Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Return Of The Prodigal Son

Connor Mickiewicz is back!:
For someone who has traveled the country and lived in America’s most exciting metropolis, Connor Mickiewicz is sure proud to be a Sacramentan. "I’ve never felt a sense of community anywhere in the U.S. like I do in Sacramento," Mickiewicz says. "I always knew I wanted to come back."

..."Lots of my theater friends here moved out at the same time," Mickiewicz recalls. "Because Sacramento was such a great place to grow up in, we made an effort to stay connected. We had this little community in New York - the ties just seemed to stick."

...This hankering for his hometown made Mickiewicz return to Sacramento far sooner than he’d expected.

...This month marks the inaugural production of New Helvetia Theatre, Mickiewicz’s first foray into artistic direction.

...At the Crest Theatre on January 17, New Helvetia Theatre will present a staged reading of the rarely produced musical Celebration by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, the duo behind The Fantastiks, one of the longest-running shows in theater

"The show was a natural choice because [the writers] strip everything down to the bare essentials," Mickiewicz says. "They believe in the power of imagination more
than spectacle. The audience isn’t bombarded by extra theatricality or falling chandeliers. They have to sit up and listen to the words."

This no-frills approach seems to be an emerging earmark of New Helvetia Theatre, which Mickiewicz hopes to turn into a professional nonprofit within the year.

..."When I came back to Sacramento, I wanted to fill a niche that I think is missing - that is, producing musicals that maybe flopped on Broadway or didn’t get
their due. Sacramento has the perfect demographics for taking risks in a
workshop setting and trying out more commercial productions."

..."I want to give this community an alternative type of theater," he says. "I don’t want to hit them over the head with a hammer, but I also don’t want them to just sit back and tune out. I want them to create something in their minds and believe in it."
When I read this article, I felt a bit disturbed. Connor Mickiewicz is an honored member of the local theater community, and I wish him well, but I worry about the sheer number of theaters that have taken root in Sacramento over the last fifteen years. The acting pool has thinned out somewhat, as actors take advantage of the greater opportunities, but the economic hard times taking hold now will inevitably push some companies to the brink of extinction. I'd be happier if Connor had chosen an existing company within which to work.

Plus, despite their overlooked charms, there are often sound reasons why musicals fail on Broadway. Seems risky to spend much time on them!

Nevertheless, this underserved theatrical niche that Connor has identified does exist, and the community will be better served for his efforts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Meanwhile, Back On Planet Duh....

Too little, too late:
The divisions taking hold among Republicans are becoming more severe as the party prepares to accuse its outgoing president of embracing "socialism."

The slur that conservatives were so fond of lobbing at Barack Obama during the presidential campaign is now being directed toward President Bush and GOP lawmakers who supported federal bailouts of the banking and auto industries.

At its meeting next month, the Republican National Committee is set to vote on a resolution formally opposing the bailouts, accusing Bush of helping nationalize the banks and taking "another dangerous step closer toward socialism," the Washington Times reports Tuesday.

"We can't be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms," Solomon Yue, an Oregon member and co-sponsor of the resolution told the Times.
This attack against 'socialism' would have more credibility if it wasn't just Southern politicians angling with the Asian car companies hosted in their states to finally destroy competitive American-based auto manufacturers.

And then this:
Chip Saltsman, a candidate to lead the Republican National Committee, distributed a CD to RNC members containing the parody song "Barack the Magic Negro."

The song created a stir among some party members worried that Saltsman would damage the RNC's ability to appeal beyond its dwindling base of Southern whites; current chairman Mike Duncan condemned Salter for distributing the CD as did Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis, another candidate in the RNC chair race.

Now some party members are coming forward to defend Saltsman from the criticism. In the view of these Republicans, there are no racial overtones in a song sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," whose verses deliberate whether Barack Obama is black enough. The only problem, to them, is suggesting that there's anything wrong with such a parody.
The irony, of course, is that as a film device (personalized by actors like Sidney Poitier), the concept of the 'Magic Negro' works. The 'Magic Negro' will solve all your pesky problems, particularly those grounded in racial differences.

The only question, when Rush starting flogging this during the 2008 election campaign, was whether the 'Magic Negro' concept works in politics too.

Fact is, as witnessed by the 2008 election results, the 'Magic Negro' works like a charm in politics! The harder the RNC pushes the 'Magic Negro', the better Obama looks.

Get a clue, get a clue.....
Yellowstone Is Rocking

Earthquakes under the lake are proliferating!

Looking to see interesting rock performances on film, and curious about its reputation as the best of the English rock festivals, I rented a DVD regarding the Glastonbury Music Festival. What an interesting and colorful experiment in organized chaos Glastonbury is!

The Bath Festival and Woodstock served as examples to the founders, who taught themselves how to run music festivals. Among the founders, Methodist farmer, left-wing acolyte, and music lover Michael Eavis began hosting the festival on his own land in 1981: 1969 Eavis and his second wife Jean Hayball visited the Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music 1970. Inspired by seeing the performance of Led Zeppelin, they hosted a free festival the following year. This developed into the Glastonbury Festival as it is known today. Jean died in 1999, since then his daughter Emily has taken a more active role in running the event. In common with his third wife and mother, Eavis remains a committed Methodist chapel-goer.
Because Eavis was able to retain sufficient control of the festival (on his own land) and because of his remarkably tolerant and eccentric vision, he and his colleagues were able to do the impossible; basically, to institutionalize unconformity. Thus, today, hippies in full counterculture glory live and thrive peaceably with others who think much differently - punksters and the glam crowd - but are united in a spirit of musical creation.

In addition, Glastonbury never went corporate - never had to and didn't want to! - and thus the ethic guiding its development has been unique.

We need more of these kinds of festivals in the world.....
Beverly Hills Pomeranian

Sparky want some leftovers?


Sparky want want some IAMS dog food? It's nutritious!


Sparky wants some rotisserie chicken? The best human food in the house....

Ah, Sparky wants the rotisserie chicken!

Look at the baby!:
Amani is the Detroit Zoo's newest aardvark, born Dec. 8 to mother Rachaael and father Mchimbaji. The zoo is awaiting a DNA test that will conclude the gender.

"This baby can only be described as hideously cute," said Scott Carter, director of Conservation and Animal Welfare, in a statement today. "Rachaael is a first-time mother and is showing great maternal instincts."

Amani (Swahili for "peace") was born 23 inches long, about 3½ pounds and hairless, with ears pointing 4 inches from its head. It has more than doubled in size.

Due to the animal's clumsiness and poor eyesight, vets and zookeepers are helping Rachaael raise Amani to prevent injury.

Zoo visitors won't get to see Amani until the spring, when it will join the zoo's other aardvarks.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Scots Created Rap

When I saw an excerpt of this story on the Daily Rotten, essentially that Scots created rap, I thought it was the ultimate piece of academic crap - total rubbish - but to my greatest shock, the supposed academic pinhead pushing the crap rap theory is none other than Ferenc Szasz, who was my favorite history professor EVER at the University of New Mexico. And he's NEVER wrong, so.....

Scots created rap!:
Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting".

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

Professor Szasz is convinced there is a clear link between this tradition for settling scores in Scotland and rap battles, which were famously portrayed in Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile.

He said: "The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting - intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth.

"Both cultures accord high marks to satire. The skilled use of satire takes this verbal jousting to its ultimate level - one step short of a fist fight."

The academic, who specialises in American and Scottish culture at the University of New Mexico, made the link in a new study examining the historical context of Robert Burn's work.
Sympathy For The Perp

There but for the grace of God....
A man enraged by a noisy family sitting near him in a movie theater on Christmas night shot the father of the family in the arm, police said.

James Joseph Cialella, 29, of Philadelphia, faces six charges that include attempted murder and aggravated assault. He remained in custody Saturday.

Police said Cialella told the man's family to be quiet, then threw popcorn at the man's son. The victim, whom television reports identified as Woffard Lomax, told police that Cialella was walking toward his family when he stood up and was shot.
Reflections On Kylie's Dec. 9th Auckland Show

Kylie Minogue put on two fine shows in Auckland (I saw the Dec. 9th show)!

I liked the glitter cannons that fired confetti chaff for several minutes when she sang "The One". DMTC recently used one small cannon for a few seconds during the YPT's show "Footloose", and we are still finding confetti in the theater several months later. Kylie used two industrial-strength cannons for several minutes. The janitorial staff at Vector Arena will certainly be finding confetti for years afterwards!

Some people complained about short gaps between certain songs. I noticed these gaps too, but they really didn't bother me. In general, most shows strive to avoid any gaps, however, and I'm not sure why they occurred here (dressing room too far away from stage, perhaps?)

In 1973, I had the good fortune to see Elton John perform in Albuquerque, NM, at the UNM Arena (aka "The Pit"). His album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" had just been released, and the songs from that album were as yet unfamiliar. It was great to hear classic rock songs like "Grey Seal" and "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fightin')", for the first time ever, in a concert setting.

Later, I was surprised to hear that Elton John would never again return to perform in Albuquerque. The reason? The ceiling of "The Pit" was not sufficiently strong to bear the weight of Elton John's sound and light equipment. Apparently Elton John's later shows were more elaborate than the 1973 show had been, featuring much more equipment. This equipment was designed to hang from the ceiling, and apparently "The Pit" couldn't keep pace with stronger arenas in larger cities in catering to the demands of Elton John (and by extension, other rock artists).

Kicking off her 2008 Southern Hemisphere "X" Tour, Kylie was performing for the first time ever in Auckland. The reason cited for not having performed before there was an inadequate venue.

I was eagerly looking forward to one of my favorite songs from the "X" album, "Like A Drug". The YouTube videos from the European shows of that song showed Kylie riding into the arena on a large skull suspended from the ceiling. As theater, I think it's absolutely brilliant - a sort of Mexican-style "Dia de los Muertos" approach: the best entrance ever in rock history!

But instead, Kylie rode into the Auckland show on what appeared to be a rolling door frame. It's the sort of quick solution we might come up with in community theater.

Kylie performed well, no doubt, but I missed the grand entrance of the human skull that I had seen on YouTube. Certain evidence, like certain edits of the preliminary multimedia projection sequence, suggests that the changed approach had been planned well in advance, probably to accomodate some inadequacy of the setting.

I guess rock performers have to make adjustments to the venue, particularly in smaller cities. I can't help but wonder whether the ceiling strength issue had reared it's ugly head again.

This was my only disappointment of the show, and probably not in the capability of Kylie's team to fix.

Left: Part of the ballroom number.

Left: Kylie, with Ensemble.
Left: A Space-Age Ensemble.
Left: "Copacabana".
Left: "The Love Boat".
Left: American football treated as glamorous foreign exotica (I wonder if this was inspired by Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl"?)

Like a Drug (Live in Paris) - Kylie Minogue

My favorite number of the "X" tour! Original conception, prior to rolling door frame....
Sparky Improves A Bit

After an entirely listless day, Sparky stirred Saturday night, and insisted on the nighttime walk. He could barely struggle on, and taking the three-legged peeing stance made him stumble, but he did it.

He seemed a bit more lively last night, and managed to do previously out-of-bound activities like stepping off of curbs.

He is completely off his meds, and he is barely eating, but strangely enough, his coughing has almost stopped.

Life goes on, for now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

From The USA Phrasebook: 'Random'

I purchased Lonely Planet's "USA Phrasebook", which explains American English to other English speakers, while in New Zealand (because who really understands American English anyway?)
Random in LA

One of the biggest linguistic differences newcomers notice about LA is the use of the ubiquitous word 'random'. A versatile word, 'random' can be used in every part of speech in Southern California. Meaning varying degrees of unlikeliness, unexpectedness, randomness, it is easy to pick up and use. When there is nothing else to say, interject with 'Random' and it is almost always appropriate. You hear the phrase everywhere.
  • as a noun, ' a random' is usually an unwelcome person or a bunch of strangers: 'We went out with a bunch of randoms.' or 'The bar was filled with a bunch of randoms from UCLA.' Used in a dismissive way.
  • as an adjective it is used similarly: 'the guy from UCLA was so random.'; 'I totally went off on a random tangent when I was talking to her.'
  • as a verb it is a little more restricted, usually only used when talking about oneself: 'I totally randomed the get-together' can either mean 'I trashed a party' or it can mean 'my presence made things awkward', i.e., 'I intruded in a group of good friends.'
  • as an adverb it means unexpectedly or strangely : 'We randomly went out in Westwood tonight.'
  • most often used as an exclamation: 'Random!' It can apply to anything out of the ordinary or odd. "Random! I can't believe you just said/did that!'
Otago Churches

Left: First Church of Otago, in Dunedin.

Below: Milton.

Left: Roxburgh.

Left: Church of the Good Shepherd, on the shore of lake Tekapo (technically not in Otago, but in Mackenzie Country, in South Canterbury).
Really Not All That Big

It was jarring at times to realize how small New Zealand is. The size of the land mass isn't quite 2/3 that of California's. The South Island has only one quarter of the total population on it: about one million people.

The result is that the entire place has a down-home feel about it. Everyone seems to know each other, or nearly so.

One night, watching a human interest story on the TV News about the return of Jake the Rescue Dog to service in Greymouth following recovery from extensive injuries, I realized I already possessed a photo of Jake's helicopter on my camera. Not that many people do rescue work there, and even fewer dogs!
Looking For A Dignified Exit

My dog Sparky's health is deteriorating so rapidly that it will be hard for him to hang on much longer. For example, we were still able to go for the nightly walk last night, but today he is so weak he can barely stand.

Not much time left....
How To Live To Be 100

There was an interesting article in "The West Coast Messenger", a weekly published in Greymouth, South Island, New Zealand, about a local woman who just turned 100.

It is possible to plan to live to be age 100, but it might require a significant change of lifestyle to accomplish....:
Feisty Greymouth woman Lorna Garth has lived in the town all her life - and that's 100 years as of last Friday.

Born at 10 Thompson Street on December 5, 1908, Lorna lived in that house until 1985 when she sold it for the RSA car park and moved to her present smaller home.

Her father owned a hairdressing and tobacconist business on Mawhera Quay passing it on to his son, Myers. Lorna helped in the shop at weekends but never had any other paid work in her life. Instead, she she spent many years caring for members of her family when they became seriously ill.

She never married, has been a stalwart of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, where she is now the oldest parishioner, and has very sharp memories of Greymouth people and buildings.

Cutting her birthday cake, Lorna said, "I thank God for the last 100 years of life He's given me. There were some hard times. I took the bad with the good and boxed on."

She said no smoking, no drinking and no hanky panky were the keys to living a long time. "I've never been a scallywag."

...Lorna received a Papal Blessing from Pope Benedict XVI and birthday cards from the Queen and Governor-general.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More New Zealand Signs

Left: "New Teeth" in Dunedin.

Left: "Endemic Art Gallery" in Roxburgh.

Left: In a previous post, Jim McElroy and I joked about a picture of this sort of New Zealand sign before. I was surprised to actually see it (in Queenstown).

Left: I just bet Smeagol is the driver.

Left: "Wanaka Bakpaka": a play on the New Zealand accent.

Left: "Poo Pots": if you pack it in, you pack it out.

Left: New Zealand hamburger outlets tend to prefer having an American name: it suggests hamburger quality.

Left: What Noel's antipodean doppelganger does for a living.

Left: Whatever happened to that Panamanian singer? Oh!

Left: The Department of Conservation (DOC) uses the pesticide 1080 (banned in the U.S. since the 70's) to help control stoats and rats, the nemeses of the many imperiled ground-nesting New Zealand birds. The DOC uses methods like coloring the bait green, in order to avoid poisoning birds, but the wide use of this controversial pesticide nevertheless sparks much heated opposition.

Left: Blue penguins, the smallest of the penguin species, make mad nocturnal runs from the beach to reach safe forest cover in certain coastal areas of New Zealand.

Left: Watch train tracks!

Left: A good name for a magazine...
More Christchurch Pictures

Left: Punters on the River Avon.

Left: Jambasketballman.

Left: "Don't Step On My Blue Suede Shoes"

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Airline Lounges

Left: The duty free shoppes in the International Terminal, as seen from the Air New Zealand Frequent Flyers Lounge, at Auckland International Airport.

Since I generally fly peasant class, usually on Southwest Airlines, the existence of these posh airline lounges came as something of a surprise. Free food, comfy chairs (no hard plastic for these tushes), free reading material, even free massages if you have enough mileage - what's not to like?

Well, the good life is not available to all. I don't live in this special world, but A. was able to show me a thing or two....

Left: Is this The Eye Of Sauron? No, it's an art work, located at the door to the Air New Zealand Frequent Flyers Lounge, at Auckland International Airport.
Kea Lore

Andrew located this Eric Hoffman story about New Zealand's famed parrot, the kea:
The birds belong to a species called the kea (Nestor notabilis), a maverick member of the parrot family, described as everything from a fun-loving prankster to a heartless mountain mobster that knows no bounds when it comes to procuring a meal. Indigenous to the high country of South Island, the bird is loved by many and hated by some, and its antics frequently solicit moralistic comparisons to human misbehavior.

...'Keas like to have fun, and they express play in many different ways. When it comes to behavior, there is no other bird like them. They are cunning, calculating, and highly intelligent,' says Wayne Schulenburg, animal-care manager for the bird collection at the San Diego Zoo. Schulenburg has firsthand knowledge of keas both in captive settings and in the alpine wilds of New Zealand.

In New Zealand, just when you've heard the most unbelievable kea story, there is always another one. Keas demolishing automobiles is a recurring topic. Hikers leaving cars in ski resorts or trailheads sometimes return to find their windshield wipers shredded and a couple of keas dragging the remains around the parking lot. Or a mischievous pair of keas may leave the windshield wipers alone and instead make a day of prying off chrome strips.

...Sometimes they display an almost humanlike ability to avoid culpability. Schulenburg likes to tell the story of Lucy, a particularly clever kea who lived for years at the San Diego Zoo. 'She figured out how to break open the lock to her cage. One night she got loose and entered the keeper's quarters and the kitchen. She ate everything edible, totally destroyed a down sleeping bag, and carried coffee mugs to the edge of the counter and dropped them to the floor, reducing the mugs to a pile of pottery shards. Another night she escaped and methodically opened 20 other cages containing dozens of other species of birds that were part of special breeding programs. In the morning, when we came to work, we couldn't believe our eyes. Most of the birds were gleefully zooming around in areas that had been taboo. Lucy played it innocent. She and her mate had gone back to their cage and shut the door behind them, but the telltale broken lock gave away who was behind the breakout.'

...Allison Archambault, a U.S. veterinarian specializing in parrot medicine, has had a few encounters with the opportunistic and predatory nature of keas while visiting her family in New Zealand. When a fierce storm from the Subantarctic overtook Archambault and her friends, they faced a grueling hike over a precipitous icy trail to reach safety. 'I fell several times, became disoriented, and actually feared I might not survive. When I glanced behind, I found it sobering to find five keas quietly walking along behind me only a few feet away. They recognized I was in trouble and saw me as a potential meal, just as they do sheep that wander into their highland haunts during the harsh winter months.' She lived to tell her tale and the keas were out a meal, but such brazenness and ability to size up a situation and capitalize on it have put the parrots in direct conflict with sheep farmers.

...The obvious question is, Why is this parrot species so smart? Olsen hazards a theory: 'The kea represents a link with the ancient evolutionary past and is an omnivorous parrot--not a specialized feeder as is the case with most parrots living today. Its brain is a distinguishing attribute that gives it the edge in a harsh world.'
Tall Jan Is Malicious

Some of the memes used on TV go around and around, and end up sticking in the brain, because 'that's what she said'.

Here is an ad (widespread on New Zealand TV) for All Bran Honey Almond cereal.
"When In Rome, Do As The Romans" - Marc's Bungy Jump At The Kawarau Bridge

Original photos courtesy of AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand: I reduced them in size for the Weblog. [Update: video link here]

I previously described this New Zealand adventure....

In foreign travel, it's important to observe, and, if possible, follow local customs.

Queenstown, New Zealand, is one of the world's Xtreme Sports capitals. Local customs there require more nerve and daring than elsewhere.

Here, I attempt to conform to local expectations.....

Under My Skin - Gin Wigmore

Air New Zealand (ANZ) was promoting a few pop music artists on their in-flight airborne entertainment system.

I suspect the person doing the music selection for the airline was probably female (because almost all the artists are male), but there was one female Kiwi artist: Gin Wigmore, doing "Under My Skin".

Gin Wigmore looks like a fun artist to follow!
New Zealand Special Topics

Now I'll blog about New Zealand special topics that I wanted to blog about previously, but didn't have time for during the trip....

And also add a few photos, and make a few corrections and minor additions, to trip posts previously made....
Farewell To Aotearoa

Left: Dec. 24th was cloudy and rainy in many places in New Zealand, particularly on the North Island, from where we took off (at the Auckland International Airport), but as I looked back into the sunset, I caught a last glimpse through a rare hole in the clouds.

I believe the eastern end of Waiheke Island is in the foreground. As one goes up, from foreground to background, Pakatoa and Rotorua Islands are successively visible, with Ponui Island at top.

That Waiheke Island is a one nice island! On Dec. 11th, I spent the afternoon collecting seashells on Waiheke's west end, at Oneroa Bay.

Left: An endless Christmas Eve. We left Auckland at 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, and arrived at San Francisco at 10:30 a.m. on the same day - time travel!

Here is San Francisco, as seen from Air New Zealand's Boeing 747 jumbo jet, looking northwest.

Left: San Francisco International Airport.

I rented a car to return to Sacramento with my heavy bags. After getting on Highway 101 at about noon, after enduring the Interstate 80 parking lot for nearly forever, I stopped, exhausted, for some lunch in Fairfield.

Fortunately the parking lot ended at Fairfield (after that, the parking lot was from the other way). I arrived in Sacramento about 4:30 p.m. With Steve's help, I left the rent-a-car at SMF at about 10 p.m.

With that, journey's end!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Day

It's 6:30 a.m.! Rise and shine!

(just shoot me....)

Andrew and I are doing a few errands today. I'm doodling away lunchtime in Christ Church Square.

Later this afternoon, first comes the trip to Auckland, then this evening, the much-longer trip to San Francisco, with some kind of trip to Sacramento, one way or the other.

Looking forward to some rest, after the vacation - if not in Sacramento, then at least on the plane!

Au revoir, till later!
The Void Of The Open Road

Time to return to Christchurch!

The drive from Dunedin got off to a very late start (7:30 p.m.). At one point, I stopped at McDonald's, tried to make three right hand turns to get back on the one-way street out of town, and ended up squarely in a police breathalyzer roadblock. The foot patrolman stuck something right in my face:
Police: Sir, please count from one to five...Sir, please don't stop the car, but please count from one to .... PLEASE! SIR! Do not put your mouth on the device! Please count from one to to five sir, please count from one to ....
Marc: Oh, now I get it! One...two...
Police: Please count from one to five...THERE! The readout shows "no alcohol". That's what we like to see!
So, it was about 8:45 p.m. by the time I actually got on Highway 1 and started traveling up the east coast.

Bleak. Dark. Reminded me of the bleak roads of the western Nevada desert between Yerington and Minden, where you end up behind pokey trucks, where speed limits drop to near-zero in every little town, and where trucks outnumber cars. Remarkably few people on the road. I guess it's true what they say about New Zealand....more sheep than people, especially at night.

After a few wrong turns in Diamond Harbour, I finally snuck into Andrew's house at 1:30 a.m., and collapsed into sleep.
Visiting The Yellow-Eyed Penguin (aka Hoiho)

Left: The Hoiho, at home.

The Otago Peninsula is one of the few places in the world that one of the rarest penguins (and third largest penguin), the Yellow-Eyed Penguin (aka Hoiho), calls home. There are apparently several places to see it, but I ended up at the Penguin Place, a privately-run sheep ranch and conservation effort (see video).

Left: Chick, and mother.

Apparently this has been a terrible breeding season for them. (They are vulnerable to:
  • habitat loss;
  • to predation by stoats, possums, cats, and dogs;
  • to disease;
  • and to algal blooms,
  • but this year, a heat wave at a critical time in the chick-raising season led to lots of chick deaths).

Left: Friends on the beach, at evening.
Left: Friends, become less friendly, as one penguin (on the right) makes a perplexing territorial claim on the open beach that the other penguin (center) thinks is just rubbish.

Left: They've built a series of camouflaged trenches, so one can run up and down the sloping beach without being seen by the penguins.

The folks at the Penguin Place stated at the start of the tour that we would be likely to see anywhere from five to ten penguins. I believe we saw nine....
The Otago Peninsula

What a place! Very scenic! Art colonies, and no end of ocean stuff!

Trouble is, I turned right at the fork in the road, on some Highcliff Road, or whatever they call it, and wasted precious time in the hills on the windingest road I think I've ever seen. Left, right, left, right, up and down, in and out. Then it reduced to one lane, and got worse. Finally ended up in Portobello, which you can reach on the flat curvy road instead in half the time if you take the other branch of the fork.

Stopped briefly at the Royal Albatross Reserve. Magnificent birds. No time for those!

Rolled in too late at the Penguin Place for the 5:15 p.m. tour, so caught the 5:45 p.m. tour instead.
Quick Visit To Dunedin (draft)

Quick, quick, quick! No time to lose! Behind schedule!

Called my sister Marra to wish her a Happy Birthday (Dec. 23rd, here, but B-Day Dec. 22nd back in the States).

Looks like a nice place, a place that deserves more than a minute.....

Now, off to the Otago Peninsula (New Zealand's answer to Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur).....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Drive Through Central Otago (draft)

Left: The strange and puzzling (the 'Lonely Planet' guide to New Zealand says heinous) Cromwell Fruit Salad.

Spent the night in low-key, rather non-descript Alexandra, on the mighty Clutha River, in beautiful Central Otago.

The folks here tend to think of the area as arid, but it's a lot wetter here than in northern New Mexico, and a positive Garden of Eden compared to most of Australia.

Currently I'm in Roxburgh, and falling behind on my schedule to visit Dunedin today, and work my way back to Christchurch for tomorrow's trip back to the States.

Left: Clutha River Bridge at Beaumont.
Marc Does A Bungy Jump

(Pictures here) [Update: video link here]

After getting weighed (83 kg), filling out a 'toe tag' (love that gallows humor), paying, and stashing the stuff in my pockets into a locker (and taking off my glasses), I walked out on the bridge. Far below, the green water of the river swirled.

A French family was in front of me. A 16-year-old girl waited to jump. The folks working the bridge encouraged her to scream with abandon. She did, all the way down! The fellows were pleased - that was their emotional satisfaction!

The fellow helping me started placing my harness on. I asked, "Is that the Shotover River down there?" He sighed (Americans, and their dim geographical knowledge), and said "No, that is the Kawarau River. The Shotover River drains into Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown, and then Lake Wakatipu spills down the Kawarau River. Farther down, it runs into a hydroelectric dam, and gathers in a reservoir." But actually, I didn't care what he said. I just wanted to take my mind off what was just ahead.

A 14-year-old French boy prepared to jump. They took me to the alternate jumping point (for the more-rotund jumpers). I elected to just touch the water, and they said they could adjust the rope to be just long enough.

The French boy was choking with fear. He gripped the bridge and froze. I could see his legs shaking. They gently tried to persuade him to jump.

The fellow helping me wrapped my legs with a bath towel and carefully strapped my legs with belts. "Now, unlike that boy, we are more mature," he said, referring to himself and me, "and we can be more brave." Yeah, right....

It took some time to persuade the boy to jump, and when he did, he didn't dive off, but went down, standing straight. I could see the staff have small qualms (because at the bottom, the boy would pitch upside-down, given the harness' location below the boy's center of gravity, and that might not be that fun....)

The 12-year-old French girl was next, but since it took so long with her brother, they decided I should go next (second-to-last plunger of the day).

So, shuffling my bound feet, I edged out on the plank extending from the bridge, releasing the bridge only slowly and stood directly over the swirling Kawarau River. I didn't like this, being footbound in such a vulnerable place. Dangerous! One could fall!

"Now, focus on that highway bridge over there," they said, "put your arms over your head, and dive." It was hard to see the highway bridge in the distance, without my glasses (just as well, under the circumstances, not being able to see perfectly). I waved for the cameras and the crowd. The fellow then said, "Now, 3, 2, 1, jump." I leaned forwards, sprung my legs gently, and......



(guess I'd better open my eyes)

A spinning green watery canvas filled the entire universe some indeterminate distance in front of my face.

OWWW! My right side hurt! Like a swimming cramp! My liver must have been hurled against my diaphragm with utmost prejudice!

Didn't touch the water. Shouldn't have taken that stuff out of my pockets after they weighed me! Didn't really feel the spring back.

(oh, I should shout something)

"Yaarrghh! Yoo-hoo!"

Ack! I'm way in the air again! The rope snagged my heel, and now I'm really spinning!

Now I'm going down again! The blood is rushing into my fingers!


Eventually, once I stopped bouncing, they lowered me towards the lifeboat below. I grabbed their long metal hook so hard I dragged the boat through the water, and they said "Whoa! Whoa!" I relented my grip, to their relief, and they worked me into the bottom of the raft. They then set me ashore, and I walked back up to the visitor's center, stopping to watch the 12-year-old French girl come screaming downwards.


The day's remaining drive down the Kawarau Gorge was gorgeous, but somehow I had trouble focusing on the scenery....
AJ Hackett's Bungy Jump Center At The Kawarau Bridge

Left: The Kawarau River Bridge, with the bungy jumping station.

It was late afternoon, and I wanted to get some distance between Queenstown and myself. That is a very touristy place! So, I headed back towards Cromwell in the Daihatsu Sirion rent-a-car.

But just a couple of k's down the road from the Wanaka turnoff, there was a sign for a historical site - the Kawarau Bridge. And more signs for AJ Hackett's Bungy Jumping at the bridge. Oh, so here is where they put it! I thought it was on the other side of Queenstown! (As it turns out, they have bungy jumping at several locations, but this is the oldest - according to QT Magazine, AJ Hackett just celebrated their 20th anniversary at this prime location.

Well, it looks fun. Not that far to the water (I thought it was about 100 feet, but they say it's 43 meters, or 142 feet).

The jumpers wave feebly to the watchers just before they jump. Some plunge briefly into the water before springing back on the rope. The crowd cheers - one Pacific Islander next to me praised one fellow's bravery and said "he did good!"

Left: This woman dived backwards, and her arc and swing were thus more interesting than usual.

Left: Looks fun!

Left: Grabbing onto the metal hook and getting pulled into the raft.

Left: The young Chinese woman jumps.

The Chinese folks next to me cheered two of their own with abandon. Looks fun! Maybe I should do it. Yes!

But Marc, these Chinese people are in their 20's.

But one of them is a girl! I'm braver than these Chinese folks. Or I should be!

But Marc, people love you back in the States. They will be sad if there is an accident.

But I'm braver than these Chinese folks!





(But I've got to take a pee first....)