Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding One's Paradise Within - review

Features - October 08, 2006
by Chisato Hara, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Anyone who has made an impromptu, solo trip to a hitherto unknown country will immediately recognize themselves on the opening page of Australian writer-performer Jan Cornall's Take Me to Paradise, launched on Sept. 30 during the recent Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Walking out of the arrival hall, the protagonist finds herself amid a sea of welcoming and searching faces -- but they are not for her. In fact, even her family back home in Australia don't know where she is.

Marilyn is a 40-something divorcee with children who is lost in her newfound singledom, although it has been several years since she left her marriage.

A librarian who aspires to become a writer, she feels like a walking cliche. So she packs a suitcase on a whim and takes a Monday morning flight to Bali, a place to which she has always longed to go.

While many travelers may choose Bali as a destination, Marilyn's motivation is simply escape -- an escape from her life, her responsibilities, her current and past relationships. Most of all, she is escaping from the person she has become, molded in large part by circumstance and obligation.

The central character stumbles through much of her five days in Bali, and the reader often watches through her eyes as she looks at events and people from outside of herself, detached and in limbo.

While Cornall's first work of prose -- she has previously written plays, poetry, songs and a screenplay -- explores underlying themes of abandonment, self-denial and loss, it is never pedantic nor forced in their treatment, and at times borders on self-effacing. Instead, what stands out is her sense of humor, one that finds the comic in all encounters, especially the absurd and awkward.

At one point, Marilyn bursts into tears in a highly public area. Uncomfortable as this scene may be (particularly for those who have had a similar experience), it does not induce embarrassment or pity. As Marilyn tries to recover and fails, somewhere within she is also laughing at herself, and so urges readers to compassion and companionable laughter.
Cornall's humor is particularly apparent in Marilyn's imagined monologues, whether to explain why she is going to Bali to the passenger beside her on the plane, or as she ponders over her past and relives experiences in full view of the reader -- such as her fumbling experiment with Internet dating.

These monologues are so honest, genuine and stark in their effortless delivery that one begins to suspect that Take Me to Paradise is semi-autobiographical. They also provide clues as to Marilyn's development, as her monologues evolve in perspective from "should have been" to "could have been", then to "could be" and finally, "will be".
The "paradise" Marilyn visits is "Schapelle's Bali" just before the second bombing, yet she demonstrates a distinct lack of expectation that makes the telling of her visit fresh. Readers familiar with the island will perhaps recall, through Marilyn's impressions, their initial trip there and how the clash of modern and traditional, Balinese and Western, and other such seemingly incongruous elements appeared vibrant, rather than jarringly kitsch.

Certainly, Marilyn is enchanted by the Bali she enters through her chance meeting with a caring and generous driver, Bagus -- and her final destination is the artisan village of Ubud.

And while she might be immersed in a magical enchantment as she tries to pick up some Indonesian terms, tastes her first snake fruit (salak) and purchases a kebaya blouse and sarong at a local market, the source of this "magic" is her free and happy, child-like curiosity and appreciation -- even for the mundane symbols of modern tourism/Bali that weave seamlessly into a temple celebration.

Cliches do abound, mostly in the people surrounding Marilyn: the yoga women who are "experts" on Bali; the middle-aged American couple; the young Balinese man who's into reggae; the young Japanese women with their Balinese holiday beaus.
But Marilyn does not have a cynical bone in her; she is not jaded, so she does not judge, but readers can definitely laugh at the caricatures of these species of tourist.

And in the end, her escape is one that turns into a journey, not so much of self-discovery as one of self-awakening -- of senses and sensuality, independence and individuality. Paradise, in this sense, exists within oneself.

Marilyn is a dreamer who discovers her strength (and courage, though she might only reluctantly attribute such a trait to herself) to make some part of her dream come true -- whether this realization is by chance, accident, or circumstance.

Part travel journal, part diary, Take Me to Paradise is a gem of a novella likely to become a well-worn travel companion.
First printed in the Jakarta Post

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chapters 2&3

2. I’d managed to get the last seat on the “I Don’t Like Mondays” morning flight to ‘Schapelle’s Bali.’ That’s what the check in girl called it as I handed over the ticket I’d bought only moments before at the bookings desk. She said that before Schapelle checking in was much more relaxed. After Schapelle, or as she corrected herself, after the ‘Schapelle Show’, everyone had become an obsessive compulsive; checking, rechecking, cling-wrapping their bags or running off to buy locks and stuffing any gaps in their luggage at the last minute with dirty underwear in a bid to ward off drug smugglers or tamperers.
‘I had no idea how neurotic Australians could become,’ she told me in a delightful country girl drawl that matched her orange cowgirl outfit.
‘You wanna window seat? You gotta check out the desert on the way across, aaawsome!’
‘Er, yes if possible,’ I answered. ‘I thought I’d be too late…’
‘Yoo never know your luck! I can tell you now, all the Ozzies want aisle seats - weak bladders. They like to be close to the loo, especially on the way back!’
I asked if she thought I’d be better off going to Fiji, Hayman Island or the Cook Islands; because Bali’s such a cliché isn’t it, and now with all the drug business—Schapelle and those other poor kids, terrorism and bird flu…
‘They didn’t read the signs did they? Bird flu? Eat a clove of garlic everyday. It’ll kill anything. Even keep terrorists away. You got a lock on your suitcase?’I nodded.
‘Sweeet. You’ll be right. And what’s wrong with clichés? Look at me! I’m a walking cliché! Who cares? I don’t!’
She leaned in across her desk. 
‘Let me tell you a secret. It’s the clichés that make us happy in this life, don’t you think? We all want love and happiness, yes? And what a bloody cliché that is!  Don’t worry, Bali is the closest to paaradiize I’ve ever gotten, and beleeve me I’ve been to most of the paaradiize islands around here. But you gotta get away from the tooorist strip. Go to Ubood! It’s not so hot up there. You can stay at the Ubood Palace where the royal family live. It’s wiiild! Can you imagine any other royal family renting out rooms to tourists! But that’s the Balinese for you. They are soooooo nice!’
Then she flashed me a knowing smile. 
‘You’ll find out.’
She slapped my boarding pass on the counter, gave my suitcase a push and practically shouted.
‘Gate 57 boaarding now! Next plleeze’.

3.Motorbikes and taxis honk past on the road in front, dropping passengers off, picking them up. Police in brown uniforms with grins as charming as the rest of them, whistle the drivers on, only no one seems to take much notice. Beyond the low sprawling buildings I have come from, planes rev up to the hilt and take off screaming into the sky. More planes thud and screech along the melting tarmac, bringing in the afternoon cargo of dollar fat tourists to fill the night spots in place of those now speeding towards a spectacular twilight.
And somewhere in the distance…the tinkling of bells and a whiff of temple incense.
Then through the heat shimmering crowd he steps, his hand outstretched.
‘Good afternoon, I’m so sorry you have been waiting. Welcome to Bali!’
He takes my hand, his touch so gentle - handsome of course, but not searingly so like the young men around me.  Balding slightly, a little shorter than me. Late thirties, early forties, could be fifty. How would you know? He smiles his boyish smile and looks me straight in the eye.
‘Let me guess where you are you going. Nusa Dua? Legian? Seminyak? Sanur?’
‘I’m hoping to go to Ubud,’ I reply.  ‘A friend was meant to pick me up but…’ I let my lie trail off into the heat.
‘I’ve heard it’s cooler there and not so many tourists,’ I continue. A smile takes over his whole face, ear to ear and chin to forehead.
‘Uboood!’ he grins, ‘That’s my town! I am born there. You have goood taste!  Are you an artist? You look artistic. You must be! Oh, I can show you such beautiful places, many beautiful painting, carving, weaving, jewellery… do you like silver jewellery?’
‘Yes I don’t mind it…’ I say. ‘Do you know the Ubud Palace? A friend recommended I stay there…’
‘Ya, ya, of course, I know it!’ he says.
Then I remember from my guidebook, I am supposed to bargain for a price before agreeing to go with a driver.
‘And how much will it be… to drive there? I’m sorry I don’t know your name…’
‘Up to you, up to you, no worries, I am Ida Bagus…You can call me Bagus. It means good!’ He laughs.
‘I am very good… at everything!’ We both laugh
‘And you?’
‘Marilyn,’ I mumble softly, as I know what’s coming.
‘Marilyn! Like Marilyn Monroe!’ 
‘Well yes, but not the young Marilyn, perhaps the older one.’ I give my stock reply. We laugh again.
‘But you are more beautiful’. He flashes his smile at me. I smile back, and whether I believe him or not, accept the compliment graciously. He picks up my bag and like a gentleman gestures ahead.
‘Shall we go then?’
Why am I not suspicious, not on my guard, why am I just taking the first offer, not comparing prices, not checking my guide book, being more discerning? Why? His voice, so generous and slow, his soft hands, his big smile kindness, his eyes that already see me.
He’s just a driver for god’s sake, who is going to take me to a hotel! And logically I justify in my mind; if he does rip me off, rob me blind or leave me in a ditch, at least I can say it couldn’t have happened with a nicer person!
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(C) Jan Cornall 2006

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chapter 1

Take Me To Paradise
Jan Cornall

Published by Saritaksu Editions 2006.
Launched at Ubud Writers Festival 2006.

Marilyn wakes up one morning and instead of catching the bus to work, catches the ‘I don’t like Mondays’ flight to Bali. But is she too late to indulge her paradise dream? How many western women have arrived before her and fallen headlong for the lush green island, its exotic culture, and their attractive driver? 

Chapter 1.

Through the airport doors, out into the warm air bath, where palm fronds dance in the hot jet fuel breeze, they wait for me:
Nyoman, Made, Ketut, Wayan, Kadek, Dewa, Ida Bagus, Kadek, Nyoman, Agung, Putu, Wayan, Gusti, Ketut, Made, Wayan, Ketut, Nengah, Gede, Agus, Komang, Ketut…
Leaning over barricades, signs dangling from long slim fingers, smiles wide and full of waiting, only I am not the one they are waiting for.
I am not Jane Griggson, not Bill Friend and family, nor The Olaff Group, not Kyoko Ryoshi, not Gunther Rolandson, not the St Marks College group or the South Coast Retirees Football Team. I have no booking, no safe transfer to a comfortable hotel with blue pools that go on forever with bikini girls on white banana lounges and pink cocktail umbrellas that never see rain. No hotel boy is picking me up, no driver in ceremonial sarong and headdress to make me feel like Anna in ‘The King and I’.
Their smiles are so welcoming and I read the names on their signs as if it could be me, as if I want it to be me, just to see their smile, just to catch a moment of, “Is it you? Could it be you?  Are you the one I am waiting for?”
But I can’t prolong the pretending and as soon as I shake my head and pass, they return their eager smiles to their waiting pose.
I think it must be obvious that this is my first time, so I try to adopt a confident air and pretend to be looking for someone. A special friend perhaps, with his driver - they must be late. I make some business with my watch and mobile phone, texting my imaginary friend to come and rescue me as soon as possible; looking out into the distance as if doing so will conjure them up.
Past the inner rim of waiting drivers, other handsome brown skinned men lean or squat, backs against pillars, lazy with the heat, smoking kretek cigarettes, laughing, joking, waiting as if it is their art.
‘Taxi, transport, transport, taxi‘, they call as I push my way through the pack.
I find a spot away from the crush, to gather my thoughts and make my plan, then I sit down on my suitcase and wait, like everyone else.
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 (C) Jan Cornall 2006