Sweltering Bangkok ‘Misses’ Thaksin

Having landed in Bangkok’s sweltering heat after Bali’s cool season, it was hard to finish of the final pages of editing the translated Buddhist text (in Indonesian), but after a few days it is done. I am sure now the debate about terms will start. We are translating from english, which ahs made its own compromises with Tibetan and Sanskrit, and it is sometimes hard to convince people that meaning is more important first than melliflous phrases. we shall see. It is always fun to see what new things are going on in the city, but nothing too remarkable right now. Except one comment on the wall which seems very much a philosophical take from a teenage point of view:writing-on-the-wall.jpgThe country meanwhile is distracted for a while from the whole Thaksin debacle by the very event he was allowed out of the country to attend: the Olympics. Tonight one Thai boxer, Somjit Jongjohor made gold. A military man, he was a real sportsman, very courteous to the other medalists. A bit of true Olympic spirit. So the Thais are happy tonight:somjit.jpgof course on Monday I am sure that everybody will be back wondering about Thaksin’s extradition again. (There was a demo last week at the British embassy). There is endless speculation about why the judges let him go to the Olympics in the first place – whatever you think, Thaksin certainly is a hot hot potato….. Tomorrow I am off to India for a two week disappearing act in the Himalayas. I doubt I will be posting much for that time, even from Delhi.

A Farewell to Dr Djelantik;

I realised today that it has been 3 weeks since I have posted anything on this blog. August has been incredibly busy, and the last weeks I was in Bali were all 17 hour work days, finishing off images for Jerome’s book, and editing a Buddhist text translation at night. Meanwhile one of my all time favorite people, one who I definitely consider the Balinese man of the century, Dr A.A. Made Djelantik of the Karangasem royal family in east Bali, passed away this year, having led a long and eventful life. Being the son of the last ruling king of Karangasem certainly didn’t leave him with many hang ups. Dr Djelantik led an adventurous life with the humility of one who clearly knows that the universe is huge, and that one has to rely one’s strength of character rather than so called birthright. He studied in Holland, where he met the love of his life, Astri. They raised a family whilst living a very full life: working in remote parts of the Moluccas during the years of revolution and early days of the Republic, and also as the first director of Bali’s public hospital in Sanglah. The good doctor, a tropical disease specialist, worked for the WHO as a malaria expert in Africa and the Middle East i (which included a few days stint as the ‘special guest’ in the tin roof isolation prison at the desert HQ of an Iraqi intelligence interrogation squad who were positive he was a spy), a narrow escape from the the volcano Gunung Agung’s wrath in 1963, lecturer on Balinese art and culture, active in Balinese cultural preservation, founder of the Walter Spies foundation, and of course a few other things which I can’t remember here. He was also a practicing doctor, and helped my youngest daughter nip some serious tropical illnesses in the bud. This portrait I took of him was shortly after his beloved wife died in the 90’s – apparently she died in the early hours of the morning. He sat with her waiting for the dawn, playing her favourite tunes on his violin.dr-djelantik.jpg He honored me by opening my exhibition at the Four Seasons, and gave a truly touching speech, rare these days. After a serious illness which left him in a coma for several weeks, he came back fighting, and recovered. True to form, well into his seventies, he decided to take up painting to depict some of the many remarkable moments in his life. A few months after his cremation, his children held a memorial for their parents, to thank them for such an extraordinary life. The paintings were also exhibited, and his book of paintings and the interviews which Idanna Pucci did for the book were also discussed. _d3b2900.jpgdsc_4885.jpgThe memorial was as ecleclectic as Dr Djelantik’s life. Some of his grand children played some soft rock. His daughters Surya, Wulan, and Madeli danced classic legong, son Widur did his first Baris in 40 years and it pulled it off quite weel, a bunch of granddaughters did the weaving dance, while Stranger in Paradise MadeWijaya aka Michael White did his trannie legong, dragging away on a cigarette (and it must be admitted, stole the show), and the first President’s saughter Sukma Soekarnoputri was on hand to give Wulan a big kiss, before announcing (to the whole family’s astonishment) her campagn to have Sanglah hospital renamed Dr Dejalantik Hospital. We’ll see.dsc_4951.jpgdsc_5054.jpgdsc_5149.jpg Fare well Dr Djelantik. We will never forget you.

a memorial for Cristina

dsc_4612.jpg Cristina’s home is truly a reflection of her – outwardly simple, but with very precise detail and perfectly sited. Yesterday the 30th a bunch of friends came together to remember her. The following account by Rucina Ballinger sums it up: “At first it looked like it might rain. But then the mood lightened and it was a bright and crisp day.As I walked down the path to Cristina’s house, it hit me. I will never walk this path again. I entered the archway where her helpers, Ibu Ketut and Pak Made had decorated with coconut fronds.Two big “offerings” of fruit and flowers flanked her doorway. Rio had printed up a lovely photo of Cristina by a river holding her favorite mask, Dalem the king and hung it on the outside door. She was looking up at us. I walked into her living space and there was another photo of her looking out to the actual river and the view outside, in profile with the mask side by side with her, in profile as well. The kitchen was filled with coffee, tea and Balinese cakes that Asri had organized. I started Working on a “buku kenangan” or memorial book (thank you, Tom Hunter for that idea!), filling it With photos from Cristina’s albums. Everyone who came signed it, saying good bye to Cristina for The last time. dsc_4626.jpgdsc_4668.jpg The Gambuh troupe filtered in, we could see them coming down the path carrying their instruments, all the Men in long blue tshirts and kain (sarongs). They set up the instruments and were given coffee and cakes.Other artists arrived, such a Ibu Nyoman Candri, Pak Wayan Dibia, Ibu Made Wiratini, Pak Made and IbuIntan Wianta, scholars and friends. People sat everywhere: on the porch, inside, on mats on the grounds looking out to the river. It was a poignant atmosphere. Not somber, but celebratory. The Pura Desa Gambuh group began playing. The scent of heady incense permeated the house. All of us with our own thoughts about Cristina, remembering the last time we had seen her. dsc_4627.jpgThe “committee”, if you will (Rio Helmi, Asri Kerthyasa, Pino Confessa, Antonella de Santis and Rucina Ballinger), aftermaking sure everyone had been fed a little bit (thanks to Ketut, Made and Nyoman Kejut of Asri’s household and a numberof other friends who pitched in) began the “talking bits”. We started with reading an email from Alberta, Cristina’s youngerSister. Pino read it in Italian; Rucina the translation in English and Rio translated it into Indonesian———————–Desidero dire poche parole su Cristina, mia sorella che ho amato e che continuerò ad amare.La sua lealtà, la sua purezza, la sua integrità l’hanno accompagnata sempre, non potrò maidimenticare i suoi occhi nei quali leggevo tutto l’amore, l’entusiasmo, la fatica, la serietà per la danzala sua compagna più fedele, perchè questa era la sua vita; ed è per questo che vorrei che ancheattraverso le sue maschere e i suoi costumi lei continuasse a danzare per noi.Non dimenticatela, lei non vi ha dimenticato!—————-I want to say a few words about Cristina, my sister that I love and continue to love. Her loyalty, pureness/purity and integrity will stay with us always, I will never forget her eyes in which you could read love, enthusiasm ,hard work and seriousness for dance, her faithful companion, because this was her life and for this and through it’s masks and costumes she continues to dance for us. Don’t forget her as she will not forget you.—————–Cokorda Raka Kerthyasa, the owner of Cristina’s house, spoke about Cristina and when she first came toBali and stayed at Tjetak Inn (the former very humble incarnation of Ibah Hotel), how she built her firstAnd then second houses, and how the hotel guests would complain about the loud singing coming from the back ofThe hotel (Cristina practicing). He applauded her dancing abilities as well as the fact that she had written aTwo volume book on Gambuh. He led us in a moment of silence to remember her.Pak Made Suamba, the head of the Pura Desa Gambuh troupe then spoke — calling Cristina a real maestro and a fanatic about tradition.Rucina then talked about how Cristina had started an all women’s Topeng troupe: Topeng Shakti and how much she had learned herself from Cristina.Ni Nyoman Canderi, dancer and singer supreme, spoke about Topeng Shakti as she was the main performer (along with Cristina) and how they gave workshops in Paris.Rhoda Grauer reminded us that Cristina was an eminent scholar as well, not only performing Gambuh but researching it as well.dsc_4653.jpgdsc_4719.jpgThe Gambuh dancers then did a full story so that all the major characters were represented. At the end, there was a scene where food was brought out for them to eat. The main dancer of that group looked at the food and his eyes lit up and he said “Ah, vegetarian” (Cristina was a well known non meat eater) and then he and the others offered up the food and said “for you, Cristina” and held it up to her portrait that hung behind them. (Rio: “this was such hilarious and sweet moment, it was completely spontaneous and everybody burst out laughing and crying at the same time!!”)dsc_4792.jpg Then Ibu Canderi led the troupe in a Balinese children’s son
g (Putri Cening Ayu) and the piece de resistance was the whole troupe singing an aria in Italian that Cristina had taught them.
(Here a note from Cristina’s friend Julia Varley: Dear Rucina, it is probably “Brindiam” from La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. This is the only aria I have heard them sing, they did it in the clown version of “Hamlet”. But Cristina taught it to them! We wish we could have been there with you, to cry as well. Love Julia )(Rio: “This was another one of those nutty Balinese moments: the Gambuh troupe, especialy the old guy who plays “demang” with his one tooth and wizened face belting out this aria in Italian on Cristina’s porch, which I almost fell off when I realized what they were singing. Life is stranger than fiction!”) And afterwards, we all ate our vegetarian “nasi bungkus” (rice in a banana leaf). The performers hoisted up their instruments and went down the path once again, leaving only the strains of their beautiful music lingering in the air for Cristina to hear.Rucina BallingerJuly 31, 2008Rio: During the whole thing I caught a classic scene: Cristina’s old friend, Gung Niang, the very down to earth mother of Tjok Raka, sitting quietly at the back enjoying a chat with one of Cristina’s employee’s husband quite content to let everything else was happen out front. Like a classic back of the house Bali palace scene….gung-niang.jpg this link will be of interest to those who know Cristina: http://www.themagdalenaproject.org/archive/cristina_wistari.htm

Party months

July and August are always the “silly season” – loads of parties and events. It’s hard to escape the social dragnet, but there are some fun occasions too. Peter Ditmar and Ronald Wigmans joint exhibition at Tony Raka’s gallery last Saturday was worth the visit. I must commend Gung “Tony” Raka for his gallery in Mas – it is by far the most happening gallery in Ubud, if not in Bali. Great spaces, and he doesn’t flinch much. For this one he had museum owner and fellow gallerista Agung Rai officiate, here seen with Peter in front of Peter’s latest style….peter-and-gung-rai.jpgand of course Agung Rai’s wife and their lovely daughter were there in show of support. gung-biang-n-daughter.jpg But if this blog is turning into a little “social column” then it wouldn’t be complete without the expat bash of the month, Linda Garland’s 60th birthday party at her bamboo estate in Nyuhkuning, Ubud. It was astounding how many older term expats came out of the woodwork, (quite a few pre Kudeta era old timers from down south!) and some of their younger offspring who are no longer that young, now that they have offspring of their own – here the late John de Coney’s impish granddaughter….deconey1.jpgThe party has several Balinese performances going at the same time, complete madcap and in somehow it all works, reminiscent of a big ceremony at a Puri or Pura. Ibu Agung Ari Mas, whose late husband was cremated in the huge cremation a couple of weeks ago, even made a quick detour from the Maligya ceremony to come by with her sister-in-law Siti to say happy birthday to Linda, and Pak Gede the trek meister from Kintamani made it down too as well as many other old Bali friends. It was truly a celebration of Linda’s 30 odd years here in Bali. The late afternoon Legong under the Bamboo was a little hors d’oeuvre to be followed by Kecak, Gambuh, and Joget. Bravo to Linda, and Happy Birthday again. What a bash. linda-legong.jpgBut I must admit that I felt saddened watching the Gambuh so soon after Cristina’s death. I hadn’t realised how much I associate it with her. Her first Gambuh teacher Jimad performs the vocals, seated amongst the long eerie Gambuh flutes. It kind of gets to me and I have to go home, unfortunately without catching up with Linda’s son Karim – though his brother Arief was everywhere to be seen. Anyway, enough partying for today. The rest of the week is crammed full. back to work! p1020824.jpg

in memoriam: Cristina – by Rucina Ballinger

Rucina Ballinger, an expat of such long term and such immersion into Bali life that the term expat hardly seems to fit anymore and Cristina’s fellow practitioner of Balinese performing arts, wrote the following words. (I am also posting a couple of photographs I took of Cristina in 1987, performing at a cremation as her ‘ngayah’ contribution).cristina-gambuh-2small.jpg “This month, we have lost two pillars in the world of Gambuh: I Ketut Kantor of Batuan, who died of a series of strokes on July 5, 2008 and Cristina Formaggia, 62 who spearheaded The Gambuh Preservation Project in 1992 and was taking the Pura Desa Batuan troupe to Europe to perform in a collaboration with Eugenio Barba’s ISTA’s THE MARRIAGE OF MEDEA a month before she suddenly passed away. Cristina had been a serious student of Asian art for decades. Her interest in the ceremonial paintings of women led her to live in Mithila, a remote area of northern India. Subsequent journeys took her to the Hindukush in Northern Pakistan where an almost extinct tribe, the Kafir Kalash, dwells. Her fascination was with the songs and dances that formed an integral part of the ceremonial festivals of their animistic religion. She studied Kathakali, a South Indian dance drama, for two years. In Kerala, India she worked with Guru Gopinath, one of the great master of this art. On reading Antonin Artaud’s essay on the Balinese Theatre in his book, “The Theatre and Its Double”, she was drawn inevitably to Bali and its rich Hindu culture, complex rituals, and metaphysical dance theatre. The study of Topeng, the masked dance drama, was a catalyst for further development. And she began studying and performing Gambuh in earnest in the 1990s. Since 1995 she has been a collaborator in the ongoing research of ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology), directed by Eugenio Barba. From 1985 she has been teaching and performing in various festivals throughout Europe, Australia, Asia and South America. Anyone who knew Cristina would understand that when she put her mind to something, she got it done. She was precise, thorough and intense. And one of the few Westerners who has been able to totally embody the essence of Balinese movement in her own body.She lived a very simple life. Her home, set back behind the Ibah Hotel, was a simple one room affair with very little furniture—in fact only a desk and a chair and cushions nearly lined up in row. Short wooden steps led up to a tiny sleeping loft and her open air kitchen was big enough for one person and a two-burner stove. She disliked clutter and loved living among the greenery and the river that ran below her. Two months ago she moved into a new house just meters down from her old one; same layout, same energy but with a different view. She was a strict vegetarian and did not smoke, always berating those around her who did.Her lifestyle was so healthy that it is hard to imagine that cancer of the brain, liver and lungs finally took her away from us. When Cristina first came to Bali in 1983, it was to recover from a near fatal car accident she had in Australia, which injured her neck badly. She was planning on going back to India to study Kathakali again. But, the fates had something else in mind for her. She began studying Balinese dance, specifically the Baris warrior dance and then Topeng the mask dance-drama. She studied with none other than the great Topeng master, I Made Jimat of Batuan, who went on to co-teach workshops with Cristina all over the world. Her favorite masks were Topeng Tua, the old man and Topeng Dalem, the king. She became a part of Jimat’s troupe and performed throughout Bali. The village of Batuan is famous for Gambuh and there are four extant troupes there today. Cristina would see rehearsals of Gambuh at Jimat’s and there she became fascinated by this ancient form. Gambuh at that point in time was only done for temple festivals, mainly local, in Batuan and for some of the larger ceremonies at Besakih and other temples. Yet as the form was not so popular with the Balinese, it was in danger of dying out. Along with a number of scholars and performers, Cristina began the Gambuh Preservation Project funded by the Ford Foundation. Beginning in l993, committees were formed to study and research the music, movements, literature and history of Gambuh. The Gambuh Project plays a fundamental role in keeping a precious tradition alive in contemporary Balinese society. The Gambuh of Batuan is one of the rare examples of a highly aesthetic art which was still being performed in its complete form when the project began. The main aim of the project in Batuan was to prevent a possible decay and to ensure the continuity in the teaching of the dance with the old masters passing down their knowledge to the new generation. All of the Batuan Gambuh troupes were involved in the beginning although over the years various alliances formed and many of the original performers dropped out of what became known as the Batuan Village Temple Troupe (sekeha Gambuh Pura Desa) as rehearsals and then performances were held at the Pura Desa or Village Temple (and they still are held every 1st and 15th of the month at 7 pm). A decision was made to limit the performance to two hours; some argued that tourists wouldn’t be able to sit through even that much traditional dance. But Cristina was adamant that authenticity should reign and two hours of spectacle held. A two-volume book was written on the music and movements entitled GAMBUH: Drama Tari Bali (Gambuh: a Balinese Dance-Drama), which was edited by Cristina and published by Lontar Press of Jakarta in 2000 and a DVD was created, which is sold at the performances and at local bookshops in Ubud. A series of tapes was also produced, containing interviews with the old masters as well as documentation of the movements, music and dialogue of each style; currently these are being digitalized in Switzerland. Two to three times a week, Cristina would set off in her little blue pickup truck and go the 10 kilometers from Ubud to Batuan to rehearse. She often played the role of Panji, the refined prince, which was a speaking role that demanded the use of Kawi or Old Javanese. She made sure that the younger generation were at the rehearsals, learning their lines, notes and moves alongside their older siblings. Continuity and sustainability were all important to her. The project performers not only perform the Gambuh regularly to this day in Bali but also went to Europe to perform in 1999 and 2006; the latter was a trip to perform a version of Hamlet in a collaborative work with Eugenio Barba, the noted Italian theater director, in Denmark where they performed at the actual castle of Hamlet. Just this month, they performed MEDEA with Barba’s organization ISTA (International School of Theatre and Anthropology). Even in this form, the elements of gambuh (music, costumes, movements) are all there in their complete form so it would be recognized (and advertised) as gambuh. In this way, they are heightening world awareness of the form. Cristina has collaborated with ISTA and ODIN TEATRET since 1995 and was a permanent member of the Theatrum Mundi Ensemble. ISTA is a multicultural network of performers and scholars giving life to an itinerant university whose main field of study is Theatre Anthropology. ISTA is a mu
lticultural network of performers and scholars who, within the framework of the University of Eurasian Theatre present the results of ISTA’s research. During its 16 years of existence ISTA has been a laboratory for research into the technical basis of the performer in a transcultural dimension. Cristina often wondered what would happen if she would no longer be involved with the Gambuh Project—would the villagers take it on and continue to perform? Who would be the liaison with ISTA in Europe? Now, with her passing away, these are questions that must be answered sooner than later. While she was working with the Gambuh Project, she felt she wanted to work on creating an all-women’s Topeng Troupe. She met with Desak Nyoman Suarti, the director of the all women’s gamelan troupe LUH LUWIH in 1999 to talk about her idea. Suarti, who has been empowering Balinese women through the performing arts for years through gamelan, thought it was a terrific idea. Cristina came up with the name TOPENG SHAKTI; shakti means female power so it was the perfect name. Months were spent looking for the perfect story—most Topeng tell the stories of Balinese Kings and their exploits. In the end, a Panji story from the Gambuh cycle was chosen that focused on the female protagonist Candra Kirana. Then female performers who were excellent storytellers and felt comfortable with masks had to found. In the end, the main performers were Ni Nyoman Candri and Cokorda Isteri Agung from Singapadu village, both accomplished Arja singers and dancers. And of course, Cristina. In 2000 and 2001, the three of them went to Paris to perform and give workshops. More recently, Cristina began exploring her own movement, calling it the Spirals of Sand. Even though the Balinese sense of movement flows through it, this is definitely a new side of Cristina blossoming forth. She performed it at festivals in Europe and felt this was the new direction her life was taking her. The Balinese say that she is now dancing for the Gods. I can imagine her, with her long hennaed hair with shocks of white streaks running through it, her huge grin lighting up the heavens, moving with a precision and intensity that would please all beings.

Please – a prayer for Cristina

christina-1.jpgI am sure that many of you who know Cristina Formaggia have heard by now that she has been very, very ill with cancer, and is at the end of her time with us. I just received word from Pino, the Italian consulate, that Christina passed away this mmorning, Sunday the 20th July . She was in and out of consciousness in hospital in Milan. Until now her family apparently has been a bit hesitant to let the news out about her illness but I received word from Antonella that they would appreciate if her friends and “Nyama Bali” would pray for her, have thoughts for her. ……….Cristina dedicated more than half her life to the performing arts of Bali, and spent many hours and late nights “ngayah” or contributing her performances in temples around the island, much to the delight and admiration of the Balinese audiences. I also spent many hours watching her perform in temples, she was very much part of Bali. She also instigated a revival of Gambuh in Batuan. we will miss you Cristinachristina-2.jpg PS: If any friends wants to post their condolences here please feel free, if you would like to send an email to her family please email me I will send their email address to you. Thanks.

36 hours in banyuwangi

The night of the cremation I stay up all night captioning, fixing up the pics for my agent and Tempo magazine. I can only say I am not an all nighter anymore, exhausted I leave for Java with Jerome to continue our book project. We are off to see how they dig up the monster roots he gets and works on. The first thing we see as we get on the ferry at Gilimanuk are a group of metal scavengers busting their you-know-whats to collect a few kilos of iron scraop off an old ferry pier. Whatcha gotta do for 3000 Rupiah a kilo…gilimanuk-scavengers.jpgwe drive on into java and see the first lot of old roots. The guys who find them are like gold prospectors, it takes lots of patience to find them and get locals to allow you to dig them up etc. The next day we see an old man (75 mind you) and his wife and son who take on the task of moving the roots to whee a truck can pick them up. It can take weeks again, but somehow this little trio is more efficient than 20 guys. The son does most of the muscle work, while mum and dad figure out the pulleys etc, tho dad at 75 is sprier than me!roots.jpgon the way there is no lack of color, I have forgoten how outrageous the sense of design and color is in East Java. color-riot.jpgand then there was this tobacco drying barn:tobbacco-barn.jpgbut by the end of the second day I had really run out of juice, 3 days with 10 hours sleep is my limit, and by the time we had gotten what we came for we decided to make a full moon dash back to Bali.fullmoon-gilimanuk.jpgat 11.30 pm last night it was a real luxury to get into my own bed! Talk about attachment!

the big send off –

D-day for the cremation dawned clear enough, and by 9 a huge crowd had already gathered. somehow traffic was still trickling by, but by 10 it was total gridlock and all roads to ubud were stopped. In the palace various dignitaries and would be dignitaries sat, and the costumes were just as various and would be. Personally I gave up all pretense for dignity, having learned a long time ago that it is almost impossible to outrun a rampaging badé in fancy sandals. So the functional purple polo-shirt from the Puri (instant identification) and a pair of ugly but functional running shoes. And a good thing too, as getting in and out of the Puri and running ahead of the 250 man towers and the huge Bull Cok Wah put together for his Dad in the heat and dust is about as much as I can manage at half a century! There was a moment of slight embarassed tension as the Naga proved almost impossible to get out of the inner courtyard through the Kori gateway, but when the head finally got through, evoking a moment of birth, Bupati Cok “Ace”(pron. Ah-chuh) Oka Sukawati broke out in a big smile of relief – thanks to my purple shirt of ‘allegiance’ I got to see this. naga.jpgAnd thanks to my running shoes I got to see what was going on outside! It is kind of impressive when in the middle of Ubud royal cremation madness you suddenly get a complete hush at the cross roads when the pedanda has to ‘shoot’ the naga with his magical arrows. It is always considered to be a dangerous undertaking, one which risks the life of the priest, and not all pedandas will do it. In this case Pedanda Aan seemed up to the task and was totally focused. manah.jpg Then everyone was off with a big rush. Cok Raka and Jero Asri’s daughter Maya was a stunning adornment to the procession – you don’t always get beauties being carried in the palanquins ahead of the beast. maya.jpg But of course the rush was a little short lived. It was the bull again! The eight meter, two ton plus bull was a constant source of delay. It took a lot of yelling, rollers, and levers just to get it on to the ‘sanan’ bamboo carrying frame, and after all the poor sweating (possibly maybe swearing , but probably discreetly) guys finally got it to the cremation ground, (after half the bamboos cracked on the frame under the extreme weight – the platform framework was made of heavyweight bingkarai hard wood)) proved to be another challenge to get it up onto the funerary mound. Cok Wah, after clinging on for life on his creation for the last meters into the cremation ground (usually by this time the carriers get pretty boisterous and uncontrollable) seemed a bit subdued, and of course emotional at the final send off of his dad.cokwah.jpg By this time Cok Gedé had lost his voice, and cousin Cok Raka Kertiyasa, brother of the deceased, had taken over all the yelling. Don’t get me wrong, there is, at this point, no other way to communicate to the team. bull1.jpg BY 7.30 pm they were finally ready to light up, and a big cheer went through the crowd. Thankfully no one went “Olé”. Cremation is a bit of a spectator sport, and of course anyone who had anything that could take a picture did! What a show!video.jpg

a new governor, and more cremation build up

It seems the all out Ubud offensive to get its own royal son (CBS), elected for governor of Bali didn’t meet with success. Mangku Pastika and his vice-governor candidate Puspayoga have come in with a landslide, 54% of the vote, the other two candidates were left to divide up the remaining 46% between them. Now it remains to be seen what Mangku Pastika of Bali bombing fame (as head of the police task force he caught the culprits in record time) will actually implement. As per the government de-centralisation scheme of several years ago, in reality the sub-provincial Bupatis tend to wield more direct on the ground power than the provincial governor. It will be interesting to see if he can get a much needed Mass Rapid Transport system up, and whether security really will be improved. MRT schemes have been met with great resistance here for supposedly religious reasons. ————Meantime the cremation frenzy continues to build up. It’s only 4 more days to the big bonfire, and workers are racing to get everything finished under the watchful eye of Cok Gede Raka Sukawati, cousin to the late Cokorde Agung Suyasa who was certainly one who loved a big ceremony. Here Cok Gede (seated) is seen talking to one of the workers.cok-de.jpgmeanwhile evenings are non-stop, and besides the inevitable gambling there is a rotating roster of those taking care of the offerings in the pavilion where the remains of the royal princes are laid out.semayam1.jpgYesterday I run into Cok Putera, heir to the throne (if it was the old days that is), elder brother of Cok Gede. He looks tired, and he grins away the frown lines on his face when stops to chat. He mentions the election, but then agrees quickly that it is time to move on. There is lots to do, and even though he tried to set out a timetable, it is Bali after all and things are hectically behind the suggested schedule. So the next days are going to filled with graveyard shifts (sorry about the unintended pun). Outside they are decorating the massive wings that will go on this enormous tower._d3b4290.jpg I have a house full of Monica’s relatives from Thailand and the US, and last night’s news of the demise of the Thai foreign minister is met with great interest. It seems there is more action brewing in Thailand. more later. —————-This afternoon I hear a commotion outside my window, and sure enough it is Cok Wah (Cok Suyasa’s youngest son) and his crew bringing down the enormous bull sarcophagus that Cok Wah has commissioned down to the palace. The boy sure likes to do things big…bull.jpg

Gauguin again..

Apparently the letter I sent off to the Financial Times did get through, and Mark Ellwood (the writer) took the time to respond to me personally. I feel it only correct to publish his reply here:——————– I’ve just been passed along the email which you sent regarding a recent profile I wrote of the fascinating artist Ashley Bickerton (June 21 2008, FT Weekend House & Home) and wanted to respond by return.Firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to write in to the Financial Times – it’s much appreciated to hear a reader’s response to any story and we really welcome all comments, corrections and thoughts.Secondly, regarding the Miro/Nehru and Penang-Penang/Padang-Padang errors – as you rightly assumed, thanks to the vagaries of modern technology and constantly hiccuping phone lines, I simply misheard Ashley’s observations. It’s deeply frustrating for me and my editor both whenever errors like these slip through our aggressive checking and re-checking process, and I can only apologize if these mistakes marred your enjoyment of the story. We never want to make any factual slip-ups, and try our hardest never to – occasionally, though, we’re all too human (and victims of Skype). This was unfortunately one of those rare occasions.Thirdly, thank you for your insight about some of the more controversial and challenging comments Ashley made – those extra notes will definitely be helpful when we revisit Bali in future stories. It’s a fascinating place that inspires such passionate reactions; and for that reason alone, it’s always helpful to have extra information like this.Thank you again for dropping us a line and do hope you continue to enjoy the Financial Times Weekend.Kind regards,Mark Ellwood