The festival’s closing ceremony was amazing. I will remember it for the rest of my life.
It was held beside a resort on the top of a hill. 500 locals and westerners (perhaps more) danced to bass, acoustic and Balinese rhythms, as large exotic birds – like cockatoos, parrots and horn-bills – all gathered on artificial branches by the back wall, watching us with disdain.
An experimental acoustic guitarist from Jordan opened the night – he crooned out songs as the crowd got loose. A girl danced with me for a little while, and I made the mistake of dancing too. The surrounding backpackers booed at my moves.
Embarrassed, I slunk away, as men wearing masks and stilts twirled with fire. They co-ordinated their somersaults and twirls in traditional dress, blasting fire over the audience like dragon fire. Instead of terrified cries, there was applause, and another song began.
Someone took my arm, while I was still blushing. “Did you see that?” Luce said (the girl I met in the Bali Buddha the day before). “Wasn’t it incredible?” She let go of my arm. “I love Bali.”
“Me too,” I said, and I just stood, not sure how to keep up the conversation while we had to shout in each other’s ears to be heard. I watched her out of the corner of my eye for a little bit, loved how she had curled her red hair, how the colour suited the low cut black dress. Once again – I kept my eyes from slinking down her body.
“I’m Luce,” she said, offering a hand. I shook it.
“Nice to meet you.”
She smiled. “This is the part where you say your name, isn’t it?”
“You’re from Australia,” she said, guessing from my accent. “I love Australia.”
“Seems like you love everywhere you go,” I said, and she laughed and pushed her hair behind an ear and said “not quite. I’ve been to a lot of places, and some of them have been hellish.”
Her mouth was dry, so I offered to get us both a bottle of flavoured water (no alcohol at the actual ceremony, that was reserved for the after-party) and when I came back she spoke about her photography, and where she had been this year alone (Iceland, India, Nepal) and that she was going to America in a few days’ time.
A few minuters later there was a loud applause later and the crowd scattered. The 2011 Ubud Writers Festival had closed. Before Luce went to join a small group of writers, she said,“If you’re going to the after party at Bridges soon, I’ll see you there?”
I told her I would.
Twenty minutes later and I was at the Bridges Restaurant. It was unclear at first how large the building was. It was set on a ravine – and by the main street bridge which was obviously it’s namesake. There was a spiral staircase set over three floors but the main entrance was on the second. There were bright lights, light brown polished wood and candles everywhere. Bar keeps and waitresses strode calmly but hurriedly to serve the increasing number of customers. I walked downstairs but a blond Dutch man guarded a doorway which was signed “Writers and VIP guests only” and asked me politely if I was anyone special.
So I sat out the front, sharing a bowl of chips with a few other friends I made throughout the festival. They were nice, welcoming, friendly. But I kept thinking of Luce. I was crushing on her, bad. I thought our conversation could have meant something. But as I write this I realise that the polite conversation she initiated was a lovely reflection on herself, and not on me.
“Chris!” Luce waved at me as she passed by with her writer mates – who were beginning to walk in improvised swirls that only intoxication can bring with such nonchalant lack of elegance. I recognised the poet who inspired me a few nights before into writing poetry. “Come on! We’re going downstairs! Join us!”
I followed her without thinking as I followed the troupe down the stairs – hoping to pass unnoticed by the bouncer. They all showed badges to the Dutch bouncer and were in the party on the other side.
“Who is this?” the Dutch man eyed me down.
“My plus one!” Luce said, and when he looked sceptical, she held my hand. The skin on her hand felt tough and bony, certainly not soft like the powdered cheeks on her face. He waved us through and we stood on a balcony over the river; surrounded by talented musicians and writers I recognised, but without PR or security blocking them. I recognised Selina Godden, Geoff Lemon, the guitarist from Jordan, Morris Gleitzman, I even brushed arms with Paul Kelly.
“So how do you make gravy anyway?” I asked the famous Australian musician, who was reaching for chocolate mousse. He smiled at me quizzically.
“Stay cool, Chris! Stay cool,” Luce said.
“Give my love to Angus!” I shouted back, as she led me to a corner to sit under a frangipani tree. And still she did not let go of my hand.
“Thank you,” I said as a waiter offered martinis, and as Luce passed me one, she smiled and said, “you’re absolutely welcome.”