Ubud, the arts and cultural center of Bali, is quite different than the coast. Here, I am bombarded by the plethora of colors, in the art, shop windows, clothes, buildings and artifacts. Magical stick puppets, ferocious masks and amazing animal and insect headed kites are for sale everywhere. The greenery also dazzles me. During the rainy season, plants seem to sprout everywhere uninvited. Yet I believe there must be a dizzying amount of variegated greens year around. This is more like the Bali I expected.
The vibrant art scene includes paintings, sculptures, jewelry, handicrafts, and clothes. There are three main art museums, The Neka and Amra Museums; each one gives the art lover a history and understanding of real Balinese art, and an appreciation of the evolution and the influences that caused the changes over the years. There is also the Blanco (Renaissance) Museum, which has nothing to do with the renaissance, but is rather a profit mill and ego trip for ‘Don’Antonio Blanco (d.1999) and family, which is full of a bunch of paintings of nudes. I for one enjoy seeing the well-executed portrait of a nude just like the next guy or girl, but a whole room full: overkill – boring. Although, in the downstairs, there is a gallery full paintings by his son, Mario Blanco, also a talented artist, who has some excellent works for sale of many different subjects.
Both in Ubud and around the surrounding areas, there are big art emporiums filled with unsigned paintings, tread-milled out for the tourist trade. Many of the same paintings can be seen throughout Ubud. Sucker art, I call it. But there are legitimate galleries, and I found two really nice works, both of which, I decided to buy. My favorite was by Pande Ketut Taman, a well know Indonesian artist, which the Komaneka Gallery had for sale for $7500. As almost every shop and emporium gives deep discounts from their original asking prices, I thought there must be a great deal of space between the gallery’s asking price and what they were willing to take. How wrong I was. They discounted the painting to $7125 (5%). I took a photo of it and left with my tale between my legs. The other painting was by Arie Smits, in the Neka Gallery, which had just been hung and was as yet unpriced. However considering the prices of Smits other paintings, I was told it would probably sell in the Ballpark of $23,000 or more. Later I learned that the Neka Museum had a whole room designated to Smit’s paintings. Too bad my taste and budget didn’t coincide. At least I did find two reputable galleries, and I also found that a quality, smaller signed painting can be bought for as low as $150, as a lovely remembrance of Bali.
There are many expats in Ubud, artists, clothing designers, and creators of intriguing household items, colorful cushions and interesting furniture; people who simply have had a love affair with the area, and hangers on.
During my visit to this charming little community, I met two semi local women (each of whom have spent several months a year in Bali for the last eight or ten years), told me that ‘the expatiate community is a group of cliquish snobs.’ But how would I know? I never met any. Whereas these two women, both of whom I spent an enjoyable evening having dinner, and went through the process of exchanging email addresses, never responded to the emails I sent them. Who knows maybe it’s an Ubud disease like Cohoes Island Syndrone in upstate New York.
I read in a Jakarta newspaper, that the Indonesian Ministry of Tourist recently reported that the book, Eat, Prey, Love, had improved tourism by creating an influx of female travelers. Female readers, who loved the book, are flocking to Bali in droves. Again, during dinner each of the two semi-local women I told me the same story, that women even come with the book tucked under their arm. They follow the path of the author, visiting the healer referred to in the book, who now charges 550,000 rupees (about $180) for a consultation and tells all those women the same fortune. If this is so, it is just another example of fame and money continuing to be as corrupting as ever. I was also told, that the lady, who the author helped to build a house, is supposedly being rude to all comers. This is unbelievable to me, as the Balinese are such lovely people. I guess there are just too many lonely women in the world.
On my last morning in Ubud, while walking past the Monkey Forest carrying a black plastic bag, four monkeys were playing in the parking lot outside the forest. As I passed, one monkey jumped at my bag. I panicked and shouted ‘Help, Please!’ A local lady on a motorbike laughed. The monkey’s thought was probably that I had a bag of bananas, and of course I was in no danger but… Ubud is the home of the Monkey Forest, which is located in a lovely jungle-like setting on a road that connects the two main streets of Ubud; unfortunately it is full of monkeys, which I can’t abide. No matter that they are my distant relatives. I will admit to their and my ancestry but don’t care to associate with them under any terms. But to see the Forest, one has to share some land space with these primates and I did this with caution. The forest is delightful and the monkeys around me were mostly well behaved. But you can be assured, that I did not feed those little Buggers a morsel.