Saturday, September 12, 2009

I Have Nothing to Declare Except My Own Genius

Last weekend I had no plans in particular but just knew that I had to get out of town. Saturday's life-threatening hangover proved to be an insurmountable object, however on Sunday it was all systems go for a drive down to Bogor. Jakarta’s grime and general human scrum, which can sometimes seem so vibrant and endlessly fascinating, can at others summon up the skulking black dog of depression.

Once, when he was on a tour of the United States, big shirted British aesthete Oscar Wilde was asked why he thought America, just out of its civil war, was such a violent country. His reply was simple, "I believe it's because your wallpaper is so ugly."

At first glance, this may seem like one of the more flippant, throw away aphorisms that big, butch Oscar ever came out with. Perhaps however, behind the apparent facetiousness of this remark lies a message of the utmost seriousness for those who, like Oscar, believe that an appreciation of beauty as manifested in life, culture and nature is one of our highest and noblest callings.

If you look out of the window at nature you can see nothing but beauty, except where man has intervened. All that Wilde meant is that if you belong to a species and come to believe that all it can do to the world is to uglify and despoil it, which perhaps we do, then that has a profound effect on the individual.

If you grow up in an ugly environment, full of mounds of plastic trash, clouds of noxious smog and monolithic expanses of grubby concrete, then you think ugly thoughts about yourself and indeed about the whole human race. There is nothing left for you to do but to crap in your own nest as it were. And crap in our own nests us Jakartans most surely do, by littering, polluting and being noisy, brash and generally vulgar in a manner that citizens from elsewhere in the Archipelago would perhaps find shocking.

Old Oscar's aesthetic view of the world was in fact a very profound one, one that forces us to think and consider life beyond the knee jerk morality of religious and political dogmas. You've got to think harder than that, Wilde would argue.

And so, in order to look for my own bit of thinking space, I escaped the virtual Purgatory of sit-on-my-Facebook and the big Jakarta stink for a few hours and hit the toll road. I soon found myself wandering through Bogor's famous Kebun Raya botanical gardens.

This handsome park takes up the city centre and is ringed by a million minivans. Inside however, all is peace and quiet. Kebun Raya is, as far as I know, the only place in Indonesia that resembles a spacious European or American city park. Jakarta would surely be a better place if the centre of town was turned into a similarly huge park. This may yet transpire, of course, if the whole Batavia project collapses within the next few decades.

I'm sure nearly all of you have been to Bogor's botanical gardens before as they are naturally one of Indonesia’s best known tourist sites. Kebun Raya is worth more than a single visit however and is perfect for a Sunday afternoon escape from Jakarta. I mean it only takes about half an hour to get there down the toll road, about the same time as it takes to reach the exit barrier in a Jakarta shopping mall these days.

After viewing the presidential palace and the deer that trot around its grounds, I headed into the park's interior and enjoyed the quiet sounds of nature, for once not drowned out by the sound of internal combustion engines. Eventually, I reached the rear of the park which opens out onto a lovely grassy slope, atop which sits the Cafe de Daunan, a great place in which to enjoy a cool, cleansing ale whilst the sun goes down.

Alas, when I arrived, I was told that the beer was, "kosong"(sold out). Horror of horrors! Now admittedly, "kosong" can mean any number of things in this country, covering a broad spectrum all the way from, "We've never sold that ever," to, "Well actually, there is some somewhere out back but I simply can't be arsed to go and get it."

I had my suspicions that the beer supply had in fact been reduced to nix on account of prevailing religious sensibilities. Bogor, after all, recently declared itself a completely 'halal' city in a rather dispiriting display of crypto-Sharia totalitarianism. Upon enquiring however I was told by the waitress that the cafe had had its beer completely cleaned out by a party of bibulous bules the previous day. Typical. Thumbs up Bogor though, all is forgiven.

So get yourself down to Bogor with all due haste but remember to bring your own pig’s ear (it’s Cockney rhyming slang, although, come to think of it I guess pig’s ear would also be off the menu in Bogor). We’ll leave the last word to Oscar for this week though, a message for all Indonesians in light of the current smash Malaysia fun: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”