Between pulling long hours at work, and having some kind of tropical flu ravage My and Colette’s insides, I haven’t really had the resolve to sit and write anything here. But much has happened.
First of all Colette is here, and loving it. I believe her first words on the subject of Bali were “I don’t want to go home….” All in all it is hard not to be drawn a little bit, at least in the beginning, to the magic of the place. She is still horrified by the motor bike driving, both riding on the back of mine and the idea of riding her own one day.
We witnessed our first taste of traditional Balinese ritual and ceremony this morning. We were invited and told to wear white shirts and a sarong which would be waiting for us. The ceremony was to celebrate the changing of the moon. It was a fire purification ceremony for the karmic soul. Many things were thrown into the fire… coconut tree wood, petrol, floral water, coconuts, coconut water, flower petals, leaves containing prayers, mud… Apparently the ceremony is rarely performed now because of an out of control fire that happened years ago, presumably harming a lot of people. It is easy to see why, the fire sparks at you and fills you up with thick wet smoke until you can barely breath. By the end your karma is supposed to be neutralized in a kind of rebirth. There is a lot of cracking and drinking of coconuts, as well as bathing of heads in floral water. The ceremony was also a lot of monotone singing/chanting of om shanti and other prayers, as well as constant bells and blowing of conch shells. The final music was played on a harmonium and hand drum. All in all it was a little perplexing to my outsider self, especially given my willful lack of religious experience. I really enjoyed the trance, zone out element of the music and chanting. I almost wish I had just an audio recording to experience. Other than the music, the most interesting thing was how much it reminded me of every other world religion at different parts of the ceremony. Though more colorful, it shares much in common with the singing , the incense, and water themology present in the catholic church, as well as certain musical cues present in old judaism. The further you travel, the more everything stays the same. I think in the future I could really stand to be more of an observer, less of a participant. I find the rites of others unbelievably fascinating, I am just not sure I care to awkwardly place myself into the middle of them when I am so clearly not a believer.
As I said previously, I have been pulling long hours at work. The deadline has come closer, and I have begun to do lots of tastings and dinners for well known food writers and taste makers on the island. The scene for that is strange here. All of the people writing on food and hospitality in Bali are either American or Australians who have been here for a while, as evidenced by their leathery wrinkle tans, cosmetic work, and demeanor fitting of orange county, USA. It is kind of funny that these people judge paradise and those servicing it. I still can achieve no reputable supply chain for the restaurant with the way in which business is done here, so we will more than likely keep a staff member to drive to the store every day and fill gaps left by unreliably food distributors. So, to anyone planning to start a restaurant in Bali, the food is amazing…..if you can get it in your hands.
Speaking of food here, it is all about coconut. Coconut is in everything. Food, religious observance, construction, fuel. They use the leaves to build roofs and make religious offering boxes, they use the flower and its syrup to make sugar, they use the wood to make statues and tools, they use the husk to make fires for ritual and grilling food, and of course they eat and drink the young coconuts every day. We had the opportunity to take a hike outside of Ubud recently with our new friend Michael. It is a short but amazing trail that goes a long a very high ridge between two river valleys. The whole area is covered with coconut trees, as is all of Bali. On our way back down the trail a heavy set, one eyed, loin cloth wearing, Indonesian version of quasi modo jumped into the path ahead of us bearing coconuts. He proceeded to crack the coconuts for us to drink, and scrape the flesh into our hands to eat. He introduced himself as Ketut, one of only four men’s names in Bali. After we had tasted some of the fruits of his labors we were very ready to move on and away from his awkward demeanor and disruption of our pleasant hike. When the time came to charge us, he offered a ridiculously high price, despite the fact that he had originally presented them as a friendly gift, which is not a ridiculous notion considering the Balinese kindness frequently stretches that far. When we protested and offered him a more fair, but still inflated price, he proceeded to tell hilariously implausible stories of his grotesque self climbing 50 foot coconut trees way down in the valley just to bring the fruits to us. Ha. It is not frequent that you find these traps and dishonest people in Bali, but every once in a while there is a Ketut with his coconuts lurking around the bend. We ended up putting a few bills under his coconut knife and taking off.
Speaking of Ketut, if I have not mentioned it already, there are only four names per gender in Bali. For men, Wayan is a first born child, Made is next born, Nyoman is third born, and Ketut is fourth born. Ketut means something to the effect of “lid” in Balinese. Apparently after your fourth child, you really want to put a lid on it. I have also heard that many women desire to be with a Wayan in order to be with the man who will have all of the inheritance. If you have five children, you will need to start back at Wayan all over again, so it is complicated. I do not yet know all of the women’s names. There is Kadek and Ebu I know for sure, but the rest I am still learning. The women in Bali are more modest and shy in general and I do not have a lot of vocal work interactions with them yet. The security guards at work mistakenly think I am a Wayan child and when I roll into work they always call out to me “Halo Wayan Neal”. I don’t have the heart yet to tell them that I am a Nyoman.
Today is my one day off (I really need to restructure the work in this kitchen….), and I believe we may finally be enjoying the beach and maybe checking out some more of the fine restaurants in Bali. I have lots of great pictures, but my new camera is still a mystery to me for now, so until I figure it out…. Enjoy until next time. N