Friday, June 30, 2023


 I had the pleasure over the last three days, during which time my girlfriend and her sister visited, of taking longer excursions around south Bali than I am accustomed to doing. The observant reader will have noticed that I've placed the word pleasure in italics. This is not to say that their company was not a pleasure. It was. It was the excursions themselves that were less than pleasurable. 

The first was to the Kuta area, where we visited a mall, went to the beach, returned to the mall, and then walked through the driving storm of traffic and crowds and drunkards and blaring music to finally arrive at the monument to the 2002 Bali bombing, lit up in bright flashing lights just like the streetside bars. For some reason. 

Of course, I've seen all this before--but the thing is, I was younger then, seemingly fifty years younger, yet somehow only ten at most. In short, these boots are no longer made for walking. They are made for sitting peacefully in a corner. My ability to walk has deteriorated greatly, and I did not realize just how greatly until called on to do much more of it than usual. At one point, as we stumbled (or rather as I stumbled) past a mini market, Eveline ushered me to a chair outside the door (by ushered, I mean that she acted as a human crutch to convey me to the table and lower me into the chair). At this point, a man in the bar next door, leering over his pint of beer, said "Look at the old man. Ha-ha, that's right honey, you take care of the poor old fella." 

The poor fella would have loved to throw the man's beer in his face and then break the glass over his head, but that would have required the strength and energy to rise from his seat. Instead, he merely became silent and sullen, which did not hurt the man in the bar at all.

On the next day, we took a Grab Car to Bali Safari, out somewhere in the neighborhood of Kingdom Come. Now Bali Safari offers its own exhausting walking experience, and I found my skills unenhanced from the day before, although my right foot managed to display a superb talent for finding and tripping over the slightest cracks in the safari pavement. 

I found this zoo--for it is essentially a zoo, and an incomparably inferior one at that--equally as depressing as any other zoo. The animals lay listlessly in the dust, bored by this miniature world where they had so unnaturally found themselves. Poor old fellas. 

And that was that. A very short visit but a very active one. (I almost said exhausting again, but I don't want to be redundant). They have returned now to Java, and I have returned to writing, which, if nothing else, is less exh-, umm taxing than walking. 

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Idiot

 "Whenever I'm worried about anything," said this guy Ben, "I like to think about China. China has a population of like two billion people, and not one of them even remotely cares about whatever you think is so important." I acknowledged that this was a great comfort. 

The Idiot, Elif Batuman

Well there's a good thing to keep in mind whenever we start feeling too important. Lol. Really, whenever we start thinking anything is especially important, in the grand scheme of things.

I have often found myself feeling surprised, although I don't know why, upon finding that Indonesians have only the vaguest idea about things that are going on in America. I mean, why should they, right? Take our tumultuous political drama, for instance. They are in general quite unaware of it. Nor do they care very much if you attempt to explain it. Why should they? What does it have to do with them?

How aware are we of events and issues in Indonesia? (It's a rhetorical question. No need to compose an answer).

Anyway, as noted above, the quote is from Elif Batuman's unusual novel, The Idiot. I guess it's unusual in the first place that she chose this title, because of course anyone will think first of Dostoyevky's work by the same name. Perhaps Batuman's novel does have some parallel to Doskoyevsky's. I don't know yet. Then again, I have not read the idiot by Dostoyevsky. This may be why I have not seen the relationship between the two 🤪

And speaking of books I haven't read ... As it happens, I first purchased Batuman's novel entitled Either/Or. Here again, this title itself has been taken from another famous book by the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Hmm. The plot thickens. The evidence mounts. Perhaps the one has something to do with the other? (I have read Kierkegaard, but it was a long time ago and I'm sure it was gibberish to me at the time. I was a university student then, and university students specialize in gibberish).

That aside, I meant to say that I bought and started to read the second Batuman book before I realized there was a first and that the second was a sequel to the first. Therefore, I stopped reading the second and purchased the first on Kindle. (The second I have in paperback, which I prefer-I mean paperback books, not the book itself, which I cannot know whether I prefer because I have only read a few pages of it). 

The first novel, The Idiot, concerns the career of a young Harvard student named Senin. One does not know precisely what she is studying because neither does she. You might say that she is testing the waters. It is difficult at first to "get" what Batuman is doing. You have read that this is supposed to be funny, but you are not sure why ... until, that is, you begin to remember your own university days and the curious and careful education in nothing that was inflicted upon you. It all becomes clear, or, rather, unclear all over again.

I am reminded here of a quote from Mark Twain: "All schools, all colleges have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal, valuable knowledge". Or this: "Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty". 

But certain things are expected, not to mention important, in the real world, such as living a meaningful life, making friends, seeking out a love, and so on, and this Senin does in her own faltering, uncertain way, wondering perhaps, as we all do, how she is supposed to know so much when she knows so little. 

Once you get your feet in the water of this book, you suddenly realize that it is quite delightful--as when we say 'Come on in, the water's fine!' 

I'm looking forward finishing this one and diving into the next.