31 January 2009

When I Grow Up

Yesterday, in an animated fashion, I was recounting the details of our 8-course degustation meal had in the Barossa Wine Region over the long Australia Day Weekend (I ate pigeon! It was quite good, lean and beefy and not at all gamey, though I was disappointed in myself that I could not quite get over the fact that I was eating a flying rat). I concluded my anecdote by saying “It was fun. I felt really grown up.”

Then it occurred to me, that I am 41 years old. 41 years. Yet, I only ever ‘feel’ grown up on rare fleeting occasions. Most of the time, I feel like a confused little kid, constantly befuddled and amazed by the workings of the world and always uncertain of my place in it. This thought was quickly followed by the revelation that if I don’t feel grown up by now, I likely never will. Which made me suspect that most people probably feel the same way and those few people who do feel grown up all the time are probably the very people I typically classify as boring.

I remember the first time I felt ‘grown up’ I was 17. My grandfather had given me his old 76 Ford Pinto, and I spent the day purchasing insurance, getting a smog check, and standing in line at the DMV. At each stop, I wrote a rather large check from my account that had been funded by working extra hours at the library (among other more creative and less taxable means of income generation). It was an immensely satisfying feeling to run around town taking care of business, one of responsibility and maturity.

It occurs to me that people become addicted to that emotion, which might be why people create incredibly busy lives for themselves - because even insignificant activities, like wallpapering the bathroom, arranging fake flowers, or shopping for undersized odd-shaped pillows that perfectly compliment the red highlights in the bedroom drapes can provide a sense of accomplishment. Fortunately, my own addictions tend to be more meditative than industrious. Nonetheless, I still enjoy those ephemeral moments of grown-upedness when I ever-so-briefly feel like an adult steeped in self actualization.

And that is why I love going to wine country.

Even more than drinking wine itself (which, don’t get me wrong, is absolutely wonderful), the rituals and culture of wine and wine making are the embodiment of the process of cultivated maturation which seep into my psyche as I learn about the challenges of viticulture, the turmoil of harvest, and the complexities of ageing. As I practice using the language of appreciation, I develop a sensation of mellow profundity. Contemplating the multilayered metaphors of enological traditions, I become the embodiment of wisdom and gain a deep understanding of the subtleties of the human experience.

Then, after the third or fourth glass, the spell is broken, and once more I am a giddy little child with a remarkably low threshold of entertainment:

17 January 2009

Seurat Knew a Lot About Dots

When I was a kid, Channel 2 aired these charming little ‘commercials’ that have become an integral part of my memories of childhood, conjuring up feelings of hot lazy afternoons spent idle in front of the television in our cool dark living room. My favorite featured a little boy and an old man in a canoe. The boy asks, “Jimmy said I am ‘prejudiced’. Grampa, what does ‘prejudice’ mean?” He replied that it meant that you judged someone based on things beyond their control rather than for who they really are.

“But I don’t do that.”

“Who is Jimmy?”

“Jimmy is my Jewish friend.”

“Then you are prejudiced, because you think of Jimmy as your Jewish friend, and not just your friend.”

That last line has echoed in my mind for over 30 years. Not that it made a difference - I still use qualifying adjectives to categorize my friends, such as my Republican friend, my plumber friend, or my crack-head friend. However, I don’t treat them any differently…it just helps me keep them sorted in my muddled brain.

Another of the commercials was all about the French painter Seurat and his technique of creating scenes of harmony and emotion using colored dots. But it is not my intention to discuss the finer points of neo-impressionist art history, rather the catch phrase of that snippet has been on my mind lately as my world has been infiltrated by polka dots. And I have come to a very simple yet powerful conclusion:

Polka dots make me happy.

I have not yet dissected the reasons why such a simple design should have such a profound influence on my psyche (maybe it is because their qualifying adjective evokes images of people bouncing around happily to the strains of an accordion), but I cannot help but smile when I see them. They are frivolous, uplifting, unconcerned with rigid linear thinking, unencumbered by worries of global economic crises or airline safety records. Polka dots care not about their carbon footprint nor do they fear the CIA replacing sovereign governments with sham democracies.

One of my New Year’s resolutions has been to replace my daily consumption of coffee with green tea. To facilitate this goal, I bought myself a cute little polka dot tea pot with matching cup and saucer. These items sit beside me on my desk. I cannot help feeling cheerful as throughout the day, I reach over and pour myself a refreshing constitutional of herbal anti-oxidants, knowing that the polka dots are not preoccupied with thoughts of damaging free radicals coursing through my blood stream.

Yesterday, Kevin organized a picnic, and by organized, I mean he bought the wine, while I selected the venue, planned the menu, and did all the cooking. I was feeling a bit frazzled by the end of the day, but my mood was immediately brightened by the appearance of a rather peculiar flying insect:
I don't know if it was the polka dots or the cool little jazz-note on his tiny man-face!

14 January 2009

Warning: Potential Time Sink

The job itself may be a long-shot fantasy, but there are hours of entertainment to be had by watching the video applications:


03 January 2009

Nu Zilland - Finale

New Year’s Day arrived with a punishing hangover. Fortunately, our groovy host Steve gave us full license to sleep late, as he had given his staff the morning off anyway. I say Steve was groovy, because in my book, sporting a jazz note automatically makes one so.

We eventually dragged our aching heads and woozy stomachs and our mountains of luggage into the car and onto yet another twisty winding road, through yet more sheep pastures. The jokes bout sheep and New Zealand are no joke – there are a ridiculous number of the woolly beasts here in various stages of undress. I wonder what they do with them all when they stop growing hair? Probably auction them off as internet brides.

On our way down to Christchurch, we detoured through Hanmer Springs, a mountain town built around a hot springs resort. The tourist brochures made it look beautifully rustic, so with memories of our visit to Tabacon – a wild resort built along the banks of a volcanic river in Costa Rica – we eagerly set off in pursuit of a restorative soak in smelly mineral water.

Although the soak proved restorative, the resort itself was a bit of a disappointment. The rustic appearance of the tourist brochures clearly had more to do with clever photography than architectural ingenuity, and nothing sours an experience more than being squeezed for every nickel and dime at every turn of the corner…entry fee, towel rental, locker rental, exit fee…why not just have one fee and let me get on with it? It was bloody taxing to my throbbing head.

Reeking of rotten eggs, we completed our descent into Christchurch and opted for a quiet evening in with another bleu cheese pizza from Hell. Not the fiery depository of lost souls, but the extraordinary pizza kitchen to which I have previously alluded, who, to my great delight, turned out to be a nationwide chain. After several soaks in the Jacuzzi tub and another sleep in, we were ready to explore the greater surrounds.

We considered taking a ride on the gondola to the top of some or other mountain, but then we realized we could just as easily, if not much more affordably, drive there. Only we couldn’t drive directly there, first we had to drive through a long eerie tunnel through the mountain to the port of Lyttleton then drive up the backside of the mountain, which isn’t technically a mountain, but actually the rim of an ancient volcanic crater that rises out of the flat Canterbury plains along the coast like a giant chin zit that popped several thousands of years ago but still won’t go away.

In Lyttleton, we could not resist a visit to the Time Ball Station, mostly because we couldn’t figure out what it could possibly be. We’re still not sure about the time ball part, because we were reluctant to pay the $7 admission charge, but the hillside castle served as a communication station for ships at port through the use of a set of four coded flags. In this way, the harbour master could convey information about the tides, or the weather, or could warn the ladies that their husbands are about to return from sea and that they had better get back to their own beds.

We drove along the scenic summit drive, fearing for our lives on the narrow twisting track that dropped off to oblivion on one side. Creeping along, once more through sheep filled pastures, we followed the guideposts to “The Sign of the Kiwi”, which we thought would surely be something spectacular, but which turned out to be a sign that said, profoundly “The Sign of the Kiwi.” Eventually we came to realize that The Sign of the Kiwi was actually a stage coach stop of sorts that served wonderfully affordable ice cream.

“What flavor is Hokey Pokey?”

“Where are you from?”


“Then you’d know it as Violet Crumble.”

“Er, I’m really from the US.”

“Oh. In that case, it is Butter Crunch.”

“What’s in a name?” By any other name, it was still delicious.

We celebrated our last night in New Zealand with a flash dinner at a gothic church that had been converted into a jazz dinner club. Polished wood arch ceilings and an ornate pipe organ served as a sumptuous backdrop for a dinner of beef wellington served by aspiring singers and musicians. One of the better uses for a church I have experienced. Too bad the food paled in comparison to the venue.

Our final day in Christchurch was spent shopping for souvenirs and searching for the location on the Avon River where two weeks before, a brutally murdered prostitute had been dumped. I fully expected to find a pile of flowers and ripped fish net stockings, but evidently, that is bad for tourism. However, mentioning the crime and the investigation on every newscast and headline evidently is not.

Having run out of ways to entertain ourselves and being chased from the city streets by a violent hail storm, we arrived at the (shockingly empty) airport quite early. Upon check-in the gate agent and a pretty lady with a fancy hat began whispering about us over walkie-talkies. Remembering our immigration crisis upon departure, I flashed a worried expression. But then the pretty lady softly explained that our flight had been oversold and we were being upgraded to business class. I nearly cried as a Julie Andrews tune ran through my head… “Some where in my youth, or childhood…”

And so, as I sit in the airport lounge, with the last claps of thunder and flashes of lightning clearing from the sky, sipping Speight’s Gold Medal Ale, I have had the time to bring to a close this narrative of our wonderful New Zealand vacation. If there is one lesson I have learned, one take home message from this adventure, it is this: Keep your expectations low, and you will never suffer disappointment in life...indeed, you leave yourself open to be delighted with every little thing.

And...always grab life by the balls.

01 January 2009

Nu Zilland - Day Eleven - New Years Eve

The Kaikoura Peninsula features a wide plateau formed by uplift of the sea floor surrounded by a ledge of flat rocks that serve as the breeding grounds for large colonies of fur seals and sea gulls. Evidence of old Maori Pa (or forts) is still visible. I know all of this, because in New Zealand - unlike in Australia - such sites feature signs that actually have information on them, rather than nonsensical stories about dreamtime worms that shit out mountain ranges.

We hiked acros the large and very exposed plateau until our flesh was bright pink, then decided to return along the rocky coast - which was just as exposed and, miserably, much more difficult walking. We were absolutely fried by the time we finally returned to our car, which was luckily parked by a makeshift seafood restaurant which offered more restorative chowder.

A deep sun-burnt nap readied us for the evening festivities. We opted to avoid the crowds (ha) of the town pubs and decided to have our own party on our lovely deck.

As Kaikoura did not have much to offer in the way of a fireworks display, I decided to create my own show using a long exposure and playing with the lights that lined the boardwalk across the bay. I was throughly delighted with the results and now have sever megabytes of such:

As the other guests at the hotel pooped out one by one, we were left celebrating the midnight hour with a gorgeous 65 year-old Scotswoman, who has been surviving pancreatic cancer now for one year and three months. She had some very interesting things to say about taking life by the balls.

Happy 19th Anniversary Darling. Here's to an even better year.

Nu Zilland - Day Ten

We arrived in the beautiful seaide town of Kaikoura under a cloud of confusion that was quickly swept away by a delicious bowl of seafood chowder. In my attempt to include a variety of accommodation styles, I had booked us into an old-fashioned pub hotel located at the pier on the end of the peninsula far from the bustling town centre. Any misgivings about the inconveniences of shared bathroom facilities were immediately allayed by the soothing sounds of the surf pounding the rocks just outside of our balcony, the stunning view of snow-capped mountain peaks across a glorious aquamarine bay, and the presence of a deep claw-footed bathtub.

That afternoon, I set out on a solo adventure to go snorkeling with the resident fur seal colony. I was very glad that Kevin had changed his mind about accompanying me. Not that I didn't want to share the experience with him, but we have both finally gained the wisdom to know that he would not have enjoyed bouncing over 5 meter waves in a small open boat in order to plunge into rough frigid water just to have a large dog peer into his leaky face mask (mustaches and snorkeling don't mix). I, on the other hand, was throughly delighted with the playful mammals as a pair of selas frolicked in a bubbly game of chase in the water beneath me. Our guide instructed us to imitate their behavior when they approached. As one large pup swam by my face and rolled on the surface of the water, I did the same - which certainly got his attention. When I copied his duck dive and dipped below the surface, he was so charmed that he swam right up into my face and smiled his little dog smile beneath his round blue eyes. However, he swam away when I squealed with a childish thrill through my snorkel.