Eccentric art and a funeral

Friday 4 July 2008 – Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

The restaurant at Bali Spirit overlooked the Wos river – in fact the hotel sits on the side of the river gorge. Each morning local villagers come to a rock in the river directly below the restaurant to bathe and do their laundry – a sort of ethnographic matinee.

The Blanco Renaissance Museum, Ubud

Time to get down to some shopping today – but first a cultural experience. Today the ridiculous Antonio Blanco museum. Blanco was one of the western creatives who settled in Bali, this time post-WWII. The photo of Blanco on the brochure one receives with the entry ticket tells all one needs to know about him – a Catalan eccentric artist of doubtful talent with a well- (nay, over-) developed sense of his own self-importance.

His ‘museum’, grandly titled ‘The Blanco Renaissance Museum’, full of his ugly pictures is in a substantial pavilion on Campuan Ridge. Architecturally it might be termed ‘Balinese Rococo’. A domed cupola tops two levels of gallery. Admittedly it is a better-equipped and maintained space than the Lekisan Museum, with spotlights and although not climate controlled, the substance of the building itself ensures a more stable atmosphere.

An eccentric, although somehow fitting, toucan stood guard on the gallery steps.

Toucan at the Blanco Musum, Ubud
Toucan at the Blanco Musum, Ubud

Then to the market, where I mercilessly beat down the prices of a cotton shirt, couple of t-shirts, a nice indigo batik sarong and some small gifts. All the vendors were busily offering ‘morning price’ despite it being after midday.

Had a chicken bagel(!) for lunch in a little warung on Jalan Gotama, then to Jalan Dewi Sita for some jewellery – pearls for mum, pendants for others, trinkets for Harriette and Alex – all good fun.

Walking along Jalan Hanuman during the mid afternoon, I was engulfed in a funeral procession. This clearly wasn’t a major cremation ceremony, but hundreds of Balinese followed the bier down the road, and substantial quantities of food had been prepared. It is possible that the deceased will be included in the cremation later this month.

In Balinese culture, cremation is vital to release the soul and the ceremony must be conducted with due pomp and solemnity. For this reason, ordinary Balinese are often buried and then exhumed to be  cremated during a major ceremony when a significant or prominent person, such as a member of one of the ‘royal’ families of Bali, dies and the noble family pays the costs associated with the ritual.

Back to the hotel to count the spoils, then to Pura Dalem (open stage above Jalan Raya Ubud) for an excellent Kecak and Fire Dance performance.

Kecak Dance, Ubud
Kecak Dance, Ubud

This Kecak put it in the context of the Ramayana story, another epic battle among the deities. The fire dance was quite gripping – the dancer in the horse costume goes into a trance and kicks the embers of burning coconut husks around – some of them coming very close to the audience. It was much better than the previous Kecak Dance I’d seen (link), which was I suppose the equivalent of a chorus line number from a musical. This was at least one whole act.

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