INDONESIA: Where the Angels Fly Low

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The formal surrender of the Japanese garrison on Bali last week was one of those ceremonies the British always carry off so well.

His Majesty's Major General Eric Mansergh had flown into Den Pasar from his Surabaya headquarters. The Netherlands' towheaded Colonel Fritz ter Meulen had arrived with his two-battalion Dutch occupation force. Japanese Army Colonel Kobungo Tsunuka and his naval sidekick, Captain Shizuo Okuyama, gravely waddled across Den Pasar's village square and presented their swords to the British commander. But only 300 Balinese solemnly watched the surrender. Exclaimed an officer who had known pageant-loving Bali before the war: "Godalmighty, there would have been 10,000 at a celebration like this."

Like interdicted England in Mark Twain's tale of the Yankee and King Arthur, Bali was hushed and lifeless. In the village market, bulging a few days before with fruits, vegetables and poultry, counters were bare. Colonel ter Meulen could secure no servants for his headquarters. A dance was scheduled for a U.S. visitor in a village temple; no natives came. Nationalist agitators who had hopped over from Java had not succeeded in converting the Balinese into fire-eating revolutionaries. But fear of the Pemoeda (Javanese extremist Youth Movement) kept the peaceable Balinese from cooperating with the white men.

Baffled Dutch occupation leaders could be thankful that Bali was not repeating Southeast Asia's familiar pattern of blood, terror and famine. Intensely cultivated Bali had more food than the natives could eat.

Paradise Preserved. Even the Japanese, apparently, had fallen under the spell of "the land where the angels fly low." Dutch troops came upon two happy veterans of Bali's flourishing prewar artists' colony: Belgian Adrien Jean Le Mayeur, 66, and Swiss Theo Meier, 38. They told no harrowing stories of hunger sieges, frozen feet or welted backs. Painter Le Mayeur had lived through the war in a tile-floored seaside villa overhung with purplish-pink bougainvillea blossoms. His studio was a garden perfumed by the powerful scent of the frangipani tree. His model was his youthful wife, Polok, once one of Bali's best-known native dancers. When the war cut off his supply of oils and canvas, Le Mayeur improvised a new medium. He painted with Javanese sarong dyes on a burlap-like cloth woven from tree fiber. The dye's bright pinks and greens on the rough fabric recalled old European tapestry.

Cheerful, dark-eyed Theo Meier had rescued his U.S.-made paints when the Japs swarmed in. He retreated with his two Balinese wives to a mountaintop chalet overlooking an amphitheater of verdant, terraced rice fields. When he needed money he sold a friend's watch. Neighbors brought him rice and vegetables, and local rajahs sent him gifts of beef and pork. Unmolested by the Japs, Meier painted 150 canvases. On the side he grew tobacco, which one of his wives rolled into miniature cigars. He also made rice wine and a fiery plum cordial he called "swisky—the drink of Swiss mountain sailors."