Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Young Americans

I’m currently in a dingy email den in Christchurch, within full view of the very cathedral that gives the city its name. The carillon is playing loudly enough that I feel like I’m at the old office under Storke Tower again, and I can’t tell you how powerful the combination of nostalgia and homesickness can be.

The following is what I wrote in my handy-dandy travel-sized Moleskine journal only hours ago:

Somewhere over New Zealand, leaving the north island and quickly approaching the south. Mid-island, one might say. I might even say it. I’d say it before I’d write it, since I’m not sure if “mid-island” should be hyphenated. (I did hyphenate it, as some sharp-eyed readers have noted, but I’m not really sure if that was the right way to go about it. Like this, as it stands now: “mid-island.” See?) I saw a sign in Waipuk that hyphenated “ice cream.” Now that’s crazy.

Internet access has been infrequent — and when it’s available, it’s been either expensive or the slow, dial-up variety and on a sticky-keyed family computer. Or in some café in some hostel where some lanky Nordic type has been using it to watch silly Flash animations and then leaves the area immediately in front of the computer smelling like a cross between Brut and maple syrup. Anyway, you may note that I haven’t been blogging all that much, especially since I left Auckland five days ago. The good news for you, dear readers, is that they’ve invented a new sort of non-electric bloggery that utilizes a mashed, bleached wood fiber and some sort of non-digital writing implement. And believe me, it works loads better than the waxen cuneiform tablet I’ve been trying to take photos of whenever the writing mood strikes me.

In short, KrisDina and I have completed the first leg of our journey. (With three legs, apparently our journey is the Manx triskelion or one of those dogs that suffers an accident only to bravely hop along on his remaining appendages and consequently make me stifle inappropriate laughter and the desire to touch his stump.) In a short time, we’ll be landing in Christchurch, the largest city on the south island and the most British in the entire country. After spending three nights in Auckland with Cousin Francie, we drove south to Rotorua, the geothermal wondertown whose faint-to-overpowering sulphur smell I found pleasant and familiar. We then drove south through Taupo, the north island’s Lake Tahoesque resort city and into Napier, which is reputed to be the southern hemisphere’s art deco capital. After a night there, we went east to Waipukurau, my dad’s hometown for a few days before returning to the Napier airport.

That’s it so far. We’ve seen everything worth seeing between here and there, but I just don’t feel like delving into the smaller details quite yet. In lieu of them, please accept the following alternate synopses for our trip.

My trip so far as measured by my hair

The morning before I flew out of SFO for Auckland, I asked my mom to cut my
hair. Short. With clippers. Like the kind of way that negated more than nine
months of growing it out and which could have been done six months sooner and
allowed me to escape the stress of windy days, over-shampooing,
under-shampooing, cross-conditioning, trans-conditioning, hat hair and the
nagging thought that having my hair long and all in my face made me look like an
aging hipster trying to grow his hair in an effort to combat my hairline’s growing
fright and dread of my forehead. Post-cut, my hair has grown slightly each day.
Most tests predict that it will continue to do so. I appear no less bald, I’m
glad to say, then the last time I cut my hair like this, which was two summers
ago. (Not a good synopsis, I know.)

My trip so far as measured by potato chips
On the second day in Auckland, Larry took us to the grocery story and I bought a
bag of lamb-and-mint potato chips. Lamb with mint sauce is a popular British
dish, hence the availability of it as a flavor for potato chips. (Following that
logic, one most conclude, then, I suppose, that Americans most commonly enjoy
meals including such dishes as pizza, barbecue, cool ranch, spicy chili Cheeto
and salt.) I first encountered this particular flavoring (flavouring) when I was
in London a while back and I came to enjoy the strangely fruitful marriage of
meaty-umami (uumami) and cooling-refreshing (coouling-refreushing). Everyone
else hated it. In an act of either revenge or competition, KrisDina bought packs
of ham-dijon and Greek-tzatziki, respectively. I found the ham-dijon chips to
taste only like the kind of ham flavoring found in Top Ramen packets, with only
the unnatural yellow color to account for the dijon mustard. The Greek-tzatziki
chips were good enough, but I was irritated by the redundancy of the name of the
flavor. (Again, an act of competition or revenge, depending on how you look at
it.) We thought we had found a uniformly agreeable flavor with the fourth bag,
garlic-feta, but the chips proved brittle and the flavor weak. A devastating
loss. The remaining lamb-and-mint chips, I should add, were eaten by a peacock.
My trip so far, written in a false and surreal manner
Dina, Kristen and I rode a whale to Auckland, which is made out of butter and
lizard scales. We became loaves of bologna that could fly, which was helpful in
escaping the many dragons that live in New Zealand. Trolls traded us rubies for
our eyes, but with the rubies we can see through walls and into your soul — yes,
specifically yours and no one else’s. Then we dined on sea food and rubber
trees, which cried a lot.
My trip so far, as marked my various relatives’ pets
At Francie’s we enjoyed the company of an as-of-yet unnamed Tonkinese kitten.
Its tendencies led me to name it “Nibbles,” though the Russian half of KrisDina
called the cat “Rat Baby” on account of its sleek appearance and short hair.
There was also a scabby tabby named Tiger, of which little to-do was made.
Though Rotorua was without Mackies — and, thus, Mackiepets — we did meet a flock of peacocks in the parking lot of a natural hot springs called “Hell’s Gate.”
Many pictures were taken, and I mentally assigned the name “Miss Queenie Maria
Muffinmush” to the flashiest of the males. Upon entering Waipuk, we made the
acquaintance of Claude, a fourteen-year-old terrier mix belonging to my cousin
Kurt. Claude liked me enough to ride with me on a four-wheeler during a tour of
my uncle’s sheep ranch, but his chronically shaky legs gave out on a sharp
corner and he flew off the bike. Claude seemed okay, if a little dazed, though
he declined to speak to me again for the remainder of my stay in his home. We
spent the following day, yesterday, with my Aunt Jeannie, whose Jack Russell,
Buster, attempted to swallow his tail and momentarily became this perfect
dandruff-ridden canine version of the Oroboros. On the way out of town this
morning, we stopped at my Uncle Doug’s. Pets of note include a Border Collie
puppy named Dot, which I particularly enjoyed since my folks adopted our Border
Collie a good six months past his puppyhood, and a “pet sheep” called Dolly.
Yes, like the cloned sheep or world renown but decidedly not a clone, lest there
be two contenders for the title of “world’s fattest sheep.”
My trip so far, as marked my often-heard music

I listen to my iPod when I can. As I write this now, I’m listening to Guided by Voices' “Everyone Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking).” More often, I've been listening to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and the album by Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins. I’ve also been using the heretofore underutilized “on the go” feature to build a playlist of appropriate songs for my folks that I can burn to CD when I return. As we lack the ability to play the iPods over the car speakers, however, I’ve purchased two roadtrip mixes from gas stations: A ’70s summer mix, as the cover states it, and the “Ultimate Bubblegum Pop Collection.” Just for your edification, the following songs inexplicably appear on both albums: “In the Summertime,” by Mungo Jerry; “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum; “By the Devil (I Was Tempted),” by Blue Mink; and “Knock Three Times,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.

You’ve heard all four and you don’t need to hear them again. Believe someone who’s heard them enough to know.

The flight is now descending on the Christchurch airport, and I realize now that I haven’t even related selected which journal passages most deserve to be posted online, which was where I was initially going with this whole entry. Then again, this post is long enough as it is — I’ve been writing the duration of this entire ninety-minute flight — so perhaps any conclusion is a sufficient one.

Rest assured: I’m seeing things and taking pictures and will, shortly or not-so-shortly, relate them in future writings.

[ Ka mate koe i te kai hikareti — Liam E. Tenrental. ]

1 comment:

  1. Oh God. Not the lamb-and-mint chips, Drew.

    Hope you're having an awesome time :)