Welcome to my first attempt to communicate via this medium. I never thought I would find myself in this position. It’s a daunting experience, an adventure into a vast and unknown territory, peopled by an infinite amount of waiting letters, phrases and images in what I imagine must be like some huge pulsating cloud out there somewhere.
My mind boggles at the thought that these words will be catapulted into that cloud by simply pushing some buttons on a little mechanical gadget. They will then float around until someone, like you, presses another few buttons and they appear out of nowhere.
Until now the old fashioned method of letter writing has been my way of staying in touch with family and friends. I still indulge in, what is for many, this antiquated and painfully slow form of communication. I like the ritual. I like the texture of the paper, the feel of my old and trusty pen, the colour and smell of the ink and even making personalised envelopes with old pieces of colour paper and glue.
It is entirely due to the consistent ‘harassment’ of my family and friends that I am making this formidable jump.
Because of my way of life, the reality of my technological illiteracy and the fact that it would take far too much time away from my work, anything to do with the business side of running this website etc. is in the hands of dearly beloved and trusted friends.
Thank you for getting this far. I hope that you will, in some way, enjoy my work.
Slán agus beannacht leat,
Having just returned from Ireland after a wonderful stay I have managed to drag myself to a friend’s cafe where I can sit in front of the computer and write something that will traverse the airwaves in a hopefully coherent fashion. T’is noisy and madly busy ‘out here’ in the chaotic profusion of ‘Boutique Town’ Ubud in Bali. So close to our ‘kampung’ (village), where all is quiet and peaceful. The contrast is remarkable. Our place seems to be so utterly removed from the teeming cross cultural diversity, that it’s easy to forget, while there, what has become the norm in this small vibrant town. People from all over the world land here, with as many reasons for coming as can be imagined. Some come in the hope of finding enlightenment. Some come in the hope that something magical will happen. Some come because of various books they have read, stories they have heard while others come to shop.
There are those who come because they simply love the place and the people, and because they have found a place they can call home.
Crickets sing, music plays, it’s hot, it’s dark, it’s humid.
I have entered another dimension…
Familiar, yet so other.
Well worn pathways guide my feet while my body, mind and soul hurtles through the unseen skins of all that has taken place in the last few days, weeks…. months.
No barriers between what is now and what has already been.
Simply another great unfolding.
“Unfolding of what?’ you ask.
”Just that" is all the answer I can give.
How to describe a great unfolding of doors….
Doors that are not doors, that continue to open into yet another beyond.
Many times the question as to why I don’t like to title my paintings has been asked. The answer is simple. As each image is part of a living story, I feel that to give names is to, in some way, put a boundary where in reality there is none. I feel that any name I can give is too much like a statement that can all too easily curtail the imagination of whoever may be curious or touched in some way by my work.
I am already familiar with the meaning, the circumstances, the time, the place and process of each and every painting. It is with respect and appreciation for the perceptions of other human beings and to give space for communication that titles are left open.
This way of thinking is rooted in the years spent travelling, when I discovered the joy of using brushes and colour to communicate with people from so many fascinating cultures. It allows for a different kind of intention focus and response. It can open doors that otherwise remain unrecognised or difficult to open.
When I came to Bali all those years ago, life was dramatically different. First electricity was almost unknown. There was, for example one small light bulb outside the Puri Agung (King’s Palace) on the Main Street. As far as I know that was it. The light at night was provided by lamps that were fuelled by coconut oil. It was soft and gentle, totally non intrusive. There was no television, except perhaps in the enclosed spaces of the very rich, in Denpasar. This is mere speculation, for I never came across it, way back then.
Washing of self and clothing took place in the rivers, under the flowing waters of some spring, or with a coconut bowl from an indoor water vessel. If hot water was required, it was simply boiled using the ancient method of pot-on-top-of fire.
Hot water was used only when one was ill, or if one didn’t manage to wash before dusk. It was dangerous to wash with cold water after dark for health reasons. When one lives in the tropics this is wise. Yes, washing one’s body at least twice a day is normal practice here and one which I agree with. The body is considered to be a sacred temple and it is therefore advisable to keep our temples impeccably clean… for many reasons!!
Back then it was possible to drink the water from springs with total confidence as it was pure and delicious. Now due to the influx of ‘Progress’ much of this pure water is so contaminated that it has to be boiled, or treated in some other manner. This is something that the Old People regret and consider with both sadness and increasing alarm.
Back then there were few cars, some motor bikes, for the privileged few. Bemo’s (a sort of covered mini van) were the normal mode of public transport, into which was piled anything from people, sacks of rice, baskets of fruit, to chickens and even the occasional pig. Old Dutch bicycles were often seen. I had one myself for years. And then there was the world wide traditional method of transport… ‘Shank’s mare’ (walking).
Now, some of my Balinese friends say that the island will sink under the weight of cars, trucks, and tourist buses. More later…
Something that’s not mentioned in any of the brochures I’ve read about the ‘Paradise Island of the Gods’ that is Bali, concerns the ant population. These tiny creatures constitute, as far as I know, one of the largest communities in Bali.
I am often reminded of their presence, especially early in the morning, as I walk into the kitchen to prepare for the day ahead. In the dim light just before the sun’s glorious rising and if I am still not quite awake, and fail to check the floor, I will find myself immediately wide awake as I become their latest feast.
These tiny creatures descend, en masse within minutes to scavenge even the smallest traces of food. Flour, crumbs, oil, sugar are like magnets that draw them by the zillions, especially before it rains. Left to their own devices they are amazing garbage collectors.
However to walk into their midst in the early hours of the morning, is to become an irresistible delicacy, as they swarm, with lightening speed on any available part of one’s anatomy. Their consequent sampling of your flesh, has the power to set one hopping and slapping them off as they rush in all directions to taste the enormous food package that has arrived in their midst…. surely a gift from their gods!
Out comes the broom. Their orderly pathways are disrupted in what for them must be a cataclysmic event. However the speed with which they reorganise their marching columns is a miracle to observe. It doesn’t take long for them to come back, unless one uses some noxious substance, such as kerosene, to disguise their way.
There are so many different types of ants here. There are red ones, black ones, brown ones, big ones, small ones, each with a different Life’s Purpose. There are those who bite and those who don’t. There are the white ones that eat houses unless one takes the drastic measures of extermination. If you don’t, you may come crashing through the floor or alternatively have the house come crashing down on you.
The older Balinese people have a wealth of knowledge concerning each type of ant. They have names to describe whatever attribute each species possess. They are more that happy to share their knowledge with anyone interested enough to ask.
Enough for now!
The Earthquake of last Saturday, an intense experience, reminded me of one I experienced here about 30 years ago and how in 2 seconds everything can be destroyed.
During this one, the Earth shuddered and rocked as if trying to free herself of some great and painful burden. The trees outside my window shimmered and shook, as if blown by sudden strong winds. Leaves and flowers came showering and coconuts crashed to the ground. The waters in the rice paddies made waves as if they had suddenly become little seas. The birds were silent. People screamed with fright as they ran for safety.
After the initial ‘heart lurch’ of recognition, I went outside to stand where I could be sure the roof wouldn’t suddenly cave in and bury me beneath a pile of bamboo and straw.
“Wow, this is the biggest quake for years. The epicentre must be in the ocean, as it moves in a horizontal direction. Hope no-one gets hurt”, I thought. An old Balinese friend once explained that when the Earth shook sideways, it meant that the centre was out to sea and when it moved up and down, it meant it was in the mountains.
I didn’t feel afraid as I stood there. However I found myself thinking of all those concrete and steel buildings that have landed all over Bali in the past few years and how dangerously unsuitable they are in these parts of the world. The traditional methods of building were far superior and were the result of an in depth understanding and wisdom. There was a whole science involved, which even included the season for cutting the wood, bamboo,‘alang alang’(special grass used for roofs) and the different methods for curing, which were in harmony with the natural environment.
I could fill pages on the subject, for it is something I feel very passionate about.
Standing in the garden, which feels like the large deck of a ship in the middle of a stormy sea, so many thoughts pass through my head.
Time seems to stand still. Nature seems to hold her breath. The shudders increase. Suddenly it’s over.
A few minutes later, some Balinese friends come rushing through the gate. They came to see if we were all right and if the house was still standing! Having assured themselves that all was well they regaled us with stories of what they had witnessed and experienced. (“Ibu Pertiwi marah sekali”) Earth Mother is very angry, because so many of us are forgetting to be thankful and our thinking is becoming too heavy with the stress of modern living. ‘Money thinking’ is eating our brains and the banks are invading our sacred spaces with empty symbols lies and pretence. We are eating the lives of our grandchildren. We know that there is good and bad in everything, and it is up to each one of us to remember what is important in life, so we can help restore the balance to our lives". This is as literal a translation as I can manage and it expresses what many of the older Balinese people have been saying for years, as they grapple with the enormous, and for them meaningless life that is claiming their land and their people.
Later in the afternoon, come the offerings for the temple and the Earth, in the form of beautiful flowers, incense and holy water. The whole place is blessed and a feeling of peace and gratitude fills the air.
The fast becoming famous Writer’s Festival has been to and gone. Ubud was flooded with various members of the world’s intelligentsia.
Due to a rather nasty fall, in which I was rendered incapable of walking very far or sitting for more than a few minutes at a time.
I did, though manage, with help, attend the launching of a little book of short stories called ‘Dragons in the bath’ by a lady who is known as Ibu Kat (Cat Wheeler). For anyone wishing to have a glimpse into various aspects of her life in Bali, it is well worth the read.
* * *
* * *
When we live without appreciation
we spend our lives chasing liberation
from the self imposed prison of inflexible thought.
Love fails to reach through invisible walls of projected false image before which everything falls.
freedom’s gestures of friendship
seen as threats to be fought.
Smothered in darkness, our creativity dies our experience filtered through insinuation and lies easy prey to the peddlers of what cannot be bought.
* * * * *
* * *
For many years the only access to the giant basket in which we live was a narrow path through the rice fields. It was about a foot wide and served as an excellent exercise in mindfulness. A single moment of inattention could all too easily result in what was affectionately known (in those days) as The Bali Baptism. There were many degrees to this famous experience, from mere toe wetting to full emersion in muck and slime. Baptism stories flourished and were the subject of much hilarity and occasionally embarrassment. In fact rice-paddy ducking were considered to be one of the major initiations into Bali life.
For years this experience eluded me. However I knew that one day or night when I least expected it the experience would be mine. There could be no cheating, mind you, no deliberate meddling would qualify as the real thing.
When that fateful moment finally arrived it was thorough and was absolutely unexpected.
TO be continued
Will Write again soon. My back is telling me to lie down for now. Love
The big buzz of the moment here in Ubud is now the filming of the best seller "Eat Pray Love’. Rumours abound and stories flood the coconut telephone. Julia Roberts is playing the main character and Javier Bardem has been cast in the role of the romantic hero. The word is that Brad Pitt is the Director / Producer, however that could be merely pipelined speculation.
As the injury to my spine has punished me severely for my venture into Tutmac’s for the book launch, I have not had the opportunity to catch even a glimpse of the exciting proceedings. However, my Balinese friends have come here with what is probably an entirely different view of the events than would appear in any of the local or global news.
Early one morning Wayan, a friend of over 20 years, burst into the kitchen in a flurry that was totally out of character. She apologised for being late. I asked her what was the matter and she launched into an explanation that involved something about “IPIEL”. This IPIEL had taken over the market and everyone had to walk a long way to find their fruit and vegetables for the day. The Dagangs (vendors) had to haul their wares way up some road, out of the way, and many people didn’t know where to go for their usual early morning shopping. She described the big black expensive cars and trucks that had invaded the market place. I asked what on earth was this EPIEL and she said she didn’t know. I assumed that it must be some sort of bureaucratic convention of sorts.
Later in the afternoon Pedro came home and told me that they had been filming part of the film EAT PRAY LOVE in the market and were packing up when he happened to pass by. It was only then that it finally dawned on me that what Wayan called IPIEL was EPL – EAT PRAY LOVE.
Later Pak Nyoman, another Balinese friend came to tell us that the Film-makers had moved to Penestanen Klod, for the evening, and that the road was blocked , But if we wanted to have a look we could see some of the events from his kampung. Alas that too has been impossible….so the big event has sailed past on its way to Hollywood…without my having had even the tiniest glimpse.
For many years the only access to the giant ‘basket’ in which we live was a narrow path through the rice fields. It was about a foot wide and served as an excellent exercise in mindfulness. A single moment of inattention could all too easily result in what was affectionately known as The Bali Baptism.
There were many degrees to this famous experience, from mere toe wetting to full emersion in muck and slime. Baptism stories flourished and were the subject of much hilarity and occasionally embarrassment. In fact rice paddy duckings were considered to be one of the major initiations into Bali life.
For years this experience eluded me. However, I knew that one day or night when I least expected it the experience would be mine. There could be no cheating. Mind you, no deliberate meddling would qualify as the real thing.
When that fateful moment finally arrived it was thorough and was absolutely unexpected.
TO be continued
Will Write again soon. My back is telling me to lie down for now. Love
My Bali Baptism
It so happened that Tanya, the daughter of one of my closest friends from University arrived to stay with us. It was, in a manner of speaking, for her, a very important pilgrimage. Her Mother, Jeannette was born in Indonesia and was adopted when she was very young, by Marten Toonder and his wife Phiny, who lived at that time in Holland. Later they decided to live in Ireland with their family and that is how we came to meet.
Jeannette often expressed the wish to come to Indonesia, However she left this world before she had the opportunity. Hence Tanya’s visit was, in a way, a coming home. It was a wonderful moment for her, as everywhere she went she was greeted as if she were in fact Balinese. So indeed she felt as if she had come home.
One evening we were invited to the home of a Balinese Friend, who was well versed in the culture and history of Indonesia. We spent many hours in his company and listening to his stories. He was bombarded with a profusion of questions that Tanya needed to ask. He answered them all with such patient enthusiasm, that we forgot the time.
Meanwhile the Heavens opened and a mini deluge came lashing down…. and didn’t stop.
In Ireland we believe we know what rain is, well the famous rain of Ireland is but a gentle drizzle in comparison to what happens here…. when it rains.
We decided to make a dash for it any way, not wanting to keep our gracious host from his slumbers any more than we had already.
Luckily by the time we reached the narrow path home, the rain had stopped. However we discovered that one of our torches had died and the other was waning. It was decided that I go first with the dim light, Tanya would follow with Pedro at the rear. The idea being that he could perhaps steady her if she missed her step.
Well I put my foot where the path should have been to discover that the path was no longer where it ‘should’ have been. It had completely collapsed during the deluge. Sure enough, I stepped into nothingness and landed in the water channel that flowed beside the rice paddy. I managed to keep my balance and avoided the actual field itself until Pedro, being the gentleman he is, reached out to help me up. He missed his step and guess what, fell on top of me, sending us both toppling the rest of the way in what felt like a slow cartoonish motion…. face first into the smelly, slimy, sticky muck of freshly ploughed water flooded earth. It went in my eyes, my ears and even up my nose. I managed to avoid getting it in my mouth despite the fact that I was laughing so hard I thought I’d never be able to get up. I was so laden down with dripping mud that walking became a sloshing shuffle. Pedro fared better as he was protected from the worst of the mud bath by the convenience of my body.
So that is how Pedro and I had the unexpected pleasure of ‘sharing’ our Bali Baptism.
Tanya, our city guest who had never negotiated a pathway narrower than a London laneway, at night, remained mud less and pristine in her white dress. However she said the experience was priceless and would provide her with much laughter for years to come.