David:

Now, the cremation bulls were almost complete. The great, generous wooden forms had been covered with black velvet; the horns were bound with gold. The bulls smiled and showed their mouths’ red interiors and the thin, red pizzles were thrust close along their bellies and were tasselled and lined with golden thread.They had become something else; cartoon figures. The bull that belonged to another village was sent away. ‘Theirs was the better one’, someone said and l asked why. Like a cattle judge at a country show he walked around the Ubud bull and piled up penalties:`Head too small, body too long.’

On the night before the cremation, there was a show of wayang kulit, shadow puppets, in the palace grounds. It went on to the early hours of the morning. Children squatted close to the screen and followed the story closely. The Dalang’s voice rose to grating heights and gutteral depths as he took the different parts. His torch flamed brightly behind him, his small gamelan beat out a constant rhythm.

Above was a full moon. The palms were black against a bright sky. We could see the men in the wantilan still working on the bull. Dogs barked in the distance. Once in a while a motor-bike would sputter past.

Next day, we were told that the cremation ceremony would begin at 11 a.m. maybe, and we were there on the street on time. The tower stood on the road before the palace. Two great wings spread from near its base and the pagoda-like top was crusted with carvings, gilt and coloured decoration. It stood in a carrying frame of thick bamboo poles. Along the road was the bull, also on a frame.

Tourists blocked the road and stood in the way of each others’ cameras. A Japanese family lined up in different combinations to be photographed in front of the tower. This was the great day. Time wore on. Police arrived to control the traffic. Buses put down loads of foreigners.

`Plenty of tourists’, I said to a Balinese bystander. `Too many’, he said spontaneously, then he looked embarrassed. A very white man with a small beard had dressed himself in a conical hat and a kain which he pulled up between his thin legs in the way of a warrior. A blond little girl trailed at the end of his arm and behind was his wife in slacks, a towelling hat and sunglasses.

A very pleasant Englishman leaned on the base of the tower. `What are you doing there?’ someone called. `Spoiling photographs’, he said.

Tourists arrived in cars and on motor-bikes. Plump Dutch ladies in sun hats strolled along the road and poked in and out of art shops. `When will the ceremony begin?’ `Maybe twelve o’clock’, said the Balinese.

A couple of woodcarvers wandered in the crowd, each carrying a piece of carving for sale. We knew them slightly and they knew that we were not potential customers. One came and stood for awhile with us. `How is business?’ we asked him.

`Bad.’

The stocky, crew-cut Frenchman was there, booted and braced, enjoying the atmosphere. We had not seen him for awhile and he told us about his adventures on unruly motor-cycles. The crowd was swelling. Now there were Balinese waiting. `What time is the ceremony?’

`Maybe two o’clock.’

A gamelan arrived and the players all in small turbans and blue shirts sat on their haunches beside the wantilan. The village men, who were to carry the tower and the bull, milled about, many of them in kains with bands around their heads, barefooted. Pak Rake Suling was with them, looking not so professorial. Pak Rake, landlord, passed by, very elegant in a long kain and turban. There were boy scouts and, because the dead man was a hero of the revolution, soldiers.

We foreigners were here simply for the spectacle; we were very lucky that a man had died. . I had never known the dead man , nor had the other foreigners; but I did begin to think about him.. He had died conveniently and we were crowding into his cremation ceremony. It didn’t seem quite right.

, One of the tourists said with an air of importance: `I have arranged it so I can take a photo of the body before they close the coffin’

`Here comes the body’, said another.

 

The gamelan was playing dramatic passages. Reports from firecrackers sounded from inside the palace. Men came forth bearing a shape in a shroud. It was not a body, just a dummy, a decoy for evil spirits. The crowd relaxed. `That wasn’t the body.’

The real procession came quickly, again to confuse the spirits. Jubilant, shrieking shouts rose from the bearers. A small procession of stately women bearing offerings walked behind the coffin.

`That must be his family. The women are crying.’ With cool curiosity, we watched the women cry. The body was real then, and had been a man, and people cried about it.

Njoman, the houseboy, was close beside us and he stayed near for the whole of the afternoon. When we looked around he smiled at us gently. He would not be included but he stayed at a little distance, always with us. He would accept a cigarette then retire just a few paces. 

 

 

 

The coffin was carried up a long bamboo ramp and placed in its compartment half way up the tower. Live chickens were hung by their legs alongside it. There was a great noise of yelling and yipping like, Cowboys and Indians, and the bearers took up the tower. It leaned this way and that and then moved off quickly and smoothly along the road. The bull was way ahead and out of sight. From the village to the cremation ground was a distance of a kilometer or more and every inch of the road was jammed with a slowly moving river of people. Motor bikes overtook us on either side.

In the middle of the crowd was Hans Snell and his wife and children. We saw Nyonya Raka watching the procession from a house along the way.

A handsome, haughty young Brahmana priest, with a walking stick, stalked past us. The crew-cut Frenchman forged past bravely on a motor-bike, riding pillion to a Balinese boy, his eyes glinting excitedly behind thick lenses.

We turned with the procession into the cremation grounds. The crowd was filling the green field. The tower and bull had come to rest; the bull under a decorated canopy. Sellers still mingled amongst us: melancholy carvers, women with sweet foods and fruits, women with batik printed materials in bundles on their heads. We sat on a grassy bank, far back from the ceremony but in good view. Njoman sat just a few feet away.

The coffin was carried again down the ramp and the body placed in the bull. Several white clothed men were working over it, purifying the body with water.

The Hindus regard death simply as an important event in man’s life. The man’s death and cremation were well ordered. Being of the Ksatriya or princely caste, and rich, he was able to be burned only a few days after his death and his soul was released.

Cremation is so expensive it places a great burden on the ones left behind. Wasi, a bright and pretty widow who supports herself and children with a warung on the main road, told us of the thousands of dollars it had cost to cremate her husband. A painter had sold padi fields at his father’s death, then the rest of his padi fields to pay for his mother’s cremation. Often, poor people must bury their dead and wait, often for many years, for a communal ceremony.

`The Balinese love ceremony’, we say lightly. For the Balinese, ceremony is a necessity. Religion and ceremony have preserved the harmonious community which was the Balinese way of life long before the coming of Europeans.

Tourists stood in line beside the canopy of the bull, loading up their cameras for snapshots of the dead man. Few people stayed for the firing of the bull and the tower. When the ceremonies of purification and the speeches of the army had been made, they began to drift away. So did we; it was late afternoon and we were tired. We walked back to Ubud and Njoman walked a little to one side and talked with us, giving us the Indonesian names for whatever we pointed out

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

David:

`Ten years ago’, said Anak Agung Raka, `Ubud was very beautiful. There were no motor-cars. You would see farmers carrying their ploughs and flocks of ducks walking along the middle of this road’.

As the days passed, our vision of the village changed. The picturesque remained picturesque, but had less impact for us. The village was no longer a stage set built for our own act and the people no longer bit players. We were the exotics and we began to realise it.

Life had been adapted but not changed; not yet at any rate. Every three days was the market; every day, the people carried water from the spring, worked in the fields, placed offerings of flowers in temples and shrines. Tourist buses seemed incidental and so did we. The rhythm of village life goes on. Life begins, life ends.

At Puri Kawan, there were preparations for a wedding. Two men with a pig for the wedding feast, trussed in a basket and slung on a pole, ambled towards Puri Kawan and passed four laughing men who carried a log to be the coffin for the man who had died so recently.

Men prepared the wedding food. They were split into groups: one making pork sate for Hindus, another preparing chicken for Muslims, another making plates from palm leaves, another preparing little mountains of rice (they are called mountains, gunung). A man pounded pork in a vat with a heavy pestle, which rose and fell rhythmically; another stoked a fire under a cauldron. Curly tailed, white dogs sniffed about and little brown, straight haired children wandered. I took several photographs, (which, like most, did not come out) and drew the scene to the great amusement of the children.

Among the workers was a large and genial man, Njoman Roda, whom l already knew quite well. As l was a suling student, he had written out, in his own style of notation, the suling part for the Legong Dance. We had asked him if he knew a frog song (Betty loved the musical frogs of Bali) and he had immediately written out a two part song, not in notes but in proaks and prouts. He decorated the whole thing (an exercise book) with charming drawings of frogs and at the end put in some information about the betting system at cock-fights. `How much do you want for all this?’ we had said. He put up his large hands, palm forwards: `You decide’.

Now, in the compound, Njoman put his educational turn of mind to use and took me around the working bees. `Here, we are making plates from banana leaves.’ They were square plates, green, clean and disposable. `Here the men are making mountains of rice.’ The white rice grew in tight, high mounds on the green plates. ‘Here, they are preparing pork sate.’ Under a thatched roof, a large group of men were shredding pork. It went then to a tub where a man pounded it to pulp with a great pestle, and from there to a vat over a roaring fire. `Here they are preparing chicken for muslim guests and here you see is your friend, Raka.’ It was Raka Suling, master of music, taking meat from the bone and smiling widely.

I reported all this excitement to Betty, but she was suffering from an upset stomach and did not want to see pork being pounded. Betty had in fact been suffering with her troubles since shortly after our arrival. I always sympathised; but I noticed she chose and enjoyed the spiciest food. While she rested I was free to sit in the sun to draw. The children came around me and  giggled at my work. I took a few photographs which did not come out and had a good time.

Nyonya was with the other women, at the hotel where the wedding would be held. They were making cakes and coloured rice wafers. She brought us small glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. They were very good and I ate Betty’s as well as my own.

For lunch, we had mountains of rice and pork sate (pork grilled on skewers). This time Betty could not eat hers. Nor could she go to the reception held that night, the eve of the wedding. It was a quiet and dignified affair; not many people. We drank soft drinks, ate biscuits and sat talking. I was the only European and the Indonesians, wonderfully polite, talked slowly and carefully so that I might understand. The bridegroom was a handsome boy with slightly aquiline features. The bride was a beauty in the Balinese tradition; small features in a small, round face. She was a well known Legong dancer.

On the next day, the wedding day, we saw them both in traditional finery and looking wonderful. On his back, the bridegroom carried a sacred dagger, the kris. The wedding was held on the hotel veranda. A long table was decorated with fruit, flowers and rice offerings. A Brahmana priest sat, with his wife longside to assist him, chanting mantras (incantations) while his hands performed mudras (visual prayers), the beautiful movements from which dance movements derive. The veranda was crowded with guests, Indonesian and foreign. The Gamelan played tirelessly.

Misguidedly, Agung Raka had suggested that I take photographs. I joined the crowd of photographers and I jostled and craned. The light was bad, everyone else seemed much taller than I, so I had very few hopes of success. Much later I found that a smaller lever on the camera was in the wrong position: I had wondered why the film lasted so long.

Balinese landscapes are still. The earth dominates as it does in Balinese painting. You might look across a gorge to another hillside and the figures of farmers on the terraces are as small and as brave as ants. Rivers cut deep ravines through the black soil. The colours are rich and sombre: blacks, greens and ochres.

The Balinese care for their land with tenderness and awe. The terraces may be centuries old, but little of their soil is lost. Women harvest the rice: because women, like the earth, are the bearers of life. And the women hide their blades in the palms of their hands so as not to frighten the live rice stalks. They cut the rice gently, with respect.

Religion is woven through every day life. In the fields, are tiny thatched temples slung between pairs of living trees. Each village has three temples; representing birth, life and death. Each family compound has its temple. Offerings of rice and flowers in small, square trays of plaited palm are made from morning to night. Old women sell offerings to passing motorists and to the drivers of bemos.

In parts of Bali, the life is relentlessly hard. From a mountain village the farmers, men and women, might carry their produce over a mountain range to market; this takes one day; the market itself spends another day; there is a day for work in the fields, then the produce must be carried over the range to market.

 Life is designed carefully to fit in with nature. Before the buildings in a compound are erected, a priest advises where to place them so that they are in harmony, so that the thoughts of the inhabitants will be in harmony and there will be peace.

 

 

 

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

rice terraces sepiaBETTY:

Our small house had two rooms and two verandas. Our bathroom was the usual Malay kind: tiled floor, square concrete cistern of water with a dipper and a lavatory just higher than the floor. There was no running water. Water was brought each morning by Njoman, the servant of the house, who came with cans of spring water on his shoulder pole to fill our cistern. The small verandah was almost completely filled with a large table, which left us just enough room to sit. The ledge of the verandah was decorated with flowering shrubs in pots. Sitting at the table we looked out to the plaited bamboo walls of warungs.   Across the road, we could see the village temple kul-kul, under a small thatched roof, it stood in silhouette against the ornate temple door which was framed again by a dark banyan tree.

Our days began with breakfast at a large plastic covered table. Njonja, (the word translates as Mrs.) Raka’s wife left at six o’clock for Denpasar where she was a kindergarten teacher. She brought our breakfast just before leaving. The five Raka children were up early too. Young Oka would come smiling to collect our lamps. It was his job to fill them and clean their globes. The two little girls would be sweeping the bare earth of the garden with hand brooms made from the spines of coconut leaves.

In fact the whole village was awake, in its quiet way at five o’clock. I enjoyed being up early and made use of the time by writing up notes of the previous day. David accustomed to working at night for a morning newspaper, emerged heavy and yawning. Agung Raka worked in his garden. Sometimes Denik, or other visitors came to talk over breakfast. Figures passed quietly on the road. The white house dog, which was rather ugly, sniffed about and ate the small offerings of rice which Njonja had left about for the gods.

Our breakfast was usually fruit-salad, pawpaw, banana, and melon, all sprinkled with coconut, lemon and sugar. Afterwards there was either fried eggs or omelettes, sometimes pancakes as a treat, occasionally toast. Always there was tea. When we had finished breakfast, the thermos flasks were refilled with tea and returned to us.girls grain

My first music lesson each day was at eight o’clock. As I walked out of the front gate of Puri Kawan, the warung owners greeted me: `Good morning. How are you? Where are you going? Ah, to study music. Good, beautiful’. David carrying drawing paper and pens in a small haversack would accompany me as far as the wantilan when he would stop to watch and draw the cremation preparations. Half an hour later he would arrive for his lesson. We had two music lessons, morning and evening. The rest of the time was easily filled. We, too, walked purposefully and slowly to definite destinations. In the village itself, there was enough to occupy us: people to visit, conversations on verandas, things to see; and we could walk to other villages close by or make expeditions by bemo to other parts of the island.

Every few days, both, or one of us, travelled to Denpasar to pick up mail and do other business. David often made the trip alone. I think he fell in love with a little girl who laboured on the roads. Always, the bemo slowed down as it passed over the roadwork and always she was there, under a wide, straw hat, carrying rocks. He always mentioned her, but he never spoke to her and never knew her name. He called her Sophia. She really was beautiful.

Often at night, we would sit on chairs and mats on our front veranda which looked onto the garden. Often Pak Raka, our  landlord would join us as well  as Pak Raka (Suling) our teacher. We would play bamboo musical instruments and the children, too, would come to listen and play. Darkness would fall and the lamps were lit and cicadas and frogs would sing.

There was no kitchen in our house. For lunch and dinner we went to one of Ubud’s eating places. In one direction was Tjokorde Mas and Menara Lodging House, in the other Njonja Made Tjanderi’s Homestay, both of which we could afford.

Life amuses Tjokorde Mas. He would greet us from afar and come to sit with us to talk and chuckle about music and the Balinese way of life. He is an expert on both. Tjokorde Mas, born a prince, does not know his age exactly. He is a very active man. He has a domed forehead and lively brown eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles. `I am not an academic’, he protests when he talks of music; but he looks professorial. After all, he was a lecturer in Balinese music at the University of California, Los Angeles, for four years. Tjokorde Mas is the founder of Mudraswara Society which aims to document and conserve the traditional music of Bali. He is a director of the art gallery of Ubud, and manager of his grass roofed lodging house which stands right beside the rice fields.

‘Pelan, pelan’, he said, whenever I spoke of my music studies. `Slowly, slowly. This is Bali.’

`Don’t you ever get tired?’ I asked him once.

`The Balinese are never tired’, he said. `If I feel tired, I have a sleep, so if I’m awake, I’m not tired.’ And he chuckled loud and long. `That is how it is in Bali.’

The McRoberts family, father, mother and ten year old daughter, were travelling overland to England. All their luggage was carried on their backs; rucksacks, father bear, mother bear and baby bear sizes, and that was something I admired. Though, by now, their journey must be over, I think of them as an indiscernable dot moving slowly, very slowly, across the map of the world.

We had dinner together, on their last night at Ubud, in a small gazebo, half surrounded by an ornamental pond covered with lilies. All this is annexed to Tjokorde Mas’s dining-room lounge theatre. We had ordered, twenty-four hours in advance as the menu instructed, a traditional Balinese meal of smoked duck.

There was yellow rice and sate ayam (chicken on skewers) and very many small dishes of sauces and spicy little vegetables and then there was the duck, very beautiful. We ate slowly until late.

A choir sang to us from the pond and the padi fields, frogs answering each other, and like the Balinese music in syncopated rhythms.

`Do the Balinese take their music from the frogs?’ I asked Tjokorde Mas later.

`Of course, of course, everything from nature.’

Our meal was the traditional one for the day of Sariswati, the Goddess of Learning. It is always prepared by men. Of course we were having it a few days late.

`It is an offering’, said Tjokorde Mas, `Just as the dance is an offering and as the music is an offering. But with the meal, we offer it and’, he chuckled wickedly and shrugged his shoulders, `we eat it’

Tjanderi’s place is called a Homestay and is a family compound, where all the pavilions are used as guest houses. Young tourists living inexpensively use Tjanderi’s. There are Americans who seem to be able to wander for years and then in August there are the French and Australians  come at all times.

Tjanderi herself is a gentle, homely soul and perhaps this is why she attracts the young-away-from-home. At odd moments, when she is not cooking, she comes quietly and sits at your table.

The Americans seem to take their travel seriously. There was no difficulty in eavesdropping on their conversations. Sometimes they were competitive:

`Have you been to K.L.?

‘Oh yes, K.L.’s great! I was in East Africa last year.’

`Oh yea? Did you meet a guy … what was his name?’ Sometimes they were very quiet: a small thin girl whispered to us about her time in Nepal; she was travelling alone and had been doing so

for more than a year.

Abraham was an American traveller who had been in the east for a long time. We met him first at a village performance of the Topeng dance and he attacked us, in a soft, sweet voice, saying the life that we were leading was quite materialistic and futile. He was studying Bhuddism. He wore a sarong close to saffron in colour and, whenever we saw him, he carried an open umbrella to protect himself from the rain, the sun, or just for ceremonial purposes. He always smiled sweetly and bowed over his fingertips. Mostly, we would find him standing close to a group of Balinese as though eavesdropping. He would have to fly back to Singapore, he told us, just to renew his visa for Indonesia. We envied him in a materialistic kind of way.

At Tjanderi’s we met a Canadian girl, very shy and solitary, who was a graphic artist and gaining a lot from being in Bali.  We also met a stocky Frenchman, with thick lenses and his hair en brosse, who travelled somewhere different every year. He had a licence to ride a motor-cycle, but had never ridden one before. He was terrified of his own machine. There were many Australians, as one would expect, mostly travelling cheaply and discussing prices and expenses.

No matter how foreigners try to blend with the landscape and the local people, they are always conspicuous. A sarong seems to accentuate a European’s foreigness. Very few of us have the natural balance, carriage and movement of the Indonesians. Foreigners have become part of Ubud’s atmosphere. Apart from the tourists there are several foreign permanent residents, as well as students who stay for a while to study the dance, the music or weaving.

The painter, Han Snell, has gained Indonesian citizenship. He came to Indonesia, very much against his will, as a conscript in the Dutch army, loved the country and fell for a beautiful Balinese girl.

We walked uphill on a stony road beside the same fast stream that gurgled past Puri Kawan. Women were bathing, lifting their sarongs as they submerged their bodies. A small girl fell in beside us, asking, as usual: `Where are you going?’ She accompanied us politely right to the doorway of the house of Han Snell.

There was a souvenir shop, a long driveway bordered by clipped lawn, something we did not see often in Bali. Another pretty girl directed us through a gateway across a highly polished floor of an open pavilion and on to stepping stones across an ornamental lily pond with a graceful statue, and then into the painter’s gallery.

Among all this elegance, Snell’s paintings and prints looked elegant too. They were linear and restrained. When he exhibited in Tokyo, he was described in the press as one of the most exciting painters working in Asia. Soon, Han Snell arrived and he sat us in the pavilion with the polished floor and offered us drinks. He was impressively large with a head of blond curls, nicely greying. He wore a sarong, which might have been a toga.

He spoke of his struggling times, as painters seem to do, with a little nostalgia. After spending a year in Java, he arrived in Bali with just three thousand rupiahs (about six Australian dollars), which lasted him just one month. Fortunately, he met a Balinese aristocrat who became his patron, offering friendship and a place to live and work. He developed his talents in isolation, seeing only book reproductions of the European masters; Matisse, Dufy and Picasso impressed him particularly.

It was a very lonely life. It wasn’t possible, he said, to have love affairs with Balinese girls. He had been in Bali for eight years, when he fell so deeply in love with his young model that he took the bit in his teeth and bolted with her in Balinese style.

Elopement is not unusual in Bali, but this one came as a shock to the girl’s poor mother. When he comes to think of it, says Snell, he would not like one of his daughters to elope with some young painter, poor, unknown and foreign. At that point Ne Made, Madam Snell, the subject of our conversation, entered and we turned our eyes towards her. She was all we expected, graceful and beautiful.

Across the Campuan River there is a long steep stairway which takes you from the road to a wide plateau. We took the stairs slowly. Old women with loads on their heads and tiny children zipped past us. David climbed manfully, clutching his asthma inhalant, and I rested halfway. We had left our bicycles at the bottom of the stairway.

On the plateau there is a great view of green terraces. The pathway across the plateau leads between padi fields and the earth underfoot is damp and dark. We passed the studio of another painter – there is a pocket of good young artists here.

Walter Folle’s house is on the fall into the next watercourse. His house is small and tall, an arched frame, one great room and sleeping galleries. Again, there are wide lawns, a pond with a bamboo bridge. Walter Folle was still asleep and my collaborator seemed to envy him. We arrived very pink and ruffled and were greeted by Walter’s wife all smooth, cool and brown. From where we sat, we could see her village, nestled in palm trees. While we drank coffee, a tall old man carrying coconuts on a pole, passed by, he was stooping now and again to answer the questions of a small, curly haired blond girl who trotted beside him.

`My father and my daughter’ said Walter’s wife, who was due to have a second child. In fact she was overdue and taking it calmly. Balinese friends had told us she was very beautiful, and that was certainly true.

Her little girl had been born in the rainy season. At that time there was no bridge at Campuan, and, in labour, she had climbed down the steep, sixty foot high bank of the river and had crossed the shoulder deep, fast running water before walking on to Ubud, where the baby was born soon after. ‘No trouble at all’, she said. The Balinese are rural people and they have rural charm and stoicism, but they are also a cultured people, for culture is born in the villages.

On our way back to Ubud, we stopped at the Campuan Hotel for lunch. One of the hotel’s bungalows was once the house of the famous foreigner Walter Spies. When we talked of Balinese painting with Han Snell, we had discussed Walter Spies. He was a painter, musician and naturalist, the son of a German diplomat. He came to Indonesia soon after the first World War and when the Sultan of Java asked him to organise a western orchestra he made an intensive research into Indonesian music. Walter Spies eventually settled in Campuan where he made the first recordings of Balinese music, made a study of patterns of Balinese life and art, created the Bali Museum in Denpasar and became its first curator.  His teaching has remained an important influence to visual artists.

From his thatched house, Walter Spies once looked across luxuriant green plant life, growing tightly into the head of a gorge, to the paler green of padi fields under a wide sky. And so did we when, at lunch, two sweet, pretty girls in coloured kebayas, sashes and kains, pitter patted about and talked to us in quiet voices. There were flowers in the dining room, hanging birds’ nests as well as the bamboo instruments called tingkliks.

I had forgotten my umbrella at the Folle’s house. The two girls went off to get it. I could picture them arm in arm, heads close together,  smiling and giggling; they would be in silhouette as they crossed the rice fields on the plateau, and bright as butterflies against shadow, as they descended the stone stairway. No wonder foreigners like Bali.

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

DAVID:

menara sawah brown

BETTY SUGGESTED that I, too, should learn an instrument. I was pleased with the idea really; though I put on a show of reluctance. Pak Raka suggested I learn the Balinese flute, called suling. This was his speciality. In fact, we sometimes heard him spoken of as Raka Suling, which reminded me of the Organ Morgan in the Dylan Thomas play. He promised to have a couple of flutes for me next day, one male, one female. So we left the music house with happy faces. The way home was past the banyan tree of the kul-kul, which had sounded relentlessly the day before, and past the village hall, the wantilan, where there was a crowd of men. Two great tree trunks, had been unloaded on the raised floor and in a walled yard behind the wantilan was a new pile of bamboo poles. Preparations for a cremation had begun.

Already, we were a little bit known in the village and people walking on the road and warung owners called to us politely, always asking where we had been and where we were going. This is the way of villagers. We walked on past our cottage towards Menara. Across the road from the Lodging House was a signpost announcing Ubud’s Museum of Art. A pathway led down stone steps, across a bridge over a deeply cut stream and mounted the opposite slope. There was a small box office with the price of admittance, 100 rupiahs, written on its side, but nobody to take the money.

The whole hillside was a beautiful, planned garden of palms and ponds and trellises. The three thatched buildings that house the art collection stood against the sky.

We had almost reached the central building, when a small, thin, barefooted woman in a kain and kebaya appeared on the path before us. She was smiling widely and bobbing her head obsequiously. She carried a ring of keys and when we had paid our entrance fee, she unlocked a carved door.  It is a large collection. The museum was established to retain some of the best painting and sculpture in Bali and the works have been donated by artists and collectors. Painting for its own sake has not a long tradition in Bali. In the 1920’s and thirties, European painters arrived and succumbed to the beauty of the island. They passed on some of their knowledge to the Balinese, wisely teaching craft and not aesthetics.

This museum, so close to the source of the work is exciting. From the front veranda of the building, you look down on the village of Ubud, a textured landscape crowded with vegetation. From the windows at the rear, you see the sinuous lines and shining water of padi fields under a wide sky and a tiny thatched shrine between living trees. The paintings are filled with imagery direct from the same scene. We were alone in the museum. The old woman who had let us in seemed to have melted back into the landscape. We wandered slowly over red-tiled floors in luxurious silence

The collection is remarkably good. Most of the pictures are literary, illustrating old Hindu legends or village life. The one clearest in my memory is a painting by Ida Bagus Widja of Batuan. The canvas is large and crowded. The focal point, near the centre is the dance of the mythical beast, the barong, and from this centre, the composition radiates. From edge to edge there are small, small figures; dancers, musicians, trees, houses, cattle, monkeys, padi fields and flowing water. But the painting is not haphazard, it is beautifully organised. Like Bali (which tourists remember as brightly coloured), its colours are mainly muted. It is a painting of the whole world of Ida Bagus Widja.

Another day, when I visited the museum, there was a band of men working, without risk of exhaustion, in the garden. They shouted jolly greetings as I passed. This time it was an old man who let me in. Like the old woman he smiled and bobbed and stooped a little to be sure his head was on a lower level than mine, and he called me ‘Tuan’ as though I belonged to a higher caste. One of the gardeners had followed me. He invited me to sit down and talk about the paintings. He too loved the painting by Ida Bagus Widja.                      He said: `I have one of his paintings in my collection’.

I asked him, `Are you a painter, too?’

`No. I am just someone who works.’

`Why do so few people visit the museum?’

`Because the guides like to take the tourists to the shops that pay commission’, he said.

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, clickSPICE AND MAGIC

 

Corkorde Mas and Betty
Corkorde Mas and Betty

Betty:

We stayed for three days in Denpasar, dodging traffic, then moved on eagerly into the countryside on a route to the north into Bali’s interior. The village of Ubud was our destination. Colts,  trucks canvas covered behind and fitted with benches, left from a crowded narrow street, Jalan Kartini (after 5 p.m. it always became even more crowded as a night market).
Young boys cast about in the main street calling the names of distant towns and villages. ‘Ubud-Ubud-Ubud-Ubud’ we heard. ‘Ya, Ubud.’ we answered. Two youths took our arms and piled us onto one of the colts, which soon left with all the drama of a stage coach in a western film. Our boy was on the rear step hanging by one hand and leaning far out, he was shouting: ‘Ubudubudubudubudubud ubudubud’. Whenever the truck stopped, he ran off like a sheepdog in all directions to round up passengers for Ubud..
We were pleased when he failed, because, when he succeeded, we had to shuffle ourselves into a tighter weave. There was our hillock of luggage, and several women had brought along the large round baskets they carry on their turbaned heads. A bundle of hens, small and brown and tied by their legs, gazed mutely from the corner in which their basket had been thrust. A large, large fish lay for a while along the seat. Juices oozed from him to a puddle on the floor. I gathered my skirt close, my bare shoulders were pressed against the warm shoulders of my neighbours. Amongst the baskets and produce we left the dreary dust and smells of Denpasar and hurtled headlong into green hills and sunshine. There was rhythm in the movement from lush forest to shining padi fields to villages with houses hidden behind mud walls. Our spirits soared like the coconut palms.
Our assertive and agile colt boy shouted instructions to passengers and also the driver; he gathered our fares, and happily assisted all loading and unloading. Before we left the hotel, Amos had briefed us on local fares. I was careful to hand the boy two hundred rupiah, exactly the right amount, avoiding the hassle and bargaining that so far had been part of every small journey we had taken. I was baffled about prices and was at a disadvantage in the bargaining which seemed part of every purchase.
We stopped at a river where the old bridge would take only one line of traffic. A new, concrete bridge was being built, so up the steep river bank women toiled, with trays of stone and gravel on their heads. Far below, in the water, naked villagers bathed, ignoring one another and the passing traffic.
The road to Ubud was a tourist track, a pathway of culture… for sale. Elaborate art shops stand out from the common village warungs, at times they were often set quite apart amongst the padi fields. Sleek airconditioned buses passed us and disappeared: a little further along the road we would pass them again, parked beside another art shop.
In an hour we had driven the twenty-five kilometres from Denpasar to Ubud. This was the end of the trip. The village featured in tourist brochures as a centre of fine arts and crafts. There were palaces and warungs, village temples and a large wantilan, a great thatched, open sided pavilion that served as a meeting hall, concert hall and theatre. We got off in the centre of the village and asked our way to the Menara Lodging House.
Menara’s foyer cum lounge cum dining room is a series of three overlapping roofs on high poles over three levels of packed earth floors. The sides of the building are open to the world. The extraordinarily thick thatch of the roof is made of lalang grass, marvellously simple and ingenious, it is a typical sight in Bali. At the high end of this open area are flat cut-outs, painted as temple doors which serve as an entrance for dancers; and propped up, a large barong, the mask and shaggy body of a mythical beast, under which two dancers can hide. Off to one corner is the office, walled by bookshelves. The proprietor, Cokorde Agung Mas, sat at a big brown desk stacked with papers and surrounded by drums.
Back in Sydney, Richard Murdoch, the renowned musicologist, had written two words on a slip of paper: ‘Mas, Ubud’, he handed it to me and said, ‘Look him up.’.
To come across him like this, the first man we spoke to in Ubud, was a surprise. Unfortunately, at that time he had no room for us. `But no problem’, he said, `I’ll send a boy to find you one’. A young man sauntered into the sunlight and we sat down to black, grainy Balinese coffee, steaming and served in a glass. Milk is scarce so it’s invariably black tea or coffee either hot or iced. I wound my handkerchief round the glass so I could hold it to drink. This amused the Balinese who wait till the contents of their glass are luke warm.
Very soon the young man came back, smiling broadly and he had been successful. His name was Denik. He was stocky and strong and hefted our baggage easily to take us to our new home.
It was only a short way along the road, through a gateway in a high wall. `Typical Balinese house’, Denik said. It was a fine little white cottage set in a family compound of small square pavilions in a well- loved garden. The earth was dark and packed hard. There was not a blade of grass, but frangipani, bougainvillea, hibiscus and roses bloomed profusely. There were coconut palms, breadfruit and banana trees and a dark green citrus tree with fruit, like lemons but as large as coconuts. It was a fruit good for tummy troubles I was told. Along the western boundary ran a swift flowing, gurgling stream. Nothing could have been better.
Our host was busy, in a gentle way, perfecting his garden. A tall man and extremely thin, Anak Agung Gde Raka greeted us quietly and apologised for his clothes. He wore a conical straw hat, shirt and shorts. His wife beamed at us softly. Later, when we were settled and resting on our back veranda, he came and talked. We would value our talks with Raka.
That day, a regular, relentless sound, at intervals of five seconds, was always in the background. A wooden, ‘toc … toc … toc’. It was not an insistent sound; it was there with the rustle of leaves or the crow of distant cocks. A man of the village had died. His knell was sounded on a wooden bell, a kul-kul. It hung high up on the trunk of the sacred banyan tree we could see from our cottage.

The main street of Ubud, being part of a long main road, is never empty. Farmers from villages further along the road come jogging to the market their produce bobbing on the ends of springy shoulder poles. Women with great baskets on their heads, kains (single bolts of cloth) wound closely on their thighs, walk strongly, staring into the distance, straight ahead. Now and again, young men or tourists on motor-cycles roar past. Busses halt and tourists file down and follow their guides to the art shops.
This is how we saw it on our first morning in Ubud.
Tjokorde Mas had offered to introduce me to a good musician. His boy, Denik, came to escort us to meet my teacher, (a relation of our landlord). It was raining. We walked under umbrellas to a plain stucco building in a side road. This was the rumah gong, the home of the instruments of the gamelan.
Pak Raka, his name was exactly the same as that of our landlord, came from the opposite direction. He too carried an umbrella. He wore a long woven kain and, amazingly, a heavy roll necked sweater. He was a man of good looks and dignity with a fine-boned face, erect carriage and, like his relation, Agung Raka, the air of a philosopher. Inside the rumah gong, dim light picked out the bronze of instruments scattered about the floor: the line of small pot-like gongs of the reong, the great gong itself, the keys of the metalaphones of different sizes. Different sexes too, for the Balinese and the Hindu religion preach duality and instruments are in pairs of slightly different pitch, male and female.
My instrument was to be the metalaphone called gangsa. Two of these were placed facing each other. Pak Raka sat me on a low box at one, the female, and he settled himself, cross-legged on a mat behind the male. David sat on a stool to draw the scene. I think he was a little nervous.
Pak Raka took up a small mallet, something like the picks of mountaineers, and l took up another. He played a succession of notes and I repeated them. So we progressed and I learned from memory. I had to. Music is taught aurally by a patient and thorough repetitive process. The traditional music of the gamelan is recorded in the mind not on manuscript. When I did well, Pak Raka smiled with his brown eyes and it was worthwhile. I wanted to please him.
In fact, in most ways, it was much like music lessons I have known since I was three years old. I was excited and stimulated by the sound. It pleased me. I was eager to follow where he led.
There were differences of course. After we had been playing for a little while, people appeared. There were faces at the windows, old faces and young ones; four little boys wandered into the room and squatted and stood, watching and listening, behind Pak Raka. A young man with a fighting cock in the crook of his arm came close and squatted by me. When he was asked he put down the bird, took up a pick and helped to demonstrate a passage of syncopated and very subtle rhythm. For the whole of our time in Ubud, this young man would always stop his work, his motor-bike or his conversation to come and inquire about my progress, politely and seriously.
My conversations with Pak Raka were odd. While he spoke Balinese, Indonesian and only a few words of English, I spoke a few words of Indonesian and understood nothing of Balinese.
David and I had made a big effort to learn Indonesian, attending classes for several months before our visit. We practiced conversation and vocabulary daily. David has a natural ability with languages and was soon far ahead of me. Unfortunately what I had learned seemed to vanish now I was confronted with the reality of having to speak it. I began to understand the huge problem and loneliness of non-communication.
But for Pak Raka and me a curious new language evolved. We developed a distinctive rapport. Facial expression became exaggerated but totally readable. Gestures were important. And of course we spoke with each line of music. We were soon friends, we were intrigued with the situation, aware of each other as musicians. We walked together, Raka speaking in Balinese, while I spoke English. We laughed a lot.

Anak Agung Raka
Anak Agung Raka
 SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click:   SPICE AND MAGIC

DAVID: Cock-fighting and traffic dodginggirls pounding rice

Next day, our new friend, Alit, called for us early. We caught a bemo into town, and wandered, retracing our steps, changing our minds.

Near the centre of the town is the old palace, Puri Pemecutan, which is preserved as a museum, and is a fine example of pure Balinese architecture. We heard music as we wandered through its gateway. We came upon a class of tiny girls dancing in a courtyard. The dance continued without pause; but all the dark eyes swept towards us, one movement, one solemn regard. In a neighbouring courtyard, two teen-age girls were pounding rice with long pestles: `thud, thud, thud, thud’, in a simple unbroken rhythm. At every beat the pestle changed from one hand to the other, its bounce began its upward movement. The girls were young, straight and handsome.

Alit guided us down a side street, where hideous pigs ran among small warungs; at its end was a large, thatched pavilion and  from it came the sounds of men shouting and cocks crowing. This was Denpasar,s cock-fighting arena.

We sat with other spectators on plank benches. Betty was the only woman in sight, for Balinese women seldom watch the cock-fights, and ouirs were the only pale faces. Two men in sarongs squatted in the arena, fondling and teasing their handsome fighting cocks.

They blew down their beaks and ruffled the feathers of their necks to excite them and carefully and, with a sense of ceremony, bound  sharp blades to the cocks’ right legs. The birds were held high to be presented to the crowd. Then the betting began. Male voices calling the odds, rose to a babble then a deep roar. Somehow amongst it all, bets were made directly, one man to another. Nothing was written down all was remembered.

`What if the other man does not pay?’ we asked a man nearby. He was shocked. `That would never happen in Bali’, he said.

Boys came round selling food to munch while we watched the slaughter. There were small mandarins and salacs, like tiny scaled animals. Flat baskets were piled high with little, whole, smoked chickens and the baskets emptied quickly.

Quiet fell. The men with their birds faced across the square arena. Quiet, quiet, then the cocks were released. They faced, they circled, there was a flurry as one bird leapt across the other, there was a stab with the spur. The crowd yelled.

A fight was over when one of the cocks was wounded and unable to stand. Gambling debts were collected, food was sold and another fight began. Some of the fights were mercifully short. Sometimes, when a bird would not stand up to his opponent, the pair was locked in a small basket, where there was no escape, and to the feeling of violence was added a feeling of terror.

We were in the male domain. Men about men’s business walked slowly, sat calmly, talked solemnly on serious themes. They drew deeply on sweet-smelling clove cigarettes and looked about with the self-assurance of men being manly for men. The cocks ruffled their feathers and crowed. The men love their birds. Later, in the villages, we would see  men by the roadside, siting with their champions in their arms, content in companionship. The cocks, they said, like to watch the people passing; it keeps them amused

Denpasar has its corners and alleys and buildings which are quiet and charming; but, in the daytime at least, it is the traffic that holds your attention. Many of the streets are one way only and traffic circles the city in a solid flow.. Pedestrians give way to bicycles, bicycles to motorbikes, motor bikes to cars and trucks own the road. A driver’s job  is to sound his horn, loud and often.

The main street, Jalan Gadjah Mada is low in line, grey in colour. One shop is like another, wide doorway without windows – caves of commerce. First floor verandahs supported by square pillars cover the pavements which are high, rough and rutted. At the town centre, a bridge crosses a muddy river where bamboo grows, litter floats and citizens bathe and launder, the city’s water supply, and beside the river is a great, crowded, market where the air is loaded with aromas of many kinds of spices. Brown women walk, poised, with great baskets on their heads. There is wonderful movement and we brush close against others. There was always noise in Jalan Gaja Mada: record shops play rock and roll at unbearable levels, horns blare, engines scream.

Souvenir shops stand in lines and in them souvenirs stand in rows: Balinese art reduced by repetition to souvenir status. Ebony statues are smooth and elegant, but the silhouette is lost in sanding. Herons, frogs and figures from the Hindu stories are repeated again and again, exactly alike, with never the mark of a chisel.

`They think that if it’s smooth it’s good’, the painter Affandi said to me some months later, `That is why I prefer exotic art.’

Mostly the paintings in shops are similar, a repeated formula. A lot of work goes into it, as people say, and they buy the time and effort cheaply enough. On the pavements eager salesmen pursue defensive foreigners. Salesmen display carvings or paintings, or bolts of cloth, and stand grinning and dangling at the doors of restaurants where tourists drink iced fruit juice and try to ignore them..

With Alit, we took a bemo to Kuta Beach – well known Kuta Beach, where young tourists surf and are said to smoke pot. `I think’, said Alit, `a European village would look like this’.

Perhaps there were fewer thatched roofs than in other villages, no mud walls. Alit saw something which I could not. It was Balinese to me, not so different from parts of Denpasar.

On the beach, girls wearing sarongs balanced baskets on their heads. Their limbs were handsome, their eyes were dark, and there was some defiance in the way they stood. They were selling shirts, skirts, and sarongs in batik patterns. When we sat on the sand,  one of them came and sat beside us. She unloaded her basket of shirts. She was good looking and flashed charming smiles. Her friends stood a little way off and watched. When we did not buy, she reloaded her basket on her head, flashed us a scowl and left, leaving us feeling a little guilty.`She is cross’, said Alit in a small voice.

`Alit’, I said later, `would you like some money to spend on something?’ I began to pull a note from my pocket. Alit was horrified and stopped me quickly with downturned hands. He glanced about.

`Please do not give me money, Mr. David’, he said, `People will think I am a guide’.

Money creates a barrier which is hard to penetrate. There is an uneasiness, a wondering about motives, about correctness, a fear of offending and a fear of misunderstanding. In Bali it can inhibit both the local people and the tourists. When we were to leave Denpasar, we quietly gave Alit a small gift. He smiled and smiled and we said sentimental good-byes.

We thought we would see him again; he had given us his name and address. On a later day, we lost the small piece of paper. Four months later, back in Australia, a letter arrived from Alit. He hoped he had not offended us. `Please answer this letter’, he said. And we have been friends ever since, while he has married, become the father of a daughter and an important bank official.

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

 

 

 

 

 

flute and basket

Betty: Meeting Alit and seeing Denpasar by night

Our hotel was a small one, in a Denpasar suburb,  nothing smart. The mattresses were a little  hard and the bathroom had just a large, square, concrete cistern of water, with a plastic dipper for dousing.

We went out to explore the town. In front of the hotel, was a grassy square where children were playing. `Hello turis!’ they called out to us and, smiling widely, reached out upturned palms. They were beautiful children, Siregar’s smiling children, against a background of green.

Small, shrill, three-wheeled trucks  with stuttering, two-stroke  engines, careered on the streets. Bemos they were called. They sat six passengers in reasonable comfort on two benches… even more with a bit of a squeeze. They followed routes as would our buses and were the usual, least expensive and most convenient public transport in Denpasar. Lithe boys stood on the hind step, hanging on,  eyes out for custom. One such boy  waved us to his bemo. We asked for the post office, because that was an Indonesian word we knew,  and he nodded vigorously. We sat close against the comfortable thighs of turbaned women who regarded us without expression.

At the cross-roads in Denpasar is a large four-faced statue, Tertagangga that looks, at the one time to North, south, east and west. The main square of the town spreads over maybe ten acres, and along one side of it are the low decorated roofs of the main Hindu temple of Denpasar..

The post office, mother substitute for tourists, squats close by, behind a wall and a carved gateway. Her grounds were deserted and her faded doors closed tight: the day was a Balinese holiday. Nevertheless, we were not alone for long. In through the carved gates sped a bicycle with a young boy astride it; he circled us three times, braked, dismounted and, speaking English, introduced himself.

`Sir, Madam,’ he said, ‘from which country do you come?  I would like to show you Denpasar and explain anything you want to know.’  We were a little taken aback; but we liked this boy immediately. ‘My name is Alit’  he said,  ‘I am not a tourist guide and I do not want money’ then softly,  ‘but I would like you to help me with my English.’

Alit wasted no time:  ‘The population of Indonesia at the last census was almost one hundred and twenty million people.’ he began. We would learn more from Alit as he would learn from us.

He suggested that we go that night to Denpasar’s great temple on the alun-alun. There would be gamelan music and shadow puppet peformances of the Mahabarata, for this was the day to honour Dewi Sariswati, the benign and beloved goddess of the arts, of learning and literature. Nobody should pick up a book to read on her day; but a new year of reading would begin with the rising of the sun.

When Alit arrived at our hotel to escort us, other tourists were quite cynical.: `They’ll always say they just want to learn English!’ they said knowingly. ‘In the end, they want your money.’

In the town centre were small, colourful  pony carts, called dokkars, drawn by pretty ponies with bells and pomp-poms on their harness. Crowds of people in bright clothing walked slowly across the grass of the alun-alun. Beside the temple walls were sellers of food and drink: turbaned women knelt behind low tables, fanned charcoal fires and sticks of sizzling pork.

Women wore bolts of cloth (kains) in batik patterns wrapped about their thighs and reaching to their ankles and bright, patterned, narrow sleeved blouses called kebayas. Men wore neat shirts over their kains,  which they had tied carefully to fall in pleats in front and  on their heads were embroidered cloths tied intricately. They were good looking people, colourful and happy. Girls walked arm in arm with girls and boys with boys.

A large, white screen for the shadow play was built high on a bamboo platform ande penyors, long tasseled bamboo decorations, curved gracefully beside the carved gates. From inside the temple came the sound of chanting. We were intrigued by what might be going on inside the temple gates. Alit thought it should be all right for us to see whatever  ceremony  was happening.  He went away for a few minutes to check, then led us into the temple grounds.

When Alit took us through a narrow doorway, we saw a crowd gathered around an open-sided pavilion. Inside, an old man sat, cross-legged at a low table, reading from a Sanskrit text. To his left another man sat, repeating each sentence, actively and artistically, giving dramatic life to the reader’s monotone. His voice rose and fell, richly resonant.

The performance was pleasing to us and even more appreciated by the Balinese spectators and participants who obviously understood every subtlety of the text. Facing the two at the table sat a group of six men, deep in meditation, perhaps even trance. One was a particularly distinctive man, dressed all in white, with his long grey hair was pulled back in a knot. I watched the graceful movement of his shapely hands with their inch long finger-nails. His eyes, in a refined face, were black and intense.

Quite suddenly, the chanting with its dramatic repetition ceased. Beautiful, slim young girls, richly dressed in glittering sarongs and kebayas (long-sleeved, fitted blouses) and embroidered sashes binding the waist, approached the pavilion, then stepped on to the dais. The girls had thick black hair, lustrous in the soft light, coiled at the neck and decorated with frangipani. They placed food  in silver bowls before the men, who first cleansed their mouths with water, then broke their fast.

David had taken out his sketch-book, and was drawing,  His concentration was intense and seemed to suggest there was not a moment to be lost.  I could only marvel at his industry. Soon he attracted the interest of others:   I looked around to see him surrounded by small boys.

I stood on a step of the dais intrigued by these new sights and sounds, but soon I had an uncomfortable feeling. I had become aware that my presence was considered an intrusion. Strangely enough, David had the same feelings at the same moment and, with one accord, without speaking, we turned to leave.

Talking later, we agreed that the feeling came from the old man, a pedanda or priest of the Brahmana cast. His appearance and gestures both fascinated me. I was watching him intently when his glance caught and held my gaze. His eyes were burning with a fierce light and I under­stood at once that we were not wanted there.  I understood why: we were a distraction and apart from that, our heads were on a higher level than that of the sitting priest.  We were ill-mannered. we had not shown proper respect, we were not wearing temple sashes and we had received a silent, Oriental admonition that we would not forget.

The Wayang puppets would perform until morning. We were too tired to last the distance. We returned to our hotel and wearily lay on beds covered with just one sheet. I wrestled for a while with a hard bolster, a `dutch-wife’ they call them,  and finally fell asleep.

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

temple near ubud lighter

Chapter 1 Our Northern Neighbour

David:

Cloud hung along Bali’s shore line: a white rim of sand, a dark line of palms. In the distance, somehow reptilian, an iron grey peak thrust its head from the cloud. ‘The plane circled low over a landscape wonderfully delicate: green light and wet rice fields shining like panes of glass, the fretted texture of dark palm trees, small clusters of thatched roofs. This was even more than we had expected of the land described as a paradise. This was the magic of Bali.

Our interest in Indonesia came from a realization that most Australian people, including Betty and me, knew very little about our nearest neighbor. Words tell us something but show nor can photographs convey the feel and fibre of a country. Even when we had studied the language, Bahasa Indonesia, eaten Indonesian food, sung Indonesian songs with people who came from Indonesia; we were not  prepared for what we night find in that island nation so close to ours. One Sumatran man told us, in his forthright, Sumatran way: “You can call us an underdeveloped nation, a developing nation or a third world nation, whatever you like;  what you will find is a green land, full of smiling children”. And that was good enough for us.

At Ngurah Rai Airport, long grass grew between the runways and an old man who wore  a conical hat and held a sickle stood still as stilland didn’t turn an eye towards the line of hot and sweaty tourists that straggled across the tarmac. ‘Selamat datang’ (‘Welcome.) the customs man said and he waved us on without inspecting our baggage. Jostling boys, who hoped to carry our baggage, assailed us, with fingers  jabbing at chests:  Me! Me!’. It was hot, we sweated in a long queue, to change crisp travellers’ cheques into wads of many soft little banknotes.  A driver pounced and almost dragged us to his taxi and, once we had paid the boy who dragged our baggage, we were on our way to Denpasar, fast, with the car’s horn blaring.

The road ran between rice fields and lines of coconut palms, through villages where, thatched family dwellings and tiny pagoda-like  temples could be seen over thatched, high walls of clay.

Farmers in rice fields guided ploughs behind pretty Balinese oxen and women walked beside the road with grace and  easy rhythm. They wore sarongs about their thighs, turbans on their heads, hair pulled back in chignons, and they balanced great baskets on their heads  Colours were muted; ochres blended with umbers and greens.   We swerved around great a pig that snuffled the road and the driver blared his horn.

To our surprise, a slight and urbane young man had slid easily into the car beside us as we left the airport. He laid a gentle hand on my arm. ` Kecak dance tonight,’ he began, ‘you will see it.  Must not miss Kecak. Tonight!  Only  3,000 rupiah each, You must see… tonight.’

‘Tonight?’

`Yes, tonight, you must see.’

‘No other night?’

‘No., tonight you must see! Three thousand rupiah. Good price! Good price.’  .

At our hotel the same young man followed us right into our room, still insisting that tonight was the night and the price was right. he wore me down, in the end, I was tired. ‘Oh well, why not? I counted out  twice three thousand rupiahs.

That was when Amos, the hotel manager, arrived. He, a small, slim, gentle man, bowed politely, took hold of my elbow in a kindly way ‘Tuan, is “rip¬off” an expression you have heard?’ The seller of tickets vanished, like Balinese magic. We had arrived.

SPICE AND MAGIC is also available on Kindle and as a paperback. If you would like to buy the paperback edition on Amazon, click: SPICE AND MAGIC

Compact Discintroduction to Indonesian musicIn 1975, Betty and I were lucky enough to be awarded a travel grant by the Literature Board of The Australia Council (an innovation of the Whitlam era). We went, wide eyed with innocence and curiosity, to explore the islands of Bali and Java.

We had no definite objective, no planned publications, we would just allow, even encourage, things to happen and then work out what to do. We had learned as much of the Indonesian language as we could, enough to get by, and of course we would be forced to learn quickly as we went on our way. We had no very clear picture of what we would find, photographs and books give you only a vague overview.
There was one description, however, that remained clear in our minds: A Sumatran gentleman we met at a party for Indonesian students told us, a little defensively, ‘You can call us a third world country, a developing country, whatever you like; what you will find is a green land full of smiling children.’
Because Betty is a composer and a pianist and I am a story teller and illustrator, we were naturally drawn to the arts of Indonesia and as we encountered those arts and the artists who created them, a strong desire developed to tell our own countrymen about the riches Spice-and-magic-book-coverwe were discovering. In Jakarta the Indonesian Department of Education and Culture made things easier for us by supplying us with letters of introduction to some of the leading Indonesian artists, but then plain luck led us to other fine creators and led also into some very good friendships.

We shall always be grateful to the Literature Board of The Australia Council and to The Schools Commission, who commissioned a music drama for children. We went back, quite a few times to Indonesia, and we did achieve results: Betty set to music the work of several of Indonesia’s leading poets and also wrote much orchestral and instrumental music using Indonesian themes and scales; together we wrote a music drama for children, THE RAJA WHO MARRIED AN ANGEL (Playlab Press, Australia) set in Bali; I wrote and illustrated two children’s picture books, MISS BUNKLE’S UMBRELLA, set in Java, (The Bodley Head, UK, and Crown Books, USA) and AYU AND THE PERFECT MOON set in Bali (The Bodley Head, UK, Curtis Brown, USA, Walker Books, Australia).
As I go on with this blog, I will refer to the work that came from this research, especially our travel book SPICE AND MAGIC (Boolarong Press), and a compact disc, MUSIC AND MUSICIANS IN BALI AND JAVA (Beath-Cox Art Enterprises). Both of these works are obtainable from Beath-Cox Art Enterprises.

Ayu and the Perfect Moon
AYU AND THE PERFECT MOON,  Published by Walker Books, Australia

   

Betty and David welcome you to our new website. In these pages we intend to make some of our work available: music scores and discs as well as books and music dramas.

We will make available Powerpoint videos which may be used as visuals to accompany performances of Betty’s music and we intend to write our own blog on various topics, mostly to do with the arts. We will change these articles every couple of weeks. We do hope you will enjoy our site.