing I was in Australia as the familiar smell of eucalyptus oil emanated from crushed leaves underfoot. The Queen's Garden was a highlight; a formal 17th century style space of clipped hedges and fountains, with an adjacent sunken medicinal herb garden. Its calm symmetry is the antithesis of Asian chaos. I was sure to stay well clear of the Mandrake, lest be struck down by child bearing.

Until October, there is an installation of wood and rusty steel sculptors by UK artist David Nash. His main tools are a chainsaw and axe, with some pieces charred black with an open fire after carving. Nash only works with trees that have fallen naturally or must be felled because of storm of disease damage, and he is currently working on site with trees from the Botanic Garden.

After three tranquil hours of garden love, I luxuriated in the sun with a soy latte at the Orangery. Built in 1761 it is the largest classical style building in the Gardens.

big ben, parliament, wholefoods

Sorry if you received the last post unfinished, I accidentally published instead of saved. I'm obviously out out of blogging practice, as I am way too busy chasing buses around the Sicilian countryside and expanding my waistline with almond pastries, sourdough bread and macchiatos. 

After a marathon 50 hour journey from coconut palms to roses via the desert of Qatar, I was reunited with a couple of dear friends in London for four days. The only goal was to get a new Indonesian visa and I failed dismally, as the embassy only issues to UK citizens. Bollocks to that, there wasn't a plan B.

I was delivered two days of heavy rain and two days of glorious sunshine, which is not bad odds for the English summer. There was much eating of berries and salad, drinking of tea, playing in the park and talking late through the extended dusk light.  Within the first six hours of arriving I was on the tube, in a black cab, over the Thames on the Millennium Bridge and parked on my rental cushion to watch Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe theatre. The jet lag threatened to pull me under in the second half but inspired by Henry and his brave warriors, I fought gallantly to the end with only the odd head wobble. 

I devoted day two to overflowing my artistic mug with a spot of Damien Hirst at Tate Modern (so much more than a shark in a tank) and a gathering of Picasso, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and David Hockney at Tate Britain. The two Tate galleries are linked by a handy ferry service which offers a cheap cruise past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  Big Ben, Parliament...

Never did I think it possible for a store to elicit a welling of tears, until I walked into Wholefoods in High Street Kensington. I knew of the organic food empire from my work with Samudra, however nothing prepared me for the display of fresh, cooked and packaged goodies devoted to raw, vegan, vegetarian, healthy culinary ecstasy.  It brought to mind a dream of my childhood when I would get locked in a supermarket after closing hours and spend the whole night scoffing myself. Please can I camp under the fruit display for a few days? Bugger Big Ben. 

I am writing these belated posts to you from Erice in western Sicily. It is my last in Sicily before I fly to Venice to attend the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts for three weeks. Expect a barrage of photos of flowers, pot plants, balconies, cobbled streets and lamp posts as we sail along through London, a ten day whirl around Sicily and into the cafes of Venezia.  Now if you'll excuse me, it is time for my daily pasticceria experience. Ciao.

london calling

Many years ago, seemingly in a former life, I spent a very long and dark winter in London working in an office for the Royal Mail, drinking pints and hanging out in seedy bars. This was no doubt instrumental to me later marrying a surfer and taking up a simple life on a tropical island.  I haven't been back for over 12 years; in that time, the English couple that adopted me into their home have had three kids, the TATE Modern and London Eye have altered the south bank vista, and the bar in Soho where I made poor choices in men has been swallowed up by gentrification. However the essence of London remains - taking the tube still makes the inside of your nose and your collar black, summer sunshine is fleeting and god still wants to save the queen.

Monday, June 4

nirarta retreat centre, bali

Prior to returning home to our beach house in eastern Indonesia, I paused in Bali for a few joyous days to reunite with a friend. After the usual delights of vegan feasting in Ubud we ventured to new territory in the east. With regular visits to the island, it is a pleasure to explore new destinations and experience Bali beyond the heinous traffic and visual storm of the Bukit. Zoe and I spent two peaceful nights at the Nirarta Retreat Centre in Sideman, Gianyar, our days an undemanding flow of meditation, sleeping, walking to nearby villages, eating wholesome food and swimming in the river.  I think we achieved the vision of the founders to "unfold with the pattern of life". If your dreams of Bali are verdant hills, views of the revered Gunung Agung, terraced rice padi, and clear streams, I highly recommend Nirarta for a restorative getaway.  

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