Enchanting Ubud – What a Mix!

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ Another week has gone by in the hills of Camelot. The sporadic rain has freshened the verdant surroundings with the fragrance of frangipani permeating the air.

Now that you get the drift of the weather up here, let’s skip the niceties and get down on our haunches to discuss, review and pontificate about Ubudian life.

The recent Full Moon religious ceremonies in Ubud have been special as it was Tumpek Landep, a day when the Balinese worship their heirlooms and metal objects like kerises, cars, etc. I got an opportunity to photograph Tjok Raka Kerthyasa and his wife Asri on their way to the temple with a retinue of followers. The moon painted Campuhan in gossamer light that made one feel removed from the material world, a hint of Dali lurking in the shadows.

I suppose the closest I’ve come to surrealism is in the artwork of my friend Wolfgang Widmoser, who has just returned from Jakarta after a grand opening of an exhibition of his paintings titled Venus Rising. The show is on at Bentara Budaya from November 21 to the 30. I am sure you have read about this genius in the making in numerous magazines, newspapers and on the web. Therefore, I am not going to bore you with all the intricate details of his life and work. However, I would like to share with you the conversation I had with him over a whisky sour the other day at my favorite watering hole.

When I asked him as to why he had made Bali his home, he replied, “The spirits of the island, especially Ubud, empower me to be my true self. I am not looking for the lost paradise in Bali, like Gauguin did in Tahiti. I came to Ubud when it was a village. I recall only three restaurants, Lilies, Murni’s and Victor Mason’s Beggar’s Bush, that were meeting points for artists, writers and intrepid tourists. This town has always welcomed creative people and has given them a place to work peacefully and undisturbed. The royal family of Ubud has always encouraged people like me to set up home here. The communication between Balinese and Western artists has stimulated and enriched the cultural ethos. Peter Dettmar, Filippos and me are the third generation of Western artists in Ubud. I hope this continues to remain in the future. I am sure it will.”

Wolf, as his close friends affectionately call him, said that he was a European artist influenced by western sensibilities and not by Balinese culture. But the Ubudian magic that dwells in the landscape mesmerizes and stimulates his creative process, which reflects in his artwork.

Behind this man stands Tony Raka, a Balinese who owns a sprawling well-known gallery by the same name in Maas, Ubud. Tony “adopted” Wolf many years ago by offering him the use of a large studio as well as giving him financial help. The pact between a Balinese curator and a European artist seems to have worked in an environment of enlightenment and cross-cultural synergy. It is also the first time that I have heard of a Balinese gallery owner actually supporting a foreign artist in this manner. In fact, Wolf is the only Western artist that Tony has promoted. We hope that this is a fore bearer of international recognition for Wolf and continued success for Tony Raka’s endeavor in bringing the big buyers of art to this town and inadvertently also exposing even the little-known artists to the global art world. Check out his website: www.tonyrakaartgallery.com.

From a brush with art, we move on to the fourth international Ubud Writers & Readers Festival held in September. You probably know the many faces involved in the festival except one – Ni Made Sri Purnami, or Kadek Purnami for short. She is a young, aspiring poetess who is the community development manager. This soft-spoken lady graduated from the University of Atma Jaya Jogyakarta, majoring in communication and specializing in public relations. She had earlier been a volunteer for the festival but now works fulltime. Kadek has been instrumental in organizing children’s programs, Community Panel discussions, a tribute to the Persian poet Rumi and lectures by Anand Krishna.

Kadek, who speaks Balinese, Bahasa and English, expressed consternation at the dwindling number of people on the island who speak Balinese. But she believes that exposure to other cultures is essential to widening one’s horizons and perceptions of a fast-changing world. The festival has brought Kadek into contact with writers and poets from around the world and in particular those from her home country, Indonesia. An aspiring poetess, she has been greatly influenced by Sapardi Djomo Damono, a poet from Jakarta who attended the festival in 2006. I quote a stanza from one of her poems, translated from Bahasa, titled The Station’s Long, Cold Bench.

I do not know

How many poems were born

From the wounded words

From the elated words

Of our interlocked past

As I sit still

On the station’s long, cold bench

Kadek lives with her husband Putu and his family on Jl. Gautama off Jalan Raya. Putu, who is a gifted batik painter, runs a batik workshop close to their home. She is proud to be Balinese and believes that her people have learned a lot by mingling with other cultures. To her, Ubud is a melting pot that churns out endless creative works, which in turn helps to attract even more artists to the place. If you want to know more about this talented young lady here’s a lead: http://galangbulan.blogspot.com.

Ever walked down Jl. Raya and rubbed shoulders with the rural folk who arrive at the daily market in droves carrying fresh produce from the surrounding villages? The other day when passing this market, I was accosted by Crazy Chris (as some affectionately call him, because of his verbal meandering that loses the listener in a haze of his cigarette plumes). He insisted I visit Wayan’s Healing Centre and Warung on Jl. Jembawan No.5, about three doors from the Ubud Post Office, adding that her warung was mentioned in the book Eat Pray Love by the American author Elizabeth Gilbert.

So the other day I ventured into Wayan’s Warung and was greeted with a glass of turmeric honey juice and a lecture by her on how it cleanses the body of toxins.

Herbal potted plants are neatly arrayed at the entrance of the warung. Each plant has a printed label that prominently displays its name and the curative powers in relation to human ailments like kidney stones and blood pressure.

Wayan suggests a hot shower with a mixture of turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, Asteraceace leaves and jujube to prevent rheumatism. This concoction works as it energizes the body, cleanses and softens the skin.

The food on offer is strictly vegetarian. For instance, Wayan’s very own Multivitamin Nasi Campur that I ordered was served with an unsolicited lecture that delved on the various aspects of the recipe: red rice has Vit B; Tomato chutney, Vit C, for healthy gums; grilled coconut with special sauce, for healthy bones; Seaweed Vit E, for hair and nails; Beansprouts Vit E, for heart and fertility; Water spinach Vit K, for healthy blood; Ginseng we all know; Tempe/Tofu Calcium; and finally, a special sauce of cinnamon, sesame seed and nutmeg.

The Multivitamin Nasi Campur was delicious, and cheap. I didn’t taste her version of Multivitamin Nasi Goreng and Multivitamin Mie Goreng. Suffice to say that Wayan has a delightful mix of natural remedies, massages, healthcare, nailcare, skincare and whatever, topped by a sound understanding of age-old Indonesian remedies for various illnesses. If you feel the wrinkles on your face are showing, drop in to Wayan’s. While you sip turmeric honey juice, she will rub cucumbers, Leucaena Glauca leaves, coconut oil and egg yolk into your skin to make it smooth like a baby’s bottom.

Next week we shall visit the Organic Farmer’s weekly Saturday market that is held at Pizza Bagus, to meet Gede, a Balinese farmer who grows a range of organic vegetables.

Ubud is truly enchanting. The many businesses that thrive here help in dispelling the notion that it is only a place for artists, writers and the blah, blah, blah crowd.

If there is a voice out there in the Ubudian hills that wants to be heard on any subject concerning Ubud, please do write to me at ulyseas@gmail.com or editor@thebalitimes.com.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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