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Written by
Alma Luz Villanueva
September 2013
Written by
Alma Luz Villanueva
September 2013

What is Freedom, Madam?

When I traveled to Bali in October 2001, it was less than a month after '9/11' and of course Bali is surrounded by the largest Muslim population in the world. Friends and family warned me not to go; only my youngest son finally said, "Mom, if you don't go you'll be a royal pain in the ass for the rest of your life." I'd bought the tickets almost six months before to go for my birthday.

When I arrived, I was told it was also the time of the Grand Celebration, which takes place every ten years. A balancing of the light/dark, a blessing ceremony for the whole world. Right on time: this tiny island blessing the whole world. I rented a room in the middle of Ubud. In the front, a noisy, busy street. In the back, I discovered, a dirt road following neon green rice fields on one side, with little altars to Saraswati...Goddess of literature, music, creativity, and rice. Without rice, no life.

Colorful banners flapped in the breeze to keep away birds from the crops, and farmers would pause to wave at me, smiling the Balinese smile. Stray dogs growled as I passed and one especially large one stood directly on the dirt path, daring me to go by. I picked up a large stick just as a, yes, smiling older Balinese man on a bike stopped. "You must send these lonely dogs love, madam, and they'll leave you alone." Oh yeah, I thought, that'll work, as the dog sauntered away. "I have beautiful paintings, do you want to see?" That smile. "Okay," I answered, smiling back, but not as beautifully.

He knocked on a door to a house by the road and asked the woman who answered if we could sit on her porch. She smiled, yes, nodding at me. As he carefully unfurled each scrolled painting, bound by ribbon, the woman brought us tea, smiling. This man was so gentle, I forgot he was a man; the usual sense of man energy. I bought a lovely painting of Saraswati, painted in plain black...her body, Balinese costume, jewelry, the goose she stood on... everything edged in gold. I left a tip for the wonderful tea, and as he rode away on his bike, he turned, "Don't forget, send the lonely dogs love, madam!" I waved and laughed, but continued to walk with my stick to the Ubud Palace, as I saw more dogs in the distance.

On the busy streets, which I also walked, I was constantly stopped, a total stranger taking my hand in theirs. Men, women, young and old... "Welcome to Bali, madam, where are you from?" And I'd tell them, the USA. They moved closer to me...in the Western sense of 'being in your space'...their eyes full of true sadness, compassion, so close to mine. And I began to weep, which didn't make them run away, move away; in fact, they moved closer, which made the tears flow more quickly. It was hard to tell where tears and sweat began and ended. In short, I became used to weeping in public and sweating profusely, wearing the lightest things I could, and giving up on staying in control. My tears merging with rivers, and I mean rivers, of sweat.

By the hotel pool, which I swam in, cool water, every chance I got--a circulating source of water, no chlorine, spilling over the side to mysteriously return--I met an older Japanese woman from Tokyo. She was with her sweet granddaughter who, also wisely, stayed in the pool. As we watched her granddaughter play and swim, we spoke about the Twin Towers, the tragedy of so many lives. Then, she looked directly into my eyes: "I know these things, this sadness, much of my family died in Hiroshima so long ago." Her spirit joined the novel I hadn't thought of writing yet; and would give life to my Japanese character, Ai, traveling the world planting peace crystals.

When my son, Jules, came to live with me for six months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, he also found friends to travel with. He returned from a coastal journey where he camped for a week, and he told me about a beautiful young Japanese woman who was always silent. She spent her days raking the sands into beautiful designs between swimming and eating. That haunting image stayed with me and magnetized to my wonderful character, Ai. 

As I wandered the Ubud Palace, I often stopped to just gaze at the intricately carved deities over each passageway, fountains with frogs spilling water from their open mouths, an entire pool filled with ripened lotus blossoms, orchids growing randomly, platforms that served as outdoor bedrooms, places to rest and eat, and always the altars. The offerings to the Gods, Goddesses, served to them daily. As I entered a new passageway, bowing slightly to the roaring dragon deity over my head, I saw an amazing sight and moved closer. An immense bird of prey standing on an iron perch at the edge of the courtyard, held to the perch by a chain clasped to her taloned right foot. It looked like a horned owl...I'd seen them in the Sierras, where I lived for some years. Eagles came every early summer to nest, teaching their young to fly. I loved their eagle cries, swoops, spiraling to the sun freedom.

A woman my age, in her fifties, approached me, "Welcome, madam I have amber jewelry you might want to see." I couldn't keep my eyes off of the obviously powerful, but chained, bird. "Is that beautiful bird an owl?" I asked. "No, madam, that is an eagle." My heart turned over with so much sadness, it felt like someone had died. Someone I loved had just died, in front of me. "Why is the eagle chained?" I managed to ask. I was too shocked to weep, eyes dry. "Would you like to see my jewelry, madam?" And I saw it in her eyes, an eagle. I named her Eagle Woman and then I knew who I was dealing with. "Shouldn't the eagle be free to fly in that beautiful sky, madam?" I tried to match her eyes. She just looked back, unfazed, "What is freedom, madam?" I didn't answer, the question lodged itself in my womb.

I followed her to her platform with cushions surrounding a low table and sat on one of the cushions. A young woman brought us tea and sweet cookies, and Eagle Woman showed me her exquisite amber jewelry, which captured the pure light of the sun. I bought earrings, a ring, and when I returned to the chained eagle, asked again why she was chained. "This eagle is my healing guide in dreams, madam," she answered in a harsh, low voice, letting me know she wouldn't tolerate one more question.

"What is freedom, madam?" This is the question that took root in the darkness of my womb, like a child, an ancient child, which would be born in my novel, Song of the Golden Scorpion.

I would meet El Niño Doctorcito floating like an otter on his back in la mar, drinking a beer, in the hot Mexican sun, Puerto Vallarta. It would be my birthday. He would come to sit next to me on the lounger after his swim, and I would ignore him. He would suddenly ask, "Have you read Kubler-Ross, you look like someone who reads. She writes about the process of dying." "Yes, I have," I would answer. A young physician, who after saving someone's life in the ER, drove to Puerto Vallarta and leaped into la madre mar.

After a very long, wonderful talk, taking breaks to swim...him drinking many beers...I told him it was my birthday. "Maybe I'm your gift," he smiled. I took him into the hotel restaurant to eat as my guest, the all-inclusive resort, and he was delighted like a boy, but with the privilege of his class in Mexico. Drinks were also free and he made good friends with the bartender, joking and laughing, so his drinks were strong. Not the usual watered-down, tourist ones. A young physician, enjoying his free drinks, getting more than a little drunk...I slipped away to my room. He didn't find me as Javier finds Xochiquetzal in the novel, but his beautiful, brash spirit entered the novel I didn't know I was going to write.

After my son, Jules, returned to the USA, and I was feeling especially alone (all one, I tell myself, the writer), walking through the local park, I stopped to look at some paintings by a local artist. He was from California as well and we began to talk. I told him I was resisting the first line of my novel which was in full haunting mode, my characters arriving. He laughed, told me the story of his wife giving birth to their son. "Just as the head showed, you know, the crowning, she had to stop pushing. She was told to stop pushing, right at that moment." My body clenched, forgot to breathe. I'd given birth four times and I couldn't imagine not pushing, that moment.

The next morning, I sat down to a blank notebook...I write everything by hand first, it feels like blood from my body to the white page...and I wrote the first line. The six-year pregnancy of the novel, and Eagle Woman's words in my womb, "What is freedom, madam?"

The ancient child, love.

**Navajo painting, Changing Woman.

GRACIAS She Writes, for the opportunity to write this pre-publication blog for my novel, Song of the Golden Scorpion...now available on Amazon. 

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  • Alma Luz Villanueva

    Gracias, Karen...my novel, 'SONG OF THE GOLDEN SCORPION' is now on www.amazon.com, just enter my name, Alma Luz Villanueva. I appreciate your best wishes for the next novel...right now am writing stories, essays, always the poetry. 'SCORPION' is my 4th novel, and a six year pregnancy, but yes, now I miss it, all my crazy/wonderful characters. Best wishes with your dreaming/writing... 

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Beautiful scenes and dialogue, Alma. Looking forward reading your longer work. Best wishes for your next in-progress novel, too.

  • Alma Luz Villanueva

    Gracias, Juliana...This is my 5th/final pre-publication blog for She Writes, for my novel 'SONG OF THE GOLDEN SCORPION'...can be found www.amazon.com   These blogs re-minded me of the gathering of my characters who arrived in the flesh, then became part of the fictive dream...and those who arrived directly from the fictive dream. My blog site www.almaluzvillanueva.blogspot.mx or try www.almaluzvillanueva.blogspot.com I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past 8 years, returning to teach, visit my family, friends. 

  • Juliana Lightle

    My first reaction:  Oh, WOW!!  Astonishing things happen if you travel and are "open".  I am trying to figure out how to follow your blog directly???  Juliana Lightle