29 December 2008

Nu Zilland - Day Seven, Eight, Nine

Eternally a sucker for any sort of road-side ‘attraction’, I could not pass up a sign that said “Tame Anatoki Eels”. Eel attractions seem to be quite popular around the Golden Bay region – who wouldn’t want to feed minced animal flesh to a slithering pile of sharp slimy teeth? I am not sure if ‘tame’ is really an appropriate term for a creature that catapults itself out of the water towards your toes at the first whiff of meat.

We drove the Treasured Pathway (doesn’t that sound ever so much more romantic than ‘scenic route?) out of Nelson around the bottom of the Queen Charlotte Sound. I’m still not entirely clear on the exact definition of a sound, versus say an inlet or a bay or a fjord, but it was quite stunning and certainly worthy of being treasured by the nation.

After a much needed week of relative isolation, I felt ready to socialize once again, thus booked us a stay at the campground/RV park in Blenheim, the heart of the Marlborough wine region. Sure enough, as soon as we checked into our cabin, this friendly jumping duck came over to welcome me to town and offered her services as a wine tour guide:

Instead, we opted for a more reputable operation with more comfortable seating arrangements. The Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, and if you are ever shopping for one, you really cannot go wrong to select one from this region. If someone dropped me into the middle of the valley, I would swear I was in California - one side was lined with soft brown hills dotted with oaks and the other with lush green mountains. There were even fields of golden poppies interspersed amongst the vines.

I could dribble on and on about the quality of the varieties, the sumptuousness of the venues, and the conviviality of the people, but after two days of ‘Extreme Winetasting’, I have exhausted my supply of enological adjectives. After the ninth winery, I was forced to resort to descriptors such as ‘unambiguous’, ‘mischievous’, and ‘perpendicular’. My tongue feels like it has been soaked in nitric acid.

Nothing creates camaraderie among strangers like getting sotted together in a big white van, especially if you happen to share some rather unpopular yet strongly held reproductive opinions. We met two absolutely delightful couples on the tour, and I say that because I really liked them and not just because they fed me dinner and sprayed me with bug repellent then wrapped me in a fuzzy blanket and pointed out to Kevin that he had been using the women’s toilet all night and let us drink all their beer as we sat in their camper laughing into the wee hours of the evening.

Nu Zilland - Day Six

The Northwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand is a 25 km long sand bar called Farewell Spit. Because of the delicate and unique ecology of this special region, visitors are only allowed to walk 2.5 km out onto the spit. However, visitors are encouraged to sign up for a full tour aboard an enormous 4-wheel drive diesel bus that climbs up and down the dunes along the entire length of the peninsula. I don’t mind the restriction, just the bullshit. One kilometer into the hot barren walk, it was quite obvious that the real reason for the policy was undoubtedly the cost of rescuing lost and exhausted pedestrians with poor depth perception from the sandy landscape.

Crossing over from the ‘inside’ of the spit to the Tasman Coast, we began to doubt our decision to eschew motor vehicle transport, but when the trail emptied onto an expansive and empty stretch of pristine beach, all doubts evaporated. In each direction, at the limits of my focus, the landscape dissolved into a mirage of dunes reflecting water and water reflecting dunes. It felt like standing on the edge of the end of the world. I would not have been surprised to see the Statue of Liberty half buried in the tidal zone.

Walking along the water’s edge towards what we hoped was the return trail to the carpark, I spied a large dark lump beached upon the sand. I gasped as a large flipper fanned the air. My sensibilities told me to give the seal its space and privacy, but my sense of adventure told me to go touch it! Unfortunately, my sense of speech refused to stand down, and the seal was soon alerted to my approach.

At the trail head, we encountered an exasperated old couple asking for directions, which was disconcerting, because I was hoping to ask them for directions. They claimed to have taken the trail from the carpark ‘through the pastures’, but they neglected to mention that the pastures were filled with cows and sheep, co-habitating together! Climbing a wooden staircase over a barbed-wire enclosure, we were able to sight a bright orange triangle across a field of grazing livestock, then we would pick our way through poop and paddock until the next orange triangle appeared to guide our trajectory. Soon, I too felt the old couple’s exasperation.

Earlier in the day, we visited Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs, for short), a site of great spiritual significance to the Maori tribes that lived nearby. As when visiting churches and cathedrals, I soon felt my eyes swelling with the familiar yet unfathomable tears of reverence and respect. 14,000 liters per second of crystal clear water drain from the Marble Mountains and emerge in aquamarine pools that feed a raging river that is quickly becoming choked by invasive algae. If I were didymo, I would want to live in that river, too!

26 December 2008

Nu Zilland - Day Five

Wishing you a Maori Christmas and Hippy Holidays!

The weather was unremarkable, so I shan’t remark upon it.

Our day was fairly low key. After a lovely breakfast, we explored Abel Tasman Park by car and then went for a walk to Wainui Falls. I was on constant alert, looking for the giant land snails that purportedly inhabit the area, but I suspect the guidebook was lying, as I saw neither snail nor slime.

I did see plenty of cows, though:

We cooked ourselves a lovely dinner of BBQ Spare Ribs and Sweet potatoes au Gratin, followed by Boysenberry Shortbread with fresh whipped cream – we cut the cholesterol with a couple of bottles of local wine.

And that was pretty much our Christmas!

Nu Zilland - Day Four

I reckon it is kind of pathetic that I feel the need to start off each of my vacation entries with a weather report, but there is no denying the effect that weather has on my general disposition and therefore my perceptions of my experiences. Maybe it is human nature, or maybe it is simply weakness of character, but I am undeniably uninspired by gloomy skies and misty vistas…which is why I don’t have a lot to say about today.

The two hour drive from Nelson to Pohara on Golden Bay took us over 6 hours. Lest you accuse me of dilly-dallying, know that the route is dotted with wineries and fruit stands, so yes, I was dilly-dallying…and some rather expensive (but tasty) dilly-dallying at that! However, we are now well stocked for the holiday with fresh boysenberries and plenty of Pinot Gris.

We arrived at our cozy beachfront cottage and unpacked enough groceries to feed a boy-scout troupe (of course, they aren’t allowed to have any of the wine…or the berries.) Our plans for an afternoon hike were dashed by rain (I lost my rain coat to a strong wind off the balcony and Kevin’s was stolen out of our mailbox), so instead we are holed up with a heater, staring out across a placid but not quite golden bay, which is fine, because it gives me a chance to write postcards and to watch New Zealand news broadcasts. There was a report that Santa had finally left America, after being detained by Homeland Security, seems that because of a spelling error, they had confused him with the known terrorist ‘Satan’.

And then, at 9:00 at night, the most extraordinary thing happened. The sun came out. Its long golden rays slipped over the mountains, igniting the underbelly of the clouds and producing a magnificent full rainbow, which was so close you could almost touch it (but also so close, you could not photograph it in its entirety – or at least not with my lens). Soon, the beach was strewn with holiday makers, smiling and gawping at the sky, delighted to be liberated from their tents, campers, and cabins for this spectacular evening treat.

Gotta go – it’s time to eat more Bosyenberries.

Nu Zilland - Day Three

This morning was another spectacularly warm and cloud free day – perfect conditions for our long drive up the west coast into Nelson. I know that the kind weather is a key factor, yet I find myself enraptured beyond all conceivable expectations with the lush green landscape, the shimmering blue sea, and the towering jagged mountain ranges. We were even able to see some beauty in the lovely sparkling star that suddenly appeared in the center of our windscreen as a double tanker truck kicked a rock into our path.

Note to self: re-read that travel insurance policy, since the rental agent made it a point to tell me I am wholly liable for windscreen damage.

At any rate, there were plenty of amusing road signs to further divert us from that glassine tragedy.

For better or worse, I was unable to locate any penguin roadkill, although I did see heaps of possums. However, Kevin wouldn’t pull over to let me collect their tails, despite the knowledge that there is a pub to the north that pays a one pint bounty per tail.

We stopped off at Pancake Rocks (What an odd coincidence that the Maori word for Pancake is ‘Panakaki’…er…) a bizarre formation of flat-stacked limestone rocks that form a series of violent pools and impressive blowholes. Unfortunately, the blowholes are only truly impressive when the weather is truly shit, but I was not the least bit bothered by the tradeoff.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a long drive in the country, and I learned that my city left-side driving skills reside in a different portion of my brain than do my rural left-side driving skills. It took a great deal of concentration to remember which side of the road to enter when pulling out of a scenic overlook. Luckily, the roads were nearly deserted, which further enhanced the pleasantness of the journey.

In the small village of Murchison, we stopped into The Commercial Hotel to deliver a photograph to the mother of our friend and neighbor in Shingletown. It was a fun surprise for her, even though he had just returned to California from a visit two days before…it makes the world feel smaller to meet someone who knows someone you love especially when they are halfway around the world.

Leaving Murchison, we were flabbergasted to see a field filled with reindeer – or maybe there were elk – either way, they did not belong in a fenced pasture. Neither did that yak. I’ve never actually seen a yak, but I am pretty damn sure that is what it was, cuz it sure as hell wasn’t a Texas long horn. Then we bought some fresh raspberries from a roadside shed fitted with an ‘honesty box’ and closed circuit security cameras…which reminds me…I should eat some right now…oh, yum.

For fear of sounding like my Aunt Bette, I am reluctant to describe my vacation meals in too much detail, so I will suffice to say that on the whole, I find the fare in New Zealand superior to Australia. I credit that observation to the fact that in the early days of the country, a group of explorers – upon discovering that they could not claim the country for France – decided to say “fuck it” (or whatever the French would say under such circumstances) and settled here anyway…I cannot say for certain whether French influences germinated a pizza topped with garlic, bacon, and bleu cheese, or its presentation (served in a box shaped like a coffin) – but it is a brilliant combination!

Rats, now I’ve gone and ate all of my raspberries…

Nu Zilland - Day Two

I awoke to a gentle sunrise in our windowless room. “Audra?” you might ask, “How is that possible?” I have already alluded to the amusing lighting system in our Japanese style pod of a hotel room. Our early morning alarm consisted of a slow brightening of a full spectrum sun lamp above the bed, punctuated by a single sharp beep at 6:30 am as the television switched on the “wake channel” which featured the time lapse clouds. I stumbled into the glassy shower nook which we had affectionately nick-named “The Orgasmatron” – more for its appearance than for any menial satisfaction we experienced therein, as there was barely room for one person, much less two in any sort of carnal contortion.

I was quite startled to emerge from the hotel into bright sunlight, not so much from the sensory deprivation as from my low expectations of this country and our holiday, and considering that our plan for the day was to take the TransScenic Railway through the Southern Alps, we could not have asked for more glorious travel conditions. With nary a cloud in sight, we boarded our comfortable carriage and began the slow rocking journey across sheep filled pastures, criss-crossing braided rivers before climbing into snow capped peaks and high meadows filled to the breaking point with white daisies, purple lupines, and golden scotch-bloom. Train travel is truly luxurious and well suited to the indulgent introspection I had hoped to gain from this vacation.

I was feeling quite sublime by the time we pulled into the coastal town of Greymouth, and was pleased to find it did not appear nearly as washed out as it did in the pictures on the internet. However, a ten minute stroll through the town center proved more than adequate to acquaint us with all the best on offer, so we opted to back track (quite literally) along our inbound journey to visit the ruins of an abandoned coal mine where I learned all about coking and the dangers of mis-laid explosives. Nonetheless, I was surprised later, when driving through the town, at the number of houses that had coal storage sheds and the pungent smoke smell that will forever remind me of a Mexican barbeque.

Fooled by the incredibly long days, we went in search of dinner only to find that all the restaurants had already closed their kitchens. However, we did find this, which was much more fun than dinner:

Tonight we are staying at a back-packer hostel. As expected, there is a broad contingency of sneering Germans with preposterous dread-locks (“Und let me tell you vhat else is wrong mit Amerika…”), but we were also delighted that we were not the eldest travelers in residence…in fact, not by a long shot – a lovely pair of withered old French women arrived with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, and there are also several Australian couples older than us (none of them with dread locks…what the hell is it with backpackers and dreadlocks?? Is it some sort of badge of honor to show how long it has been since you’ve had a job??). There is also a delightful tortoise-shell kitten who volunteered to kill all the back-packer cooties that have been left behind in our room – and there were PLENTY!

20 December 2008

Arrival In Nu Zilland

There is nothing like being upgraded to confirm all the wonderful things I have heard about Emirates Airlines. A little snafu with Kevin’s visa had us worried that we might not even got on the flight, but because we had been so patient and understanding (although I thought we were been quite bitchy), the airlines bumped us up to Business Class – it wasn’t their fault that Australian Immigration is staffed by idiots, but we did not feel the need to draw that to their attention.

It is amazing how silly little amenities, like fresh orchids and bottle of cologne in the lavatory, complimentary toothbrushes, Moet Champagne before take-off, noise cancelling headphones, delicious food, and fine china (including ceramic salt and pepper shakers) can produce such feelings of indulgence. Or maybe it had more to do with the massage feature on the fully reclining seats. I was preposterously delighted with each little extra – like the first time I ever stayed in a motel room that had a sewing kit!

I have never before wished for a flight to be longer. I fear I am ruined. And the sky-waitresses had such cute little hats, too.

We landed under grey skies and an icy Antarctic breeze. I wanted to get back on the plane and watch Lady and the Tramp again…

My spirits lifted as the clouds broke and we checked into the swanky Hotel SO. Our room is about the same size as our Business Class seats, and the bathroom is actually smaller.

But it is a fun room, compact, with blue under-bed mood lighting and 5 channels of Mood on the TV, which include a fireplace, tropical palms, and grey clouds drifting across high mountain peaks…I guess you put that one on when you want to pretend the room has a window.

We ventured out for a look around, and soon confirmed our preconceptions that Christchurch is boring, although the vast number of gargantuan (albeit deserted) nightclubs suggest there may be more to this city that is apparent on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We will reserve final judgment until we return on Friday at the end of our holiday.

However, I did adore the beautiful cathedral in the center of town. And, as usual my eyes began leaking as soon as I entered and beheld the peaceful glory of sunlight streaming through stained glass.

Why do I ALWAYS cry in churches???

Indy...Use the Force...Use the Fooorce...

Well, it took nearly a slab of beer and a bottle of wine, but the laundry is done, the apartment is clean, and we are all packed for our trip to Nu Zilland. I am beginning to feel something akin to anticipation...or maybe I just need to pee (again).

In between preparations for departure, we managed to make a few phone calls to friends and family, not only to wish them Merry Christmas, but because I have always felt the urge to speak to my loved ones before leaving on any trip...just in case I get sucked into a lava tube or eaten by eels, or (better yet) abducted by Maoris and forced to become a sex bride.

Because nearly everyone I called asked, I am compelled to inform my larger reading audience that our cat will be looked after by Joe, a graduate student at the University who lives nearby, and yes, he is extremely responsible and no, he will not drink all of our wine.

And, now, because I really have nothing else to do to pass the time until I can pass out, I present the following whimsical, yet moderately homoerotic composition for your viewing pleasure:

15 December 2008

Thank You, Mommy!

I reckon my plea for no Christmas presents got crossed with the Christmas card I swore I was not going to send out.

"A big box of roses came for you today."

"Really? Who from?"

"Want I should see?"

"No! How exciting! I am coming home right now!"

And I arrived to this:

Kevin said she licked the ribbon.

But it wasn't just a box of gorgeous long stem roses...it also contained a bunch of chocolates, some cookies, a candle, and something called "Pudding on the Ritz".

I know that silly cat wants very much to eat those roses...perhaps I can keep her distracted with the packaging:

Thank You Mom, for making me feel very special and loved on a day when I needed it very much! I love and miss you so much!!

My Very Aussie Christmas Card

This year, I wanted to send out Christmas cards that were uniquely Australian - but all I could find were generic Hallmark Christmas cards that were as sappy as they were incredibly ordinary (can something be 'incredibly ordinary"??)

So I decided to make my own card, which is very Australian and certainly unique...but then, I liked it so much, I decided to print it out and send it to everyone...but then I realized I have over 200 people on my Christmas card list and what with the price of international postage and in light of the current economic crisis and lastly considering the waste of paper resources - I remembered the power of the internet, and while some people might argue that an email (or a blog entry) is not at all the same as receiving a card in the mail, I might just as well argue that most of you have never, ever sent ME an email, much less a bona fide letter. Besides, my contact list is so out of control, I figured this was a really good way to find out whose address is no longer valid so I can start trimming the fluff...and also, I am very busy and incredibly lazy and am ultimately impressed that I even had the ambition to make the card AND write an email.

IF you are in anyway offended by this mass-mailing, by all means, let me know and I will personally trim YOUR fluff.

But, I digress...

Seriously, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year. I made this card just for you!

PS - this collage was done by hand...NOT on the computer...which somehow makes it more special in my mind.

13 December 2008

Down Time

When I moved to Australia, I made a resolution to accept every social invitation that was extended. While my record has not been 100%, I have been far more active in the last few years than is usual for me. With nine parties in two weeks (not counting spontaneous celebrations or random happy hour gatherings), I presently find myself on the brink of verbal exhaustion, not to mention impending liver failure. I am very grateful that Kevin has decided to spend the day in bed, leaving me alone with my thoughts in relative quiet and solitude - save for the cat who takes great pleasure in bouncing across the keyboard intermittently.

I consider myself fortunate that I am not cursed with an excess of ambition, that I am able to 'do nothing'. I am perfectly comfortable just to sit, neigh - to wallow, in my messy apartment unbothered by that nagging voice that says "you *should* be doing the laundry; you *should* be cleaning the kitchen; you *should* go brush your teeth." Sometimes I envy busy people and their lengthy list of personal accomplishments and achievements, but I also cherish the side of me that is able to take delight in spending a day watching the sun traverse the sky and observing the changing tapestry of cloud formations. On the down side, that means that this year, no one is getting Christmas cards or presents - so please don't contribute to my guilt by sending me any.

I thought today might be a good opportunity to catch up on my blogging, which I feel has not recently got the attention it deserves, but when I sat down in front of the computer, I realized I didn't have anything interesting to say - no charming anecdotes about my daily commute, no witty political dissertations, no scathing cultural commentary, nothing that did not sound self-centered or even boastful, and therefore dull. I reckon I am on the verge of a period of introversion, and during these times, I am usually rather bored with myself and thus incapable of believing I could entertain anyone else with my opinions or observations.

I have only one more week of socialization (three more parties and a day-long symposium) to survive before that most glorious of Australian institutions - the Christmas shut down. I am so tired, that I cannot even muster the energy to be enthusiastic about our up-coming two-week trip to New Zealand. Although I have heard nothing but glowing reports about the country, I really am not at all excited about visiting there. I have absolutely no explanation for that fact. I have our itinerary all planned out - very unusual for us, as we typically prefer to travel by whim, but I did not want to take risks during the busy holiday season of spending three hours in search of accommodations in unfamiliar territory. A sure fire recipe for an evening bitch-fest.

Hopefully, all that will change on Friday afternoon as I leave work behind and close the calendar on what has been a very busy and emotionally charged year. Maybe the change of scenery will be just what I need to recharge my curiosity and wit.

But for now, I really *should* go brush my teeth...

Fashion Follow-Up

...and I felt quite glamorous indeed!

06 December 2008

The Doctrine of Fashionism - Part 2

Fashionistas tend to espouse the philosophy that fashion is more about feeling glamorous than actually looking good. That philosophy has certainly dominated my own dress code, and apparently, I feel my best when I am dressed like a refugee taxi cab driver. Although they will deny it vehemently, my extreme disdain for the past-time of shopping can be traced to my childhood experiences with the two women who have contributed the most to my genetic make-up. From a very early age, I have held very strong opinions regarding the empowering abilities of my wardrobe. (My mother loves to tell the story of the year I insisted on wearing a long black cat tail that I had fished out of the dumpster behind a costume shop.) However, I am also a people pleaser at heart. I can’t stand it when people are displeased with me. This personal dogma can be very dangerous in the dressing room.

“Oh, that pant suit is absolutely adorable. You look so smart in it.”

“I feel like a complete dork. I don’t think I would ever wear it.”

“But why not?”

“How am I going to climb a fence in this? It doesn’t even fit.”

With visible expressions of disappointment, “It fits perfectly. Oh. Well. If you don’t like it, then…it’s just that you look so nice. But if you don’t value my opinion...tch.”

Guilt override. Nothing like a well placed ‘tch’. Then three months later “Why don’t you ever wear that pant suit?”

“Because I don’t like it. I never liked it.”

“Then why did you buy it?”

So these days, I shop alone. Even my best friends hate shopping with me. I am a very cranky shopper, and I truly pity the clerks that try to help me, but at least I don’t have to face them over Christmas Dinner when I am wearing pajama bottoms with purple tea pots and a bowling shirt that has “Bette” stitched across the front. Unfortunately, because clothes do eventually wear out and on occasion, I inexplicably gain 25 pounds, I am sometimes forced to make reparations to my wardrobe.

With the Christmas Party season in full swing, I recently decided that I needed a new dress to wear on a harbour dinner cruise hosted by Kevin’s company. I have not bought a new dress since August 2006 ($20 at Ross), and while I can still get it zipped, I felt sorry for the seams that were clearly straining against my mid section. Maybe if I ate nothing but ex-lax for the next week or contracted a mild case of cholera AND got my period early, I could avoid the painful task of shopping? Suck it up, Audra. Go to the mall. Heck, lash out. I decided that I would spend up to the lavish sum of $300 if I could find a dress I liked! Oh so naive!

I browsed through three levels of frilly summer dresses to the tunes of Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonder Land blaring over the loudspeakers. Very unsettling. Sadly, renaissance waistlines are still at the height of fashion for dresses here. Granted, I have never had much of a waistline, but it certainly does not reside just below my boobs – which, by the way, as a result of the above referenced weight gain have increased an entire cup size. Some may view that as a distinct benefit, but the consequences for baby-doll dresses are dire. However, since there were absolutely no other alternatives for waistlines – no slimming scoops, no drop down hip riders…

“Open your mind, Audra, open your miiiind.”

I selected the only three dresses in the store that even mildly interested me and made my way to the changing room. I tried not to look in the mirror as I undressed, as I knew I would be discouraged by the site of my naked body under bright fluorescent lights. I slipped on the first dress – a brightly colored floral print with a voluminous skirt. The waistline was shockingly low – it rested just above my floating ribs. I normally consider myself to be above average height, but I looked like a stubby little garden troll on popsicle sticks. I tried the next – a long silky black ball gown with a plunging neck line. Show ‘em off, why not? It looked like I was wearing a thousand dollar maternity dress. I didn’t even try on the third. I had experienced enough humiliation for one afternoon.

I took my whingeing to my co-workers and had a good old fashioned rant. Because Amelia is young and cheerful and doesn’t know any better, she offered to accompany me shopping at the bohemian punk-rock boutique stores in Newtown during lunch. “I will break you too,” I thought to myself, but I was feeling especially defeated. With resignation and my grandmother’s voice echoing in my head, I tried on every frock she fancied. Amazingly, I walked away with not one, but two new dresses – a long black number with red polka dots and red pleats and a full skirted picnic blue print dress covered with little tikki heads. And I kept within my original budget.

Now, I just need to find the perfect accessory…if only I still had my black cat tail!

03 December 2008

Someone Didn't Like Their Marks

Dear Colleagues

The University recently received a letter threatening certain, named individuals, all of whom have been notified.

In consultation with the Police, we are taking a number of preventative and precautionary steps to ensure the safety of staff, students and visitors. As a result you may see an increased security presence across campus.

While we are treating this matter seriously, the steps we have put in place mean we can continue a business as usual approach across the University.

If you have any specific concerns, please discuss them with your supervisor or manager who can report them to security on extension 13333.

Security Services