December 2009

Coming to grips with a dream of paradise

By Art Goodtimes

BALIAll my life I’ve dreamed of going to Bali. In no small part due to a black & white blowup someone gave me years ago. Etched into my brain was the alluring image of a young woman with only a batik sarong at her waist, standing casually beside a ’30sera roadster, smiling — all orchids and mangos — with palm trees in the background. That snapshot embodied my Bali and graced a number of the residences I once called home (although it’s been “misplaced” for a while in the 30-year chaos of Cloud Acre). Still, in my private mental pantheon, Bali was to beauty what Timbuktoo was to furthest ends of the earth … Reality, of course, was a bit more complex … Bali’s a seasoned international tourist hot spot, and has been for a long time. A driver met us at the airport from the guesthouse, which my daughter Iris had arranged for us to stay at. It took us an hour to motor up to Ubud, where we’d first planned to stay. It was night, but to my surprise the road was boogieing with motorbikes and car headlights and giant neon signs and even Western franchises. A statue of Krishna wrestling a snake (or perhaps some other Indian avatar) stood in the one roundabout we encountered in Denpasar. No mistaking that Bali was Hindi — although the rest of Indonesia’s scattered island provinces are Muslim. And no doubt that Ubud was not an untamed Asian paradise. All the narrow streets had lots of shops selling tourist goods, most of the signage in English – the lingua franca in the modern world. So my first impression shattered the dream Bali I had imagined … But one afternoon after lounging in the cafes drinking mango smoothies, dessert lunching on durian, feeding bananas to the primate gangs at Monkey Park, and watching a traditional Balinese fire dance – all the usual touristata – we wandered into a rice field outside of Ubud and came across a marvelous fellow, I Made Rumawan. In a glorious serendipity, he led us on a three-hour tour of the rice fields that surround Ubud, interspacing this excursion with explanations of plants, structures, customs, everything Balinese. We learned that regular rice was harvested three times a year (all by hand), but that some plots held black and red rice for holidays. Flags dotted the paddies to keep the many birds away, adding color to the landscape. Small shrines marked the 123 family plots in the fields we were walking through. Made spoke with the workers, some working the rice plots and others harvesting grass from the paths between fields to feed their cattle. He showed us old workhorse bikes that remained from the days when the Dutch were colonial masters of Bali called “Hollands.” How they continued to carry rice and grass out of the fields, looking as loved as they were worn. Every few acres saw a thatch hut where workers could rest, and inside the shelters were piles of small cylindrical baskets that, Made explained, were eel traps. It seems the rice paddies sport Pisodonophis boro, a freshwater eel that can grow to a meter long and can burrow into the mud with either its head or its tail. Rice workers catch and eat the eels – a protein bennie from rice cultivation (unless the white “herons” get them first). Made showed us a vanilla vine and a cacao tree, a carnivorous plant that curled up at our touch and a grove of giant bamboo where one could get a rash from touching the hairs on the exposed culm sheaths. And finally Made led us down carved stone steps into the valley of the Ayung River and out into its rice fields studded with palm trees. It was a most intriguing sight – the “real Bali” as he called it. Humble homes set amid shrines and brilliant green fields. We gazed at the panorama for a long time, just drinking in its beauty, before Made took us to his house to drink tea and meet his family … It turns out Made works professionally as a guide (as well as as a fine chef at one of Ubud’s better hotels). If you’d like to open the coconut of real Bali, I recommend I Made Rumawan at madetrekking@ yahoo.com.

THE TALKING GOURD

Home

even in Bali
ain’t no shootin’ stars
like ours
striped across
the Rocky Mountain flag
of Colorado’s
night
sky

STATE POLITICS … Coming home, I’m perplexed to find our good Gov. Bill Ritter espousing a state takeover of social services from county governments. What a wrong-headed idea. This is not long after previous Gov. Bill Owens insisted on a revamp of the state computer system for social services – in spite of warnings from counties that it was a bad idea – a system that didn’t work for months, cost millions, and ended up increasing paperwork and the time involved from staff. An unmitigated disaster … Fresh on the heels of that blunder, Ritter seems intent on taking social services out of local control and putting it in the hands of the state, which is broke (and cutting services right and left). So instead of a county social-service office, we’ll get a state office in Durango or Grand Junction where we’ll have to go for food stamps, child welfare, and assorted other safetynet programs. How crazy is that? … And all of this leading into 2010’s election season, where Ritter and the Dems are facing serious challenges from Republicans screaming political blunders. Sometimes one wonders if Ritter has a political bone in his body … With our good friend Andrew Romanoff running for the Senate seat that Ritter inexplicably awarded to Michael Bennet (a sharp, personable Front Range lawyer all but unknown on the Western Slope), the Dems are sure to draw blood in their primary, giving the Repubs a chance to recapture one of the Senate prizes. As a Green, I like Bennet, but it will be hard not to support the widely popular Romanoff, who was House Speaker and helped Colorado turn blue after decades of red … Scott McInnis leads the Repub pack for the governor’s seat, and he’s playing hardball with his GOP challengers – refusing to debate either Josh Penry of Grand Junction (who has dropped out) or Dan Maes of Evergreen. While smart politics (refusing to face off with lesser-knowns), it’s bad democratic practice. For me, that’s strike one for Scott. (Again, as a Green, I preferred Josh on the Repub ticket, since he’d pay some attention to the Western Slope and its unique issues). Scott’s strike two comes with his blaming the natural-gas bust on Ritter, when we all know enviro regs played a very small part (if any) in the downturn, vs. a glut on the market, lower gas prices and the general economic climate. So, it seems, Scott doesn’t like an open debate among candidates and he’s not above twisting the truth for partisan advantage. Methinks this once-bright Glenwood Springs politico has been a Beltway Cowboy for one term too long.

ASPEN ART MUSEUMEAR, the poetry performance ensemble made up of Elle Metrick, myself and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, gave a rousing show for the Aspen Poets’ Society last month. Kim Nuzzo organized the event, and local poets Bruce Berger and Sarah Pletts read in the open-mike portion … Pletts is into art politics locally and Berger is really the senior poet (poet laureate?) for the Western Slope ... I snuck in a chat with Jody Cardamone of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at her new home in Emma, a sideshoot canyon of the Roaring Fork Valley … It was nice to realize that, in spite of the international glitz (and Prince Bandar with his 50,000+-square-foot home), there’s a core of real community in Aspen still.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.