Sunset Kecak Dance. Uluwatu, Bali

The first time I attended a Balinese Kecak Dance was in 1979. We travelled through darkness in a bemo, a basic van with side seats in the back, to a village some distance from Ubud. We passed through dense jungle and small lamp lit villages along the way: at that time, electric lighting was limited, intermittent and unreliable in Bali. Darkness held more mystery then and the Kecak fire dance, always held at night, was more exotic and entrancing. That performance was raw and primitive, leaving an impression of sound, fire, and primordial noise. We sat in a dusty circle around the men and I recall the black and white checked sarongs, the glowing honey coloured skin of the men, and the loud repetitive harsh chanting, as well as the central role played by Hanuman, the monkey.

Recently, almost 40 years later, we attended another Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple on sunset. The fabulous setting added drama to the story. The amphitheatre and stage, a large arena bordered by Balinese carved entrances and dense Bougainvillea, sits on the edge of the Bukit Peninsula, alongside the sacred temple of Uluwatu. The audience wear ceremonial purple sarongs or orange sashes in keeping with the dress requirements of this sacred park. Just after sunset, the show begins.

The dance commences.

The Kecak dance and drama, ( pronounced kechuck ) was developed in the 1930s. While relatively new, it draws on the ancient traditions and legends of the Ramayana. Since its creation, it has been performed primarily by men. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece is performed by a circle of between 75 and 150 men chanting “cak cak” and other rhythmic and forest noises while moving their hands and arms. There is no accompanying music. One could compare the sound to beatboxing. In the drama, the loyal monkey, Hanuman, helps Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. Other Ramayana characters include Sita, Garuda, Holy Man, Twalen, Laksmana, Trijata and servants.

Sita and Rama

In the modern version, Hanoman steals the show. His initial monkey-like scratching eventually brings roars of laughter when he resorts to scratching his crutch. After Hanoman escapes the ring of fire and the story comes to a close, he reappears as a naughty but loveable dramatic character, an acrobatic comedian who taunts and teases the audience. At one point, an intrusive camera waving tourist gets in his way. Hanoman grabs him, turns him around and attempts to pull his shorts down. The crowd laps it up. Then Hanoman leaps into the audience and takes a seat, grabs the glasses from a nearby tourist and places them on his head. This modern Hanoman has learnt a few tricks from the real naughty monkeys that inhabit the Uluwatu park. The crowd roars with delight and the children are entranced.

Hanoman in ring of fire.

It was worth seeing the Kecak dance again. Despite the crowds and chaos of ticket buying, I can highly recommend this show.

Holy Man enters.
Photo opportunities.The Two Hanomans.

 

Balinese Memukur. Water Purification Ceremony by the Sea

The sound of gamelan moves closer, an exotic percussion that is repetitive and hypnotic, as we wake from our afternoon slumber and follow the procession down to the sea. Another Balinese ceremony is about to take place.

White dressing for the last funeral stage, Memukur. Sanur, Bali.

The Balinese will often tell you that they won’t be around for a few days as they have a ceremony to attend. Religious and family ceremonies are an important part of the fabric of Balinese life. Hindu ritual and observance is strictly upheld, despite the massive level of tourism in southern Bali. Balinese often return to their family village in the country for these events: they are always in touch with the ever shifting Hindu calendar. I’m forever asking questions, trying to fathom the significance of each new ceremony that I come across.

Gamelan orchestra, Sanur.

Memukur is a traditional Balinese ceremony for the passed away spirit. The purpose of this ceremony is to purify the spirit to send it off into reincarnation. It must be purified by water so it may return to heaven to begin the process of reincarnation. According to tradition, the deceased returns to human life in the form of the next born family member after these rituals. White is the colour worn during Memukur, with bright sashes and golden sarongs for the women, and white shirts and traditional dark sarongs for the men. The carefully tied udeng is worn as a hat on these occasions.

Ceremonial dress, men wearing the udeng.

The assembled group wait patiently for the priest to arrive, who performs the water purification ceremony. This is not a sad occasion yet the gathered are quiet and respectful. Some of the younger boys in the gamelan band joke quietly together: young women occasionally glance at their mobile phones.

Waiting, waiting.

A collective sigh can be heard as the elderly priest arrives in a black car and slowly moves to the raised platform to perform the purification rites.

The purification ritual begins. Sanur beach, Bali

The gamelan orchestra begins again, with increasing percussion from gongs and hammered xylophones and background wind instruments.

Gamelan orchestra, Bali
Gamelan, sanur beach, memukur ceremony

The Balinese don’t mind foreigners witnessing these ceremonies. Some points of etiquette need to be observed.

  • Do not walk in front of people when they are praying.
  • Do not use flash or point your camera at the priest’s face.
  • Never sit higher than the priest, the offerings and/or people praying.
  • During cremation ceremonies, never get in the way of attendees. Stand at a respectable distance, somewhere along the sides or in the background.
  • The bikini clad and shirtless should stay well away.

    It’s not unusual for the assembled to be happy at this final stage of a funeral process.

Bridges of Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

The most famous Buddhist temple in Kunming, Yunnan Province, is Yuantong Temple, which was first built in the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty.  After two major restorations and expansions, in 1465-1487 and in 1686, the temple took on its present design, with covered corridors, bridges and grand halls. Bridges feature prominently throughout the complex.

Many elderly Chinese spend time meditating at Yuantong Temple, Kunming. 

Wandering around the grounds, soft Buddhist music plays in the background. Om Mani Padme Hum, the repetitive mantra of Buddhist meditation, inundates my consciousness. As I drift over the many bridges, turtles rise to greet me. Peace caresses me, I am at home in these foreign grounds.

Bridges of Yuantong Temple, Kunming.

The Golden Gate opens into two mountain ranges.
A silver stream is hanging down to three stone bridges
Within sight of the mighty Tripod Falls.
Ledges of cliff and winding trails lead to blue sky
And a flush of cloud in the morning sun.

extract from A Song of Lu Mountain to Censor Lu Xuzhou. Li Bai, ( 701-762) from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, Edited by A.R. Davis, Penguin Books, 1962.

Bridges and walkways of Yuantong Temple, Kunming.

Risotto Invernale with Radicchio

According to market research, many people prefer recipes that take 27 minutes or less to make.¹ I think my patience level runs very close to this figure. A comforting risotto just fits it into this time frame, so long as you prep most of the ingredients as you go, which to me makes sense; it gives you something else to do while you are stuck beside that pan for 20 minutes or more, stirring, watching, and knocking back the wine you opened to make it.

Garden pickings. Radicchio, cavolo nero, winter’s Tuscan Kale and parsley. Add rice and parmesan to make a fortifying meal.

Risotto is my favourite winter food, especially when the garden provides winter loving treasure such as Cavolo Nero, the dark green Tuscan king of kale, and ruby coloured radicchio, a bitter leafed vegetable that adds colour and crunch to winter meals. As the morning temperatures drop below zero and the ground turns crunchy with white frost, these two plants come into their own. They love a cold snap.

Gazzono brand, Vialone Nano from the Mediterranean Wholesalers, Brunswick.

The other ingredients are fridge and pantry staples. Butter, olive oil, onion, good Italian rice and Parmigiano Grano Padano. Which rice is best for this task? I generally find that the cheaper brands of arborio produce a less appetising result. Although I do enjoy frugality, some cheaper ingredients make for false economy. One kilo of good quality Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice goes a long way.

Chopped radicchio.

Risotto Invernale con Radicchio. Winter Radicchio Risotto. A step by step recipe. Ingredients for two large serves.

  • 1 cup good quality risotto rice ( Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
  • 1 tablespoon EV olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 small red onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 small carrot, very finely chopped( optional)
  • vegetable stock, homemade or made with a stock cube, around 3 cups or more
  • dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
  • a small head of radicchio, finely sliced
  • black pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, Reggiano or Grano Padano
  • more butter, a good knob

Chop half an onion into tiny dice and add it to a wide pan with a generous slurp of olive oil and butter. Although a diced carrot isn’t generally added to the base of a risotto, a little carrot adds some sweet notes, since radicchio can be quite bitter. As the onion gently cooks, bring a pot of vegetable stock to the boil and let it simmer next to your risotto pan.  I like to have more stock than most recipes suggest, just in case it’s needed. This can be either home-made or made from a stock cube. Open the white wine. Measure the rice. Cut a small head of radicchio into fine strips. Find a small butt of Parmesan cheese and ask someone to finely grate it.

The beginning of a risotto.

Add the rice. One cup of rice makes a generous meal for two people. Adjust the recipe for more people. Stir the rice to coat the grains- the rice will turn opaque – then add a big slurp of white wine, ( at least a quarter of a cup, though I  never measure it)  and stir well. At this point, you are allowed to begin drinking, to fortify you for the task ahead.

Step two, add the wine.

Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding the hot stock, one ladle full at a time. There’s no need to stir too vigorously or continually. The heat should be on medium to high, though I generally adjust this up and down as I go. When the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and continue this activity for around 20 minutes or so.

Risotto absorbing the stock.

Add the radicchio and the last ladle of stock and stir vigorously for around 5 minutes. The leaves will soften and the dish will become more creamy. Add a grinding of pepper.

Add the radicchio and last ladle of stock

The final and most important step. Add a good amount of parmesan and butter, la mantecatura, then cover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for 2 minutes.

Take off the lid and stir through the butter and cheese vigorously. The dish will become creamy and smooth. Shake the pan backwards and forwards to observe a wave movement ( all’onda)  in the mixture. If you think that the risotto is a little dry, add a small amount of hot stock and stir through well. You are aiming for a soft, creamy and well united dish that has a little wetness.

Serve with more parmesan.

One of the best things I’ve read about cooking in the last few weeks. ¹ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/18/great-recipe-explosion-social-media-does-more-mean-better-instagram-pinterest

In My Kitchen, July 2017

In my kitchen, there are signs of packing frenzy. The kitchen table has become a convenient sorting ground for the paraphernalia one now requires for a long overseas trip: regional power plugs, battery chargers for cameras, phones, computers, Kindle and tablet, mini speaker, extra SD cards for cameras, car chargers for phones, different lenses for cameras, plastic sleeved folders for itineraries and bookings, medical supplies. Have I forgotten something? On and on it goes with this weird tangle of stuff, the clothes and shoes almost an afterthought. As you may gather, I’m getting organised for 4½ months of global roaming: the kitchen is the best place to sort, iron, and edit, repack, write more lists and dream.

Laguiole set, lucky find.  Reconstructed chopping boards from one large flexi poly board.

One kitchen-esque packing item that I am enjoying putting together is the picnic set, although picnic friendly verges and green public spaces are not so easy to come by in France and Italy. I found a Laguiole set of 8 at my favourite second-hand shop. They are new, probably a discarded gift. Those little bees are now heading back to France. I’ve cut down a flexible poly chopping mat into 3 pieces to fit the picnic box. Of course there’s a Swiss army knife and a bottle opener, two wine glasses, two large table napkins which double as tea towels, a little cheese box, a few lengths of wax paper for wrapping cheese, some rubber bands and a few zip lock plastic bags. The box now weighs 1.167 kilo. Anal packarama. I am being restrained: what I really want is a picnic set like Marlena de Blasi’s. ( See extract at the end of this post).

Picnic box packed. Laguiole set of cutlery, found at my favourite second-hand shop . A corkscrew, a Swiss army knife, two napkins and two wine glasses, some re-constructed chopping boards and other odds and ends complete the set.

I have cut three ½ metre sheets from this roll of waxed paper, ready to wrap some lovely cheeses that we will find en route. I purchased this paper online a year ago and it goes a long way. It keeps cheese very well.

All natural waxed paper.

I am now counting the sleeps and imagining the farmers’ markets in small villages and the new kitchens that will inspire, or perhaps frustrate, my kitchen creativity along the way. Initially, the escape from daily cooking will be very welcome, but after a while I know that restaurant food will begin to jade the palate. And so we are renting small apartments and houses over the next four months, little places with kitchens, a small garden or a terrace, a place to call home for a few weeks at a time and to enjoy some home cooking. I’m also looking forward to the French and Italian bakeries for our daily bread. I recently purchased this strong fabric bag at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Van Gogh exhibition. Note the long length. Perfect for a baguette or two in France.

Carry bag from Van Gogh’s seasons, NGV, Melbourne.

My future posts for the rest of 2017 will be written en route, assuming that WiFi is free and fast, something that I take for granted anywhere in Asia but not necessarily in Europe. I hope to attend a cooking school in Chiang Mai, visit some Hong Kong kitchens, write from an old stone bothy house in Skye, and cook in the houses we have rented in France and Italy. My posts will include a walk around some French and Italian markets. I couldn’t imagine travelling to these countries without purchasing some lovely local produce to take ‘home’ and cook. I’m dreaming of some freshly shucked belon oysters in Brittany, miniature fresh and aged goat’s cheeses hand shaped by a grand-mère in the Dordogne, perhaps washed down with a Bergerac red. And some autumnal produce from the stalls of a medieval bastide market town in Languedoc. The anticipation is enormous. I hope you will join me, at least vicariously, in my travels.

Today’s bread. Celia’s High Hydration, with ears.

In the meantime, I have made our final loaves to see us through the last week, as well as dehydrating some sourdough starter to tuck away for our return.

Batons of the Finnish seeded loaf.

I am also enjoying this little corner of the kitchen since the new plaster board was installed last week, covering the dated 80s pine boards. I attached the monkey face calligraphy to the end of the dresser, a gift from Brian.

Colonial kitchen dresser with new wall.
Another little calligraphy corner , gift from Brian, on the end of my dresser.

Thanks to Sherry for hosting of this ongoing series. You can check out other kitchen posts on Sherry’s Pickings.

Marlene de Blasi’s picnic basket.

‘Always ready in the boot is a basket fitted with wine glasses, two of our most beautiful ones, plus two tiny bohemian cut-crystal glasses, napkins made from the unstained parts of a favourite tablecloth, a box full of odd silver, a wine screw, a good bottle of red wine- always replaced immediately after consumption- a flask of grappa, a Spanish bone handled folding knife, a pouch of sea salt, a small blue and white ceramic pepper grinder, plates of various size… ‘ Tuscan Secrets, A bittersweet adventure.

 

 

On a Winter’s Day a Traveller in Melbourne

Sometimes when I visit Melbourne in winter, I see her as if for the first time. Perhaps it’s the light. Or maybe it’s the new energy that charges the centre with brio. Gone are the days of visiting Melbourne with an agenda, striding her university precinct to study Mandarin, travelling with trepidation to the top of Collins street to visit overpaid dentists, or trawling her centre to shop in her famous emporia.

A fleeting glimpse along Princes Bridge, Melbourne. Capturing a 1940s feel midst all that colour and modernity.

These days, I attempt to visit the city without a particular plan. When trundling along by tram, I am often awed by the highly ornate Victorian facades along the southern end of Elizabeth Street, which only become visible from the height of a tram. Winter evokes Melbourne’s past, highlighting the beauty of granite, sandstone, marble and blue stone. While surrounded by modern colour and plenty of action, my lens fleetingly lands on her historic elements.

Under Princes Bridge, Melbourne.

From Federation Square, where a group of visiting Chinese have set up a colourful display of large pandas to promote tourism to Chengdu, I wander to a quiet spot and find a lone seagull bathing in mystic sunlight, with gothic St Paul’s in the background.

Seagull in mystic light.

The familiar Flinder’s Street station, an ochre- coloured Victorian fantasy, takes on a new look as its northern facade is under restoration. Christo comes to town.

The fanciful Flinders street station turns part Christo.
Curves, bridges and station. On a winter’s day a traveller.

Included in this week’s WP Daily Post theme, showcasing photos of transition and change.

Hosier Lane Revisited

She was sitting on a bluestone step near the corner of Rutledge Lane, just past the paint splattered wheelie bins. A waif of a girl, pallid and twig like, she looked like a Manga character, except her eyes were too small and demeanor too fragile. She was wearing a pastel coloured checked shirt over faded denim jeans, her long hair bleached white with pale blue dip- dyed ends. She was rolling a cigarette slowly and self- consciously, not street wise enough to adopt the insouciance of more experienced street artists. She didn’t appear to be homeless, there was something too studied about her appearance for that. Perhaps she came to admire her own art, or to contemplate her next one, or to rue the loss of her favourite piece.

Rutledge Lane, street art, wheelie bins and the tree heart above, a semi permanent piece.

Street art in Hosier Lane and its right-angled annex, Rutledge Lane, is transient. Each visit brings new surprises, new styles, as the genre mutates and evolves. Recent additions include more stencil art and written messages, some with environmental and political content, others with random thoughts.

These two pieces go together. Stencils and messages seem to be in vogue in Hosier Lane at present.
ET is alive and well in Hosier Lane

Vincent and Beyond. The National Gallery of Victoria for Kids

In the digital age, where many children have instant access to famous art images from worldwide galleries, a visit to a national gallery may produce two completely opposite responses: they will either be enthralled, eager and stimulated or bored, indifferent and restless. Fortunately for me, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with a young art sponge: the day was a huge success for both of us. Oliver was keen to visit Van Gogh and the Seasons, an exhibition of 50 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, which is now showing at the NGV until July 12. Like many other 8 year olds, he had some previous knowledge of the works of Vincent, mostly through art programmes at his school. He had also spent time with me leafing through large glossy art books and discussing these images, something that the curious love doing with an older person, unlike the image trawling, swipe, reject, like, swipe attention span deficient pastimes of today, where discussion, reading, and dialogue are sadly missing.

Vincent Van Gogh. I didn’t record the title and dates of each piece, thanks to our animated conversation at the time. Apologies.

Our visit was planned a few weeks beforehand, with a discussion of Vincent’s works and a look at a couple of other art movements in history. Oliver was also keen to see the work of Picasso, his current favourite artist, and fortunately, the NGV holds one small painting. He was also keen to see the Michelangelo’s Pietà and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa! I think this boy may need to travel to Italy and France one day.

My favourite Van Gogh from Seasons, NGV, Melbourne

Before embarking on a trip to the Gallery with young children, consider the following:

  • The age of the child. Kids’ attention spans differ greatly from age to age.
  • The interests of the child. Not everyone travels with an ‘art sponge’ but a trip to the gallery can be tailored to meet the interests of the child.
  • Pre- planning. Go through the collections online and choose a few pieces from one or two areas that are appealing rather than wandering aimlessly.
  • Limit the visit to one or two sections so that they are keen to return.
  • Be informed about the works you have decided to visit. Kids ask a lot of curly questions.
  • They probably won’t read the plaques alongside each painting. Kids will find stories in the works that will surprise you. I usually ask them to read the date and the artist of each piece.
  • Don’t be surprised if they move along faster than you would like.
  • Factor in a few breaks. There are lots of chairs and couches about the gallery. Have a break here and there.
  • Buy them a few postcards of famous artworks at the end as mementos of their visit.
  • If visiting a temporary exhibition, such as Van Gogh and the Seasons, book the tickets online before you go and arrive at opening time. There is nothing worse than trying to appreciate art through a sea of heads and iPhones.
  • The NGV is free of charge- only temporary exhibitions have entrance fees –  and is surprisingly empty on a Saturday morning.
Oliver contemplates Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman.’

A few surprises for Oliver included Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, held in the 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery, Level 2, NGV International. I am saving a few edited stories about this one for our next visit. He loved the grandeur of it, the dog, and the costumes. Other surprises included the Egyptian Sarcophagus, 700 BC, which led to an endless array of questions about dates, maths, AD versus BC, and the promise that we would return to visit the Egyptian and Ancient Art Collection next time.

Detail from Tiepolo’s, ‘Cleopatra’s Banquet’ NGV Melbourne.
A teaser for next time. Oliver with Sacophagus, 700 BC. NGV, Melbourne

I also discovered a few gems and am looking forward to returning to immerse myself in the Art of the Sublime, an English art movement that I find intriguing, and a concept where the word ‘sublime’ ( like other tainted words such as awesome, terrible, amazing, horrible) held far more meaning that it does today. Two works from this movement caught my eye. Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield, 1830 and After the Massacre of Glencoe, by Peter Graham 1889, might need a solo visit, with the stories and the history of Glencoe stored until the young ‘art sponge’ is 14 or so. Let’s hope he’s still keen.

Detail from Mount St Michael, Cornwall, 1830. Clarkson Stanfield. NGV, Melbourne.
Detail from ‘After the Massacre of Glencoe’, by Peter Graham 1889

Oliver was impressed that there were no fakes in the gallery, something that I just took for granted but that many kids don’t. The geekish acronym IRL, or In Real Life, resonates loudly here. He is keen to return and I can’t think of a lovelier person to accompany me.

https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/van-gogh-and-the-seasons/

Focus in Hội An, Vietnam

In the cooler hours of the morning, before the tourists take over the yellow streets of Hội Anlocal couples dressed in traditional costumes arrive for a photo shoot. Weddings, anniversaries, engagements or portraits, many couples choose the less commercial end of Nguyễn Thái Học street for its colourful and historic built background. No one seems to mind my presence alongside or behind the professional photographer, though with my simple lens, the glare makes it hard to focus.

Morning glare in Hội An.

The old town near the Hội An’s historic district, is recognised as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Chinese and Japanese influences can be seen in the shop fronts, houses and old businesses in the streets closest to the wharf. It is a city requiring a leisurely week or more of you wish to fathom its charms.

Another beautiful Vietnamese couple line up against the yellow walls of Hội An for their portrait.

Women often choose to wear the áo dài, the Vietnamese national costume, for these portraits.

Other portraits taken in Hội An, Vietnam, can be viewed here and here.

Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon Cake or Pudding

Have you ever eaten something wonderful at a restaurant, determined to replicate the same dish at home? After enjoying the two course lunch special at Cecconi’s cellar bar earlier this week, I inquired about the dessert of the day, hoping that it would be something wintry and old-fashioned. Oh happy day, the dolce del giorno was a wedge of apple, walnut and cinnamon cake, comforting and grandmotherly, jazzed up with modern restaurant toppings, including cinnamon ice cream, tiny cubes of apple jelly and something crunchy, perhaps a disc of meringue. No photo was taken: greed intervened long before any thoughts of pics entered my mind. It was good.

My version is close enough to Cecconi’s torta, without the flash toppings. A little dusting of icing sugar is enough but a dollop of Frangelico infused mascarpone goes well too. The cake morphs into a simple dessert when warmed and served with custard or ice cream. Hideous winter begone with a little warm pudding.

Torta di Mele, Noce e Cannella.  Apple, Walnut and Cinnamon cake.

  • 200 gr butter
  • 250 gr caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 300 gr plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100 gr chopped walnuts
  • 500 gr apples, peeled, cored, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 20 cm square tin. Dust with flour or line with parchment if you prefer.

Cream butter and sugar well then add eggs, one at a time, and beat until creamy.

Mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder then add to the batter.

Fold in the walnuts and apples. Place in the prepared baking tin, ( it will be a stiff batter), smoothing the top, then bake for 60 minutes. Rest before turning onto a wire rack.