Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Teahouse at the End of the World

We're home again and back to our bunny. We came back through Los Angeles and visited Santa Monica and West Hollywood during our layover. I don't recommend getting lost in Beverly Hills and trying to find parking while in the throes of jetlag.

Going back in time to Wellington . . . Our days had developed a comfortable pattern of sleeping in, exploring the local sights for several hours (including the fantastic national museum Te Papa), and then retiring to the youth hostel for a late-afternoon Lazy Tea. On Saturday, our main event was lunch with director Jonathan King at the Chocolate Fish Cafe. Jonathan was gracious and funny and most of all incredibly tolerant of my introduction, in which I reported that my own film production experience was restricted to a movie I had shot in my bedroom. Jonathan had recently returned from a whirlwind tour of film festivals around the world to promote his horror-comedy Black Sheep, which opens in the U.S. on June 22.

Jonathan didn't go into all the nuts and bolts of getting his film made (we talked about that later), but the subtext of the hard work, building of relationships, acquiring of financing, and most of all the enormous persistence required, was quite inspiring. His belief in his project was tangible. I found in him a kindred spirit.

Weta Workshop had done the special effects for Jonathan's film, and he offered that we might be able to get a tour of the facility. This was a good-enough reason to linger around Wellington for a few extra days. We decided that we'd visit the nearby Wairarapa area.

Diane drove our little Kia up over the mountains north of Wellington, and soon we were back in the rolling hills of sheep country. For most of the day a dark shelf of clouds, penetrated by the occasional godray, hung overhead. We stopped at Lake Ferry, a small settlement between Lake Onoke and Palliser Bay. The contrasts between rocks and tide and shore, dark grey pebbles with flecks of jade, were remarkable. I could have lingered all day, but the Paths of the Dead were calling.

After winding around a curvy little road on the very edge of the North Island, we arrived at the park of the Putangirua Pinnacles. Unlike some of the other filming sites for The Lord of the Rings, the Pinnacles were impressive just as they were. Unfortunately, we couldn't explore them at any length, since the trail was a two-hour walk and we had no wish to journey through sheep country in the dark.

Back in the car, we passed a string of teenage boys straining to pedal their bikes against the fearsome New Zealand wind (truly strong enough, as an old friend once recounted, to blow the earrings out of one's ears.) The boys seemed to be issuing from (or were perhaps passing through) a small bedraggled hillside community that had a peculiar African shantytown feel to it. With no docks, the town's boats were held on shore by a haphazard collection of old tractors and bulldozers. One building in particular stood out, a square orange box in the center of town.
We soon saw signs for a teahouse and shouted with joy when it turned out to be the orange house. Pop hits from the Fifties crackled out of a boom box on the counter as we leafed through outdated women's magazines, some of which, curiously, were not about celebrities but instead the extraordinary circumstances and hardships overcome by ordinary Kiwi folk. I ordered a "fresh fish sandwhich" and ended up getting the New Zealand staple "Fush and Chups" -- perfect.

Godrays danced on the water as we sipped our tea at world's end. True, the dirt road snaked around the southeast coast of the North Island, but its line on the map was dotted, and you felt that you had reached the end of something.

The world had gotten smaller for us in New Zealand. One connection had led to another, we made friends we felt we'd known forever, until it seemed that nearly everyone was in some way tied to the larger purposes behind our trip. Diane, now studying yoga under Jenifer, lives on a boat in Nelson with her husand and his family, including sister Taya, who had painted the SS Venture from King Kong, which was now harbored along the Miramar Peninsula. Diane herself worked at Sublime Coffee, run by the son of Weta art directors Dan and Chris Hennah. And it was through fellow screenwriter Brett that we had met Jonathan.

We finished our late-afternoon Lazy Tea, gazed out at the pink sunset over the water, and then got in the car for our trip back to Wellington under darkening skies.

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Anonymous Eric said...

Good title. You know, you should really think about prose writing, too. These entries are getting better and better, with just the right number of details.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

Thanks. I'm having fun writing them. Maybe one day I'll have the opportunity to explore other modes.

12:08 PM  

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