Sometimes I get hopelessly lost looking for answers. Take this delightful decorative door, for example, set in a thick wall upon which the surrounding foliage has projected a superb shadowscape. It isn’t hard to imagine an Indonesian Wayang master using this as a backdrop for a romantic encounter between two shadow puppets.
Those may seem like excellent clues – the first bread crumbs on a trail leading to the conclusion that Terra Incognita No. 3 is Indonesia – but I would be selling you short if I didn’t dig deeper. And so I took a closer look, hoping to find something that would confirm my suspicions.
The elaborate golden carving on the upper part of the door depicts a songbird surrounded by curling creepers. The decorations on the left and right are mirror images of each other, but they were individually carved, perhaps even by two different artists, because the quality, style and details of the carving varies.
But the most interesting part of the door – apart from the kitty hole at the bottom, of course – is the midsection featuring what looks like a winged lion. Two, in fact, facing each other on either side. So I googled “winged lion” and promptly lost my way in a world inhabited by marvellous mythical creatures. The gryphon, for instance, is a winged lion with the head of a eagle, while the Sumerian lamassu is a winged lion with a human head. I also discovered that the flag of the ancient Republic of Venice bore a winged lion, symbol of St Mark the Evangelist.
All this was very interesting, of course, but there seemed to be no references to winged lions in Indonesian art and culture. And so – in a blinding flash of genius – I decided to add the word “Indonesia” to my search, and promptly discovered that Balinese people place little statues of winged lions in the roofs of their houses to ward off evil spirits. But my enthusiasm was soon dampened when I learned that the winged lion is common to many cultures throughout Asia, which left me even further from home.
Fortunately, my Blog Whisperer at KLM had sent me two more photos to help identify the country. In the one above, wicker cages containing chickens and possibly other birds have been set out on the quayside. The harbour behind shimmers in the morning sun. The early risers – fishermen and vendors – are ready to serve, but their only customer is content to take photos, marvelling at the many things you can do with bamboo. Could this be Bali, Thailand or Malaysia? Then again, the contraption on the left looks like part of an outrigger canoe that I’ve seen in photos of the Philippines.