‘Actually, this year I’m here as a R … R … (choke) … Reader’

Citibank - UBUD Writers & Readers Festival 2010

INTRODUCTION

Don’t read this unless you’ve read

UWRF 2008

UWRF 2009

FRIDAY 1 OCTOBER

Awake in Kuala Lumpur apartment.  It’s a nice morning.

That time is coming – the joy I look forward to all year.  

I heave my American Tourister to the LRT Station, and then on to the company shuttle bus at the other end.  I’m always an object of curiosity – the only Vice President who takes the employee bus.  And today I am of additional interest, because of the worn suitcase with all the frequent flyer tags and address labels and airport security stickers.  Obviously, I must be going off on some sort of important Vice-President-like business trip. (If only they knew.)

There’s a meeting at 2 pm.  It’s very important.  My body is in the room, my mind is engaged, but my soul is already flying to Bali – the Island of the Gods

I slip out at 3:10 pm to the waiting taxi, and head for Kuala Lumpur International Airport.  I have never flown Air Asia before – it is a remarkably painless experience.  I did everything on-line, including choosing my baggage allowance, my precise seat and my dinner option – each one for a fee, of course.  At least Priority Boarding was included with the premier seat. 

I love it when boarding a plane entails walking out to it from the glass door of the waiting area.  I can see my suitcase being loaded onto the plane as well.  Hey, be careful with that!

Next to me is an extremely pleasant American guy called Christian Ogle.  He’s a Biology teacher in Kuala Lumpur, but he commutes to see his family in Bali.  We have a really lively conversation about the previous ‘Cheney Administration’, and the three hours just slip by.  I always have a copy of my book on me, to give to a stranger who might enjoy it.  Christian is the obvious choice today.

This is my third arrival in Indonesia and I have the arrival procedure down pat.  There are three counters and three steps:

1. Pay US$25 and obtain receipt.

2. Obtain ‘Visa on Arrival’.

3. Proceed to passport inspection desk.

I am going to do this very efficiently and not suffer a repeat of the 2009 fiasco

I’m the first one off the plane, because I was in the very front row (and that’s the kind of person I am – one of life’s winners, always in the fast lane, always in the lead).  (I hope that you are a regular reader, and understand my sense of humour.)  Again, we walk from the aircraft to the terminal building.  There is no queue at the cash counter.  I hand over the US$25 and she gives me a receipt immediately.  There is no queue at ‘Visa on Arrival’.  He processes my papers and hands me back my passport.  There is a slight queue at the passport counter, and it seems to take ages. When I finally get to the front, he stares at my passport, looks puzzled, and tells me that I’m already stamped in.  Huh?  The ‘Visa on Arrival’ guy already did it!  So I queued for no reason!  When will I ever get this right?

The suitcase comes in no time and I step out into the magical air of Bali.  My friend Paulina Astete, an artist from LA (acrylic on canvas), has come to pick me up.  She drives us to Ubud and then we try to follow the map that my friend Ron Stones has sent me, to his isolated villa.  It’s pitch dark and very hard to find.  I’ve called ahead and a couple of the staff are waiting.  It’s not possible to get a car to the villa, so they put my suitcase on the back of a motorbike, issue me with a torch and lead the way.  Ciao, Paulina, see you later.

Ron bids me welcome and goodnight, and I retire to his spare room – which is simple, but comfortable. 

SATURDAY 2 OCTOBER

  This is the first time I’ve been here in daylight.  It’s great to finally see the place.

Spare room

I have a walk around the grounds.  The villa is really a big landscaped garden, with a number of rooms, each one being a separate, standalone mini-villa. 

It’s not lavish, extravagant or ostentatious – instead, it has a simple beauty (everywhere you look) and a gentle tranquillity.  The end result is stunning. 

I have my breakfast and review the Festival programme.

There are two things seriously wrong with it. 

Firstly: this is the biggest programme ever –  there is so much going on, that it’s not possible to attend everything that one would want to attend.  One has to accept the physical limitations of only being able to be in one place at a time. 

The second issue is much more serious.  No matter how many times I read the programme, I cannot find myself in it – not the slightest reference.  I know I don’t have any official events this year, but they could at least have put my Bio in there.  In 2008, the Festival put me in the Four Seasons Hotel and I had a main programme event at the Three Monkeys café – it was a sell-out.  In 2009, my publisher put me in the Ubud Inn and I had a publishing workshop and my Indonesian book launch.  (But I also ended-up doing two main programme events, because a couple of writers didn’t make it from Africa.)  But this year, I’m not in the programme at all.  I’m here as a R … R … (choke) … Reader. 

In the evening, Ron and I are invited to dinner at the home of Janet and Martin Cropper.   That’s a good old-fashioned English name – ‘Cropper’.  They have a beautiful house, but I note with discomfort that the entire back wall and part of the roof are missing.  This seems to be a common pattern in ex-pat housing in Bali.  I can only assume that people start off building these houses with extravagant plans, and then run out of money before all the walls and the entire roof are complete.  The missing back wall is not mentioned at all in the conversation, but it’s like the elephant in the room.  I try not to stare at it too much. 

SUNDAY 3 OCTOBER

I have a leisurely morning, and lunch with Ron, and then I’m to head off for my first (non-UWRF) event.  I’m giving a talk at Jason Monet’s Bamboo House, combined with an exhibition of art by Paulina Astete and Inna Nirenberg (‘2identity’)

Paulina is supposed to collect me, but then she calls to say that the traffic is terrible and can I meet her at the Delta supermarket.  One of the villa staff gives me a lift down there on a motorbike.  The Delta supermarket is large, modern, and somehow incongruent with my memories of Ubud. 

Paulina calls again.  The traffic is insane, and she’s sending someone to collect me on a motorbike.  He arrives eventually and takes me to Jason Monet’s Bamboo House, which is well off the beaten track.  Will anyone come?

Beauty and Art in Bali, everywhere you look

Somewhat unexpectedly (to me), about forty adults show-up, plus a few children.  Everyone enjoys Paulina’s and Inna’s art first, and the delicious snacks. 

Liz Sinclair gives me an introduction (reading from her computer!), and then I deliver my spellbinding, funny and insightful ‘performance narrative’ on the The Unimagined Path to Publication.   (Hey, that’s not bragging – you should hear it.)

Most people smile and laugh most of the time, but there’s a friendly looking couple, sitting on the floor in the front, who just laugh all the time.  Making eye contact with them continuously renews my energy.  It’s great to be appreciated.

It’s all over and people are heading out.  Two thoughts cross my mind:  ‘How will I get home?’ and ‘I haven’t had dinner.

The delightful couple who were smiling and laughing throughout my talk come up to me.  They are Andi and Jane Fischer.  Andi says, ‘Would you like a ride home?’  I gratefully accept.  He then says, ‘Would you like to have dinner with us?’

They take me to a delightful Japanese restaurant in Ubud.  It’s open to the elements, so we can observe intimately the rain maelstrom which arrives suddenly in the evening. 

MONDAY 4 OCTOBER

This morning, Ron gives a me ride to Green School, for the ‘Breakfast with Imran’ event, being held for the Friends of Green School (FRoGS), mostly parents.  I give them my spellbinding, funny and insightful ‘performance narrative’ … oh, I already told you about that. 

I stay for lunch at Green School, because I know from experience that it is utterly delicious.

In the afternoon, a hired motor scooter is delivered to the villa, for my use.  I need to be able to get around, and I can’t impose on Ron to provide me with his car and driver at my every whim.  Besides, everyone here travels on scooters and motorbikes.  When I was here for UWRF 2008, my lovely friends Tee O’Neil and Carly Nugent were both getting about on scooters, whilst I was being taken around in chauffeur-driven cars (did I mention I was in the Four Seasons?).  The implied chauvinism of that last point is ‘and they were just girls.’

There’s just one little thing to bear in mind – nothing to worry about … 

I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life. 

I look like Erik Estrada – I’m a CHiP!

The motorbike is surprisingly heavy.  To get away from the villa requires me to drive it on a very primitive track, before reaching a (pot-hole-riddled) road.  I proceed with caution and every muscle in my body clenched tight. 

This way to Ubud             ‘Get out of the way!  Get out of the way!  I don’t know how to stop!’

I think it means ‘Danger!’

These roads outside Ubud are a perfect location for learning Advanced Motorcycle Survival Techniques in a Deadly Environment, and would also make an excellent basis for a new Playstation 3 game … but for someone who’s just got on a motorbike for the very first time – maybe not a good idea. 

Hati - Hati!  No kidding. 

Every time I drive over a bump or a pot-hole, the helmet visor drops down, and I have to nervously and precariously push it back up again.  As I negotiate the steep hills and tight bends, a voice in my head is mocking me: “Cropper.  Cropper.   You’ll come a cropper.  Your arms and legs will be broken … your skin will be spread over the road like margarine …” 

“Go away … leave me alone.” 

[The term ‘come a cropper’ originally referred to a violent fall from a horse.] 

Finally, I reach the relative (expected) safety of Ubud, where there are no tight bends and monstrous gradients.  I stop at the town’s one traffic light, and breathe for a few moments, then it’s back into the fray. 

Ubud has changed so much, in such a short time!  (The tourists are back, and there are more than ever, thanks to Eat, Pray, Love.)  There are 24-hour convenience stores everywhere. I don’t remember those.  The traffic is terrible.  Everyone’s trying to collide with me.  They have no idea I’ve only got thirty minutes’ experience on a motorbike, and I’m not very good at starting and stopping.  It’s still terrifying. 

I navigate down the main street … I recognise the Palace … here’s Casa Luna … I’ll keep going … that’s easier than stopping.  There’s a hill to traverse and finally I make it to Indus, one of Janet’s restaurant’s which is a major festival venue.  I manage to manoeuvre across the road and pull up in front of Indus

I am shaking and relieved as I take off my helmet.  I want to tell someone what I’ve just achieved.

Here’s Kerry Prendergast and her husband Pranoto, coming out of Indus.  I’m so happy to meet someone I know.  Like a gibbering idiot, I tell them what I’ve just done.  They seem extremely concerned that I just learned to ride a motorbike here.  Pranoto helps me to manoeuvre the bike into a safe parking spot.  They tell me, with genuine compassion, to be careful.

I go into the Festival office next door (now called the Citibank Lounge).  It’s chaotic, as usual, in the run-up to the Festival.  Here’s Sarah Tooth and Andy Ewing.  It’s wonderful to see them again.  I tell them what I’ve just done.  They express intense concern.  Andy, an experienced rider, tells me he hasn’t fully recovered from his recent accident. 

I collect my tickets from the temporary box office downstairs, and then reluctantly walk back out to the motorbike.  Somehow, I’ve got to get home without getting broken. 

A very robustly-built Australian woman, noticing the helmet in my hands, comes up to me.

“I wonder if you could help me.  My driver’s gone off without me.  If you’re going into Ubud, could you possibly give me a ride?”

I explain to her, with brutal honesty, how much motorcycle experience I have, and she changes her mind. 

With great trepidation, I set off back through Ubud and out to the back of beyond, where the villa is.  I want to get some chocolate and drinks from a supermarket on the way, but it's just too much trouble to stop and park the motorbike.  It starts to rain briefly, but then stops.  Going up a steep hill, there is a truck in front of me and I’m keeping about five feet behind it.  A girl on a scooter decides that this gap is too big, and accelerates past me into the space.  My front wheel is about to hit her back wheel.  I forget how to brake, and in a panic stick my foot out to prevent a collision.  Her exhaust pipe certainly feels hot. 

Another thing I learn – if you don’t rev the engine enough going up a hill, the motorbike slows down, stops, and then falls over. 

Have dinner with Ron and Sono (the villa manager), and then retire to the guest villa.  Lie on the sofa outside, watching the heavy rain, and fall asleep (grateful to be alive and in one piece).

TUESDAY 5 OCTOBER

My Facebook friends from around here are all urging me to be extremely careful.  Jane Fischer even offers to send me her driver – anything to keep me off the motorbike.  This scares me so much, I decide that today I will walk into Ubud.  I will appreciate the beauty of my surroundings every step of the way. 

I don’t have any specific plans – I’m just going to have a ‘Synchronicity’ day.  I engage my Synchronicity Drive and expect the magical energy of Bali to do the rest. 

I leave the villa and head for Ubud.

No hurry – be happy.

Beauty, everywhere I look

Offerings in the street.

Have you had your rabies shot, little doggie?

I asked if I could take her photograph; she didn’t nod, but she did pose.   

He’s not enjoying the beauty as much as I am. 

As I trudge in the heat and unrelenting glare of the sun, many people pass me … little girls on motorcycles … old women on motorcycles … families on motorcycles …

But they aren’t appreciating the beauty as much as I am, as I wipe the sweat from my face with yet another of my neatly folded kitchen towels (I’ve nearly run out).  Look at that colourful flower there, that’s really nice …

Finally I reach the chaos and intensity of Ubud.  Now the heat and glare are joined by traffic noise and fumes.  I’d swear Ubud has changed a lot since just last year. 

Motorcycling is very dangerous around here, that’s why nobody does it.

In order for the Synchronicity Drive to work, you’ve got to be in a right place, an approved location.  I walk through Ubud and all the way up the hill to Indus, and look around there.  Nothing, no-one.  I go to the Citibank Lounge and loiter there, because it’s cool.  A few people around, preparing for stuff, but no-one I know, and no-one pays any attention to me.  I head back out into the heat.

Casa Luna is an obvious place, so I trudge back down the hill and all the way there.  Casa Luna is an oasis of peace (and good food), and it’s a relief to be out of the sun again. 

Ah, here’s Chris Hanley – Founder and Chair of the Byron Bay Writers Festival – and his partner.  Finally – a synchronicity! 

I join them and order some lunch for myself (they’ve already had theirs).  Chris has got to like me, because I was the Number One Bestseller at BBWF 2009.  I wait patiently for him to invite me to BBWF 2011, but instead they make their excuses and leave. 

Well, that wasn’t much of a synchronicity.  Nothing much came of it. 

I take my time over lunch and my new rehydration cocktail – watermelon juice and Sprite. 

My boss calls me on my mobile phone, and I remind him that I’m on vacation in Bali.  (I booked the time off weeks ago, but I didn’t go to a lot of effort to remind him just before I left.  I have this perpetual fear that something important will come up and I have to cancel.)  He wants to see me when I get back.  I hate it when that happens. 

I spend a couple of hours sitting in Casa Luna, but no other synchronicity materialises. Then I remember something.  At this time every year, the real writers (ie those actually in the programme) will be going to the Four Seasons for a cocktail party in the early evening.  If I head back to the vicinity of Indus, by a synchronicity I’ll run into Janet or Sarah or Andy, and they’ll invite me along to the cocktail reception at the Four Seasons.  I hurry back there, panting and sweating in the heat.  But, there’s no sign of anyone – I’ve left it too late.

Something’s going on in the Citibank Lounge – there’s a bit crowd in there.  I casually enter and they close the door behind me.  Then, everyone goes quiet and a couple of women address the audience.  It’s the Festival Volunteers’ briefing meeting.  Okay, fine, this is much better than cocktails at the Four Seasons.  I will cover this in my annual write-up, as getting into the real ‘heart’ of the Festival and the organisation behind it. 

There are about 200 volunteers, and they are taking this very seriously – planning and organising professionally and meticulously. 

In the crowd, seated on the floor, I notice a beautiful brunette woman with wavy hair and a breathtakingly slim figure.  I’d love to meet her.  (This is how my mind works.) 

The volunteers now split into groups, according to function, which leaves me a bit exposed.  (Who are you?  What are you doing here?)

I loiter uncertainly, then head away, walking back towards Ubud.  What about my Synchronicity Drive?  Why isn’t it working?

The answer comes in the theta waves of my right brain. 

‘This is because you have lost your sense of detachment, Imran.  You can’t make synchronicities happen.  The moment you try to force them, you block the energy flow and stall the Synchronicity Drive.  Now, breathe, relax and just BE.’ 

“Okay, I understand, I’ve lost my detachment.  How do I get it back?  I WANT MY DETACHMENT BACK!!!”

Not far from Indus, there is a shopping centre, with a large Periplus bookshop.  On a whim, I go inside, to see if they have my book.  I scan the shelves and I’m delighted to find a UK hardback copy, wrapped in plastic, staring out at me.  I grab it and caress it in my hands.

A slim, brunette European woman is walking right towards me.  Ecstatic and energised at finding my book, I exclaim to her, “This is a really great book!” as I hold it up for her to see.

“Oh good,” she replies, “I need a new book to read.”  She takes it from me to have a look.

I tell her all about what a brilliant book it is – how funny, insightful and thought-provoking – without disclosing any conflict of interest.  She expresses regret that, because the book is wrapped in plastic, she is unable to examine the text. 

“No problem!” I exclaim, “I just happen to have one in my backpack here.”

I end-up giving Annika from Sweden an inscribed copy of my Australian paperback, and she gives me a ride to Casa Luna on her rented motorbike. 

“I just love this scooter,” she says.  “I feel I’m flying, like Harry Potter.”

As she pulls onto the road, looking to the left, a fast moving motorbike appears from the right … I can see the rider’s face, looking panicked … we are on a direct collision course …

I am grateful for the ride to Casa Luna and even more grateful to whoever it is that runs Fate and Destiny on Bali …

I have dinner in Casa Luna, then walk back through Ubud and out into the back-of-beyond, heading for the villa.  Many people offer me a lift on the way, but I am determined to walk, because I want to experience this road in the dark, before I ride a motorbike on it at night. 

WEDNESDAY 6 OCTOBER

This morning, it’s a ride back to Green School, for a writing workshop with the older kids.  I’ve already discussed this with their English teacher, Joel. 

I talk to them about the writing process; ‘performance read’ a few pertinent extracts; explain a few spiritual lessons I’ve learned along the way; and then invite them all to write a piece from their personal experience. 

When the time is up, eight of them offer to read their writings out to the group.  One consistent theme is the move to Bali, and how traumatic this relocation seemed when they were living in the US and UK. 

Joel and I decide the two winners.  (There was only supposed to be one, but the standard was so high, we decide to pick two.  I will have to send another copy of my book with Ron.)

Writing workshop winners – Kathleen Hamilton and Adele Guyton

Writing workshop contestants

Afterwards, I’m shown where they have inscribed my name in one of the bamboo columns, as a supporter of Green School.  They even spelt it right (not Ahmed, it’s Ahmad). 

What an honour! 

I relax in the open area of Heart of School, perhaps I nod off, but I want to stay for lunch, because it’s so delicious. 

Ron’s driver takes me back to the villa.  A quick shower, and now it begins ….

I get a motorbike lift down to Casa Luna, where I meet Paulina, and we have healthy, cleansing drinks designed by Janet.  As we walk towards the Palace, we stop to inspect the new Starbucks, a major controversy in Ubud.

The Gala Opening of the Citibank - UBUD Writers & Readers Festival 2010 is as magnificent as always.  I meet my friends (those I only see at literary festivals), we enjoy the wonderful canapés, and the Festival begins. 

Antony Lowenstein enjoying the canapés.

I didn’t know he knew Kellie Jones.

In the opening addresses, Janet De Neefe explains what she had to go through in Jakarta to get a visa for Israel’s most popular writer, Etgar Keret – as Indonesia has no embassy in Israel.  We are treated to a history of Citibank in this region, by one of its representatives; the Governor extends his usual welcome; Etgar Keret recounts a few experiences and reads one of his short stories.  The most interesting anecdote is that his conscript brother was left to guard an Israeli military camp during the Six Day War, the Egyptians arrived, he didn’t realise who they were, and he made them eggs for breakfast (they ate the eggs and they didn’t kill him).

The Balinese performances are spectacular as always. 

Another sponsor was a major global credit card. 

I think it was Visa … or was it American Express?

Then it’s dinner at Casa Luna, which is packed to capacity. 

Andy Fischer, Ketut, Jane Fischer, Noelle Simpson, Ken Cooke

After dinner, I’m sitting upstairs near the entrance, with some friends, when the time comes … my friends fade away suddenly … that magic moment I look forward to for twelve months … Catriona Mitchell (the 2008 Programme Director) comes by.  This is it!  She allows me to place my arms gently around her person, and to kiss her lightly on the cheek.  My heart is pounding so hard, it’s going to break my ribs.  This is the best action I get all year. 

She’s beautiful and vivacious and intelligent and she has class and she can spell and she quotes the Dalai Lama.  I mean, come on, how much more perfect could she be?

We talk for a little while.  I articulate words as best I can, whilst also remembering to breathe and taking in the gaze of her beautiful eyes, which for these precious moments are looking at me.  Thinking before I choose what words to say is also a challenge. 

Catriona says that she’s just about to walk home; I ask if I may join her; she kindly acquiesces. 

This is it!  My big opportunity!  As we walk together in the hot darkness of the Bali night, we shall talk and talk, about our hopes and dreams, our fears and ambitions, our passions in life.  She just might, maybe, possibly, start to see me in a different way – once I speak openly with her.  That’s the one trick I know that works – communication!  It will be dark, there will be potholes, perhaps she’ll stumble – but I, ever alert, won’t let her fall, I’ll be there for her, my hand reassuringly steadying her.  There may be rabid dogs barking at us – I won’t let them anywhere near her.  This will be our special time, our halcyon moment. And when the time comes, perhaps she won’t let me say goodnight …

We walk for about 90 seconds, just past the men sitting in a group, offering ‘Taxi!’, when Catriona says, “This is where I turn off.  Goodnight.”

I return to Casa Luna.  Andy, Jane and the others are surprised to see me again, but welcoming.  I explain that it is too early to go home, when there is so much fine company available.  We talk for a long time, and then they give me a ride home, in the hot darkness. 

THURSDAY 7 OCTOBER

  This year they are issuing wristbands (if you don’t have a Writer/Media/Volunteer pass). 

Precariously, I ride the motorbike down to Indus and stop across the street; a uniformed gentleman halts the traffic, whilst I get the heavy machine across the road; another helpful gentleman beckons me to a parking spot, and leaps out of the way as I nearly run him over – I can’t get the hang of gently manoeuvring, instead of lurching forward. 

Well, I’m here.  The bike can just sit there – I don’t want to use it again until I have to go home. 

Catriona Mitchell !

This is it – the Festival is in full swing.  The energy in the air is amazing – this is the best place to be on this planet at this moment.  UWRF is a unique and magical literary festival – you have to experience it to understand. 

Noor Huda Ismail, author of Temanku Teroris (‘My Friend the Terrorist’),

in conversation with Michael Vatikiotis

Catriona Mitchell and Shalini Goodimal can’t figure out which event to go to, from the enormous programme. 

Never mind – the food looks great!

Irresistible! 

The William Dalrymple event is delayed by over an hour.  Apparently his flight is late and he’s coming straight from the airport.  Despite the head start that we have knowing about the change of venue, we can’t get seats, and end-up sitting on the floor on cushions – right at the front.  The place is completely packed – there are even people sitting on the stairs.

William Dalrymple arrives; Janet lays out a beer for him to cool himself; he is hot – there are wet patches on his shirt.  But does he let this bother him? No way – he gives a magnificent performance. 

William Dalrymple in conversation with Poonam Sagar

Liz Sinclair gives me her ticket for A Cup of Java.  It’s at Bali Wood, a venue some distance away, in unknown territory, and it will mean using the motorbike.  I’m just about to (reluctantly) swing my leg over it, when Andy Ewing comes up and tells me about a multi-book launch event about to start, right now.  I don’t know who’s books and I don’t care.  There are two important features:

1.      There’s free food and drink.

2.      It’s right here, where I’m parked, so there’s no need to use the motorbike. 

Book launches including Antony Lowenstein – My Israel Problem and delicious canapés.

This is the thing one needs to understand about the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.  Pick a few things you definitely want to attend, but don’t plan every moment of every day.  Instead, just flow through the Festival.  It’s much more fun. 

I have a ticket for ‘Don’t Blame it on the Moonlight’ – a music event at Casa Luna this evening.  I have no choice but to ride the motorcycle over there, so that it’s waiting for me nearby when I’m ready to go home.  I overshoot Casa Luna, and find a place further up to awkwardly execute a turn.  Hey, that’s Kate Adie standing on the pavement.  I would wave, I would sound the horn – but both of these actions are far too complicated for me, when my main concern is not falling off the motorbike.

My table companions, from Australia. 

(Yes, they did tell me their names, but strewth, mate, I can’t remember. Sheila?)

Jeni Caffin of Byron Bay makes a fine entrance.

Don’t Blame it on the Moonlight

When the woman in the green dress starts dancing, everyone starts dancing – even me.  This is another extraordinary phenomenon.  The only place I have been known to dance  in the last 12 years (since1998 Ernst & Young team event), is Ubud.  What is it about Bali that induces in me this state of je ne sais quoi ?

Mary-Louise and Catherine Lewis

.

Finally, the evening must come to an end.  It has rained a little, and then stopped.  With great trepidation, I ride the scooter in the darkness – through Ubud, and out of town, up and down those hills, round those tight bends, over those bumps and potholes.  Dogs bark at me and headlights dazzle me.  The voice in my head mocks me. 

I’ve never been so relieved to arrive.

FRIDAY 8 OCTOBER

I am a ‘Friend’ of the Festival, so I’m invited to morning tea at Janet’s own place – the Honeymoon Guesthouse.  I get a ride there – I’m done with using the scooter (because of the night ride back, and the persistent rain).

Something strange keeps happening.  People ask me who I am and, when I tell them, they say that they remember reading my Bio.  Then I’m forced to admit that, “Actually, this year I’m here as a R … R … (choke) … Reader.”

How do we explain this strange phenomenon – that people say they’ve seen me in the Programme?  Well, as a trained scientist, I apply the principle of Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one. And the simplest explanation is that there is an alternative reality in a parallel Universe, and in that reality, I am in the Programme – but a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum is allowing the two Universes to ‘leak’ into each other, creating the perception in this Universe, that I am in the Programme.

At the breakfast, I meet Donna from the US.  She’s also going to the Literary Lunch – ‘Dangerous Men’, at the Maya resort.  I explain that I’m a Dangerous Man also – I’m not sure if she believes me.   Jane Fischer arrives and gives us both a ride to the Maya resort.  Everything is flowing just fine. 

‘Dangerous Men’ in conversation with Janet De Neefe:

Etgar Keret, Tabish Khair, Ali Eteraz, Christos Tsiolkas

Literary Lunch – Dangerous Men

In Bali – beauty everywhere you look.

Hey Dude, don’t get your hopes up – she’s just being polite.

In Bali – beauty everywhere you look.

“I already paid for the lunch, I’ve got the receipt here somewhere …

Janet realises that she’s triple-booked for the next session.

Maya resort

A good photographer brings out the best in his subjects.  

I head back to Indus with Jane. 

Sarah Tooth phases in and out of alternate realities

At Indus, I’m taking photos for this write-up, when the beautiful brunette volunteer, with the wavy hair and the breathtakingly slim figure, comes up to me. 

“Excuse me, sir, but photography is not permitted.”

“But … but … it’s okay I was on the programme in 2008 I had a main event in the Three Monkeys they put me in the Four Seasons then you know in 2009 I had a workshop and my Indonesia book launch this year I’m not strictly in the programme I’m here as a R … R … (choke) … Reader but I always do the best blog Janet won’t mind at all if I take photos because it’s for the Festival blog …”

She says, very politely, “Well, sir, there’s Janet, so let’s ask her.”

She accompanies me as I go immediately to Janet and I explain that I need to take photos for my blog.  Janet says it’s okay and the beautiful volunteer nods in acknowledgment.

(How come Janet’s always in the same place as me?  There could be three of her, each one going to a different venue, and we mortals would never figure it out.) 

Chris Hanley needs a drink after In Conversation with Etgar Keret.

In Indus restaurant with Zhang Su Li

In the evening, Jane, Andy and I head back to the Maya resort, for the spectacular and magical production of The Conference of the Birds’.

I run into Patricia, whom I met in 2008.  She says that she recommended my book to all her friends, including one who is right there with her now.  Her friend chips in: “Oh yes, I loved it.  I photocopied it and gave it to all my friends.” 

(No wonder I never make any money.  Oh well, as long as they enjoyed it.)

Dinner at Casa Luna rounds off the day; Jane and Andy give me a ride back to the villa, late. 

                                     Ananda Hart has a good book to read

SATURDAY 9 OCTOBER

Today is a special Balinese day of offerings and prayers with respect to motor vehicles and other machines.   Jane kindly sends her driver to give me a ride to Alila Ubud, for a truly spectacular literary lunch.

At Alila Ubud – ‘Beyond the Red Lantern’:  Vietnamese writers Nam Le, Anna Moi, Andrew Lam; food by Pauline Nguyen and Mark Jensen.

Spectacular in every way: the food, the conversation, the setting, the company, the ambiance.

Julie Clark grabs a very quick bite to eat.

I take a shuttle back to Indus.

Shamini Flint is puzzled that there exists a reporter she’s never spoken to before.

I must try to remember: it’s the literature we’re here for – the food is incidental.

Session: “But I Still Like to Read in Bed”

I start talking to Kate, the beautiful brunette volunteer., who is from Perth.  She tells me that she’s heard every possible excuse for why people should be allowed in, when they don’t have a badge or a wristband.  They usually claim “Media”. 

Don’t be deceived by the lovely smile:

no wristband, no badge, no receipt – no entry, no excuses, no exceptions. 

This guy tried to get in without a badge or wristband,

claiming he was ‘Warwick Purser, the Patron of the Festival’. 

I step out of Indus and, right on cue, Andy Ewing appears and asks me if I’m going to Suad Amiry’s book launch.  “Sure, why not.”

He puts me in a car with Suad, and I carry her box of books to the Tutmak restaurant.  (Hey, is this not performing an official function? Am I thus not part of the Festival?)

At Tutmak: Book launch of ‘Nothing to Lose But Your Life’ by Suad Amiry

A heartrending account of life in Palestine, under occupation.  The restaurant is completely packed, and Suad’s story is both poignant and funny. 

Back in the flow, I head off on foot for Casa Luna, where I have a dinner appointment with Catherine and Sue.

Traditional Balinese shop

Another magical evening at Casa Luna.  Kate joins us; there’s wonderful Cuban-style music at the Festival Club; I have my annual photograph with Janet; and Ketut tells us a great story.  They were having a private function at Casa Luna one evening, and hired a security company to control entry.  Ketut arrived, and they wouldn’t let him in, not knowing who he was.  Now, a normal man would have been outraged and protested; “I’m the owner of this restaurant!” causing a flurry of concern.  But Ketut, having spiritual intelligence, merely said, “I’m the cook”, and they let him in immediately without a fuss. 

SUNDAY 10 OCTOBER

Ron gives me a ride down to town and I walk up to Indus, where there’s a breakfast event this morning. 

I have breakfast with Catriona – well that’s a privilege I never thought I’d get.   

Breakfast and the Sunday paper – Indonesian style

Eat, Write, Love’:  Sarah Murray, Pauline Nguyen, Janet De Neefe

A lazy morning at Indus, enjoying the ambiance.  A little melancholy, because it’s the last day. 

I’m chatting with Kate again, when we notice the most bizarre thing.  Unimagined is on the Periplus table marked ‘Current Session Writers’!  It’s actually next to Janet’s wonderful book, Fragrant Rice.  (Dear Sarah: I had nothing to do with this, honest.)

This proves my theory about the alternative reality in the parallel universe, leaking into ours through a rip in the fabric of the space-time continuum. 

Guess who buys the book?  I gratefully inscribe and sign it to Kate. 

Andi and Jane take me to lunch at Indus.  These two are soul mates of each other, and soul friends of mine. 

She’s a woman of many talents, that JDN. 

One of the final sessions: ‘Performing Words’ – with a number of performance poets: Sarah Taylor, Emilie Zoey Baker, Omar Musa, Kamau Abayomi, Ezra Bix, Ni Made Purnamasari, Maghriza Novita Syahti

I didn’t know Antony knew Catriona. 

Don’t go for him, Cat! 

I’ll love you forever and he has a funny face.

The sessions are over for UWRF 2010.  I sit at the back of Indus and watch the rain – the familiar joy, bittersweet exhaustion and melancholy.  So much to absorb this year, so many experiences to assimilate, so many new friends, as always. 

In Bali, beauty is everywhere (view from back of Indus)

It’s not raining when I start walking to Anthony Blanco’s Museum for the Closing Night Party, but it starts when I’m about half-way.  I am completely soaked as I walk up the drive.  A limo-SUV arrives, with a blonde woman inside – it’s Kate Adie!  (Kate and I have been together for over three years, in Biography.)  I last met Kate in March, in Dubai (where I was in the programme).   Of course, I bet that Kate just assumes I‘m in the programme here too.  She walks in with me. 

This year, the party starts off indoors, which is no bad thing.  It gives us a chance to appreciate the magnificent museum.  Art and Beauty, everywhere you look in Bali. 

A warm welcome at the entrance to the museum building.

If it wasn’t for the rain, we wouldn’t be looking at all this great art

My customary photograph with Kate Adie

The rain does stop, and the party takes off outside, as usual.

It’s over.  I say goodbye to everyone, and take a taxi back to the villa.

MONDAY 11 OCTOBER

It’s about 1 am and I have to pack.  I’m leaving at 5 am, for a 7 am flight.  I walk towards the Meeting Room villa, where I’ve left my laptop on the conference table.  It’s dark and wet.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, my foot slips, and the entire weight of my body heads for earth, accelerating under a force of 9.8 Newtons.  The point of impact is my left knee … YEEOOOOWWWW … THAT REALLY HURT.   There’s no-one to hear me.  The rain continues to patter in the still, beautiful darkness of Bali. 

THURSDAY 28 OCTOBER

My knee has nearly healed – there’s still a tightness there and a dull ache.  Walking in Ubud isn’t safe – I should have known that.

But there’s something to be happy about.  Look at this – it’s still intact!

I changed the date to 2011 – if I just keep it on, next year I’ll get in for free! 

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