Walking Gilman just east of Ordway a couple years ago I had looked over the fence and seen hints of Something Really Good.
In March 2016 I was in Chicago for work. Chitchatting with Dave Metz, a pollster who was in Chicago to make a presentation to a collation of unions, conversation turned to Quirky Berkeley and things quirky. He told me where he lived – on Ordway near Gilman. I mentioned the glimpse of Something Really Good while walking on Gilman and he lit up. Avi Black is his neighbor. He introduced me to Avi. Not many degrees of separation to solve the mystery.
Avi Black is all about Bali. (And the San Francisco Giants). (And history). His backyard is inspired by Bali. He calls it Berkri-la – a nod to Shangri-La, the idyllic, sacred place described by James Hilton in Lost Horizon. So – a real representation of a mythical mountain utopia isolated from the outside world.
Thirty-ish years ago, Black moved into a house in Oakland. There was a gong kebyar in the house, a type of gamelan.
The gamelan is indigenous to Bali. It is made up of several varieties of gongs and various sets of tuned metal instruments that are struck with mallets. The gongs are either suspended vertically or, as with the knobbed-centre, kettle-shaped gongs placed flat. No two gamelans are tuned precisely the same; each gamelan is tuned to match the ensemble for which it is intended rather than to an external standard of pitch.
For Black, it was either learn to love the gamelan or leave the house.
He stayed and learned to love.
He became involved with Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a local 60-member company of musicians and dancers specializing in Balinese performing art.
Black came to a deep love of Bali. He has traveled to Bali many times,and his love and travel led to the creation of Berkri-la in his background.
There are hints of Bali in the front yard.
These are musicians you’d see in a baleganjur ensemble featuring a team of interlocking cymbals and drums, an inseparable part of life and death in Bali, Its traditional purpose is to accompany funeral processions.
Over the front porch – a carving.
The hints in the front yard are lovely, but the main event is the backyard.
The wood pavilion is known as Bali as a bale. Black bought his Bali bale from a now-gone import-export business in Temescal. At the apex of the bale is a garuda, a bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
The garuda is the national symbol of Indonesia, depicted as a Javanese eagle.
On the left is Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. With Lakshmi and Parvati,she forms the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
At the top is Tualen. He and his son Merdah, two comic characters who often act as the narrators in Balinese shadow puppet performances.
Other views of the garden:
A five-decker spirit house.
Inside Black’s house is more Balinese art.
This carving is of Ravana, the ten-headed king of Lanka and the primary antagonist in the Hindus epic Ramayana. His ten heads represent his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas.
This instrument is a gender, a type of metallophone used in gamelan music.
This is from the Ramayana myth, and is of Sita as she is held hostage and dreams of her husband Rama.
The painting is of a sacred Balinese village, made by Black’s friend Joe Rohde, a theme park and resort designer. The two masks in this painting depict the epic strife between good and evil. In the good corner is Barong, the king of the spirits, leader of the hosts of good. Representing evil is Rangda, the demon queen of the leyaks, the child-eating leader of an army of evil witches.
As is often the case with Quirky Berkeley people and places, a further collision of worlds is in the works. Black is working with muralist Eduardo Pineda, whose work has been featured in these pages, on a mural about the history of the neighborhood to be painted on Black’s garage door facing Gilman.
Berkri-la will have a mural!
It is a peaceful backyard. We hit it right as the azaleas were blooming – perfect. Black has done himself proud with Bali in Berkeley.
I showed the photos to my friend. “In ’66 I did the Overland. The Hippie Trail. I split off at Dhaka and went not-overland to Denpasar. Spent a month in Bali. Loved the puppets. I go to a Certain Place when I hear the gamelan.”
What about the photos? He said he had a photo from his Overland days that would express his opinion of Black’s Berkri-la.