HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser March 21, 2012

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

Banking on it

Janet DeNeefe, doyenne of dinners and instigator of that annual Ubud fixture, the writers’ and readers’ festival, has been busy lately. That was in Melbourne, where she did a stint demonstrating the cuisine of Bali to residents of that alternatively cold, hot, wet, dry city at the southern extremity of continental Australia. (Only Tasmania, where the Southern Ocean winds truly find an edge and evoke the true ambiance of Europe, is closer to Antarctica. It’s a lovely island; really. The Diary spent two years there long ago.)

But we digress. DeNeefe’s culinary exemplars teased taste buds in suburban Hawthorn – not the Diary’s preferred footy suburb: we barrack for St Kilda – over a series of evenings this month, in aid of promoting Bali and DeNeefe’s latest cookbook.  That’s all to the good. It will have had its spinoff in favour of this year’s UWRF, the eighth, from October 3-7.

DeNeefe said of her Melbourne culinary enterprise: “I want to highlight the majesty of Indonesian food in all its glory. I will be featuring dishes from all over the archipelago, spotlighting elegant curries, golden seafood broths, wok-tossed greens, banana-leaf specials, sambals and an array of traditional and contemporary desserts.”

Her food nights were staged at Wantilan Balinese Restaurant. Hopefully DeNeefe found some elegant curry-eaters to sample her elegant curries.

This year’s festival theme, announced with a flourish this month, is This Earth of Mankind: Bumi Manusia, from the title of a work by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, regarded as one of Indonesia’s greatest contemporary writers. It was the first book in Pramoedya’s historical fiction trilogy, The Buru Quartet, first published in 1980. Pramoedya died in 2005.

The story is set at the end of the Dutch colonial rule and was written while Pramoedya was a political prisoner on the island prison of Buru in eastern Indonesia. His life there was one of deprivation, hard labour and physical cruelty. Denied even the most rudimentary writing implements, he got around this obstacle by narrating the work to his fellow prisoners, who shared it around the prison. The work was maintained and kept until eventually Pramoedya was allowed to write.

The narrator in the book, Minke, wishes to be a writer. He is told: “Write always about humanity, humanity’s life, not humanity’s death. Yes, whether it’s animals, ogres, gods, or ghosts that you present, there’s nothing more difficult to understand than humanity. That’s why there is no end to the telling of stories on this earth.”

That’s sound advice. Here’s some more, from another Pramoedya work:

“It is really surprising sometimes how a prohibition seems to exist solely in order to be violated. And when I disobeyed I felt that what I did was pleasurable. For children such as I at that time – oh, how many prohibitions and restrictions were heaped on our heads! Yes, it was as though the whole world was watching us, bent on forbidding whatever we did and whatever we wanted. Inevitably we children felt that this world was really intended only for adults.”

Pramoedya is referring to children. But the prohibition on prohibition that he implies should be mandatory is no less valid more widely, and should be insisted on for governments whose grasp of democracy extends only to acceptance of their own official truth.

Last year’s UWRF was sponsored by leading Australian bank ANZ, which owns Panin Bank locally.  Hopefully the 2012 festival will benefit from that sponsorship, renewed.

Nyepi Non-Silence

Silent Day, the annual 6am-6am Balinese Hindu seclusion that shuts the island down, falls on a Friday this year (it’s on March 23). Because Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, the authorities have agreed that Muslims may leave their houses to walk to prayers at the nearest mosque. This is a fair concession and should be applauded for several reasons.

The first and most important reason is that it recognises that Bali is not exclusively Hindu. It has never been so, of course, but in the distant past the numbers who followed other religions were tiny. Not so nowadays.

The importance of the day to practising Hindus (and to local communities who traditionally mark the day in significantly varied ways) cannot be gainsaid, should never be, and must be protected by law.  But it is time symbolic restrictions were confined to traditional practices: there is no reason to black-out broadcasting for example.

And there’s a further issue, given the precedent set for Friday prayers: If Nyepi falls on a Sunday, Christians should be granted the same concession.

Not so Mobil

Once, as they say, is a misfortune. Twice looks likely to set a trend. And thrice definitively establishes this. Diary and Distaff have now three times tried to buy a car – a mobil in these parts – from the Suzuki distributor here, PT Indo Bali. On each occasion, deal done except for the final signature, these fine sellers of motor vehicles have dealt themselves out of the game by failing to provide a test-drive vehicle, finding an eleventh-hour reason to demand more money, or refusing to hold the nominated vehicle pending final payment.

We had been unwilling this time to venture into the premises on Imam Bonjol in Denpasar where these reluctant salespeople are to be found. But our attempt to acquire our chosen vehicle from a new dealer on the by-pass at Jimbaran failed when that was too hard for them too and they flick-passed us onto PT Indo Bali.

It’s a shame, because Suzukis are fine vehicles. But we’ve had it. We’ll buy another make from some outfit that actually closes deals.

Open Arms

We hear that a new watering hole has opened in Banjar Anyar, on the northern extremity of the KLS traffic snarl. It’s the Plumbers Arms, which is trading without benefit of the singular or plural possessive in the ungrammatical way of the modern world. It is billed as an English pub and is the latest venture by that peripatetic Anglo-Australian couple, Nigel and Jacky Ames, who do all sorts of other things around Bali and in the Gilis off Lombok.

We wish them good fortune with the new enterprise. Presumably they’re chilling that awful English beer. We would have inquired about that, except we did ask about the opening and heard nothing back. Perhaps all that hot froth got in the way.

Mangoland Rules!

There’s an election in the Australian state of Queensland on Saturday (March 24). This is a matter of decidedly finite importance to anyone outside Queensland – the north-eastern third of the Australian continent – unless they are former residents; or perhaps for readers of lately published satirical novels.

Ross Fitzgerald, a professorial type well known to Hector – he’s also a frequent Bali sojourner and will be here again in June – has written a book, Fools’ Paradise: Life in an Altered State, which is about an election in the fictional state of Mangoland. For those who do not know, Queensland produces a lot of mangoes.

Fitzgerald, who wrote the book with Trevor Jordan, is a historian and Mangoland aka Queensland is a rich field for anyone interested in examining the venalities of politics. It’s a readable yarn, except that – irritatingly – it uses discrete (meaning severally) for discreet (which among other things means don’t get caught).  Never mind; this is after all the post-literate age.

The book – dedicated thus, “For all the fools we have known, including ourselves” – is published by Arcadia, an imprint of Melbourne publisher Australian Scholarly Books. Fitzgerald has written several books, including Under the Influence: A History of Alcohol in Australia.

Corked Out

A kind friend, possibly mindful of the conditions endured by drinkers of alcohol in these parts – it is Haram to the majority of Indonesians after all – sent Hector this little thought the other day: “Nobody has ever come up with a great idea after a second bottle of water.”

Quite so; it’s no wonder all those earnest seminars and conferences, locally and globally, seem to have difficulty fixing anything other than the date of their next gabfest.  But our problem in Bali is of a different kind. Given the price of the fermented product of the grape hereabouts, few people can come up with a second bottle of wine.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the fortnightly Bali Advertiser, out every second Wednesday, Hector tweets @scratchings and is on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).