oot and aboot / from the kiwi road less travelled

three reasons why i’ll never be a travel writer:

3.) you need to have an attention span; i had mine surgically removed some years back.

2.) you need to make careful observances about regional landmarks and scenic things, and take lots of notes. i am unable to do those things when i travel. i eat what’s in season, and i drink what’s on tap at the local pub, and i take pictures of visually appealing meals that are plunked down in front of me, and i stare at these most amazing clouds, and i forget the names of almost everything that is shown to me, so that later, when it comes time to write about these things, i can’t remember a thing.

1.) you need to capture the essence of place in your writing, in a way that is compelling and interesting for the reader. being totally self-absorbed, and constantly in search of comfort foods, i tend to capture little but the essence of what’s on the end of my fork at any given time.

that said, what follows is the sum total of the woefully inadequate jottings from my upside-down travel journal, new zealand, 2009.

january 16: finish packing. tidy computer desk. clean basement. leave for auckland, 4 p.m. flight

jan. 17: the lost day

jan. 18: arrived in auckland 5 a.m. it took half an hour to get our bags and another 30 minutes to get through various customs checks. a security beagle sniffed out my cashews, which were missed (ha!) by the spaniel.

lindy’s friend claire met us at the airport and drove us to blockhouse bay road. had coffee/tea and chatted a bit, then went for groceries (to two stores, and still forgot some things, which meant another trip out later in the day.) i slept from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. while lindy and claire went out walking. ate lunch around 2 p.m. — bread, cheese, tomatoes and a nice hummus with jalapeno and lime and even coriander (which was, mercifully, disguised by the jalapeno).

took my camera for a walk for about an hour, and then sat on the back step and stared at claire’s clothesline and garden. dinner was pasta with artichokes, olives, rocket, preserved lemon and haloumi. yummy.

claire and lindy at galbraith's pub, formerly a library

claire and lindy at galbraith's alehouse, formerly a library

jan. 19: woke around 5 a.m. after seven straight hours of sleep. got up at 6 and made coffee. there’s a bit of rain but also lots of blue sky above. to get: coffee. claire took us on a literary tour of auckland / ponsonby / devonport (lunch).

jan 21: gannet colony (takapu refuge) and muriwai beach.

jan. 22: vector arena. leonard cohen concert. 7:30 p.m. awesome. 26 songs, including seven during three encores. (when cohen sang the line, “democracy is coming … to the u.s.a.” — this being two days after barack obama’s inauguration — the entire place erupted.)

jan. 23: women’s weekend at whatipu lodge.

jan. 24: walked two hours up big hill overlooking the water. (ed’s note: see what i mean about lack of attention span? details, macfayden. grab some freakin’ details.)

jan. 25: sick. sore throat and flu-ish. left whatipu (pronouced fa-ti-poo) around 2. stopped for lozenges on the way home. (thank you, claire.)

jan. 26: *mail birthday card to shelley. 7:30 a.m. train to palmerston north — 10 hours. met by maree at 5:30 p.m., then about a half-hour drive to tangimoana. still feel sick. ate supper at 9 p.m. — zucchini soup, potatoes and beans, pasta with zucchini and beets. sabine made me thyme tea with honey for my throat. (thank you, sabine.)

sand dunes at tangimoana

sand dunes at tangimoana

jan. 27: toast and honey for breakfast. walked with lindy to what we thought was the sea, but was in fact the mouth of a very large river. took lots of pictures. had soup for lunch. sabine made a thai curry for supper. still sick.

jan. 28: throat worse. (like i swallowed razorblades.) sabine & maree insisted i see a doctor in palmerston north before we boarded the bus for wellington. am now on penicillin (it’s probably strep). 4 p.m., checked into cambridge hotel, wellington. paid $17.50 for two beers at a bar down the street. had dinner at an indian restaurant.

jan. 29: $2 breakfast special (egg and toast) at the hostel cafe, and another $6.50 for tea and coffee. $4 for a takeaway coffee at a cafe and $2.50 for a lemon-thyme flavoured chocolate for lindy. picked up groceries: almond butter, hummus, yogurt, juice, tea, milk. te papa national museum / shopping for merino wool items on cuba street / willis street / indian supper on courtenay.

pumpkin coconut soup at leafee cafe, wellington

pumpkin coconut soup at leafee cafe, wellington

jan. 30: rode the “iconic” wellington cable car to hector’s observatory and the botanical garden. lunch (pumpkin/coconut/curry soup) at leafee on T. road, then more tramping around the botanic garden. supper at one red dog cafe (pasta, salad, beer).

jan. 31: still in wellington. lindy made penne pasta & veg. stirfry for supper in the hostel kitchen, which took over an hour on the world’s most inefficient stovetop.

random notes: wellington has a nifty writers walk along the harbourfront. te papa museum is amazing. went there twice and still didn’t come close to seeing everything. the botanic garden is huge, full of many paths with unclear signage that became very irritating by late afternoon. saw some cool installation art (e.g., white lace and red ribbons on trees) and many more mutant hydrangeas in lovely light blue and lavender colours.

feb. 2: 8:25 a.m. ferry to picton (south island). rough crossing. walked from ferry dock to sequoia hostel on nelson square. then walked back into town to check out cafes, stores, eco-tours, etc. had supper in an indian restaurant. found a nice red pinot noir — mill road hawkes bay 2006. and i generally don’t even like pinot noir, but this one was something to write home about.

feb. 3: this hostel serves free breakfast (toast & jam, coffee, tea) in the mornings and hot chocolate pudding with ice cream every night at 8 p.m. for lunch we cooked penne with swiss chard (called silver beet down here) and garlic. in the afternoon we went on a four-hour eco-tour to the motuara island sanctuary; along the way we saw diving gannets, spotted shags (cormorants), a rare “king” shag, hector’s dolphins and fur seals. on the island we saw a blue penguin chick (in a nesting box). supper was beer and very tasty greek pizza at the slip inn restaurant, where the power kept going off.

feb. 4: (happy birthday shelley b. and kathy s.) rainy day, too wet for another boat tour, so we played scrabble and watched LOTR, part 2, in which the dialogue sucked but the scenery was stunning.

feb. 5: 1 p.m train to kaikoura. quenched our thirst with a monteith’s original on tap, then found a thai restaurant for supper. excellent green curry and veg. pad thai (spelled “pud” thai on the menu). receptionist at dolphin hostel huffy, stuffy and downright rude. toilets are co-ed and smell like pee. room so small we can barely move around the bed; no place to hang clothes or stow our backpacks. we’ll remember this when it comes time to fill out the “backpackers hostel rankings” survey.

Sperm whale tail, Kaikura

Sperm whale tail, Kaikoura

feb. 6: waitangi day / mario’s birthday. train to christchurch didn’t leave til 3:30 p.m. so we had time to go on a mid-day whale-watching tour. saw three sperm whales and a pod of dusky dolphins. took about 300 pictures (culled down to 50). guy on the boat sitting next to me got seasick and puked his guts out. arrived christchurch in early evening. women’s guesthouse has a nice herb garden, spring water, and lots of places for hanging clothes — a concept that is lost on many hostel operators.

feb. 7: christchurch market; mailed postcard to sarah (who has a thing about christchurch).

feb. 8: 8:15 a.m. train to greymouth. global village backpackers hostel = nice, clean, cheery. took their bikes out for a walk. (lindy felt uncomfortable riding on the sidewalk, even though it was sunday afternoon and the place was a ghost town.) 4 p.m. tour of monteith’s brewery. our guide paul was very generous with the pour when it came to sampling the six varieties. 6 p.m. laurie’s now-infamous hostile/hostel meltdown (unsuitable content removed by moderator).

feb. 9: 2 p.m. shuttle van tour to punakaiki / pancake rocks and unco-operative blow hole. walked the truman track through rainforest. took lots of photos. very humid.

feb. 10: train back to christchurch. ate hummus & sprouts sandwiches for lunch on the train; supper was nuts and rice crackers and lots of WINE at the women’s guesthouse. light rain in evening. there are two guineapig mascots at this hostel, named princess and duchess.

feb. 11: laundry day at the guesthouse. while lindy toured yet another museum — or was it another botanic garden? — laurie visited the casino and won $2200 NZ. thank you, pink panther slot machine.

feb. 12: rain. women’s guesthouse overbooked, so we moved a few blocks away to foley towers (NOT fawlty towers). met sabine at the art gallery and took her to lunch at the lotus heart. then went to the paua shell house exhibit at canterbury museum. hilarious kitsch. pizza for supper at the bohemian cafe.

Stones from the beach, Akaroa

Stones from Birdlings Flat, on the way to Akaroa

feb. 13: 8:40 a.m. bus to akaroa for harbour cruise. cruise ended up being cancelled due to rough seas, so we had lunch (pizza, beer) and stocked up on more merino wool apparel (lindy bought a scarf and gloves and longjohns, and put ALL of them on, because it was so cold that day); laurie got attacked by a flock of vicous red-beaked seagulls.

feb. 14: lunch at the twisted hop; nice pub grub (couscous, roasted vegs) and an outstanding beer sampler. caught a matinee performance of la cage au folles, followed by happy hour (marlborough wine, cheap like borscht!) at a cafe next to the art gallery, followed by valentine’s day supper at lotus heart, followed by email check at an internet cafe. a good heart day.

feb. 15: 7 a.m. train to picton, then 1:10 p.m. ferry to wellington. staying two nights at downtown packpackers hostel.

feb. 16: viewed outstanding “monet and the impressionists” exhibit at te papa. (this was the reason we changed our itinerary and made room for two more nights in wellington. well, that and another lunch at the backbenchers’ pub, home of the best french fries and aioli in the freakin’ salty snack universe!)

feb. 17: 7:25 a.m. train to marton. lunch at the mothered goose cafe in bulls. pasta supper at laura’s (another friend from the gardening email list).

feb.18: 10:25 a.m. train to auckland. arrived at britomart station at 8:30 p.m., one hour late. bumped into claire on the way up from the train at avondale.

feb. 19: auckland. a day of laundry and email.

feb. 20: RAIN. all day. sick (again). claire drove us to thames (“tims”) tonight. we’re spending the weekend at julie and steve’s B&B.

Lunch in the Coromandel at Driving Creek Cafe

Lunch in the Coromandel at Driving Creek Cafe

feb. 21: still SICK. cold, flu. (bah.) thames market / coromandel town. lunch at the driving creek cafe. rainforest, kauri grove …

feb. 22: lunch at SOLA (voted best cafe in the region). still sick. stopped at bird refuge on the way back to auckland.

feb. 24: bus to rotorua. lunch at the fat dog cafe, home of the world’s most unique veggie burger. after supper (and poking around steaming stinky sulphur holes), had a lovely soak at the polynesian spa (hot springs). sat outside under the stars at the funky green voyageur hostel and ate brie and drank white wine. lots of white wine.

feb. 25: shuttle tour to lady knox geyser, mud pools, various other places full of of geo-thermal wonders whose names i cannot recall. (ed. says: wai-o-tapu, waimangu, you idiot.)

Laurie on the boat to Motuihe Island

Laurie on the boat to Motuihe Island

feb. 26: bus back to auckland.

feb. 27: claire’s birthday. small celebration with cake at home, then out to dinner at an indian restaurant.

feb. 28: were supposed to go to mangawhai but will now stay in auckland. (nice to stay in one place and just hang out, after so much travelling about.)

march 4: buy tim tams. pack. afternoon boat cruise to motuihe island, to take part in a special release of 18 kakariki (red-crowned parakeets) into the wild. fabulous way to spend our final day in auckland.

march 5: 7:30 p.m. return flight to edmonton, via san francisco.

(at this rate i should have the paris trip bloggage posted by august.)


something fishy about fifty

march 16, 2007, happy birthday kathy f

you’re fifty, kathy, so of course i’m going to … think of you naked.
it’s what you wanted, yes?
well OK then, yes, i will think of you naked …
and i will think of you in paris …
not writing poetry, necessarily, but breathlessandtalkingfast and … eating;
savouring the taste of something exquisite.
i will think of you in red:
red scarves / red hats / red pants
red shoes / red wine / red lights
red leather / red eyes / red ink
your mouth a triangle of red in a montparnasse cafe,
croissant crumbs on your lip and … heart on your sleeve.

i will think of you naked / i will think of you in red
and i will think of 1957 as a good year for more than just chevys
as i think of the things that connect us:

the blood of the mothers / the sins of the fathers
strokes of the pen / strokes of luck / vincent’s sad strokes on anguished canvas
sunflowers / blue and white irises / cobalt blue plates
blue-black backdrops to starry starry nights
the irises are you, kathy, the starry night is you
banff centre omelettes and kasbar lounge cocktails
icy blue-green rivers to skate away on …
a woman named eunice

and i like the sound of … stroke, stroke / hot cheeks and cool iris
stroke, stroke / autumn colours in vermont
and i’d like to hear more about … kassie boo-boo / the french rugby team
a dead dog named jake (who i never met, but feel like i sort of know)

musee-dorsay.jpgand yes, kathy, i will think of you in paris
but you don’t necessarily have to be naked / you don’t have to be writing poems
don’t have to be breathless or writhing, talking fast or gushing brilliant …
you don’t even have to be drinking wine / or dancing in red shoes,
but you will most probably be talking a mile a minute / running / skating / climbing …
coming up for air after a marathon swim in a gatineau lake …
writing like a bat out of hell and …
changing the world with your smile

there’s something fishy about fifty, but … fishy, i wishy for you
50 more glorious years in which to be startled, delighted, disarmed.
50 more years of red scarves, red cheeks and red shoes …
and just enough blue to belong.

the writers go for breakfast

breakfast cafeSkim milk latte?

We don’t do that

OK, eggs florentine then. That’s with spinach, right?

Um usually yeah but we’re out of spinach

OK, without the spinach then. Are soy lattes any good?


Another latte, then, but this time without caffeine, please

Hmmmm …

Oh, do you not do decaf?

Well, yeah, we “do” (makes air quotes with fingers) it,
but I just don’t know if we “have” any

No spinach, no decaf … how about herbal tea?

I don’t know if we “have” that either. I can check.

No thank you. Never mind. Just water, please.
So anyway, as I was saying, personal transformation is not always a poem.
One man’s therapy is not necessarily another man’s sonnet.

I agree totally, but some people seem to think they have to incorporate
every fucking little breakthrough they have with their shrink
into a piece of performance art. I have gossip.


J is sleeping with K.

I already knew that.

Yes, but did you know that K use to be with Q?

No! But i knew that T and S just had a three-some with D.

D? When did D get back?

From where? I didn’t even know that D was away.

Oh, yeah, you know, that annual Spa and Stanza retreat at Papyrus Hills. Somehow she always manages to lose 20 pounds of cellulite and gain 30 pages of manuscript.

I hate that about her.

Yeah, it’s incredibly annoying to those of us with perpetual writers’ block.
How are the bennies?

Good, but they would be better with spinach.

Yeah. How’s the latte?

Fine but I think I should’ve gotten the skim.

But they don’t “do” skim, remember. Like, they have some kind of conscientious objection to a skim milk latte. They’re “anti-skim.”

You’d think that if they object to skim they’d have a similar moral objection to decaf.

Well, yeah, of course. I mean, of the two, which is the most obscene?

They’re both an abomination, if you ask me. What’s the point of the special coffee if you’re going to remove the caffeine and de-fat the milk? Why bother?

I agree totally. And eggs florentine without spinach — well that’s just bad breakfast karma.

It’s kind of cold here, you know. By the door.

Yeah, but this is a great bagel. What is this fruit that they’ve used as a garnish?

Damned if I know … some kind of a pumpkin-lemon cross? Weird.
Maybe a cumquat sort of thingy…

More coffee, ladies?

Um, no thanks. Just the bill.