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Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Toured the north of the island in a Land Rover yesterday.

Frenzied activity everywhere - in the fields, under pavilion roofs, on the roads (two ceremonial parades), on scooters and trucks.

One particular stretch amazed me: a long wide valley of rice paddies and other crops (beans, coffee, cabbage, pineapple, peanuts -- everything grows here), tended by farmers in triangle hats. Hundreds of ducks congregated in the corners of brownish paddies being prepared for a new planting; ingenious scarecrows hung in the backgrounds near offering altars; men and women chatted to one another while squatting in the fields and eating a late breakfast. The scene felt calm and complete, a Corot canvas covering its space with just proportions of people, animals, plants, mountains, and sky.

Unlike the gated nothingness of many parts of America, Bali is visually accessible. As we drove further north, we saw two men bathing in a river beside the road. One stretched his body as we passed, and I said to my daughter You're getting an education and everyone in the Land Rover laughed.

Back at the Kokokan. I'm listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing Angel Eyes while I write this.

A song in a descending minor mode - a very marked minor - is always spiritually convoluted to me, unreachable in some sense. Under the calm top of it, there's depression, confusion, rage... In this sort of song, music seems to present itself as the only acceptable form of expression under grotesque circumstances.

The aggression in the words - the rage at the singer's betrayal by his lover (to me, it's clearly a man's song, and Fitzgerald rather sings it as a man), and his determination to track her and her new lover down - is creepy, as is the singer's description of being haunted by the woman.

But I can't, as I say, really locate the emotion of this song, which makes it all the more seductive. Most songs are extended elaborations of the obvious, but Angel Eyes stays enigmatic. Naturally I'll drag Purcell's Music for A While in here, which also combines formal clarity and muddy feeling. I suspect there's simply too much in these songs -- too much complexity and contradiction -- for us to be able to figure them out, which accounts for their long shelf life.