Monday, February 11, 2008

well hello Bali

On this island the inhabitants make offerings to appease the evil spirits. It's not that the malevolent gods are held in any higher esteem than the "good" deities it's that the flavor of Hinduism adhered by the Balinese (our driver from the airport – himself a practitioner- says it is heavily influence with Buddhism and an even older belief system called Anamism) believes that the best one can hope for is a balance between the two forces. This is how it is explained to me by our hosts at dinner, stepped rice fields and setting sun over their shoulders. So, when the women proffer their gifts to the gods they put one up high in a niche built into a small shrine or atop a stone wall and the second is placed on the ground. The higher offered to the respectable gods the lower for those rakes of disrepute.

I am told that everything Balinese is infused with allusions to this balancing act, religion, art, dance, and not knowing the language I can only assume their literature. It has been written that all Balinese are artists; shopkeepers, airport limo drivers, waitresses all leading duel lives as dancers, musicians, painters, and perhaps even poets. Indeed, we bought a pen, ink and acrylics drawing of Ganesh, the elephant headed Hindu god, from the young man waiting on us at the café where we lunched after our visit to the sacred monkey temple.

You want to talk about a personification of duality? One need only have the twelve pound long tailed macaque that was looking so cute sitting on some temple steps suddenly launch herself onto your head and shoulders to better deduce the possibility of fruit in your backpack. One second you've a cute cuddly photo opportunity and then suddenly a miniature mugger hoping to roll you for bananas and lychee nuts is clutching your neck. Then, once you've acclimated to these little vagabonds to the point that you are scratching the one in your lap behind the ears it will inexplicably jerk its head to you and bare some pretty businesslike canines and hiss. Monkeys got that whole Yin Yang good evil thing down with the nonchalant balance of an acrobat. Not that a native Balinese would describe anything as evil per se, the darker side of the duality is described as not so good – so ya got yourself good and not so good.

We are staying a short walk from a small village called Kaliki which itself is a thirty minute ride up and down hairpin turns through rice fields and past dozens of temples from Ubud, the island of Bali's acknowledged artistic heart . Motorbikes carrying anywhere from one to three passengers, baskets full of livestock or other goods for town are grumbling up the hill along side our little villa then just around another hairpin, honking their approach, they head downhill to Ubud. Here a horn honk doesn't shout get out of my way, rather it announces, "Here I am" or "here I come!" with staccato bursts reminiscent of tree frog or gecko.

Our vista is coconut palm, banana and the incredulously fast growing balsa trees along with an infinite coagulation of extraordinary lush green vegetation pollacked with color splashes of aromatic flora. Across the valley terraced rice paddies imitate temple steps climbing to the top of a ridge past which Mount Agung is playing hide and seek behind a miasma of humid clouds. We are inland away from the beaches and night clubs. Gamalong music mixes with dogs' barking, and birdsongs wafting up from below. Roosters crow throughout the day with no regard to their traditional morning duties as avian alarm clocks. They, as the rest of those folks indigenous or fully acclimated to this island, work according to their own chronometer – a system known as "rubber time."

The Kecak pronounced Ket-check both syllables equally emphasized and in rapid progression, does start pretty close to the time promised on the tickets we bought from a young man dressed in sarong and headscarf on the main street of Ubud though. The version of the Kecak Ramayana dance that we see is one half traditional sacred ritual and one half entertainment for the audience sake. Actually Kecak is the vocalization that accompanies the dance produced by one hundred men chanting in intricate and multi layered patterns most evocative to my western mind of the sound of trains clattering down the track. That is of course assuming that these trains could syncopate poly-rhythms intermixed with long tones, and shouted asides while performing mass Bugsby Berkleyesque choreography. The basic refrain sounds like "check- check- check." This show is also known in English as the Monkey Dance. The chorus, sitting cross legged, forms a large inward facing circle wherein the principle dancers perform the story that is the Ramayana to the rhythmic chanting and synchronized movements surrounding them.

The Ramayana is a Hindu tale involving Rama and Sita, monkey generals leading monkey armies, giants, jesters and your general Hindu caste of thousands told in four parts. The story is as complicated as it is enthralling to watch and is best when allowed to wash over one like a Bali cloudburst accepting the fact that the drenching one receives is refreshing, cleansing and probably just what you need. In the end, as I understood it, the vanquished giant antagonist's lifeless body is prepared for acceptance in heaven by the heroes of the saga. See, the giant wasn't bad – he was just in his nature to be not very good, so his acceptance into the afterlife is presupposed since he was only doing what he was meant to be, and more importantly doing it well.

To be cont…

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