Saturday, October 09, 2004

Magic Hour, definition

At about 3:30 in the afternoon, when the sun falls off the center of the sky and there is a hint of a drop in temperature, a person in Bali perceives a slight cooling. It is possible to stand under the sun without baking like a potato.

This is the hint, the preamble, a welcome end to midday. Siang is ending, soré will begin soon. Borders are subtle in Bali. There is a melting and blending of time, a lack of precision in the sense of clockwork or the four temperate seasons.

Sometime around 4:30, there is a new shimmer to the sun's light. It begins to hit the leaves of every tree at an angle, just so. It is lovely to drive at this time, but it can mean a pre-mandi rush... when the Balinese hurry off to take a bath. It may be a bath in a stream or road ditch, it may be a shower in a modern home. Tradition remains; late afternoon is time for a well-earned immersion in water.

Drive through any village backroad between 4:45 and 5:15. Lovely girls walk contentedly with the newly washed household laundry in a bucket. Usually, still, on their heads. Fresh clothing covers their refreshed bodies. They've been bathing together in whatever area is designated for females. Alas, men were upstream (or perhaps clinging to a bridge, enjoying that uniquely Balinese voyeurism... checking out the women's bathing pool). But look at the girls now, strolling with brushed, freshly washed hair. Having an aversion to hair dryers and a lazy sense of hairstyle, I do love to see so many heads of wet hair.

It is the unabashed love of bathing. It is the glorification of water on skin. It is one of the charms of Bali. It is the beginning of magic time.

Get home, quick. Run to the kitchen to make a gin and tonic or a cup of tea, and march it out to where the sun can be seen, ready to set. Who's got a guitar? Anyone got a drum or claves? This is magic time at Tanjung Sakti, when Jay practices riffs from the "fake books" for a couple of hours. And I get to sing along.

But what's happening all around us is the rapid ripening of the sky. Blue becomes yellow and pink, violet, gold, anything goes and it goes quickly. The last straggling egrets have left for the roost and we are amazed to see a few swallows or swifts, darting around for bugs to eat. Soon, a gecko will call from a roof eave, and a bat will take over where the swallows left off. In the jungle, the cliche goes, night falls like a bullet. Too true. Suddenly, magic time is over.

I will be eating my dinner in darkness when I begin to hear the music of Pak Sukarsa, the farmer next door. Jay plays his guitar at magic hour, but Sukarsa waits until nightfall to bang away on his bamboo invention, or to play flute. Or host a cackling storyteller.

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