Thursday, December 18, 2008

Friday Means Travel Later Today

In contrast to yesterday's glorious day, today is rainy and overcast (that's life in the mid-latitudes!)

Nevertheless, after Andrew gets off work, we are heading to a holiday cabin weekend in Wanaka, where we hope to do some hiking (weather permitting, or not). We'll also visit Queenstown, one of the Xtreme sporting capitals of the world (where bungee jumping may be passe, for all I know).

Andrew will return by plane on Monday, and I'll keep the rent-a-car, bumbling around the South Island for a day or two, until returning to Christchurch. Then, the race to the airport, to return to the U.S.!
"La Cage Aux Folles" - Court Theatre, Christchurch

When I saw an advertisement for "La Cage Aux Folles" in "Older But Bolder" (despite its promising title, basically a newspaper for retirement homes) I said 'I've GOT to see that!' I became very fond of the show when DMTC did it aout a year ago.

The Court Theatre is apparently one of New Zealand's few fully professional theaters, and many talented performers come to perform there.

The 350-or-so person house was packed to capacity when I arrived (6 p.m. show, Dec. 18). I sat directly at stage-side (center section, stage left, right at the inner corner). Ordinarily, this might be a bad seat, because of the overwhelming aspect of being almost on-stage, but since I knew the show already, this was the next best thing to being where I really wanted to be (which was on-stage). An interesting theater - set pieces can be brought on and off stage by rail.

Here are excerpts from a preview by reviewer Lindsay Clark:
Director Sandra Rasmussen cast many performers from 2007's smash hit THE PRODUCERS and recruited veteran performers including Rima Te Wiata, Paul Barrett and recent Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate George Henare to create a company she describes as "one of the best musical casts in the country."

...Musical Director Richard Marrett has a high regard for LA CAGE AUX FOLLES' music. "Jerry Herman (who also composed the scores for Mame and Hello, Dolly!) has an unparalleled gift for melody that shines through in this show" says Marrett. The Court's production uses a mixture of live and pre-recorded local musicians to match live performance and create the "big sound" essential for production numbers. The result is "the best of both worlds" according to Marrett.

Based on Jean Poiret's 1973 play, the musical's debut production in 1983 - staged during "the last great Broadway season", according to theatre historian John Kenrick - overcame strong competition to win six Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. A 2004 revival earned LA CAGE AUX FOLLES another two Tonys. One of the show's songs enjoyed mainstream success when a single of I Am What I Am by Gloria Gaynor became a commercial hit and pride anthem.

"When the musical was released AIDS was a major issue and homosexuality much more marginalised, so LA CAGE was very brave," says Rasmussen. "In a 'post-Priscilla' world I want to show the cracks in the make-up - glimpses into darker aspects of the world LA CAGE portrays". The costumes, designed by Elizabeth Whiting and constructed by a team of ten wardrobe staff, promise a visual spectacle rarely seen on stage.

Rasmussen is quick to point out that "beneath the frills and feathers, this is a love story about a relationship that anyone would want to have." In LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Georges (Paul Barrett) and Albin (George Henare) have lived happily together for years as the proprietors of the titular cabaret club, with Albin performing nightly as Zaza, the star drag act. When Georges' son, Jean-Michel (Jonathan Martin), announces his engagement to Anne (Zara Cormack) - the daughter of a politician and moral crusader who wants to shut down their club - the efforts by Georges to "play it straight" leads to farcical comedy with a message: that "we are what we are and what we are needs no excuses".
Here are excerpts from the opening night review by Lindsay Clark:
It is very tempting to launch directly into a catalogue of superlatives for this production - 'fabulous' and 'ravishing' come straight from the show itself. The Court's annual launch into lush musical theatre for the holiday season, sponsored by The Press, has become a highlight of the year's entertainment for the city.

Applause will be long and heartfelt for this choice if the standing ovation that erupted on the opening night is anything to go by. The team of Rasmussen and Marrett has done it again, with a cherry on top!

The plot line has not moved far from the original play, though there is less surprise at seeing a homosexual relationship at the heart of the story. La Cage is a nightclub in the South of France where gorgeous transvestites light up the works. Its manager, Georges and his long term partner, its star, Albin, find their world seriously threatened when 'their' son Jean-Michel becomes engaged to the daughter of a bigwig in the Traditional Family Morality Party, who with his wife in tow comes to visit.

...The Court's creative team, especially indefatigable Tony Geddes, responsible for the multi-functioning set, and Elizabeth Whiting, creator of glorious costumes, are called on to support a large, diverse cast and their collective imagination is irresistible. The vibrant studio orchestra matches them all the way.

...In the focal pair, as Georges and Albin, the experience, art and musical instincts of Paul Barrett and George Henare are a joy to witness. The relationship is beautifully established to underpin developments without sacrificing the razzmatazz or, for that matter, the wash of sentiment we expect and enjoy in musicals. Henare has truly moving moments of triumphant defiance and vulnerability which catch the breath before the smile can start.

Jonathan Martin as the cataclysmic son goes from strength to strength on this stage and Keith Adams has all the physicality and style to endow Jacob (who wants to dress up for real on the stage as well as behind the scenes, with more than comic function.
I enjoyed the show very much. Paul Barrett and George Henare make an excellent Georges and Albin. Jonathan Martin as Jean-Michel has a wonderful voice and Keith Adams makes a superb Jacob - dark, alluring, tall, shapely, physical - just excellent!

The stage is rather small however, and thus the dancing extravaganza that "La Cage" should be at its best had to be pared down for the space available. Significant sections of dancing were cut altogether, and the approach that the dancers make to the audience was cut as well.

Some things I like very much. The dancers hold screens and placards in "Mascara" to make a set of curls, eyelashes, and eyes: a face!

Getting the sensibility right for shock value is important in this show. The rude gesture with the feather duster in the sequence "Thees for me and THAT for you, and papa gets the best parts!" worked very well. Georges' body gesture in "And I'll be behind you with a broomstick all the way" was unnecessary and works better if understated, and not gestured.

The costuming was a bit strange (well, it IS a strange show), and I was puzzled by Georges' high collar, gloves, and boots. But I liked the idea of Georges in mostly black and Jean-Michel and Anne entirely in white. Alternating light and dark worked well, in general. I think the costumes should have been more glitzy, however.

And I was surprised by the (comparatively) light makeup (excepting Jacob, who got it about right). Glam it up folks, if at all possible! And Hanna, who looked halfway towards a Motley Crue or Van Halen sort of look - go with it!

The two featured women dancers were excellent. I liked Phaedra too. The cafe as a barrista's cart worked well (although the name was altered from the script).

There was slight updating of the script "Puffing pot and listening to rock-and-roll" became "Puffing pot and listening to heavy metal".

Altogether (apart from the cut dancing), a satisfying experience!
Fred And Myrtle's Paua Shell House

Kiwi kitsch!

Christchurch Art Gallery
Cathedral Square Scenes

Dumbledore, or whoever he is.....

Street comedian from Edinburgh, Scotland.

"Isn't my act worth at least a beer? Now for those of you who may be tourists, the cost of a beer in New Zealand is $50. And for you kiddies, if your parents don't give you at least $10 to give to the funny man, it means they don't love you."

Chess on the square....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"But I Don't WANT To Travel All Day On Buses!"

Living in Corrales, NM, back in high school days, we were at the farthest periphery of the Albuquerque bus system. If one walked 2.5 miles to the Corrales Center bus stop, one could theoretically ride the bus into town - IF the bus came (sometimes it didn't). I remember lots of fretfully long walks, back in those days.

The more things change......

Andrew is having a regular work week here in Christchurch, so I've been taking buses to get around town. He's offered his car, but I'm reluctant to accept, not only because of the ever-present danger of crashing his personal transportation, but also because urban driving on the left is unfamiliar (and sure to bring me against New Zealand's counter-intuitive and now-unique right-hand turn rule.

Nevertheless, the distances I'm traveling are pretty large, and bus travel is thus quite slow. Andrew lives in Diamond Harbour, a ferry ride across the bay from Lyttelton, itself on the far SE fringe of Christchurch. He works at Lincoln University, on the far SW fringe of Christchurch. And yesterday I was visiting Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, on the far northern fringe of Christchurch.

So, yesterday morning, Andrew caught a ride to work with his car pool as I took the ferry from Diamond Harbour to Lyttelton. Then I caught the #28 to the city's center. At first, I understood there was another bus, a tourist bus, to Willowbank, and there may in fact be one, but that's not the one I ended up on. Instead, I was directed to take the #11, and soon I was bouncing into the suburbs with the locals.

Returning from Willowbank, I got to the bus stop at 2:40 p.m. for the return trip. But then something ominous happened. The 2:50 bus didn't appear. Neither did the 3:20 bus. Indeed, the 2:50 bus didn't arrive until 3:45 p.m. By this time, I was loudly cursing the managers of the bus system and very worried. I had to rendezvous with Andrew at 5:00 p.m. in Lincoln to catch a ride back to Diamond Harbour with the car pool. There was sufficient give in the plan for one missed bus, but not for two missed buses in a row! And being in the suburbs, I couldn't cobble together an alternative: it was the #11 bus, or nothing. And I had forgotten to bring Andrew's phone number so I couldn't inform him (even if I had been able to locate a phone). And I had Andrew's ONLY house key! Like American bus systems, the NZ bus systems seem prone to unexpected failures. Wretched that it should happen now!

The bus driver of the very late bus was understanding, but said he didn't understand the tardiness himself, since his shift had just started, and the previous driver left no explanation. He thought it might be Lincoln University graduation choking the City Centre streets (the streets seemed OK once we got there, though).

So, off to Lincoln. #11 downtown, then the #81, crawling through rush hour traffic. Reached Lincoln at 5:30 p.m., but unfortunately, as I learned later, the car pool, having waited for me, ultimately departed for Diamond Harbour at 5:25 p.m. So, DAYM!

So, back to the city centre again on the #81, then transfer to the #28 to Lyttelton, then the 7:30 p.m. ferry to Diamond Harbour. I finally trudged to Andrew's house at 8:10 p.m., 5.5 hours after I had started the journey, and having completely crossed the city, twice, on buses. As it fortunately turned out, Andrew had an extra key with him, so he hadn't been locked out. Still, despite the relief of arrival, I was exhausted.

But there was still an amusing moment to cherish on the journey....

Getting on the #28 bus to Lyttelton, the bus driver seemed perplexed about how the #11 bus driver had logged the Lincoln-to-Diamond Harbour trip on my Metro Card. The #11 driver had booked me as crossing three zones and he said that would make the ferry trip free, but she worried that might not be the case (As I age, and my memory for names fades, I have the creeping illusion that I nevertheless know everyone anyway, and she reminded me of a South Pacific version of DMTC's D.H.) She even delayed people from entering the bus, to try and puzzle it out.

At the trip's end, after I exited the bus, the #28 driver took up the chestnut again, and we starting conversing through the open bus door. She took almost a maternal interest in trying to get me a better deal on the bus sytem. "It may be better to use a Day Pass rather than the Metro Card," she said. "I can see from your card that you've been taking a lot of buses today. That's what you should do if you want to travel all day on buses!"

I plaintively wailed, "But I don't WANT to travel all day on buses!" She gave a sheepish, embarrassed, and amused smile, dismissed me with a big wave of her hand, shut the bus door, and took off down the road.
I've Heard A Lot About You!

I entered the little kiwi habitat at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and let my eyes adjust to the artificial full moonlight. The guidebook warned me not to expect anything, since kiwis are reclusive and nocturnal, and would be sleeping right now. There was lots of noise on the roof, from birds hopping outside on the roof, and plant branches swishing in the wind against it. Altogether, a pretty noisy and altogether too well-lit place for shy little hermits.

Nevertheless, there was another noise too. At the crook in the footpath, just on the other side of the low wire fence, there was a clattering. Sure enough, it was a little brown kiwi, about the size of a chicken, clattering its beak against a PVC pipe as it dug a hole. Even though I was right next to it, the kiwi seemed completely oblivious to my presence. The kiwi's focus was on this excavation project. Was the kiwi trying to get to some water from the pipe? Apparently not: the little insomniac was digging a hole within which to place its head, to cut out the light and noise and try and get some well-earned sleep. I whispered, "I've heard a lot about you!" After a while, the kiwi stopped moving - sleep at last!

Against the far wall of the habitat I saw another kiwi secretively striding from one place to another, looking like a refugee from an Edward Gorey ink-drawing cartoon. And I saw a third kiwi against a wall, looking like a stone or a bowling ball, also with its beak pointed into a dark corner, trying to sleep.

The little brown kiwis are the most populous of the four kinds of kiwis. Once having numbered in the millions, with less than 50,000 left alive, mostly in zoos or natural preserves, I was lucky to have seen any kiwis at all.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

On Wednesday, I went to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in the northern suburbs of Christchurch. The place is ideal for children, and it functions both as a wildlife preserve and a zoo. It features both wild animals and familiar barnyard animals (albeit from rare breeds). Very nice place - not much land, though, so they have to find clever ways of using all the land to wedge as many animals as possible into the space.

Lots of ducks, geese, and water birds. Various birds too, including doves and parrots. A few Asian monkeys and apes too.

When I arrived, it was eel feeding time. I asked the man scooping food from a can, "Is that dog food, or is that eel food?" He replied, "Oh, it's dog food. These customers aren't so particular."

At one point, I saw two pretty women gingerly feeding pellets to two of the loudest, and by far the ugliest, pigs that I had ever seen. (Somehow the world works like this, doesn't it?) I told one woman, "You've made a friend!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Senseless Kiwi Tragedy

This sad news was in the TV news here. Maybe just one stupid loose dog, and years of strenuous efforts thrown away:
As many as 70 kiwi could be dead due to dog attacks at Purua Scenic Reserve just north of Whangarei.

DOC workers have found seven of the birds fatally wounded.

Those found have transmitters fitted. DOC estimates the numbers could be far higher as only 10% of kiwi in the reserve are tagged.

Many of the dead birds are part of a breeding programme designed to increase kiwi numbers in the wild.
Another Tourist Day

Day's just starting.....
Caught The Ferry To Lyttelton

Historic harbor with colourful ships.
Touristy Day

Spent the day walking around central Christchurch.

Caught a ride with Andrew from Diamond Harbour to Lincoln University. Caught the 81 bus into town.

The place is a bit bewildering to the newbie at first - lots of commercial buildings with few landmarks. But then I realized that everything here was organized around Cathedral Square, and keeping that in mind, everything else seemed to fall into place.

Changed some money (USA into NZ, at ripoff bank rates). Currently, given the collapse of the NZ dollar against the USA dollar, it's an American shopping paradise. The American dollar buys 75% more than it did just five months ago. Who knows where it will be five months from now, but it looks like I timed my visit perfectly!

Ventured into the Cathedral. Blogged. Shopped. Strolled the botanical gardens.

I caught the tail end of a speech regarding women's liberation by a silly man in a witch's hat (a southern hemisphere version of Albus Dumbledore). He was selling a favorite tourist item (a map of the world, upside down, giving place of prominence to New Zealand). I didn't pay $5 to him, or to the Caribbean musician singing about buffalo soldiers, but I did to the earnest teenage girl playing the bagpipes.

I stopped to eat the luncheon special at 'The Carvery' and got crushed with food (I liked the generosity, but please!) Noticing the gulls and ducks outside, waddling along the nearby slow-moving Avon River and coming up to the restaurant for scraps, I absconded with some chicken leftovers and found a quiet place to feed them, where few passersby would complain. At first, just one attentive duck followed me, tyring to guess my intentions, but once I whipped out the chicken, in an instant, I had more than a dozen birds trying to be my very best friend, including two ducklings. Needless to say, the chicken didn't last long.

At one point, I saw a two-man TV One news crew waylaying passersby in Cathedral Square. I asked them what they were doing:

TV 1: You're not local are you?
MPV: No, but what are you asking people?
TV 1: "Given the pressure of the world's economic collapse, are you changing your Christmas shopping plans?"
MPV: Well, I flew to New Zealand.
TV 1: (Laughter).

And most importantly, the Court Theater, apparently the only fully professional theater in the area, is doing "La Cage aux Folles". I hope to catch that show Thursday night!
NZ Signs

Here are photos of eye-catching signs at just one Westfield Mall in Auckland (near the ferry building).

There have been lots of other signs that catch the eye - can't remember them all.

In the town of Camerons on the west coast, I passed a community hall of some sort called Bill Maher Hall.

Here in Christchurch, I liked seeing a store called "Reptiles - Tons Of Tiles". I also liked seeing the "Sinister Boutique".

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christ Church Cathedral
Diamond Harbour

The view from Andrew's living room.
Madcap Hike To Camp Bay

After work, we piled into Andrew's convertible and headed off to home at Diamond Harbour. The sudden sunshine allowed us to put the top down, and we raced off through the windy, hedge-bound country lanes towards the hills of the harbour.

Diamond Harbour sits on the flank of the Banks Peninsula, an eroded, extinct volcano on the coastline bearing many steep and dramatic inlets and bays. Diamond Harbour is gorgeous, kind of reminding me of the Marin coastline. Across the Harbour is Lyttelton, where Scott and Shackleton were both based for their Antarctic adventures.

Spontaneously, Andrew suggested a hike, and we scrambled along a track on the steep coastline and alarming a few sheep. We paused at a commemorative grove of pines honoring the dead for those years when Camp Bay served as a quarantine camp for those entering New Zealand. We pressed on a bit further, and saw many dramatic landscapes.

On the way back, I slipped on the slippery grass, but instead of pitching off the cliff into the seaside rocks, I just fell on my face (could have been worse...)

Lincoln University, Christchurch

Reminds me of a lusher, windier version of NM Tech....

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Coast-To-Coast: a lot easier to do in New Zealand than in the U.S.!

Today, I awoke in Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island, drove up to Arthur's Pass in the Southern Alps, picked up Andrew there, and currently I'm at Lincoln University in Christchurch, near the east coast. It's been raining on and off all day. The rain seems present mostly on the east side of the Southern Alps: the western side is overcast, but dry. They say NZ is like that: if you don't like the weather on one side of the mountains, just go to the other side.

Andrew's colleague Graeme R. suggested a southern loop that I might travel on a future trip. Pleasant for birdwatching (albatrosses; penguins), this loop sounds quite exciting (Otago Peninsula; Nugget Point in the Catlins; St. Bethens). Currently, Andrew and I will travel to those comely tourist destinations, Wanaka and Queenstown!