Le Mayeur, le mirage (an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost)
Hello... Thank you for your interest in my latest project--over two years in the making. Printed versions of Bali Wave Ghost
are now available in Bali. The ebook version will soon be online. There are other posts about Bali Wave Ghost
on this blog.Thanks again for your interest. If you would like more information, just write in the comments section. Onward! SB
HMMMMMMM! I will continue trying to fix the spacing...it looks fine in preview mode, but obviously something changes when it is published. EGADS! The spacing is now almost perfect, but now WordPress is making the whole thing italic! I will try again later!
Le Mayeur, le mirage
Search words: The sea of Hiroshi Sugimoto, the land of Gauguin
The old man on the small pony and I are lost in magnificence. A brilliant, endless whiteness shines over a rich, deep blackness; both are filled with barely perceptible motions. The horizon is a vibration of grays. There are no jets nor stars; no sun nor moon. The wind moves slowly through this cosmic black and white photograph. We are in a long exposure on a beach in Sanur. Silver, platinum, waves and sky.... A red butterfly punctuates our rapture.
A woman has been standing beside the man on the pony. Gracefully, she twists to look behind us. I look also and become transfixed. The woman and I are looking at a huge painting— no, a massive, delicate
sculpture made of countless sensations of color. The sun is invisible, but its powers are everywhere. Colors, colors, colors; they form a villa, make a jungle, create the impressions of space and light. The woman starts walking away. Her footprints are blue.
The man on the pony is Adrien Le Mayeur de Merpes, the painter. The bare-chested Balinese woman is Ni Polok. The two were married after she retired from dancing. She was 15, he was 53.
I am Mr. Orgasm Donor; Odie. Reality TV star and writer of books. Though I am in the midst of surreal awesome, inspirational beauty, I cannot stop thinking of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into a woman.
This, in turn, has reminded me of what Quincy Jones once told me about Michael Jackson. We were waiting for the start of a show at the Moulin Rouge.
”When I first worked with Michael, he was a poor black boy. But the last time I worked with him…“ Quincy tugged his sleeve back over his watch, then looked me in the eye,” Michael was a rich old white woman.” He smiled without using his mouth.
I am thinking about all this because Bruce Jenner is a reality TV star. Le Mayeur’s life on Bali was like a reality TV show. My adult life has been a reality TV show. Jenner was a gold medal Olympian who raised the Kardashians. Le Mayeur was the Last Impressionist; the host of parties that celebrated Balinese culture and attracted international celebrities. I’m famous because my wife was wearing a sexy T-shirt when she died in a terrorist blast.
I think it is now 2018. Le Mayeur died in 1958, Ni Polok in 1985. So, what year actually is this? Here between the lines of the sea and the colors of the jungle there are no timepieces. This is a tropical stage built for colossal operas, a place for gigantic dramas. Gods could perform poems here.
But we are not gods. We are, simply, three people who are intimate with the mechanics and power of fame. We know how legends are made. Le Meyeur brought his wife to Singapore a few times. She danced at his art shows, wearing only a skirt and flowers in her hair. The sales from his first exhibition, in 1957, allowed him to buy the land and construct the villa behind us. As for me, I have a clever agent who
tells me whom to date, where to eat and what to wear. She knows what my hair will look like three months from now.
Again I wonder what year I am in, but the question is much less urgent. My thoughts demand attention. Ni Polok now walks in the world of colors, her dark skin part of the composition. Le Mayeur still stares at the sea. “Beauty, silence and sunlight,” he’d once told a journalist, in reply to a question about why he lived in Bali, “these things define Impressionism, and I, good sir, am an Impressionist.” I can imagine Le Mayeur becoming dramatic and passionate when talking about painting. I can imagine him interacting with painters from Singapore; interactions that created the Nanyang style of painting, a fusion of Chinese and Western styles. I can imagine Le Mayeur as ringmaster of the Bali Night Cafe, where torches shone on Legong dancers,gamelan orchestras and topless maidservants. I can imagine
the man on the pony as a shrewd businessman, showing his gaudy canvas souvenirs to tipsy tourists stuffed with food and drink. I can imagine Le Mayeur giving them the opportunity to buy.
Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, enjoyed himself at the Bali Night Café and so did Soekarno, the first President of Indonesia. Not everyone was invited, however. The Dutch governor made frequent
threats to close the place down. Finally, Le Mayeur wrote a letter to his cousin, the king of Belgium, who, in turn, wrote to Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She wrote a letter in which she told the
governor to stop bothering the Bali Night Cafe.
September 20th, 1906
The Dutch wear dark uniforms.
Like the Rajah, most of the Balinese wear white, though some of the men are in red or black. The Rajah himself is wearing traditional cremation garments, magnificent jewelry, and a ceremonial kris. He rides
in a palanquin carried by four men and is followed by about 250 officials, guards, priests, wives, children and retainers. Babies are in the procession too. Everyone--even the children, are carrying a kris or a long lance.
The Dutch don’t know what to expect. At nine o’clock in the morning they had entered Denpasar from the North. They marched through deserted streets towards the palace. There, they heard drums and
saw smoke. The Rajah had burned his palace down and ordered everything in it to be destroyed. Now, the Dutch watch and wait as the Rajah and his procession silently approach.
The Rajah steps down from the palanquin. Calmly staring at the Dutch, he signals a priest. The Rajah thrusts his chest at the Dutch and barely nods his head. The priest plunges a dagger into the Rajah’s
chest. Red flows over the Rajah’s garments.
The leader of the Dutch, Captain Schutstal, tells his interpreters to tell the procession to stop. The procession continues. Again the order to stop. The Balinese quicken their pace. The Dutch now understand that this is Puputan, a fight to the death. The Balinese start running with their krises above their heads. The Dutch fire, and fire again.
The Balinese start killing their wounded comrades. Women throw coins and jewelry at the Dutch, then point to their breasts, demanding to be shot. If no bullet hits them, they lower their heads and wait for
the blade of the kris. The procession disintegrates. The air smells of blood, fragrant oils and gunpowder. An old man starts stabbing anyone who is still alive. The Dutch shoot him. The procession becomes a pile of a thousand bodies. The Dutch take what they can and move onto the palace.
The Rajah had not rashly decided upon this most serious course of action. The Dutch had started their activities in Indonesia in 1600. Since that time they had became richer as Indonesia became more colonized. The northern part of Bali was already under Dutch rule, and a Dutch takeover of the rest of the island seemed unavoidable.
In May, 1904, an incident occurred which gave the Dutch justification for military action. A ship called the Sri Kumala had struck a reef and sank. The ship’s Chinese owner complained to the Dutch that the
Balinese were diving to the shipwreck and taking anything they could, including coins of copper and silver. The Dutch decided to blockade the Straits of Badung until the Rajah compensated the owner. The
Rajah did not compensate. The Dutch began making threats, expecting that the Rajah would pay, run away or fight. Instead, the Rajah chose Pupitan.
The Sri Kumala sank near the beach of Sanur, the area where the Dutch later launched the invasion that triggered the Pupitan.
Le Mayeur studies the waves like a sea captain studies the stars. He nods occasionally, as though the movements of the sea’s surface are sentences composing a great message. The details and mechanisms
of our daily lives have fallen away. We are in an immense pureness but I am a fool who cannot help thinking about the man on the Wheaties box who became the woman in Guess jeans. If I had my phone I
would Google Bruce Jenner.
I am aware of my mental instability. I know that I sometimes think in long, graceful lines. Other times: scary, epileptic and random. I am at the mercy of my brain’s wondrous ability to make connections,
stories and emotions from electricity and chemistry. Here is what I know now: I am in the gift shop of the Le Mayeur Museum, looking at a black and white photograph of the painter and his wife. He is on a pony, she is topless; they are on the beach. Francesca is outside with her friends. Fran is my anchor, I know she loves me.
“So that’s Mr. Orgasm Donor. He’s thinner than he looks on TV,” Mikhail said. “He’s so skinny you wouldn’t need nothin’ but a fist.”He turned to Sergei and told him about one of the men he had beaten
to death. “That guy was fat though. Had to start on his face. Got his jaw broke, then knocked him out. Blood and bones got in his throat. Like choking.”
Francesca said, ”Why do you look so happy when you talk like that?”
“I like my job,” Mikhail said, “I don’t have to carry things all day long. I can breathe.”
Sergei said, “And you can be your own boss.” Mikhail puffed up his chest and glared at
Sergei.” Sometimes,” Sergei continued, “but only when everybody knows it’s the best way.”
“The best way is the way that is planned.”
“What about Fatty and Blondie? You took them shopping?” Fran said.
“Bought ‘em everything, from shoes to sunglasses. Then took 'em to the Greek place on Poppie Lane.
After we stopped and ate gelato. First time for Fatty to eat gelato.” Mikhail said. “He loved it.”
“Gelato?” Sergei said. “That shit’s expensive.”
“Yeah, it’s expensive,” Mikhail said, “but it’s cheap insurance. It was like we were a family eating ice cream. They became like little kids. Started telling me what they were gonna do with the money. Was very sweet.”
“Now you sound like you’re their father.”
“No, none of that shit. Five kids is enough. Once they’re in the airport, that’s it.”
“Everything ‘s been checked?”
“Everything ‘s been checked. You think this is my first time? You think I’m stupid?”
They all stopped so the tension would go away. Sergei pretended to play guitar.
“Your boyfriend really likes that picture of that topless dancer. Hasn’t moved an inch.”
“Unpredictable. He is so unpredictable. One minute he’s like a stupid popstar who can't pay attention
to anything. The next minute he’s a philosopher, trying to make connections from random things.”
“He’d be right at home in Ubud. You’d have a whole new territory up there.”
Fran stunned Sergei with a look.
“Like Mikhail said, the best way is to have a plan. And for now the plan is Sanur. Maybe you haven’t
been listening, brother.”
She whispered it like a killer.
“OK guys, go enjoy Lombok.”
They all emptied their bottles of Bintang. The two men took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and
walked towards the boat.
Fran knew Sergei and Mikhail wouldn’t be sober for the next two days. She reviewed her plans as she headed towards the gift shop. Odie was still staring at the black and white photo of the old man on the pony and the topless woman besides him.
Fran and Odie had left their villa at 4:45 in the morning. They went to the local market (not the Sindhu market) where they bought green oranges, warm soymilk and various kinds of kuehs. They walked past a temple guarded by a goddess with huge breasts and fangs. Then, they jumped into a bemo, paid the driver five thousand rupiah and arrived at the beach just before sunrise. They held hands as they strolled past fishing boats and yawning tourists. The sunrise they witnessed was spectacular: dramatic clouds, Mount Agung, and the sea.
The beach quickly became filled with the activities one sees on a sunny weekend afternoon. The walkway and sand became covered with long shadows. Silver clusters of helium balloons and brightly colored inflatable toys suddenly appeared. Matronly women in traditional clothes carried baskets on their heads, kids raced on bicycles and motorbike riders impatiently inched their way toward parking spaces. Foods of all kinds began to be cooked. Souvenir shops started playing music and babies cried. Local boys and girls strolled together. Surf shops put out signs and prepared brochures. Tourists looked at maps. Dogs barked and chased each other. All of this as the huge orange ball of the sun rose over the dark waters of the Bali Sea.
A guy at a desk selling tours played a song. The song was simple, only a guitar and a voice. Fran and Odie both stopped at the same time to listen. The song was like them: as youthful as a children’s game, as wise as an old, dark-skinned man. A jingly-jangly simple melody, ferocious a little. The song was serious but light-hearted. Havana Moon, by Chuck Berry: the perfect soundtrack for the two of them at that moment.
She watched him as he swam. He was OK, swimming almost gracefully at times; sometimes floating on his back and kicking water up into the sky. Silhouetted tourists stood on the rocks of the promenade,
taking selfies. A man with huge wraparound sunglasses and a black knit cap stood in water up to his chest and sang. Neither Odie nor Francesca recognized his language. The song seemed sad to them.
They had coffee at a warung and overheard a foreign man explaining an unusual story. Some local boys up north had made a dare and the prize was a kite. They managed to convince a six-year-old boy to
pretend to have sex with a pig, a 142 kilogram sow. Pictures went on Facebook. The village went into an uproar because of the cosmic disturbance. The pig was sacrificed and floated out to sea. The boys were stripped naked and bathed in a special ceremony. The boys’ families paid for everything and the owner of the pig was compensated.
They walked into the Le Mayeur Museum. They were shocked by the way the sun and the sea air had damaged the paintings. They wandered around beneath the huge sea almond tree and read a plaque about how the
shrine there was meant to protect against gerubug, a "disease disaster from hell". They stood near a small square pond full of lily pads and red dragonflies. Broken stone statues of fierce gods guarded the pond, all softened with patches of green moss and lichen the color of rust.
Overlooking the pond, were two busts made of white stone. Carved by I Made Panti, the Caucasian man wears a shirt with a collar, the buttons undone. His hairline is thin and his face is lined. Beside him is a full-faced Balinese woman, beautiful and serene. A sarong covers her breasts. Both wear headbands of real fabric and both are adorned with fresh frangipani blossoms. Fran barely glanced at them; Odie was
captivated, looking at the faces and the words beneath them again and again. The words beneath both began with ‘In Loving Memory’.
A.J. Le Mayeur de Merpes
Born: February 9, 1880
Arrived in Bali 1932
Died in Peace: May 31,1958
Ni Nyoman Pollock
Born: March 3, 1917
Died in peace: July 21,1985
Francesca and Odie then entered the house of Le Mayeur and Ni Polok. They were silent in the small, ornate bedroom. They walked out through the gift shop. Fran met her waiting friends, Odie stayed in the gift shop, having discovered a black and white photo of Le Mayeur on a pony. In the photo, Le Mayeur's wife stands next to him. They are on the beach of Sanur.