September 16th, 2010


New Zealand--Bay of Islands

Hi.  We're in a cafe in Wellington, which is the only place I can get internet, owing to conditions that are too tedious to relate.  Here is my post about last week.  There's another one in the pipeline, not quite finished, and of course, we're having adventures in Wellington.  Tomorrow being Yom Kippur, there will be a day of rest, and then I'll try and sort it all out.  In the meantime, I present:  The Bay of Islands.

 When last you heard from the intrepid travelers, we were in Rivendell the Wiapoua Lodge, lapped in luxury.

We've come a long way since then. All the way down to Wellington, in fact, where we are ensconced in the back bedroom of a friend's house--which is perched high on one of the hills upon which Wellington is built. The room is a lovely deep red with green taffeta curtains and deep blue chairs, and plenty big enough for us and all our luggage, which seems--at this point in the trip--to consist mostly of paper-wrapped packages and souvenirs. Yes, we're inveterate souvenir buyers. Who out there is surprised? I didn't think so.

Anyway. Adventures.

Having explored the depths of the forest primeval, we thought we should give the sea, if not equal time, at least a day or two. After breakfasting on museli and fruit on the balcony at Tarletrons, we packed the car, backed out of their vertiginous driveway, and bought two tickets on Dolphin Cruises 4-hour boat tour of the Bay of Islands. The sun was being very coy, ducking behind clouds just when you were beginning to think it would carry on shining for a while, and the wind was playing cat and mouse with us. In the Bay itself, it was pretty calm, though, and we stood on the top deck and watched the angular, wooded, deserted islands go by.

I said I loved archipelagos, when I was in Finland. Yep. Still love them. It's amazing how many variations the world can offer on the theme. The islands in the Bay are sharp where the Finnish islands were rounded, with cliffs plunging down to a crescent of sand where the Finnish islands had tumbles of boulders right down to and scattered into the water. Both were thickly wooded with evergreen trees, but the New Zealand trees are sinuous, fleshy-leaved, twiggy or fronded where the Finnish trees are upright, needled, clean-branched. But the water between is still that cold, greeny-blue of deep salt water that foams up pale green and white in the boat's wake. And the gulls and terns on both sides of the world wheel and balance in the stipstream, hoping for tourist handouts.

We saw no dolphins or whales, sadly--this is not our trip for wildlife. We did, however, see the Hole In the Rock, a natural funnel worn by the waves in a high and craggy island at the extreme eastern edge of the archipelago, which Maori boys climbed to prove they were men and an old woman spent the end of her life in a cave, watching the sea for whatever it could tell her.

According to John, our Maori guide, old women were very important in traditional Maori culture. They formed the first ring of defense if a village (a pa) was attacked, they went out into the woods to observe what animals ate what plants and when and how things grew, they sat on hilltops, honoring the gods and watching for danger. They couldn't do much about the cannon and disease the European sailors brought with them, but they did the best they could. So did the elders and chiefs. The treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, was a wildly imperfect document, but at least it acknowledged that everybody involved was human, and formed the basis for some kind of dialogue, which is becoming at least slightly more equitable as time advances.

We stopped in Russell for lunch.  There's nothing quite as odd as a tourist town just off-season--lots of things are closed, but lots of people are busy painting and repairing in preparation for the hoards of tourists to come.  We found a restaurant open--The Duke of Wellington, a 1920's watering hole replete with kauri panelling and 60's wallpaper.  Lunch was excellent.  We stuck our noses in a few shops, caught the 2:30 ferry, and by 4:00 were wending our way past beautiful vistas of open grey ocean and pointy rocks and reed marshes towards Puhoi.

Where my next post picks up.  I just have to finish it.
La Loge

Wellington--The Guru of Chai

 We're back in the city. It's beautiful and peaceful in our friend's house--which we have pretty much to ourselves, since he works all day. But there are bright lights and restaurants and museums at the bottom of the hill--and a really nice small theatre, where we went to a play last night. I hadn't the first notion, going in, even what the play was called or what it was about or who was in it, just that a friend of our host's had painted the scenery--so long ago that she didn't remember what it was about either.

We ate at an excellent sushi-train, caught up as well as one can while sitting in a row with cunning rolls and slices of raw fish go whooshing by, and then went to the theatre, where we found our seats, but no programs. I was agog with curiosity.

As it happened, the scenery suggested painted and repainted Indian doorways, and there was a cloth embroidered with a figure of Ganesh on the backdrop, which was a pretty broad hint as to where the play was set. And the nice gentleman next to me (one of the things I love best about NZ is that strangers will chat aimiably and unthreateningly to visitors--about relatives in the US, about their children, about whatever you're both looking at--without anybody's feeling that they have to exchange contact information, or even names) said it was a one-man show and it would be funny.

The house lights went down, the stage lights went up, a scrawny white guy in a beard and loose cotton trousers came on and sat down with a banjo, a compact Indian guy in white came on, fit in a set of scraggly false teeth, and we were off and running.

I gotta say that I didn't think much of the open. The humor of humiliation just makes me uncomfortable, and the fact that the actor was needling everything--Westernerns, Indians, actors, audiences, middle-aged men, aging women, young people, sex, racisim, stereotypes, you name it--didn't make it any better. But no sooner had I resigned myself to a long evening of the kind of comedy I like least, than the actor began to move into a narrative about a chai seller in the Bangalore train station, scraping a living from selling chai to commuters who would rather go to Starbucks, who meets 7 little girls whose father has abandoned them and reluctantly allows them to sing at his chai stand.

It was wonderful. As the story unfolded, he was all the characters--the chai merchant, the oldest girl, the thugs who were the terror of the district, the policeman who protected the girls (and the chai man), the girl's poet husband and her child. The humor came from the characters, who were individuals, not types (except maybe the thugs), with strengths and weaknesses and dignity and a wry humor of their own. The tragedy (and it ended up tragically) came from the situation, which was grim.

The actor's name is Jacob Rajan. I don't know if he ever comes to the States (why should he? There's plenty of world that isn't the US). But if he does, I'm going. There's a whole series of these playlets--Krishnan's Diary, The Candlestickmaker, The Pickle King, The Dentist's Chair. After seeing The Guru of Chai, (yes, I finally scored a program), I'd go see all of them.

I might even buy a tea towel.