Friday, January 27, 2006

Boom Bubba Boom Bubba (Jungle Drums)

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What Enlivened the 2005 Ubud Writers Fest

The Second Great Annual Ubud Writers Festival was just as great as number one, if not better.
If All Things Childlike was an unofficial, underlying theme to the 2004 fest, All Things Sexy was 2005’s. Attendees were treated to an epic love poem set to avant garde music, a raucous evening debate on whether men or women write the best sex scenes, and the President and First Lady of East Timor read selected texts from their courtship in an intimate Cliffside hideaway.

One of the last decade’s hottest love stories, The English Patient, was perhaps the fastest mover in the festival book bazaar. This makeshift bookshop had the atmosphere of a cleaner, neater Ubud marketplace… boxes of great stuff to buy, colorful displays, a tempting gauntlet for attendees to pass through, to get to all events held at the Indus. English Patient author, Michael Ondaatje, signed copies and was a genial guest. At times thronged by fans, lit star Ondaatje was friendly and a good listener to boot. I don’t know if there’s another festival out there which offers such an atmosphere of intimacy and leisure.

This festival is part intellectual salon, part master class, and part dinner party. The fact that founder deNeefe is a restaurateur deeply informs the tone of the week. There is always food, drink, a comfortable place to sit, and someone wonderful to sit next to. Seemingly all of Ubud, from the grounds of the royal palace to the charming restaurants that serve as venues, constitutes the setting. Wine (courtesy Australian consulate and any number of wineries) flows gently, menus abound with the best international flavors, and the whole town smiles warmly. This is entertaining on a very grand scale indeed.

The high-ticket literary lunches were in fabulous settings like the Maya Ubud (one of 04’s hot spots, too), luxurious Begawan Giri and the almost overwhelmingly grand Chedi Club. Unfortunately, the food at the lunches which I attended were not up to the level of the meals in the preceding year. Chicken breast and overcooked veggies followed by gelatin dessert is Hotel Banquet Cuisine 101. Bali is supposed to have great chefs, people. What happened? I suspect a profit motive, inappropriate on the hotel’s part, in what is essentially a PR opportunity.

A successful literary festival is not just about glitter, glam, and gladhanding. Some panels of writers had excellent, challenging moderators. Ubud novelist Jamie James, art dealer Mary Northmore, and renaissance woman Janet de Neefe were possibly the best, displaying fresh insights, and diligent research, with an attitude of humility and respect.

I felt several profound connections during this festival. Playwright and raconteur Putu Wijaya, speaking of his inability to be Balinese now that he is a citizen of the world, revealed some of the freedoms and bindings that accompany the third culture. I could also relate to Kirsty Sword Gusmao’s motherly ties conflicting with her other duties. She was as genuine and frank as my own mother, a great role model for me. An unexpectedly strong voice of female solidarity came from Ayu Utami, whose Saman was newly launched in English at the festival. Everyman’s eye candy in tight jeans and gorgeous face, Utami was nobody’s fool. During a progesterone-filled afternoon panel on underground Jakarta, the diminutive writer cried foul from the front row of the audience, when writers in the panel (all male) tossed off a general declaration that Jakarta sex workers love what they do. Perhaps I, too, had dismissed Utami as a sex kitten, for I looked at her in that heroic moment and thought, “yes, yes, you speak for me when I am intimidated.” And isn’t that the stock in trade of our best authors ? Truth and beauty wrapped in words.

Yes, time to wrap it all up. October 2006 is coming again and we’ll have another glorious smorgasbord of writers. Book your tickets to come to Bali and keep watching the Casa Luna website for details.

Wet, Wet, Wet

Wettest rainy season in my 5 years in Bali...

How to clean jamur (algae) off your palimanan stone steps, walls, statues, etc.:
1. Don't delay... the minute you buy your statue or build your temple or clad your balé in this lovely milky white sandstone, brush on silicone. You can get this at Cintra Warna on Jalan Imam Bonjol in Denpasar.

2. Okay, so you delayed and it rained. Your block of palimanan is now an ecosystem exploding like the Genisys Project in Star Trek. Don't even THINK of searching for Spock in all that green... just get it scraped off. If it's really bad, brush with dry kitchen/bathroom scrubber. Old toothbrush works great for those carved eyeballs and curley cues.

3. Resist the urge to hose it off. You will merely be feeding the algae. If you must use the water method, blast away with plenty of pressure and immediately follow up with step 4.

4. Mix 5 parts water with 1 part bleach and scrub, scrub, scrub. Don't let one drop of green remain. Leaving stains of black is not necessarily bad as this can add character to the stone, and you won't be able to get rid of those anyway, without actually scraping away parts of the stone itself.

5. Do rain stoppage dance until sun shines and dries palimanan.

6. Immediately coat with silicone and allow to dry.

7. Maintain stone steps by screaming at anyone who treads on them.

8. Maintain statuary by making daily offerings.

9. Move back to Australia or the States or wherever it is you came from, so that you'll never have to go through this nightmare again.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Buying Koi

There's a tale to tell, here, about buying koi fish in Denpasar. I will get to it later because if I sit here in this Sanur internet station and compose it, I will miss dinner at home. More later.

I am sick of being sold sterilized fish in Bali. I always seem to end up with ones that can't fertilize the eggs. So I vowed to go to Bali Koi, the shop near the central market, and ask the Chinese gal there if she can sell me breeders.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saab Story

Can a car actually be posessed?

I don't know about that, but I have an odd little tale to tell. It will be all over on Tuesday.

It started in the summer of 2004, when I became fed up with using so much money on rental cars. I was going in and out of America, always pouring money into the coffers of Dollar, Alamo, and Enterprise. I figured, I can just buy a car for the price of renting one for a few weeks.

I started searching Craig's List and found a pretty nice deal: A 1989 Saab. Asking price was more than $3,000, and it had nearly 100,000 miles on it, but it was in good shape, had a new top and a spiffy paint job. What was odd was that the woman who was selling it had a very unpleasant personality. She didn't seem to want to really get rid of the car. She only begrudgingly let me test drive it and overreacted if I made comments about the mechanical condition. I had to ask for a lower price (it had some flaws which put it into a lower blue book price range), she reacted as if I'd asked to buy her soul for five bucks, and time and again she was just very unpleasant to deal with. Worst of all, the car failed the smog test so badly that it was in the range of "gross polluter" and needed nearly one grand worth of repairs to get it DMV s*** list. I know why I didn't just walk away... because it is very difficult to make appointments, go see these used cars, make "carfax" searches, and so forth. And really it was a nice car. There's something very nice about the solid slam of a Swedish car door... the top down experience is second to none... it was a nice car.

Well, once the car was mine, I got my husband to fix the loose front seat. For you see the seller was a portly gal and had squashed that seat into a kind of loose position... I was weighing in at 120 lbs and would rock back and forth in the seat. I got the front shoulder joint fixed (sorry about the lay terms), got a new seat belt where her dog had chewed the thing to mere threads, and put on gorgeous new Japanese tyres. I sunk more into it than I'd paid for in the first place.

I did joke that this was my "Schick Disposable Car", rejoicing in the price of a used car, patting myself on the back for buying a used car rather than renting some Detroit detritus. Was I degrading the car? Was I hurting its feelings?

My friend Karen saw me in the car and said "it suits her", with an appreciative laugh, to her husband. But the car just never felt mine. I would continually find the seller's old objects inside the car... a bar of factory-wrapped glycerine soap, an old sock, a pair of scratched sunglasses. It was odd. I babied the car, wouldn't drive it long distances, wouldn't work it, wouldn't 'possess' it. I kept on thinking of that awful, snide woman who sold it to me. You know, I'd asked her if she had a name for it, as some people do. I mean, I used to have "Blue Car" and my brother owns "Zippity Doo-Dah" and Ann owned "Greenie." The woman said, with a kind of whiny voice, "just... 'MY SAAB'" Nuff said.

It didn't take me long to start calling it "the Turbo Tomato", but it just didn't sit well with me. I don't know why. I'd sit there in the driver's seat and realize that I was holding the wheel at arm's length.

I ordered a cool vanity plate from the state... the one with the palm tree and setting sun, with a bold "California" scripted across the top, my text reading, OR BALI. Get it? I had those plates on the car for one week, and then Jay drove me and my dad to a recital in one of Berkeley's nicest neighborhoods. It was September. It was a lovely crisp night. The music was wonderful, the people a delight. We walked back to the car. It was not there. It had been stolen.

Police told me that it was almost certainly a professional job, that even the turbocharger in one of those old Saabs is worth more than the price I paid for the car. It would already be at a chop shop, he told me. I was crushed. I had not insured it for theft.

In the trunk was my notebook of every craftsman who built my house in San Mateo County, the name & price of every fixture, appliance, flooring, and material. I had no other collection of those facts. I also lost a favorite balinese scarf (for when I ride with the top down) and a baseball cap from the diRosa Preserve. I mourned the loss of that notebook most of all.

It took a huge chunk out of the next two months to buy a replacement car. We went for a 1997 Chrysler Sebring convertible. We test drove eight of the things, maybe three mustangs, too, before we found the right one at the right price. It was a good car. We both love the better insulation (the Saab was noisy, even with the top up) and the better position for the driver (just look at how the guy drives his Saab in the film Sideways... the driver's arms fully extended to reach the wheel) and the firmer instruments. Instead of sporty red, our Chrysler is badass black. It is such a baaaaad looking car. Mean. But it's a workhorse. Hardly needed anything. In a few miles it was time for the spark plugs to be replaced, the usual 100K maintenence. But nothing bad after that. We love the car and it's done well.

Then I was in France this last month and my brother shot me an email: the cops called. They found your Saab in San Francisco.

I got back to the States and called the cops. The car was taken in a drug case. The woman driving it claimed that she bought it at a police auction. The cops examining the car found that although most of the VIN numbers had been scraped off, the thieves neglected to erase the easiest placement: on the inside of the door. My old VIN was there. Needless to say, there is possibly a crooked cop in on the case, and the detective who dealt with me was not saying much more. I went to the impound lot to get what was left of the car. 30,000 miles racked up on the odometer and everything inside trashed. The instruments were all loose and abused, the speakers shot, the seats torn. I mean, the car still looked cherry on the outside, but it was as if it were a rape victim... all the damage inside. Maybe worst of all, the nice factory-installed toolbox was gone, the trunk lock broken, and any vestige of my history with it obliterated. Naturally, both plates were gone. The Turbo Tomato had a tattoo, too: one of those incredibly ghastly truck driver "sexy girl" stickers on the rear passenger window. I couldn't peel it off at the lot. I had to drive home with it.

The instruments were so damaged that if I drove over a bump, the left blinker would go on. It stunk. The woman's ice cream wrappers and garbage were all over the place. The EQ was gone. The roof hydraulics shot. A mechanic told me it would be 5 grand to fix everything MECHANICAL that was wrong with it. "Do you love this car?" I could not say that I did. He recommended that I just ditch it. A wrecking yard might pay as much as a few hundred for it. Or give it to charity.

Well, after contemplating giving the thing to my daughter in LA (it's a safer car than the one she drives now, a Dodge that is the Corvair of the new millenium), I realized that I just want this sorry piece of metal OUT of my driveway, out of my life, out of its misery.

I called a world famous charity and they are coming to take it away on Tuesday. It felt very, very right to make that call.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On my mind

The ground has opened up now that it has finally turned warm. And all the trees are budding. The night air makes one pleased with being alive. The body is the package the spirit comes in. Evolpost. At death the body goes down and the spirit, the best, goes up into the sky of our hearts.
- Al Hansen

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Back in the 'Zone

Just got back a couple of days ago from the 48th state. Just business roundup and a chance to visit Barbara Rogers and Buddy and Sue.

It was a great visit to the Sonora Desert; I really love those cacti and sunsets. Fortunately, Buddy and Sue like to walk, and we took a morning stroll on the fab Sabino Canyon trail, although this time we were on asphalt almost the whole time... Jay and I are fans of the dirt trail itself, mountain lions be damned.

Did tons of driving and tried a few new roads, too. After Tucson, we made it up to Lone Pine very late one night, hoping to have 2 1/2 days of skiing at Mammoth. Wouldn't you know the whole town was blizzarded-in, and we just turned around, took off the chains, and high-tailed it to Shaver Lake. This is the amazing thing about the Sierras. Half the roads close in winter, first of all, but to get from Bishop-Mammoth Lakes to Sierra Summit in the lakes behind Fresno, it is best to be some kind of hawk. It's thirty miles or so by feathered wings, a whole day's drive by high-combustion Detroit engine.

Shaver Lake Hotel was cute & historic, but the walls are as thin as a Seabright beach cabana! The carousing, drunk guy who came into the lodge at 1:44 am our first night ruined my sleep. Ah, well, the slopes for the next two days were piled with powder (not all of it groomed) and we were in heaven.

Roared into Fresno just in time to have dinner with my dad and the head Curator at the Fresno Art Museum. My dad gave a nice talk, with about 24 slides, about his show there. It was a lovely evening and the show looks wonderful in the gallery they chose.