Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the NOW! Bali Magazine, June 2011)

Anak Agung Putu ‘Tameng’ Adi, Jero Tengah Pemeragan , Denpasar, seen here at the Puri Pemecutan.

Bali’s Old Guard

Anak Agung Putu ‘Tameng’ Adi was a reviled  executioner during the chaotic ‘communist’ purges in Bali in the early 1960s. 
Last month I saw him at a fabulous temple festival in West Denpasar, leading the most exquisite pair of giant ‘Barong Landung’ puppets into the inner sanctum. He is now also a priest, and a vassal prince of the Pemecutan empire, representing Jero Lanang Cempaka palace at Pemeregan. He is these days a gentle man — with great fashion sense and presence — who occasionally ducks behind a tree to down two bottles of beer. His gang of merry-men — who form the inner court of the Pemecutan Prince — mock his sexual prowess (he has five wives) and his war-time antics (he was said to have drunk the blood of the communist victims he beheaded) and his ostentatious jewelry.

•   •   •


Komang Tri Darma in front of the famous Pura Penambangan Badung rangda masks.

Three brothers — Pemecutan loyalist toger-cubs

At the same temple festival — the magnificent odalan Pura Penambangan Badung, Pemedilan, held in  Denpasar’s finest Majapahit-era temple — I met 13 year old Komang Tri Dharma whose father is a policeman and a member of the Pemecutan Prince’s security detail (full duties yet to be disclosed but there seems to be a whiff of skirt in the job description). Komang, like all his siblings, was born in East Timor; but a more trenchantly Balinese teenager you could not hope to find. He danced in the evening’s Barong performance, which lead to a mass trance-in with all the heavy petters transformed into evil-eye-Vetters. Komang pestered me all night to be photographed in front of the Rangda masks in the temple pavilion (photo right) because they had just been ‘refurbished’ by the brother of the prince of Ubud, Cokorda Gede Raka Sukawati (Cok Gede), a renowned carver and funeral bier designer.
Amazingly the night after this Barong-a-thon at Pemedilan I met  Cok Gede at a Gianyar Mayoral function honoring 30 artists, town’s 340th anniversary and the opening of the island’s second colossal open stage, which spills down form the mayor’s multi-purpose function centre onto the town square, the alun-alun.


The extended Pemecutan Family prepare for prayers at the climax of the Pura Penambangan Badung temple festival

Temple priests at Pura Penambangan Badung, Denpasar

Natty dresser Pemangku Puri Kerobokan at the temple

The Pemecutan Palace geese who attended the temple festival with their liege lord.

Ratu Gede of Pemeregan


Anak Agung Putu ‘Tameng’ Adi officiates as priests in front of his temple’s Barong Landung puppets

My old buddy, Agung Bagus form Peliatan had invited me to the ceremony as he was getting a “Wija Kusuma” award.
He had sent me 50 sms reminders so I really had to go, as much as I loath government events in Bali (the non-governmental events are so much more rewarding).
The hall was full of the Who’s Who of the Balinese art world — dancer Made Jimat from Batuan, legendary legong Gusti Ayu Raka from Peliatan, puppet master Made Sadia (who was to dance the part of the Majapahit-era ogre-oligarch Kebo Iwa in tonight’s dance spectacular of the same name) — and I quickly got to chatting about old days (1979-1981) at the dance academy, a time when this column was pretty much devoted to Dance and Trance.


The Stranger with H.R.H. Ida Cokorda Pemecutan XI at the Pemecutan Palace

After the awards ceremony I lingered backstage for house as the corps de ballet and prima ballerina pruned and preened. Gung Bagus had the attention of a young Ubud dancer who was entranced by the grand Dance Signeurs pearls of wisdom, about finger-flicks and eye darting.
The ‘conversation’ was a joy to behold — so beautiful and uncomplicated are these Balinese dance stars. The evening’s program went off without a hitch: and I refused, like the other 10,000 people watching to let rising pulmonary thrombosis from the toxic coloured smoke affects get in the way of a good night’s entertainment.

One of the musicians in the amazing Pemeragan gamelan.

I had an epiphany, like Oprah does, as I marveled at the miracles of stage management and lighting and finessing that bring such Balinese shows, temple festivals and cremations to life.
When one experiences the Balinese culture with all stops out, on consecutive nights, (as I just did), one starts to realize that, really, for the Balinese, putting on great ‘shows’ — be festivals, or dance spectaculars — is what their life is all about. So what ………….if the traffic is bad and the island is awash with plastic — the important thing, for the ‘little people’, the average Balinese, is belief in their ability to put on bigger and better spectacles.

16th April 2011: To the Legian for a special director’s screening of “Bali – Island of the Dogs
I am warming to this title, though my first reaction to the invitation was to refuse it, on behalf of Balinese people. “Bali — Island of the Gods” refers to the fact that all Balinese are eventually ‘beatified’, like Pope John Paul II,  and become deified ancestor spirits, called dewata.

Dr. Lawrence Bliar with the film’s director, Dean Tolhurst

The film was not half bad — there were just a few clangers — but as co-producer/legendary Legian ‘Lothario’ Dr. Lawrence Blair recently said: “So few people are doing interesting documentaries on Bali these days”. The truth is: one can only see so many documentaries on all the gorgeousness and all the plastic etc, and the bombs (sigh), so let’s give the dogs a go.
Two voluptuous ‘Valkryies’ were responsible for the success of the fabulous beach-side, open air (almost)  screening: Pernod-packin Party planner Marie Justine (author of the very outré Bali Luxe guide) and Legian G.M. Carla von Bismark who endeared herself to the gathered cognoscenti by shouting, after we were asked to turn off our handphones for the screening:
“I vant to hear VUN CLICK!!!”
Enquiring minds can see my full review on wijaya blog and watch “It’s a dog’s life”, on YOUTUBE, a spoof of the film, starring Widji Wienberg, Ketut Ari and Lassie Laserawati.


Made, Milo, Netri, MW, Anita Lacocca

15th April 2011 : To Villa Gajah Putih, the Island’s most expensive, for the wedding reception of my old friend Roma Fairbrother’s boy Afandy Dharma Fairbrother and Dewi Cynthia Bradley
I was mortified not to be invited to the wedding — I mean what are old friends one sees every seven years for? — and fully expected tonight to be just a small schmattah family affair of old expat beaders and jewelers.
I was gobsmacked to find a vast open field — the villa’s beach front garden — alive with a metrosexual rock band, white tents, writhing tea-coloured teenagers (this was THE Indokrupuk event of the season) and the pick of the crop of Legian-Seminyak expatria — survivors from the 1970s, the hey-day of Bali beach parties and miscegenation.
And here were all their offspring, gathered, in one gently gyrating mass of pink satin. The goddess among them bridesmaid Luna Maya, the sensational sex star of the small, small screen and ever smaller screens, say no more. She was sweet and charming.
Back from the dark ages were Giorgio Ubanisasi who had the first refrigerator in an expat villa (now a gay laundromat on Petitenget beach) and Netri, daughter of ‘Moma-dollar’ of Yasa Samudra fame (now the Hard Rock Hotel).
One has such  hope for the future, when one sees the second generation so well-behaved and well dressed, dancing to decent music.
Hope dies last!
Congratulations Afandy and Dewi…….!


La Barone Gill Marais

9th April 2011: A private screening of “Sacred and Secret” at the still beautiful Amandari  (gardens originally by me but municipalized over the decades by philistines)
La Barones Gill Marais is expatriate’s luminary of the lens: her book of photographs and essays “Sacred and Secret” is a gem and has now inspired a film of the same name.
Tonight I am  seeing it for the first time with Gill and Amandari G.M. Sally Baughen who is putting together a film festival of vintage Balinese films with the prestigious Cinemateque Francaise de la Dance, the world’s oldest, at the Wantilan Kedewatan, June 19 – 22nd.
The film is a wonder and quite easily the best film ever done on Balinese culture: it is magnificently shot and edited, with seductive music, and informative interviews with many of the island’s best minds.
Bravo Barone — you rule!

 

 

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