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So that was the Bali conference. Tchja. I understand that the attendees received a bit of flak in the media for jetting in on a CO2 slipstream and staying in needlessly opulent hotels. Well, I don’t know about the delegates, but I think my accommodation was reasonably modest:
I’m joking of course, readers. This is Fremantle prison, Perth, Australia: modelled on Pentonville, built by convicts and furnished by John Pawson:
Forty-four people were hanged here, including Messrs Chew Fang, DeKitchilan Augustin and Miamoor Mohomet. Farewell, chaps. We were told by a former guard that ghosts of prisoners appear in visitors’ photos these days. Hope they haven’t spoiled any wedding pictures – you can get married at the prison if you want (and who wouldn’t?). Indeed, the fearless prison management promise to take on any function: “Why not lighten the mood of a conference and have your guests dress in convict clothes and dine in the main cell block!” Quite so. Perhaps this would be an option in Poznan?
There was much mention of ghosts in Australia – of hanged convicts, asylum patients, unhinged settlers called Satan or McKenzie… That’s a lot of ghosting going on, despite the country being so young. Elke and I visited the oldest building in Perth: a windmill, built in 1835 by an engineer from Winchester called William Shenton. The mill’s age made it freakish. Having survived the threat of demolition, it now stands chalky and white in a sea of glassy new buildings, a little Holland in the middle of Miami. It is not prominent on the tourist map and seemed to be barely visited: when we got to the visitor centre we found the guide slumped asleep over the front desk, probably dreaming of Croydon (where it turned out he was once from). Still, nice querns.
Nothing else seemed half as old for miles around… Nothing else standing in the way of the new housing still being built: a million Barratt Homes and bungalows for Western Australia’s economic boom. Without obvious historical reference points, the buildings seem fluid and limitless, like Vietnamese house boats or Mexican flower barges floating and jostling on the water. On that subject, there are big problems with water (Elke says updates of dam levels have become part of news bulletins), but I am taking a holiday from climate related worries (yes, I know, villagers in Bangladesh or Arctic Canada should be so lucky…). Apparently the state is getting rich by raiding its jewellery box for the Chinese. The mines are up north, where the men are proper Okkers (hope I used that word right), the shifts don’t stop for Christmas and the trucks are so big you wouldn’t even come up to the wheel rim.
We left the suburbs to go into The Outback, which was crazy beautiful but a bit spooky, with endless bushland to get lost and/or buried in, Texas Chainsaw Massacre farmsteads and huge trucks straight out of Duel.
But the spookiest bit of all was the overwhelming feeling of hugeness and otherness – must be what it’s like for astronauts when space walking. Australia feels like a place where, for once, Progress can be checked. We visited a town called New Norcia, where Benedictine monks had come 150 years ago to save local Noongyar Aborigines from themselves. Which was nice of them. Mission housing and boarding schools have come and gone, and these days, despite the monastery running a successful bakery business, it feels like a failed enterprise. The problem is attracting new monks to stay for long enough. “Some of them come for 10 years but then they go again,” explained our tour guide. Lightweights.
So I found the outback pretty unnerving and felt happier whenever there were forests or wheat fields – anything that reminded me of Europe, probably. But I can’t deny it’s all amazing to look at. I am surprised we didn’t see more people on the roads just for the hell of it, cause it’s all so exciting and Nature-ful. There are oversized plants with leaves like stars or ribbons or African grass skirts, and wicked trees called boabas, which are like unexploded bombs sticking out of the earth with branches like fuse wire.
Then there are the animals. Everything’s… bigger. There are crows, but they’re the size of small children. The magpies look the same as our magpies, except they’re spotted like Dalmatians and nearly as large. I became blasé about pelicans, spoonbills and even the enormous scary black vulture things that hang out on telephone lines waiting for humans to get bitten by some extravagantly bepoisoned snake and become carrion kebab. I saw emus hanging out in fields with cows, koalas slumped like couch potatoes in the branches of eucalyptus trees, and a kangaroo by the side of the road that was either throwing an advanced Astanga yoga move or had been hit very hard by a car. Farewell.
The best bit was kayaking in the sea alongside sea lions (yes, I AM Spartacus!).
We were told the sea lions would come up close if we didn’t look them in the eye and pretended they weren’t there. “So you basically mean we have to play hard to get,” said Elke. Well, it was good practice for the Australian bar she took me to (male:female ratio = 10:1). It was super awesome to see the Elkster again, who is still one my favourite people in the world despite persuading me to go to her office Christmas party, but sadly our friendship will have to go back into cryogenesis until I can bring myself to fly on an aeroplane again.
Next stop: Germany!
Disaster down under – stop – have exposed legs for first time since 1992 but regret no photographic evidence due to sand in camera – exclamation point – deadly spiders avoided but lucky to escape smalltown outback Australia alive – please send supplies of guardian newspaper and any history before 1896 – stop – blog follows – stop
OK, I might have slightly oversold this blog post. This volcano is probably quite far away. And it might not be a volcano.
Then again, it might be, cause there are 130 volcanoes in Indonesia, including the excellently named Abang (as in exploded with?). In finding out this Interesting Fact, I have just discovered that there is a term in vulcanology called phreatic eruption. This means an alarming volcanic eruption that occurs when water meets heated volcanic rock “to produce a violent expulsion of steam and pulverized rocks”. I imagine the results are a bit like what happens when I heat vegetable soup in the microwave. But more importantly, wouldn’t The Phreatic Eruption be a terrific band name?
Indeed, vulcanology is surely a rich magma seam of awesome potential band names. How about The Cinder Cones (I see fey lo-fi Americana), Sölfatarä (Norwegian death metal) or Plagioclase Feldspar and the Harmonic Tremors (Hotblack Desiato meets the Polyphonic Spree)? Here are some proposed covers for such a band’s inaugural, apocalyptic concert on the rim of Krakatoa:
Loess for Life by Igneous Pop
Pahoehoe We’re the Monkees
Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Hot Pyroclastic Material
I’m Saving All My Lava For You
Basalt Was a Rolling Stone
Subterranean Hydrothermal Blues
Baby, It’s Caldera Outside
I Heard it Through the National Volcano Early Warning System
While my Lava Fissure Gently Seeps
OK I’ll stop.
Woo hoo! I’ve been in the same room as Nicholas Stern!
A gap in the clouds appeared today and I was very kindly allowed to go to an uber-interesting talk in the evening, starring: the environment minister of Germany (ooh!), the head of the super-cool Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (aah!), Ricardo Lagos (double ooh!), and… the Sternmeister. Oh, Bianca Jagger was there too, but all eyes were on the Stern Reviewer and his fugly batik shirt.
Can’t express how cool it is to be in the same room as these people and to hear their marvellous words. After Minister Gabriel had outlined Germany’s ambitious new emissions reduction policy, the discussion broadened to how the world can similarly redirect its path of development from a carbon-based economy to renewables and energy efficiency. As always, the solutions seem plentiful and affordable (Minister Gabriel says Germany will actually save Eu 5 billion by 2020 by cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 40%). Indeed, Stern suggested that mitigating climate change might be even more cost-effective than was estimated in the Review, because they overestimated the cost of action and underestimated the cost of inaction. What’s needed, we heard, is the policy framework to push those solutions through. Hence Bali I suppose…
Wowzers. I am feeling extremely lucky. Afterwards, the obligatory post-panel schmooze was convened, which I skipped, because, apart from being a shy freakazoid, I am not even qualified to eat mini chicken satay canapes with these people. I’d end up saying something terribly embarrassing like, “Hi, I’m, like, totally interested in climate change – I’ve read Revenge of Gaia and everything. Isn’t it awful what’s happening to the eskimos?”
One day, perhaps, I will be worthy..
I am like a kid in a sweetshop whose precious 50 pence has just been pinched by the scary girls outside. All the charities and research organisations involved in climate change and sustainable development are here, and I can only gaze in wonder at the jars full of yummy seminars, rhubarb and custard-flavour field trips and sherberty NGO parties* because I am too busy editing, editing, editing to try anything. We are working day and night to
add remove typos from important documents, and I barely have time to sleep let alone schmooze. But that’s OK. I have taken some everlasting gobstoppers in the form of as many research papers and position documents as I can fit in my bag, to suck on in the months ahead.
Luckily, there has been time – just – to do a tiny bit of exploring. I bought a mango from someone the other day, which I think makes me fully integrated into local society, and yesterday I went to a temple on a spit of land jutting out from the beach:
There are heaps of religious buildings and shrines all over Bali. Most temples here seem to be roofed buildings with a courtyard, but this one was open air. It’s not the prettiest I’ve seen but the good thing is that there was a temple priest there, or maybe he was a guide, to show me around. Here are some, er, statues. Yes, they are wrapped in material.
On the statue on the right were markings of a sun (indicating 1), elephant (8) and a mountain (3), meaning that it was built in 1803. Cool, eh? Also carved into the stone were symbols of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, which indicates that anyone can worship there – anyone except female filth, natch:
In the temply picture you might be able to see some, er, things (oblations?) piled on to every surface. These are small offerings of petals, rice, incense and sometimes a cracker placed inside a small square made of tough banana leaves, which I have seen absolutely everywhere: on taxi dashboards, by the side of the road, in shop doorways… I personally find their ubiquity super-annoying but hey. If ancestors, spirits and the forces of evil need to be appeased, then offer away, I say.
Hindusim (I type in my best Baedeker voice) is the dominant religion in Bali, but apparently the version here is pretty unusual, incorporating elements of Buddhism and, more importantly, animism. (If an Indonesian reads this, please forgive my crapola attempt at summarising your culture.) This seems to result in it being an awesomely cool religion, as religions go. Beaches and water, in particular, are very important: “Pura Desa” temples of Wisnu, the preserver, are always built near the sea, and there are many ceremonies that take place on the beach such as Mulang Pekelem, during which Baruna, god of the oceans, is asked to control the seas, make the land fertile and bring Terry’s chocolate oranges to every household. If I have piqued your interest (which I’m SURE I have, being such a genius travel writer), check out here and here for details of a clash between hotel developers and local people protecting a temple at Tanah Lot.
And so ends my journey through
* Any drugs reference unintended.
I know this is something a bored newspaper columnist would probably write, but I love the evidence given for the “oddness” of The Canoeist Wife’s Husband in the Guardian today:
“Others said Darwin had always seemed a little “odd”. “John used to make garden gnomes and sell them in Durham indoor market in the early 1990s,” a school friend of his son Anthony said.
How deeply disturbing. Making garden gnomes is probably step 4 on the scale used to assess the development of psychopaths, between #3 (torturing local cats) and #4 (scalping local prostitutes).
Now that the notion of carbon offsetting has been thoroughly trashed by pretty much everyone, there is nothing I can do with my guilt about flying to Bali except scrub at it with Blog-o guilt-stain remover. I only wish I thoroughly detested the experience from the moment we were shown our seats to the moment I was hit by a wall of super-humid hot air on the tarmac. But I’ve realised that for something so bad, flying by plane is pretty good.
Don’t worry readers, I will stand firm on my default position of Never Flying. (Except, y’know, to travel for work. Or attend job interviews. Or, er, visit chums in Australia…) But I’ve got to admit that there were some waffly cool things to be seen out of the window during my flight to Asialand: like peeking into the nether regions of dozing volcanoes; the endless snowy plains of eastern Europe…
… seeing the plough shining above a blanket of cloud in the moonlight over the mountains of Afghanistan; sunrise, er, somewhere…
Still, there is a point at which awe at the vastness of the Earth’s surface becomes unease about being so gulpily high above it, and about a quarter past Rajasthan I succumbed to the temptation of looking at the on-board television instead to watch a documentary on horse-riding villagers in Mongolia. It was yurty good. But I must say, there’s nothing like watching a man breaking in a dangerous wild horse or a 13-year-old girl racing a stallion across the steppes to make an equestrishirker like me feel like a coward.
My fear must be banished!
What’s your favourite sound? Mine is either bird song (vomit) or the sound of wind in the trees (bleurgh). Ideally the trees would be orchard wind breakers, and I would be lying on the grass. But it has to be warm or sunny. If there are grey clouds in the sky the leaves can tinkle like Serafina Pekkala and it won’t sound right.
Yesterday evening I heard some Balinese music from far away and I am still deliberating on whether it will join my favourite sounds. I hope it isn’t too rude to describe this music as one-third wind chimes, one-third the thump of a nightclub from outside and one-third playing with saucepans on the kitchen floor. But when you put them all together it sounds quite cool. Definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Picking a favourite smell is more difficult, I reckon. Perfumes are rubbish. The smell of freshly washed clothes makes me feel guilty for using evil fabric softener. Apparently the smell of a baby’s head is a winner, but I don’t have a baby of my own and I think it might be a bit creepy if I nominated someone else’s baby as my favourite smell.
Well, roses smell pretty super. Sawn wood, ditto. But the smell of smoke outdoors at night is probably my favourite. I think I like it because it reminds me of this imagined Middle Eastern village I have in my head where everyone’s out under the stars riding donkeys, eating Fry’s Turkish Delight and smoking frankincense (is that possible?). I got this idea aged six from pictures of Bethlehem on Christmas cards, but no matter. Whenever it’s dark but warm and smoky outside it feels claustrophobic in a nice way, as though the dark were a big room where cool things happen.
You don’t come across this smell very often (not as often as the smell of other people’s babies anyway). I can remember one night in Bath when the atmosphere felt almost Bethlehem-esque, which can’t be right because I don’t think chimney fires are allowed in the town and, besides, there haven’t been any Roman census takers there since at least 126 AD. And, not to get too pretentious here, I remember smelling My Favourite Smell one night in a coastal village in Tanzania where the streets were narrow and people were grilling maize on the pavements. Well, excitingly, I have already smelled the smell here in Asialand: a mixture of incense, darkness and the smoke of… er, something.*
Talking of l’Afrique, I have been reminded of it quite a lot here. I know Bali is very different really, but I’m afraid I am an untravelled person so my comparisons are a bit basic: the heat, the tiny bananas, the colourful shops and, because I like looking at the ugly things, rubbish in the streets. In Africa, there were often piles of Bethlehemy maize husks (post-prandial), among other detritus. Here there seems to be a lot of plastic, and maybe coconut fragments, I can’t tell. I’m not saying rubbish is everywhere, but it’s still noticeable in some places, like behind the beach, or sometimes piled in a yard. This morning I saw plastic bags tangled up in mangrove stumps. I imagine this is Not Good.
Being a handwringing, guilt-ridden tourist and pretend eco sort, I googled on this subject immediately, and discovered that Bali has lacked for some time a proper waste management infrastructure thing. Until very recently, most domestic waste was organic, so it could be buried or thrown into rivers (actually, that doesn’t sound like a super solution either, but who am I to say?). But then “we saw that from a society where waste had been manageable, the situation was changing quickly,” according to I Made Suarnatha, a director of the [Wisnu] Foundation, quote from here. “Suddenly there was a lot more plastic, packaging, paper and cans that needed to be dealt with.” Hence its appearance in makeshift landfills. “To this day , there is no government or community system to deal with solid waste in Bali.”
I quite like
talking garbage talking about garbage. Isn’t it interesting what happens to all this STUFF we use? Perhaps this is the pernicious influence of Germany’s recycling system on my subconscious: I am now fascinated by solid waste. Terrific. Meanwhile, charities are trying to increase awareness of rubbish disposal in Bali, where “people who collect garbage or work in waste management are looked down on by Indonesians of all social levels.” Boo!
* To be investigated.
Blimey! Estoy in a hot place*:
This is a stray dog next to some rubbish. I like stray dogs, because they don’t look at you in a scary way, more in a “have you got any pedigree chum biscuits cause I’m sooo bored of eating discarded fish heads” kind of way.
More di/espatches to come (I hope), but in the meantime here is an awesomely-badly photographed tree for Cliff: