Tuesday, 27 May 2014



Travel Diaries: London - Paris - Stockholm - Marrakesh

The exquisite Japanese garden section at Château de Courances south of Paris.

London - Paris - Stockholm - Marrakesh
The best thing about flying the Singapore Airlines A380 to London — and there are a lot of good things — is that frequent SQ flyers are allowed to use the Virgin Atlantic arrivals lounge at Heathrow Terminal Three.  Showers, full English breakfast and the latest, tackiest U.K. Hello are all there.
You know you're in England when you look out the plane window on landing at 7.30 a.m. and can't see the terminal building for grey fog. Another indicator is real music piped into the toilets in the customs hall — Amy Winehouse even — and everyone you meet on the tube and in the street, while dragging your wheelie bin, is terribly nice. After Bali it all seems clean and green and one doesn't need to be anxious about snatch thieves.

Tod Longstaff-Gowan's sensational new garden at Kensington Palace
I am in London to give a talk to the U K society of garden designers on exotic gardens because that's what I do apparently but I really haven't done an important one since the Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran 25 years ago — due to the invasion of the Asian landscape world by Zen masters — so I feel a bit like Kim Novak at the Academy awards.
Coming from Indonesia, the Hammersmith bus terminus looks terribly exotic to me — all the multi-coloured city people so nicely dressed — as did the new water basin garden at Kensington Palace, with its wild fauvist colour scheme created with rows of old world tulips and the tree peonies in old Bali hand and decorator to the stars Lady Amabel Lindsay's sitting room.

Nigel Barley, author of many historical novels — on Stanford Raffles, Raja Sir James Brooks of Sarawak and Walter Spies
of Bali — shows off the miniature Raffles gamelan in the British Museum, London.
The giant teal blue rooster on its pedestal at Trafalgar Square was incredibly exotic as were the African rooms at the British Museum through which I was lead by Nigel Barley, writer and anthropologist extraordinaire.
My slides of the Bali Hyatt and my Majapahit ruinscapes seemed very tame after a week in London.
•    •    •
From London I took the Eurostar to Paris.
The dining car serves hot Waitrose Mushroom Risotto for Rp. 300,000 which seems a bargain after London restaurant prices. London is filling up with billionaires from Singapore and Dubai; billionaires from Semarang (Indonesia’s largest cluster) don’t go to London, they go to Sydney, so that they are not too far from their masseurs, mystics and drivers.
Speaking of which, in Paris they now have a taxi service, called Uber, which is polite and the drivers know the way. Uber sends you a GPS map with the driver’s location and photo and car type on approach. You can even request one with a deep Algerian accent and thick moustache; Ah, the Latins, so practical.
Paris looks dry and ancient after gorgeous, green London — but oh so beautiful.
The first night I am invited to an exhibition at the Musee de la Chasse by ceramic artist Lin Utzon. Lin is married to old Bali-hand writer Hughes de Montalembert. The show is amazing — stark black and white ceramic art placed artfully in a museum full of hunting-related artefacts.
Lin Utzon’s ceramic work at the Musée de la Chasse, Paris.
The museum is in the bohemian Marais district so after the show a few friends and I go to a tiny Japanese café that sells perfect Hokkaido omelettes.
Le Marais is like Seminyak without the traffic and street crime, and with white people dressed appropriately.
The next day I visit the Musée du Quai Branly with its amazing collections of primitive art, particularly from Eastern Indonesia, Papua and Oceania. It is worth a trip to Paris on its own.
Detail of a carving on a tribal artifact from Leti Island, East Indonesia in the collection at Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.
•    •    •
The following day I drive to Château Courance, one hour east of Paris, to admire the magnificent Le Nôtre gardens now exquisitely maintained by the De Ganay family.
Here I learn, in the family’s smart gift shop and tea rooms, that wicker-work furniture was first introduced to Europe from Indonesia by the Dutch East-India Company, the V.O.C., in the 17th century!

Gardens of Chataeau Courance , outside Paris

•    •    •
From Paris I fly to Stockholm on S.A.S., the venerable Scandinavian airline with venerable old Scandinavian flight attendants.
Stockholm’s Alanda airport is a masterpiece of light, airy modern design as are the trains that whip one into the middle of Europe’s most beautiful city in 20 minutes. I stay, harbour-side, facing the exquisite old town, at the Sheraton, courtesy of a KKNK connection — my Balinese-Swedish godson Aleksi Larsson Sukarta.
On my first day, my charming hosts help me fulfil my life ambition: to see the wondrous Rolf de Mare video collection of Indonesian dance at the nearby Danmuseet. (Swedish is just like English if you’re very drunk).
In 1938, Rolf de Mare  travelled far and wide in Indonesia filming dance — often with art historian Clair Holt and her lover, the great archaeologist-Javanologist Willem Stutterheim. His footage of the old Baris Guak (Crow Baris) at Selulung near Kintamani is worth the trip to Stockholm itself. Amazingly I have just heard that the Baris Guak, long thought extinct, was performed at the Denpasar Arts Festival last year.

Balinese Baris Guak dancer in this 1938 film by Rolf de Mare in the fabulous Dansmuseet, Stockholm.
From the museum I visited the home of opera diva Ms. Kjerstin Dellert and her dancer husband Nils-Ake Häggbom. In July 2015 Nils Ake is bringing a Balinese group — dalang Made Sidia of Bone (star of the Bali Agung show at the Safari Park these days!) and some dancers from Sawan, North Bali — for a show with a local circus group at their 18th century Confidencen Theatre in July 2015. Don’t miss it. The 250-seat theatre is a gem, lovingly restored by octogenarian wonder-woman Dellert.
(Top) The 17th Century Church Square at Ridde*………..? Island in Old Town, Stockholm. (Bottom) Confidencen Theatre, Stockholm.
Decorative candelabra in Confidencen Theatre, Stockholm.
•    •    •
From Stockholm I fly on brilliant new budget airline, Norwegian, to Marrakesh (such a route exists!!) to visit my old friend Thierry de Beaucé, former French Ambassador to Indonesia, and his partner Homero Machry. They now live in the Riad Madani, an historical residence which was the former palace of the brother of the legendary Pasha Thami El Glaoui (Lord of the Atlas).  Glaoui is famous for collaborating with the French in the 1950s and signed a notorious treaty. Monsieur de Beaucé has decorated the main salon of the Riad with pictorial reports of the massacres that followed — all covers from France’s Petit Journal.

The columnist gardening in the Riad Madani, Marrakech.
Marrakechis are very like Indonesians — moderate Moslems with a great sense of humour and love of their original culture.
They are hospitable and fun-loving and very artistic.
I spent the days gardening — trimming the Riad’s gorgeous citrus grove garden — and the nights recovering in the arty, grand hammanbath house (non-plus).
From Marrakech I drove to Casablanca Airport — 3 hours through the beautiful desert in a smart car ($200, which is the taxi fare from a restaurant to the hotel in Stockholm) — to board an Emirates flight to Kochi (Cochin) in India, via horrible Dubai (plastic paradise for the pretentious). In Kochi I always roll out of the plane into the three-star Abad Airport hotel.

15 elephants line up in front of the Jericho Wall band at the Thrissur Pooram, Kerala.
After a few hours rest I drove to Thrissur, one hour north of the airport to witness the famous Thrissur Pooram. Thrissur is the cultural capital of Kerala. More on that next month.

Stranger in Paradise: Kuta’s Trancemaster Superstars

I Lolot (Dewa Gagah) posing in front of his favorite witch mask before the mass trance-in at the Kuta Palace House shrine.

Kuta’s Trancemaster Superstars
I have recently been introduced to a group of sweetie-macho trancemasters in Kuta. By day they are all parking attendants, security guards or surf shop owners but at night, when the barong and rangda come out, they turn into extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller! They have Facebook pages that seem devoted to serious ceremonial activities — the spooky Calonarang witch battles being the most popular — until you look down to the friends section and its all buxom blondes in swimwear. This is Kuta after all.
Celebrity photographer Linggar Saputra Wayan of the Kuta Photographers Club introduced me to the Tuban-Kuta ceremonial scene. With Saputra I have devoted much of the last two months to the trancees' ceremonial activities in the Kuta palace, Puri Satria Dalem Kaleran, which sits hard on the Kuta Market, and the Pura Dalem Tunon temple which sits quietly beachside between the Dynasty and Bintang Ramada hotels.
(left) Photographer Linggar Saputra Wayan, Kuta’s celebrity photographer.
We have documented, first, the huge trance ceremonies surrounding the releasing of the barong and rangda masks from their headdresses (see last month's stranger column on strangerinparadise.com for a full report) and , lately, the return of said masks to their headdresses — with their new coifs — and all the spooky ceremonies surrounding these pivotal events.
Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan
Over the course of these two months, Saputra and I have taken thousands of photographs and made six half hour videos. I have started photo-bombing his most important ‘moments’ (most Balinese photographers are momentologists i.e. they wait in the wings until the fat lady sings) and he has started ad-libbing over my video-cam narrations.
Together we have followed the emergence from the pack of one junior trance master, I. Lolot (see photograph top of Lolot in full Terminator mode), and documented his metamorphosis into a trance sergeant major.
In the process Lolot has grown gold chains, blond tips, and has added a staggering array of scary tattoos for the climactic moments when he rips off his shirt and gives one of his boy band of junior trancees a kiss of life or a claw to the face to snap him out of it. He has gone from being fag to the senior priests, chief sandalwood burner and other-worldly sound effects wizard to being commandant of the tripped-out teenagers. Watch the video links below to see him in action

Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan
 Melaspas / Pasupati Barong Singa Ceremonies: http://youtu.be/7Q2e7dfGPbA

Photo by Linggar Saputra Wayan
Ceremonies at Pura Dalem Tunon, Kuta. Pasupati Rituals: http://youtu.be/mhJrYjt2Pzg

On the 16th May, Sugian Bali on the Balinese calendar, the final acts of the two months of ceremonies were held. At midnight the proceedings moved to the Kuta graveyard for the Ngerehang rituals — which involve the witch spirits being ‘harvested’. One of Lolot’s colleagues flew into wild trance, ripped off his shirt and ran to the Juwet tree next door, spewing ectoplasm, but forgetting that next door is now a function lawn for a smart hotel and that a wedding reception was in full swing. Saputra’s photo of trance-master Aji Agus Salim emerging is worth one million words.

Trance-master Aji Agus Salim leaves the wedding reception next to the graveyard. Photo: Linggar Saputra Wayan.
All of the ceremonies were exquisitely organized by the Kuta palace — a palace  descended from the Gelgel (Klungkung) Dalem Sri Kepakisan dynasty— right down to the distribution of matching chequered skirt cloths (saput) for all the 300 men taking part in the ceremonies.
Only once did one of the senior priests have to beat Lolot and his gang of ghouls into place with some slaps to the back (see video) — when they threatened to disrupt delicate barong placating rites during the night session at the temple.
Everything went like clockwork, as if they’d been rehearsing for months; excepting the trances of course, which never ceased to amaze with their ingenuity. One minute Lolot was wrapped around the senior priest for 20 minutes, shuddering and wimping, an hour later he’d be hurling himself at the barong’s beard. The most tender trance moment came when two of the pepatih (trancees) knelt at the feet of the parked barong during a 15 minute ritual — like goal keepers to the netherworld (see photo below).
Two young Brits stumbled across the ceremonies — they were looking for a short-cut to the main road — and stayed to watch from the temple’s main entrance for about a minute. And four Germans were apprehended in the temple’s forecourt: they thought it was the ‘Oktoberfest in April’ the hotel Dynasty had organized. Otherwise it was tourist-free event despite being sandwiched between two of Kuta’s biggest hotels.
19 May 2014: Kuta-Canggu expats have organized a meeting to discuss violence against women a at community hall in Seminyak. Members from local banjars, the police and the military are there
The statistics are scary: almost every day a woman is dragged from her bike and either robbed, raped or slashed. The Facebook page Bali Crime Reports has nearly 20,000 members.
The new urban expatria is bursting at the seams and has attracted packs of criminals, as urban sprawl tends too.
Expats have no real rights or official lobby (beyond, say, the Hotels and Restaurants Association and the various consulates) so it will be interesting to see how the authorities take this.
The expat community, now quite large (about 30,000 permanent and 50,000 other temporaries), is fed up with the rise in street crime.

MARK SHAND 1952 - 2014
For years the most dashing Englishman — married to London deb of the year Clio Goldsmith in 1990 — Mark Shand made his mark in Bali in the 1980s as co-owner, with Hon. Harry Fane, of the Garuda Park estate on the beach at the end of the Batu Belig Road. There was a sign at the front gate that read, 'If you are a friend of a friend.....go away'. The boys, as they were known, were the epitome of upper class englishness. Aloof and often naked they were fearless adventurers: diving at night to spear sharks off Lembongan, hunting wild boar illegally in Chinese sugar baron estates in East Java, sailing to Komodo in a native outriggers where they famously met up with the cruise vessel chartered by Mick Jagger and refused to go aboard) and trekking into the jungles of West Irian to find the tribesmen who had eaten Michael Rockerfeller. (Shand's book of this adventure, 'Skullduggery', described how they had produced a letter from the British High Commisioner in Jakarta (a close friend of Shand’s uncle) which saved their lives). In Bali they only befriended local Balinese: in particular legendary Sanur-based Nusa Lembongan-born boatsman Made Monoh and beefcake Seminyak lothario Wayan Ledang. Their estate, designed by Linda Garland, was looked over by ancient Madurese retainers called The Mins. They coined the term "the Barlows" (as in: can't join you tonight, we are having dinner with the Barlows).
During his Bali years a bevy of London beauties accompanied Shand to Garuda Park: Marie Helvin, Bianca Jagger, Tahitian Diane and Brazilian artist Sylvia Martien. 

Mark Shand, Nyoman & Hon. Harry Fane
After marrying Goldsmith the Shands were regulars on the August party scene at Batujimbar. Over the past two decades Shand was involved in The Elephant Family charity which did much to help elephants and their mahouts in India. His two books on his adventures, co-written with Gita Mehta, won many awards. Shand was also the first of the great blonde mahoots.
He is survived by his daughter Ayesha, and his sisters Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Anabel Elliot.
Made Monoh, captain

The voyage of the Gin Pahit from Bali to Flores and back, 1989
(Photos courtesy of Hon. Harry Fane)