His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences
A Quirk a Day
The best part about writing a diary is that you can be as quirky as you like. It is thought, or used to be thought before energy drinks laced with high-octane caffeine came along and fried everyone’s brains, that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. We like apples, but a quirk is a far better preventative.
So it’s great fun being temporarily based in Marseille. It’s not Paris; this means no one’s actually rude to you just because they can be, or possibly because the climate is nearly as bad as Britain’s. Foreigners who hire cars in Marseille are warned that Provencal drivers are mad. Well, yes, they are. But they’re not nearly as mad as drivers are in Bali, so it’s been a bit of a rest-cure really. If you had to sum up driving conditions in Marseille and the rest of Provence in one sentence, you could say this: They are indeed all mad, but they stay in lane.
Quirks there are, aplenty, in this part of the world. At Cassis, for example, the car park in which we deposited our hired conveyance while we trotted off in search of a quayside luncheon, provided toilet facilities. We thought to sample these facilities on our return to the car ahead of what might be a lengthy drive. To utilise the privy, however, one had to visit the caisse (pay station) to obtain permission and then return with your parking ticket duly authorised. Armed with this the door to relief could be comfortingly opened.
Since achieving this would have meant queuing up to talk to the one harassed gent behind the glass screen and stating the nature of one’s business in very poor French amid a milling and quite possibly sniggering crowd, we forwent the opportunity and drove home, humming little tunes that had nothing to do with tinkling streams.
We made it. But like Waterloo (we didn’t hum that Abba song either) it was a damn close-run thing.
It was a day for minor embarrassment. At lunch a well turned-out French woman who had been dining at a table next to us was leaving and accidentally brushed the Distaff’s chair. She apologised with a smile and excused herself by saying (we think) that lunch must have fattened her up. Her demeanour underwent an inclement change when the Distaff, no doubt distracted by the foreign tongue and the delights upon her own plate, replied brightly, “Oui!”
A Regal Luncheon
Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, at the mouth of the River Rhone in France’s Mediterranean south, is a spot any traveller to Provence should visit. So of course we did, driving a chunky, boxy little Fiat 500 whose Italian designers have cunningly removed all possible spatial-awareness guides to drivers, making it entirely a guessing game as to how many millimetres remain between your vehicle and the nearest obstruction. Still, it’s well equipped and runs the iPod through the quality sound system, so Geoffrey Gurrumul has now played the Rhone Delta.
Foreign travel is always a delight. We lunch a lot on such expeditions, because acquiring new tastes and sensations is essential (or reacquainting oneself with them for that matter: a break from rendang sapi is no bad thing) and it’s good to experience how other people live.
So at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, we found a delightful little tapas bar and restaurant off the main tourist strip, in a quiet little street back from the beach. The street was named Rue Capitaine Fouque, apparently after a local hero. Your diarist, having always taken the view that dark humour is best in a tight spot and being a Blackadder fan to boot, inwardly speculated that it might have been named in honour of the last known utterance of the gentleman concerned; as in the manner of Captain Blackadder’s enigmatic statement, on his failure to avoid having to lead his men over the top in a final suicide mission on the Western Front in 1917, that he thought it rhymed with clacking bell.
The establishment was called Ambience Tapas and provided a snug little courtyard at the back, out of the rather stern breeze, where you could sit and nibble in the dappled shade provided by the plane trees and a see-through shade cloth overhead. We did and it was divine. The strawberry soup was particularly so. The tempura mussels ran the soup a very close second. The aubergine baked in honey was magnificent. The vin ordinaire was very, very far from being in the least respect ordinary.
It is early in the season so the little place was not crowded. And apart from us, the crowd – scant as it was – was entirely local, which is how we like it. We had a chance chat over lunch with fellow diner, guitar king Antonico Reyes, son of the legendary flamenco guitarist Jose Reyes and author of several prime Gypsy Kings tracks, whose group is called the Gypsy Reyes. The Distaff strongly desired his fingernails. The Diary thought Reyes possibly coveted the Distaff’s boots. It was that sort of day. Reyes and his group were playing that night and we would have stayed (free tickets were in the wind) but couldn’t. We’ll have to see if we can get him to Bali.
Beeline to Aix
It is impossible to visit the Midi and not go to Aix-en-Provence. It is far better, from the Diary’s perspective, when deciding what to keep in your schedule and what to drop out, to go for Aix rather than Avignon. It might have less papal history, but there’s less of a song and dance about it too. One can easily have too much of a good thing.
Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur le Pont d’Avignon / L’on y danse tous en rond
(On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there, we all dance there / On the bridge of Avignon / We all dance there in a ring)
We’ve modified the old ditty to our purpose, since our digs in Marseille afford as well as a beach panorama a fine view of one of the local roundabouts. These essential traffic regulators and their sensible rules are of course ubiquitously ignored in Bali by people on motorbikes and frequently by those driving vehicles.
Our version goes like this:
Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse, l’on y danse / Sur la rond-pointe Bonneveine / L’on y danse tous en rond
Hector’s helper had noted on his Facebook that the trip to Aix-en-Provence had revealed many university students but no Marie Bee lookalikes. He got a swift note back from Bee, a graduate of Aix and nowadays one of the brighter luminosities of Ubud, to say that she had indeed been there – just a few days prior. Ah well, next time.
Same Old Bali
It’s good to see that in our absence Bali continues being … well, Bali. The place just wouldn’t be the same without continuous performances of that favourite soap opera Farce of the Day. So news that the Buleleng regency wants the new coal-fired steam power plant at Celukan Bawang closed because its Chinese builders and their local operating arm haven’t acquired licences and operating permits as required by Buleleng is cheering indeed.
Regent Putu Agus Suradyana is lately reported to have issued a formal warning to the companies – this was on Apr 19 apparently: so much for timely disclosure of official local government business – listing five reasons why the project should be stopped. He’s miffed that the operators have failed to create a company profile (and apparently that they haven’t kept him informed). We can discount these as the usual blowhard guff that emanates from regents who confuse the grandiloquence of their titles with the prosaic (and unfortunately also notional) public utility of their office.
He may have a point with complaints that no detailed environmental impact plan has been presented (don’t give a Chinese company a building contract would be a suitable prophylatic against that condition); lack of a detailed layout for the plant (ditto); lack of an accurate time schedule for completion of the project (Come on! This is Bali!); and failure to obtain all necessary permits from the central and regional government. Needless to say, local landowners are also miffed that they didn’t get as much for the land required for the project as they had persuaded themselves they deserved.
So it’s business as usual all round. If the Buleleng Regent is so concerned about how things are done, he should do us all a favour and protest at the confusing mishmash of regulations that confronts anyone trying to do anything potentially productive; he should press for a national-provincial (and enforceable) environmental planning law; and he should recognise that in matters such as energy policy and power plants, local government councils have only a minor role.
Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper. He tweets @ scratchings.