Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coffee and Friends

We're back in Wellington for a night after a weekend yoga retreat in Waikanae. More on that next time around; tomorrow morning we return to Nelson for a couple days, so I want to catch up on last week's doings before we accumulate this week's.

Highlights included a busy Thursday catching up with a couple of friends. First up was Jack Machiela, who had led an excellent Lord of the Rings tour we had a taken a few days into our first visit to Wellington. We met for coffee at Mr. Bun's All-Day Breakfast, a short walk from the YHA down Courtenay Place to Taranaki. We enjoyed our drinks and discourse on all things cultural, political, social. Jack caught himself at "ranting" (his word) once or twice, exhibiting the same passion he displayed for the movie trilogy and the tourism industry, but this was exactly the kind of trail magic we'd been so fortunate to find on all our trips. It's not every day you can catch up with someone from your journeys and not miss a beat.

Lunch was Caffe L'Affare with writer/director Jonathan King (sorry, Jack!) and his wife Rebecca. Jonathan was newly home again after a stint at the Cannes Film Festival to secure international distribution for his recently completed second film, Under the Mountain. His trip home made our series of flights look like child's play, but he seemed energized from the experience; soon enough he would be heading out on the more demanding promotional side of the equation, which is where we caught him last time. We talked shop, of course, but the key takeaway was my introduction to the Trim Bongo. Ryan Rasmussen's Prohibition had already been lifted earlier in the trip, and I'd just had a Long Black with Jack, but this was a tiny little shot of a drink taken purely for pleasure, and I course I had to relent. (Keep in mind that Wellington has more coffee shops per square foot than NYC.) Jonathan did a fair American accent in capturing our general "if a little bit is good, even more must be better!" approach to consumption.

Later, I was lucky enough to join Jack again for a trip to Miramar to visit the recently opened Weta Cave. I'd been debating whether to make the effort since I'd already toured Weta Workshop itself. Jack's friend Mark, previously a bookseller and one of the first to carry Weta's Lord of the Rings products before the storm hit, would be interviewing for a position in the Cave, which is part shop, part museum. Arriving half an hour early meant an occasion for more coffee, of course, and it was here that I drew my line and went for the decaf Long Black. On the way, we ran into Weta designer Greg Broadmore and new-business coordinator Linda Hughes. Once again, everything seems wonderfully integrated here, and it seems hard to go anywhere without meeting someone tied to the film industry. And this is not a bad thing.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Of Wind and Water

We knew our stay in New Zealand would correspond with winter, but apparently the winter weather has arrived early this year, and winter weather in Wellington means cold and wet. One of our contacts had congratulated me on my bravery in choosing this time of year, but I secretly scoffed at what I took the Kiwi definition of cold to mean. I've lived in Pennsylvania all my life, and Pennsylvania gets snow and temperatures below freezing, and sometimes below zero, and once I'd run in minus-30-degree weather and my eyeballs darn near froze, so I thought I knew something about a lack of appreciable heat.

The thing about a Wellington winter, however, is that wind and water are added to the mix. In fact, I suspect that the city engineers, following the progressive model of the YHA Wellington City (the youth hostel at which we're initially staying) and its eco-friendly showerheads, have taken it upon themselves to conserve the region's water resources by aerating the atmosphere itself, with the result that it doesn't rain, which would involve the typical downward movement of precipitation, but spritz. The local meteorologists, to my knowledge, do not use this term, which is misleadingly docile, though yesterday The Dominion Post did proclaim, at the top of page 1: "A particularly foul, miserable and revolting weekend."

This would lead one to believe that the locals themselves find the climate disagreeable, and sure enough there is complaining to be heard if you are alert to it. And yet I have seen more runners and cyclists "braving" these elements in attire that would be more suitable for a Pennsylvania summer, which is to say very hot and very humid. I'm not sure what the deal is.

In any case, I don't mean to suggest that I am complaining, it's just that I'm still in the throes of jetlag and therefore occupied, perhaps more than usual, with minutiae. I've also noticed, however (and approvingly), the city's new fleet of taxis, neon-green Prii, cruising the streets. There are other cool things to report, as well, such as the nearby Central Fire Station, which looks like a perfect Legoland version of Art Deco; the scores of white-painted Victorian homes nestled in the green hillside of Mount Victoria; the charming cable car that's been running up the side of Mount Cook to the suburb of Kelburn since 1902 (and which took us up to a restaurant and bar named Red Tomatoes, with surprisingly good pizza); and, of course, the brilliant aquamarine water of the harbor. No, there is a quite a lot to love here, and we've still only scratched the surface.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Return to the Land of Tomorrow

Tomorrow Jenifer and I head back to New Zealand for three weeks. Joining us for his first flight will be Master Hawk, as he was dubbed by the airline. We look forward to taking some much-needed time off, catching up with our friends, and seeing what we can see.

As usual, I shall endeavor to report our antics, though the accompanying photographs may not appear until after our return. See you on the other side!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City

Opportunities multiply as they are seized. — Sun Tzu
Good news: friend and frequent Holy Embers commenter Eric Lehman has a new book out. His first published book, Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City is a collection of stories about the adventurous, even heroic, characters that helped bring their small Connecticut town to prominence in the 19th century. A few chapters in, however, and it’s apparent that Eric’s written not a cultural history of Bridgeport but of the country as a whole: a history of America in miniature.

The book, available here, is an engaging, entertaining account of figures grand (P.T. Barnum) and small (General Tom Thumb). I’ll leave you with the end of the book’s prologue, a fitting summary of the initiative and ingenuity which marked Bridgeport during its golden era and for which America became famous.

. . .

[The Marquis de] Lafayette did not foresee it, but this small town would become a center of creative industry and would one day evolve to be the largest city in Connecticut. Its people would watch the sea and take to the sky. Its inventors would transform the fields of metalwork, sewing and dental hygiene. There would be famous colonels and famous cartoonists. Two of its citizens would go on to become the most popular entertainers of the nineteenth century. Thousands of others would help America win both World Wars. But first, those people needed a little elbow room. Twelve years after the famous hero of the Revolution passed through Bridgeport, the townsfolk asked for a charter from the state of Connecticut. They would become their own city at last, and live proudly in the inspired vanguard of the possible.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sunday Afternoon

UPDATE May 19: Hawk is indeed growing! As of Monday he measures 29 1/4 inches and weighs 16 pounds, 12 ounces. Big boy! Oh, and he likes apples but not bananas. And cheese. He loves at least five kinds of cheese, including Havarti. Cucumbers are good, too, and carrots. And we mustn't forget the green beans.

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