On the way back from snorkeling yesterday, driving the twisting, rutted, up and down, insanely overused mountain roads, it became clear that many Balinese were hurrying, on their thin, cheap-gas-puffing motorcycles, to a village ceremony.
The strange flying circus they made kept passing us in the opposite direction on the road: elaborately costumed men and women -- the men in brilliantly laundered white shirts and hats, the women in lacy orange blouses and long yellow skirts, the women's hair a carefully upswept bun with a pink flower set at its knot, their lips pinky red with lipstick and their cheeks sepia with makeup and their eyes a sexual black with mascara -- balanced with ease and agility on the narrow seat of the scooter.
In front, each man steered each tiny steed, threading it among foul lumbering trucks, sleeping dogs, wandering children, sudden herds of other scooters all going twice the man's speed, groups of crossing pedestrians, random piles of wood and construction equipment... In the back, the woman sat a loose, precarious sidesaddle because of her tight skirt, and she balanced on her head a tall fruit sculpture, and held in her lap a bamboo basket bulging with banners and streamers.
Or perhaps in her lap, or between the man's legs, sat a small child, happy and excited to be sitting up on the scooter with his parents as they just grazed a laundry truck bombing by them downhill at forty miles an hour...
This scene, which continued for ten riveting minutes, comes to me now as... as what? Why so compelling?
An eerie balletic defiance, let's say, in which the Balinese acknowledge modernity by placing their equilibrious asses upon our ugly engines and making them magical broomsticks. All my fear of the machine and my fear of mishap attended my observation of these preternaturally composed spirits, indifferent to choking fumes and speed and bumps, intent on the anticipated ceremony.
As I watched them, I had the following thought: They will fly through my dreams for the rest of my life.