His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences
The ties that bind otherwise widely disparate families and characters into a familial network are very apparent in Bali, as in many other cultures. They are decreasingly visible in western societies where the state has long since taken over the role of matriarch (or patriarch if you like) and individuals are far more mobile and have much wider choices of employment and location.
So it is good still to be numbered in the declining percentile and be firmly for the family. This was reinforced during a week in Scotland in mid-May, a sojourn deemed necessary for remedial, toe-in-the-gene-pool therapy. It was a time spent among the family in the Border country where the churches are Episcopalian, a goodly portion of the ecclesiastical architecture has identifiable Norman leanings, and the food is, well, fantastic.
It is true Sassenach country (Saxon country), very far from the Scotland of the picture books and tourist brochures. This made it altogether strange that the railway station near where we were staying with a lovely cousin was named An Druim, in Scottish Gaelic, as well as Drem, the name by which it is universally known.
There was a lovely party on the weekend before our departure for notionally warmer clines, involving several cousins and including a representative of the family’s Australian connection – a genuine one, not the ring-in Diary version. There are few people with whom it is possible just to take up a conversation where one left it two years earlier; and even fewer who on first acquaintance seem instantly to be family.
Auld Reekie Revisited
We were twice in Edinburgh, a city that soothes the soul – big enough and sufficiently cerebral to be a genuine national capital, yet small enough to be both manageable and scenic – and which is a great place for lunch.
The weather was bleak in the unforgiving way that bleakness acquires only nine degrees south of the Arctic Circle, but the food makes up for any chill the city can throw at you, especially in the Grass Market and on Lothian Road. Soup warms the bones as well as the heart; and at certain venues Italian cuisine, in good company, absolves all sins.
What the weather serves up in the way of inclement conditions is in any case offset by the long days at this time of the year. It’s a treat to be able to sit outside (rugged up if necessary) and drink in the 10pm twilight.
From Scotland we went on to Marseille (it’s better, and authentically, spelt that way) which was to be our base for a month. Our apartment, a particularly fine home exchange option, overlooks the Mediterranean (actually the Ligurian) Sea and the sweep of Provencal coastline the north and west of the city: a magic spot.
Equally magic is the variety of eating and shopping experiences close by. We’ve even been to Carrefour, a one-kilometre stroll up the road from our beachside digs, though just as at home in Bali we prefer smaller, local shopping opportunities. We’ve found those too, and in consequence are eating really rather well.
The walking routine is as close as we’ll be getting to the Marseillaise and its command to the citoyens to marchon, even though we are temporary residents of the city that brought the world the French revolutionary anthem. They’ll have to excuse us. Our sang is still a bit froid to make us happily sing about someone else’s nationalistic fervour. And anyway, it’s not July 14 yet.
KLM’s Denpasar-Amsterdam service is very good. Even with an hour-plus on the ground in Singapore, the time in air from wheels up at Ngurah Rai to touchdown at Schiphol is well under 17 hours. Flying westward, the effects of jet lag are minimal, especially on the KLM schedule which effectively makes the trip just one very long night. Just set your watch on Amsterdam time on departure, and relax.
We had a very short connection time in Amsterdam before flying on to Edinburgh, but (in contrast to Air France via Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris two years ago) our luggage nonetheless managed to accompany us to our final destination.
But Schiphol does have a problem with Schengen area passport control and central security screening. On our trip back from Edinburgh via Amsterdam to Marseille that part of the programme was a shemozzle. The queues were huge, unruly and cross, and the airport staff and security personnel similarly distempered.
No one sensible objects to strict passport controls or to invasive security checks. But someone at Schiphol needs to work out that people with short connection times need to be accommodated on a more productive basis than complete lack of official interest in whether they make their flight or not.
We’re in Touch
Not too many years ago departing from anywhere to anywhere out of immediate earshot meant cutting yourself off from current events in your place of origin. Sometimes this was to personal advantage: Raffles, for example, could invade Java free of any worries that someone at head office might see a tweet from him or look at his Facebook and detect a scurrilous plan in the making. Similarly, England’s wayward remittance men could safely be sent to the colonies and never be heard of again.
No more, of course, with the internet ubiquitously available. So even though we’re half a world away (only temporarily; no one should get too excited) we’re fully briefed on Bali business.
Among those things to have piqued our interest is an impending event in the AYANAsphere due to take place in June – happily, on a date after our return to Bali. They’re launching their grand ballroom and meeting rooms, set for MICE (spenders rather than rodents) and introducing new sister resort RIMBA at a function on June 21. We’ll be there.
It might strike some as strange that the new Mangrove Motorway through the fragile marine environment of Benoa Bay – an enterprise we are assured will solve South Bali’s horrendous traffic problems, won’t do a bit of harm to the mangroves, and will be launched (we do hope not literally) by the President in June – has not yet been given a name. They do things differently in Bali.
Never mind. Things are moving on that front now. Suggestions for names are beginning to emerge. Among them is a great proposal from Udayana University academic Darma Putra Nyoman, who says the toll road – Bali’s first – should be named after dance artist I Wayan Lotring (1898-1983), a grandmaster of Balinese dance and percussion from Kuta who contributed mightily to the development of Balinese art and culture both locally and as an international icon.
We really like that idea. It seems appropriate. There’s already been a bit of a song and dance about the road. And it would be so much better than recycling a name from the political or insurrectionist past or choosing something utterly soul (and culture) destroying as in the case of Jl. Sunset Road. Come to think of it, we’re not much into tautology, either.
Speaking of Sunset Road, which anyone who has to drive to or through Kuta does frequently, often in less than complimentary terms, we got a giggle out of some of the feedback in The Beat Daily recently about the new underpass at Dewa Ruci.
This followed a report that the Bali legislature is inquiring into the adequacy of emergency escape staircases at the underpass, which is now partially open to traffic. Our lawmakers apparently want to know where this essential bit of infrastructure is and indeed, whether it exists. They could pop down there in their taxpayer-provided limousines and have a look of course, but that’s asking a bit much.
One comment on this issue related to the misbehaviour of motorbikes, a constant issue on Bali’s roads. It also suggested that given the fact that it rains now and then, and that motorcyclists invariably seek shelter, the underpass would inevitably be blocked in anything heavier than a passing sprinkle.
We’re all in favour of upgrading Bali’s arterial road system. But this would be of far greater utility if driver skills were similar improved, by several thousand percent.
(Hector is away from The Cage, on a slightly longer than normal Short Essential Break)
Hector’s Diary appears in the fortnightly print edition of the Bali Advertiser. He tweets @scratchings.