THE WAY OF FLOWERS IN BALI memory distilled for the scent to come
Dreamily adrift with ideas of setting my soul a-flow in Bali, between yoga classes, with no plans beyond this practice, I had somehow glazed over the possibility of becoming scen(t)sorially inspired. Not every scent was pleasant, though I don't remember anything smelling rancid or putrid. Here and there, not often, a bit of sewage, as in any city really - I won't skip any realities here.
One of the most consistent smells along streets was that of over exposed offerings - the very beginnings of rotting you could say - which is not as terrible as advanced rotting. It is rather like a baked sweet biscuit that has been left out in the sun, with a bit of 'sour and spice'. The Hindu religion that is widely practiced in Bali seems more like part of the culture than a religion. I guess culture and religion are entwined in this case, where mythological creatures, goddesses and gods, botanicals and warriors are immortalised in stone, on every street corner. Pink, green and orange gems decoratively brighten the sidewalk outside almost every shop or home entrance. These gems, the melange of offerings created from sweets, rice, spices, flowers and incense in some or other variation, are for the Gods. And although each family might include something a bit different from day to day, there is a thread of familiar scents that weave consistently through the streets - perhaps the olfactive percolation of a common, uniting belief and practice.
One morning as I sat sipping on a coffee, post practice at a yoga studio cafe, I was witness to a flower blessing ritual. I will not forget this moment. Four women of different ages, dressed in traditional attire; long skirts and fitted long sleeve lace tops, bows of belted fabric resting at their hips, carrying circular bamboo woven trays filled with flowers and what I assume must have been holy water, came walking up the narrow street. I wanted to take a picture of the ritual but resisted. I decided to capture the scene with my full attention. I had the feeling that the act of taking a photo would draw something sacred from the moment and I did not want to steal from the atmosphere of grace. I watched the women chat and nod in the direction of the stores with closed doors, agreeing that they were eligible for blessing (my witness assumption - which includes the appearance that these women did not necessarily have personal affiliation to the stores). The flowers - mostly frangipanis (the ones I had seen being sold in big bags on the roadside at the early morning market as I walked to my morning practice) were pinched between fingers, dipped into a bowl of water, petal face down and then shaken off in each doorway, two or three times over. Magic-like.
It was the only time I got to witness this kind of ritual over the two weeks I was in Bali. On another occasion, a menu item I tried to order, which was out of stock that day, was temple flower water. My conclusion is that the women were infusing the water with temple flowers. Yes there are also marigolds, but the frangipani, young ylang ylang, tuberose and campaka (yellow/orange magnolia) are the queens of the show. Flowers that feel so precious to even find in a store at home. Most of my favourite moments on the trip were not the ones that were planned. But ones like these, where life unfolds in front of the eyes, evoking awe, a dawning peace in the heart, a shimmer in the waters of the eyes. A scent to remember.
So here I sign off, to go appreciate and learn within the beautiful, sacred oils sourced in Ubud, from a smiling, warm, sincere mother and son owned business (although she calls it her son's business and indeed he procures all the raw materials and makes all the scented body products himself).
I have some ideas of how I will use these scents but as I say, I need to spend some time with them, figure my relationship with them and see what comes. I hope you will stay for the journey ahead. I find that a developed fragrance always ends up just the way it intends to be, at the time it is meant for, when at the beginning I don't have the answer. This is my favourite place to be - between scent and an idea, and so into the expanse of anything can happen.
Which is precisely the essence of places like Ubud, where the energy is just textural enough to be distilled through memory.