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My many years          Print Version/Afdruk Versie

The next day, we sailed for Batavia which had the beautiful and rightly called Hotel des Indes. For luncheon and dinner they served a rijsttafel, consisting of twenty different kinds of food, offered in small quantities - pieces of fish and meat, unknown little vegetables, and other eatables. But I must admit that it was not so much the taste which attracted us as the spectacular way it was served. The twenty plates were actually brought to our table by a parade of twenty waiters wearing batik-like costumes, and they repeated the parade several times.

Had it not been for the intense heat, the three concerts in Batavia would have made me feel as though I were playing in Holland.

Nela complained about some pains, which disquieted us both. At my concert in Bandung, the Dutch capital of the island, an Austrian doctor promised to take care of her at his clinic. It was dreadful for me to have to leave her there for three or four concerts, which were given in quick succession; but I managed to find a little plane which brought me every morning to see her at the clinic. Thank heavens, she was cured after a few days and could continue the tour with me.

We reached a little town on the afternoon of the concert. After signing the register in the clean-looking Dutch-run hotel, I asked for the theater or hall where my concert was to take place. The receptionist said, "The concert will be given right here in the hotel."

"You have a ballroom?" I asked.

"No," he answered, "it will be in this very lobby."

I smiled, thinking he didn't know what he was talking about. "This is sheer nonsense," I told him. "You couldn't place more than fifty people here."

"O," he uttered rather unsmilingly, "you will have no more than twenty people." Noticing that I didn't take him seriously, he explained in a few words what the whole thing amounted to. Four families of tea planters from the city were so fond of music that they had decided to pay the full fee among them for any of the Kunstkring's concerts. It made me happy to hear that. Those sixteen persons who came to hear me had the best concert of my tour in Java. Usually a large audience obliges me at the start to fight for their attention, and if I am lucky to be inspired, I win them over, but in this instance these few devotees of music inspired me to give of my best right away. After the concert, we had a little reunion and a particularly enthusiastic couple invited us to spend the next day at their tea plantation. Nela, who was born in the atmosphere of farmers and planters, never lost her keen interest in agriculture and naturally liked the idea.

Having the day free, we were driven the next morning up a steep road to a charming home in the Dutch style with all its attributes. The windows were washed and rewashed to distraction; everything else was nice, but there was one great winner: the tea!

I have always been fond of good tea of a rather light color. We drank it in Poland in tall glasses with lemon and I could easily consume half a dozen to a dozen glasses in succession. I love the English afternoon tea but am completely indifferent to its origin. But here, in the Java plantation, I was absolutely overcome by the taste of it with the very first sip of the tea they offered. From that moment on, I never stopped asking and begging my hosts for another cup of tea. At bridge, which we played after dinner, I think I absorbed a good dozen cups of tea. Nectar is a poor word for it. I can solemnly declare that no drink, whether alcoholic, coffee, chocolate, or even milk, has ever given my palate such complete satisfaction. Nela too was enthusiastic, but she was so proud of her perfect knowledge as to why the tealeaves at the plantation were superior to the ones we were used to that it seemed to her more important than the enjoyment itself. We left enchanted with our day in the hills.

The tour continued in a rapid tempo, without becoming monotonous; every town had its own peculiar character. In one, Nela took my concert clothes out of the suitcase and put my black dress coat on a hanger; when the time came to dress, she picked up the coat and about a thousand mosquitoes abandoned it, filling the room with their lovely singsong. We were horrified and fought them off with anything to hand. I still wonder that we were not bitten to death by those infernal insects. But again, we won the battle.

The next city was the hottest of them all, Surabaya, the second-largest city on the island. Here, our beds were covered by fine mosquito nets. We decided to undress and spend as much time as possible lying quietly well protected. But there was something much worse in store for us. Some huge unknown insects, looking almost like animals, seemed able to tear our nets to pieces, knocking with great power against them and making threatening, unbearable noises. It took courage to get up the next morning and go through all the chores of a concert day. Fortunately, we enjoyed an unexpected artistic diversion. Not far from Surabaya, was the seat of the emperor of Jogjakarta. At my astonished question about the existence of an emperor, a Dutch official told me, "Our government has always kept the emperor on his throne in his palace in Jogjakarta, but the offices of our Dutch governor-general are on the other side of the square."

I asked, "Is the emperor on friendly terms with the governor?"

"Oh yes," answered my informant, "The emperor calls the governor 'Uncle.' "

We were lucky to be there the day of the annual National Feast of Java, when the imperial Gamelang was allowed to perform in front of the palace. I was very curious to hear this performance for which thousands of fervent lovers of this music gathered. All I knew about it was that the Bali Gamelang had performed at the last World Exhibition in Paris and greatly impressed Debussy, Ravel, and other musicians who had the chance to hear it. I was enchanted by this new strange sound, which I could not help but accept as music in the sense that it was an orderly, prepared succession of sonorities. I could well understand why this music struck the imagination of the composers.

The last city, Malang, on the extreme western point of Java, was fortunately in the hills, where the heat subsided, and my tour ended in Batavia. I was paid quite well in good Dutch money. Our next stop was Manila, again with Strok, in the Philippine Islands. It was only the beginning of July, and to my joy, I discovered that we had a few free days before taking the Japanese boat for Hong Kong. There, one or two days later, an American boat would be available to take us to Manila. Both Nela and I were very excited about the possibility of visiting the island of Bali, of which we had heard wonders. While we were in Singapore I had mentioned enthusiastically that we might go to Bali. "This is wonderful," shouted Noël. "I shall wire my friend Smith right away, and he will show you everything in the most marvelous way."

There was a plane service between the two islands and I found tickets for the next flight. Two interesting Americans were fellow passengers on the plane, Doris Duke, the rich tobacco heiress, who was on her honeymoon, and her bridegroom, a charming gentleman of European background. We became acquainted right away because they had been present at my concert in Singapore.

I remember one horrible moment on this flight. The pilot, anxious to show us the beauty of the island, flew rather low. The four of us occupied the window seats to admire the landscape. Imagine our terror when, right below us, we saw a horrible huge crater sending up high flames which almost touched the plane. We let out shrieks. Fortunately, nothing happened, but the American went to the pilot's cabin and remonstrated with him angrily. The man replied that he had wanted to give us the pleasure of watching a real volcano at close hand.

A short while later we landed at a small airport of this magic island, and the magic started right away. We left the plane, undisturbed, as though we had landed anywhere in a helicopter. There was a nice road bordered by tall trees, but out of nowhere a long parade of tallish women laden with fruit and other gifts walked slowly and majestically right in front of us. They were beautifully dressed in colorful skirts with bare breasts; they suddenly disappeared around the corner as if it had been a dream. We found out later that there were daily processions of that kind for some religious rite of their own version of the Buddhist faith.

There was a very tall blond young man who introduced himself. "My name is Smith. My friend Noël wired me to show you the island. I shall be delighted to do so." I must confess, I had not expected dear good Noël to send that cable and was overjoyed he had done so. Smith took us to a small hotel, which we found engaging and clean. Actually it was a rest house of the Dutch government.

The next day was entirely devoted to music and dancing. I introduced our American companions to Smith, who allowed them to accompany us, and he really made everything possible for us. He arranged a beautiful show where the most striking thing I remember was an extraordinary dance by a young boy certainly not older than ten. The movements of his hands and feet and head were harmoniously linked with the contortions of his body and there were lovely contrasts. He would give a few leaps and then move very slowly. The dancing was accompanied by a Balinese Gamelang, which was closely related to the Javanese but had some additional percussion instruments. During the day we saw several processions similar to the one in the morning, but with other colors, other gifts which the women carried on their heads, making them walk with a most graceful bearing. To our happy surprise, the climate was hot but agreeably dry.

Later that night, Smith arranged a concert of a male chorus for us. There where two dozen men standing close in front of each other and one line would start a tune, each man giving out a note in unison. This was immediately followed by the dozen men opposite with a note half a tone higher. They would repeat this a few times and then they began to speed up the tempo, finishing with a frantic exchange of these two notes with a long loud trill. I was simply amazed by the dozen singers who sang the syncopated note with unfailing rhythm. I think this was the high point of our visit to this beautiful island.

The next day, the indefatigable Smith drove us around the island with its soft hills, a threatening volcano, rice fields, and amazingly beautiful forests. The whole landscape had a unique beauty which I had never encountered anywhere else on my many travels.

Arthur Rubinstein.

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