27 December 2011

New Zealand Chronicles | In The Rain

Sunday, 4 December 2011

It rained. I called shenanigans. When Angie came to visit me (1, 2, 3, 4a, 4b, 5, 6, fin), we had glorious weather. It wasn't entirely my doing, but I helped; we made the most of every day. On my third day in New Zealand, we woke to rain. Not quite a downpour, but much more than sprinkles. We could only think of one indoor activity. But first we had to eat. 

I think I took at least one food picture every day. This little stack was perfection. Starting at the top, you are seeing Marscapone, pineapple chutney, buttermilk pancakes and meyer lemon syrup. I could talk about this for at least 40 words. But I won't. I'll just say it wasn't as sweet as one might think. Meyer lemons and pineapple have tart potential you know. And the Marscapone (which always makes me think of Giada de Laurentiis) was a lovely offset. It was really, really good. We ate at the Takapuna Beach Cafe, which is right where you would expect, on Takapuna Beach. Afterward, got dessert (because we needed it) from the store next door. I had a passion fruit cupcake. It was the beginning of my passion fruit awareness. I would grow to love it, though not to understand its seeds, and their hollow crunch.
There's a kite surfer out there.

We ate our dessert in the car, whilst watching the windsurfers. It didn't seem windy enough, but they were certainly giving it a go, eh? Kiwis say "eh" all the time. In Spanish it's called a "muletilla." I honestly don't know if there's a word for it in English. It's a thing people say just to say. But they say it a lot. 

Yes you are.

Our rainy day adventure was a trip to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I dislike war. But I like museums. So at worst the trip would have been a wash. Inside we saw a lot of Maori art and artifacts. I tried to wrap my brain around New Zealand's history. I knew nothing about it. I wondered how similar its native vs Caucasoid history was to ours. Unfortunately, I didn't see anything explaining it all. Angie didn't know either, which was perplexing as she had lived there for two years before I arrived. Ang isn't much into reading (or writing). It's not like she's a math person, she just doesn't like to waste time with words. Yeah I don't know how we work. We just do. 

A ship that carried 100 warriors.
He reminded us of our dead friend at Tawharanui.

Angela won this by playing "guess how many marbles."
We killed some time after the museum, and then went back to Chapel. Chapel Sundays is a thing. I would later describe it as a college atmosphere for 30 & 40 year olds (and me, at 29). There were two DJs, playing music I thought counter-intuitive to a bar. Think Queen + title tracks from several 1980's movies. There were heaps of people and a few acting like fools. And then there were celebrities. Fighters and other rugby sorts from Fight for Life showed up for an afternoon of drinking. I wish you all could have seen it. It was like a Friday night with the lights on. People kept asking me if I was alright, because I was just sitting in a corner frowning. I told them I was just trying to take it all in. Once I got it (or at least got close to getting it), I wanted it. I wanted this neighborhood thing where people met and became friends and made bad decisions, but didn't judge. Chapel Sundays represent a pointless good time with people seeking the same. It's brilliant. First item on the "When I Get Home" list, find a silly bar to make my own. It would not be like Chapel; America likes to forget the 80's and their title tracks. But it would be my own brand of silliness.  

Moonie. Ang met this classy gem like four years ago. He helped her decide to move there. He's... um... yeah.

One of the fighters who lost the previous night. I told him he should've kept his guard up.

I also met a builder named Dan. He was wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap & I asked him if he had ever been to Pittsburgh. Turns out he had. He went to Notre Dame, got a Masters in Architecture and worked in Baltimore for a few years. He said he lived on the "hard" side of town, which was a few houses down the beach from where we had brunch that morning. Must be rough. He gave me his card and invited me out on his boat before I left town. But the boat ride conflicted with my trip up north with Ang, so it never happened. Still, it was a pleasure to be asked. 

Just as Chapel Sundays come, Chapel Sundays go. People part ways and go home to get ready for Monday. I (playing the part of a local) went and did the same.

New Zealand Chronicles | Doing It Right

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The point of the day was to hit two beaches and possibly watch a I know. It's a tough life vacationing in New Zealand. We left Matakana and made our way to Tawharanui, that's taf-ra-NEW-ee. Forget how it's spelled. That won't help you. The "wh" (obviously) makes a "f" sound, just like a "ph." Clear as mud. We drove through all kinds of countryside. There were cows and sheep and horses and a lot of grass. It's all quite lush and while I was looking for something akin to Middle Earth, I was reminded very much of Jurassic Park, the first one. You know the part when Sam & the crew are running with the velociraptors from the T-Rex? Sam is his real name, it wasn't his character's name. But whatever. If you saw the movie, you know the part. And that's what I was waiting to see around nearly every corner; a man and some kids running with a herd of dinosaurs. The whole ride was an adventure.

Tawharanui was beautiful. It was (as I've started saying) beyond. There's not much that happened on the beach. We sat. I read. Angie started planning the next leg as soon as we had the blanket down. It goes back to her "journey is the reward" nonsense. It was a constant battle to get her to stop and take the moment. I'm not sure which of us won. 

The view in one direction.

The view in the other direction.

We sat on the beach and did what we used to do on the phone. We talked about people we both know. We talked about our families. We talked about the uncertainty of the future and about years spent chasing things / accomplishments that all of a sudden did not matter. We were quiet. We picked up and went for a walk. 

I could go on with these forever.

Dead fish next to a rock shaped like Australia.

The open road.
Eventually we left. I'm not sure why. I could have sat there for two weeks. We got back on our gravel road (that totally connects to a slightly larger road) and headed in the direction of another beach. We stopped at the Okakari Point Marine Reserve and got a look at Goat Island. There were people snorkeling and other people getting ready to surf. Bless them and their ambition. 

A stop along the way.
Goat Island.

Birds on some poles.

Yes. I saw those clouds. No. I don't know if Angie did as well. I do know we drove right into them, via a windy road that went up (then down) a mountain. I convinced Ang there would be less cloud cover once we got to sea level. It gave her enough (false) hope to get us there. "There" was Pakiri Beach. Just like every other beach we would visit, there were only a handful of people out. It's as if the Kiwis don't know what they have. Obviously it takes to Americans to really do the country right.
To one side...
To the other side.

That night Ang & I met up with The Squash Player & mates to watch a Fight for Life, charity boxing match between rugby players. And apparently not all rugby players are created equal, some were "league" players, and therefore not "professional" players. I guess I would compare it to NFL players vs arena football players. But I know nothing about arena football. Does that even exist anymore? Irrelevant. On my first Saturday night in New Zealand, we watched a boxing match. I was so local. And I loved it.

26 December 2011

New Zealand Chronicles | Perceiving The Journey

3 December 2011

I slept until I woke up. And with no obvious signs of Angie being awake, I slept some more. Full disclosure: there was no way for me to see any sign of Angie being awake. I lay on my pallet in my room with the door closed, and she did the same. It was glorious, aside from a slight discomfort above my left eye. As with any malady, I believe in poking first, finding out that was a mistake later. There was no pain or itch, just some puff. My eyelid was puffy. It was barely noticeable. I showed Ang, who'd had her own eye thing just a week prior. We (with dual degrees in communications) deemed it harmless, and headed to the markets!

Ultimately, we were heading to a beach, so we dressed and packed accordingly. We set out with Angie (of course) behind the wheel, and we headed to Matakana. Along the way, we stopped at every lookout Angie deemed worthy. I suppose now's as good a time as any to tell you Angie and I are not very similar. Where I would get directions and get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible, Angie would head in the direction of Point B, and veer off the road at the first sign of a scenic overlook. In the event she was hesitant at the first overlook, she would definitely stop at the second. She has what she & The Squash Player aptly call FOMO: F(ear) O(f) M(issing) O(ut). FOMO is what has led Angie to the secret discoveries she now delights in sharing with people like me, who are typically boring and just follow the rules. Ang is one of those "the journey is the reward," people. I'm more of a "we won't rest until we get there and rest," sort. Her reward is in the sharing. Mine is in the surviving the unbeaten path. Somehow, we work. 

A very large tree.
I got nothing.
Polenta with peaches, plums, honey and cream.
When Kiwis say "markets," they mean Farmers' Markets. The Matakana Markets are a thing. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a great variety of foods. We arrived toward the end, and we hadn't eaten. So we kind of inhaled food first and thought about it later. First, a soy latte. Then a lovely ricotta and something calzone. I had my wits about me when it was time for the polenta. Best I remember having, and I have a good memory. I waffled on getting a crepe, and by the time I decided to go big, it was time for the crepiere to go home. It was time for us to get our Saturday started as well. To the beach!

21 December 2011

New Zealand Chronicles | 21 + 10 = Angie

2 December 2011

As the clock struck the last possible moment to both go shopping and be on time for the party, it occurred to me that there had been a shift. I can't even call it a "role reversal," because it was just something that had never been. I was insisting  Ang & I go shopping. I was insisting Ang & I go dress shopping. I told myself it was less about the shopping and more about the birthday. And most of that was true. Birthdays bring temporary spotlights. The subject of which (I feel) ought to be presented in their best light. It's part of my birthday belief system. But I digress. 

Angie hates shopping the way I used to; the way I thought I still did. We went from store to store and while time stayed constant for me, I could see it dragging for my little friend. Don't get me wrong, we found a dress. It was the hunt for accessories (and lack of Diet Coke) that was killing her. Angela is a trooper. She would have kept trudging had I insisted. But she was not having fun. So I did not insist. Naturally everything worked out perfectly anyway. 

We went home to get ready, and in walks The Squash Player. Now, when I say "in walks," I literally (pronounced "LIT tra lee" by Kiwis) mean he just walked into the house. As it was explained to me, it's perfectly okay to leave your door unlocked. Angie (ever the extremist) left her front door wide open. I work in news. I tried to explain home invasions (They HAPPEN!) to my friend. But she's gone native. So. In walks The Squash Player.

Watching Cricket.
Ang asked me how I would describe The Squash Player. I didn't know then and I don't know now. I let my fingers do the story telling. I've known of The Squash Player for quite some time. Quite. Some. Time. I've known him through Angie's experiences, which have been many of late. The question begs to be asked; what's going on there? The good news for you, inquiring minds, is that I am not afraid to ask such tough questions. The bad news, I have to ask Angie. If there is one person who cannot articulate Angie's inner workings, it's Angie. I've got nothing other than what I observed. We'll get to that. 

What passes for a backyard apparently.
In walks The Squash Player. There were smooches (I listened for them), but that doesn't mean anything, because smooches in New Zealand are as common as RTDs, which are quite common. We all got ready, and then it was party time. We went to Chapel Bar + Bistro. It's dangerously close to where Angie lives; I went home once to get our sunglasses, and again to drop them off. We stood outside at first, though Angie had reserved two tables out front. She was 5 feet of fire when the tables weren't ready, but it didn't really matter. While we were waiting, I saw a familiar face. It was a surfer who had been in the security line at LAX behind Negative Nelly. I stopped him as he walked by the bar.

"Hey it's Good Attitude Girl," which I guess would be my super hero name. 

The Process.

Angie had her birthday at Chapel. She was in her element. It was the perfect way for me to put names to faces, and connect some dots. I also got to roam and observe. I asked the bartender to make me what he makes best. He got really excited. I single-handedly slowed bar service for all while limes were squeezed and a jalapeno(?) was retrieved. The end result was a fancy margarita with a hint of vanilla and just enough heat to make you take notice. Swoon. 

Love a lady on the 1's & 2's.
The end result. Also, the garlic flat bread is highly recommended.

Good Attitude Girl.

The craftsman. And some shots.


From Left: Nigel, Elanor, Angie, Me, Jason (The Squash Player!)

Add caption
And so passed my first night in New Zealand. I drank a lot. I ate a lot - chips come by the bucket you know. I met a lot of people. There was a lot of smooching. I stopped to commit all the little things to memory. Acknowledging them made me realize I was a Grinch; my heart had become ten sizes too small. There's a happiness that comes from simply being in a place with happy people. I couldn't complain about work or gossip about anyone. I couldn't run errands or read or go to the gym. I was left alone to be just me, in that place. I was content. Welcome to New Zealand. 

New Zealand Chronicles | Land of Opposites

2 December 2011

Angie drove us home. Sure, that's a logical occurrence and should be of no great import. But in the 20+ years I've known her, Ang has not driven. She didn't get her license until after high school. I didn't have mine either, but I was 16. She was 17, and obviously slacking. By the time Angie did get her license, we had already started that "let's live as far apart as possible" thing that we do. I heard tell of driving, but never actually witnessed it. And then all of a sudden, I was standing outside a car door on a gloomy morning in Auckland, New Zealand. 

"You have to get in on the other side." 
The Kiwis drive on the opposite side of the road from we here in the States. That was unnerving. Angie behind the wheel was unnerving. The propensity for roundabouts was unnerving. It was all quite stressful. Of course Angie did fine. She's a giddy little driver, singing and signaling. It was still weird - I didn't even get a decent picture - but it was really. Angie drives. 

I gushed over her flat. It's quite nice and at some point I'll tell you why. But when we got there, we were in a mad rush to tell the world we were together. It doesn't happen that often you know. We created a place that was her flat and checked in on Facebook. It was really the most important thing at that time. I promptly told the the world I was taking a shower. Again, it was the most important thing at that time. Then finally, after what had been nearly an entire year, my friend and I set out to eat delicious food. 

We went to a place within walking distance. I had a soy latte, carrot cake, and a chicken - Gorgonzola pannini with pesto sauce. I was pleased. Full disclosure: there will be a lot of pictures of food this trip. Not that any of the food was overly exotic. But it was pretty. And I'll want to remember. I was happy to get soy milk, which I could not get on the East Coast when I went back in October. And the carrot cake had more pistachios that I'm used to seeing. I said to myself, "self, that has to be delicious." And I was right. It should also be noted that Angie would not eat any of the foods pictured below. She doesn't drink coffee. She doesn't like sweets, or carrots, or pistachios. She does not eat Gorgonzola. I'm not really sure why, it's delectable. But I don't judge. That's more cheese for me. And despite what my doctor says, that's a good thing.

Soy Latte & Carrot Cake

Chicken Gorgonzola Paninni w/ Pesto

We're the same. But different.
After brunch, we hit the road. The sun had started to shine, and we went to the beach at Mission Bay. We didn't walk the promenade or visit any shops mentioned in that link. I just wanted to show you the options. No, Ang and I sat. We tried to take in the moment. The "we two girls who grew up in the 'Burg are now in New Zealand together on a beach in December" moment. I think it was a little too large for us. Ang pointed out "her" Brown Island, which is just a chocolate chip of land with nothing on it. Maybe one day. I mean stranger things have happened. 

Happy Faces.
We talked about the real reason for the season, Angie's birthday party. It's why I had to arrive when I did and therefore why I had to fly through LA. Angie had reserved tables at her neighborhood bar. People were coming. I thought everything was set. We were hours from go time when Angie mentioned (casually, no less!) she didn't know what she was going to wear. This seemed to me an egregious oversight. In the name of birthdays and parties and special attention and really all that I hold sacred, she needed a dress. I insisted. I strongly insisted. I forced pushed Angie to take us to a mall. She agreed. But first (in this land where Angie drives and Danie shops) we had more sights to see.

We stopped at a lovely overlook dedicated to a politician. We stopped on the $6 million street. We stood atop a volcano, where I found Angie's first gray hair. That gave me the giggles. It was decidedly much more traumatizing for my friend. It would have been nice if I could have shown  compassion. But alas, I did not have any. Only giggles. Oodles of giggles. 

View from Paritai Drive.

View from Mt. Eden
Moments before the gray hair was spotted.