Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, April 2011)



Songan Priest at Belandingan Village.

Simple Pleasures — Penjors in the mist


Monster-maker in Payangan prepares for Ogoh-ogoh processsion.

I have recently fallen on hard times.
When one is suddenly unable to buy anything, one starts looking at things one already has with great tenderness.
As Paris, Rome, even Koh Samui are now beyond my reach I have started re-exploring the back roads of mountain Bali — which were my passion in the early 1970s  when I first discovered the polychromatic Garuda shop in Pujung and was the first blonde to be kidnapped by Terunyan tribes people in the middle of Lake Batur — and, to my delight, I find that there is still life beyond the buzz of the By-pass.
I find villages that are oblivious to the mayhem on the coast; with villagers still going about their idyllic lives, wrapped around perfectly formed best-friends, and smoking unfiltered cigarettes like there’s no tomorrow.
The only By-pass in mountain Bali is the ‘Fashion By-pass’, as urban trends — such as homeboy handshakes, sneering at whitefolk (a new trend in Gay Bali) and turning rice fields into dog ugly real estate —have yet to make it up the hill.
Mountain folk are also very original dressers. Take, for example, the Blandingan mayor’s wife — who sold us bananas from her tiny bamboo stall — dressed in Louis Vuitton (Factory  Outlet) from head to foot, and wearing large red plastic mules, and a clothes peg to protect her decollete.
At the beyond fabulous “Warung Kenali” Lake Fish ‘n’ Chips Shop, which is half- way down on the steep road that leads from Penelokan  to Kedisan at Lake Batur’s  edge, I discovered gangs of Homies — dark, savage-looking Kintamani menfolk — dressed as referees at an Olympic track and field event.
Mountain priests, by comparison,  wear exquisitely tailored broad-lapelled white or black jackets over long white sarongs and sash.

•    •    •

On the Puakan-Taro-Keliki Road

My favourite mountain village is Blandingan — located on a fertile plateau above Mount Batur’s crater lake — and my favourite mountain road is the one that starts at Puakan, high on the Pujung-Kintamani Road, and ends up, after 20 kilometers of almost completely unspoiled villagescapes and padi views, in Bangkiang Sidem, West of Ubud.
Last month I went down this road on the Sunday before Nyepi.


At the Guskies Stud Chicken Farm

27th February 2011: A Sunday Outing with old friends
I am invited to have lunch with restaurateur friends of mine, at the Guskies stud chicken farm, a few kilometers North of the 10th century village of Taro. I arrive at noon and find Djago  and Karen Gusky playing Marie Antoinette and the Green Hornet in rural bliss (see photos next page).
We spend a pleasant hour in the garden admiring the squawking roosters — all lined up  atop bamboo teepee on a vast grass paddock — and then sit down to lunch in an open pavilion. The food is organic, home-grown, and Balinese excellent.
“Ya can’t buy a camera in New York on a Saturday,” Karen screams over, over the ghetto blaster as Djago Gusky passes the Storm beers.


Arthur, Djago Gusky and Karen Gusky

Gentle kitchen staff

•    •    •

After lunch my fellow trekkies and I stop at the Pura Gunung Raung in Taro, once a sublime architecture master piece of camel-hair coloured volcanic tuft but now ‘restored’, to within an inch of it’s life, with an excessive use of Darth Vaderesque black granite stone (the stone first used, in abundance, at the mausoleum for the late President Soekarno in Blitar, East Java).
We visit not the temple but the surrounding car parks and community halls which are bustling with activity; the giant festival’s climax is but 25 days away.
Very cheeky school girls with very healthy cheeks are rehearsing dances in the banjar hall; battalions of volunteers are fashioning the most extraordinary giant woven festive banners, called penjors. These decorative poles flank the entrance to every house and temple in Bali on important festive days; (the “W” hotel in Seminyak, designed, by super-spunk architect de jour Chan Soo Khian, had penjor holograms, an island first, at its launch last month for example. Ed.).
No one tries to sell us real estate or their niece as we wonder amongst the polystyrene and teteron and  scaly maypoles wrapped in bunutan leaves.

At Pura Gunung Raung temple, Taro

We stumble across a comfort station —tea and coffee dispensers on a table — and are invited to help ourselves. In the same large shopping court are pavilion after pavilion of dried coconut and bundles of sugar-palm (jaka) leaves stored for future ceremonies.
It is the Sunday before Nyepi, the Day of Silence and Nyepi  Eve — when all the monster effigies are paraded — so there is plenty of roadside eye-candy on the way home.
The afternoon light picks out glistening woven penjor and white or yellow temple umbrellas which flank the entire length of the road.
The experience is re-affirming and exhilarating:  “re-affirming” in the sense that one is starting to despair about ever again experiencing the joy of ‘Real Bali’ as one glides down a perfectly sculptured mountain ridge; and “exhilarating” as all the great art and gorgeous people make one’s atoms hop!


Pura Tirta Gunung Kawi, Sebatu

1st March 2001: Facebook Revolution in Sanur
Today a young architect posted a very stylish artist’s impression of a new banjar hall in Sanur in the style of his employer, the fashionable landscape-designer and architect Bill Bensley.
I made some constructive criticisms on line — the “lose half the tassles” vien) — and was thrilled when a whole band of Sanur architects soon joined my “Ban Andesite in Bali” facebook page and joyfully joined the debate.
They were all Brahmans from  one community — the sort of coterie that normally becomes a mutual self-admiration society on Facebook — but they did not play the race card (“back off, Howlie”) or get self-righteous (as the Balinese nobility can) but just took criticisms on the chin and ‘penned’ a few punches.
The ‘relative anonymity’ of Facebook —it’s being at sort of ‘arms length’ — allows the normally non-committal Hindu-Balinese intellectual to fully vent his true feelings.

2nd March 2011: An unlikely street brawl in Seminyak
Popular cross-dressing Bugis restaurateur and real estate broker Bonita is the only Indonesian man to have been on the cover of the local French Magazine ‘La Gazette’ twice, in women’s clothes.
Today a Swiss national went berserk — over a rental dispute — in the carpark of Bonita’s “Warung Sulawesi”, and started pulling out rose-bushes from around the Hindu shrine. So Bonita swept out in a floral kimono and bopped him — laid him flat on the footpath with one punch. This sort of incident puts to rest the notion that all cross-dressers are sissies, and that Moslem don’t love Hindu shrines.
Bonita is considering forming a band of vigilantes drag-queens to protect the streets of Seminyak from the scourge of berserk foreigners!
Go girl!


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