The smell of stoke in the morning

Michel Bourez sniffs out a barrel in Bali. Photo: Alex Laurel


Take a good hit, just as you step off the plane.

A sweet, laden cocktail, warm, heavy air, fragrant with the soul of Bali. Dry season is beginning, the tradewind blows down from the heights of Gunung Agung, peak of the sun god Surya where the sun rises first on the holiest of mother temples, Besikah. From there, a perfumed descent through Bali mist, soft magic mist, mist of good and bad spirits, of ancestral worship, of Brahma the creator, Wisnu the preserver and Siwa the dissolver.

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Tilt a trained nostril into the breeze, then. Clove cigarettes, three million clove cigarettes blown out of six million lungs. Petrol, two-stroke oil. A million scooters. Everywhere. Every street, every traffic light a sea of scooters. Once every 0.0036 seconds on Bali a scooter horn is sounded by a curved, brown thumb. A never-ending madly snaking procession, beeps and centimetres from death or disfigurement.

The open sewer that runs under the maze that is Kuta, Legian, Seminyak. The woman and her child amputee on Poppies 2, his badly amputated stump rough, scarred. She lifts an open hand meekly from her piece of cardboard towards the tourists. Ether scent of premium white spirits, Tuesday night cocktails with fruit mixed and shaken over wide, shiny hardwood bars. Russian vodka and local mango juice, put it on your room.

Heavenly scent of secret interior sandalwood groves, white jasmine and wild Denpasar orchids. Sweetly choleric smell of standing water in the paddy fields of the green rolling Canggu hinterland. The warm aroma of momma heifer dung in the paddy field beside the road out to the Bukit, she turns and rolls an enormous loving pink tongue over the face of a round-eyed calf, legs splayed, white socks, thin blue rope through her nose, magic mushrooms spores multiplying in a pile of fresh dung.

The volatile aroma of polyester resins from the ding repair half way down the cliff at Ulu’s, your board ready in two hours, the world’s fastest ding repair. Salty brine smell of twelve large crabs in a plastic carrier bag on the front of a moped in Balian.

Wood burning, charcoal chicken on the street corner. Acrid scent of plastic burning on a putrid pile in the stream behind Dreamland. Fake Chanel no.5 on the 30 euro hookers on Bemo corner. Real Chanel no.5 on the 100 euro ones in Double 6. Sweet scent of hot banana and honey jaffles, of banana pancakes at Keramas. Maybe there’s peanut butter in there too. Did you order this one? Fuck it I’ll eat it anyway.

Local women sitting sideways on a moped, poised in ceremonial attire, going to the temple to appease the spirits, to achieve balance, harmony. Bent and crouched as they sweep a tiled patio, black hair soft and straight off the shoulders. Tiny feet take soft tiny asiatic steps as she works her way carefully across the tiles. One knee on the floor, the other bent, administering the blessing offering. Incense wafts into the mix.

A dog’s scent somewhere between the low dangling balls and asshole – the canine taint. Sniff a stiff batty whiff. Maingey dogs, unloved, unstroked roaming Kuta beach. The musk of ravaged, skanky skin where a zillion fleas sink mouthparts in. Black faced and grey whiskered, head held low, their place is not a proud one.

A Bali dog survives by eating the omnipresent rice cakes left for the g-o-d-s, they just swapped the letters.


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