Statues of Liberty
by 8 Degrees of Latitude
Bali, Saturday, Mar. 11, 2017
IT was so nice to hear that our high profile regal Arabian visitor – Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and Head of the House of Saud – liked Bali so much that he extended his stay. He’s due to leave tomorrow, it seems.
It was also good to hear that the Balinese authorities refused to cover any of the rather outré statuary of traditional and religious significance to Bali Hindus, in rather the same way as the folks who look after the palace in Bogor placed Adam and Eve-style foliage in front of the lovely nude statues in the gardens there.
They had heard suggestions that they should organise something of the same kind of visual obstruction. This would act as a prophylactic against offence among the Saudi royals, who in the manner of most occupants of their hot, dry, desert country, go around in full Casper the Ghost rig and don’t dig the naked gig.
For Arabs, in Arabia, it’s a sensible precaution against sunburn, and this was indeed its original function. It may even be useful when riding camels, which are difficult beasts at best. But Islam mandates modesty (something the decadent West has given up for dead). Moral turpitude is frowned upon (ditto). And it is most especially a practice publicly disavowed by the strict rules of Wahhabi Islam.
King Salman is said now to view Indonesia as his second home. It rained a little while he was here, which must have been a novelty, and was perhaps an attraction. Speaking of novelties, if the king and his party managed to catch more than a blurred glimpse of other traffic while flat-footing it around in big limos escorted by police outriders and get-off-the-road-now loudspeaker trucks, they might have seen women riding motorbikes or even driving cars.
JOHN Donne (who we might remember has been dead a little while now) reminds us never to ask for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for thee.
Bill Leak, controversial Australian cartoonist, has now joined him in the lists of those who are no longer with us. It’s unlikely that he will be remembered as much as some who people the supposed pantheon, or as long, or as fondly, or with as much good reason.
Nonetheless, we are all of us nothing without the benefit of free speech. Another, greater, brain, Voltaire, makes that point rather firmly.
One great risk of free speech is that it nurtures public hyperbole, especially among those who in earlier ages would have been confined to being pamphleteers and activists within many mobs. We have to live with that, of course, which is one of the points Voltaire was on about.
But measured appreciation and objective conclusion, of Leak in this instance, need not be obsequious, and indeed shouldn’t be. Let those who love him sing the paeans. He’s dead, which is sad in the human sense (the bell eventually will toll for us all). He has passed into the afterlife from which, to the benefit of everyone who abhors clumsy and stupid racism, he can produce no more execrable cartoons.
NO, we’re not talking about those small pickled berries that season your food, especially if you dine at The Cage. We’re referring to the traffic in Gridlock Central in the place that certain sorts of tourists have ensured is known globally as a fun show. It’s also Cooter Central, but we won’t go there.
We’ve been avoiding Kuta for a while, to allow the police to work out that their new (old) traffic management system, involving a lot of one-way streets that take you everywhere except where you want to go, wouldn’t actually work. They’ve done that now, which is good. They really had no option, since the local banjars (precincts) wouldn’t have a bar of it, no one was in the least interested in being “socialised” by the cops about their new recipe for chaos, and paying traffic fines is viewed as a sort of optional extra in Bali.
This week, however, we had to venture in. There was a lot of traffic – especially at the airport traffic circle, where as usual the three notional traffic lanes entering it had been converted into six-and-a-half by the impressive insouciance of the locals – but it all worked, on the old model.
You just keep moving, slowly, and insinuate yourself into the melee. It takes nerves of steel (or in the Distaff’s case, in the passenger seat, an episode of closing your eyes and thinking of England) but it’s effective. We have heavily tinted windows in the car so mostly the locals don’t know they’ve been beaten into the last cubic centimetre of available space by a filthy foreign “tourist”. If by chance they do, they tend to look surprised, which is delightful. Road rage is not a factor here, a great benefit.
Further on, the always-interesting turn across the traffic to access one of Kuta’s more spectacular road shemozzles and get to our destination, was as much fun as ever.
On our return, because of the traffic, we drove north to get back onto Sunset Road rather than retracing our route that would have necessitated one of the manic traffic-snarl U-turns that they do here.
The police, fresh from their triumphant failure to change the pattern of chaos on Kuta’s roads, are engaged in a campaign to enforce the road rules. Perhaps they know what these are. That’s an interesting theory. The Highway Patrol car we had seen earlier, parked on the airport traffic circle, had evidently been left there by a policeman who didn’t.
At the four-way junction with Sunset Road, on our way back, the traffic police were about, waving their arms and blowing their whistles. That particular intersection is interesting because the only way traffic turning right (onto Sunset) can get through in more than four long changes of the lights is to get into the other-way lane. One assumes this would transgress certain of the traffic laws. No matter. The policemen with the whistles and the waving arms didn’t seem to care. They never do.
Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly.