Bitty at the Legian Cake shop she opened for her fourth husband
The Adventures of Bitty in Bali
This month a very dear and very quaint friend, Bitty Dayglo, visited me for two weeks in Sanur. Like many Australian grandmothers, Bitty has a special relationship with Bali – hers dating back to the early 1970s in Kuta, when she was a denizen of the famous Kontin’s Losmen, the artists’ homestay. In the 1990s, she also visited Bali to help her daughter fight off a severe case of jungle fever in South Sanur.
Like many Australians her age, she loves the real Bali with a tender passion and abhors recent island-wide trends in real estate advertising (‘Live the Dream’) and architecture (‘The North Korean Consulate look’).
She came to Bali this time to make joyous bird brooches and colourful beanies for babies – neo-Hindu Hippy pursuits – and to mid-wife the birth of my dog Mona Lisa’s litter.
Now read on...
Newlywesd: Ida Bagus Putra & Jero Kemuning
18th June 2007: Another wedding at the Geria Kepaon, my adopted home
Some weeks ago, it became apparent that the wayward Ida Bagus Putra – the only son of my eldest Balinese ‘brother’ – had impregnated a Javanese lass and would have to marry her.
There was some eye-rolling in our relatively conservative Brahmana compound, even though this was by no means the courtyard’s first cross-cultural scandal.
There was also a sense of closure. Putra’s long-suffering father, Ida Bagus Oka, has for years now been implementing ‘Bali-Baroque’ upgrades to his modest bungalow, in preparation for his son’s marriage.
That the bride’s father was a tofu seller from Kampung Jawa was not important; any means to get his wayward son home was fine.
• • •
Late last month I went home to meet my nephew’s fiancée –-the couple had to be flushed out from the housing complex in the badlands south of our village-– and was relieved to find a refined Banyuwangi beauty. Born in Bali and having attended school in Mengwi she spoke passable Balinese. “She needs to be strong and smart,” I thought, “to survive the tyranny of my sister-in-law Big Dayu’s ‘offering factory’ where all newcomers are pressed into service.”
This thought was still fresh in my mind when Big Dayu bowled in –preceded by her faux-Chanel Fanny Pack, replete with weapons-grade chains – and challenged the frail, rather pregnant Javanese miss.
“Uling dija ‘ne (Where are you from)?” she barked, in low Balinese.
The pretty girl just wiggled a tad, and feigned deafness.
“Speak polite Indonesian,” I barked back at the big brute, “she’s a refined lass and Putra’s lucky to have her.”
• • •
Bitty ran a brisk business doing Reiki at Balinese ceremonies
This morning a black corset is secured for my Bitty and off we go to the geria, with bells and whistles on.
Bitty’s eyes light up as a gaggle of grandchildren gather around us as we stride in (N.B. It is important that foreigners stride in Balinese dress …never mince). From a discreet distance we admire the bride –a Pocket Venus weighed down with a ton of gold ornaments. Ida Bagus Putra, the ugly duckling of the compound, looks like the young Montgomery Clift (or Ryan Phillipe, for my younger readers).
Bitty has to be suppressed from stroking the down on his upper lip and feinting dead away.
The first ceremony – Putra’s tooth-filing – is at 7 am. Pedanda priests are really hard to secure on major holy days these days, it seems. Putra’s father – never known to take an active role in ceremonies – precedes his son’s emergence from the new meten pavilion enclosure carrying two sticks of incense. This prompts much mirth in the courtyard.
“Who’s been training him?” someone jokes.
Then comes the groom, borne aloft in white socks by beefy serfs, with his wee, round bride padding behind in 20 metres of thick damask brocade – an Easter egg with the face of an angel.
Putra is laid out in the ceremonial pavilion with his mother carrying his keris at his side and his grandmother holding down his legs (to comfort him). Bitty cups his genitals, confused, as she often is, and thinking that this is a body washing!
Putra’s uncle, Ida Bagus Suteja (See past Stranger), is officiating today as sangging tooth-filer…and what a great job he is doing! Great angle of entry, exquisite inscribing of holy aksara symbols on body parts, nice rasping action.
Putra soon recovers from the orthodontics and the wedding rituals start – but still no sign of the bride’s family. (My other brother, the bank manager, and his brood are no shows too; Courtyard politik I fear).
• • •
For two hours the bells ring. The fairytale couple are led through a myriad of rituals as Bitty performs Reiki on unsuspecting minors and courtyard hotties.
Just as the last Vedic chant fades, a conga line of Muslims winds through the compound, bearing sponge cakes and glass sets. The bride’s eyes light up.
A great sense of relief settles on the seated family. The family’s dignity is intact …peace reigns.
20th June 2007: Amazing Jumping Jack Flash priest at rural wedding
At Pering village, south of Gianyar, Bitty and I discover our next wedding party, that of my bodyguard Kadek Widana with the delectable Ni Ketut Suwarti.
The village home is rustic, the courtyard very small and filled with rice farmer relatives.
At the centre of the small gathering, in a simply decorated ceremonial pavilion, is a Sri Empu priest from the Pasek clan (photo below), working his way through the Vedic rituals with particular élan. Some people (urban Brahmanas in particular) say that Sri Empu priests from the Pasek (old Bali) clan should not be considered sulinggih or high priests. My Scrabble guru, Putu Suarsa, himself a Pasek, gets enraged at this suggestion: he points out that Sri Empu priests have been priests all their life, whereas the Brahmana pedanda become priests only late in life.
24th June 2007: To the Café Batujimbar, Sanur
Bitty expresses a desire for Cappuccino at 7 am this morning so I take her up the road to the chic Café Batujimbar.
A Japanese composer is playing the piano –superb classical music– as Balinese bikes bearing loads of offerings criss-cross in the morning mist.
It is an idyllic setting and one feels lucky to be alive.
The owner’s daughters waft in –granddaughters of my old boss, Wija Waworuntu –looking like teen models, followed shortly after by their mother, Ade Waworuntu, hot and sweaty from the tennis courts at the Bali Hyatt.
It’s like the Hamptons in the summer all of a sudden: patrician-looking Americans soon file in with blonde children.
We admire Rio Helmi’s wall-size photo of a children’s procession in Bali and our talk turns to his excellent exhibition opening - photos from his shoot for Didier Millet’s coming book, ‘9 Days in Thailand’, amongst others - at Ade’s Jenggala Gallery in Jimbaran, the night before.
• • •
I take Bitty back to her box via Batujimbar Estates, pointing out the now sanitised home of Australian artist Donald Friend. Bitty had visited this compound in its hey-day in 1973, well before landscape philistines Adrian Zecha and Ed Tuttle murdered Friend’s magnificent home. Around the corner, we are shocked to see that Australian architect Greg Dal is surrounding a prehistoric coastal Sanur temple with nouveau-riche-looking real estate. Indeed all the homes surrounding the old Batujimbar Temple – the subject of many of Friend’s famous paintings and tales – have chosen to disregard the romantic temple confines, rather than treasure them. A wealthy Malaysian newcomer has gone so far as to scrape off an offending Boma figure (too Hindu!) from the lintel of an exquisite ornamental house gate (built by Cekog of Taman in the 1970s).
Old hippies had more sensitivity.
• • •
Late in the evening, I visit Pura Dalem Sidakarya temple for a Penyemblehan (ritual sacrifice of chicklets this time) as part of tonight’s planned Rangda mask empowering (ngerehang) at midnight in the village cemetery nearby.
I sit with a group of 100 or so villagers in the outer court of the beautiful temple facing a garage-load of Barong and Rangda. The sandy garden court, with its ornate shrines and statues is maintained by Putu Suarsa who once worked for Donald Friend. He sits with me tonight, in his handsome temple dress, in a sea of cousins and grandnephews and nieces, as the two rows of priests go through the rituals. The small gong ensemble plays spooky tunes: a trance seems imminent.
For the Balinese, every visit to the temple is to worship at the shrine of garden beauty and to be transported into the realm of the spirits.