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It’s not something The Diary generally does, but last Friday a two-hour session at the Stadium Café in Kuta paid a dividend. The Diary was there with an Australian friend, who was on his way back to the cares and woes of life in Sin City on one of those overnight red-eye specials Garuda and other airlines run so they can all lob into Sydney’s overcrowded airport at once, in the very early morning.
There were thus some hours to kill. Plus, he’s a Collingwood supporter. It was therefore a doubly good outing for him since the Pies, who haven’t won an Australian Football League premiership since 1990, beat last year’s champions Geelong in their elimination final in Melbourne and advanced to the grand final (it’s on tomorrow, Saturday, September 25).
All this may be mysterious to those who are not Australian. It may even seem boring. But Aussies love their sport. This comes from the past, when nothing that mattered happened in Australia or, if occurring elsewhere, affected it very much; and when the primary focus of what in those days passed for foreign policy was preventing powerful allies forgetting that the place even existed.
Some say that this is still the case, but that’s a symptom of another phenomenon, the post-colonial-cringe cringe. Historically the footy (it was never really the cricket) was the high drama of the week. It was the local antidote to RDS, Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. It’s an unfortunate fact that media tycoons and big businesses looking for PR have made the footy a circus and turned it into a commercial enterprise – why anyone would want to barrack for the biggest sponsor is a puzzle – but that is now the global way.
Sometimes the Australian flavour of Kuta at play is all-pervading. This is not necessarily a good thing but it too is clearly a fact of life. The crowd in front of the satellite TV screens in our part of the Stadium bar last Friday was loud and partisan. None more so than The Diary’s friend, who away from football exudes a quiet, professorial air. It was like being in an Australian pub or even in the real stadium at the match, except that no one actually threw any empties. There were even people in their team’s colours. The Diary hasn’t done that since kindergarten.
But it was fun, in a curious, tribal way. And this was despite the fact that the Stadium Café was unable to supply any peanuts – essential Aussie match-munching food – to go with the tonic waters (not at all a traditional Aussie beverage) we were drinking.
The Diary’s friend went home happy. But we shan’t be talking this weekend. The Diary’s team, St Kilda, won the other elimination final last weekend and will play the Pies for the flag. And we – the possessive sense is crucial – haven’t won a grand final since 1966.
Another friend, this one from Russia, returned from there recently with lovely gifts for The Cage, domicile of The Diary and Distaff: A beautifully crafted Russian doll – the sort that you open up and find another one in, and so ad infinitum – along with a beautifully hand-painted serving spoon, and some music.
Edo Botkunov, who now calls himself Made Edo Botkunov (The Diary and Distaff are both Wayans, but we won’t go there) and runs a collective of businesses that seeks to serve the Russian tourist market here, is a fine fellow. He also insisted we drink his real Russian vodka when we saw him at our shared Thursday night music spot in Ungasan last week.
The Diary is fond of Russians, who generally speaking have always had a bad press. They’re not all crude, lewd boors. And none of them are KGB any more. These days the ones that look as if they might be turn out to be working for the other mob.
Long ago The Diary’s poker skills were vastly improved by a chance encounter with a cheerful Soviet operative who was passing otherwise tedious hours of embarrassing confinement in less than clement conditions (his temporary digs were in a pestiferous patch of Africa) by playing cards. He it was, not a later popular country and western song, that taught your diarist that you must know when to hold them; know when to fold them; know when to walk away; know when to run. These hours of instruction were immensely profitable (and not in worthless Soviet-era roubles) for that same unwilling guest.
Well, they would be. The book was bad enough but the film version of Eat Pray Love (Mangiare Pregare Ama if you’re an out-of-sorts Italian) with Julia Roberts as memo-to-me: must-find-myself author Elizabeth Gilbert has offended the Italian commentariat, possibly mortally. Although Italians do tend to wave their arms around a lot, so it may not be as bad as it seems.
The movie, which opened in North America on August 13 and will be seen in Bali – can’t wait to miss it – at this year’s otherwise excellent BALINALE next month, has just opened in Italy and has been widely panned. The daily La Repubblica sonorously intoned: “The only thing missing in Julia’s Rome is the mandolin.”
The movie’s Italian moment (it’s the eat bit, naturally) has local critics fuming over Julia-as-Elizabeth-as-Julia savouring gelato, pizza and the warm Italian way of life. La Repubblica critic Curzio Maltese wrote: “It rains spaghetti; the Italians are always gesticulating and following foreign girls shouting vulgarities, but then getting engaged to a nice housewife to please their domineering mothers.”
Another newspaper, Il Messagero, said it didn’t really mind the clichéd portrayal of invasive mothers, nosy landladies and pleasure-loving Italians, but was offended by Roberts’ Spanish co-star Javier Bardem. “Watching the glorious Bardem playing the Latin lover in a film like this really hurts,” it said.
Vieni fuori di esso. Basta mangiare il gelato più. (Come off it. Just eat more ice cream.)
Rain is nature’s beneficence. It keeps things green. It allows things to grow. It gives naughty little boys puddles to play in. Sometimes, if it’s heavy enough, it can even clean your street (nothing else will around here). But like all benefits, you can have too much of a good thing.
Climate is such a cyclical thing. Only people who play vastly expensive computer games at public cost think they can control it, influence it in any way, or even understand it. La Niňa and her brother El Niňo have millions of years of experience in ruling the roost in our part of the world.
Thus it has – again – been predominantly a wet week. Wet weeks go slowly, as a rule, though locally with a benefit. The rudimentary understanding of personal preservation that seems to exist in some elements of Bali’s motorbike riding and vehicle driving community helps slow the traffic too; and reduces its volume marginally as well, since no one really relishes getting drenched.
Much of Indonesia – and all of Bali and the archipelago east of us – has a monsoon climate. It’s wet for part of the year, then dry for the rest of it. Well, that’s the theory. When we have a year like this one with a “late” wet season – what’s late in the billions of years’ timescale on which Earth’s climate operates, we wonder – it rains at the wrong time: right through the peak tourist season, for example.
But we should spare a greater thought for the monsoon vegetation. Tourists whose trips to various attractions have been rained off can read a book, fool around with their comely travelling companions if young, or eat a lot if not ... or something. The jati (teak) trees have no such luxury. They are supposed to drop their huge leaves when it stops raining, so that new ones can form properly and their own cycle of life can proceed according to plan, along with that of the squirrels which inhabit them and, we’re sure, are very confused at present about why their annual big-view opportunity has been denied them.
But it will have to stop raining soon. The next wet season starts in a week or so.
YeYe’s, the warung above Padang Padang beach on the Bukit, is a popular spot and so it should be: it’s in a prime location whether for late, lazy lunches (it only opens at 1pm so don’t try it for breakfast) or evening dining. It’s also in a place that gets cool breezes straight off the Indian Ocean, before they’ve crossed the trash line, which can be nice on a muggy day.
Last Sunday evening the breeze was a little willing, however: a touch bracing for those of us fortunate enough to live here with the luxury of thinking that 25C is where wind chill and hypothermia kick in.
That wasn’t all that was chill. Some of the staff affected the air of those who believe – foolish people – that they’re doing the paying customers a favour just by being there. And the establishment committed a cardinal sin, too. It had a sign up saying it had apple pie. People we know kill for that.
Unfortunately, like much else that night, it was off.
Hector's Blog appears as The Diary in print edition of The Bali Times, out Fridays, and at www.thebalitimes.com. The printed paper is available worldwide through NewspaperDirect.