September 13, 2017

Wingnuts Away!

When this diary was written, we were supposed to be in Provence, France. Specifically, we were supposed to be in the lovely lower Rhone Valley, at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. “We,” in this instance, means The Diary and the Distaff. That’s for any quibblers out there. We had one recently. He seemed to think its use in previous episodes was not so much a clumsy third-person generic construction as an indication that we had a pretentious royal fetish. If he knew us at all, which he doesn’t, he’d know that’s well off all the Marx.

But the Big Wingnut, or whichever entity it is who is charged with messing up people’s plans, intervened and we weren’t anywhere, except still in Bali. Our KLM aircraft experienced a “technical issue” after arriving from Amsterdam via Singapore on Sep. 1. That technical issue may have been resolved in a fairly timely way with a fly-in gizmo replacement (that’s good) but the resulting customer snafu certainly wasn’t. In our case, a planned four-night spot in Provence became, in order of later options, a three-night spot (still doable), then a two-night spot (just), and then a nil-night spot. Which was a dreadful outcome: all that cheese and wine that was not consumed (by us). Instead we had an unscheduled two nights in Amsterdam en route to Scotland, originally our second but now our first destination. Ah well, tak ada, one might say. And of course that’s probably all you should say, publicly. A Dutch friend told us on Facebook, “I can not believe it.” Our response: “We wish we could not.”

C’est la vie, as we might have said if we had reached French speaking territory as planned. Evidently Provence was not on Fate’s list of preferred destinations for The Diary and the Distaff. Was it something we did on a previous visit? Surely not, for we seem to remember being rather well behaved. But L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is near Avignon, once the seat of the popes while others also claiming that title were in possession of the Vatican in Rome. Maybe that’s it. We remember once, a long time ago now, having been rather critical in print about the crusade against the Cathars, who seem to have been among the early modernists, though they were well before their time. Their cruel reduction was one of the more outrageous of Medieval Christendom’s schismatic outrages.

By the time this column appeared in print, we were in Scotland. Such are the imperatives of the Grand Tour as it is nowadays taken. It’s quicker – unless one of your airline’s flying machines has a technical problem, that is – though quite possibly it is far less fun than grand tours were when they were invented. In the good old days, you travelled by carriage and counted yourself lucky if your journey had not been interrupted by the untimely demise of your postilion due to his inattention in being struck by lightning. That is if you survived it yourself, having avoided death by dicky oysters or from whatever epidemic had won the gig as pestilence of choice that year. It’s much safer now, despite what the media and various government nursemaids try to tell you.

We’re away until late in October, which in one crucial element is unfortunate, since we’ll miss an opportunity to unwind with a delightful friend whose own schedule brings her to Bali this month. But, hey, we’re all so interconnected these days. We even know pretty much everything that’s going on in Bali. Well, as much as your sources will drop at your feet and the desire of the authorities to avoid detection will let out for viewing, at least. The next Diary will come to you from Portugal, following a spell in the lovely Moorish shadows of Andalusia.


And So …

To the 2017 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. We’ll be back for that. Wouldn’t miss it. Unless your preference runs to ear-splitting music, shamanistic shaking, or novel reorganisation of your chakras, it’s Ubud and Bali’s jewel in the festivals crown and a fixed date our diary every year.

This year the principal media sponsor is The Guardian newspaper, in its web-based Australian guise, a virtual journal that is ably edited by Lenore Taylor, a fine scribbler of our long acquaintance. The resident festival guardian will be Steph Harmon, the paper’s culture editor, who tells us she is looking forward to some interesting discussion around the theme of the festival, Origins.

It’s a fascinating theme, on a human scale. Bali is a very special place, with a religion and culture that incorporates non-human life forms in its narrative. It could well be argued, just for example, that the unique Bali dog and the village dogs are so central an element in traditional life that they deserve discussion within the context of Origins. Too often these days these dogs are seen instead as a street nuisance. The origins of mass tourism, a factor in this emerging disaffection, are of course neither historic in the wider sense nor spiritual in the least. That is unless you worship money, the capitalist deity.

Never mind. There’s plenty of material for discussion on the program this year, including some interesting workshops – the one on yoga for writers might bend a few minds; and Andreas Hartono on investigative journalism promises to introduce his audience to the key strengths and challenges of narrative reporting.

For full details visit the festival website at


No Barking Aloud

In Bali, you’re not supposed to bark at things you might think should be brought more fully into the public consciousness. Local crime, for example, while the subject of some concern among the citizenry – who wants to be mugged, after all, or find that their home has been broken into – just bubbles along otherwise largely unremarked except in the social media, unless the police have a triumph of detection or happenstance to put on parade. The epidemic of dog thefts, presumably for breeding trophy dogs and the disgusting dog meat trade, continues unabated.

Dogs feature in another of Bali’s preference for official silence: the matter of rabies. It’s not done to talk about where a rabid dog – poor creature – has been found, as they are, and especially not about human rabies cases, which continue at low endemic rates. Then there’s the anti-rabies vaccine issue. Bitten? Good luck if you can find post-exposure protection. In a rabies endemic area, and all of Bali falls into that category, no dog that you don’t know is fully vaccinated and has had the required boosters at the correct intervals, can safely be regarded as not potentially a risk.

But the administrative zeal for implementing an effective island-wide anti-rabies program doesn’t exist, the bureaucracy is largely indifferent to any stimulus other than embarrassment if something leaks out, and the budget that would support a real effort doesn’t exist. That’s occasionally mentioned as a factor in the continued failure of Bali’s authorities to get on top of rabies. But it’s generally along the lines of its being a pity no one from somewhere else has fronted up with extra money.

The idea that it might, if it was then deployed effectively and on some basis that might meet accounting standards, doesn’t seem to register.



Steve Palmer, the long-term expatriate of note who is now recovering well from further surgery resulting from the altercation his snow board had with a Canadian tree stump late last year, asked friends on Facebook recently to nominate a book that had significantly impacted on their attitude to life.

Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele was our nomination. It is a narrative that magically defines the real scope of human endeavour. But in thinking about that, we considered (though because they are basically primers, passed them over) Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Meditations, written chiefly as private notes by M Aurelius when he was Roman Emperor, should be required reading for any politician or those with leadership ambitions. He was a Stoic – a Stoic’s Stoic in fact. He died of plague at Vindobonda (it’s now Vienna) in 180 CE.


Hector writes a blog at

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