Down the rabbit hole
Well, Bruce and Charlee, in their own inimitable way, fell down an Indonesian Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole. The story starts on Instagram when, not long before our departure, we get a new follower named Demeesha. We established message contact and got their address in Cirebon about three hours from Jakarta on the north coast of Java. Got to Cirebon and called a Grab taxi (like Uber) and off we went through the streets and lanes of a region which is a batik village. Got to a school and the driver says "this is as far as I can go. The street you want it too small for the car". We get out of the car and are greeted by a large gang of school kids - giggling girls and noisy boys. The taxi driver has already told one of the teachers the address we are looking for and she, very sternly, orders two boys to guide us. (This after various photo ops). We follow them along a small lane, to another smaller lane, by the backs and fronts of houses, through a rabbit warren of foot paths and eventually get to a back door. We enter and are greeted by several women doing batik work. They are simultaneously friendly and confused. Introductions are made. We ask for Sinta, with whom we have been texting and she is not there. Hand phones come out. Messages are sent. Some time goes by then, a message from Sinta "where are you?" We reply "At the address you gave us" Message back "I am here". More confusion. But ... after a bit Sinta arrives from another part of the house and we are taken to the main room, in front of which is a parked car. She asks why we did not come the front way. But this is only the intro to the main story..
Piles and piles of batik cloth emerge. Other piles wait expectantly. Each piece is seemingly more exquisite, more interesting, more creative than the one before. We are overwhelmed, try to prioritize, try to focus - an almost impossible task. And so we relax a bit and sit there with Sinta, who is in her 50s, with her daughter, also named Sinta and another daughter named Dewi and in the process of looking through dozens and dozens of batiks, some antiques, some depicting long ago historical events, many highly original and non-conventional..... We learn about Sinta, the mom, how she learned batik from her mom, how both worked for one of the previous sultans of Cirebon and how her creative process works to produce such extraordinary designs. She describes a process which many/most artists share of a complex connection between her mind, her ability to visualize, some creative force within her, her soul..... It is very difficult to translate into English. Sinta junior is the Instragram manager and furiously pulls up other pictures on her phone. Other daughter, Dewi, is simultaneously texting on her phone, giving us prices from some extraordinary memory bank in her head, pulling out various pieces of new cloth to look at and returning to ones we have looked as we lose our sense of what we have seen. Pictures of Sinta, the mom with the former sultan and other people from the palace emerge and are passed around with explanations of who is who. And as I am writing this I am searching for a Canadian metaphor to help explain this amazing experience - but without success. It is almost too much to absorb and even more difficult to retain.
We cannot not buy something from this amazing woman and we eventually settle on five exquisite pieces which will find new purposes once back in Canada. And then some force in the rabbit hole kicks us out in into the driveway at the front of the house. We are driven and dropped off at a restaurant not too far away and both of us sit feeling simultaneously elated, stunned and bemused as some kind of normalcy returns and we both wonder in our own ways what just happened.