Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Patch of Paradise

The author of this book, Gaia Grant, was becoming increasingly unsatisfying and stressed out in Sydney. She wasn’t getting as much as she wanted out of her relationship, her child or her work. A nameless urban ennui was setting in.

Professionally and emotionally unfulfilled, the dream of taking off work and escaping for a year kept her sane in an increasingly insane city environment where people were bombarded by "on average, 3000 TV, radio, newspaper and magazine ads in the course of a day."

So she dared to start a new life with her family on the breath-stoppingly beautiful but feudal island of Bali which was the deductive result of her need to find a tropical, idyllic and affordable beach environment. To keep her husband happy, it also had to have good surf.

This is not a travel book. There are no high adventures at sea, no hair-raising surfing stories, no visits to remote tribal territories. It does contain the sensitivity, wisdom and perspective of a woman’s efforts to start a new life; also practical and amusing advice on how to drive a car on Bali, and how to recognize moneychangers’ ruses. And she reveals how she found her patch of paradise.

A Doris Lessing or Anais Nin she is not, but Gaia Grant’s verve for life is inextinguishable. She’s a keen observer of Balinese compounds, temples, ceremonies, all wrought in overwhelming detail.

When your life is over, you do not regret that you had not spent enough time at the office. You regret that you did not spend nearly enough time with the people you loved. The writer understands this. For instance, she made a pact with her young daughter, Zoe. At least once a day she will go to the beach with her, no matter what, even if it was for just 10 minutes.

In the last pages of the book, Gaia Grant warns her readers not to expect too much of Bali, not to choose the "geographical cure." People searching for their own patch of paradise may end up taking their unhappiness with them no matter where they go. Those seekers must first be prepared to search for and deal with their unhappiness at its source.

Perhaps the book’s most important raison d’etre is to convince people how easy it is to start a new life. It’s sub-subtitle could almost be "You can do it, too!" Bali, Gaia writes, is "for people with an open mind and an accepting spirit who can reap the treasures of a tropical, community-oriented lifestyle."