We're heading to Athens this fall so I'm listening to Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way. Her story of the Greeks makes a strong case for a visit.
Funny, Ive some hazy memories of this book. I think it was assigned in classical civilization. This was back in Austin when I was an undergrad studying chemistry. The classical civ professor showed slides from his travels and made history interesting even to me, a guy who preferred solid subjects like organic and linear algebra. I also liked the class because if you paid attention and read your notes the night before the exam you could pull an A. Unfortunately I don't remember a bloody thing discussed in class.
Speaking of travel, I've acquired a travel camera, to supplant my dslr. Its a mirrorless, aka an interchangeable-lens camera that lacks a through-the-lens viewfinder. It's smaller than my d800e, half the size or less, so Im looking forward to seeing how close I can approach my goal of travelling with a single carry on and nothing more.
Shortly after I got the Fuji I took a day trip, the Coho ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. I have done this trip a lot, to the US and back to pick up mail. If the weather isn't too cold and wet I spend the three-hour round trip out on deck, looking to sea for the colorful container ships, whales, and sea planes taking off and landing right on the water in Victoria harbor.
This trip I left the Nikon and telephoto behind and took the Fuji with the 16. So no shots of far-away ships or airplanes, no sea beasts, only things that are close and that have an interesting background. The 16 is a really nice lens for this, in fact it's one of the reasons that I bought a Fuji. A great all-around focal length, fast to focus, a fast aperture, and macro-like close focus.
A couple weeks in, my overall impression of the Fuji is positive though if I make a list of pros and cons (in a future post) it would earn a mixed report card. It's not helped by being out of my hands and on its way back to Fuji in Mississaugua for a service. But i'm not fazed: being a follower of Nikon, l'm accustomed to new model teething problems.
I chose the three pictures below as examples of shooting the 16 wide open, with one thing in focus and everything else out of focus. All three are out-of-camera jpg's, the third using Fuji's lovely Acros film simulation.
In addition to The Greek Way I am listening to Car Seat Headrests (again), Destroyed by Hippie Powers.
September has brought rain and overnight the moss went from brown to green. So I thought I'd photograph the house on the mossy rock using Lightroom's merge-to-panorama function. Since I lack a drone camera a from-below perspective will have to do.
For this image I used Lightroom 6.6 to stitch together eight Fuji Velvia jpgs, in two rows of four. Lightroom cleverly orders and aligns the shots with ease. Of course the more shots and the larger the files the longer it takes and the more memory Lightroom needs. Don't over do it: I drove Lightroom to cause a BSOD when it exhausted memory while trying to combine five D800e files.
I'm listening to Rock Steady by Aretha Franklin.
A dog can make a good photographic subject. Of course, it depends on the dog. For example, our first dog, Buddy, never took to photography. He was a chow-lab mix who lived to the ripe old age of sixteen. Buddy would always turn his head away as soon as I pulled out the camera. Then he would walk off. All of the photos I have of him were chance shots, not posed. This first image is Buddy in 2004, at the Santa Cruz mountains house.
Lucy, on the other hand, has been amenable to photography. Today she was happy to pose, though maybe happy is not the best word choice as she is limping, having injured her right front leg again. (Worrisome that it keeps happening to the same leg.) Lucy was photographed with the Fuji 16/1.4 and the Chrome film sim.
I'm listening to Miles Davis' In a Silent Way. It always sounds fresh.
I've set out for Ubud though it's taking longer than planned. A delayed flight left me with an overnight in Hong Kong, courtesy of Cathay Pacific.
Asking Republicans to govern is like asking Barney Frank to judge the Miss America contest; if your heart is not in it, you don't do a very good job. Maureen Dowd
Speaking of doing a good job, it's the day before the Ngrupuk parade and the Balinese people are preparing for tomorrow's festivities by fine-tuning their ogoh-ogohs and practicing their movements. They are also dancing to Gamelan music.
Ogoh-ogohs are demonic statues made of vividly-painted bamboo and styrofoam. They symbolize malevolent spirits. After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village the Ngrupuk ritual takes place, which involves burning the ogoh-ogoh.
During tomorrow's procession through town each Ogoh-ogohs must rotate counter-clockwise three times at every T-junction and crossroad. Rotating the Ogoh-ogoh represents the contact of the bodies with the evil spirits. It is meant to bewilder these evil spirits so they go away and stop harming humans.
The photos don't do justice to the scene, everyone is happy and laughing and clearly having a good time. Did I mention how friendly the Balinese are? Don't know what they are smoking, or maybe it's in the water, but almost everyone is friendly and welcoming. And most speak English, which makes getting around easy.
Today was one of the weirdest, funniest events l've experienced: the Nyepi day eve parade in Bali.
On this day each neighborhood council, which is called a banjar, parades its newly-made ogoh-ogoh monster around town in a ritual said to drive away evil spirits. At the end of the parade the ogoh-ogoh is destroyed by fire.
The parade of ogoh-ogohs is accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack of Gamelan orchestras. They play unique instruments such as metal drums hit by hammers.
I've seen plenty of parades so this sounds straightforward, think floats and musicians marching down the street with an audience held at a distance by barricades and officials.
Ha. This is not that kind of parade. It's barely-controlled chaos where anyone can be in the parade and the monsters are coming from different directions, with the Gamelin adding a wonderfully pulsy trance background. Everyone, tourists and locals, some in native attire, everyone is laughing and having a great time.
The taller monsters find maneuvering a challenge in Ubud's narrow streets. The colourful demon sits high on a large bamboo lattice carried by a team of young Balinese. Clearly the builders compete for biggest and most outrageous with little thought to clearing the power lines. So some ogoh-ogoh are accompanied by fellows with very long poles that they use to manipulate the web of overhead power lines. Yeah, power lines. Some monsters get caught in the lines so it can take a while to maneuver. (I'm told power outages are common). Once they get through a tangle of wires the crowd bursts into cheers to congratulate them.
The monsters are also tasked to rotate three times at each intersection, and this isn't a simple rotation, the large and heavy monsters swerve like an amusement car ride as they turn. At one point I got caught in a packed crowd and thought I was going to get crushed in the mass of people fleeing the swing of the monster. Ok, that was weird.
After the parade the monsters gather in a field where speeches are made. It grows dark. Finally, joined by torch-bearing girls, the ogoh-ogohs resume their parade, but this time they are destined for their demise.
And with that we all get to rest for a day since tomorrow is Nyepi, the day of silence.
With that in mind, here are a few photos from what was a very photogenic day.
For a day people remained at home. Fires were extinguished; lamps might not burn. On that night I would sit in darkness without even a cigarette. The village was now "sepi", empty and quiet. The demons, wishing to return, would surely think it had been deserted and pass it by. Colin McPhee on pre-tourist Bali in his book A House in Bali.
It is seven in the evening in Bali, pitch black out and almost as dark in. Only a glowing screen and a couple of tea lights help me find my way inside the large house. I have just a hint of music playing, some soundtrack by Santaolalla.
To prevent this meager bit of light and sound from escaping I've closed all the outside doors and pulled the shades. I am hiding, like the wartime blackouts, but instead of hiding from the Germans I'm hiding from the demons.
It could be I have it wrong. McPhee wrote almost a century ago whereas all I've heard talk of since arriving in Bali is self-reflection and religion. But I'll go with McPhee's demons, I figure it's like preferring Halloween over Easter. If there really were ogoh-ogohs expelled last night they may need time to dissipate so I'll give them that time, I won't provide any distractions so they can find their way, to somewhere else.
Here's the official story. Today is the Hindu New Year, Nyepi, which is celebrated every spring by a day of silence. Observed from 6 a.m. today until 6 a.m. tomorrow, Nyepi arrives with restrictions: no lighting fires or any other bright lights; no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no movement outside your home except for medical emergencies; and, for some, no talking or eating.
So Bali is closed all day today, even the airport, though since I can't go anywhere I'll have to take their word for it. I don't expect anyone to come into my home to check if I've lit a candle or that I'm writing this blog, but there are said to be Pecalang about, traditional security men who patrol to ensure the prohibitions are followed.
When in Rome ...
When, on the morning after the day of silence and fireless hearths, Pugig lighted the fire again in the kitchen, it seemed to burn with a new warmth. Voices rose brightly; people set about work with animation. A fresh start had been made once more. Colin McPhee in A House in Bali.
I like almost everything in the Agung Rai Museum of Art, which is about a half hour walk from my house. Their fine collection is housed in beautiful spaces (though the experience would benefit from a/c or even just a bit of ventilation). Their extensive grounds feature a botanical garden, performance space, a hotel, a restaurant (where I ate lunch), even a rice paddy.
The museum focuses on art by Balinese artists and foreigners living in Bali. One building has abstracts, the second realism with Hieronymus Bosch like high-detail pieces depicting life in Bali: the cultivation of rice, cremation rituals, cock fighting, and gods and goddesses.
I especially like the large eye-catching Made Kedol painting "Golden rice" with its vivid bands of rice grass that pop out of the canvas. Stunning. I so wanted to take a picture of it and finally I succumbed: as I walked past its room and saw it framed in the doorway I couldn't resist the urge to grab a surreptitious shot even though the signs expressly forbid it.
For a picture to be good, he said, it must have a little of everything in it - fighting, a little love, comedy and grief. Like a well-made dish there must be mingled sweet, salt, a taste of acid, a taste of bitter...
And this? I asked, pointing to the incalescent love scene.
He laughed. It gives the savor, he said. Like "sra." Like shrimp-paste. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali
I took a taxi today to the Neka Museum. It's barely two km but I knew even this short walk would leave me drained. I think my muscles are atropying in the heat. I need to get home and start running again.
Ketut, a talkative fellow, asked 60000 for the short trip to the museum which I gladly paid. I don't haggle over small amounts, I think a dollar means more to them than to me. Later in the day, when I'd walked through every building at Neka, studied every painting, examined every sculpture, I messaged Ketut with WhatsApp and he brought me back.
Here's a test: how many older siblings are in my driver's family?
The Neka museum, like the Agung Rai, is a beautiful compound of attractive buildings set amongst lush gardens and soundtracked by noisy birds. And, like the Agung, the Neka specializes in the work of Balinese and ex-pat artists. The Agung Rai has a smaller but equally-beautiful collection but makes up for that in ancilliary facilities. The Neka is just art. Beautiful, mostly-colourful art, with Balinese life as subject. Happily for me, this museum allows photography.
Speaking of art, the streets of Ubud are sprouting huge bamboo stalks of home-made art, and they grow in number every day. Plus the ubiquitous shrines are being draped in colourful fabrics and the offerings seem to be growing in size. It's preparation for yet another special day, or rather days. I'm lucky, two festivals in one trip.
But, I hate to plant this thought in your head, but I find the poles creepy. The pole ends, which are very tall and have elaborate offerings dangling, bring to mind photos of Iranian cranes and nooses that were in the news a couple years ago, scenes that stick with you even though with all your might you try to erase them. Sorry for the disturbing thought.
Enjoy the art!
Back they came to work for ten days, only to stop for another month, for the week of galungan was near, the time when the gods came down to earth, and long after they had departed the island would remain in a holiday mood. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali
I'd be lying if l said I planned my visit to Bali so as to hit their top two festivals. No, I had no idea there were any festivals at this time so I'll have to say the gods were smiling on me when I made my travel plans. Perhaps I need to make an offering of thanks.
Galungan, my second Balinese festival, celebrates the victory of good over evil, or dharma over adharma. The festival begins on the 11th week of the 210-day pawukon calendar and it lasts for something like eleven days.
While this Wednesday April 5th is Galungan itself, for the Balinese the preparations begin several days earlier. Ministering to all those gods is a lot of work. As I walk around town I see people - mostly women - working away, constructing the offerings.
Of course there are the penjor, the giant decorated bamboo poles that each household places in front of its home. Shrines are enhanced too with lots of rather gaudy decorations. And then there are several additional tasks. Three days prior to Galungan there is the cooking of bananas. Two days prior (today) is the making of fried rice cakes. One day prior (tomorrow) is the slaughter of pigs and chickens.
So tomorrow is the day of slaughter. Well, I saw chickens being killed last week. One minute they were walking around, a short time later they weren't. As to the pigs I saw something in town today that I wish I hadn't. I certainly didn't photograph it. It was a truck bed containing a number of large pigs, each confined in a cage barely larger than the pig itself. Oh my, I want to get that picture removed from my brain. I don't know what else to say except poor pigs.
On that sad note, let's look at a picture of my street and then pictures of preparation for the festival.
In Ubud, and much of Bali, the major streets - those wide enough for cars - tend to run north and south, parallel to the streams and rivers carrying water down the mountain. There are not many roads running east west as they would require expensive bridges. What they do have are smaller paths such as this connecting major streets.
Oh yeah, you probably can't tell from my pictures of the streets here in Ubud but there is something missing: trash. It is all a bit rough, the roads, the sidewalks, the building construction, but no trash, just the occasional detritus from offerings, like flowers, bamboo, a few leaves. Everything clean as a whistle. (Do people still say that?)
As to my house, the address is Jalan Sri Wedari 58C (Jalan means street) but it is physically on a narrow path that connects to Sri Wedari. The path is one person plus one motor scooter wide :-) It is in this compound, across from a small rice paddy that harbours a population of very talkative bull frogs. I see our penjor is up.
These fellows are taking a penjor out to the street, and getting ready to raise it. The green thing is the offering at the base.
I might mention here that I've no idea how well these pictures are looking if you're not on a tiny screen. For all I know I bolloxed them all up. You see I do everything on an iPhone, well except for the original pictures which are taken with my Fuji. Once I move them to the phone I cut their resolution so they won't take forever to load. Let's say, 15Mb down to about 0.5Mb typically. I cannot tell from here if I've overdone it, I'll know when i get home where i can re-do them if need be.
Even with the doors and windows closed (I've succumbed to running the bedroom's air con) the house is permeated by the sounds of bullfrogs, birds, and insects. It's a bloody symphony out there.
I took this shot in dead darkness. The ogoh-ogoh teams were gathered on the soccer field after parading around town. The field is in the middle of Ubud and, like much of Bali, the roads around the field are edged with trendy cafes, healing spas, clothing stores, and artsy shops. Not much light though. Most businesses closed early for the parade or to prepare for the day of silence. There were food vendors in the field though. I bought something to eat, a triangle of bread covered with vegetables and tomato sauce which sounds a lot like pizza but he didn't call it that. It was a like a soft pizza. Once I ate I wandered the field, photographing in the dark, hoping to get something of interest. In fact, I got several.
I am happy that this captures for me some nice movement. But I also wonder if it can have the same feel without the actual experience?
We gathered Tuesday evening to celebrate the equinox. We do this twice a year, always at the same location, where the Jordan River empties into the Pacific.
Today, in anticipation of sunnier weather, I swapped the winter wheels off the Mini for summer wheels. Mind you, I'd be happy to run the winters all year. This is Canada after all. But I figure that since I own the summer set might as well spread out the wear. And the summers look better.
As Canadian as can be expected under the circumstances. The Canadian equivalent of "As American as apple pie" according to The Guardian.
I harvested a bunch of basil today, the plants were getting leggy and some were about to bloom. I cleared eighteen cups of leaves and I made a lot of pesto.
There's a giant fuchsia next to the greenhouse, just outside the fence. It winters in the greenhouse but come spring it's carried by cart to a prominent position, near the front door. It's vulnerable situated here outside the deer fence, and since it's covered with flowers it should be attracting deer, but it doesn't; perhaps it's the dog who likes to bark at all things animal, even the birds flying overhead.
Speaking of fuchsias, Proust mentions the flower (a purple one, mine is more light pink) while he is in the midst of a description of the town of Chambray, a discussion that focuses on the church and the steeple of Saint-Hilaire. I like this sentence, and I include it to contrast the Moncrieff translation and the more recent Davis translation.
In vain might Mme. Loiseau deck her window-sills with fuchsias, which developed the bad habit of letting their branches trail at all times and in all directions, head downwards, and whose flowers had no more important business, when they were big enough to taste the joys of life, than to go and cool their purple, congested cheeks against the dark front of the church; to me such conduct sanctified the fuchsias not at all; between the flowers and the blackened stones towards which they leaned, if my eyes could discern no interval, my mind preserved the impression of an abyss. Swann's Way, C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation
Even though Mme Loiseau might have at her window fuchsias which developed the bad habit of forever allowing their branches to run all over with heads lowered, and whose flowers had no business more pressing, when they were large enough, than to go and cool their flushed, violet cheeks against the dark front of the church, for me the fuchsias did not for this reason become holy; between the flowers and the blackened stone against which they leaned, if my eyes perceived no interval, my mind reserved an abyss. The Way by Swann's, Lydia Davis translation
Well no my life isn't really endangered, it's just the opaque grey sky and the smoky still air feel like the run up to some horror movie story.
I tried a new recipe for biscotti and they turned out really well. Since I'm the only one in the house who likes chocolate I've the burden of eating them so I freeze them. And what do you know, they get better over time. The recipe is in the Times and it's called Union Square Cafe Chocolate Biscotti.