August 21-27, 2009

LITTLE-PRICKS

Well, Yes, Now You Mention It: Hec’s eagle eye – oh, OK then, cockatoo eye – spotted this promotion for a serial running on the satellite pay channel Showtime. Ordinarily he takes little notice of such things. But the message Nurse Jackie (played by Edie Falco) is giving in this instance reminded him that life tends to serve up a selection of such irritants. Mostly they’re not all that sharp, though.

WS-RENDRA-IN-1976-new

History Lesson: Rendra (centre, in a white T-shirt) and other members of his Bengkel Theatre in 1976, rehearsing at Ketanggungan, Yogyakarta, where Bengkel had its base.

No Flagging Spirits on Our National Day

INDONESIANS take the annual celebration of the anniversary of independence in 1945 – a unilateral declaration that, among the Western powers, was at first supported only by Australia, something Indonesians should not forget – very seriously, and properly so.
So Monday, August 17, was a proud and colourful day, as always. The flag flew everywhere – including at The Cage, possibly to the bemusement of the locals, who of course know very well that the modest little villa in their midst is the habitation of strange alien creatures from another universe – and of course there were all the usual things that happen on Independence Day.
It is a tribute to the commonsense and social principle of Indonesians that the chief commodity on display on the day was goodwill and optimism.
On the issue of Australia’s relations with Indonesia, we should remember too that an original “great friend” of RI, Thomas Critchley, who played a key role in supporting Indonesia during its struggle for independence, died recently in Sydney aged 93.
After Dutch military action against the Republic of Indonesia in 1947, Australia brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council, which established a Committee of Good Offices on the Indonesia Question. The Dutch chose Belgium to represent them on this committee (unfortunately Belgium did not employ the forensic focus of Hercule Poirot on this task and botched things as usual) and the Indonesians chose Australia.
At critical times, Critchley led the Australians at discussions in the UN Good Offices Committee on the Indonesian Question, later the UN Commission for Indonesia from 1948 to 1950. He returned to Indonesia as Australian ambassador from 1978 to 1981 and was honoured with the Indonesian decoration Bintang Jasa Utama in 1992.
Australia’s current ambassador, Bill Farmer, said of Critchley: “His legacy is the strong relationship that exists between Indonesia and Australia today.”
Locally, we note that serial self-publicist Schapelle Corby was among the six foreign convicted persons in Kerobokan Jail who received another snip off their terms in the annual round of Independence Day remissions. So did Renae Lawrence, one of the Bali Nine, who we also note has just broken out in print in the Australian magazine Women’s Day. She is now Schapelle’s keeper, she claims.
Several things about the Indonesian prison system continually amaze. One is that it apparently permits foreign inmates to commune with the media whenever they fancy. Why anyone would bother reading the self-absorbed maunderings this sad alchemy produces is another matter.

Memoir on a Life Well Lived

BARBARA Hatley, the Australian academic, reminds us in an elegant memoir published on the Inside Indonesia website that the death on August 6 of the poet and playwright W.S. Rendra was a seismic event in Indonesia’s cultural and political history.
Hatley, who is professor emeritus of Asian languages and studies at the University of Tasmania – a relatively small campus but one at which the rigours of a cool, damp climate have in turn traditionally encouraged intellectual rigour – says his death, along with that of Pramudya Ananta Toer three years ago, feels like the end of an era in both modern Indonesian culture and wider Indonesian history.
Indeed. As Hatley also notes, during the long years of the New Order regime, Rendra kept up a spirit of cultural and political resistance that inspired a generation. He never forgot – and no one should, either – that in mid-1978, after a bomb exploded during one his poetry readings at the Taman Ismail Marzuki Arts Centre in Jakarta, it was he who was arrested and imprisoned as a danger to the state.
He spent several months in jail on the grounds that his activities threatened public order and, when released, was banned from public performance for seven years. Such was the New Order; and such was its grip on wider reality and of the concept of law as the protector of justice; and such, too, was its understanding of the crucial role of government in promoting advance.
While Rendra in his later years became the grand old man of Indonesia’s literary world, it will be the young iconoclast of his earlier years who will be remembered, in Hatley’s words, as “the daring artist taking on Suharto and the military in his poems and plays, speaking out for a generation who felt silenced by their social and political circumstances.”
The photograph reproduced here (at right) is vintage “early Rendra,” history that should not be lost. Hatley, by the way, is the author of the book ‘Javanese Performances on an Indonesian Stage, Contesting Culture Embracing Change’ (NUS Press 2008), from which the photo is taken.

Road Hogs

IN most countries, the sight of a stampede of large motorcycles carrying large, fierce-looking men is one to send ordinary mortals scurrying for cover. This reputation is actually unfair, since most bikers – whether or not on iconic Harley-Davidsons – seem to be mild-mannered men who are going through some sort of mid-life crisis.
In Indonesia, however, as we have just seen in Bali, a herd of Harleys is less fearsome than the police escort that accompanies them. But we’re used to road-hog behaviour by police escorting someone important – say, the deputy assistant to the deputy assistant commissioner of paper-shuffling – whose exalted presence requires all other road users to be loudly commanded to get out of the way.
The crop of police-escorted Harley-Davidsons in Bali at the weekend was taking part in the annual ride of this curious collective. It jump-started in Jakarta, surprised Surabaya, gambolled on the congested wharf at Gilimanuk and then bothered much of Bali before finishing up with a very loud party at GWK on Monday night.

They Didn’t Go For Greens

SPANISH researchers, who clearly have a lot of time on their hands, have discovered that Neanderthals didn’t like Brussels sprouts. Hector loves ’em. But he claims to be of Cro-Magnon origin.
According to the Spaniards, their findings – from DNA sampling of a gene from Neanderthal bones dating from 48,000 years ago and found at a site at El Sidron in northern Spain – mean they are a step closer to resolving a mystery of evolution: why some people like Brussels sprouts but others hate them.
They have found a gene in modern humans that makes some people dislike a bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, also present in Neanderthals hundreds of thousands of years ago.
They say, in a report released by the Spanish National Research Council in the Royal Society journal, Biology Letters: “This indicates that variation in bitter taste perception predates the divergence of the lineages leading to Neanderthals and modern humans.”
Substances similar to PTC give a bitter taste to green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage as well as some varieties of fruit. But they are also present in some poisonous plants. So having distaste for it is said to make evolutionary sense. “The sense of bitter taste protects us from ingesting toxic substances,” the researchers say.
All very well, says Hec, noting that the Neanderthals died out anyway. But greens are also good for you and the real evolutionary advance is the ability to judge how much “poison” you can safely and beneficially ingest. He’ll have the Brussels sprouts, the broccoli and the cabbage, thanks. Oh yes, and the spinach.

Anjin Bagus

HECTOR has a friend on that other island (the big one to the south) that, he reports, has recently re-proved her worth. The incident is worth recording. Sally is a golden retriever of some vintage, but she still takes her responsibilities very seriously. It is her custom to shepherd people in and out of the house (don’t want them tripping over the doormat, after all) and as for those silly people in their daft cars… well!
The other day, we hear, there was very nearly a Nasty Incident. The lady of the house, in a rush as usual, leapt into her car and began reversing out of the garage. Huge woofs. Oops. The garage door was still shut. Good on you, Sally. You deserve an extra ration of Schmakos.
It’s so much simpler when you just have a carport, but Sally lives in Manjimup in the far south of Western Australia, where it’s 286m above sea level and there’s nothing but cold, wind-blown ocean between you and the Antarctic ice sheet. So an enclosed garage is probably essential, especially if you’re a dog and you want your sleeping quarters to be snug and your blanket to remain unmolested by the blustery eddies of very chill breezes.

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