Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Festival Begins!

Quick report before I run off to this morning's keynote speech by Goenawan Mohamed.

The very first Ubud Writers and Readers Festival began on the 10th of October amidst a palpable buzz, mucho polisi presence, and true elegance.

Sound a bit schiz-y? Well, yes... expatriate life can seem a bit like having multiple personalities, so why not multiple viewpoints and multiple writing styles...

I checked into the restful Honeymoon Guest House and sent obligatory email to family members. Ubud is bedecked with pink and white banners welcoming all to the festival. The core of the event, the Casa Luna restaurant, is a hive of activity... tourists, locals, writers, and expats converge to get their tickets to the various workshops, luncheons, and events. I receive my volunteer's tee shirt and pass, and I'm raring to go.

The royal palace is THE place, magic hour is the time. Crowds of the curious gather outside as those of us lucky to be invited are searched by the police before entering. The very best dancers of Ubud perform a delightful welcoming dance, and we get a few speeches, each blissfully short. The Consul of Australia to Indonesia is there, the local prince, literati, and amazingly no true glitterati. That is significant. This event is all about the word, the story, the creation of literature and literacy. No fluff, and even the volunteer paparazzi are so mesmerized by the atmosphere of altruism, that few shots are snapped.

Of note, Tony Wheeler (Southeast Asia on a Shoestring got his legend going), Rucina Ballinger (hula and Balinese dance expert), Michael Vatikiotis (Hong Kong's most caring journalist/editor), Sarita Newson (her graphic and publishing work has set the mood for the festival... and doesn't she look wonderful with her grownup kids ...all in impeccable pakaian adat).

Organizers Heather Curnow and Janet deNeefe keep a dignified low profile, but their names are invoked again and again, in gratitude for their efforts.

The red wine is excellent.... and did you try the asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon?

I join Murni and Jonathan Copeland and Mary Northmore (Ubud's expert dealer in women's art) for a lovely dinner in the utterly magical setting of Murni's Warung.

I fall into bed, under mosquito mesh, exhausted and thrilled to be here.

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