Friday, June 08, 2007

The Fabulous Antonio Blanco

A late start, still feeling slightly under the weather, and a phone call to Lion Air. As I haven't paid up, my domestic flight booking has lapsed. Can I pay now then? No. But the girl does remake the booking for me, with two hours leeway to pay, at the airport (an hour away by bus) or at a travel agent, for which presumably there will be a nice service fee. I head to a travel agent and cough up.

After, to one of the galleries I haven't had the opportunity of visiting yet, the Antonio Blanco Museum. I'm so glad I went!

This is the late artist's former home, on the site of which there is now a large purpose-built gallery housing his work. His son still paints onsite. It's a mad place, obviously reflective of the artist's crazed and yet so brilliant state of mind.

Birds everywhere. Of both varieties in his day.

Dragons at the doorway

The entrance

Antonio Blanco hailed from Spain, and was described as Bali's Dali. He created his own style, using vivid colours, fluidly applied, certainly very impressionistic, often just capturing the essence of his subject, which was usually a naked local girl posing. Indeed, it is said that he helped spread knowledge of Bali. Some of his poetry is extremely funny. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside, always a big disappointment.

The studio

Living area

By the end, I really want to buy postcards or a catalogue, and am delighted to find a glossy book, titled Fabulous Blanco, that is just what I want - a biography, with lots of his work in it. I ask how much, thinking I'd buy one for myself and one for Grandpa Tom, and find it's 100US$ per copy! Cough, cough! How much! Yes, it's true. I try the other book shops in town, but no luck. Why is it so expensive?

Here's some illegally-reproduced pictures of his work to give you a flavour (plus the self-portrait above):

A work of art of a different kind - Bali's microbrewery, Storm

Tonight's cultural spectacle is the Legong Dance at Jaba Pura Desa Kutuh. Again Made drops me there on his bike, and I pay the 50,000 entry fee. It's quiet, and inside I find a Japanese couple sitting on their own. As we chat, a couple more people roll in, and the audience eventually numbers, perhaps 10 people? The lights come on and the show starts, as the 20 or so musicians troops out. There must be another 10-15 dancers involved. I feel bad, and clap vigorously whenever the opportunity arises. By the end of the show, half of the audience have sneaked off.

Anyway, the show is good. It comprises 7 different dances or performances, two of which are instrumentals from the orchestra. This is "gamelan", the traditional Indonesian music. Apparently on Java they are more subtle, but the Balinese style is just to go at it, hammer and tong, on any instrument lying around. The initial blast of noise floors a moth hovering in front of the stage. It's loud, and there's really little to distinguish the noise from a bunch of schoolkids with spoons and metal drums. It's certainly not subtle, however little I can understand it.

The dancers are varied and interesting. One slightly disturbing consideration is that I appear to be sitting exactly in the spot that most performers have as their point to look at as they dance. Hence I have almost every dancer staring, smiling, and pulling all sorts of other expressions, apparently looking directly at me. This is somewhat unnerving, as one can imagine. Not so much when there are pretty girls on stage, but when the transvestite types are up there smiling straight at me, I really don't know where to look. I study the musicians at the side for a bit.

Next up we have four very cute kids hopping about on stage doing the Rabbit Dance.

Again, beautiful dance, though with what seems to be every dance this evening, it drags on for just a little bit too long. I notice those on either side of me glancing at their watches. Lots of Indonesian dance seems to involve exaggerated movement of the eyes, as well as body. So these girls, and most of the other performers, will stare, wide-eyed, straight at me, then to the side, then back to me again. Facial expressions flip between frowns and smiles, to convey some of the meaning of the story. Without the explanatory leaflet though, one would have no chance guessing what is going on, as only parts of the full story are actually portrayed.

The main dance, the Legong, is a traditional story about a King who kidnaps a Princess, then sees a bird of ill omen, and consequently dies. One doesn't see him die though, the story ends with him heading off to battle off-stage after having seen the bird. It's also worth noting that finger movements are significant, and hardly a moment passes without the dancers doing all sorts of funny chopping and moving of the fingers on their hand as they whirl around.

When it's over, I walk back, past scores of bikes heading in all directions with costumed performers heading home from the various dances. Pop into Batan Waru for some tasty Otak otak (fish paste grilled in banana leaves) and Mee Goreng before heading home. Next morning, pack, and enjoy..

my last Sayong breakfast

..including my favourite Egg Jaffles with Korean chilli paste

And say goodbye to the two chaps who make Sayong what it is - Made

and Karma

The infamous Kuta Beach
I'm leaving on the tourist bus to South Bali. I chat to a French girl who's just spent 9 months in Perth and sounds so Australian, and a Dutch group who are at the end of their extended travels too. A tanned Chinese girl cries as she says goodbye to her pale blonde boyfriend. Holiday romance perhaps?

The bus drops me at the airport. First stop the airlines offices across the car park, to shift my Colombo flight. The friendly girl struggles, presumably because firstly she doesn't seem to know what she's doing, but also she's discovering what I already have thanks to expertflyer, namely that damn Cathay aren't flying to Colombo any more, as of a week or two ago! Instead they're dumping me at Bangkok and transferring me to Sri Lankan Airways. Now if I request this of OneWorld, they charge me 120$ plus processing fees. I wonder where I should send the invoice for them doing it to me.

Anyway, I leave her fiddling with it, after also noting that I'm only wait-listed for Business class from HKG to Jo'berg. Cheeky sods. Qantas told me after they screwed up that this was all sorted out. I'm sooo not flying economy for that leg. Watch me kick up hell! Next door I ask the Korean Air girl if she speaks Korean. She doesn't. I need an address translated. Anyway, over to the terminal, dump my big pack for 20,000 (1.50UKP), then I walk into town, past two million taxi touts. Thank god for noise-cancelling headphones. It's a short walk, and I chat to a friendly chap from Java who is here for an interview as we walk along. Even he's getting taxi tout hassled, which makes me feel better.

So finally I'm getting to see the famous bit of Bali, i.e. Kuta Beach. This is where it all started, where the first backpackers arrived and set up. The book makes it out to be a fairly horrible place, but I think it's just relatively developed, that's all. And very chaotic. I pass various expensive designer surf shops (Ripcurl, Billabong etc), before arriving at the beach proper.

It's busy, but still very beautiful, with good surf rolling in, and lots of beginners trying their luck. Apparently a week ago, when I first arrived, there were 7m waves crashing in, making newspaper front pages, and giving Kuta streets and beachside properties a good soaking! Today it's much more serene.

The water looks lovely, and I'm temped to have a swim.

Would be fairly silly to leave my bag unattended though, plus came across this on a travel advisory site for Indonesia: animal hazards include snakes (kraits, cobras, pit vipers), spiders, scorpions, tarantulas, crocodiles, panthers, bears, wild pigs, and wild cattle. Stingrays, jellyfish, sea wasps, poisonous fish (multiple species), and the Indo-Pacific man-of-war are common in the country’s coastal waters and are potential hazards to careless or unprotected swimmers. So.. I make do with a wander along the sand. There are hundreds of surfboards for rent, and the usual tat sellers, plus, you guessed it, taxis!

I head away from the beach along Poppies Gang (Lane) I, one of the original streets, which is a narrow walkway which somehow cars manage to squeeze along.

Out on to the main road, past Paddy's, where the first of the two Bali bombs went off.

Seconds later, a much larger bomb ripped through the Sari Club, just along the street, and where people would have been fleeing to from the first bomb. Truly horrible stuff, and today across from the now-redeveloping ruins of the club there is a moving tribute to those who lost their lives, listing out the names, grouped by countries. There are 23 English people up there, and many more Australians. The nationalities, including many Indonesians, really bring home the message that terrorism doesn't discriminate, and is totally indefensible.

The monument

The actual list of names, grouped by country

Bite to eat at Mama's, which does German food - I have Nurenberg sausages with sauerkraut and mash, washed down with Bintang lager of course. Then back along Poppies Gang II, and the beach to the airport. Of course, my domestic flight which I've rushed to be on time for is running late. Never mind, no doubt there will be a OneWorld lounge in the, err, domestic.. terminal.. Doh! Looks like I'll have to slum it with the masses, whilst I contemplate staying at the Mandarin Oriental in Surabaya. Why not? :)

Flight ends up being horribly delayed - over 4 hours. I decide to head back into town, back to the large Discovery Shopping mall, complete with Starbucks :) (hey, I couldn't not try a Bali Green Tea Frapp, could I?). This time I realise that it backs on to the beach, so I get to enjoy the famous Bali beach sunset. Shared with a fair few thousands of people, sprinkled round the bay.

Back to the aiport, for more waiting. Apparently the flight is delayed due to late arrival of the incoming.. No **** Sherlock! There is not a reason on the world that annoys me more. What is the *reason*?! They don't know. I book the Mandarin Oriental in Surabaya for this evening, which soothes my nerves somewhat. In the end the flight is okay, I was of course slightly worried given recent Indonesian air safety record, especially landing speeds. In the dark of course I couldn't see the big volcanoes we would be flying over, a slight shame. Welcome to Surabaya, Indonesia's second biggest city, and of course the island of Java!

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