Lessons in the Art of Living

I’ve been on vacation this past week. Still am, in fact—that explains why I’m writing this post from Bali. I’m staying with friends who own a gorgeous piece of property on Berawa Beach, not far from the newly fashionable district of Kerobokan, near the island’s southern tip.

The compound has four homes, one of which is a charming guesthouse that’s graciously been allocated to me. It is surrounded by a magical moat covered in lily pads and fragrant pink water lilies. The beach with its crashing surf is on one side of the property—actually, the sea is fronted by a serene lagoon whose water swirls down a small channel into the waves—and the rice fields are on the other. It is supremely quiet (save for the riotous chorus of crickets and birds that serenades me at dusk and dawn) and a perfect antidote to the Los Angeles–New York City bicoastal shuffle that I’ve been living for the past two years.

Here’s the crazy part: My original trip called for a six-day visit to Bangkok, where my friends—Rolf and Helen von Bueren, owners of the jewelry and home accessories brand Lotus Arts de Vivre—are based. On the night I departed Los Angeles, I received an email with a new itinerary: The three of us would head to Bali for the weekend.

You might say I’m taking lessons in the art of living from the von Buerens. Once you spend any amount of time with them, it becomes clear that they are the masters.

Their home in Bangkok is unbelievable. Located in the heart of Sukhumvit, the city’s most exclusive district as well as its major thoroughfare, the property belonged to Helen’s parents. The compound houses at least eight individual houses—I say at least because it is so big and filled with gardens that I have to yet to get an exhaustive tour—decorated with incredible paintings, books, sculptures, and Thai totems. Verdant gardens filled with frangipani, orchids, lotus flowers, and scores of tropical plants that I can’t name lend the property an air of luscious decadence.

My own private pond

Rolf and Helen met in Bangkok in the early 1960s, when Rolf left his native Germany for warmer climes. Helen’s family has deep roots in Thailand. Their home has served as a meeting place for an international coterie of visitors at the highest levels of banking, industry, and art. It is difficult to overstate the richness and bounty of their lifestyle.

At the Bangkok home of my gracious hosts, the von Buerens

And I haven’t even mentioned the jewelry. Composed of materials both precious and natural—gold, silver, diamonds, gemstones, wood, shell, mother of pearl, and beetle scarab wings, to name a few—the pieces reflect a painstaking effort to keep esoteric jewelry techniques from across Asia alive: The workshop employs dozens of artisans specializing in damascene work, inlay, lacquer, enamel, carving, repousse—the list goes on (and on!). It is no exaggeration to suggest that Lotus is singlehandedly moving the finest traditions of Asian craftsmanship into the 21st century.

Last night, our final one here in Bali, Rolf arranged for a troop of Balinese dancers to perform a Legong dance in the courtyard of the main house. An orchestra of 16 men dressed in traditional garb supplied the sounds—a steady and quite beautiful symphony of cymbals and drums—while heavily made up girls performed a ritualized dance that is more complicated than any I can imagine. Distinguished by intricate finger and arm gestures, elaborate costumes, even stylized eye movements, the performance, which took place beneath a crescent moon as the waves crashed to shore just meters away, was simply epic—a fitting finale to a weekend of epic generosity.

Now this is living.