It's a heat wave in Port Angeles today so I went up into the mountains to hike the Sunrise trail in Olympic National Park. The sky was a bit hazy from forest-fire smoke but it was still a beautiful hike. All photos shown were processed in camera using Fuji's Velvia film simulation, then posted via iPhone.
You know, when I started they weren't bad for you. Annette Bening on smoking, from the movie 20th Century Women
It's warm and humid but then that's expected in Bali. My friend Emily and I walked into town where I got money from an atm ($1 CAD gets you about 10,000 IDR), checked out a rental property (for Emily and Bill, not me), stopped for refreshments, bought groceries, got mugged by a monkey, then walked home where we cooled off in the pool while a rainstorm passed overhead. As to the monkey, he is of average build, grey in colour, and was last seen heading towards the Monkey Forest while eating my mango.
Why is it that if you buy a camera you are a photographer whereas if you buy a violin you own a violin. Anonymous
While my friends Bill and Emily have been exemplary hosts I thought it best to move on, that whole fish and guests and how both stink after a few days.
So this morning I packed up, walked 15 minutes south on Jalan Kjeng to Starbucks, turned left on the main drag Jalan Raya Ubud, walked three blocks, then walked north about 15 minutes to a house on Jalan Sri Wedari.
My new lodging is a spacious 2 bedroom 2 bath house with a big kitchen, a large outdoor bathroom, a patio and deck, and a shared pool. More room than I need: I've room for guests should anyone want to jump a plane. Just be aware the whole island of Bali will be closed - and I mean literally closed, streets, sidewalks, airport, everything - this coming Tuesday. More on that later.
The house, or villa as they say in Bali, is in a complex of houses with a shared staff that takes care of housekeeping, gardening, security, and whatever else needs doing. Like breakfast: each morning someone will come cook me breakfast, then clean up. Nice, eh? I'm thinking labor is cheap. This multi-house, shared-staff model is common here.
Unfortunately, between moving and shopping for groceries at the Coco mart and accompanying Emily on another property inspection, between all this I didn't take any interesting photos so instead I've some uninteresting ones of where I'm staying.
I'm listening to Pangkur from Gamelan music of the Jasmine isle. And I'm reading A House in Bali, the Canadian composer Colin McPhee's story of his life and the music of Bali in the 30's. McPhee's pre-tourism Bali is quite different from present-day Bali, but the culture he describes is still here, and you still hear the distinctive trance-like Gamelan music.
There are two roads that pass near my house. One is wide enough for a couple of cars but the second, the one in this photo, is foot and scooter only.
My house is hidden behind the trees on the right. This rice paddy has a few really loud bull frogs.
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.
Each day she placed a little portion of the food she cooked on a shelf above her pots and pans for Batara Uma, and dropped blossoms and betel leaves beside the little pool in the rocks down near the river (from which we got our drinking water) for the spirit of the spring. Colin McPhee in A House in Bali
One of the first things I noticed in Bali are the ubiquitous little pallets of offerings that take many different forms. They may contain leaves, flowers, fruit, incense, even candy bars.
Before most tourists get up each morning the Balinese sweep away the prior day's offerings from around their homes and businesses. Then throughout the day they create more offerings which are everywhere, both underfoot and perched here and there in little shrines. You can walk on them, it's often impossible not to, and I take it that it's the presentation of the offering that matters.
This daily gift of offerings is meant to appease and please the many gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism.
Offerings range from a small and fragrant flower on each step leading into a compound to more elaborate ones to guard the houses doorway and appease the gods represented by statues throughout the house.
The Balinese spend parts of each day creating and dispersing these offerings around their compounds, often accompanied by burning incense. It's all quite lovely. And it's all quite labor intensive.
The offerings in the following photos are all pretty substantial, but I think that's because I was walking on residential streets. In the more commercial areas the offerings are, if anything, more numerous, but they are also simpler.
Here an offering is placed at the start of a small path. Also note the tall shrine on the left. It's sitting in what looks like an empty lot. It could be for plants being cultivated on that lot or it could be for some planned construction on this site. You can't make too many offerings and you especially want them before embarking on a construction project.
McPhee, in his book A House in Bali, describes an elaborate pre-construction ritual which included sacrificing numerous animals. I don't know if that's still done.
Unlike Vancouver Island, here in Bali the doors and windows are always open, to get a breeze and to listen to the unusual birds, the bullfrogs, and the insects.
One insect buzzes and buzzes and buzzes, steadily for ten, fifteen minutes. For awhile I thought an electrical transformer was malfunctioning, like the one outside our place in Naxos, but I later decided the noise was an insect. I asked Made Girl, one of the housekeepers, for the insect's name but I don't think she hears it as she couldn't answer.
Every morning Made Girl comes to my open double doorway and says "Hello?" before she comes in. She carries a tray with the makings for breakfast. She slips off her flip flops and comes into the kitchen. If there are dirty dishes she will wash them but there never are. At most there are a few on the drying rack to put away.
This morning, like most, Made Girl made me scrambled eggs, toast, sliced fruit, and French press coffee. There is ginger lime marmelade for the toast.
After serving me she asks if I need anything and she asks about tomorrow's breakfast. Most mornings she is talkative, today she is quiet, subdued. I wonder what has changed. She leaves. She'll return in an hour or so, to put away the breakfast dishes that I will have already washed, sweep the whole house, make the bed which I have not made as I find their method too complex, check towels and the drinking water supply.
Spanning this time just outside my open doorway an older woman is presenting offerings. Her ceremony seems to be more drawn out today, perhaps today is special. There are many special days in Bali. She started before breakfast and contines long after breakfast, taking maybe 45 minutes or an hour.
The woman making the offerings carries a large wooden tray piled high with little hand-weaved trays, flowers, leaves, and incense. She sets it on a ledge of the stone shrine.
Slowly, methodically she lifts items from her tray and assembles each offering. She carefully places each offering most of which smoke from incense. She pauses, spending time with each. If she is saying something I don't know, I cannot hear and I don't of course interrupt.
She walks down the hill towards the creek, and later i find another lower down on the path.
I keep thinking she is done, but she revists each offering, adjusting them, pausing, and adjusting them again. She walks towards the water again then returns. She walks up to my doorway, not far from where I am sitting and eating and places a small weaved tray with orange and red flowers and burning incense on my doorsill. Smoke from the incense surrounds her as a shaft of sunlight breaks through, her head enveloped in an ethereal glow for a brief moment. A smoky whiff of incense enters the house.
Finally she returns to the shrine, picks up her tray, and walks away.
Later I look for the offerings, to examine them. I find eight, there are probably more. They blend in with the lush greenery, the bright flowers, the orchids that are growing and flowering on the trees. I find them on my doorstep, on the path by my door, at the base of the shrine, on the shrine, in a branch of a tree, ... Many offerings, many gods to honour.
After breakfast I walk into town to head over to the nearby Ridge Trail. I complete the hike and return home by mid afternoon, just in time for a heavy rainstorm to pass through, which cools things off considerably.
While hiking the ridge trail I stopped for lunch. Cost was 45,000 which is a little over $4.50 Canadian. All those zeroes take getting used to especially as the currency doesn't group them so you get bills marked 10000 ($1), 100000 ($10), and so on. It would be clearer with the addition of some commas or periods, like 100,000.
I don't usually do food shots, I put them in the same annoying category as selfies (why would I think you want to see my ugly face?), but what the hell. I stopped for lunch at a charming cafe by a rice paddy where the food was very flavorful.
In the family there were also four levels. Children had their titles: Wayan, eldest born, Nyoman, Made and Ketut, the fourth.
What happens with a fifth child? I asked Nyoman Kaler.
You begin again, he answered. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali.
I thought it a coincidence that my first contacts in Bali were all named Wayan. But it wasn't a coincidence. Wayan is the most common name in Bali because a child is named according to birth order and Wayan is the name for the first child.
There are alternative names for the first born, such as my airport driver's name Gede, Putu and the girl's-only name Ni Luh, but Wayan is most popular. So when you meet someone from Bali chances are their name is Wayan.
The second child is usually called Made, but Nengah, Ngurah and Kadek also work.
The third-born child is called Nyoman or Komang and the fourth born is Ketut.
After four children, which is a lot for a Balinese family, the names re-start with Wayan, though the fifth child might be called Wayan Balik (Wayan "again"), and so on. Oh yeah, there are no family names in Bali. And pronunciation is easy, names are pronounced just as they are spelled, like Italian.
Speaking of birth order, it is widely believed to have an impact on psychological development. I'm not implying the Balinese subscribe to this idea, more likely naming by birth order serves as a guide to inheritance issues. Or maybe it's just one less decision to make. But it's a curious and oh-so-human example of seeing significance in something that isn't. We believe it because we want it to be true. Birth order theory has been widely studied but no effect has ever been shown. Nevertheless the belief remains, what some call a zombie theory. (See also astrology, religion, etc.)
Today was the first day the heat got to me. Oppressively hot and sticky. I walked into town, I window shopped, I politely turned down the endless entreaties one gets for a scooter-taxi ride - these are mild, almost lethargic entreaties, not the in-your-face Turkish come-ons - I ate lunch, then I returned to my house and, unusual for me, I took a nap.
The scooter drivers in Bali annoyed me less than than those in say Palermo or Florence even though they are as insidious. They are parked on every sidewalk. They dart through traffic. They speed down paths. And they are usually loaded with two or three passengers, or boxes of stuff, or chickens, definitely small children, and offerings of course. You can't have too many offerings.
Balinese drivers, car and scooter, make their presence known by beeping an I'm-entering-the-intersection warning at every corner. Beep beep beep.
But I quickly grew used to them. I was even impressed by their politeness. Often the driver would say sorry or thank you as they passed me and I stepped out of the way. The only scooters that scared me were those driven by tourists.
Scooters double as income generators. It seems like every fellow in town is available to drive you somewhere which translates to a large scooter : tourist ratio. I also saw what I interpreted to be pro- and con-Uber signs but then maybe I misunderstood them.
All day long you see lines of young men sitting along the street looking at their phones, using the free WiFi from the neighboring cafe (while their wife / mom / gfriend is at work?). As you pass they hold up a taxi sign or ask "Sir? Taxi?" in a lackadaisical manner. But it isn't offered with much pressure, the Balinese are polite even when they are encouraging you to buy something. This is all very unlike the Turks who transition from aggressive welcome to threatening insult in the seconds spent walking by their business.
Since Cartier-Bresson's hand wasn't as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. Sharpness is a bourgeois concept, he said. Helmut Newton in Newsweek
This serves as a lesson to me, pay more attention to shutter speed. I like this photo of a resting ogoh ogoh team despite the fact that its subject, the brightly-dressed young woman on the right, is not in focus. Just like with bird photos, it is better to either freeze motion with a high shutter speed or emphasize movement with a slow speed.
This was shot at 1/160 sec and ISO 200. So I'd say a better value for the auto ISO min shutter speed would be 1/500 or maybe 1/1000. Of course this adds noise, the higher the ISO the higher the noise. But I don't care so much about noise. Noise adds character. And if it's really noisy I try it in b&w.
Here are a few photos taken while walking around Ubud.
I've not seen many uniformed school kids in North America but it's a common sight elsewhere. Like these kids in Ubud who are heading home, either walking or catching a ride.
I like this graffittied Lisbon cable car. The way it maintains a vertical profile despite the slope. The way it slots into the spaces between buildings, all of which share a similar sharp, vertical profile. I even like the graffitti; so much I drained all the other colors away.