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September 25th, 2010

Wellington-9/15-18

Here's my attempt to catch up with all the stuff I couldn't post in Wellington before life takes over and I forget everything.  Given that I hardly know, just now, where or when I am, it seems perfectly reasonable to be posting something what I did 10 days ago.  In a few days, not so much.

We got here Wednesday (Sept 15, that would have been).  In the four days since, we've gone to a play, walked across Wellington situating ourselves, hung out at Joe's Garage and the Library, gone to Te Papa Museum twice, bonded with pounami (aka greenstone or Nephrite jade), and attended Yom Kippur services in a lovely little Progressive schul.  Also done some cooking, some laundry, and sat in the sun in Alan's front room, watching the weather roll over Wellington Harbor.

We like Wellington.  It's definitely a city, but it's a small city--the center is easily walkable (when it's not pouring down rain), there are theatres and cafes and restaurants and shops,, the streets are a comfortable width, the buildings are human scale and I like the architecture.  It reminds me of Amsterdam with skateboards instead of bicycles, hills instead of canals, and a lot more wind.

Thursday we spent in the company of Rani Graff, exploring the city and talking about Art, Life, and All Things Interesting,  We ate brunch at Joe's Garage, an Internet-abled, caffeine-fueled, good salad and sandwich-driven hangout maybe three blocks from Te Papa, which we have adopted, at least in part because it has free internet, and my Air won't hook up to Alan's broadband without an adapter that's sitting on my desk in New York, laughing at me.  Four days from the end of the trip, with two people already sharing the cable, I'm not inclined to spend precious Wellington time going out and finding an Apple store, so Joe's Garage is likely to be a regular stop.

But that's all by the way.  What I really want to write about is Te Papa, the large interactive museum of New Zealand life and art and culture we spent most of Thursday and part of Friday in.

It's a teaching museum, free, beautifully designed and laid out.  All the explanatory text is in English and Maori, and to my uneducated eye, it looks as if a real effort has been made to give the Maori the proper prominence in the narrative of the history of New Zealand.  Or perhaps it's just that I spent most of my time there in the exhibits dealing with the Maori and Polynesian explorers who were the first human settlers of New Zealand.  There were models of ocean-going outrigger canoes made of reeds the water could wash through without sinking, powered by sails woven out of palm fronds.  There were low houses like the ones we saw in Rawa's Village, only with lintels and roof-edges and beams and wall-panels carved with flowing recursive geometrical designs that reminded me of Celtic knotwork and with the fierce tiki, the stylized human figures that represent the ancestors and mark sacred space.  There were war clubs and pendants and ceremonial objects carved of the various woods that New Zealand is rich in.

And there was pounami, a whole exhibit of it--room after room of pendants and adzes and axe heads and tools and the ceremonial clubs that were signs of authority and alliance and  respect.  There were videos of men looking for boulders in streams and caves, carving jade with traditional tools (it ain't easy--greenstone is very, very hard), carving wood with greenstone adzes.  Scattered around the exhibit were good-sized pounami boulders on lighted stands, rough-cut and semi-polished, with signs saying "Please Touch," and giving the rocks' names and where they'd been found.  Ellen lay her head on two of the largest, and embraced them.  Being of a more self-conscious nature, I contented myself with petting them--especially one whose name I should have written down but didn't, that looked like petrified  running water and was like silk felt under my fingers:  deeply textured, strangely soft, faintly warm.  The colors ranged from almost black to spinach to leaf green, plain and with milky or rusty inclusions, murkily opaque to almost transparent.

Rani took a lot of pictures, but I'd incautiously left my camera in the cloakroom, so I went back next day to take pictures.  Which I haven't had time to download or upload or do anything with, because all my free time is spent trying to keep up with my trip log, so you're going to have to wait to see pictures until I get home and am jet-lagged out of my mind and can't do anything useful, OK?   OK.  (Still working on that, btw.  Maybe tomorrow.)

In the European section, the most interesting thing to me was a video called "The Golden Days," a brisk canter through New Zealand cultural and social history in family photos, news footage, TV broadcasts, popular music, home movies, posters and adverts.  The conceit is a kind of magic junk shop, where the antiques light up or rattle or (in the case of a cow-head mounted on the wall) turn and moo at appropriate moments.  A baby carriage rocked, for instance, as a montage of baby pictures went by.  The cow mooed during a section on the cattle trade, gruesomely, during an abbatoir scene.  It was kind of restful (the film, not the abbatoir) to sit in the dark for 17 minutes and watch the past unfold.   I'd have appreciated it more if I knew more about actual New Zealand history.  Maybe before the next trip. 

Wellington-9/19

This is the last of my pre-written posts, done right before the last-minute, omg, we're leaving in 3 days whirlwind set in.

In Sydney and Melbourne, we learned that spending too much time in a city makes us feel as if we haven't seen anything.  So when tyellas , aka Emily, who attended Ellen's alma mater Bryn Mawr and now lives in Wellington, offered (when Ellen met her at WorldCon) to take us on an expedition to the Hutt Valley, where the Rivendell scenes in LOTR were shot, Ellen accepted before the words were quite out of her mouth.

Of course, being us, we did other things too.

We'd read in the guide book that there was a good museum of the early settlers in a town called Paone, across Wellington Harbor, so Emily very kindly drove us there, with due warning that it wasn't very big.  This turned out to be an understatement. The museum occupies what was a bath house, built on the beach in 1930 as a place to change your bathing suit and wash the sand off before going home.  There were some artifacts, some quotes from various British and Maori sources painted on the wall, some grainy photos of glum-looking settler women scrubbing laundry in big tin tubs, the New Zealand Company's optimistic prospectus of the settlement, which failed to mention that the proposed town was sited on a swamp that flooded every spring.  A second room was devoted to the wool, auto, and machine industries that were built in Paone after a 8.5 earthquake lifted the land and diverted the river in 1889 or thereabouts.   Despite three videos of old news reels about strikes and life on the assembly line, we didn't linger, but headed into the town itself to take a look at a crafts shop Emily recommended while she shopped at a local market for the makings of a picnic lunch.

The shop was prime.  So was the picnic lunch, which we consumed at Kaitoke National Park--aka Rivendell.

I can't say I see much of Rivendell (apart from the signs, which are pretty comical).  The set has been dismantled, of course, and a lot of the visual drama was added later, in post production, when they took out the silver ferns and the cabbage trees and put in the wide vistas.  It's a very lovely spot, though, rich in gnarled and mossy roots and emerald grass and tall, lacy rimu trees, with a swift, clear stream rushing noisily over pale, round rocks at the edge of a small drop.  Apparently, in season, many scenes from fantasy films and TV shows are filmed on the pebbly shingle, but this is still the wet, cold season, so no activity.

Next, Emily led us over a swing bridge to a short forest walk.  The bridge is well-secured, not particularly high, and supplied with mesh sides and sturdy handrail--which made it just about doable for us, if we walked fast, and Emily went first and we didn't look down.  It led us to a short loop walk through the rain forest, on which I learned more about epiphites (nesting and rooting) and what a tui sounds like.

The last stop was the alpaca farm belonging to Stephen and Tamara: SF fan/SCA member/pastoral agriculturalists extraordinaire. 

As you'll see if you click through the link, alpacas are CUTE, especially when they're babies.  Long necks, little round ears, big, melty eyes, l-o-n-g eyelashes, and the cuddliest coat this side of a swansdown muff.  They are, in fact, large, ambulatory cuddly toys--except that they don't like being cuddled.  Alpaca mothers can't lick their babies, Stephen explained, so their only natural association with that kind of touching is herd dominance behavior, which is hardly pleasurable.  Still, they can be trained to put up with petting without humming, which is how they register anxiety.  And they're so cute.  Did I mention they were cute?  Ellen was ready to pack one up and take it home, only we didn't think we'd be able to get it through customs, ("Why is your baggage humming, madam?") not to mention our co-op board.   Also, they're herd animals, and although this is a big apartment, it's not the 25 acres of rolling, lushly verdant volcanic valley they're used to. 

Tamara and Stephen led us up and down the extremely steep hills behind the house, showing us this year's crop of baby alpacas, boys and girls separated from each other and from the adult females.  The animals keep the grass cropped to a velvety turf, interrupted by the occasional rocky outcropping, with a clear, cold brook chattering along at the foot of it.  It is almost unbelievably beautiful--although with the sun shining golden in a cerulean sky on apple-green new grass, we certainly saw it at its prettiest--like an illuminated manuscript, with alpacas instead of the more usual sheep.  We had a wonderful time, too, with Stephen and Tamara, who have read and loved many of the books we have read and loved.  Stephen very kindly offered to drive us over the Rimutaka Mountain range to the Putangirua Pinnacles, where the Paths of the Dead scenes in TLOTR were filmed.

[Which I will write about tomorrow, because I'm running out of juice, plus, this is getting way too long.]

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