Monday, May 27, 2013

21 Days in The Kingdom: Part II - Road Trip to Nirvana

The alarm sounds at 3am. Aaarrrggghhh. It's time to rise, throw myself under the shower, dress, inhale a cup of strong coffee and stumble through darkness and sleeping village streets to the central corner fronting the Royal Palace. The air is cool & damp and the only sounds are those of crickets, croaking bullfrogs and the occasional motorbike. 

Mr. T, Edi & Abi arrive a few minutes later. Climbing into the giant SUV, we aim the car towards the mountains high above the island's northern coast. Our first destination is a remote mountain village situated on the shores & shallows of a volcanic mountain lake - Tamblingan. It is still dark when we arrive. Already, there are a handful of local photographers jockeying for position. They are friendly and welcome us... quickly comparing gear and chatting in hushed tones. To our right, the silhouette of the temple and it's many tiered mehrus can be seen against the faint light of dawn climbing from behind the surrounding mountains. 

Small dugout canoes line the shore, along with the ruins of a few homes abandoned after heavy rains swelled the lake waters and flooded the area. Our crew wanders thru marshes looking for positions to best greet the sunrise as the first hints of dawn color creep over the ridges in the distance.

Mist rises from the still lake waters, shrouding surrounding mountains ridges. A film crew arrives... this spot is becoming popular with happy asian couples as a location to shoot "pre-wedding" video. They clamor into small canoes and paddle out to a raft in the center of the lake. We continue to tramp through the mud & marsh as the water becomes a mirror reflecting the sky & surroundings.

The sounds of a village coming awake echoes off the water... roosters crowing, the barking of dogs and the chatter of children. The light here is magnificent. I wander over towards the shacks lakeside just as a woman is bringing baskets of fighting cocks to air in the sun along the path fronting her home.

A few sleepy-eyed children emerge, curious about our group. Mr. T talks with them, makes a few photographs and then hands them each a  2000rp note. The children smile enthusiastically at their sudden luck.

After a while, we climb back into the car and wind back down the mountain, stopping for breakfast at an odd restaurant of dutch architecture with whitewashed walls, blue shutters and a manicured, european style garden. The building feels completely out of place here but the food is good and the service friendly & efficient.

By mid- morning, we are winding thru terraced rice paddies, lush & green as far as the eye 
can see. This is the area known as Jatiluwih.

Continuing on, our next destination is the Pasar Candikuning, the vibrant marketplace in the mountain village of Bedugal. Here, we stop to purchase fresh vegetables to leave as gifts with priests and friends we plan to visit later in the day. The market is humming and the crowded stalls brimming with every imaginable type of locally grown fruit & vegetable, exotic spices, and local handicrafts. This market is especially known for it's strawberries grown nearby and we leave with the rear storage area of the car bursting at the seams.

Next stop... the mountain temple Pura Luhur Petali. The temple priest, or Mangku, is a close friend of Mr. T.  Here, we watch as Mr. T, who is also a renown Mangku, prepares small offerings of flowers & palm leaf, bits of rice, Ritz crackers and incense to place upon the altar. Our group then sits, cross-legged, before the altar to pray, as the resident Mangku bestows a blessing on each of us and dowses us with holy water. Before taking our leave, we drop off some of the booty purchased earlier at the market with the temple mangku.

Later in the afternoon, we head towards the Regency of Tabanan. Here, we drop in on the family compounds of friends of Mr. T. We are greeted warmly and offered drinks of hot water and banana, coffee, fruit and balinese pastries. Mr. T introduces me to two brothers, men who are strong trancers... meaning that they are prone to being used by the Gods as vessels in which they communicate their wishes and advice to the village. I am invited to ask questions about their trance experiences, Mr. T translating when my feeble grasp of the language fails me. The men answer my questions thoughtfully and seems surprised by my interest. We sit informally on their covered bales while other assembled family members chat & joke and express their curiosity about this foreigner who has suddenly appeared in the company of their priest.

Soon, the light begins to fade and nightfall surrounds us as we leave them with bags brimming with vegetables purchased earlier & take our leave. Speeding down rough mountain roads, heading back to Ubud where we meet Adi & the Missus at the home of old friends Roy & Eri for an amazing feast of smoked & spiced balinese chicken, corn fritters, green beans with greens, red rice and deliciously hot sambal pastes. The meal is concluded with Eri's homemade cheesecake. 

A full day, a full belly and we head back to our lodgings for sleep.

Friday, May 24, 2013

21 Days In The Kingdom: Part One - Faces in the Crowd

Two long & crowded flights and 20 hours post-departure from one island, we arrive on another. Passing through immigration & customs kiosks manned by sleepy-eyed officials, it's just past midnight when we break free of the air-com of the arrival terminal and become enveloped in the warm blanket of humid, equatorial night air.

Adi arrives a few minutes later and we load our luggage and camera gear into the mini-van and wind thru the dark streets of Tuban and aim for the highland village of Ubud, Regency of Gianyar. Our lodgings for most of the stay are in the nicely appointed home of photographer Rio Helmi, a large room, luxurious bed encased in mosquito netting with adjoining study, spacious lanai and outdoor office area situated poolside, nestled within a lush, tropical garden. It is quiet here.

A much needed shower and sleep are the first order of business. Waking with the roosters a few hours later, refreshed and ready, the Missus is off to the nearby village of silversmiths to begin her business while I am left with the tasks of changing money, hunting down a rental motorbike and reconnecting with old friends to warn them of my impending impositions on their good nature & hospitality.

Accomplishing few of my tasks by mid-day, the invitation to join friends Ayu & Made (Mah-Day) for a mid-day meal arrives and we wind thru the crowded streets to a small cafe serving spicy indian delicacies to catch up on our live since we last saw one another.

Made (L) & Ayu (R)
Ayu informs me that there are massive ceremonial processions taking place later in the day in the nearby village of Sukawati. Most people visit Bali, it seems, for the beach, the surf, the hedonistic nightlife and the shopping. I come to be immersed in the bliss & color of ceremonial pageantry. For this, it turns out, our arrival on the island falls at an auspicious time - the day before full moon. Everyone is preparing to celebrate & honor the climax of the lunar waxing and ceremonies are taking place everywhere.

Off to Sukawati we go, arriving just as the processions are beginning... a procession the cary village Gods to the river spring to gather holy water. The crowd is immense, the colorful dress impressive and the crowd welcoming and friendly to foreign interlopers armed with cameras and massive lenses. I appear to be one of the few westerners amongst the throngs of worshipers and I feel lucky and blessed to be here.

There are village orchestras, stern-faced children displaying the weight of the responsibilities of accompanying their deities on their made-up faces. Graceful dancers perform a ritual pendent, thrilling the crowds amassed roadside.

Suddenly, the heavens open and the deluge begins, sending the crowd running for any shelter available but doing nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the spectacle.

Yesterday, another group from the village performs a similar procession, this one gathering a crowd of participants and observers even larger than the previous. I am joined by my friend and guide, Mr. T, looking splendid in his white, ceremonial priestly garb as we set upon the crowd, cameras in hand. Again, we are among only a handful of westerners and again, the rains set in just as the light began to fade.

Mr. T

Friendly folks and amazing faces provided umbrellas to protect cameras and as we scurried for shelter and cars & the return to the modern day, just as nightfall sets in.

As I finish making this entry, Mr. T sends a text and we plan to meet in just a while to hunt for photographs and plan for a trip to Cambodia in two weeks. Today is a buddhist holiday and my host is hosting a gathering of friends here at the compound. The soft, comforting murmur of their chanting fills the air. It's time to sign off and prepare for our meeting.

The journey continues...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kids & Dogs

Busy for the past couple of weeks. Best intentions to keep this thing regularly updated aside... priorities must be organized in a sensible manner. Work always comes first.

Wrapped up the final phases of a resort project begun late last year and dragged out well into the current one as we waited for occupancy to allow for creative interference. Happy to say this one is finally wrapped & ready to be delivered.

Spent most of the past two weeks organizing, scouting, pre-producing & shooting Round Three of another national print campaign on behalf of the local tourism authority. 

Somehow I have managed to brand myself as the go-to guy when it comes to working with 5 year olds & dogs. Two days of actually shooting the project - four different island locations, two of them being busy public streets even and quite difficult to manage as we dodged passing cars & foot traffic while waiting for perfect light. During one portion of the project... a partial solar-eclpise occurred and interfered with lighting. Add to that a fatal traffic accident occurred, shutting down the roads from one side of the island to the other and preventing scheduled talent from making it to the set altogether.

The show must go on, however... crew standing by idly and AD's & AE's, flown in from H'lulu for the two day shoot - looking nervous over the delays until it was decided to cast the shot on-the-fly. Approaching visitors from the mainland as they walked by, enticements of a fat wad of cash and unlimited fruity-frozen island treats piqued the interest of the young lad in the group. Three hours later, the shot was successfully completed and may even be one of the strongest in the series of 4. Miracles DO happen!

Big Mahalos to A & S from H'lulu for bringing us in for a third round of ads in this campaign. Also thanks to stylists Liz & Anna, PA Brendan, assistant Niki, all the location owners, all the kids, Chester the Aussie Shepherd (made it into the final round of shots), Beth as Chester wrangler, Harry at the County Film Office for rush expediting our permits and even dropping by one of the sets to shoot production stills. 

The past four days have been spent processing & retouching the edits from the project and it can now be shipped off to the agency sometime tomorrow.

This leaves me just enough time to make final preparations & pack for the impending trip to Indonesia & Cambodia in a few days. Watch for updates from the journey. I've managed to secure lodging in Indonesia with a well-known photographer & gallery operator on the Island of Bali, Rio Helmi. This should make the travel even more interesting than usual...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Meet Blackie

Living on a tiny, palm-strewn rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, more than 5000 miles from any reasonably large land mass, has always appealed to a variety of "characters" - myself included.

On this island, there is perhaps no bigger character than the "loveable, humble" (his words, not mine) Blackie Gadarian. Resident curmudgeon, prolific writer of letters to the editor in the local presses, boat yard & machine shop operator, dispenser of barnacle encrusted wit & wisdom... Blackie, can be found dressed always in trademark bright orange workshirt & black trousers or shorts ( testament to a deep-rooted work ethic difficult to find in these days & times). Always quick with the ever-present middle finger & a harsh word or three, he's has been a Lahaina fixture since the mid-1970's.

 Machinist, bar owner/operator, jazz enthusiast and so much more, Blackie once operated a popular restaurant & bar where on any given night, you could walk up the stairs and catch musicians like George Benson, Emil Richards, Maynard Ferguson, or half of the orchestra from the Tonight Show sitting in & swinging with the local house band.  I was once booted from the bar many years ago for drinking too slowly and refusing a refill (by no means free).

Love him or hate him, the man has undeniable style. Now in his 91st year, we met at Blackie's Lahaina home where, as I set up the camera, I was liberally peppered with Blackieisms... "People
move to Hawaii to fail again".... "I don't believe in Aloha... it's all horseshit", "that man who sent you is a nice Jewish boy, but he don't want to learn nuthin'...", "I have no friends... "

You may not have any friends, but there are plenty of admirers Blackie. You can count me as one of them. We know that deep down, underneath that crusty exterior and orange shirt beats a heart of gold!