Ubud is Brooklyn

It’s always dangerous to compare places, especially when they’re 10,000 miles away and have entirely different histories, societies and politics, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Ubud is the Brooklyn of Bali.

I feel confident making this analogy because, while I came up with it on the fly while having a coffee in a really cool warung kopi called Tutmak, I actually had to articulate it on the spot to two people who know Ubud relatively well (certainly better than I do) and who ended up at least agreeing with the premise.

Tutmak sits on the northeast corner of an impressively long football pitch-cum-park in the middle of Ubud and while its rear looks out over the pitch, the front faces Jalan Diwisita, one of the town’s narrow roads that is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s got three different levels and platforms where you sit on pillows (which isn’t as rare as it might sound). In other words, it’s a cool spot. There are lots of cool spots in Ubud just like there are lots of cool spots in Brooklyn but really that’s just the most facile parallel.

Both the origin stories of Ubud and Brooklyn’s current generation of coolness began around the same time. Vice moved to Brooklyn in 1999 and has since made billions as both the mouthpiece and id of the hipster (my) generation. A few years later, Elizabeth Gilbert ended her memoir-inducing year of travel in Ubud where she found the conclusion to what would be Eat, Pray, Love and made the village destination for self-seekers.

Now neither Vice nor Gilbert invented their locales, but I don’t think I’m giving them too much credit when label them as progenitors to a movement; the flag to which others have rallied. I would not be surprised if there was a strong correlation between housing prices in BK and the number of foreign tourists that arrived in Ubud.

And here, as a good friend of mine would say, is the rub. Brooklyn and Ubud are (were?) cool because they don’t (didn’t) have the Wall Street types or expensive rents and don’t (didn’t) have resorts or bused-in-tourists. Both have fallen victim to the paradox of attracting the very things whose absence made them attractive in the first place.

But Brooklyn and Ubud are still there. Despite all the hipster-nostalgia that says they aren’t what they used to be, they are still unique and cool and hip and fun. There’s a quote from HST that I posted a couple days ago and I think it’s relevant here:

“San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.”

Neither Brooklyn nor Ubud will have the political or social power that came from the San Francisco of Thompson and Kesey and Garcia, but maybe in five years, or six, maybe a lifetime or a main era, we’ll be able to look back at Brooklyn and Ubud with a sense of nostalgia, as places where some special things happened.

Also, Sanur is Queens.

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