The ocean looks like a summer lake and Aquaman doesn’t have any architect duties, so we pack a parcel of bananas, water, camera & paints for a morning adventure to the south side of the island. First stop is coffee at Axel & Becca’s “eco-shack”, and an inspection of the bungalow Tom designed. For many years, Tom and I were the youngest expats on the island, until Axel & Becca left their family homes and spirited social lives in Bali for an isolated patch of hillside in the east.
Away from the neat stone fences, rendered white walls, and tin and concrete “affluence” of our village, the homes become more austere: dirt floor, slatted coconut walls, palm frond roof and glass-less windows. Our destination is one of the few remaining “grand” traditional homes; essentially a huge roof - almost to the ground - looking somewhat like a haystack, under which animals and humans cohabit on various levels.
Inside, it is dark and cool. Worn slabs of timber frame the space, and serve as seats by day and sleeping platforms by night. A few faded posters of Indonesian pop stars, mosquito nets and plastic mugs are the only modern interruptions. Goats and pigs feed in the shade next to the kitchen, and an ancient woman sits motionless in the corner, halfway between this life and another.
Almost none of these houses survive, since the local administration in the 1970’s encouraged their demolition on the grounds that they were unhygienic and old fashioned. They decreed that the houses be pulled down and replaced with the “modern Dutch bungalow model.” Ground built houses of concrete blocks and tin, though poorly suited to local conditions, have come to be viewed as highly desirable and prestigious.