Could lightning strike twice? Or is the world getting smaller? It was one somber morning in Paris when I walked to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, one of the most celebrated cemetery in Europe (or the world, maybe) since some of French’s greatest choose this particular spot as their final resting place (painter Théodore Géricault, statesman Édouard Daladier, and writers Honoré de Balzac and Marcel Proust are examples. There are also foreigners like Oscar Wilde or Friedrich Chopin. Good ol’ Jim Morrison(!) is also there), when I attend the cremation of Sobron Aidit who just passed away the week before. Sobron (pictured on the right) is exiled by the New Order Regime after they take over Indonesia through what was called as a “crawling coup” followed by mass murders of suspected communists. The number of killings are uncertain, but even the most conservative figures are around 100 000 person while Pram himself claims 3 millions which he quote from Sarwo Edhie. The Soeharto regime easily become one of the pantheon of regimes who systematically kill their own people the most. Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Pol Pot are among them.
Alongside the killings, the militaristic New Order Regime also revoked the passports of all suspected communists who happen to be abroad when the coup ensues. Students sent by Soekarno to study abroad, communist party members, journalists on duty, everybody. Sobron was one of them. He was in China, teaching Indonesian language in the Institute of Foreign Language, when the regime revoked his passport and with it, his nationality. Sobron stayed in China but then moved to Paris when the Cultural Revolution broke out. Alongside with Oemar Said (pictured on the right…err…a little bit down, actually), a journalist who is also exiled, and several others, then build an Indonesian restaurant in Paris. It is then become not only an Indonesian “enclave” in France who sometimes at odds with the regime-backed Indonesian Embassy, but also become some kind of a center of movement against the New Order Regime (the name might chillingly reminds you of Palpatine’s New Order from the Stars Wars saga. Believe me, they called themselves that and in return called Soekarno’s era as the Old Order to remind Indonesians of the dark days behind and the glorious days ahead. They need that to build their image). Among Indonesians who are well-versed in political movements against the regime, Restoran Indonesia in Paris is (in)famous because of it although the food they serve is also good.
Most Indonesians who tasted education is familliar with Sobron’s family name: Aidit. And thanks to the New Order’s brainwashing, most Indonesians will look at this family name with dread. Sobron’s brother, Dipa Nusantara Aidit (pictured on the left), was chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party when the Regime took over. You see, on September 30th 1965, a rogue military group abducted 6 high-ranking army generals and executed them (another one escaped but his aide pretended to be him so they to took the aide). We haven’t know clearly yet who pulled their strings but the CIA-backed army then point their fingers at the Indonesian Communist Party and blame them for the killings, even claim that the Communists torture the generals, cut their penises and gouge their eyes, while the youth of Pemuda Rakyat–the youth organisation of the Communist Party–celebrated the coming revolution by having sex orgies with the Gerwani women (Gerwani, Gerakan Wanita Indonesia or Indonesian Women Movement, is a leftist feminist organisation who are close to the Communist Party). Those things actually never happened but the military forbid newspapers to publish anything and only official military newspapers are allowed to publish anything which enables them to churn out any story they want. Thus the military successfully brainwashed Indonesians by putting the blame on the Communists and portray them as an atheistic, immoral, sadists who will stop at nothing to take over the country and kill everybody who stand in their way. All these craps are then passed over to the Indonesian education system and every Indonesian children born in the New Order Regime then learned about all this bullshit. Communism, people movement, atheism, and even the hammer and sickle emblem are still sensitive subjects to most Indonesians. Even the name Aidit brought some chill.
However, after the fall of Soeharto in 1998, things are a bit loosen up and more Indonesians know more about what happened in 1965 rather than the sole “official” version of the New Order. Although we still don’t know clearly who pulled the strings of each side at that time (things are a lot messy during the Cold War. It is hard to tell who is an agent of whom or whether he’s a double or even triple agent) but things are clearing up. Sobron’s writing are now published and sold in the local book store. People start to read up his short stories and poems about life in exile, and even made up a genre called sastra eksil or “exile literature”. Ibrahim Isa, also an Indonesian in exile and is now living in Amsterdam, once said in a speech to commemorate the 40th day anniversary of Sobron’s death, “Looking at the fact that Sobron’s books are now published and read by Indonesians, we can see that Sobron’s name has been cleared by the Indonesian people.” We are still struggling for the Government to clear their names, but the good thing is that more and more Indonesians are now aware of the dark legacy of the New Order.
That’s three very serious paragraph to explain the circumstances and background of why I was in Pere Lachaise. That’s why I’m going there in the first place, to document the cremation of Sobron. Gosh, I must have been rambling too much. Now back to the original question: Could lightning strike twice or the world is getting smaller? After the cremation there are events quite similar to that fateful meeting with Kassia and Pierre in Amsterdam, unintended and full of coincidences. Here is how it goes: While waiting for Sobron to be cremated (it took a couple hours for the body to be fully turns into ashes), I met Lexy who came late. Can you imagine this guy: an adept archivist, also eager to document the event with his always ready video camera, but he just know about it sometime the night before and go straight from Amsterdam to Paris with the first Thalys in the morning, this guy never goes to Paris before, got lost in the Metro jungle, yet he manages to find his way to the Salle de la Coupolle where Sobron is cremated, although the ceremony is about to finish. After everybody left, in front of the building I told Lexy, “Hey this is the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried.” “Really?” “Yeah, you don’t know that?” “No. Wow, let’s go there!” “Let’s go. It’s quite far from here. I think Morrison’s grave is in the other side of the cemetery.” There’s a guy right behind us, sitting on the stairs, and overhear our conversation in Indonesian, but manages the catch some important keyword. “Morrison?” He ask, to which I reply, “Est-ce que vous voulez aussi regarder le tombeau de Morrison?” (Do you also want to see Morrison’s grave? Yeah I know that my French sucks. There are more effective way to said that sentence with the same meaning, but somehow I like to complicate things) To which he reply, “What did you said?” Whoops, he’s not french. I repeat the question in English, and he said yes, that he got a map, and I offer him to go together since I know the cemetery quite well because I’ve been here the month before.
This guy turns to be an Austrian named Yosef, who came from Vienna. No kidding, I just came from Vienna the month before! So we talk a lot about that classic and beautiful city. I told him that I joined “The Third Man Walk” where a guide walks with us and shows us the places portrayed in that famous movie, The Third Man, which sets in Vienna after the Second World War. Our guide at the time is Christopher Timmermann, whose mother, Brigitte Timmermann, is some kind of a “The Third Man freak” (Chris said that, not me!) and wrote a book about The Third Man and the places in Vienna. She then cooperate with the tourist office in Vienna and set up the walk. Her children, Christopher and Barbara (and Kerstin, but I don’t met her at that time), also learn the trade themselves and continue their mother’s footstep. Chris still remembers how he, when he was younger, helped his mother to scan stills from the original celluloid roll of “The Third Man”. I wonder where she obtains a copy of that.
When I told him that about the walk, Yosef then said, “Hey, I know the operator, I’m a friend of him.” Is his name Christopher Timmermann? I asked. “Hmm…I don’t know his last name but yes, his name is Christopher.” Nooo kidding! This guy is a friend of Chris! How could this be? An encounter with a random stranger from Vienna (it’s not strange to encounter any stranger from Vienna, by the way) who knows somebody I know! (Now that is a bit strange) Is Chris very popular and famous so that everybody in Vienna knows him? Hey come on, Vienna is not Macondo in its early days when José Arcadio Buendia is still around! Okay, maybe lots (I mean LOTS) of people in Vienna knows Chris but of all people…and I’m not even in Vienna but in Paris! This baffles me…
Anyhow, during the walk in Vienna, I talk a lot with Chris, especially about analog photography. Chris immediately recognizes my camera as a black body Nikon FM2. Our conversation grows after that. Chris is a hard core analog photographer. He bought developing equipment from e-bay, enabling him to process B&W negatives, colour negatives, and even slides! Slides is particularly hard since you need an extremely stable temperature during the whole developing process and the stabilizer itself can cost quite a fortune. But Chris manage to find it on e-bay. That’s one amazing amateur photographer. Chris also complains about the photography system in Austria. To be a professional photographer, you must have a certificate and to obtain that you have to passed several annoying written and practical tests like lighting, studio photography, and how to develop negatives. “Shit,” I said. “Who cares whether we know every negatives’ spec or not? We just want to earn a living by taking photographs! That’s absurd!” (Did Garry Winogrand knows about all that thing?) I said. “Yeah, but that’s the system.” Chris reply.
Yosef is also an analog photographer. He brought with him an analog SLR camera (I forgot the type) and recognizes that my FM2 is the best one in the market since it has chrome finish behind those black paint (my FM2 is so old and beaten up that the paint in the bottom has peeled away). Wow, I didn’t know that.
When we arrive at Jim’s grave, the security guard was not there. Maybe they’re having their lunch. Why a security guard in Jim’s grave? Tee hee hee…Jim is the only grave to be guarded and barricaded so that no one can get inside, because for a long time Jim’s fan has been wreaking havoc around the place. Smoke joints, use heroin, and even having sex on top of Jim’s grave. “What a strange appreciation,” said Henry Sinaga the Bataknese when I told him through YM. Go figures, even a rock ‘n roll fan like Henry is confused. There are even one of Jim’s admirer who stayed near the grave for some years. Whew. On top of that, there used to be arrows grafted in some of nearby tombstones to point toward “Jim.” It is all cleaned up now by Jim’s family under the protest of the relatives of the dead in the defaced grave.
Anyhow, we broke the barricade anyway since there are no guards. Lexy is the first. “Hey, Tri, take a picture of me with Jim.” Shit! I’m supposed to take Lexy’s picture? What if the guards came? We would all be dead (at least we might have to pay a hefty fine)! Anyhow I collect all my bravery and after a few clicks Lexy is satisfied and…told me to get inside and he will take my photograph. Shit! This is worse! What if the guards see me! I might have to spend some time in jail! Again I have to gather my bravery and finally managed to smile to the camera.
The result is not so bad. Yosef also slips in and we have our photo taken together. Just after all our business is concluded the security guards came. Whew! That was very close. We walk around Pere Lachaise and later landed on Chopin’s tomb. After taking some pictures there, Yosef encounter some Texan girls and offer his service to guide them around the cemetery. Me and Lexy then split out with him. I write down his e-mail address into my note book and promise him to send the results as quickly as possible, and also ask him to ask Chris whether he still remembers me, the Asian guy with the FM2 who loves The Third Man. Well…Chris has a lot of tourists every week and I’m not sure whether he remembers even though Yosef has the photograph of me to show Chris my face, but still…maybe he remembers.
The incredible coincidence still amazes me. Once again, Rick Blaine will say,
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine.” -Casablanca, 1942
Lightning can indeed strike twice!