Bali: Tropics lead the way with write stuff

By Geraldine O'Sullivan Beere

Bali's diverse and colourful literary festival leaves Geraldine O'Sullivan Beere full of ideas.

Halfway through the intense discussion, with leading Columbian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez exploring dark corners of his country's history alongside three other writers from war zones, a loud screech sounded from the treetops outside.

Clearly, the discussion was so thought-provoking that Bali's wildlife wanted to join in. After all, this was the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, and Indonesia's tropical atmosphere was as much a part of the event as the many world-class writers in attendance.

Nearly all the writers' sessions were held in open-sided pavilions, so views of tangled vines, rice paddies and fruit trees formed the backdrop to the debates.

Now in its eighth year, the Ubud festival was set up to draw travellers back to Bali after the 2002 bombings. Events range from writing workshops to cooking classes, and from dancing to long lunches.

That mix was perfectly summed up by the session entitled "Tales of the Rice Lands", which was held in a restaurant on the outskirts of Ubud overlooking rice paddies. Anthropologist Stephen Lansing talked about his research into the cultivation of rice and traditional water temple systems. Participants enjoyed a delicious lunch in which each course included rice and was based on recipes from Janet De Neefe's cookbook Bali: The Food of My Island Home.

Of course, being in the tropics does mean recognising that conditions aren't the same as back home. On day one, I set out to walk to a session. Unwisely. It was late morning and already steamy-hot. Then, just as I crossed a bridge, down came a tropical storm.

The discussions at the festival were equally challenging, thanks to its mix of inspiring writers, east and west, north and south.

One of my reasons for going to Bali was to get ideas for the Waiheke Book Festival, which also endeavours to meld good literary discussion with the unique spirit of the island. Events will be held in barns, a restaurant, a theatre and a gallery. Screeching tropical birds are unlikely, but there's a reasonable chance wood pigeons will make an appearance.

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Further information: See the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival website.

Geraldine O'Sullivan Beere is creative director of Words on a Small Island: The Waiheke Book Festival 2011. This year's festival opens on Friday and runs until Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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