Category Archives: Travel Adventures

An Italian Summer(y)

Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali

Earlier this summer, I posted about my study with the Sartori in Abano Terme, a small city of 19,000 near the larger city of Padova. Here are a few photos of the rest of that work!

 

From our initial designs on paper, we sculpted our masks in clay. Then we made a mold, did a test run in carta pesta (an Italian papier mache), and made modifications as necessary. We then used all of our research to sculpt the wooden matrix, which was used as the base to shape our leather. This entire process took a month. It’s such a wonderful experience to be able to take the time to concentrate on a project like this without other pressures.

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After finishing the masks, we met with Giorgio Bongiovanni of the Piccolo Teatro di Milano to investigate the performance of commedia masks, and later, our own. Fabian Gysling of Ècole Gysling was also there to help us find our characters and play in the masks. The slideshow above is from the public demonstration of our work. Luckily, the theater was air-conditioned.

A Two Week Interval

After completing the Sartori workshop at the CMSG, I had a little time to kill before my next workshop. I spent an extra day sketching masks at the Museo Internazionale della Maschera Amleto e Donato Sartori in Abano Terme. Next, I went to a farmhouse in Chiesanuova to visit my classmate Barbara, and together we traveled to San Miniato to visit mask maker Matteo Destro. Afterwards I traveled north to Malcesine, where I visited costume designer Fabio Toblini.  I regrouped with  friends to see Marmolada in the Dolomiti mountain range (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Finally, I explored historic Roma. It wasn’t built in a day, and you certainly can’t see it in three (especially in the summer heat). However, I was able to strategize a tour of Caravaggio paintings and some awesome historic buildings (e.g. the Basilica San Clemente) with the kind help of the friends and family of a fellow Portlander! (Molte grazie a Arturo, Anna, Riccardo, Guya, and Francesco!)

Here’s a slideshow sampler of my travels!

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Familie Flöz Sommer Akademie

My other study was a two-week course in mask performance and the creation of performance material in ensemble with the Berlin-based company Familie Flöz. Our classes were held in the Abbazia San Giusto, a refurbished monastery on the outskirts of the small town of Tuscania. When I told people in Italy where I was going, they (reasonably) assumed I was mispronouncing “Toscana” (aka the large region we call “Tuscany”). It only confuses the matter that Tuscania is quite near the border of Toscana.

The Familie Flöz is pretty unique. They create original, wordless, character-centered mask performances that often play in a clown-like sense of comedy. (Check out a short film of one of their first shows in 1995, and also a trailer for their show that just swept the Edinburgh Fringe off its feet). I was very curious to find out how they devise their work and the techniques they employ to bring these full-face masks to life.

Though some students came to study how to build masks, and others came for performance training, we all began the work together each morning with a movement class. What an amazing and perfect way to start the day! Apparently birds thought so too, because they would frequently find their way into the studio—screens on windows were rare—and take a long time to find their exit.

The first four days were conceived as a quick introduction to all of the subjects we could study more in depth beginning on day five. Not only was it a great way to survey the kind of work we would do, it also gave us an opportunity to see which of the company members had a teaching style that worked for us.  In the end, I focused on Alexander Technique & Neutral Mask, Character Building in Full Face Mask, and Devising & Directing Mask Theater.

We spent a lot of time both in and out of the mask as ways to approach building both characters and scenes. Character interviews, partnered movement studies, and improvisations all flipped between these two modes. Another important idea in the beginning of the work was to remove the pressure of producing something—this pressure often only stifles the breath of creativity, and the relative value of a given improvisation can be determined the day after.

We ended the workshop with a large celebration. This included masked characters walking around the grounds of the Abbey as visitors entered, followed by a number of short scenes —including the one our group created about a composer finding inspiration in his everyday surroundings. Then, of course, lots of food and dancing!

When I thought back over my experience, I thought a lot about what conditions made for my best work over the summer. None of these are necessarily surprising, but the combination of these things was important.

  • Doing one thing at a time
  • Working in community
  • Limiting distractions
  • Being in a supportive culture
  • Proactive learning: pursuing questions vs waiting to receive wisdom
  • Listening to my intuition
  • Daily movement practice / Intentional connection with the body
  • Remaining emotionally available
  • Exchange with other cultures

The same might be said of life in general.

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Final Dance Party at Abbazia San Giusto

Many thanks ! The study with Familie Flöz was made possible in part by a professional development grant from :

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Tutti piani

 

Welcome to my first blog from Italia. In short, it’s amazing! The study is engrossing, the people wonderful, a wine costs just a couple euro.Because of difficultly in previous years of the workshop, we aren’t allowed to take many pictures during the workshop, so instead of lots of mask process photos, you’ll enjoy shots of everyday life, gorgeous scenery, and lovely people. I’m sharing a flat for the month with another student from New York, and across the hall are wonderful artists from Firenze and Toronto. There are also more students from Italy, Spain, Mexico and the US.

<INTERPOLATION> Why do cities names changes in different languages?  As in, why do we call Firenze “Florence”? It’s a proper name, not a random vocabulary word. Or  why do we call Venezia, “Venice”?or  Deutschland ,”Germany”? or Nippon “Japan”? I can imagine changing the spelling in your language to make the same sounds, but actually changing the name? It makes more sense to me to call places what they call themselves, but that’s not how languages and culture work apparently. Or is it? After briefly searching the internet, the reason for difference between endonyms (what you call yourself) and exonyms (what others call you) often stem from the evolution of language itself.  Firenze is the Italian derivation of the Latin Florentia, but Florence was the English derivation, and Florenz the German. So maybe we did try the spelling trick way back when, but the world changed and language didn’t. Still, why can’t we be on the same page about this?  </INTERPOLATION>

As I said, the work is interesting and challenging. There is often an interpreter, and when there is not, many  of the students are multilingual—so the ideas aren’t too difficult to grasp.  You can really see and feel the inheritance of trained sculptors in this work. It’s not just actors who make masks—it’s artists who bring their knowledge of materials, sculpting tools and processes and strong visual arts skills and concepts to the work of theatrical mask.

We have been doing studies in preparation for making  of the leather mask. The traditional forms didn’t use paint to help augment the shaping of light and form. Instead, they rely on the sculpting of panes in the mask to give a sense of volume and life to the performance object.

 

 

I find it really interesting to consider this idea. The planes reflect light. And the abstraction of the forms of a face into simpler planes also helps us project our own experience on to the mask. Puppets can work in much the same way. In Understanding Comics, the artist Scott McCloud noted that as a face is rendered in increasingly specific detail, the easier it is to regard that face as something outside of ourselves. But as a face is simplified in its depiction, the easier it is for the viewer to regard it with a feeling of identification… it becomes more of an Everyperson.

So with these simplified planes, perhaps it becomes more possible for the actor and the audience, together, bring the object to life.

 

Christo’s Floating Piers at Lago d’Iseo— a mask of space?

 

 

Pictures from India

It’s taken a few months to organize and upload the photos from my trip to India, but I’m happy to report they are are ready! And good golly, there’s a lot of them. So a few options exist.

If you want the entire adventure, including all the work on Maya the musical and my subsequent travels to south India, follow this link.

If you want to see just the travels to south India, click here.

Faces of India

Once it was confirmed that I would be working in India this fall, I was excited to see if I could find out more about Indian mask traditions. Quick internet searches yielded little, only some tribal Himalayan masks to the north, and a number of colorful pieces in neighboring Sri Lanka.Talking with some people on the Maya project as well as  other mask friends gave me a few more  ideas about where to look.

Here’s a little of what I found!

Kerala

Kathakali

Kerala is a state in southern India that borders the Arabian Sea.  It is also home to kathakali, a highly stylized drama/dance.  The stories told in this form vary, but many are from the Mahabharata epic.

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Drummers and singers accompanied the characters throughout the performance.

If you arrive early to the performance, not only do you get to observer the performers apply their intense makeup, you also get a better seat. And I’m really glad we did.

Some of the makeup includeds 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks.
Some of the makeup includes 3-D elements, like the white disc at his cheeks. The green faced pacha character is always a good guy in the story being told.
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The makeup is made largely from the powders of different stones, or sometimes vegetable matter, mixed with coconut oil.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.
This clownish character had a white, flower-like nose attached on top of the makeup.

After the makeup was applied, there was a demonstration of the techniques used in the dance. You must train for many years before performing in the kathakali,  and the abilities of the dancers makes this clear.

The way they could move their eyes was nothing short of amazing. Eyes are very important in the communication of emotions in the drama, and these dancers have amazing muscular control. In addition, the performers of kathakali can isolate muscle groups in their face.  Not just like flaring nostrils or wiggling ears—try to imagine just the tops of the cheeks bouncing up and down while the rest of the face remains calm. It’s impressive!

The character designs painted on their faces come alive as these muscle isolations occur. These facial gestures are combined with mudras, or coded positions of the hands, to complete the attitude.

Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature after a series of comic antics.
Lord Shiva and Parvati reveal their true nature to Arjuna after a series of comic antics.

Kerala Folklore Museum

There are artifacts from throughout southern India, including the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, inside this beautiful building.

 

In Ernakulam, a more modern town across the water from Kochi, I was excited to find a museum dedicated to folklore. There were several interesting faces inside. The museum was not always the most successful in providing context for the various images, but I did start to get a sense of mask styles from different regions.

This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
This beak is part of a costume for the Garuda bird in a Kathakali play.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala.
Costume for a Poothan ritual dance of Kerala. According to wikipedia, Poothan is the lieutenant of Shiva. These dances are performed once or twice year to clean the village of evil spirits.
Another ritual dance from Kerala is the Kummattikali. It is celebrated on the festival of Onam (in Aug/Sept). Again (arrgh) I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this and the Poothan dance as "devotional"
Another ritual dance mask from Kerala. Again I refer to wikipedia, which categorizes this (and the Poothan dance) as a “devotional art form”. The festival is in August/September, so I missed my chance to see it performed.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
Another ritual performance called Theyyam was represented by these painted heads.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
After some more research on wikipedia, it seems that these heads are records of some makeup styles for performers of the Theyyam cult.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
I include some pictures below from the wikipedia article for reference.
"Bali theyyam, Payyannur" by Jasinth M V - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
“Bali theyyam, Payyannur” by Jasinth M V – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bali_theyyam,_Payyannur.jpg
"Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba" by prasadnp - PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg
“Bhagavathi at Vikranandapuram Kshetram, Taliparamba” by prasadnp – PhotographedPreviously published: 2013/04/29. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bhagavathi_at_Vikranandapuram_Kshetram,_Taliparamba.jpg

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I like the really basic expression in this mask from Karnataka.
I like this really basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.
The mask in the lower center, also a ritual mask from Karnataka, seems to build on the basic expression.

 

 

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At the rear of the kathakali stage inside the Kerala Folk Museum.
Puppets!

There were also a few examples of puppets in the museum. I knew there were some famous puppets in the state of Rajasthan in the north, but these have a different feeling than their northern relations.

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Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Spare hands in mudras and extra feet.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.
Shadow Puppet from Andhra Pradesh.

Karnataka

Museum of Mankind

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A mask from the Limbu people near Geyzing, Sikkim in Northeastern India. It is carved in wood and depicts Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation.

We moved on to the state of Karnataka, just north and east of Kerala.  In the city of Mysore, famed for ashtanga yoga and sandalwood crafts, we visited the Indira Ghandi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (aka the Museum of Mankind).

A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.
A Mahakal mask from the Limbu of Geyzing, Sikkim. It is a variant of the one in red.

The collection features many tribal art forms from different parts of India. I was lucky to find  included a couple of masks from the Himalayas in this southern state.  The style is quite different form the types I had seen in Kerala.  I imagine the  species of wood used for carving is different as well.

Though I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find as many masks as I had hoped, the museum also features a large collection of terra cotta figures from around India.  These figures provide some insight into the style and decorative idiosyncrasies of the culture to which they belong.

Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.
Terra Cotta elephant at the Museum of Mankind in Mysore.

 

Terra Cotta from Bihar, in  the north
Terra Cotta from Bihar, in the north
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.
Sculpture of a woman from a folk community in Karnataka.

Miscellaneous faces

Street art in Kochi
Street art in Kochi
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
There are schools on the backwaters of Alleppey, and where there are schools, there are computers. They are guarded by this fearsome beast.
At a cafe in Kochi.
At a cafe in Kochi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Random kids who instantly wanted to be in my picture while I photographed ruins in Hampi.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.
Case trying to speak tiger at the Mysore Palace.

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.

The Maya Project

I’m traveling to India! I will be volunteering  the next two months for the Maya Project, a joint project of two great organizations, Teach for India and Artists Striving to End Poverty. It’s a wonderful project, aimed at the empowerment of children to creatively work for the change they would like to see.

I will be working in Mumbai and Pune for the Maya Project.
I will be working in Mumbai and Pune for the Maya Project.

A significant part of this program is the touring of an original musical titled “Maya.” I will be making about 60 masks and puppets for this fantastic story! Nine-headed snakes, a rhino, and soul-sucking shadows are just the tip of the iceberg. The plot involves the daughter of the Kingdom of Light and her quest to keep the world in light through the lifting of three curses on the kingdom. She can only fix these problems, as it turns out, by finding her inner strength, compassion and wisdom.

This show will be performed by about 90 kids from the lower and middle classes for thousands of other kids around India. Through this project, thirty of the performers have been investigating these themes and their real world applications for the last year.  Though the performers and audience may experience the themes of the show in slightly different ways, this project is a great way to inspire youth to share their voices and their light.

 

From Teach For India’s website:

“In India today, 4% of our children never start school. 58% don’t complete primary schools. And 90% don’t complete school. At Teach For India, the fact that only 10% of our children go on to college both saddens and angers us.

Teach For India exists because of a deep belief that every child can and must attain an excellent education. Teach For India exists to prove that no child’s demographics should determine his or her destiny. To us, the end of educational inequity is the freedom for all children to have the opportunity to reach their potential. And the day that all children reach their potential is the day that India reaches her potential.

Teach For India believes that that day will come in our lifetime.

Teach For India believes that it will take a movement of leaders with the idealism, belief, skills and commitment to actualize this vision. We are committed to finding, developing and supporting India’s brightest, most promising leaders for this to happen.”

Ganesha (depicted here in small finger puppet form) is a remover of obstacles and bringer of wisdom. He is also associated with new beginnings.
Ganesha (depicted here in small finger puppet form) is a remover of obstacles and bringer of wisdom. He is also associated with new beginnings.

This is a hugely significant project, and I’m honored to be a part of it. What could be a more fitting project for me than one that involves creating masks and puppets, working with you, and working to make the world better?

I will be flying to Mumbai this week to begin work. Many have already been so generous with their presence, advice, hospitality, funds, warm wishes and spirit. Thank you all. I can’t wait to pay it  all forward!

Stay Tuned!

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.

racc_orange_horiz

A Weekend Outing

Friday Night

Calonarang

Late Friday night at 10:30 pm, we drove to a pura dalem (temple of the dead) in a nearby village to witness a Calonarang ritual. After mistakenly landing at what seemed to be a carnival, then finding a Calonarang, but at the wrong temple, we  arrived and settled in to watch. It was a little hard to follow, but it deals with white and black magic, and honoring the balance between good and evil. We got home around 2:30 am.  To the pictures!

Somewhere after an young woman sings and an old man sings, these 3 clowns come out. I didn't understand the jokes, but the young men around me laughed. Their faces are painted in a sculptural way, making me wonder if sometimes these are masked characters.
Somewhere after an young woman sings and an old man sings, these 3 clowns come out. I didn’t understand the jokes, but the young men around me laughed. Their faces are painted in a sculptural way, making me wonder if sometimes these are masked characters.
Celuluk, a follower of Rangda, is sort of a funny witch. She taunts the clowns.
Celuluk, a follower of Rangda, is sort of a funny witch. She taunts the clowns.
Rangda, the head witch and . Later in the show, a character tries to stab her, but fails.  The end of the ritual involved a dance of Rangda and a human body on the ground which might be dead or alive. It is paraded around a few blocks and then brought to the cemetery, where he revives.
Rangda, the head witch. Later in the show, a character tries to stab her, but fails. The end of the ritual involved a dance of Rangda and a human body on the ground which might be dead or alive. It is paraded around a few blocks and then brought to the cemetery, where he revives.

Saturday

Turtha Empul

The next morning, five of us went to a water temple in Tempaskiring. It was a really awesome place.

My favorite statue at the water temple.
My favorite statue at the water temple.
The spring burbles
The spring burbles
Ariel gets excited about rules.
Ariel gets excited about rules.

A spring billows up through the sand in a rectangular pool populated by some plants, a few minnows and an eel.

Not far away are a couple of pools featuring many spouts from the spring, each with it’s own spiritual function in a purification ritual. The first ten are for cleansing the undesirable aspects of character, the next two for death and cremation rituals (most necessarily skip these), then one for cleansing bad dreams, one for supplying wisdom,  one for erasing unkept promises, one for bad memories, and the final seven for cleansing the seven chakras of the body. It’s a special experience.

The first sequence of purification. Offerings are placed at the spout as a sign of good faith and pure intention in entering into the purification ritual.
Offerings are placed at the spout as a sign of good faith and pure intention in entering into the purification ritual.

Coffee Plantation

Afterwards, a trip to a coffee plantation last weekend was also pretty amazing.  We were lead through a path containing a couple kinds of coffee plants, vanilla vines, cinnamon and clove trees (the leaves smell too!!), ginger flowers, cocoa pods, lemongrass, citronella, and snakefruit.

A Cinnamon tree. From my vantage point, the only way to see the difference between it and clove was the bit of red at then end of the clove leaf.
A Cinnamon tree. From my vantage point, the only way to see the difference between it and clove was the bit of red at then end of the clove leaf.

We reached a small hut where another fellow was slow roasting (2 hours) a small batch of coffee next to another small cage where the luwak (civet) was kept.

Cocoa pods!
Cocoa pods!

For those unfamiliar, this small weasel-like mammal has a taste for ripe coffee cherries–but it can’t actually fully digest the bean. A delicacy (and purported aphrodisiac) is the coffee made from the beans collected from the poo of the luwak. At our subsequent coffee tasting, some elected to pay 50,000 rupiah (about $4) to try the luwak coffee. I elected to to stick with the other complimentary and poo-free varieties. Call me unadventurous if you will, but there was nothing but a tepid response among those who dared.

This guy roasts coffee over a very low fire for two hours – the flames aren't directly under the pan, but offset. In the foreground are Bali kopi and cocoa.
This guy roasts coffee over a very low fire for two hours – the flames aren’t directly under the pan, but offset. In the foreground are Bali kopi and cocoa.
From R to L: Bali kopi, Ginseng coffee, Ginger coffee, Vanilla coffee, Coconut coffee, Rosella tea, Ginger tea, Lemon tea, Bali herbal tea and Pure chocolate.  Ginger won the day for me.
From R to L: Bali kopi, Ginseng coffee, Ginger coffee, Vanilla coffee, Coconut coffee, Rosella tea, Ginger tea, Lemon tea, Bali herbal tea and Pure chocolate. Ginger won the day for me.

Sunday

The Wonders of Klungkung

I began the last day of our only full weekend  looking at the murals at Kertha Gosa (the Hall of Justice) at the Klungkung Palace. These grounds were largely destroyed in conflicts with the Dutch in the early 20th century.   The grounds were renovated in the 1960s.

Murals depicting a story from the Mahabharata in which Bhima rescues his parents from torment in the afterlife. The painting style is very similar to the style of shadow puppetry.
Murals depicting a story from the Mahabharata in which Bhima rescues his parents from torment in the afterlife. The painting style is very similar to the style of shadow puppetry.
Lots of heads!
Lots of heads!

In addition to the morally instructive depictions, there are also series of panels telling the Balinese story that parallels A Thousand and One Nights as well as instructions for marriage… or at least our guide told us. We weren’t sure how much he was making up and how much was accurate. We also visited the museum nearby.

IMG_0914-kerthagosa
More of the Palace Grounds
Roundabout: Klungkung
Roundabout: Klungkung
An array of colors in the woven fabrics available at the market in Klungkung.
An array of colors in the woven fabrics available at the market in Klungkung.

Pasir Putih

It is a small trek to get to this white sand beach, but the reward is worth it! The water was an amazing blue blue blue and it was so warm and buoyant. I even went snorkeling for the first time!

These feet didn't know it, but they would be getting a massage before the day was over
These feet didn’t know it, but they would be getting a massage before the day was over.

As someone who grew up in a landlocked place, I’ve always found the prospect of purposely immersing yourself a location where simply anything can eat, sting, or drown you to be mortifying. But after a few mistaken gulps of salt water, it wasn’t too bad. Seeing a school (I almost typed “herd.” See also: Midwestern) of medium-sized black fish swim through the coral was fantastic. I actually look forward to the chance to do it again!

Goa Lawah

The day rounded out with a dusk visit to Goa Lawah, the Bat Cave Temple. As we waited for the evening exodus of the bats, we watched the evening offerings being made and chatted with some Hungarian ex-pats who were showing the sights to visiting relatives.

At the entrance to the temple, all of which was carved from volcanic rock.
Being an idiot at the entrance to the temple, all of which was carved from volcanic rock.

When the bats started leaving, it was a real sight—not quite like a horror movie, but a pretty dense cloud of flying mammal. I wasn’t sure how long to stay, but the bats let me know with an offering of their own placed on my head. As I was in full temple gear, I was mostly relieved it didn’t get on my udeng—and really grateful for the packages of baby wipes my boyfriend had packed for me.

Looking out the temple doors to the sea at dusk.
Looking out the temple doors to the sea at dusk.

 

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