Looking Lovingly at Penjor
Tenth full-moon ceremony at Pura Puseh Kepaon: the gods are moved down for the start
of the ten week Ngusaba Desa ceremonies.
3 April 2015: An historic Friday
Today is both tenth full moon and Good Friday — it’s very rare that these two holy days coincide.
White Bali Bakery is preparing hot cross buns; the local temple, Pura Mertasari, is gearing up for its annual odalan festival and warrior trance dance, the Baris Cina. I have asked some friends to join me for dinner and a visit to the temple — it’s always a great show.
I rise early to take the dogs for a walk on Mertasari Beach.
I can’t find my trusty canines Bobbie and Siti (formerly Susie) — usually they are up causing havoc at this hour, or asleep under my car in the garage.
After a brief search with a small posse, I head off alone, out into the retirement village atmosphere of Mertasari. The noodle-vendor under the giant banyan tree outside my gate has not seen the dogs but asks me if I’d like to ‘borrow’ one of the cute cops having breakfast there.
‘Haven’t had coffee yet,’ I reply limply.
I walk through the real estate complex and see my mate, Indonesia’s oldest bottle-blond security guard and his growling mongrel. No sign of Bobbie is the news there too.
I hit the beach park and catch a glimpse in the distant sandpit of dogs frolicking, but they are not my dogs.
Suddenly two pick-up trucks laden with temple celebrants go past; I am struck with the fear that Bobbie and Siti have been kidnapped and murdered, and will appear tonight, when I visit the temple, skinned, on a mat of offerings, representing Iswara and Wisnu respectively.
I double back. Security tells me that the Baris Gede performance has been cancelled — somebody has died in Renon village.
‘That’d be right,’ is all I can mutter.
It seems ominous.
I sweep past the pretty penjor (woven banner) and pretty aprons in the shrine holes on my house gate, and can only think of dogs slaughtered in the name of God.
I have learned not to get emotionally attached to my pets in Bali because things happen — all Mertasari is a hunting field for dog satay ingredients, and there are a few groups island-wide (outer-island labourers are suspected) that leave poisoned meat about. Dogs are najis (disgusting) according to the Saudis who advised Java’s mullahs in the 20th century. Before that there were dog-shows in quaint Majapahit dress in the alun-alun of Java.
Anyway I sit down to read the Bali Post and discover that Orthodox Syrian Christians have entered Indonesia ‘dressed as Moslems and praying like Moslems, and building churches that look like mosques’.
Of course the Christians of Damascus predate the advent of Islam by some 500 years, and it’s most likely that the early Moslems adopted some Syrian traditions —of dress, of prayer, of architecture — rather than the other way around. But this is irrelevant in a country where much of world history is considered ‘fixed’ by colonials (pale-faces) and therefore not reliable.
On Facebook on the Majapahit page (30,000 members) I learned last week that the rise of both Darwin and Raffles were CIA plots, and that Borobudur is part of the Lost Continent of Atlantis.
‘The truth is too confrontational for many Hindus’ a learned scholar in Delhi once told me.
Just as I am about to start a letter to the editor of the Bali Post, Siti bounds in and attacks my ankle.
Peace is restored. I can look lovingly at the penjor again.
4 April 2015: a rare treat at another Sanur beachside temple
I don’t enjoy driving around South Bali much anymore — the urban sprawl is too ugly. I am lucky, however, to live in the Mertasari Retirement Belt where, every dusk, grown men walk off like zombies towards Hooters bars.
As less of a grown man, I like to go the other direction to the mangrove beach at Tanjung and admire the herons and the lady-fishermen squatting in the mud. At sunset there is a beautiful light that streams across Serangan Bay — soon to be a formula 1 racetrack and accompanying real estate. The last president, in his wisdom, decided that scenic Serangan-Benoa Bay need ‘revitalisasi’.
Soon the island will be ringed with car parks in the name of practicality. The annual procession to the beach to honour Ratu Baruna, God of the Oceans, will need to pick through vast rows of Hyundais and Alphards.
But I digress — tonight it is still scenic and wonderful, and the famed Wayang Wong dancers from Tejakula (North East Bali) are getting ready for a show in my quaint local temple. The masks are hanging all in a row between papaya trees, and the photographers are already milling — I seem to have started a temple-spotting trend with this column in the 1970s from which the island will perhaps never recover!
Pura Dalem Pengembak was recently refurbished by the Waka hotel group; it is as sensitive a coral-stone restoration as you would hope to find anywhere. There is even white sand under foot in the tight ornate courtyards.
The dance starts as the sun is setting. Only a few people stay, and there is a large crowd down the Pura Taman Mertasari beach, where the mighty Taman barong is to perform. But this is the ‘A’ event — nothing beats the monkey warriors of Tejakula strutting their stuff in the compact perfectness of Pura Dalem Pengembak.
Mask of the famous Wayang Wong of Tejakula, North Bali.
15 April 2015: Sidakarya by Night
Most nights for the last 35 years I have visited Sidakarya village near Sanur: first, in the late 70s, as warung moll, and then, from about 1984 onwards, as relief Scrabble player.
I always get out at Banjar Kangin community hall, which used always to be pretty empty, unless it were ogoh-ogoh season, or if there were an amal (three day fundraiser speakeasy with beer and satay and very indifferent service — all now supplanted by coupons to McD).
For the last year the preteen gamelan troupe have been practising for the coming (June) Arts Festival — the troupe consists of the grandchildren of the original garden commandos I employed to work on the Bali Hyatt gardens.
Tonight, after six months rehearsing, they sound like Peliatan’s finest. Nurturing classic culture is increasingly important to the Balinese.
Young rebab player at Banjar Kangin Sidakarya rehearsals.
30th March 2015: A rare outing
This morning I took the dog for a walk, for the first time. Putu, my impossibly body-beautiful trainer, insists I do five laps of the Villa Bebek gardens; but, somehow, I am propelled out the south gate. I discover that the noodle stall under the banyan tree has grown garden seating and acquired a chess set, and that the real estate further beachwards is not half bad — if you like suburban bunkers with glass balustrades — despite ignoring the excellent designs my office once gave them.
The air is fresh, and everyone I meet charitable, so I venture further south, with Bobbie peeing on everything in sight, to the new municipal beach park, which is a joke. Having ignored my designs (my constant refrain these days), the mayor's office, in gazumping the West Sanur village head, has not built the architectural and landscape monstrosities sent to me for appraisal: just a strip of rather harmless, empty art-shops, and a split gate with modernist overtones, including a five-metre long cement tuning fork.
Despite this, my mood is still euphoric; the tip of Mt Batu Karo is just appearing above the row of Barracuda garages with black glass balustrades that some superbulés have built along the end of Jalan Tanjung. To the east, a gold miasma has engulfed the beach scene of fishermen and parked jet skis. Across the bay exquisite dark timber phinisi boats, re-outfitted for luxury cruising, float elegantly off Serangan point. A five-storey budget hotel rises just beyond them.
A flock of white herons stands watch on the sandbar. Hooters bars and nominee seminars seem a universe away. A nice granny is selling Balinese sweets from the back of a pushbike. Bobbie pees on the back wheel, and we are home.