Sunday, December 16, 2007


My Third Soul

My Second Soul, Horace, December 2002.



Almost thirty years ago, my then husband and I did two things. One, we moved into our first apartment. And, two, we began to have cats. This may not seem that unusual to most people, but we’d both grown up scared of cats.

We developed a fondness for Siamese, so we obtained our first one. A lilac point, we named her, Purpurea Tullia, or, The Purple Tullia. When she began to have her heats, we decided to breed her. I’ll never forget what the breeder said to us over the phone after a successful mating session: Tullia had been burned. The person meant, bred. I must have been hard of hearing, even then.

One cold winter day, Tullia went into labor. We waited, and waited, by the cardboard birthing box we had so carefully prepared for her. Out came kitten number one, then number two, then, finally, number three. A smallish litter: we were somewhat disappointed.

My husband quickly noticed that kitten number three did not appear to be breathing. Not hesitating for a second, he shook the kitten gently in order to clear its nasal passages. The runt of the litter, this little fellow quickly became our favorite (and of course we kept him). We gave him the grand name of Graf von Mittendorf.

The Mitten, as we called him, was the grandson of a Grand Champion. Of a Grand Champion bellower, that is: he inherited his grandfather’s lungs. He was also an attention-grabbing hog. In the middle of the one and only Tupperware party I ever gave, The Mitten came into the middle of the room, jumped on top of the fireplace, and scampered away with a peacock feather we’d placed there for special play occasions.

Sadly, FIP claimed Tullia. Healthy one day, sick the next, and… well, within a week, we had to have her put down. I remember seeing her with the IV thrust into her little paw. Tears were streaming down my face. We still had the now grown-up Mitten with us, until we became dorm tutors and had to pass him along to a worthy home. Fortunately, we found one with a Siamese with whom The Mitten became fast friends.

When we were on our own again, the first thing we did was to get new cats. Colleagues of ours lived on a farm nearby, inhabited by the usual assortment of barn animals. So a little multi-toed white ball of fluff came home with us. We named him, Tweed (after Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall fame).

A wonderful little soul, Tweed loved all animals, and everybody. However, we still wanted a Siamese. Was there one to be had in our Upstate town? Yes: in an old lady’s basement. So, one evening, my husband descended into that basement and managed to corner a little spitfire whom we aptly named, Iskra. Iskra means “spark” in Russian.

A seal point, Iskra quickly developed into a little love. When my mother came to visit, Iskra spent a great deal of time on her lap. Right after Christmas, we had to go to a conference. Leaving Tweed and Iskra alone, we returned to find Tweed running around and meowing piteously. Where was Iskra, we wondered.

We lived in an 1830’s farmhouse at the time. Charming, all the way down to its uneven floors. The cats had gotten in the habit of cozying up on top of our waterbed. And that’s what Iskra had tried to do: get into our bedroom. We found her lodged under the door.

This was the first real death in my life.

Screaming, I called my parents. My mother was so moved she even wrote a poem about Iskra. My husband gently lifted her and placed her in a garbage bag. It was very cold out. We didn’t know what else to do.

Except that, several days later, we managed to find two new Siamese kittens. One, a blue point, my husband named, Zunz. This was the name of a well-known expert in my husband’s academic field who, as the story went, had sauntered into his university’s bookstore and haughtily proclaimed, “I am Zunz.” The name fit the cat (although he actually had a rather sweet temperament).

The other kitty was a tortie point Siamese. He had huge saucer-like eyes, so I named him, Patella – “kneecap” in Latin – or Patty for short. He turned out to be the proverbial scaredy-cat, gracing us with his presence for only brief slivers of time.

In Iskra’s memory – and to protect ourselves – we now had three babies. Tweed, ever the lover of all animals and everybody, patiently waited for the little upstarts to accept him. They did.

And so we moved across the country. We drove: the cats flew. Life continued as usual in our new home. We barely saw Patty. We experienced such a huge infestation of fleas in our basement that, when we went to do our laundry, we invariably returned with our legs full of bites. But we loved our boys, and that was that.

It was time to move again. Major strategy planning went into our cat move preparations. The plan this time was to move first, and then have the cats shipped to us. Out of the blue, our vet called us: Patty had FIP. Poor little thing whom we knew primarily by her shadow – or, as my husband liked to say, “Patty’s making his debut.”

Zunz and Tweed made it to our new home. Multi-toed Tweed was not only almost deaf in one ear, due to constant problems with ear mites, but he also suffered from chronic respiratory infections. We were constantly treating him with some antibiotic or the other. He began to lose weight, and was soon a mere shadow of his former fluffy self. It was time, the vet said. We sadly put our little caretaker to sleep.

So what was to become of Zunz, all by his lonesome? George soon came to live with us. With the exception of Tullia and The Mitten, our other Siamese had probably not been purebreds, but George was. A perfect seal point specimen, with sapphire blue eyes, pointy ears, and a long snout. My husband renamed him, The Bat.

Zunz and The Bat followed us back East. Three years later, I departed. My husband kept the boys.

But I couldn’t be without a cat of my own for too long. Three weeks to the day after our divorce, I came home with my own little ball of white fluff. I named him, Horace. He was seven weeks old.

Siamese were in my blood by then. When I first showed up at the Animal Shelter the day before, I had my eye on a little female tabby. The next day, she didn’t appear to be as friendly, so I stepped into a room that held a “kitten tree.” And there he was: on one of the branches, I spotted a little Siamese in the making.

Not hesitating, I picked him up, placed him on my shoulder, and, before I’d even left the room, proclaimed: “You’re Horace.” And that was that.

This little seal point mix and I bonded from so early on, in so many special ways, that if I let myself, I could write a book. Let it suffice to say that I caught his anaphylactic shock reaction after his first series of shots fast enough that I turned the car right around and went back to the vet. I was always careful about his shots from then on.

On the other hand, Horace knew something was up the afternoon my dear friend committed suicide so he and his partner wouldn’t have to endure the agony of his illness any longer. When he shot himself, my little cat jumped up onto my rosewood breakfront, knocking down a Chinese tea set. Four teacups broke. I am convinced beyond intuition that he did so at the precise moment.

A highly intelligent, perceptive, playful, sometimes cooperative, and sometimes deliberately mischievous, kitten, Horace got in the habit of jumping way up high, on top of the kitchen cabinets, especially when we moved to our first townhouse. He periodically ran out the front door, only to return after I frantically searched for him under all the cars in the parking lot, plaintively calling out, “Horace, Horace,” and sobbing all the while. And then, of course, he showed up at the front door – after I’d exhausted myself – all on his good time. I’m sure we were a spectacle to behold.

As he was a handful, I sadly decided to have him declawed in front, which is something I had never done with any other cat. The vet declawed and neutered him simultaneously, when he was about six months old. I’ll never forget that, when we got home, his little paws were bleeding a tiny bit, and he made sure I saw it. I cried. I was always convinced that he didn’t let me forget it.

Horace had another interesting habit, a presage of things to come. He loved to leave little deposits everywhere. When I was gone for several days, I came home to find the apartment covered. What could I do? Even then, I provided him with more than one box. But he’d earned a new nickname: The Poopy.

The Poopy eventually became, The Pootie. This was the nickname a neighbor gave to her equally rambunctious son. Continuing to jump on cabinets, let alone all his other antics, I decided the best solution would be to get him a companion.

When I’d had Horace about a year, I paid another visit to the Animal Shelter. Looking around, I was at a loss, until one of the staff members suggested I bring Horace and let him pick out his own companion. So that’s what I did.

And whom did Horace pick out? A snowshoe point Siamese male whom I named, Lucretius. How did I know he was the one? Horace both wagged his tail and hissed at him. An excellent sign, under the circumstances.

Lovers? Of course not. Friends? From time to time. Let’s just say these two had an uneasy truce. Although Horace was the alpha cat, Lucretius tried to bully him. But Horace ultimately always fought back. Fortunately, two babies declawed in front – in all fairness, had to repeat the process with Lucretius – couldn’t do each other much harm.

Upon Lucretius’ arrival, Horace had been bountiful. Once, out of sheer desperation, I used a room spray to try to eliminate some of the odors. Alas, now it was Lucretius’ turn to have an allergic reaction. The following morning, I discovered he was barely breathing. Rushing him to the vet, he spent the day in ICU. His lungs were full of water. Needless to say, I never sprayed anything again.

We moved South. This time, I flew on the plane, and the boys were in the cargo hold. I remember picking them up, spending a night at my mother’s (and keeping them away from my mother’s equivalent of Methuselah, Boqui the tuxedo cat, who ultimately lived to be twenty years old), and then settling into our new life.

I traveled quite a bit for several years. A lovely couple across the hall took care of my boys – their payment was special presents from wherever my meanderings took me. But several very special events served to remind me of my special connection with my Second Soul.

Number one: Horace chipped a tooth. I lost a crown. Same location in our mouths: believe it, or not. Number two: when I was in an accident, he hugged me when I came home. Outright put his paws around me when I held him. Number three: he hugged me again upon my return from my first solo trip to Bali. However, after my third trip – a month long – he exhibited a totally different response. Horace proceeded to hiss and snarl at both Lucretius and me for thirty hours, one hour for each day I’d been gone!

We then moved Upstate. No 1830’s farmhouse this time, but, rather, sardine-like townhouses with paper-thin walls. I took the boys out to experience snow. No surprise, Horace turned out to be the more intrepid of the two.

My neighbors informed me Lucretius used to jump to the high window facing the street, awaiting my arrival. He was sleek and slender. Unfortunately, Horace was becoming pudgier and pudgier. That’s when I switched to Feline Maintenance Light. However, as I continued to lazily use a self-waterer and feeder, he kept eating. Genetics, let’s call it.

But it was he who used to accompany me in the bathroom, jumping up and sitting on top of the toilet seat, next to the sink, or even in it, sometimes. He loved his tiny trickle of cold tap water. And he loved to lay, paws out, on his namesake rug.

Paws out always meant he liked someone. I had a special friend while I lived Upstate. Once, when he became sick, Horace waited for him outside the bathroom. Paws out. I paid attention to his body language from then on.

Paws out. I’d taken a picture of him while we were down South. In it, he’s under my coffee table, facing my mother. Paws out.

Washington, D.C. came next. Once more, me in plane, cats in cargo hold. I still remember when the airline cargo staff brought my babies out to me and we took a cab to our new home: an old grande dame of an apartment building named The Greenbriar. With a flourish, the doorman brought the cat carriers into the building on a luggage carrier. Everyone oohed and aahed. I was so proud.

It was 1997. In between sixes and sevens, I was restless. I couldn’t accommodate myself to doorman living. So, three months later, I moved to our third – and, as it turned out, last – townhouse together.

August 30. Still in boxes, I wandered out that evening. Going up to Bethesda, where I couldn’t find a parking spot in the trendy restaurant district, I was then heading down Wisconsin Avenue when I heard the news over the radio: Diana, The Princess of Wales, had been in a car accident.

Finding myself in Georgetown, parking on P Street, I was on my way to Clyde’s on M Street when I felt it. A chill. It was after ten p.m.

The story was everywhere. Finding a seat at the bar, I discussed it with the bartender, a very sensitive fellow who was a student of Latin American affairs. Getting home as quickly as I could, I turned on CNN, and called my mother.

It was while I was on the phone that CNN announced Diana had died.

A Diana follower since 1980, I was thunderstruck. As millions, I genuinely grieved. I couldn’t sleep. The cats picked up on all of this, of course. Lucretius, with his limber limbs, began to jump to and fro on the boxes. And then it happened: he jumped on Horace, who, in turn, jumped on me as I lay in bed, and drew blood.

He hadn’t meant to, of course. Something came over me. Perhaps it was my nerves, the cramped quarters, or whatever, but I decided to call an old friend who loved the boys. I asked her if she wanted Lucretius. She said, yes. Several days later, I placed him in his carrier, put him on an airplane, and shipped him to New York.

One soul had just helped another soul achieve his mission: to be alone with me. Of course, Horace reacted in his own special way. The opposite of his usual, that is. He couldn’t go. The vet prescribed Propulsid. We both returned to normal – to our “new” normal.

The Pootie continued to tell me who was good, bad, or indifferent toward me. We survived my Smithsonian research project, my Capitol Hill forays, Monica. He didn’t like it when I was glued to the “black box” – a.k.a., my Mac laptop. At least he didn’t run out the door as much. I always used to find him, sitting or hunching pretty, on the bed, on a chair (his special armchair from which I was always vainly trying to remove his cat hair), on the floor, when I returned home. We had become conjoined, intermingling souls.

On the night of November 6, 1999, Horace acted very strangely. He kept pacing around and around the upstairs as I vainly tried to fall asleep. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. We both finally knocked off, exhausted.

The next day, November 7, was even more life changing than when Diana had passed away. That night was when I realized something had happened to my mother. Had Horace inadvertently perceived something through me?

Boarding The Pootie at my vet, as I had on numerous occasions, I returned South to my parents’ house. A friend of mine sent him down to me about ten days later. Rocking back and forth in his carrier, he let her know he didn’t like her tape selections. She told me she found it highly amusing.

The latter part of that month was extremely difficult, but my cat rode its down spiraling low with me. And, on the night of November 28, he slept right next to my head, on the side of my pillow. My mother had passed away that afternoon.

Once again settling into new patterns, the kitten came out again, albeit at a slower and gentler pace. He ran out the door whenever he could. He spent time out on the patio, eyeing – but never hurting – the lizards. And one day he did the extraordinary.

I don’t know what possessed him one sunny morning. Eyeing a bird above the cathedral ceiling patio roof, he decided to go after it. Jumping in the air, he landed… in the pool! Horrified, I was ready to go in to rescue him, when he surprised me (and, I daresay, himself) by swimming across the breadth of the pool. After two attempts, he finally scrambled out and ran into the house, looking for all the world like a wet rat.

Poor little thing. Running in, myself, I fetched some towels and tried to dry him off. I only partially succeeded. He spent the rest of the day shaking his little paws dry. And he didn’t go back out on the patio for a very long time.

He continued to be my extra sensory antennae: when an old family friend tried to make nice with him, he did something I’d never seen him do before. He turned around, showing her his little behind, and walked away from her. I’d known she didn’t like me for thirty years: did it really take a little cat to confirm this for me?

We moved several times. The first place – townhouse number four, now that I think of it – he tried to make the best of it. I couldn’t, didn’t: I should have paid more attention to his body language. The second place, a first floor apartment, we both loved.

I’d bought some leather furniture. He eventually made the chair his own. Yes, he scratched it, clambering on top. But he loved it – it was Horace’s chair. He also loved the very private patio, where we spent many an afternoon just lolling about, with me reading while he peered upward every time planes zoomed overhead on their way to the nearby airport.

It was in that apartment that we experienced 9/11. The day before, he’d been running up and down the hallway. Was it because I was excited about my upcoming trip to Paris, or because he sensed something?

Christmas of 2001 I sent out my first ever holiday greeting card with Horace’s picture on it. A picture of him sitting like a pasha, as I like to say, on his chair. Everyone adored it.

We were getting ready to move again, however… to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky. This time, I didn’t mind the doorman (at least for a while). And everyone loved The Pootie. He was a Grand Old Man of ten plus years by now, over seventy in human terms.

A cold here and there, with only one mild case of urinary blockage under his belt, the worst he suffered from was mild obesity. The vet put him on weight reduction food, little pellets that produced their equivalent at the other end. He still had his accidents, and his aim wasn’t always great. But he continued to be sweet and gregarious in his own way most of the time, except when he became a bit ornery. Very infrequently, he bit me. Always had: his payment for my having declawed him, perhaps? He then became very contrite.

We continued to have our morning ritual: a stroll on the patio. Just a little bit. Just enough. He was then content to sit in the sunshine streaming in through the wall-to-wall windows in my study, at my feet. Always close, but not too close. And he continued to be my weathervane in every aspect of my life.

I’d been invited to a society wedding. You’d think I was the one getting married, from the way I carried on. Three dresses later, I was ready. But not before I paraded around the apartment in two of them. Which do you like better, dear? We chose wisely.

That weekend turned us around, yet one more time. Less than two months later, I bought a house. My house. Our house. A month after that, we moved in.

Horace loved the house. He loved rushing out the French doors to the back patio to chew on the grass. I always stopped him, for I thought it was bad for him. He always upchucked the grass (and, for many years, had eliminated his fair share of hairballs). You should let him – it’s good for him, some people told me. I still wasn’t sure.

His favorite place, however, was the garage. The place had – has – an energy. It was at its strongest, though, when we moved in. The Pootie used to run in the moment I opened the door, lay, paws out, on the Mexican tile, and purr and purr. So now we had a new ritual.

Not to mention old rituals, such as licking fat-free tapioca pudding off a little spoon that we both managed to share. Not the most appetizing in many people’s eyes, I’m sure, but… well, what can I say?

For over a year, we’d also been watching Sex and the City together. He loved the opening music: he wagged his tail. He’d always been a tail wagger, though, and had almost always come running to me when I called his name, either wagging that tail, or holding it straight up in the air.

When he’d been a kitten, some girls across the hall had had a little dog. No hissing, no arched back, on the part of my little fluff ball. Instead, a lot of tail wagging, and chasing each other, round and round, in circles. For Horace thought he was a dog, and, indeed, canine loving friends referred to him as my dog-like cat.

Beginning to settle in, yet still surrounded by boxes, I took a trip about three weeks after moving in. I boarded Horace at my mother’s vet, who’d taken care of Boqui and Pandy, my father’s Norwegian elkhound. Returning home, I laid out fresh food and water, as was our custom. He ate, drank, and used his #1 litter box (he also had his #2 box): nothing unusual.

That was Monday night. By Wednesday night, though, I noticed something was wrong. Or, rather, he pointed it out to me: all but leading me to the litter box, he pawed at the litter, at the sides of the box. Nothing. Horace was neither urinating, nor defecating.

Rushing him to the vet, they diagnosed his urinary obstruction, catheterized him, and observed him for several days. Responding to the treatment for the cystitis, he still had problems pooping. They gave him an enema.

For the first time in his life, my cat urinated outside the box. He was ashamed: I could feel it. He appeared to be so tired, so listless. All he did was sit on his chair or on the bed.

He continued to not poop without the aid of enemas. The vet finally gave it a diagnosis: megacolon. He’d probably had it all his life. All those little gifts he’d been leaving outside countless litter boxes since he was a baby. All of a sudden, the nickname I’d so fondly given him did not appear to be as amusing.

Boqui and Pandy’s vet had given up on my baby: I could tell. Not in a bad way. If anything, he’d made a point of telling me, “You love each other.” He hinted at a growth. Everyone at the office had cried when my mother had Boqui put to sleep. Some family legacies are best not continued.

In desperation, I asked my very commonsensical friend what I should do. Get a second opinion, he said. So I consulted with my equally commonsensical realtor, who recommended her own vet. He treats illnesses aggressively, she said.

The new vet did, indeed, put Horace on an aggressive regimen of Metamucil, stool softeners, and my ancient, yet potent, supply of Propulsid, as needed. As the drug was/is off the market, for humans and animals alike, I was lucky to have some. 1997 seemed so long ago – had the doctors in DC known, I wonder.

The Pootie was always pretty good about swallowing pills, but I could tell that this was a major effort for him. It was torture. But he let me minister to him as best I could. Twice a day, I prepared a medical mishmash for him. I had litter boxes in strategic locations. He was urinating again. Copiously. I’d bought a little electrically propelled water fountain for him. All he seemed to do now was drink water, urinate, and rest on either the furniture or the bed. And he had begun to follow me around the house.

One day, he almost climbed into the shower with me. No, I’d said. It wouldn’t have made sense to let him stay, but I appreciated the thought.

He hated the mishmash. Although I’d never spoiled him with wet food, it was about all he wanted. And then, not much of it: just the juices. He still nibbled at the tapioca pudding, but less. He still accompanied me when I watched TV. He still slept on the bed with me. And he most certainly was following me around the house.

I’d taken his second Christmas picture over Thanksgiving weekend. Anguished, I wasn’t sure whether to send it out. When I finally did, my hairdresser sent me a rare card, informing me that’s exactly what Horace would like. I had done the right thing.

Propulsid began to figure more and more into his every other day diet. It was the only way. And then I waited, at least every other day, for a miracle. Yes, we got the miracle, but at enormous cost to both of us.

He still enjoyed going outside and into the garage. One day, I snapped away, inside, outside, and in his garage. The picture of him in the garage captured his beautiful turquoise eyes.

My electrician paid us a courtesy call. I was in pajamas. I’d lost weight. I was so grateful, as I was for my Indo-Chinese banker’s visit with her sister and their children on Christmas Eve. He smells so good, one of my friend’s daughters exclaimed when she picked him up in her arms. Never one to tolerate being held for too long – unless he was deigning to dance with me – it appeared as if Horace had finally mellowed a bit. You can teach an old cat new tricks, after all.

Several days later, I’d stopped seeing results, even from the Propulsid. I was supposed to leave two days later to visit my commonsensical friend. So I called the vet. Please take him two days early. They agreed.

I took Horace for one more walk in his yard. When we got to the garage, he stopped. He wouldn’t go in.

Leaving him at the vet, I remember a bit of an ignominious farewell. The tech just whisked him away. At the old vet, at one point, he’d extended a paw out to me.

The plan was to observe him for several days, continue with the Propulsid protocol, and then to perform a partial colectomy. Given recent advances in veterinary medicine, this technique bode a good prognosis, the vet said.

The week passed. It was New Year’s. The operation was scheduled for January 3, 2003.

I called the vet the following morning. Tearfully, he informed me Horace had had trouble tolerating the anesthesia. He’d wrapped him up in a blanket, and, when he’d returned to check on him two hours later, my baby had passed away.

Shock. Can’t quite call it anger. Denial. More shock. Numbness. Grieving. My Second Soul had left me. Iskra had hurt; Horace’s passing seared me to the core.

The vet performed an autopsy. He discovered the intestines in very bad shape, plus there was a growth. My old vet had most definitely known what was coming.

I had Horace cremated, and now have his ashes in a beautiful maple urn. It sits on top of the fireplace, with his final Christmas picture to the side. Eleven and two-thirds years, more or less.

Many cats. Many souls. But only one Second Soul.

Rest In Peace, all you souls. I wouldn’t be surprised if, especially, Tweed and Horace have found each other. Iskra’s happy in her waterbed in the sky, and The Mitten is bellowing, with his mother, Tullia, covering her delicate ears as best she can. Zunz is still trying to live down his namesake, and Patty’s no longer scared of making his debut.

But The Pootie is waiting for me to give him his next spoonful of tapioca pudding. And he’s proud of what’s coming out of this “silver box” – a.k.a., my VAIO laptop. Go play with Boqui and Pandy, Horace: you’re family.

Copyright, 2004 by Georgina Marrero 5039 words All Rights Reserved

My Third Soul, Bianca, December 2005. Tomorrow, December 17, marks two years since Bianca came into my life. I wrote "Souls" in December 2004 (and last modified it right after midnight on December 17, 2004). Could I have known, a year in advance, that My Third Soul was on her way?

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Two Mice in the Closet

Eeek! Black Friday is as little as less than an hour away! Here's an early Christmas present, from--and to--Bianca. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


By Georgina Marrero

Two mice in the closet,

Each one lying on its side.

Thrown in there by a playful kitty,

On which one will she decide?

Two mice in the closet,

Each one lying on its side.

There they lie in the closet

Somewhere down Wisconsin Ave.

On which one will she decide?

On which one will she decide?

Two mice in the closet,

Through the crack their tails peek out.

Just one tail will she pounce on,

One tail she’ll catch as she meows:

Make it mine!

Make it mine!

Make it mine!

(Musical interlude)

Two mice in the closet,

Through the crack their tails peek out.

And just one tail will she pounce on,

One tail she’ll catch as she meows:

Make it mine!

Make it mine!

Make it mine!

--With apologies to Ol’Blue Eyes: don’t send the Rat Pack after me, please!

For Bianca

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Mandis and Eggs

Not too much has changed in 20 years: pictures of the Puri Saren--now known as the Puri Saren Agung--on Jalan Raya, Ubud, Bali.

To round out my "Bali Tetralogy" (Bali: A Love Affair; Bali Kopi; The Dogs; and my Java-based Mad Dogs and Englishmen: The Search for Wayang Beber), I sheepishly present you with Mandis and Eggs:



My rain shower sprinkle of a showerhead was dotting me with cooler and cooler water the other day. Uh, oh. Coming out of my tub, I immediately thought: hot water heater.

I tried the sink: same. The bidet: same. (And its flow is usually liquid steam.) Rushing to the kitchen, the sink yielded the same results. Returning to the bathroom, I tried the tub hot water faucet again. Tepid water. Oh, no.

Stay calm, I told myself. Give it a while. Then try again. Then—if need be—check the hot water heater outside, get a repair number, call someone. Anyone.

I knew for a fact the hot water heater hadn’t been touched since 2000 or so. One more thing in this house that has an about to expire five year warranty on it. I sighed.

Why fuss? I also asked myself. It’s hot outside. But, wait: it’s the principle of the thing. Or, rather, it’s an almost twenty-year-old memory.

Mandis. And eggs.

So what’s a mandi, you’re wondering. A mandi is the Indonesian equivalent of a tub. A square, tiled, sink-like structure with a spigot, and a bucket on its edge, the idea is to fill the bucket with water, and then sluice it over your body.

And that’s your bath, with—needless to say—cold water.

Other than squat toilets, this was the other terror that awaited me during my first trip to Southeast Asia.

In the late eighties, middle echelon touristy hotels in the southern part of the island of Bali tended to have rickety, European-style showerheads, but at least the water had a warmish tinge to it. I had plenty else to keep me busy complaining: open sewers; soaking rainstorms that left the air perfumed not only with frangipani, but with all that refuse; a ceaseless parade of ruined espadrilles; tepid food in general; and a never-ending supply of what I termed “weird” eggs served just that side of runny in otherwise normal egg cups.

Why weird? Because not only were the shells a darkish hue, but so were the so-called “whites.” I couldn’t stand to look at them, let alone scoop them out and consume them.

My husband didn’t mind. He cheerfully ran around, taking pictures (especially of food), and eating that tepid food, including those weird eggs.

He was doing a good job of putting up with my complaining, too. That is, until a Balinese mandi and eggs proved to be too much for a squawking tourist to bear.

We’d arrived in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. This had been our primary goal during our initial seven-day stay on the island. Hans Snel was still running his cottages; Antonio Blanco still presided over his museum. Monkey Forest Road was still not overrun with businesses: the playing field where we witnessed an amazing tug-of-war and people flying kites was still intact.

Following our instructions, our travel agent had made reservations for us at a hotel that boasted “hot water.” The Puri Saren turned out to be the puri (palace) of the local prince. My husband was all but jumping up and down.

We were led to our bungalow, at a respectful distance (and decline) from the residence of the prince. We had a bird’s eye view of the central courtyard, where, under shelter, the masks and other paraphernalia used in religious performances were housed.

The man who kept assisting us appeared to have been assigned to us: a member of the prince’s retinue, no less.

Look! Look! My husband kept exclaiming, pointing in every direction. We even have a SERVANT…

I just sighed, and kept protesting. This bed all but takes up most of the room! It’s too hard! It’s too hot in here!


There it was, to the side. A Balinese bathroom, as it turned out, with shrubbery encasing what would have been one corner of a Western bathroom. It was very private, very beautiful… and very open.

It had a normal toilet. Thank heavens. And it had a tub. Uh, oh. Good, though, I sighed, thinking of the hand-held showerheads I’d just endured. I turned on the water.

Cold. Not just tepid, but cold water was coming out of both faucets.

I screamed. What’s wrong, Georgina?


My husband rushed to find our “servant.” Yes, the hotel was supposed to have hot water, but they were having trouble with their generator, the man gracefully acknowledged, with that slightly apologetic laugh to let us know he meant us no harm.

What came next was my own torrent. OK, I won’t take a bath.

Suit yourself. Whereupon my husband climbed in the tub, used the mandi bucket, and gave himself what he jokingly referred to as a Western mandi.

I snapped away, taking discreet pictures of him sluicing water over himself with that bucket.

Making our way around Ubud later that evening, I was becoming stickier and stickier. Returning to the Puri Saren, and that stifling room with its hard bed, only made things worse.

It was then that we discovered the true function of a Balinese bathroom: to let all the mosquitoes in.

Sweaty, sticky, I climbed in the tub, turned on the water. BRRR! Sweaty, sticky, exhausted, I tried to fall asleep on the hard bed. NO. With the door left open to the bathroom, all we succeeded in doing was in letting all the mosquitoes in. NO.

That long, hot night was surely one of the most miserable of my entire life. In the morning, I told my husband I’d had it. WE HAD TO FIND A DIFFERENT HOTEL.

WE? You mean, YOU, Georgina! YOU go find us a hotel. FINE!

I stormed off just as our cheerful “servant” was bringing us our next round of weird eggs, tepid fruit, and (admittedly) delicious Bali kopi. The man looked at me, not quite knowing how to react.

Going up and down Jalan Raya (the main street), I managed to find a place that, indeed, had hot water (I tested it). Very proud of myself, I returned to the Puri Saren.


He shamefacedly turned to our “servant,” offering his apologies.

Take our luggage, I told my husband. NO! YOU TAKE IT! It’s the price you have to pay, he said. We even had our own SERVANT, he plaintively continued.

So I trudged to the new hotel with our luggage, a little at a time. Where I found the strength (as we didn’t travel that lightly), I don’t know to this day.

We spent the last night on Bali that year at the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. We ate from a sumptuous hotel buffet, mingled with upper-crust tourists, slept in air-conditioned splendor, and—yes—I took a long, hot shower. Maybe two.

However, walking along the hotel’s carefully manicured paths, I realized, even then, how artificial it all was.

I don’t fully remember, but I bet you the Nusa Dua egg whites were white. The coffee was watered down Bali kopi. And we sure as heck didn’t have our own servant.

Back to the present: miracle of miracles, within half an hour, I had my hot water back. Almost scalded myself with the bidet spigot.

Must have taken a very long shower, thinking about the Puri Saren.

Silly girl.

Copyright, 2005 by Georgina Marrero 1225 words All Rights Reserved

So now I have a pentalogy on my hands, don't I?


Mad Dogs and Englishmen: In Search of Wayang Beber (1987)

A Wayang Beber performance, 1900



“Only mad dogs and Englishmen venture forth beneath the noonday sun.” An apt corollary to “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” The equatorial sun is especially fierce. Perhaps it does drive men and beasts alike mad. It certainly tinged—figuratively and literally—two erstwhile adventurers…

In 1987, my ex and I traveled to Asia for the first time. After spending five days in Bali, we began our tour of Java. Our comings and goings depended almost exclusively on our guides’ interpretations of our schedules. We had no choice but to acclimatize ourselves to Indonesian “rubber time.”

Days in Indonesia normally begin at daybreak, come to a screeching halt during the scorching noonday hours, and resume—again at an indolent pace—when you can begin to breathe again. When you can inch your way forward without gasping for water at every step. The sun’s daily trek across the horizon determines everything. Especially tourists’ “programmes.”

Borobudur, a mammoth ancient shrine to the Buddha, was on our must-see list. So was Prambanan, a complex of Hindu temples that stretches over a vast plain and is in the process of being restored, stone by stone, to its former grandeur. We had planned on two separate excursions. However, our driver insisted on one early, long, hot morning day trip out of Yogyakarta (pronounced “JOAG-jah-kar-ta”). Borobudur – considered to be one of the wonders of the ancient world – was exquisite, tasteful. Its shape resembles a multi-tiered wedding cake. A much more refined one than the Victor Emmanuel monument in Rome. Prambanan was mysterious and enticing on its own terms – that is, precisely because so much is left to the imagination.

Upon our return to Yogya, we said goodbye to the Hotel Garuda and its austere, yet beckoning, Dutch Colonial ambiance. Two more destinations awaited us on the island of Java: Surakarta (Solo), and Jakarta. Although Yogya is the modern cultural capital of Java, Solo is the island’s oldest cultural center and the traditional capital of the Javanese kingdom. We had less than twenty-four hours in which to explore this city which, given its heritage, actually interested us more than Yogya.

I distinctly remember Solo’s small, hometown feel. This was due, in large part, to the friendly, albeit reserved, nature of the city’s inhabitants. They know they are the most refined Javanese. Instead of lording it over their guests (tourists such as ourselves), they graciously shared their customs and culture with us. They are fiercely proud of their heritage and enviable position. The Solonese even employ two forms of dialect, High and Low Javanese, in their daily speech as a means of distinguishing among the existing social classes.

Their proud, yet gentle demeanor in the way we were greeted at the Kusuma Sahid Prince Hotel. The way the tour guide led us through the kraton, or palace (since the royal family remained loyal to the Dutch, the current raja [prince] does not wield any real power within the Indonesian government). Even the way we were given directions. Above all else, the residents of Solo are imbued with a politeness that goes hand in hand with their refinement. Their demeanor commands—outright demands—respect.

The Solonese nature is reflected in the city itself. As in many cities in both the East and the West, in Solo the old and the new manage to peacefully coexist side by side. Wide avenues with bustling traffic, including British-style double-decker buses, are only paces away from narrow alleys which can be accessed only by pedestrians and those who ride/drive two-wheeled vehicles. A modern shopping mall might be found juxtaposed to a traditional pasar (market). One can have a Dutch breakfast, a Chinese lunch, and the evening meal at one of the many street warungs (food stalls), where the chef prepares the food to order and then one dines sitting on little benches/stools beneath kerosene lamps. The energetic, bustling warungs are, however, not incompatible with the city’s underlying stateliness. Solo, ever in sync with its inhabitants, pulsates with a rhythm all its own.

We were scheduled to depart for Jakarta at four p.m. We had to pick and choose our activities carefully. We ate our Dutch breakfast, visited the kraton, and then we (or, rather, my ex) made our fateful decision for the day: a shopping excursion to buy a sample of wayang beber. A “wayang” is a theatrical performance; it is one of the most important representations of Indonesian culture. There are several chief types of wayang. We were hoping to find an archaic form, a parchment scroll containing multicolored drawings from either of the two great Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

Wayang Beber – at Jl. (Jl., or Jalan, means “Street”) Sawo 8 no 162, Perumnas Palur made by craftsman Subanono” my ex had listed as a shopping selection in his detailed, carefully wrought itinerary. Back at our hotel, we proceeded to bargain with a becak driver for our ride to find the wayang beber.

The becak is the Indonesian version of the Chinese rickshaw. The driver perches atop an elevated bicycle situated at the back of the vehicle. With sheer pedal-power, he transports anywhere from one to (I’ve seen) four passengers, who sit on a (preferably) cushioned, canopied bench-seat in front. A jolting journey: every time I rode one of these things, I was sure I was going to fall off!

Our driver—a bronzed, wizened fellow who was probably in his forties but looked sixty—looked at the address, which was presumed to be only about three kilometers away. We settled on six thousand Rp. (rupiah)—around three US dollars—round trip. We got underway between eleven a.m. and noon.

The closer we got to the city limits, the more we began to wonder if our driver knew where he was going. He was seriously huffing and puffing. The streets began to wind and slope more and more. The driver finally beckoned to my ex that he should walk alongside for a little while. I was really concerned about the man’s state of health by this point. Rivulets of sweat were streaming down his entire body. He appeared to be more and more weakened with each step.

I suggested that I walk. No, under no circumstances would he permit me, a woman, to walk! The becak’s canopy offered me shade only down to my knees. Of course, I was wearing shorts. Consequently, the blazing sun proceeded to bake my knees (especially) and legs a bright ruby red. My poor ex fared even worse—a freshly boiled Maine lobster would have envied him his new hue.

It was around one-thirty p.m. We had traveled much more than three kilometers (actually, more like twelve to fifteen). Our driver finally stopped. In the middle of a little side street with an open sewer running parallel to the line of dwellings (we were now in the “suburbs”), it appeared we had finally reached our destination. Upon enquiry, we discovered that the craftsman Subanono no longer lived in Solo, or anywhere else on Java, for that matter: he had moved to Bali.

Disappointed, exhausted, hungry, parched, sun-scarred, and, worst of all, empty-handed, we had no choice but to return to our hotel…and as quickly as possible if we were going to make our flight! Our poor driver must have felt worse than us at least a hundredfold. Surprisingly—or, perhaps, not so—the knowledge that his ordeal with us was almost at an end enabled him to return us to the Kusuma Sahid Prince with amazing alacrity. He had us back at the hotel between two-thirty and three p.m. He rightfully expected us to double his fare for all of his pains. My ex parsimoniously settled on ten thousand Rp. (around five US dollars). The man left us ruffled and disgruntled.

We departed for Jakarta on schedule. My vermilion-colored knees were so painful I had to walk stiff-legged so as not to aggravate them beyond the hopes of recuperation. My ex was as red as a beet. Our coloring, perhaps, mirrored our embarrassment and humiliation. Even then, in 1987, I realized I had just experienced one of the great travel (mis) adventures of my lifetime. The “mad dogs and Englishmen” expression came to my mind even then. I duly noted the escapade in my little travel diary. And I knew, even then, that I would someday write down this tale.

It just goes to show you don’t have to be an Englishman to be mad.

2003 postscript: Last October’s bombings in Bali informed the world one more time that, unfortunately, terrorists hold nothing – and no one – sacred. When I heard that one of the chief bases of operation for Al-Qaeda’s counterparts in Southeast Asia lay on the island of Java – and, more specifically, in the city of Solo – I was devastated. Had I missed out on all the clues? Were the inhabitants of Solo as inscrutable as, indeed, they had appeared to my ingenuous eyes back in 1987? Or had I, actually, figured them out?

Copyright 2003, 1999, 1995 1525 words All Rights Reserved

What is it with me and dogs?


The Dogs...or, Letting Go (1994)

Dogs on Sanur Beach



I have always been a consummate planner. I don’t believe anything can – or should – be left to chance. Therefore, when I embarked on my fourth trip to Bali in July of 1994, I resembled a walking Wal-Mart, and a portable research library, besides. I arrived at Ngurah Rai Airport with more baggage than most people would have upon their departure, and a head crammed full of facts about Bali – some useful, and some, esoteric. I also possessed a cocky sense of self-assurance. After all, I no longer was a stranger. My level of enthusiasm approached zealotry. Energetic, and optimistic, I held the highest possible hopes for a challenging, stimulating, and mind-broadening adventure. Of course, I was determined to accomplish my goals with me steadily and firmly at the helm.

While in transit to Ubud, Bali’s cultural center, little did I suspect that my orderly perspective on life was about to be jolted to the core. Life-threatening experiences – or what one perceives to be as such – have a way of doing that. It’s amazing what one can learn about oneself. Being out of control can lead to a greater sense of self-awareness as to what one can actually control, and what can – or must – be left to chance. This self-knowledge leads to flexibility that, in turn, leads to self-growth. I grew up that first night on Bali, and all on account of the dogs.

The summer before, I had reflected on Balinese dogs: “One of the most visibly manifested forms of bad karma can be observed in Balinese dogs. These poor ‘mangy curs,’ as I like to refer to them, are dirty, hungry, and often have ugly sores on their bodies. Worst of all, they have the saddest-looking eyes I have ever seen on either man or beast. It’s almost as if they know they are bad spirits who have been reincarnated in this shameful fashion in order to atone for their past sins.” The Balinese either ignore the dogs or keep them at arm’s length, at best. I had seen very few healthy, well-groomed canines on Bali. The sight of these creatures had always saddened me. Until the night of my triumphal return, that is.

I had a room reservation at a hotel in Mas, a village known for its woodcarving. As lovely as the hotel was, it was about six miles from Ubud. Both exhilarated and exhausted, still mildly jet-lagged in spite of a two-day stopover in Singapore, I somehow managed to remember that a confrontation would have done me irreparable harm in the eyes of the Balinese. Therefore, as nicely and apologetically as I could, I explained my plight to the hotel staff. I wanted – I needed – to be within walking distance of Ubud. Fortunately, the manager’s wife worked at just such a place! One brief phone call ended my – and everyone else’s – discomfiture. The nature of the Balinese is such that everyone in the vicinity had taken an interest in my predicament. In his or her own way, each person had contributed to the solution. True to form, the taxi driver had not departed. He drove me to the Pondok Impian (“Sleeping House”).

It was after eight p.m. already and quite dark. The genial staff even gave me a room without making an imprint of my credit card! The upcoming bureaucratic tug-of-war involving my voucher did not concern me. I was just delighted to have arrived. I had already adapted. I had already started to grow! I felt buoyant. I was hungry. I wanted to celebrate my good fortune with a nice dinner. On the way to the hotel I had spotted a place called the Kokokan Club. It turned out to be a lovely Thai restaurant. By the time I finished eating, it was about nine-thirty to ten p.m. I started to head back to the Pondok Impian.

There were very few lights along the road. I used my flashlight to guide the way. I was all but humming to myself. I felt so good, so pleased with the successful resolution of what had earlier seemed to be an insurmountable problem. All I wanted now was a good night’s sleep.

The dogs appeared as if from nowhere. I couldn’t see them, but I heard them. They were growling – a low, menacing, guttural noise. Right at my heels, a huge pack of them – for all I knew – were almost running over me! I could almost feel their breath on my ankles. Never have I been so scared in all my life! “They’re going to bite me, and then I’ll get rabies, go mad, and die!” raced through my head. The “fight or flee” instinct overtook me. I couldn’t fight, so I fled… toward the closest lights I saw.

My heart was pounding. However, I knew the most important thing was for me to get out of the dogs’ way! The closer I got to the lights, the more I sensed I wasn’t being as actively pursued. Rushing headlong into the area illuminated by those lights, I discovered a modern, yet typical, Balinese compound. There was a courtyard surrounded by separate buildings, with each one serving a specific function.

The lights turned out to emanate from a porch that gave onto two small rooms. At least, there were two entrances. The doors were closed. Frantically, I yelled out, “Hello! Is anybody in? Help me!” After doing this a few times and getting no response, I tried the right door. It was locked.

Seemingly afraid of the lights, the dogs no longer posed an imminent threat. However, I knew if I stepped out of the circle of light and ventured forth onto the road again, I would run the risk of becoming their prey once more. I was still so terrified I didn’t even want to be on the porch: I wanted to be inside. I tried the left door. It was unlocked. All thoughts of etiquette aside, I let myself in.

I had never been so happy to enter a room in my life! This little, tiled, brightly lit, room appeared to be the study of a young, modern, Balinese couple. It was a cozy little place, with books in both Indonesian and English arranged neatly on bookcases, a picture of the couple’s beautiful little daughter, many little knickknacks, and even some of the child’s toys and games. The general ambiance of the place was gratifying and comforting. I had found a little home away from home! The only thing that kept this little study from being the perfect haven was the lack of a chair. As I had already resolved to spend the night, the floor would have to serve as my bed. I would depart at daybreak, when, at least, I would be able to see my purported predators.

Safely ensconced in my little cocoon, a new form of fear overcame me. It had finally dawned on me that I was trespassing! Therefore, now possessed with the fear of discovery, I created numerous scenarios and dialogues in my mind, just in case the family came back and found me, an intruder, in their house. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” goes the old adage. When one finds oneself in what one perceives to be dire circumstances, one doesn’t notice the passage of time, either. Glancing at my watch, I was astonished to discover it was almost eleven p.m.

Fear, anxiety, and frustration were quickly giving way to exhaustion. I was suddenly very tired, yet leery of falling asleep and running the risk of being “discovered.” I decided to write my “hosts” an apology note. Just in case, still “unearthed,” I did manage to “escape” at dawn. With a brown flair pen, I wrote the following note:

Dear Kind Family,

Please forgive my intrusion into your house.

I was on my way back from dinner back to my hotel.

The dogs began to bark – I became very scared that I

might be bitten! I am traveling alone. Once again,

please forgive me. If I did any damage, please contact

me at my hotel.

Georgina Marrero

Pondok Impian

Room 205

I then turned off the lights, lay on the tiled floor, and decided to await my fate. It felt infinitely better to be at the mercy of a Kind Balinese Family than between the jaws of potentially rabid dogs! The next thing I knew, I heard voices. Human voices. They appeared to be young voices speaking in a foreign tongue. Rushing out of the room, I yelled, “Help! Help!” as loudly as I could. The young Balinese couple had not found me. Instead, it was a group of young Dutch tourists. I had never been so happy to see fellow human beings in all my life!

The young men in the group offered to escort me back to my hotel. I did return to the study, however, to pick up my apology note. I realized I needed to keep it as a “memento” of my escapade. En route to the hotel, the dogs barked once again. This time, however, they were outnumbered. As during the daytime, they were more afraid of us than we were of them. I thanked my saviors profusely. If they were amused, they also seemed to realize I had just been through – for me, at least – a nightmarish experience.

Back at the Pondok Impian, I managed to relate my misadventure to the night clerk and a friend of his. Although neither man spoke much English, they were also amused. By the time I returned to my room, even I found humor in the situation! I was, nonetheless, thankful to be alive. I marveled at what I perceived to have been my resourcefulness, my ingenuity, and my flexibility. Twice that first night on Bali I had been flexible. I had adapted as best I could to the circumstances at hand. I had – unwittingly, yet ultimately willingly – let chance work to my advantage. I did grow up that first night on Bali. I discovered that if I am willing to bend my otherwise inflexible will – if I leave something to chance – I am still able to reap the benefits of “a challenging, stimulating, and mind-broadening adventure”… probably even more so than if I remain (or think I am) in total control of a situation. Best of all, I might even have some fun!

P.S. I bent only so much: I never again went out at night alone, on foot, outside the well-lit parts of Ubud. And I probably never will.

2003, 1996, 1995 by Georgina Marrero 1770 words

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