Category Archives: Daily Sights

Horn OK Please

I’ve always been a very visual learner. When learning a new place, it is no different. Cross-referencing my physical experience of moving through a city with the visual representation of the journey on a map is important to me.

I had an idea of the location of my guest house before leaving, but only an idea. Addresses in India follow different syntax than what I am accustomed to, and many addresses include items like “nearby this prominent location” or “opposite of this building you will hopefully already know or be able to locate”. Building numbers and street names don’t’ seem to be used much, if it all.

My first night: Sector 8, New Panvel, Navi Mumbai
My first night: Sector 8, New Panvel, Navi Mumbai

At 11:30pm, it was a dark ride and over an hour’s drive from the airport. I’m not really sure the path we took, but traffic was not bad. As we got closer, the cab driver would stop and ask people on the street about the location of my guest house, or at least the hospital it was said to be nearby. I checked in, notified my contacts I had safely arrived, and was asleep by 1:30.

Thursday, First Day

Eastern view from the guest house
Eastern view from the guest house
Downward view from the guest house
Downward view from the guest house
Symmetrical view from the guest house
Symmetrical view from the guest house

I looked out of my 6th floor window in the morning to look at the suburb of New Panvel. There were some nearby hills, a lake, and some cows grazing in a grassy triangle between the street and the highway. After a breakfast and couple quick phone conversations, it was determined that I would be changing residence to a more central location in Mumbai. I packed up my things, had a quick lunch, and took a taxi to Vashi station to meet Sheetal, our artistic consultant/coordinator, wardrobe supervisor, charge painter, etc.

During our drizzly cab ride to join Jinal and Toral, who are working in production and stage management on Maya, Sheetal and I discussed a work plan. There was so much sensory information from the streets we passed along that it was difficult to focus. There were different styles of architecture and plant life. There was the constant (literally) honking of horns as cars, trucks, motorcles, scooters, rickshaws, hand drawn carts, and pedestrians wove the fabric of traffic. In many cases, traffic lanes and signals are merely a suggestion of what one might do if so inclined.

Haji Ali Dargh. This mosque is situated out in the water, and only accessible by foot path at low tide.
Haji Ali Dargah. This mosque is situated out in the water, and only accessible by foot path at low tid

We collected Jinal and Toral and looked at one of our two prospective workspaces. It was in an office in South Mumbai, not far from the beautiful Nariman Point. It was very clean, carpeted and formal, and the hours were restricted to 9-6. It’s pretty difficult to stay tidy when sculpting clay, using papier mache, etc. After the tour, we all agreed that it wasn’t optimal. The artistic process doesn’t always easily conform to a business day schedule. Sometimes the work you are doing suddenly takes off late in the day, and you would be a fool to stop working because of an external and arbitrary stop time…especially on the condensed time frame we are on.

With my wet bags up on the rack of the taxi, the four of us proceeded along the waterfront to Worli Sea Face and the home of Shaheen Mistri, founder and CEO of Teach For India. After meeting Raju, a former student of Sheetal and a recent arts school graduate, the five us stepped through each of the masks and puppets needed, the materials required and so on. After a delicious meal of dal, rice, and vegetable dishes, I moved my belongings into a room at Shaheen’s place.

Character designs from the show!
A character design from the show!
Keeper-Obsidian
I will be interpreting the designs of Simi as I create these creatures

Shop til you Drop

The next day was shopping day. or more like an education day.  Either way you look at it, it was ALL day.

My new trusty sidekick Raju took me all around streets and streets of markets. I think we were in Crawford Market. Each street of stalls is sort of thematic: “Plastics”,  “Stationery”, “Machine parts”, etc. Traffic is of course insane, and the horns remained constant. Social relationships were at play, it was very clear, though I don’t know who was which part. it took quite some time to break out of the spell of it and remember what things I was looking for. Most vendors spoke Marathi or Hindi, and very few spoke a little English. I still only have only the most general idea where we were most of the time.

Morning in South Mumbai
Morning in South Mumbai

After dodging crumbling pavements and suspicious pools of water for sometime, we entered a primarily Muslim neighborhood. Here was much more of a ‘junk store’ approach. It reminded me of a parallel experience in years ago in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where at the time there were many stores of collected junk for resale under awkward lighting. All this junk, however, is laid out in the street on tarps and such. According to Raju, all of it is second hand and/or stolen. This was in the Chor Bazaar (“Thief Bazaar”). Raju reminded me to watch my pockets.
At 1:30, the muezzin started calling, and the street was about to close for prayer. We caught a cab as soon as we could and got out of the neighborhood before it was impossible. We ventured forth and north to Dadar. This is where I will be working, close to the Dadar West train station.  We grabbed lunch from a restaurant to go— really I suppose it was a food stand. Samosa chaat, a noodle roti and something else potatoey. It was all very good (though the next day Sheetal chided Raju for giving my untrained stomach street food).  The work space is a little small, but accessible at all hours and surrounded by other markets. It will be awesome!

The first day!
The first day!

We looked for more materials—it just takes sooo long! I was simultaneously taking note of, well, everything. The sounds, the signs, the traffic, the experience of being the only person who looks like me in a group of thousands, what materials are common in US but hard to find here, what materials are in both but with radically different names, and what the Indians like to use. Which is apparently thermocol. That’s styrofoam. There’s a lot of thermocol that has been intricately shaped and is often used for a variety of festivals. I may be learning some new materials!

Looking at the bottom of a mask carved from thermocol by Sunil
Looking at the bottom of a mask carved from thermocol by Sunil

With things still running a bit slowly, and with all my senses still being assaulted, we took the train up to Mahim Junction to look at the baskets woven on the street. We commissioned a full sphere basket as a test as an armature for sculpting some of the helmet masks. We had at least and hour before it would be ready, so we took the train two stops back down to Dadar. Traveling back to Dadar was more hectic because of rush hour. The trains doors are left open, and many people sort of hang out the sides. New Yorkers: if you think you know the stress of a rush hour subway, think again. Mumbai has you on this one.

Suddenly the purchasing mojo sort of kicked in and things were found without too much trouble. Hooray! We dropped it off at the workspace.  Once back in Dadar, we were suddenly able to find many materials we wanted right away. The reward of the day!

View out of our workspace.
View out of our workspace.

We closed up the studio and went once more to the train to collect our new basket. As we let several overcrowded trains pass in the hope of a less populated car, Raju told me that he had once seen a drunk man climb on top of the train because it was so crowded. However, he hit the power line and was dead on the ground in six seconds. His entire person was aflame.

We took a cab.

The basket collected and the day ended, we traveled back to Worli Sea Face for some food and rest.

Setting it all up

The Sculpting area!
The Sculpting area!

The next day was full of plotting out work schedules for each day and setting up the studio. A well-organized workspace cannot be beat! Having experienced a bit of what was available in the markets, I tried to determine with what material each masks could be made. Sheetal brought me some powdered clay – I had never used it before and was dubious. As Raju painted some of the thermocol pieces created by another artist on the project, I managed to figure it out (I think). And now the first mask is underway!

Getting designs ready.
Getting designs ready.
Draft version of our monkey! I will make a mold and cast 9 of them.
Draft version of our monkey! I will make a mold and cast 9 of them.
Sheetal and Zamir
Sheetal and Zamir
Sunil's work stored above, transforming the studio into an installation piece at the same time.
Sunil’s work stored above, transforming the studio into an installation piece at the same time.

Rest easy

The following day I took off from studio work to change residence again. Now I am locate just between Worli and Dadar in Prabhadevi. A quick walk around yesterday afternoon yielded the location of Starbucks (and therefore internet) and thus I am able to write this all now. I don’t know how often my workload will permit blogging, but I will try to keep you all updated at least with a couple of pictures now and then!

Rest easy, Portlanders. I am not so far from home. We even have a LLoyd Center.
Rest easy, Portlanders. I am not so far from home. We even have a LLoyd Center.
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Bali 2014 Photos

Bali 2014 Photos

As promised, more photos!  Click on the link above to see all the photos in the blog and many, many more.  It is such a pleasure to share them with you, and to give a little visual context for all I’ve been writing about.

This trip was done through a program of Dell’Arte International. It was made possible in part by funding from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

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Things to Remember

The Surprises of Surprise

Wearing one of I.B. Anom's creations the first week in Bali.
Wearing one of I.B. Anom’s creations the first week in Bali.

Re-entry is interesting. And by interesting, I mean full of surprises. Surprise is also, itself, interesting. And therefore surprise is…surprising.

I’m not just playing circular word games.  Surprise, like accidents, cannot ever be fully predicted.  For example, when thinking about my reactions to coming back to the US after studying abroad, I could see some likely outcomes, and was therefore relatively prepared for those. But re-entry is surprising (=interesting (=surprising)). No matter how much I might look ahead or prepare, there will always be something surprising, something I won’t see coming.  Yet somehow I’m always surprised by the fact that I get surprised. And that’s interesting.

Melati Cottages, our home away from home. At the time this picture was taken, Portland was 66 degrees colder than Bali. But that was to be the least surprising change.
Melati Cottages, our home away from home. At the time this picture was taken, Portland was 66 degrees colder than Bali. But that was to be the least surprising change.

It was surprising to me to find the way in which the known parts of my life at home were feeling foreign. Suddenly awake and confused with jetlag at 4am, I looked at everything  in my room.  “This is mine. I chose these things. This is the way they look.”  Somehow it felt all very faraway. Recognizable, yes; but the thread of connection was difficult to perceive.

Nyoman Setiawan and I at the last group class in Pondok Pekak.
Nyoman Setiawan and I at the last group carving class in the Pondok Pekak Learning Center in Ubud.

A few days have passed, and the feeling has largely diminished. And as my home reality takes precedence, I want to record a list of sights and impressions from my trip before they, too, seem distant and difficult to connect with.

Sights and Sites

The second room I enjoyed at Melati Cottages. Much whiter and open than my first accommodations. Aren't mosquito nets ineffably romantic?
The second room I enjoyed at Melati Cottages.  Aren’t mosquito nets ineffably romantic?

(These are in no particular order)

° Sidewalks are segmented, and some stones  have metal handles. The walkway often has several stones which have fallen in, revealing the water channels beneath. These channels are all connected to each other.

Lucy and I in temple dress at a ceremony in Batuan.
Lucy and I in temple dress at a ceremony in Batuan.

° Sarongs, sarongs, sarongs! They are commonly sold in printed, batik, or ikat fabrics.

° Shops that are all selling mostly the same things, right next to each other. Bargaining is the way things are done. “I give you good price, for luck.” Keep your sense of humor.

School children in their uniforms are frequently seen on motorbikes or waiting for the bemo. Very sharp looking crowd.
School children in their uniforms are frequently seen on motorbikes or waiting for the bemo. Very sharp looking crowd.
Amazing statuary at major intersections is very popular. I vote no billboards, more huge sculpture, America
Amazing statuary at major intersections is very popular. I vote no billboards, more huge sculpture, America.

° The lack of idle chatter about first world problems, celebrities, and so on. How refreshing!

Tempe, a favorite of mine for many years, is an Indonesian food that is a fermented soybean cake. As pictured here, it also battered and fried and served with several types of spicy sambal.
Tempe, a favorite of mine for many years, is an Indonesian food that is a fermented soybean cake. As pictured here, it is also battered and fried and served with several types of spicy sambal.

This is not to say I didn’t witness some very odd Javanese game shows and soap operas on mute in the central room at the hotel.

° Coconut, banana, papaya, and jackfruit trees are widespread. There was even a mangosteen tree on the grounds of the hotel! Thankfully durian were more rare.

Daily breakfast at the hotel included fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, lime), some sort of eggs, and ALWAYS banana crepes.
Daily breakfast at the hotel included fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, lime), some sort of eggs, and ALWAYS banana crepes.

° The frequent appearance of the words “spa” and “villa.” These words are replacing the words “rice paddies” with increasing frequency.

° Bottles of petrol for sale on the side of the road. You can buy in either kecil (small) or besar (large). The large fills your motor scooter tank, and costs 1400 rupiah. That’s about $1.

° Very noticeable is the red and grey and black coloration of so many housing compounds and temples.

Much is exposed to the elements in Bali. Many buildings and restaurants and shops have few external walls, if any.
Much is exposed to the elements in Bali. Many buildings and restaurants and shops have few external walls, if any.

° I enjoyed the moments where I started to understand what I was seeing.  Just the beginning of understanding really, like when you’re learning a language, and every so often you recognize a word instead of only hearing sounds.  The positions of the golden statues I’d seen along the road when I arrived were suddenly recognizable choreography.  When looking at  a painting or temple figure,  I could recognize a character or sometimes a part of the story of the Mahabharata or Ramayana. What was aesthetic appreciation at first now carries more context and has more meaning.

Rice paddies along Jalan Bisma.
Rice paddies along Jalan Bisma.

° Black and white checkered sarongs wrapped around banyan trees, signifying they have a spirit and are protected. These sarongs also sometimes appear on certain statues.  Balinese religion is a fascinating mix of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism. Good and evil are both acknowledged as forces in the world—our purpose is to keep them in balance.

The family temple, as seen from above, of my mask carving teacher. Note the Moe (of Larry, Curly, and) hairstyle of the small towers.
The family temple, as seen from above, of my mask carving teacher. Note the Moe (of Larry, Curly, and…) hairstyle of the small towers.
Dewi Suraswati, the goddess of learning and the arts. Careful observers will note that in this rendition, a toothbrush is in the mouth of the goose. Much debate among international scholars about the relevance of said toothbrush doubtless to follow.
Dewi Suraswati, the goddess of learning and the arts. Careful observers will note that in this rendition, a toothbrush is in the mouth of the goose. Much debate among international scholars about the relevance of said toothbrush doubtless to follow.
Architectural detail. Much of the construction is cinder block. Scaffolding is done with bamboo.
Architectural detail. Much of the construction is cinder block. Scaffolding is done with bamboo.

° Offerings are everywhere. Not just on the front porch, or in a little box at the corner of a building. Even in the middle of the supermarket, there are offerings.

° Wayan Wija talking to us about his role as a dalang (puppeteer). The dalang is also a sort of a priest and philosopher. He often deals in ancient stories that bring to life questions of philosophy, while also providing something for the eyes to enjoy. Wija says that even in Bali, so many now are filled up with material concerns, few have room in them for philosophy.

I.W. Wija lets us experiment with this amazing expressive shadow puppets at his house in Ubud. (Photo by Yavni Bar-Yam)
I.W. Wija lets us experiment with this amazing expressive shadow puppets at his house in Ubud. (Photo by Yavni Bar-Yam)
At least I looked completely inconspicuous and at ease at all times.
At least I looked completely inconspicuous and at ease at all times.

° Parisawata tour buses choke the small, winding back roads… Chinese and Australian tourists wander in downtown Ubud… white people look hot and uncomfortable while some Balinese are wearing jackets, because it’s cold to them.

° The smell of cempaka incense.

° Frogs performing their own version of a kecak or a gamelan. All three—frogs, chant, and orchestra—produce interlocking sounds that are beautifully trance-like and transporting. But how do the frogs all know to cease at same time?

Nyoman shows off his dancing hands. Carvers are also dancers.
Nyoman shows off his dancing hands. Carvers are also dancers.

° Our mask carving teacher talked to us about the meaning of the progression of the characters in the one-man topeng pajegang. The progression of the story mirrors the the entire life of a person. The dancer moves from the rough path of youth with strong will and body (topeng keras) to the strength of mind and experience (topeng tua) to the enrichment of life gained from sharing experience (topeng penasar) to the leadership of others (topeng dalem) and finally to  success and prosperity (topeng sida karya).

The large market is Ubud is a confusing trail of stalls spanning several buildings and multiple levels.  FYI the scent does not improve as you descend.
The large market is Ubud is a confusing trail of stalls spanning several buildings and multiple levels. FYI the scent does not improve as you descend.
Snake deities called naga line the staircases of this temple at Goa Lawah.
Snake deities called naga line the staircases of this temple at Goa Lawah.
Shadow puppets!  They are painted because they are sometimes used in daylight. Also, the paint design helps remind the puppeteer of the feeling of the character.
Shadow puppets! They are painted because they are sometimes used in daylight. Also, the paint design helps remind the puppeteer of the feeling of the character.

This trip was made possible in part by a professional development grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

At left, how the camera captured Mt. Agung on my last morning walk. However, it was much more visible to the naked eye. At right, a highly altered photograph reveals the outline of the peak. Tricksy mountain.
At left, how the camera captured Mt. Agung on my last morning walk. However, it was much more visible to the naked eye. At right, a highly altered photograph reveals the outline of the peak. Tricksy mountain.

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Juxtapositions

A lotus flower on the way to the Wantilan at Melati Cottages, where we have daily warmups and classes in kecak and topeng
A lotus flower on the way to the Wantilan at Melati Cottages, where we have daily warmups and classes in kecak and topeng

Most days I wake naturally about 6:30 am (2:30 pm the previous day Pacific Standard Time). The sound of roosters is frequent, regardless of the time of day. Roosters are often in small round bamboo cage baskets by the edge of the road. Apparently this is to desensitize them to loud noises and sudden disturbances so that they perform better in cockfights. These fights are simultaneously a part of the religion and technically illegal.You might see a man washing his cock by the side of the road late at night in the U.S., but I assure you it’s a different thing here in Bali.

Said roosters.
Said roosters.
Allie's gecko impersonation
Allie’s gecko impersonation

Geckos are similarly omnipresent. I have discovered their name is onomatopoeic for the sound they make. Some are quite large;all are walking over the walls and ceiling. These small lizards eat pesky insects, so who can complain?

A very plaintive (and hungry) kitten who found me outside the museum at Kertha Gosa.
Not a dog, but a very plaintive (and hungry) kitten who found me outside the museum at Kertha Gosa.

Dogs are quite common, though not kept in the same be-sweatered and organically fed way now fashionable in urban USA.  Judging from appearances as you pass by on the street, many range from very skinny to malnourished. Some unwanted dogs are also driven to certain locations and left to fend for themselves. There are some organizations lobbying for better treatment of the canines; some restaurants donate portions of their profit to the cause.

Street art on Jalan Penestanan: a mix of tradition and contemporary
Street art on Jalan Penestanan: a mix of tradition and contemporary

Frequently sighted are all kinds of trash. Before the advent of petrochemicals, nearly all waste items were organic. For example, food was served on banana leaves; when the meal was over, the ‘plate’ would be tossed into a nearby irrigation canal to eventually drain to the ocean. No problem, right? But as the type of materials has evolved, the habit of tossing trash has remained constant.

A priest is being cremated within the frame of this bull. Which animal you are cremated in depends on your caste. The very poor often have mass cremations, no animals included. Though many ceremonies are carried out with slow burning wood fires beneath the effigy, a different approach is taken here.
A priest is being cremated within the frame of this bull. Which animal you are cremated in depends on your caste. The very poor often have mass cremations, no animals included. Though many ceremonies are carried out with slow burning wood fires beneath the effigy, a different approach is taken here.

We were at a cremation ceremony a few weeks ago, and someone had collect our garbage of soda cans and potato chip bags into a plastic bag.  A Balinese woman saw it, threw the bags into the bushes and kept the cans (presumably for a deposit). Even as beautiful offerings of palm, flowers and incense are carefully place everywhere you look, trash of all sorts is being frequently burned, if not dumped in the water. I have taken to the game of playing “Garbage or Incense?”  A cliffhanger every time!

The people of Bali are really great. Everyone I’ve met has been warm and gracious. There a variety of visitors, some on vacation, some on a program of study. Many people come here looking for paradise, affordable goods, or a healing from some perceived deficit in themselves. Eat, Pray, Love seems to have stoked that fire. On my less generous days, I feel if I never see another middle-aged white woman wandering wide-eyed and wistful in yoga pants through the streets of Ubud, it will be too soon.

This is the coolest kid ever. His mother runs the warung near the library where we carve some days, and he would frequently come inside to try on our masks, play on the gamelan, or climb Spencer.
This is the coolest kid ever. His mother runs the warung near the library where we carve some days, and he would frequently come inside to try on our masks, play on the gamelan, or climb Spencer. He is also not talkative, so I never caught his name.

However, even with the stream of visitors beginning back at least in the 1930s (if you don’t count colonial times as a “visit”), the Balinese remain so friendly and accommodating. We are always treated very well as guests.  If at a ceremony not knowing where to sit, they will offer a seat for you. Fall on your motorbike? They quickly move to help. Yesterday, our mask teacher told us he’d been up all night with his father at the hospital, and had come to class directly from that experience. Yet he was full of genuine smiles and easy laughter as he shared his knowledge and art with us. I hope to pay these kinds of gestures forward.

A view of Ubud from three stories up.
A view of Ubud from three stories up.
Not really a clear segue here, but THIS SPIDER IS AS BIG AS MY HAND. I see it every morning.
Not really a clear segue here, but THIS SPIDER IS AS BIG AS MY HAND. I see it every morning.
Fun hats make the world go round!  This one is an amazing find from Japan Town in San Francisco - it collapses to completely flat, and is (oddly) foil-lined.
Fun hats make the world go round! This one is an amazing find from Japan Town in San Francisco – it collapses to completely flat, and is (oddly) foil-lined.

I haven’t worn shoes in about a month. Flip flops carry you from location to location, and are removed before entering most places. When I first arrived, I was taking the bemo to and from classes.  Well, sort of. The bemo is actually more of a public bus; ours is hired specifically for our group of students.

An Arjuna statue near Gianyar, as viewed from a hired car.
An Arjuna statue near Gianyar, as viewed from a hired car.

It was a great education on the nature of traffic in Bali. Traffic keeps to the left here, but that’s the least of the differences. The center line is a little more of a general guideline. Autos, motorcycles and scooters weave with in subtle moment-to-moment negotiations of speed, turns, right of way, potholes, and hanging banyan vines. Vehicles of all sizes may suddenly pass or approach you from any direction, on any side of the line. It’s not as unsafe as it may sound, just structured slightly differently than the more controlled queue format in the States. I never even thought of our traffic this way until witnessing its counterpart.

Not my scooter, but one of my fellow classmates.
Not my scooter, but one of my fellow classmates.Who can trust blogs these days? Misleading juxtaposition everywhere!

And a week later, I hired a motor scooter. After a few days of practice, I was set to go! I think my decade and a half of bicycle riding prepared me well—like the rooster by the side of the road, I’m acclimated to large vehicles passing by all of a sudden. It’s really quite nice, and the most efficient way to balance getting to class and seeing the island for myself.

Hiking the "Ants Back"- the Campuan Ridge in Ubud one morning
Hiking the “Ants Back”- the Campuan Ridge in Ubud one morning

 

racc_orange_horizThis trip was made possible in part by a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.