Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, July 2009)

Gamelan player at the Klungkung function.

Bali’s Italian Connection

There are three great Italians who have influenced the Balinese art world: Fashion Supremo Milo Migliavacca, who invented cotton jersey interlock harem pants in all the colours, and has championed the revival of traditional Indonesian textiles since 1973; Idanna Pucci (niece of fashion legend Emilio), philanthropist and East Bali socialite, author of the magnificent book ‘Epic of Life: A Balinese Journey of the Soul’ about the paintings and the Kertha Gosa ceilings; and Emilio Ambron, a painter who lived and worked in Bali during the period 1939 – 1944.
Last month Bali’s adopted son, first Italian Consul Pino Confessa, a commedia dellarte actor from Italy—who has worked in Bali for three decades with local mask dance troupes—helped organize a big night to celebrate the opening of the Emilio Ambron Museum. The big event also marked the start of Idanna Pucci’s project to restore the magnificent ceiling art of the Kertha Gosa pavilion in the former imperial palace’s pleasure gardens in Klungkung.
Now read on:

30th May 2009: A giant gathering of Italian Bali-o-philes
Literary goddess Idanna Pucci can sure draw a crowd!
Decked out in a Milo muumuu and flanked by two elephants, this wonder-woman, Florence’s answer to Ayn Rand, received guests royally at the Klungkung palace gates.
And palace gates are no stranger to the steely-willed Florentine, for she grew up in the Palazzo Pucci in Florence, the culture capital of Italy. As a child she sat on Mussolini’s knee as she gazed from her nursery window at Michaelangelo’s David below, and Il Duomo above. She grew up in a court surrounded by aristocrats but chose a more bohemian life style. She has spent much of the past thirty years in Bali and New York.

Her first great project in Bali was a collaboration with legendary photographer Hans Hoefer (founder of APA Guides), called the “Epic of Life’. Her beautifully written text compared stories of her native Florence with those depicted on the ceiling of the Kertha Gosa. As a result of her book, Klungkung is now twinned with Florence, and Idanna is twinned with Mother Theresa, in the eyes of the East Bali peasantry.
Inside the palace gates I discover Terence Ward, Idanna’s husband, with the team of Kamasan, Klungkung painters—led by Bapak I Nyoman Mandra—who will undertake the delicate restoration work. Further in I discover Milo and his mother, and brother Etzio, attended by a vast crowd of Italo-Seminyak fashionistas.
Front and centre and almost ‘swamped’ in the sea of glitterati I find the Italian ambassador  H.E. Roberto Palmieri and his glamorous wife Signora Adriana Palmieri. The good ambassador has been a great supporter of the Klungkung-Florence alliance.
“The jewel in the crown of Italo-Indonesian cultural activities,” he calls it.
The evening is a big success: the local mayor signs an agreement that will allow Idanna to proceed with her restoration, and for the Emilio Ambron collection to have a Bali home. And the expat hill tribes have aired their ‘glad-rags’ at a coastal venue and been well fed!

Hon-Consul to Italy, Pino Confessa and bodyguard

Klungkung’s official mascots.

Winner and two Runners-up:
The Made Wijaya Look-a-Like Competition

Fiona Waworuntu and Idanna Pucci.

To commemorate the centenary of Ambron’s birth, Hexart Publishing of Jakarta and Bali have produced a fine book of the artist’s, ‘Memoirs of Bali (1938 – 1944)’ which is a fascinating read. (I must say I infinitely prefer his writing to his painting. Ha!).
An excerpt from the book:
“13th December 1938: Gilda says that there is something in the air in Bali, sort of influence, strange, that makes everything unreal and reverses the ‘values’. Unusual things can thus appear entirely natural, and vice versa.
The leaping humours are something current. The limits between the true and the false are less precise. And we, a bit bewitched in this atmosphere, we have a very concrete problem: to find a house, a place where we may install ourselves.”
And install themselves they have: there is now a trattoria or pizzeria in every Balinese tourist hub, and a huge Italian presence in the ex-pat community. Milo’s August birthday guest list is like the who’s who of Italo-Balinese society; his mother is the patron saint of ‘Gudang Garam’!

Bapak I Nyoman Mandra (far right) and his team of Kamasan painters who will restore the Kertha Gosa ceiling.

Last year saw the opening of Bali’s first fully Italian-designed luxury hotel, the Bulgari hotel  near Uluwatu, designed by ‘super-designer’ Antonio Citterio from Milan. It has been a runway success; and a new one is in the development stages for Ubud.
The evening starts with Balinese dance—a spirited barong and telek (celestial nymphs)—and some, perhaps, less ‘spirited’ speeches; and aids with a whack-up Klungkung feast for 500, before everyone inspects the spartan new Emilio Ambron Museum.
“It is something quite extraordinary” one hears the barefoot Marquessa (La Pucci) emote as she steps into the gallery with the ambassadorial party.
One feels transported back to the era when royal patronage of the arts produced eternal rewards.

Sunday, 6th June 2009: Home alone
Back in pedestrian Mertasari you can count the number of grey nomads (pensioners on bikes) on the liver spots on the back of your hand.
I am laid low with a tropical lurgy so I decide to put the finishing touches to my preface for Leonard Lueras coming thriller ‘Mertasari – A New Place for Old People’. The film rights have been sold to Radio Moscow and a director chosen. It will be like Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ but with the Duke of  Edinburgh in the romantic lead (a rare cameo) playing a prince consort who escapes his domineering wife and falls for an 80-something wind-surfing instructor  and together they herd turtles into a big pen off Sanur. But seriously, I am writing a preface for the latest in Lueras series—’Ubud is a Mood’ was the most colourful; his ‘Jakarta’ book the most succesful—and I go out every day with a microscope, looking for historical detail!

In the Ari’s Fitness carpark I discover the footprint of a Ming Dynasty tomb or it may have been another Ming restaurant.
The Russian restaurant on the Sanur by-pass is having its fourth face-lift in so many years (as is the Russian habit) and the Bali Hyatt’s once fashionable ‘Telaga Naga’ chinese restaurant (in a park designed by me in 1982) now has an “All you can eat for Rp.150.000” sign out the front.
Stay tune for more exciting Mertasari details next month.

Subscribe to the Poleng Magazine! Get your hard copy of the diary with large format photos and contributions from some of the island's more talented essay writers, cartoonists and photographers. E-mail your request, and kindly send letters or useful travel tips to: