Peak Effort



Titbits from his regular diet of worms

The Cage, Bali | Saturday, Apr. 28, 2018


DIAN Cahyadi, with whom we had the pleasure of working in Lombok more than decade ago, on a little and now extinct monthly newspaper called the Lombok Times, has achieved a new personal best for 2018. Actually, it’s a double triumph.

He scaled Mt. Rinjani, a feat in itself. We’ve seen photographic evidence. It wasn’t photo-shopped. It did look a tad chilly up there at 3,726m, where if the air is dry – and it is at the moment, now the dry season has properly kicked in – the lapse rate can easily take 25 degrees Celsius off the sea-level equivalent temperature.

Lombok’s Sasak people are not necessarily built for chill. This is a property they share with most Indonesians whose good fortune it is to live in an equatorial archipelago. His wife Barbara, who with Dian produces the useful Lombok Guide monthly, tells us the air temperature was zero Celsius when hubby and party left their long-way-up-the-mountain base camp at 2am to trek to the summit for sunrise. Brr-risk.

He’s a glutton for punishment, too. He’s done the climb four times now, an annual treat at the start of the climbing season. He and his mates clean up rubbish left on the mountain and take time out to educate porters and local communities about the importance of the environment.

(This item has been edited subsequent to its original publication, to reflect information later made available.)

Plumb Line

THE Governor of Jakarta says he’d like to see all the boats that service the Thousand Islands off the city operate safely. That’s an eminently reasonable position to take. It follows a report by the national maritime transportation safety agency to the effect that most of the boats are unsafe and poorly crewed.

There’s an easy solution. It is to ensure that boats are well built, adequately maintained and their crews competent, that navigation is conducted by the rules and not by whim, that boats are not overloaded, that weather conditions are taken into account, that harbourmasters work as harbourmasters instead of collectors of additional fees, and that the waters are effectively and not just ephemerally patrolled by enforcement agencies.

In short, the trick is to run things as they should be run and not as an informal and frequently manic circus. We made that point publicly. Someone came back immediately and said, well, that’s where the grand plan fails, then.

It’s hard to argue to the contrary, though we wish this were not so.

What Refugees?

THERE’s an interesting article in the Jakarta Post today – the newspaper is celebrating 35 years of telling it like is, give or take a line or two, by the way – that points out the refugee problem Indonesia faces. There are 14,000 such people, that we know of, who have arrived in Indonesia for a variety of reasons. One of these is that Australia remains a preferred destination for people seeking a new life, or any sort of life at all.

The Australian drawbridge was pulled up sharply some years ago, of course, assisted by a policy of employing the country’s navy to turn back unauthorised vessels. Australian policy is to deny entry to anyone claiming refugee status and specifically to keep such people out of Australian waters where, should they reach them, the courts might take a less political and more humane view of the country’s responsibilities.

It’s a policy that has worked, in terms of reducing basically to zero the number of people who are able to place their lives in the hands of rapacious people smugglers and get on leaky boats that might sink and drown them. Stop the boats was the Australian government’s mantra. It was a constant refrain.

It has left Indonesia with a problem, however, though that’s not Australia’s fault. These people – refugees, economic migrants, potential pogrom victims, whatever – are in Indonesia after unauthorised arrival and are therefore Indonesia’s responsibility. None will be going on to Australia, short of a change of conceivable government and a Damascene conversion among the electors. That won’t happen. So they’re stuck.

Kuta Crawl

WE’VE just had the considerable pleasure of a visit from an old friend of the Companion, and of the Diary’s by natural association. She’s a journalist who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland – and who had a lengthy spell in Hong Kong too, long before its reacquisition by China – and whom we had been trying for ages to get to come and see us.

She and the Companion go back a long way, more than three decades, in fact, via various adventures and misadventures, and she’s a lively sort. So we all had fun. Ubud and Candi Dasa were on the expeditionary schedule, in pleasant accommodations (Tegal Sari in Ubud and Bayshore Villas in Candi Dasa) and plenty of activity (Venezia Day Spa in Ubud and Vincent’s – for the Thursday evening live jazz – in Candi Dasa) plus time at The Cage with its cooling Bukit breezes, ocean glimpses and chance of chainsaws. On the latter, it did seem that the gods had smiled upon us and declared a moratorium on borrowed buzzing for the duration. Or perhaps it all took place while we were away.

On her last evening we went into Kuta, toured the shops, bought some things, and dined at Un’s, a favourite spot of ours. Their frozen margaritas were declared a thing. The traffic afterwards, in contrast, was declared an unimaginable thing. And so it was, but then it almost always is. The more bucolic lifestyle of the western Bukit is much better, especially if you want to take photos of pretty little cows.

Handbag Parade

THE Kuta outing provided another chance for the Diary to prove his credentials as Handbag to the Companion. This is something we’ve done, in various places and forms, over rather more years than it is now comfortable to recall.

These days, it’s not corporate hand bagging. We are no longer required to stand around, consort-like, and engage with small talk persons who are unknown to us and whom we might otherwise wish to keep in that state of dimensional offset. It’s actual, physical, handbag carrying that’s now all the go. This is a duty we perform with serious intent, since a woman’s handbag is like one of those black holes in space. Things go in them that are apt never to be seen again, but it wouldn’t do to be the duty handbag holder if something were to be required from within and could not be found. Not finding things in her handbag is a job reserved for the lady who owns it.

In Jl. Legian in Kuta this week, while the distaff detail was in a shop looking for things with bling on them, we stood sentry outside, toting the handbag and trying to ignore the importuning of the massage ladies across the street. Sometimes it’s good to have reached an age where, like other things among life’s former functions, blushing is no longer feasible.

Whine o’Clock


This is a very good point. More information please.




Messing About in Boats



His diet of worms and other non-religious fare

Bali, Jan. 4, 2017


WE have a lovely friend, a former media colleague who goes by the pen name of The Global Goddess. She has a tough life, poor thing. She’s forever flitting off from Brisbane, her home city, to go to distant places and write about them. Well, someone has to do it, we suppose.

Her most recent gambol was a cruise to Komodo aboard the Al-Iikai, a 37-metre Bugis pinisi fitted out for maximum comfort and operated from Serangan in Benoa Bay. It was, she tells us, a program that gave her plenty of stories about messing about in boats.

The goddess, real name Christine Retschlag, apparently didn’t read Kenneth Grahame’s marvellous fantasy tale Wind in the Willows as a child. But we’re sure that Ratty will forgive her, given her later experiences. Hector, who is one of Ratty’s firmest friends, will pay close attention to her trip reports on her blog and in the travel media.

We’re sure that Ratty – whose ancestral lineage, we remember, traced back to a seafaring rat who had sailed to England from Constantinople long before (though possibly not as early as the Black Death fleets of 1348-49) – will fully understand that the Bali Sea and beyond is a different kettle of fish to the somewhat placid Thames in the golden age of Edwardian England more than a century ago.

The goddess finished her archipelagic sojourn with some lovely down-days at Palms Ceningan, where we hear she adopted surfer-chick hair because she had lost her comb. She’ll have found it eventually in the designer Black Void handbag that she, like all the girls, simply has to tote around.

Before Indonesia, she had been in Canada chatting up polar bears. As a result of this earlier adventure, and when we caught up with her aboard the Al-Iikai at Benoa before she sailed away to joust with dragons, courtesy of Indonesia Island Sail’s Amanda Zsebik, we dubbed her Nanook of the Near North.

That’s no igloo, just the smile.

What a Blast

It’s over now, for another year, thank goodness. But Christmas is worth discussion. It marks the requisitioned and wholly notional birthdate of Jesus the Nazarene, who in the Christian rite is the Messiah, the prince of peace, Son of God, prophet and prince of life, among other things. Nothing in his story seems to mandate explosive exclamation, except perhaps the feeding of the five thousand, which must have been a blast.

So it is curious that in Indonesia it’s apparently an occasion for letting off fireworks. From the noise these infernal objects generate, they must be rather bigger than the two inches (five centimetres) maximum allowed by official order. Never mind, no one here takes any notice of official orders.

There’s a serious point in this. Christmas is a Christian religious feast. For Muslims, it is the birthday of the Messiah (Mahdi), Isa – Jesus – who ranks behind only Muhammad as a prophet of Allah.

It is the secular West that has turned Christmas into an occasion for consumer excess. But even there, and in the little pockets of bad behaviour its acolytes occupy around the globe, pyrotechnics don’t figure in the events of the season.

A Sari Tale

The other day we came across a delightful Jakarta-based blog ( that had somehow previously escaped our notice. We really should get out more. It comes with an emailed newsletter, to which we have now subscribed. Interesting takes on current events are always good value, whether they are serious or of the ROFL class. Hereabouts they’re often of the ROFLMAO variant.

What caught our eye particularly in the newsletter we saw on Dec. 17 was a spin-off from the awful Ahok saga. It involved Sari Roti, a bread maker, whose products were seen in apparently invidious proximity to the governor of Jakarta in the context of his legal difficulties with the FMP (the Fanatical Muslim Push). Sari Roti’s stock value had fallen as a result (no, we’re not kidding).

No one can have missed the fact that Governor Ahok is on trial for blasphemy on the grounds that he misquoted the Qur’an and is therefore a kafir of the worst order. He’s a Christian, of course, and an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity. Neither of these qualities is favoured as a political option by the chaps with the placards and the turban fetish.

It’s a sorry tale all round, and not one to laugh about. Except that sometimes if you don’t laugh, you cry.

It Just Piles Up

Photos that surfaced on Facebook just before Christmas, of the disgraceful piles of garbage washed up on Double Six beach at Legian, after seasonal rains flushed out the poisonous detritus that clogs every watercourse you can think of, are an object lesson in the poverty of public policy in Bali.

They show how fiddling around at the edges, or hoping someone else will front up with the money and the means to do something for you while funding your latest vehicle fetish, is a cop-out, a disease risk and a PR disaster all rolled into one.

They were taken by surfing identity Tim Hain on Dec. 24. He noted that he was feeling a little delicate as a result of the ASC Tour awards party held at Canggu the previous evening, but what really made him feel sick was the sight that greeted him on Double Six beach on his morning walk.

It’s true that there are some good waste management initiatives in an increasing number of localities in Bali, organised at local community level. Craig Glenister of the Alasari resort in Tabanan mentioned the one that’s up and running in his area. Fair enough.

But it’s not enough. Just for example, in the Bukit area that houses The Cage (from whence Hector scribbles) a local contractor is paid by some residents to properly dispose of their rubbish. Others couldn’t care less – it’s not the money – and continue with the sorry custom of just tossing garbage away. Sometimes they set fire to it and the noxious plastic it contains. But mostly they just forget about it. Everywhere you go there’s a smelly bag of diseased rubbish lying in the scrub or by the road.

The local free-range dogs, a pariah class created by public apathy and indolence, the rats and the dengue mosquitoes, are guaranteed a continuous feast as a result.

A Sound Point

Helen Mirren is a great actor. And anyone who has seen the long-ago guest spot she did as a much younger one on a British TV talk show – when interviewer Michael Parkinson asked her with a particularly gauche grin if her “attributes” got in the way of her winning offers of serious roles – will understand also that she is a highly intelligent woman with whom one should not trifle.

So when she observed that by general agreement 2016 was a shit of a year, as she did recently, it was very hard to argue. You don’t even have to have read the library-load of end-of-year reviews to work that out. She wasn’t making a partisan political point. That’s a tiresome practice of some actors, who seem to believe that a good publicist, a photogenic presence and an ability to take direction on a film set invests them with special knowledge, but it’s not hers.

Neither was she speaking in personal terms. She has a broader mind than that. She can see that things happen that aren’t good, even if they don’t directly affect you; and she is not so consumed with Self in the modern fashion that nothing else seems to matter. In short, she’s a breath of fresh air

See below for Hector’s view on The Year It Would Be Nice to Rewind.

Monkey of a Year

The Monkey is most likely exhausted, or near as, since his year is nearly over. The Diary, a Monkey of the class of 1944, certainly is. In the Chinese Zodiac, everyone’s once-in-a-dozen years mazurka is not a treat but a challenge. And 2016 was not a good year for anyone.

The year of the Fire Rooster starts on Jan. 28. We look forward to it. The next Monkey year is in 2028. Perhaps we’ll see you for that party.

President-elect Donald Trump’s next celestial challenge is in 2018, by the way. He’s a Fire Dog. But he gets his box of matches a year early, on Jan. 20, when he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He’ll probably tweet about that.

This column appears in the Bali Advertiser, out Jan. 4. The newspaper publishes Hector’s Diary in every second edition. It is a fortnightly print and on line publication.



Best in Bali



His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Wine country, Western Australia

Nov. 23, 2016


CHRISTINA Iskandar, who is busy expanding the Diva Empire in Australia from her Sydney hometown base, tells us of a lovely little charity revenue stream she’s putting in place. It’s at the invitation of a major greetings card company.

The idea is they’ll put a selection of Best in Bali images on cards and other gift products and 5 per cent of the proceeds of sales will go to nominated Bali charities.

Iskandar has chosen as the first beneficiary of this scheme the Suryani Institute for Mental Health, a non-profit institute established in 2005. It and its sister organisations the Committee Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) and the Bali Elderly Welfare Foundation (Yayasan Wreda Sejahtera) work to create a healthy and happy community in Bali. Through academic, medical, psychiatric, educational and social work, the institute seeks to help the Balinese people become more intelligent, independent, creative, as well as physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually healthy.

The institute is headed by Professor Luh Ketut Suryani, MD, PhD. Its holistic approach to problem solving and positive advance – which it terms biopsycho-spirit-sociocultural – combines Western mainstream psychiatric/psychological practice with Eastern and Balinese cultural and spiritual knowledge and beliefs.

The Bali Divas themselves have been busy getting ready for a White Christmas ahead of their Divas and Dudes Christmas Charity Lunch on Nov. 25. It’s been a little chill on the island lately, courtesy of the annual wet season, though not that cold! Still, it’s a lovely old song. Thanks, Bing Crosby.

The “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” event is at Merah Putih in Kerobokan, where the fun starts at 12 Noon on Friday. We’ll be getting reports of frivolity and other action, so play up, folks. It’s for a good cause. Proceeds from the charity lunch will go to the Bali Children Foundation and The Refugee Learning Nest.

Bali Children Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides education opportunities to more than 2300 children from disadvantaged families across Bali. The Refugee Learning Nest is a community-based project in Java that helps refugees through informal educational programs including women’s literacy, tailoring classes, and sporting activities.

The lunch, sponsored by Chandon, will feature a performance by the Bali-based singer Eva Scolaro, who we hear has added footwear designs to her list of skills. She looks good in shoes. There will be the usual raffles and auction items.

Don’t be a Dork

There was a flurry of fevered interest in Australia in the misbehaviour of women at this year’s Melbourne Cup, run on Nov. 1 and won, as usual, by a horse. Apparently media focus on idiot women should not overemphasise their looks, as this perpetuates sexist myths. It’s an interesting point of discussion in Bali, where the loudly drunk and selfishly inclined tourist cohort regularly makes a mess of itself and whichever locality it is that they’ve chosen to disgrace with their presence.

Fine. If you’re drunk as a skunk and passed out in a wheelie bin in a short skirt and with your legs up, because you’re blotto and the remains of your mind thought the bin was a good place to be, you’re not going to look good.

There’s a lot of talk about the glass ceiling these days, and how while some women have managed to crack it, many have yet to do so. This is held to be a sin, and not only against the sisterhood. We agree. Merit and a capacity to commit are the keys to advance.

It’s a shame that efforts to crack the glass ceiling are seen in some quarters as licence to wreck the joint once you’re in there. Not in the business sense: the women we know who have gained access to the glass cage at the top of the corporate bureaucratic ladders are all sensible, thinking people. Some among them might like a drink, and even to misbehave, in all sorts of ways, but they do so in private, where in a free society such things are legitimately enjoyed.

It’s on the party circuit, broadly defined, where bad behaviour occurs publically. It’s true that in many societies, especially the Anglo ones, the bad behaviour of men is apparently expected, still largely accepted, often cheered on (crassly) and frequently overlooked. The stupid boys will be boys rule. Read that line any way you like. This dispensation is not extended to women who drink too much and behave like dorks. Women are supposed to be savvy and sexy and all of that, in whatever body shape they naturally possess, and not to compete with men in the idiot stakes.

Fundamentally this is phooey, despite grandma’s sensible advice to always keep yourself nice. People are people. They come in all shapes and sizes and an infinite range of personalities. These days, however, good manners have largely been thrown out of the window in the western world, along with common sense. They have been replaced by the glottal-stop baby talk and short attention span of the Me generation. That’s what people need to think about and correct. It’s not really a gender thing at all, except among men with a fixed and prehistoric belief in their own sex’s supremacy.

Chump Time

That a man whose adult life has been spent losing other people’s money, stiffing business partners, failing to pay creditors, creating a lengthy list of corporate failures, avoiding tax, being a loud-mouth reality TV front-man (“You’re Fired!), running the Miss Universe pageant while ogling the talent, pushing forward the boundaries of shocking kitsch and publicly avowing the delights of pussy-grabbing, can be elected the 45th president of the United States is something that takes American democracy into new territory.

There are good reasons for American voters to disavow the political practices of establishment candidates and the two-party system (never mind the quality, feel the width) and to choose something that promises to break that matrix. On Nov. 8 they wanted, in sufficient numbers, to belt the Beltway (the popular synonym for Washington’s inner circle).

It’s a bold political experiment. We can only hope the test-tube doesn’t blow up and destroy the joint. It will be an interesting spectacle whatever results. An Australian friend whose considered opinions we greatly value, remarked when we asked him what he thought of the events that it was a bit like jelly wrestling: you know it’s wrong but you watch anyway. The life of a voyeur can be very rewarding.

There were the expected reactions to Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 8. Locally, the rupiah weakened, though this was expected to be only a temporary effect. Global bond markets were spooked. The Brexit Brits were re-enthused, since like them Trump wants to overturn all sorts of apple carts. The British see a fortune to be made in bilateral trade deals. (They’ve managed, oddly, to get the Australian government politically on side in that respect. Perhaps Canberra needs to glance briefly at a world map.)

Trump for his part wants to reinvent American rustbelt industry, which according to him shouldn’t have disappeared to China and other places where cost-effective manufacturing is practised. He’s a bit like Don Quixote, albeit with rather less moral fibre. Though tilting at windmills can be fun, for the spectators at least.

Another friend, this time in America itself, reports an unexpected side effect of Trumpism’s triumph. She’s looking for a new hairdresser in her gentle, liberal New England domain. Her long established snipper, who’s very good and very, very gay, has taken to loudly singing the praises of the White House Apprentice. She said she had not yet allowed this to disturb her coiffeur but that it had seriously ruffled her feathers.

Karma on the Rocks

The sports bar at Echo Beach over which long-term American resident of Bali Mara Wolford raised a stink earlier this year with allegations that her drink was spiked, has closed. That’s good news.

When it found itself criticised after the events Wolford wrote about on her Facebook, it adopted the usual tactic of miscreant businesses in Bali: First, anguished hurt that anyone could possibly think they were to blame; second, inventive and wholly inadequate answers; and third, threats of retribution.

The bar ceased trading this month. We love karma.

Chilling Out

The Diary is in Australia this week, on an SEB: a short essential break. So chilling out is the order of the day. That’s not difficult at all, when you’re in the bit of the Special Biosphere that has cool nights and often none-to-warm days even when late spring is said to have finally arrived.

We’ll be back shortly. The woollies will need washing.


Hector writes a blog at 8degreesoflatitude.


Accent the Positive


A Traveller’s Working Notes


May and June 2013

In Anglospeak, it’s Marseilles, pronounced as if to claim that one’s dear old mum takes part in the Fastnet races, or the Sydney-Hobart.  It is in fact Marseille, pronounced Mah-say. The city is as deserving of appropriate diction as Paris (Pah-ree), Lyon (Lee-ohn), Orleans (Aw-lay-ohn) and sundry other Francophone places. For that matter, it is possible to fly to Marseille from London or Edinburgh (not Londres or Edinbourg) so it’s fair to say the chaussure is firmly on the other pied too.

Neither is it genuinely a question of the difficulty foreigners are said to have with the etymologies of the places they are in. I was in Paris (Pah-ree) with a chap called Paris (Pa-ris) for a time, a while back, and no one thought his name was Pah-ree. (I should mention that I have never been to Paris, Texas, pronunciation unknown; though I did enjoy the movie.)

These random thoughts come to mind while we are beginning to absorb the unfamiliar culture and ambience of Provence. There is never much value in travelling if you’re going to pack your shibboleths, your cultural presumptions and your ignorance in with your smalls.

We are in the city for a month, domiciled in a fine beachfront apartment obtained via a house-swapping exercise. Without that defrayment of accommodation expense, we should not be able to be there at all, so we’re immensely grateful. The place turns out to be slap bang in front of La Grande Roue de Marseille, a huge Ferris wheel that at night lights up like a mad Cyclops, or a giant kaleidoscope, and flashes malevolent mixtures of light through one’s windows.

It does bring to mind the disturbing works of Stephen Donaldson. I briefly consider, at one point, silently calling the name “Nom”, just to see what might happen.  But it’s not really a problem. Within a day or so we hardly notice it, unless we want to have a laugh or count the people on it. A ready supply of vin rouge (rooghz-uh in the local patois) is to hand to assist with the laughter and complicate the counting.

I have brought Plato along on the holiday. Now I have a Kindle he travels everywhere with me. And it seems rather fun to have brought him to Massilia, the ancient Greek city upon which the Romans, followed by assorted Goths, Vandals and other barbarians, then built their own facilities. Plato was an exploring Greek, after all.


Marseille has many attractive women.  This is no surprise, since it is in France. Several such adornments are distracting in various ways at the luggage carousel at the airport after our plane arrives from Amsterdam. French women have a mysterious zest, éclat, élan, a deliciously promissory air. Possibly this is a fiction: the product of a diet of French films and French presidential reputations. The French girls I knew in the days when pursuit was permissible and dealing with the prey, were it willing, simply a matter of course, were all eminently sensible people. But this is why everyone I knew at school, whether or not they were a linguist, left that establishment able to ask: “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”

Be that as it may. No woman from any other culture wears her Follow Me Home’s or flicks a hem to greater effect.  A Frenchwoman can be old or young; she may be black, brown, brindle or of standard Frankish pallor; she may have blonde or red hair, dark hair, long hair, short hair or even no hair; she can be mucking out the stables or bathing in champagne; she can be short or tall, thin-line or broad-point, rich or poor, loud voiced or a whisperer, even – though this is admittedly, even with a French woman, at a very long pinch – either educated and erudite or the obverse. It doesn’t matter. Whatever their circumstances they seem to possess a level of allure that eludes others.

That is, I mean, in this context, to men. The heterosexual ones at least, which according to glossy magazines and the internet now form a disastrously declining cohort.  One might say decimated, in the modern way, signifying near extinction; but since the word actually means reduced by 10 percent that might not be high enough.

The attractiveness of other women is, however, among the many things that are generally left unmentioned in discourse with distaff associates; even those who are French. This has more to do with self-preservation than with natural courtesy.

It is better, and far safer, to appreciate with the dispassionate, distant eye of the landscape artist than to seek to emulate Titian. Only the foolhardy would risk acquiring a black eye, for example, by citing the chief claim to fame of Tiziano Vecelli (or Tiziano Vecellio) in other than very familiar company:

While Titian was mixing rose madder

His model reclined on a ladder.

The position, to Titian, suggested coition;

So he ran up the ladder

And ’ad her.

Of course Titian was Italian, not French; he was a citizen of Venice, the Serenissima, which also has many attractions, not least among them being that it was the only Italian republic that was never an Italian republic.


On our drive from the airport to our temporary digs there is a signpost pointing the way to the French Foreign Legion recruiting office. Good lord, do they still do that, one thought. But the location was noted as a precaution, lest a criminal or social embarrassment, whether inadvertent or otherwise, cloud our stay and make a Beau gesture an option.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, June 26, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

May the Farce be with You

A month in France is a useful reminder of one’s European heritage. That is, specifically European, not “Anglo” as this is understood to encompass English-speaking British-North American-Antipodean culture.

French farce, for example, holds great value beyond mere entertainment for Anglos who grew up within the geographical limits of Eurasia’s damp north-western peninsula. One’s parents might have believed – and indeed sometimes may even have said – that wogs began at Calais, but French and other European cultures have always resonated well among the British, or at least those Britons for whom “Yer” is neither a real word nor a substitute for an entire conversation.

So spending some time in Marseille has been illuminating. The thick city accent is a treat, unless you have to try to understand people. But that would spoil the fun.  And anyway the behaviour of the locals is an engaging demonstration of the fine French tradition of carrying on, farce-wise.

Two weekends running, on the splendid seafront thoroughfare that separated our temporary home from the beach and the big salt lake that the Romans, bless them for their chutzpah, called Mare Nostrum, the police closed off parts of the road to accommodate events. One was a massive cattle and horse drive, said to have something to do with culture and heritage in this, Marseille’s, year of being Europe’s capital of culture. The other was some sort of run.

We saw neither event, since we are not the descendants of cattle thieves or in the least interested in how you can develop crippling knee problems in later life, but we did see the side-show. This was provided by streams of drivers who, rather than muttering “Merde!” and finding another way to go when they chanced upon a barricaded traffic circle, stopped their cars in the middle of the road to argue with the flics.

In some cases they did this with actual violence. One feisty little blonde thing leapt out of her miniature conveyance with a fetching series of angry flounces and advanced on the waiting gendarmes, screeching abuse. Or perhaps it was a stream of questions, perhaps pejorative, rhetorical or otherwise, and possibly beginning with “WTF?” Finding the official answer unsatisfactory (we hope it was “Can you not zee zat ze road eet ees closed you stupid hen?”) she jumped up and down in frustration, rather in the manner of a lady caught short in a long toilet line-up, and rattled the barriers with quite inappropriate force. She either hadn’t noticed, or didn’t care about, the growing queue of honking cars blocked behind her.

The drivers of the blocked vehicles probably didn’t find this amusing. We did. All it lacked for cultural completeness was Inspector Clouseau.

Homage to Catalonia

Five days in Barcelona is a great way to spend – well, five days, to begin with. No time is ever long enough if you’re travelling, especially if you’re also enjoying yourself. The old town had changed since the Diary was last there, but since that was 1966 it’s no surprise. Back then Catalans lived without the authorised benefit of their own national culture, or of their language legitimised by national law, and were even forbidden to give their children Catalan names.

Since then, the fascist Franco regime has long gone (and Franco himself too) and the new Spain is a different place, with democratic institutions and its king back on the throne for which Franco (to his credit) always believed himself only to be regent. One difference is that there more beggars. In the old days they had ways of making them disappear. Today you cannot do this, and quite rightly so. Nonetheless, they are a nuisance when they patrol the outside eating areas that abound in Barcelona and rattle their cups. It prompts one to guzzle the gazpacho and quaff the Pedro Ximinez far too fast lest either of them seriously sours.

There is a silver lining, however. None of the beggars seem to play the accordion. Aptitude with the Devil’s instrument is reserved for that class of irritating itinerants whose members ride on the city’s excellent metro trains and serenade you (whether or not you wish it) in expectation of financial reward.

We several times ate and drank at little establishments in Plaça George Orwell, in the Cuitat Vella (old city). It is in an area that is quite suitably proletarian for that writer chap who briefly fought for the Republicans in the Spanish civil war and named himself after the English river which he especially loved. We came to know his plaza in Barcelona as Penname Place. It sounds so much better than Eric Blair Square.

Jet Lag

Well, only a little – and in this case it’s the name of a nice little bar in El Gotic, Barcelona, which we found by accident even though it was just around the corner from our hotel. We were glad we did, because the free hotel Wi-Fi that was part of our deal was non-operational (though only for us, according to the hotel, which said we must have had a problem with our protocols; strangely our notebooks had no trouble with anyone else’s internet connection) and the bar was a handy login point.

We suggested to proprietor Nicolá (first names only) who was formerly in the aviation industry and is from Sardinia, that he hire a sandwich-board man to patrol the street in front of our hotel advertising working Wi-Fi at his bar just a step or two away.

Like many such establishments in civilised parts of the world, Petit Jet-Lag is a convivial place for locals and tourists alike. It has a nice tapas menu, great coffee and a good range of drinks. Plus it is open until 2am.

We became legends while there. On one occasion we’d had a trying day attempting to arrange our scheduled return to Marseille since the French air traffic controllers were on strike and the gallant French train drivers, not wishing to be thought absent from the front line of the battle to ignore budgets and promote the view that financial restraint or productivity have nothing to do with them, decided to stage a stoppage of their own at the same time.

Because of this, we reached the bar – where we were already known and had been classified as “old” (a tad unfairly although it’s true the Diary could easily have been just about every customer’s, and the proprietor’s, father) – in somewhat pressing need of zesty refreshment. We chose long Campari tonics, since we like them, it was a warm day, we were frazzled, and it’s a great drink if the barman remembers to pour Campari into the glass rather than just wave the bottle at it.

We drank them swiftly (see above). Next day we learned that when we left the previous evening the bar’s denizens said – it would be nice to think this was in unison – “Wow! I want to be like them when I’m old! Twelve seconds to down a long Campari!”

That’s How You Do It

While we were astounding the locals in Barcelona (see above) we spotted an item in a national newspaper that seemed relevant to a recent event – an ongoing one, unless we believe in miracles – in the field of zoonotic diseases in Bali.

It concerned a dog that had bitten five people elsewhere in Spain and had been found to be rabid, the first such reported incident since 1975. The health authorities in the area had immediately provided all the bitten bods with the full post-exposure vaccine course and the regional government had ordered the immediate vaccination of all dogs, cats and ferrets (a pet in Spain) within a 20km radius of the incident.

Oh yes, and the idiot dog owner who had broken the law by falsifying his animal’s rabies vaccination record and failing to report as required when he several times took the animal to Morocco, a declared rabies zone, and more importantly brought it back to Spain, was facing criminal charges.

Might the foregoing give any official mind in Bali cause for thought?

Ups and Downs

Interesting tourist arrival figures for April: the Japanese are returning in strength (up a standout 17.91 percent month on month versus 2012) which is great news, but the Aussies are showing signs of weakening: down 1.5 percent.

There’s no doubt the Australian economy is not quite as robust as the country’s government would like people to think – too many eggs in one overfull resource basket is one cause – though neither is it in the dire straits the country’s opposition likes to suggest. There’s a national election on Sept. 14 that should clear the air politically. That would be the best fillip to confidence, the long-missing subjective ingredient in the present economic brew.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser newspaper, published fortnightly. Hector tweets @ scratchings.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser May 29, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Family Time

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.

Marchon! Marchon!

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.

Schengen Shenanigans

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.

Family Tree

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.