Tuesday, November 29, 2005


One Saturday morning in September I made a journey to the countryside around Ciomas, not so very far from Bogor. This was Java at its best.

The morning sky was deepest blue and all the poppy-coloured roofs and all the flame-green paddies seemed to sing and dance with light.
I passed a leafy playground where, accompanied by jolly dangdut music, dusky cherubs in white school uniforms were performing sensuous aerobics.
I headed along tree-flanked tracks, past diminutive shacks and mosques, and up through airless woodland until I reached a river in a deep-bottomed gorge. There was a musky aroma of warm and fleshy jungle and I could hear splashes and shouts. Young Tarzans, in their birthday suits, were swinging from dangly vines and leaping from enormous heights into deep, earth-brown water.
I continued up steep tree-covered slopes until suddenly I sighted the volcano, Mount Salak, and beneath it a lovely lake.

Deciding that it was picnic time, I sat myself down on a tree root of enormous size. It was good to put down my pack and start the laying out of lunch. It was a typical day near the equator, in terms of heat. But I had the shady trees, the flask of Muscadet, the ham and mustard sandwiches, the melting brie, the hot anchovy-stuffed olives and two of the finest almond croissants you can ever imagine.

As I began munching a sandwich I became aware that I had company. A small girl and a small boy had come to stare at me. They looked about eleven years old and had pleasant elfin faces. I decided to offer them one half of an almond croissant each. These offerings were eaten slowly and with relish. Not a single crumb was wasted.

As I polished off the olives and the brie I noticed that four more children had come to have a look.

"I can’t offer you a sandwich," I said to the group. "They’re ham sandwiches."

The children smiled politely. I looked at the yet uneaten almond croissant and decided that I would get considerable pleasure from offering it to the four hungry-looking newcomers, more pleasure than I would get from eating the thing on my own. Picnics are more fun when you have company.

I handed the croissant to the largest boy in the group and he carefully broke it into four small pieces. The result was four happy smiling faces.

When the food was finished, I took a stroll around the lake, followed at a discreet distance by the children. I was thinking to myself that this was better than Bali.