The Bali Journal

Ah, draw near, beloveds, and let me tell of you of our journeys, of where the Fire and the Magic have taken us. Listen to the stories inside my words, and hear the heart of humanity, beating on, and on. These worlds are happening every day, now, somewhere, someone is experiencing a similar moment to the one I saw, and witnessing the kaleidoscopic beauty of Now. See through my eyes, as I remember….

The very first time I can remember even hearing of a place called Bali was when Josselyne invited me to hear her band…. a performance of music, played by a brass orchestra called a gamelon. One of the types of gamelan music, I learned then, came from Bali, and the other from Java, both are little islands in Indonesia. The music is haunting, eerily familiar, a soundscape filled with interesting time signatures and sonic changes, high pitched little pots and gigantic gongs. Maybe it was the music that called us to travel there.

Bali is known very well in the world of masks. Jeff has been wanting to go and spend time there for twenty years. Back in the eighties, Jeff had a friend who went to Ubud, the village of the mask-makers and wood carvers, to live and to learn. She then moved to Manhatten, which seems like an interesting choice to me. Once, on a world tour, Jeff had been in Bali, for all of 24 hours, not long enough to experience much. This time, we wanted to arrange our schedule to have a few days of open time scheduled, so we could experience more.

It all started, this time, with a gig scheduled with a cruise ship, to be on board, doing our magic show, while we set sail from Bali, through Malaysia and the Phillipines, to Hong Kong. We were able to arrange our schedule with Tobias to get us into Bali four days before we had to embark on the ship, thinking we’d have time to see a bit of the island, and find the mystical village Jeff had heard about so long ago…. Ubud.

So, a short while before we left the United States, I sat down one night and googled “magicians, Bali, Indonesia,” and found an email contact for a magician there, who, in turn, connected us to Deddy Cobruzier. Deddy appears to be a mixture of Max Maven and Dracula, and he is Indonesia’s best known, and sometimes, worst-hated, magician. He does strange things, like bending spoons with the power of his mind, and wearing heavy stage makeup all the time, and he never seems to sweat. Now, you have to understand, Indonesians do not have the cynical, know-it-all, seen-it-before quasi-boredom that many people have as an attitude. They believe the magic is *real.* Coming in, and manifesting magic wish bubbles, and plucking rainbows from thin air, Jeff and I found that these were some of the best audiences in the world.

Deddy runs a school for magic in Indonesia, based in Jakarta, called Pentagram. All the people in the school have matching black Tshirts with a white pentagram on them, outlined in hot pink, that says, in pink letters, sort of cursive, across the front, “McBride and Cobruzier.” They brought us to the Santika Villas Resort…. where we met up with Deddy and his girlfriend, Calina. She didn’t stay too long into the first evening. Apparently, she just got out of the hospital a week before we came into town. She had had typhoid. I had never heard of typhoid. It’s a kind of bacerial infection, caused by the salmonella bug. It’s pretty common over there, and can be have some nasty complications, like death. You can get it from the water, or from unwashed fruits and veggies. There is a vaccine for typhoid, some pills you take for a few days in a row, and then you get better, though, just in case you were curious. This trip, I am happy to say, we both stayed healthy and free from unwanted intestinal ookiness. Ah, another reason to be grateful.

The story goes like this, Deddy has this television special that he wants Jeff to star in. The idea is to re-create the “Burned Alive” effect Jeff did in Monte Carlo a few years ago, with a new method… which they promise me is safer than ever…. Their spin on it, is that not only will Jeff and Deddy both be burnt up at the same time, it will also happen in the middle of fifty bare-chested, chanting men. In addition, they want Jeff to perform his water bowls in the front of this huge temple, complete with stone dragons, giant bamboo sculptures, and a moat. Oh, and our hosts would also like him to make some magic with Light, while two beautiful Balinese dancers assist, while the gamelan band plays on… After that, our hosts say, since it’s only three-thirty in the morning, and since it’s only raining a little, let’s just keep going and tape the Masks and the Miror routine, too, ok? During the next day, which is scheduled to be ninety-six degree, we’ll be outside all day, filming some street magic on Kuta Beach.

I started thinking we might want some drummers for that street show. Our guides, Oge and Damien brought me to a drum shop, filled with djembes of all sizes. I picked out four, and the guys brought them down to the beach, tuned them, and we jammed in the sunshine while the magic man got set up…. And he amazed them, the beautiful surfers and the mothers with their kids, the ladies selling sarongs and the men who smoked cigarettes, the little girl’s face that opened in delight, as she saw new sights….. And Deddy got some amazing footage, so if you happen to have access to Balinese tv, look for “McBride in Bali,” airing soon.

In exchange for us spending forty eight hours of our time and energy, Deddy met our financial needs, put us up in an exquisite villa on the beach, fed us extravagantly, and took excellent care of us…. Massage on the beach just before sunset, anyone?? After we finished the tv shooting, we had a day and a half to travel….

So we went to Ubud, the village my beloved had been aiming for… and we found the maskmaker’s shop and I saw some of the many faces of Jeff McBride, master of masks, as he found them, and they found him, for the first time…. There are many new eyes looking around, here in our temple-home. Now there is even more light, coming in through the slits of the eyes.

In Bali, we saw Beauty. Beauty that is a secluded villa, with a thatched roof, private pool, ceiling fans and deep bathtubs, with bamboo everywhere. Beauty that is a lei of frangipani flowers, places across our shoulders on our arrival. One of Bali’s other names is Island of the Gods. Bali is the only island in Indonesia that is primarily Hindu; the rest are Muslim.

We saw Beauty in the temples, hundreds and hundreds of temples. We saw huge stone carvings of Arjuna and Hanuman on streetcorners in city plazas. The smell of incense, always was present somewhere. Every bridge has guardian statues, which are always clothed in a black and white fabric. The people spend a great deal of time making offerings to their gods. Each day, several times a day, the women come to the shrines, carrying woven baskets on their heads, filled with these little offering trays, woven of palm leaves, on which are places little flowers, incense, berries or other colored powders. These are left at the various temples and shrines, and outside of businesses, and at the sides of bridges, and on statues… up to five times during the course of a day. In addition to working in food service or retail, the women there are very engaged in sweeping the streets with these brooms made from little bunches of twigs, sweeping out the offering trays from the previous day or hour.

Another one of Bali’s names is the Island of Dances. Balinese dance is so beautiful, very stylized with specific make-up and story lines.) There’s a dance re-enacting the Ramayana. Many of the dancers are very young girls with very big eyes. They all have coordinated eye movements, facial gestures, finger movements…. There’s a dance where men firewalk on burning coconut husks. Another dance involves huge masked characters retelling dramas of witches, dragons and magic. The coconut-fire dance and the monkey chant dance both arrived in Bali in the 1930s, created by a foreigner as a way to attract tourist attention. It works.

Oh, yes, let me not forget the dance of the alligators. Yeah, I said alligators. After the tv shooting, on one of our free days, we went to see the “real” magicians of Bali. These guys were real, live, Beast-Masters. They were doing magic that, to my eye, appeared to be “the real thing.” Things with knives, and fire, and sharp piercy implements. (Ok, ok, you guys are tough, quit that, already…) That’a when they went for the snakes. Two cobras, at first, that would rear up with their hoods wide open, hiss in a menacing manner and coil themselves about. They would pick up the snakes and pose for photos. When they were finished with the little snakes, they put them back in the bag and back in their box. Next out of the box came the *big* snake… fifteen feet of boa constrictor, which would slither around the platform stage for awhile, then one of the beastmasters would wrap the snake around his middle* while the other beastmaster climbed up and stood on the coils of the snake. Ta-Daah.

Then the alligators…. Some were small, only about fife feet big. Some were really big, maybe thirteen feet long. Long enough so a beast-monster could lay down along the alligator’s back while the creature lay still on the floor. The beastie boys would chew a little on a big green leaf, then take a sip of some kind of liquid, and spit the mixture onto the head and the snout of the gators. They would respond by opening their mouths really wide. One of the beast-men placed one of these leaves on the lower jaw of the alligator, then proceeded to remove the leaf with his own mouth. One slip of the lip and he would have lost his head…. but this is a family friendly show, and nothing of the sort happened. There were around three good size alligators on stage with these two men at any given moment, plus about six more swimming in the moat of the stage area. Seemed like magic to me. While there, we also got to see monitor lizards, a komodo dragon and several other kinds of snakes and creepy beasties.

That was the day we met up with SuChiao and about eight other magicians from Indonesia. They drove out seven hours to attend the beast-show at the park, waay out in the coutryside, in between Kuta Beach and Ubud. They seemed to enjoy the alligator festivities as much as we did. Afterwards, we all went out to a popular Balinese restaurant, called “Maddy’s Hut.” I really liked the food in Indonesia. It was very spicy, in that chili-pepper-Asian kind of a way, and there were lots of vegetarian options. The restaurants in the countryside sprawl out, with lots of space. One restaurant might have five gazebo-style buildings, with seating for about 40 people in each one. There’s a law in Bali about not building any buildings higher than the nearest temple, or the nearest palm tree. Man should not eclipse nature’s beauty. It’s hard not to get eclipsed by a big billboard of KFC, though. Ack, franchises in paradise. One of the newspapers articles there was about how Indonesians are beginning to have more problems with obesity than in previous history. Ah, Western culture…. boosting cholesterol levels, all around the world.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Bali. It’s a tiny little island, just SouthEast of China and NorthWest of Australia. The island is like a paradise, and is known for, among other things, Kuta Beach, which has some of the best waves in the world, for surfing. Most of the non-Indonesian people there were Australian. There are many young backpacker tourists… Bali made the news in 2002, when a nightclub was blown up by “terrorists.” There is an interesting vibration between the native people, who, for the most part, are religious Hindus, who spend most of their lives making sacred art, growing rice in their paddies, building temples, making offerings five times a day and sweeping their walkways with brooms made of little twigs– coming into a strange, and sometimes uneasy relationship the young Australian surfers, (roight mate?) .
Apparently, there was this nightclub, with a target market of Australian partygoers. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to put a sign in the window that read, “No Dogs, No Indonesians Allowed.” Two nights later the club was blown to smithereens, filled with people in the wrong place at the wrong time. We learned about this as we drove past their “ground zero.” Two years after impact, there are shrines and signs of little plants beginning to grow back, to fill in the cracks. We saw banners of support and love carefully placed by the community, and offering trays are left there, five times a day. The traffic moves slowly as it goes by.

There are far too many vehicles for these tiny streets as it is. But, then Bali had an earthquake, which completely shook the foundations of the island, and all the plumbing and piping has to be re-done. Many times, we found ourselves hurtling along in a car driven by someone we don’t know, who mostly speaks Balinese, going on a little one-way stretch of land, straight toward an oncoming vehicle. Our mantra to each other for travel was “Don’t Look.” We learn to just let go, and let someone else drive, and for heaven’s sake, of course, we fasten our seat belts when we get in the car, but then we just have faith. We don’t need to watch the process, just to have faith in the Driver of the Carriage. We encourage each other to focus on the beauty, instead of the fear. There’s a choice of the direction the energy will go.

So I encourage you, beloved friends…. to witness carefully the heartbeat of humanity as it manifests in your sphere, and to seek the Beauty, that you may feed the hungry souls you encounter, and to awaken, fully conscious into this moment, Now.

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