The backpacker walked in, ordered turmeric tea and began pulling books and pamphlets from her bag. Half an hour later, the blonde arrived in a motorcycle sidecar that looked exactly like a very big bottle of champagne. She caught the eye of the waiter the moment she stepped in. Neither she nor the backpacker recognized me.
Though seated at the same table, the two women ignored each other; the reading materials were like a wall. Finally, the backpacker cleared her throat and began to read from a pamphlet.
Trunyan is an ancient village in Bali, whose inhabitants call themselves “Bali Aga” or Old Balinese. In the center of the village is a temple called Puser Jagat, meaning ’The Navel of the Universe.’ The temple’s architecture is unlike any other on Bali. It stands under a massive banyan tree.
The backpacker is a freckled cherub with tattoos and a pierced nose. Calm and factual at first, now she slowly raises her hands like a wizard performing a spell.
When a villager passes away, the body is placed under the banyan tree. The tree emits an arboreal fragrance that masks the stench of death.
Her hands flutter back onto the table.”Lovely perfume Francesca.”
“It’s Krasnaya. Lovely of you to comment.” On the other side of the room the waiter holds up a carafe. Francesca nods. The waiter points to a red table cloth. Francesca shakes her head. He points at the crotch of his white apron. She smiles, then briefly glances at the backpacker. “I notice you still don’t use perfume,” Francesca pulls cigarettes and an ashtray from her purse, “nor deodorant.”
The waiter brings the wine, a glass and bruschetta: toasted slices of bread, basil, cubes of tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Francesca picks up her glass, the waiter pours and the backpacker reads again.
Once a sleepy village, Jimbaran lies on Bali’s southern peninsula. Its pristine sand beckons you for long walks along its coast. Or, enjoy dining at one of the beachside seafood restaurants. A reef provides protection from the wave action, allowing excellent swimming. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets.
“Speaking of sleepy villages, how’s Perth? Everything running smoothly at the orphanage? Oh wait, you volunteer here, in Bali. And the orphanage is in, is in… Denpasar? No, that isn’t correct is it? The orphanage is in Singaraja? No, that’s not right. Oh yes, I remember. The orphanage is near Ubud, in a jungle valley with a river. With a bar and a pool overlooking rice terraces.”
“We have a karaoke once a month in the dining hall. And it’s a pond, not a pool.”
Francesca refills her glass. Another passage is read, this time with the voice of a pirate.
In the 1830s Kuta was a bustling slave market and a base for a notorious variety of international lowlifes.
The backpacker again clears her throat and almost looks up.
Hippies and surfers began arriving in the 1960s. Kuta is now one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, a wonderland of sun, surf, hotels and bars.
Fran moves her glass over one of the books. “Eat Pay Leave. Your pirate voice might make it interesting.”
“Must you always emit such massive negativity? You’re like a... like an...Anti-Eat Pray Love Person! Why don’t you write your own book? Three years here, for sure you know everything about the real Bali.”
“The real Bali? The real Bali is a ten minute kechak dance during happy hour. Or the beach in Kuta. Makes me ill. Anti-Eat Pray Love Person? Me? No, no, no… I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. Just ask your father.” She says this slowly, in between smoking and looking at her phone. The table has become a boxing ring with a vase of frangipanis and crisp linen napkins. One fighter starts tapping at Facebook, her opponent points at maps in a Lonely Planet guide book. Francesca finally looks up. “Gattopardo! Finally! I have you all to myself. Sit down!”
Gattopardo remains standing, smiling and serene. “Francesca! Amore! Beautiful to see you and your charming friend. Your invitation is very kind. But, sad to say, my morning delivery just arrived. Now I am a headache.” He looks at Francesca, slowly rubs his hands. “Amore, of course you know I would enjoy with you a bottle of wine. Or champagne. “
“Both.” Francesca leans back and runs her fingers through her hair. Her eyes are locked on Gattopardo. She is petite; when she extracted herself from the champagne sidecar, she did so with the grace of a ballerina. Francesca leans forward, looks directly into the eyes of the backpacker. “Gattopardo, am I a lush?”
Gattopardo gazes out at the rice fields. He looks over the golden umbrella above the small stone shrine in the parking lot. The bottom half is wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth; a saput poleng. Gattopardo looks at Francesca. “Amore, you are most certainly not a lush,” he says quietly.
Twenty minutes ago I experienced an epiphany because of Gattopardo.
He didn’t sing me an aria as I ate spaghetti; he hadn’t taught me a Sanskrit mantra. He didn’t read my palm. Gattopardo simply served me a plate of snakefruit pasta.
“Tagliarini al salak,” he said. The moment he placed it before me I began moving my nose through the delicate steam swirling above the glistening noodles. Like a magician, Gattopardo then reached into his chef’s jacket and produced a heart-shaped, reddish-brown leathery fruit.”A snakefruit, a salak.” He placed it on my table. “Bon appetito.”
Heavy yet soft, the pasta was a perfect balance of egg yolk and double zero wheat flour. Shavings of roasted almonds, the sweetness of mascarpone cheese and a whisper of seasoning. The crunchy snakefruit, delightfully sour, had been sliced very thinly—and frozen!
As I ate, I drifted.
I contemplated my hand’s relationship to the fork it held. I saw new colors when I looked outside. I went to the wheat fields of the place where I was born. I imagined what a salak tree looked like. The food was transformative. One moment I was in a happy credit card commercial, the next I was confronted with a huge, messy map of my destructive life. You are here.
“Join me,” Francesca purrs to Gattopardo, swirling her chest, running a finger along the stem of her glass. “Just one.”
“Amore, my heart says yes, my schedule says no.” Gattopardo pushes his glasses to the top of his nose. “But I promise we soon have a sweet time together. You have my word.”
One of the cute Japanese women sitting in the corner gets up and approaches my table. She’s smiling and holding a camera. I know she’s going to say something I’ve heard millions of times.
“Excuse me, Mr. Orgasm Donor, can I take a picture with you?”
Voila! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali
The above is an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost
will soon be published. Artist/writer Stephen Black has written several other books including the Singaporean cult classic I Ate Tiong Bahru.
! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali