March 12-18, 2010

Back Home To Bali’s Best Charms And a Bit Of Silence

HOME at last. A month away is a long time. You worry about what’s been happening. Such as whether the renovations next door have (a) finally finished; (b) changed tack again; or (c), caused your house to collapse. It would be just like someone to forget to mention that. You worry about other things too. For example, about whether the authorities have yet worked out that it’s rabies that is the problem rather than the dogs. And conversely whether the animal liberators who bark at the merest hint of self-protective common sense have yet managed to work out that actually very few people want to kill dogs, but that in an immediate threat environment (hint: we’re in it, folks) such draconian measures are not only inevitable from a public policy perspective but are actually sensible on a short-term basis. Stray dog numbers must be reduced.

But it’s good to be home. Bali’s clement climate – even in the annual rainy season – is a boon. The smiling people who are always happy to exchange cheery waves, or sell you something of questionable utility, make light work of every day. And the traffic is such fun.

And then, of course, there’s Nyepi. A day of silence is a great idea. Even if you’re not Hindu, the benefits of contemplation are immense.

Girt by Sea

WE all are, really. Girt by sea, that is. Humanity lives on islands. Even the great continents are surrounded by oceans. The smallest continent (or biggest island; take your pick), Australia, even sings about this. This would be a matter of no consequence if this was in some popular folk ditty, such as Waltzing Matilda. But it is not. The reference is contained within the country’s national anthem, Advance Australia Fair (it goes: “Our land is girt by sea”). As an assertion of fact it cannot be argued with. As a reference worth troubling with … well, it sprang from the days when the British diaspora was busy colonising the Great Southern Land in full jingoistic flight; and came along with all the triumphalism that attends such movements, though this was tempered (in Australia) by an ennui-inducing confection of Welsh chapel, Irish rebellion, Scottish miserliness, insufferable English attitude, the stain of transportation and the universal conviction among those who settled there – the original inhabitants sensibly had no such notion – that they were irrelevant or would shortly become so.

The Diary, being curmudgeonly, believes that national anthems are things that should be rendered in music only and – wherever possible – stopped after three bars. The modern practice of placing hand on heart (Is my heart aflutter? Oh dear, perhaps I should see a doctor) and singing along is profoundly ill-advised. Most people can’t sing, for one thing. This especially seems to be the case where entertainers are employed to sing whatever is the national anthem at big events. Further, most people simply don’t know the words of their anthems. It’s always fun to watch Australian sporting teams singing along: footballers especially seem to have trouble with Girt – was she that good sort at the club the other night and if so, what did I do to or with her?

Many anthems make astonishing claims. But Australia’s, written in full colonial cringe mode, recognises that such astonishment is unwise and prefers geography as its reference point. As well as noting that the land is girt by sea, it also points out that it is a land of drought and flooding rains. How much better is that than another straight pinch from their rich cousins across the Pacific? “Oh Give Me a Home Where the Kangaroos Roam” would certainly sound even dafter.

The Diary has long believed that Girt was in fact a model for one of Norman Lindsay’s more outré paintings. In the Australian diminutive form, it would be quite possible to make a Girt out of a Gertrude. And were she a certain sort of girl, she might even have opted for that implied masculinity. It’s certainly the in-thing nowadays.

But whatever her genesis, it was good to see recently that her fame – one assumes this is now posthumous – is spreading and her social appeal with it. Voyager Estate at Margaret River in Western Australia has a nice little light(er) red, a cabernet merlot, called Girt by Sea. We sampled some the other day. It’s a very nice drop. Good on yer, Girt.

Seeing Red?

AUSTRALIA can produce a laugh or two from time to time. We had one or two the other day in the Margaret River wine country of Western Australia. The Bussell Highway that runs all the way to the good stuff – and some of the Margaret River good stuff is very good indeed – takes you past Tanah Marah Road. This was odd, because none of the traffic we saw appeared to be in any way angry and the landscape was profoundly peaceful.

Tanah Merah we could understand. There’s just such a place in Indonesian Papua, for example, and at least two other “Red Lands” in Southeast Asia which might have had some particular resonance in the Australia of the immediate post-war years. For that matter, there’s a Tanah Merah in Queensland. There’s also a Redlands, but that’s beside the point.

They never were good spellers, the Aussies. But perhaps someone should award them an “A” in this instance. For “Affort.”

Just Deserts

DURING The Diary’s absence offshore we got a curious text message from the happy little chap who looks after the pool and does other odd jobs at The Cage. It said he had cleared up “the Tosiba” computer and put it in the filing cabinet. It was an LG, never mind, and had been left plugged in while The Diary was pondering what to do with it. It belongs to an absent neighbour who spilled coffee on the keyboard with the inevitable results. LG computer specialists are somewhat scarce in Bali.

The text message, however, came well into the last canter of the break, some three weeks after departure and mere days before the return. So did the message mean he had unplugged and stowed away the offending instrument, as in some little while ago, and was simply advising that he had done so, albeit well after the event? And if so, what had prompted this unusual outbreak of advisory behaviour? Or did it mean he had only just noticed it, or that someone else had; and that having done so, he had sought immediately to remedy this oversight? And, if so, why?
We shall inquire.

Down to Business

ONE of the joys of return – we speak allegorically – is all the catching up that has to be done, not to mention the unpacking. These are reasons to minimise travel. You arrive home tired and flustered, and flummoxed by the immutable law that states whatever fitted easily into your suitcase on the way out will not fit – in a fit – in the same container on the return journey. If you have flown “low cost” you have done so with your knees up around your ears and/or the knees of the clown behind you uncomfortably less than snug in the small of your back. You have endured the queues – at both ends of the return journey – and the shin-barking business of retrieving your luggage from the carousel before some bleary-eyed fellow traveller decides to mistake it for his own and make off with it. You may even have had a tiresome discussion with a customs official, or possibly a passport officer.

Possibly your transport, carefully arranged beforehand and reconfirmed by SMS mere hours before, has not quite managed to marry up with your actual arrival time. If it has, the queue to get out of the airport will be long and stalled. Once outside the airport you are immediately reintroduced to roundabout rules, Indonesian style – and this just as your mind has finally overcome wonderment that elsewhere traffic on a roundabout has right of way (er, that’s what makes them work) and drivers actually abide by this rule, because they can see the common sense of doing so.

You have no local currency but hope your handiest ATM, on the way home through the manic midevening traffic, will actually have some notes to dispense. Quite possibly, PLN will have blacked out your neighbourhood for your arrival. The stairs from the garage to your house will then defeat attempts to carry the luggage upwards. It might be raining, just to add to the fun.

There will then be a great pile of stuff to go through: including all the newspapers because no Indonesian news – far less news from Bali – ever makes it into the print beyond the fluid frontiers of the archipelagic republic.

It’s great to be home.

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One Response to “March 12-18, 2010”

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