Saturday, October 16, 2004


The day: Thursday, the place: Ubud. The event: Literary Lunch with Hong Kong's Nury Vittachi and Australia's George Negus.

Because I knew I would want to do a little drinking, I rode in to the luscious hotel Maya Ubud in a festival vehicle. I joined in with a gaggle of stylish Australian women who mostly had not met until this festival.

They all know TV journalist George Negus from their home country. I do believe I've seen his show on ABCTV via satellite here in Bali. If I'm not mistaken, this was Negus. If I am mistaken, I apologise. The odd thing is, the particular interview which I viewed happened to be a chat with a gynecologist. The two men were speaking about menopause with utter seriousness, dragging their drawling Okker Aussie accents through an in depth view of Hormone Replacement Therapy and possible alternatives. It was as surreal as a Saturday Night Live sketch. Hey, good on them for tackling the subject, but what a scene! Once in a while, if we are surfing with the remote control, I say to my husband, "do you think we might be able to watch macho menopause again?"

Well, perhaps that introduction is unfair. But let me say that the moment we ladies slammed the doors and headed off to the Maya, the car came alive with titters about George's fauxes pas of the day before. Apparently shoved into a session about Islamic literature at the last minute, George had seized the opportunity to show his great knowledge of Islam and the Arab world. I have no quotations to support or deny the truth of this, but the opinions around me were that he dominated the discussion, concentrated on Arab Islam, and potentially insulted every muslim in the room. To be sure, he has written a book called The World of Islam, but I don't believe this makes him an expert. Alas, George would present himself throughout the festival as a man blessed with the gift of gab, glibness being what gets you through live television and, perhaps, uncomfortable moments under the limelight. I sympathise that he was drafted for a panel at the last minute. But read on.

George and Nury took to the stage just as we finished our main course. The Maya Ubud is such an elegant place, in sumptuous gardens, with amazingly refreshing breezes wafting in from the ravine. Nury didn't have a glass of wine at hand, but George did. And why not, for the food and wine and atmosphere were so seductive and relaxing. They bantered about Nury's muliticultural awarenesses and background. Nury joked about the ridiculously bland names of buildings in Hong Kong. George got things steered around to religion, sex, and politics, self consciously & humorously pointing out the problems of doing so. Well, here's where George repeated himself. I myself got to hear Negus in a panel on Monday, remarking that there needs to be a new religion which, right off the bat, reveals to all its followers that nothing is known, nothing is claimed, and there aren't any rules. He said it at the Maya again. In a way, he was paraphrasing something Michael Vatikiotis had said about urging Moderates of the World to unite, but I do believe that George was on his own when he said the UN needs to meet to discuss the problem that extremist views have on the world. And there was no mistake that this was about religion. Oy! Not nice.

More later, am dining with an author now. This was really the only black spot in a fine festival.

No comments: