AN EXTENDED HOUSE PARTY by Rahul Jacob
The dining table at Jiva Puri is so long and commands such expansive views of the sea that even without a plate of food in sight, one imagines a banquet is about to begin. For the birthday of a childhood friend that was celebrated there recently, though, our hosts had ensured that all sorts of Balinese delicacies were heaped far and wide.
Dionysus must have a counterpart in the vast Balinese pantheon because this dinner was blessed by some unseen god of revelry. There was a watermelon salad in one corner, the distinctive Balinese seafood sate wrapped on a lemongrass stick in another, grilled fish and heavenly pork ribs. About those spare ribs – they were so moreish that seconds and thirds were a must. There were vegetables I had never seen before, with an edge of bitterness to balance the other flavours.
One of the strange anomalies of eating in Bali as a foreigner is that it is difficult to find authentic Balinese food. It is typical of the attention to detail at Jiva Puri that the chef who put this banquet together is the former executive chef at the Grand Hyatt in Bali and the author of an authoritative cookbook on Balinese cuisine.
That dinner was also emblematic of how perfect a setting Jiva Puri is for an extended house party. We had started with cocktails just after sunset in the living area with its wraparound views of the sea. To the right is a temple – there must always be a temple in view in a Balinese landscape – but this one is extraordinary because it is black, set on rocks on the sea, and just a little brooding. When I walked down to it one evening, I imagined that the waves crashing against it for millennia had still not washed away a deviant tendency towards paganism.
The living area with these beguiling views is such a natural place to gravitate to that it is hard to pinpoint when dinner parties began and when they ended. The truth is we had started with tea while watching the sun go down, the water transformed into gentle waves of molten metal. This had been followed by an impromptu massage by the pool when miraculously half a dozen formidably strong masseuses arrived to knead and pummel our muscles as the sun went down. But for a change of clothes in between, it was almost as if a perfect lazy afternoon had melded into a dinner party.
People from around the world have been falling in love with Bali for almost a century. In the Twenties and Thirties, the love affair with the island of foreigners like the German artist Walter Spies and the Canadian musicologist Colin McPhee became legends in their own lifetimes. Spies’ home facing the mountain Agung Gunung is one of the most special villas in East Bali. McPhee’s building a home in Bali yielded one of the most entertaining books on Southeast Asia. The homes they built became much more than four walls and a roof, turning into a long winding tale of self-discovery and achievement.
Jiva Puri is the summit of a similar journey, although because the 21st century is an easier time to make such dreams a reality, it was not as arduous as that faced by foreigners who lived in Bali almost a hundred years ago. Taking a break from 25 years in banking, the owner approached the conception and execution of Jiva Puri with the attention to detail and foresight that would make a hotelier envious.
Jiva Puri was designed by Ernesto Bedmar, the Singapore-based Argentine architect. Like Geoffrey Bawa in Sri Lanka and his heirs, Ernesto’s genius is to have taken the Balinese design precepts of organizing living spaces around a courtyard and very open views of the verdant green spaces and the sea and updated them for the 21st century.
Set on two acres, the spacious bedrooms with their own ponds and gardens feel like independent villas with a tennis court-sized lawn punctuated by wooden tribal art leading to the common living areas. Everywhere you go frangipani trees drop their flowers at your feet. The lengthy pool with a floor of natural stone takes the monotony out of swimming laps because the stones literally change colour before your eyes.
Again, this all adds up to a perfect environment for the house party. You can join the festivities or peel away when you want time by yourself. For the most part, I joined the party. And it is one of the pleasures of a house party that you discover things you didn’t know about your friends and are delighted by reminders of what you did. I found one friend a very patient avuncular presence around the only child in our party, another a rather impatient aunt who, convinced her nephew was cold after a swim, bundled the ten year old up in a towel so efficiently that he was not able to use his hands to pick up cutlery at lunch by the pool.
Jiva Puri is perfectly located for side trips to Ubud and Seminyak. We left for lunch at Ubud about midday and were home in time for tea. But most people will want to partake of the bustle of Seminyak sparingly – dinner at the perfectly positioned La Lucciola on Seminyak beach for instance – because Jiva Puri is so relaxing to come back to.
Behind the scenes a lot of work has gone into making Jiva Puri a temple of languor on an island, which among its festivals, celebrates a day for doing nothing. Jiva Puri has the relaxed feel of a home and yet works like clockwork because of the ministrations of a small management team that earned its stripes over decades at the Grand Hyatt. Its owner has taken on the building and running of Jiva Puri as a post retirement project but people who stay there are the beneficiaries of the careful planning of some one too energetic to retire.
On my last morning I came down to the den perched over the sea to have a cup of tea with my host. The rain-swept setting was so perfect we were soon doing yoga there. Never did a sun salutation feel so organically right. More than half a century ago India’s Jawaharlal Nehru described Bali as the morning of the world. It is an incomparable description because it is so true – and there are few places on this blessed island where that feels more apt than at Jiva Puri.
About the writer: Rahul Jacob is the author of Right of Passage: Travels from Brooklyn to Bali