23 January 2012

New Zealand Chronicles | On The Road Again

8 December 2011

I'm not sure if it's typical to take a holiday whilst on holiday, but that's what I did. Yes, I had seen plenty, but there were apparently even better beaches further north. So, nearly a week after I arrived in New Zealand, Ang and I set out on a weekend road trip. Step one: load the car. Step two: find my new favorite breakfast. I didn't think it would be so delicious, hence the missing bite from the picture. 

It's a bagel with cream cheese, tomatoes, basil, oil & vinegar. It was perfect. I wanted to eat it again. Nothing fancy, just something I had never considered. The bagel was warm and everything else was cold. That may have had something to do with it. I'm not sure. Now I admit I've gone slightly basil - crazy since a bar(tender) in Santa Monica, but that's mostly been about cocktails. But this! This was something I promised I would add to my routine at home. Six weeks later I have yet to be in any sort of routine. Who am I? We drove.

Fascinating thing about tolls in New Zealand, you pay they after the fact. No FastTrak. No EZ Pass. You just drive. The cameras take a picture of your plate, and you have five days to go online and pay your toll. It's brilliant really. No back traffic back ups - important when your highway is only two lanes in each direction. No one has to worry about having cash or change. Tolls get paid without any  traffic slowdown whatsoever. It's the epitome of efficiency and I approve. We drove.
Eventually Ang got hungry (I'd say she really missed out on the bagel train, but she doesn't eat any of the delicious parts) and we stopped at a McDonald's. There, I saw the first of a series of confusing pairings. Kiwis wearing athletic apparel from two different American teens. There was a girl wearing a Lakers jersey with a Hornets hat. The clashing brought a tear to my eye. It was hard to watch. Fortunately for you, there was no way to discretely take a picture. We drove.

Inside the restroom.
We stopped in a podunk town, where we were told he had to visit the restroom. It sounded just that odd to Ang when she was told. But after being told more than once, we decided there must have been something to it. So, we set out to potty. It took two passes through the town to find it, and a third pass to find parking. Then, we were there, at the Hundertwasser Toilets. Easily the prettiest restrooms I had seen in a while. Instead of being an afterthought, these restrooms were an attraction. If you ever have to go near Kawakawa, I highly recommend them. Actually, you should visit even if you don't have to go. It may be Kawakawa's only tourist attraction. We went. And we drove.

Outside.

Next stop: Paihia, the main area for those seeking adventure in the Bay of Islands, or for those seeking to leave behind family and friends and move halfway around the world. It was in Paihia  where Angie had the adventure that made her love New Zealand. I think her trip there -- more than to other parts of the country  -- where the idea of residence became nascent. Paihia changed Ang. I knew that before I arrived there. But there's something extra amazing about being there and watching her tell me all about it.

Our trip through Paihia lasted as long as we were legally allowed to park: 30 minutes. I assure you, we saw plenty.





Pohutukawa blossoms


Helicopter tour from the side of the street.


We stopped at a farmers' market, because that's the Bay Area thing to do. We bought some delicious bread. I also picked up mozzarella and blueberries. Yes, I admit to a "see it want it buy it" problem thing. I'm working on it. I mean I'm working on it now. I was not working on it when I went from the farmers' market to the fudge shop.

Spent a lot. Ate no more than a sample's worth.
I am apparently not a big fudge person.
This reminded me of egg loving friends and XBFJ.
Looking at it also made me gag.



18 January 2012

New Zealand Chronicles | Earning Ham


7 December 2011

The trip flew by after my epiphany. We headed up to Mount Victoria to take a look at the city from across the bay. It was gorgeous. Don't worry, I documented. 



Toadstools.


Ang took pictures of me. She did not bother to remind me they were full body shots. She did not think to say "um Danielle you should fix the way you stand." I suppose that means she'll take me as I am, which is typically great. And me -- as giddy and as close to being in the clouds as I was -- did not think to look at the first five pictures. We should all just forget they exist. But I did get my act somewhat together. We had our first encounter with other Americans up there. It was less of an encounter and more of a "let's do our best not to be associated with them." Really America, a little class could do our national image good. Inside voices people, even when you're outside.

We bopped from Mt. Victoria to the North Head Historic Reserve, a crucial military installation in the universe where the Japanese were going to attack. Once we had all the pictures we could think to take and retake, we had to get to the mall.


Brilliant idea. You stand on those footprints and
the camera / monitor shows the truth.
That's right. I was on the other side of the Pacific, in a town called Albany, at a Westfield Mall. It was very un-holiday of me, but we had business to which we had to attend. Ang needed work grown work clothes. It dawned on me that I had somehow become an expert on such a topic, after insisting for years that it didn't matter. We shopped. Well, I shopped. Ang listed every possible reason why we were wasting our time. She talked about how she wouldn't find anything she liked. How what she would find would be too expensive. She mentioned the store wouldn't have her size, and that we were wasting our time because she wasn't going to get a second job interview before the one that was scheduled a few days from then. I tell you Angie's list of glass-half-empty-isms because she was wrong about every one of them. Every. Single. One. She found a grown up something she liked, could afford, and fit. She got a call for a second interview that would happen before the first. Positive things happened in rapid succession. I forced her to notice. It didn't stop her incessant nail biting or brow furrowing. But I like to think there were moments were she had perspective. And then we went to the beach bowls.

Lawn bowling is a thing. It's a big thing. On the night in question, it was the season finale. Ang, The Squash Player, The Ladies' Man and others (like the VERY important Sharron) have a team. Hold on.  I'm getting ahead of myself. Lawn bowling is a sport typically played by older people. The (unofficially named) Bowls Association started seasonal leagues as a way to get young people involved. It appeared to me to have been a success. One can never go wrong with 30- & 40-somethings competing over drinks for the possibility of prizes. Now as far as the rules, I did not quite figure those out. Bowls isn't really about the bowling anyway. It's very obviously about the chatting.

So. Ang & I arrived on time and met Grumpy Gus. Grumpy Gus might really be more of a Pensive Pete, but I'm being honest with my feelings here and he seemed grumpy at first pass. Grumpy Gus is a mate of The Squash Player. He also plays squash. Gus may have been grumpy because no one else from the team had arrived. I don't know. I was a guest. And he did not seem like the type to believe in full disclosure. And then there were more. The Squash Player and The Ladies' Man arrived. As did Sharron. Ang did not introduce me to Sharron. I somehow think that's what caused the subsequent confusion. I'm sure of it. I'm not giving Sharron a nickname, because she already has one. Come to think of it, that may also have contributed to the subsequent confusion. I could be convinced of that.  I met Sharron. Subsequently, there was confusion.

Angie has told me about everyone. She's told me a fair amount about all of them. I knew about people before I met them. I'd done a really good job of matching names to stories for days. I was impressed with myself, right up until the aforementioned subsequent confusion.

I had nothing on Sharron. In reality I did, but when I first met her, I drew a blank. And what could have been mild confusion was immediately exacerbated by her saying something akin to "I'm sure Ang's told you loads about me," and my replying "no, not really."

Gasps and guffaws, my friends. Gasps. And. Guffaws. Angie was across the field, unaware I was in that boat, up that creek and frantically searching for a paddle. There are no paddles in bowls!

In my haste to use my wits to rebound, I said "oh you work where [The Ladies' Man] lives." While that's true, it's worded poorly. Sharron's office is a house. At the time, The LM was living there after hours. So I should have said "oh, [The Ladies' Man] is occupying your office like a gremlin." Oh hindsight. You hurt me with your clarity. Ang returned from the other side of the field unknowingly on the defensive. She handled it (in my opinion) like a champ. Balls were rolled.  

The Ladies' Man.

Us.

Us. Without the zoom.


"Oh that's really good. Danielle get a picture of that." - The LM
As it was the last day of the season, there was a big feeds afterward. I ate as if I belonged, which I very much did not. Once dinner wrapped, it was time for the prizes. I'm going to go ahead and say the prizes were the best part of the evening. I now know what happens if your chief sponsor is a butcher. And I have to say never were more practical prizes awarded.

The prizes.


Ang, Jess(?), Grumpy Gus.


The big winners. Champagne AND ham.
Signing up for next season.



17 January 2012

New Zealand Chronicles | Sight & Perspective

7 December 2011

I woke up and just knew something was wrong. I mean it's normal for one of my eyes to wake up after the other. One just likes to stay shut a little longer. I do not believe in rushing the process, especially first thing in the morning. But on this morning both eyes wanted to open. Both eyes did open. But one could not open as much as it wanted. It was swollen. It was swollen a lot more than it had been on my first full day in New Zealand. I lay on my pallet, poking at it and taking pictures to help my diagnosis. I concluded something was wrong and proceeded to begin to go about our day. Ang knocked at the door. 

"Woah."
"Yeah." 
"Wow."

My eyelid was swollen. There was no itching. There was tenderness so mild, it could have been imaginary. My eyeball was not red. There was no gunk. Other than the grotesque swelling, all was well. But the swelling was just so grotesque. Naturally I posted it to Facebook and accused Angie of assault. One day, when these words have outlived us and some high school kid is writing about social media and the downfall of civilization, that last sentence is going to help him / her prove a point. But back to me. I was abroad and ugly-ish. This was potentially tragic. Fortunately for me, the cause was permeable. And after a shower, I was sure I wouldn't be a spectacle whilst walking. Well, at least not for anything other than being the only Black person in the country. That, I can handle. Don't forget - I live in Chinatown, Jake.
Ready for the public.

The Eyelid Crisis of 2011 had us right on time to have lunch with The Squash Player. I mean I'm sure we had some other pretense reason to get on his side of town, but this blog is just about reporting the facts. We gassed up, and hit the road. I would like to take a brief moment to explain the significance of this picture. I may have been the youngest in our graduating high school class, but Angie was the unlicensed-est. I know I've mentioned this before. But Angie with a car, Angie responsible for a car and its maintenance, is just something that may never ever get old. Okay. Off to meet The Squash Player. We went to Mac's Brew Bar, where I continued to be on the booze with a lovely cocktail. This might have been where my future plans for a home bar blossomed. I can't tell really. 
Pulp Fiction: Vanilla Vodka, Passion Fruit Pulp.
Basil, Lime & Soda.
Fish & Chips
Paying the bill.
A few things to note about restaurants in New Zealand. You pay at the register, even if it's a sit down establishment. They sort the bill at the register, making it super easy for each debit card to pay for what each debit card holder ordered. There are no taxes, no Healthy SF type add-ons either. You don't even leave a tip. Angie says it's because wait staff is paid an actual wage. They don't have to work for tips. And since it's not America, they're polite anyway. Fascinating. I did see some tip jars, and I probably got carried away when I decided to use them. 

Christmastime.

We lunched. We walked. I went to Starbucks. Full disclosure: I was excited for that. Does a soy latte taste the same halfway around the world? Nope. It's not better or worse, it's just different. I'm sure it has to do with where both the beans and the soy originate. It should also be noted Starbucks stores in New Zealand do not take Starbucks cards. That probably means nothing to you, but to me it meant paying for modifiers and not getting a gold star. I recognize the extreme "first world problem" reality of this. I'm just documenting, because that's what I do. 

Then we were off to the beach.

It was what we in "the business" call a "make good" for the Sunday prior. Where there had been rain, there was sunshine. Also, just as you would expect on a weekday in early December, there were young kids in school uniforms all over the beach. Some had taken off their uniforms to tan their awkward bodies. I heard them tease each other and giggle. I saw them walk in their cliques. It was all very normal, except for the number of adults there to witness it. Even if it had just been Ang & I, I don't want to be anywhere near kids in bathing suits or (even worse) school uniforms. We kept walking. 

We went back to the Takapuna Beach Cafe for gelato. We sat on a wall and watched the water. I told Angie she had totally changed my outlook on the world. I did my best to explain I had accepted a new reality, that validation is neither career no  job related. I had come to realize life is less about meeting expectations (something Ang & I had always done well) and more about finding what we expect from ourselves. In New Zealand I learned I had to determine what I want from life. It's not the same as naming what I want to be or listing what I hope to accomplish. It's not even finding what drives me. It's finding that thing which, at the end of the day, makes me fall asleep with a smile on my face and no regrets in my heart. I don't know what I said to Ang on that stone wall in Takapuna, but that's what I was feeling. It was amazing.


13 January 2012

New Zealand Chronicles | Night At The Beach

6 December 2011

Emergency situations have a way of changing plans. And on this particular Tuesday, my friend Angie was facing what I would certainly call an emergency situation. We spent the morning trying to address it. It was a very obvious team effort, with Angie working her contacts, making calls and developing plans while I captioned photos and began documenting my flight. Once satisfied with our mutual progress, we got down to the business of actually leaving the house. Ang got in the shower. And in walks The Squash Player.

This thing the Kiwis do with the knocking and the walking in is definitely an acquired taste. I heard the knock and froze -- because obviously the person on the other side of the door would know if I were typing. Once the door open I (mentally) sprang into action, thinking of how I was about to fight off a home invasion and protect my sudsy friend all by myself. It took you longer to read that than it took me to think it. And by the time I heard The Squash Player's voice and saw him, I was relaxed enough to say exactly what was on my mind to say. 

"Oh you are ridiculous." 

The Squash Player had put forth his own effort in response to the emergency situation. He had come during his lunch break to deliver flowers. It was so saccharine, I got a cavity. Unfortunately, someone's timing was wrong - though it's not clear whose. 

"Who showers at midday?"

TSP & I chatted, but he had to, you know, drive to work. As the door closed and I started to giggle to myself, Miss Ang strolls out of the shower. My giggles became guffaws. I told her she could probably still catch TSP if she were to run outside in her towel. She did not.

Now I'm not at liberty to say who photographed the flowers. But they were photographed, by a photographer type person. They really were quite pretty. We dawdled and probably ate something, though there are no pictures, so it must not have been delicious. Finally, we went to the beach. 

From the side of the road.
We drove to Muriwai Beach. Ang wanted to watch the sunset. Only it was summer, and we arrived more than two hours before that was even possible. We stopped at popular stopping point along the road and stared in Australia's general direction. There's something awesome about standing at the edge of a country. I love doing it here and I loved doing there. We sat there in the sunshine, being on the edge and, well, killing time before we could meet The Squash Player. (You didn't think he was gone for the day did you?)


Well the sand looks black there.
TSP met us and we went for a walk along the beach. The sand was black, but for some reason, my camera refused to accept that. Interesting thing about black sand, TSP says magnets will pull the iron out of it. Ang & I had never heard of such a thing (we studied TV folks). But none of had magnets, so I can't vouch for this purported science.


Watching his person.
There she is.


We happened upon a colony of Gannets, pronounced GAH-nets, and learned quite a bit about them. First of all, they have their chicks right where they were born. But in between being born and having chicks, they fly over to Australia. I imagine it's to sew their avian oats, and I'm not judging. The Gannets have their fluffy chicks on a very crowded rock, and if there was a every a place from which a bird could plummet to it's death, this was it. On the other hand, you could see a predator from a mile away. And I suppose they had all been born there, and they turned out just fine.


No story here. I'm simply telling you I was here.


Just disrespectful.
We also saw a couple taking wedding pictures. I took a few shots for Kate. She likes that sort of nonsense. I took (what I thought to be) a tone of righteous indignation over the groom's wearing of sneakers. Angie suggested these were only retakes, as the wedding party was not there. I conceded that as a possibility. Although her dress was being ruined. Shoes just seemed like the least he could do.

We walked up the beach. We walked down the beach. And still, the sun did not set. The Squash Player went home, and we two sat. The sunset was approaching. But you know what came before that? Clouds. Happy little clouds rolled in and did not roll out. I suppose the sun sets when you can no longer see it, be that because of the horizon or cloud cover. I found the whole thing anticlimactic. However my friend seemed uncharacteristically accepting of the ruination of her plan. I suspect that to be Squash Player related. But what do I know?

Lifeguard training.



Right when we left.

That night we continued relaxation with take away from the "International" Food Court. That's right, I'm questioning its legitimacy. Technically yes, food from a slew of Asian countries does make it "international," but I think that's disingenuous. Whatever. The noodles were delicious. I was just to hungry to take a picture.