The Last Tourist in Bali
stories by Tree Bernstein
& poems by special guest
• refreshments • books for sale •
Baksun Books presents
a backyard book launch for
Saturday, Sept. 30th 5-7 p.m.
1933 Juniper St, Longmont, CO
Bali, through the expat, painterly eyes of Tree Bernstein, flows from colorfully strange into a suite of real lives—Balinese villagers, Muslim teak smugglers, gay expats, murdered divas—lives full and lost, ugly and rich, passionate and bored—real differences. And always, art. Like Gauguin, the lost search for it among clove-scented air and nuclear sunsets, when it was every-where all along. A remarkable remaking of the exotic into the true.
—James P. Lenfestey
Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain
FEATURE BOOK REVIEW: By Kit Stolz for Ojaihub
The Interior Life, Pandemic Era
The viral pandemic that has engulfed much of the developed world has changed Tree Bernstein’s life—she has had to cancel promotion events for her newly published book of stories—but on the phone from Colorado she sounds far but panicked about COVID-19. For a writer and an artist who has lived around the world despite being “a woman of modest means,” Bernstein frequently brings ironic asides and bursts of laughter into the conversation.
“Life in the pandemic is not that much different for artists,” she said chuckling a little. “Luckily my housemate is also an artist. We go about our business in our respective studios.” Bernstein lived in Ojai for about a decade, from 2004-2015, while publishing poetry, teaching English at Ventura College and at the now shuttered Brooks Institute of Photography, and helping organize numerous readings and events at Bart’s Books, as well as the Ojai Poetry Festival. Her new book of short stories, called “The Last Tourist in Bali,” published this year by Baksun Books, available at the Boulder Book Store on or Amazon, comes from a time in her life when she chose to live for a year in almost complete freedom, leaving the West behind to reside in beauty and ease in Bali on $400 a month.
“In my recollection, now almost 18 years later, 2002 seems so long ago,” she writes in the preface. “A quaint, old-fashioned time. We had cellphones, sure, but people weren’t so involved with them. You had to go to an internet cafe to check email. Social media was unknown. I lived a couple of kilometers from the village at a guest bungalow in a rice field that overlooked the Bali Sea. So much beauty ringed the island with a sleeping volcano at its heart.”
Bernstein’s painterly watchfulness pervades these ten interlinked stories. Raye, a character on a midlife journey — not unlike Bernstein herself — paints in the day and visits the village at night. Time moves slowly on the little-populated east coast of Bali. Raye lets it pass, unworried. She can spend a month painting the field of rice outside her bungalow, just to understand how the golden light of sunset changes as it passes through the fine green rice stalks. “The more she gazes at the field of rice, the more she understands the color is not green at all, but waves of alternating yellow and blue.”
TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE > click on the link >
The LAST TOURIST in BALI is also available at Amazon Books.
excerpt from title story of
The Last Tourist in Bali
Adam Mark stopped to look at the sea. He watched himself as if viewing a film with a voice-over.
"Okay," he said, taking inventory. "Cerulean with ultramarine thinned to cobalt green. No cobalt blue in the picture at all." The water broke endlessly into discrete fragments of color, then continuously mixed itself into a new shade. He used to know how to see. It was easy—he'd simply let his vision go out of focus, just a tiny bit so that he could see what the thing was made of. Then he could put it all back together on the canvas. Not the thing itself—not as an ocean or an apple or a kite, but abstracted, larger and more poetic than the real thing. The "more poetic than the real thing" was a remembered quote from an old review. Adam shook his head as he tapped out a cigarette, sat on the stone wall and tried again to see. See the sea, a little sing-song voice prattled in his head. See the sea. The problem was in the seeing. He could take it apart, analyze the pieces, but could not put it back together again. He could not see anymore.
He lit the cigarette with a match, contemplating the chromatic range caught in the flame as he gently inhaled. He let the smoke drift from his mouth, drew it back again through his nose, slowly sending twin wisps of blue into the pale sky. Clove-scented tobacco numbed his mouth and made him feel calmer.
No big deal, he reasoned. Just because it used to be easy, doesn't mean a thing now. As a painter he belonged to a quaint profession, practically archaic. Modern artists worked with concepts, and other people's money, his wife told him. When he had a wife. He should be designing airports, working with lasers and computers, and the latest technology, she said. Except that he didn't care about any of that. What did he care about? Hard to recall. He changed. Something got lost on the way to the bank. Now he is in Bali, about as far away from L.A. as he could imagine. "Remote," a word his wife once used to describe him. She also said he was like an island, but she never accused him of being a tropical island. Adam squinted at the sea, flattening the mass into a stripe more green than blue. Nothing to do but see the sea. He smoked and looked out at the horizon. Exotic Bali. Not so remarkable anymore. Not so exotic after two months. Just an island surrounded by a lot of water that sometimes looked blue, sometimes green. On the best days gray, silver-gray. His favorite color now.