Living with Vulcan

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

Bali Advertiser, Oct. 11, 2017

 

ONCE upon a time, the activity of a volcano in a distant domestic backyard from which one is temporarily absent would have been something relayed at intervals by news reports, or not at all. Its inactivity ahead of anticipated action would have been even harder to detect through the prism of news reportage. Not these days, when both the mainstream and the social media bring you up to the minute information and misinformation. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is more immediate (though there’s a lot more chaff) but there’s no reason to be uninformed.

So it is with the Great Mountain, Gunung Agung. It is more than 70 kilometres from our domestic premises on the Bukit. When we wrote this Diary, from even more distant Portugal, the mountain was grumbling and had been promoted by Indonesia’s excellent alert apparatus to most dangerous threat, as a result of this misbehaviour.

The story, at that point, was the removal by government order of more than 100,000 people whose villages and farms are within the defined danger zone, and the consequences, individual and collective, of this displacement. Relief efforts have brought out the best in people, Indonesians and foreigners alike. But it was not the sort of shock-horror story the western media so loves, since it was actually a good news story. It was a story of swift and effective action by provincial and national governments and agencies, and the outlaying of significant sums of money to assist those in need.

We know of course that other than in exceptional circumstances, or in the glossy magazines, a good news story about Bali is about as likely to be seen as a phoenix or a unicorn. We’ve had the usual tremulous twittering of Australians fearful that their cheap holidays might be at risk. Travel insurance generally covers such tribulations. That’s if you had the wit to get it (and pay for it) in the first place. If you can’t afford insurance, you shouldn’t travel. If you’re so thick that you can’t work out that it matters, you certainly shouldn’t.

There was one particular bit of very yellow journalism that got right up our nose. It did this in quite a major way. Surprisingly it appeared in The Guardian, which is usually among the more sentient of journals. It reported that foreign holidaymakers had fled Bali’s “tourist towns” because of the volcano alert. But this was the case only in Amed, a tiny place that barely qualifies as a village, let alone a town, and which is in the far east of the island virtually in the shadow of Mt Agung. It’s not inside the precautionary evacuation zone, though if the volcano did erupt then road access to and from it might be compromised. Meanwhile it was business as usual everywhere, including in Amed.

The last time Agung erupted, in 1963, there were large numbers of deaths. The official figures from that time probably understate the actual numbers. This time, half a century on, there are better communications and transport infrastructure that works, in the main. There is also an appreciation on the part of governments and authorities that, with a volcano, you can’t just sit around and hope it doesn’t erupt.

In Balinese Hindu mythology, Agung is thought by some to be a portion of Java’s sacred Mt Meru brought to the island by the original settlers. It has a place in the island’s spiritual life and its actions are accorded godly intent. In 1963 its pyroclastic flows (lava) missed the Mother Temple, Pura Besakih on the middle slopes of the mountain, by only metres. This was seen as a sign that the gods wished to demonstrate their angry displeasure but not to destroy the pinnacle of Balinese Hindu observance.

There were two major eruptions in 1963, the first in February and March, and another in May. Most casualties came from lava flows. Cold lahars (mixed slurries of volcanic and other materials generated by heavy rains) killed many others. A lahar – it’s an Indonesian word – can flow very quickly, unlike lava, and very deeply. When it stops it solidifies like concrete. Look at the landscape around Kubu, one of the areas now evacuated, to see the long-term results of that phenomenon.

We don’t pray, being in the None of the Above classification except on our Indonesian official documents, but we do think. And we’re thinking positive thoughts for Bali and its people while we’re away and Agung is being a threat.

A Rare Double

WE were in Lisbon, enjoying 30C days in the middle of the Lusitanian autumn, when this column was given to the electronic pigeon for transmission to the good folk at the Bali Advertiser. The Portuguese capital is a location long desired as a destination on our personal travel schedule, for many reasons but also because it presents an opportunity to perform a rare obeisance.

Some years ago we were in Kochi in India, where among the points of interest locally is the tomb of Vasco da Gama. It’s empty, but so what? He is still felt as a physical presence in the city, where – just in passing in this instance – there is a thriving Christian presence that was already ancient when the Portuguese adventurer “discovered” the India trade for Christ and His profits half a millennium ago.

Old Vasco is something of a figure in Lisbon, too, so we said hello there as well. His other resting place is in the Jerónimos Monastery at Bélem, fortuitously close to the best custard tarts in Lisbon.

The city is big on history, historiography, and monumental statuary. Dom Joāo I, splendidly mounted and holding his sceptre aloft, is near our digs, a pleasant apartment on the steep slopes just below the Castelo de S. Jorge. He was King of Portugal and the Algarve from 1385–1433 and is referred to as “the Good” and sometimes “the Great” in Portugal, or “of Happy Memory”.

In Spain he was referred to as “the Bastard”, because that’s what he was, and because he preserved the independence of the Kingdom of Portugal from the Kingdom of Castile. Through his efforts to acquire territories in Africa, he became the first king of Portugal to use the title “Lord of Ceuta”.

Ceuta is now a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco. It’s not quite analogous to Gibraltar, which is a bit of Spain the British long ago requisitioned as a spoil of war, though the point may be moot.

Joāo (John, as his English wife Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, might have called him, though she of course spoke French like all the posh Poms of the time and possibly called him Jean) deserves his statue: he had his day and won an entry in the record.

Spoiler Alert

IT used to be said that there were eight million stories in the naked city. Well, that’s what that old TV series said, so it must be right. There are also eight million hard-luck stories, a matching phenomenon with which every traveller must surely be familiar.

The Diary prefers to deal with these gently and in a non-judgemental way, while trying not to part with too much currency, especially when travelling on a pauper’s budget. The Distaff, being a girl, is made of far sterner stuff. We were lunching out in Málaga, in Andalusia, one day, enjoying in equal measure the warmth of the Mediterranean autumn and a modest beer and some tapas, when one of the local mendicants chanced to pass.

The tale was extraordinary, which is to say it was unbelievable. But since the immediate supplication was for 50 cents (€0.50, roughly Rp. 6500) to buy a loaf of bread, we were ourselves disposed to dig deeply into our diminishing pocket money and come up with the dosh.

Some might say that this indicates a certain measure of softness in the Diary, but that is not the case. Fifty cents to go away quietly, whether or not temporarily buoyed by thoughts of the brotherhood of man, seems to us to be a bargain triple entry in the fiscal, moral and problem solved ledgers.

Not so the Distaff, dear girl. As the pleas gathered length, speed and descant, she fixed the person uttering this tosh with her trademark killer steely glare and said: “You are spoiling my day. Go away.” This was not a request. It plainly invited no further conversation. It worked like a charm. The holiday budget was preserved.

See You Soon

BARRING accidental arrest en route or major volcanic dyspepsia at home, we’ll be back in Bali just in time to run up the road to Ubud for the 2017 Writers and Readers Festival. Unlike arrest or volcanic unrest, the festival is an event not to be missed.

HectorR

Hector’s Diary in published in the Bali Advertiser every second issue. The next will appear on Nov. 8. Hector blogs here between times, when he’s not holidaying in Europe.

A Dog’s Life

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

May 13, 2017

 

THERE was a revolting instance of animal cruelty in Denpasar this week, which thanks to quick-thinking and wonderfully caring local people swiftly swamped the social media, where it attracted an immediate chorus of shock and shame. The event and its tragic aftermath – the poor dog that was the victim died not long after being reunited with its distressed local owner – was videoed. We’ve seen the footage. It makes us wish we’d never given away the rhino-hide sjambok that we possessed many years ago, in a previous life, on another continent. (There’s an Indonesian connection, from cambuk, imported into South Africa along with Malay indentured workers in the 1800s.)

Two men on a scooter hooked the dog with a wire lasso in Jl. Teuku Umar in the dark of the pre-dawn morning and dragged it away behind their bike. It was plainly intended for the dog meat trade. They were chased and brought to a halt and eventually agreed to hand over the bloodied dog. Its rescuers comforted the animal while others found the owner. This incident should be instructive both for illegal dog meat hunters and the authorities. Indonesians don’t like it – it’s not just nuisance foreigners who complain.

It is not illegal to eat dog meat in Indonesia. It’s just disgusting. But it is illegal, and subject to criminal sanctions, to practise animal cruelty. It is that area of the law that most urgently needs to be enforced. Governments at all levels need to do that.

Unkind Cut

THE language of the gourmet chef world is a little beyond diarists who live in garrets they call The Cage and who exist on bread and water – well, not quite, but you’ll get our drift. So living vicariously is fun now and then, as a leavening, so to speak, and what better way than to virtually attend the annual Ubud Food Festival? It was held this week.

After the opening night feast on Thursday we saw a note on Facebook that told us the prawns prepared by Locovare (an excellent restaurant, by the way) were decimated. We were intrigued by this intelligence, since decimation was a Roman military method of reducing legions, for fiscal and other administrative reasons, and sometimes for tactical purposes. Every tenth man was removed from the ranks.

We inquired whether nine prawns were served instead of ten. It seems there was no printed menu from which to check this, though Cheflish, an interesting language garnished with misapplied superlatives and drizzled with inventive gourmet-speak, may have given decimated yet another meaning. What that might be eludes us, but presumably it does not refer to the sharp decline in prawn stocks in fisheries around the globe.

Anyway, never mind. The food festival – another initiative of Ubud luminary-in-chief Janet DeNeefe, whose Bali recipe book has just been reprinted, and who is also founder of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 25-29 this year, don’t miss it) – is an excellent show. Selamat makan!

Chump Towers

IN World War Two the embattled Brits entertained themselves with a wonderful radio comedy show called ITMA (It’s That Man Again). No Names, No Pack Drill, but a clue: It wasn’t Charlie Chaplin; it was a far less funny little fellow with a ridiculously tiny moustache and a Führer complex.

It may be time to reinvent the show, as we trudge unwillingly ever deeper into the swamp that Donald Trump has no intention of draining. He wants to divert its sludge to his own purposes. We know, from a series of earlier incidents it would be nice to forget we’d ever heard about, that Trump is a prize chump. Nearly everyone says so, to amend the sort of comment he likes to make about himself whenever he’s had another brain-snap.

In an interview with The Economist – he could perhaps have got away with it in the Dry Gulch Clarion, which is required reading in the Republican congressional caucus these days – he decided it would be nice if people believed he had invented an economic theory, pump priming, which is 78 years old. This might astonish, if we weren’t all living in that alternative universe where a rapacious property tycoon and low-grade impresario was last year elected the 45th President of the United States. He’s 70 (and will be 71 on Jun. 14).

Perhaps among his yet to be disclosed elements of unquestioned genius is the fact that he invented time travel, scripted Dr Who, and was Galileo’s first tutor. We did hear a rumour recently – it was from the locker room, naturally, where lairs like him like to hang out in the hope that their embellishments will attract acclaim – that he very nearly got into hot water in Athens once. Apparently he’d tried to get into the bath with Mrs Archimedes.

Top Marks

WE heard the other day from a friend, François Richli, a lovely story about the Indonesian health system and how it works efficiently, effectively and cheaply to take care of people who are sick. Two tourists – an American and his Portuguese wife – were visiting Borobudur when the woman was struck down by a bacterial infection. They got themselves to Yogyakarta and went to a local hospital.

There, to the great surprise of the tourist from Donald Trump’s America, where they are busy dismantling affordable health care in the interests of corporate profiteers, the hospital immediately admitted his wife, put her on an IV drip and conducted a series of blood tests to determine whether her condition required treatment with antibiotics. The blood test results were done in 15 minutes and indicated that antibiotics were needed. These were administered and she was able to leave the hospital less than two hours later.

It all cost US$23. Says the grateful American tourist: “I have never experienced such fine health care anywhere and the entire staff were sweet, attentive, extremely capable and oh-so-efficient. I was amazed. Sad that this can’t happen in the USA.”

Blunder Zone

MEANWHILE, from that largish island to our southeast, the one that’s that special biosphere we’re always being reminded about, though sometimes it seems more like a sheltered workshop, we hear that the blunder bus has been about again, causing chaos.

It seems that a consignment of irreplaceable plant specimens imported from France for scientific research was destroyed by the quarantine service – the guys who glare at you and growl “got any fruit mate?” when you’ve finally retrieved your baggage from the arrivals carousel – because an email address didn’t match the documentation. Plainly picking up a phone is something else that’s in the too-hard basket there these days.

An inquiry has been ordered, now that it has been confirmed that the stable door was open, the horse had bolted, and that the lights were on but no one was home.

Say Cheese!

THE Diary’s preference is to ignore most reports on things that’ll kill ya, ya know; those that later research invariably suggests won’t. Life eventually kills you anyway. Enjoy the scenery on the way to your destination seems to be the best rule.

So it was pleasing to read that new research shows consuming cheese, milk and yoghurt – even the dreaded full-fat versions, which some say will strike you down almost on the spot – does not seem to increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Of course, the researchers could be quite wrong. We’ll ponder that possibility over our next cheese platter or three.

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on May 24.