The weather turned better than the morning’s rain suggested, becoming much like my ideal Spring or Fall day: warm enough that a sweater and light jacket was too much, breezy enough to whip the hair all about my face like some Medusa, and softly shaded so that all the greens and browns took on rich hues. I’ll say more on the last a little later.
Rather than hop the bus, I decided to walk the few miles over to the Auckland Museum. I took the long-route along Queen Street to hunt out some eggs and bacon, a supplement to the yummy but unsatisfying raisin-nut toast I had at the Aspen House. I found my breakfast at a place called Cima, accessible by a back alley that a street sweeper pointed out. It wasn’t until they put the plate in front of me that I remembered that the bacon wouldn’t be the good ol’ Smithfield variety of the South, but the kind that you, Julian, crave. For those of you who are not British, I’ll describe it as a cross between a thinly sliced breakfast ham and bologna. Ok, that’s not entirely fair, since the taste is superior to bologna. But it ain’t Smithfield. I gobbled it down just the same.
I flipped through the New Zealand Herald. Did you folks catch that Cat Stevens (Cat Stevens! now Yusuf Islam) had his plane diverted from a D.C. landing to Boston and was removed from the flight because he is on the government’s terrorist-link list? The guy’s a peacenik! Fucking insane (if you will pardon my French, Mom). Emigrating to New Zealand looks better and better…
But not to Auckland. I learned from Matt, the pierced guy of yesterday’s flight, that Auckland had a lot in common in L.A. Uh huh. I saw that myself. Downtown is congested, packed with retail hell, tagged by local street “artists” and very cosmopolitan. This ain’t the landscape of Lord of the Rings, folks. Maybe in the urban sequel? Come on, can’t you see the Wraiths riding down Queen Street? I can.
Still, the walk to the Auckland Museum was charming. I’m on vacation, so what’s not to treasure about each new-to-me billboard or shop? I took some photos as I crossed the Grafton Bridge. When I get to a USB-ready computer, I will post a photo, but in its absence I’ll say that that one shot shows the freeway below and the harbor in the sunlit distance. The other shows the curve of the suicide-prevention glass that they have installed on the bridge. It is actually very appealing in a futuristic way. Ok, that might be just me…
The museum is on the grounds of something called Auckland Domain. It is a beautiful multi-acre parkland. (Harsha, you’ll appreciate that I actually saw some guys playing cricket and, hey, could identify it as cricket. Thanks.) The light at that moment cast everything in the richest, jaw-dropping green. The slope from the cricket area curved up to a grove of trees that was simply unearthly. If you recall the promo poster for Big Fish, it was like that and just as magical. I headed for the greenhouses in the background.
The greenhouses sit on what’s called the Wintergarden. I wasn’t impressed by the structure itself, but the greenhouses — one Cool House and one Tropical House, by name — were spectacular. Vicki, I took plenty of lovely flower photos in the Cool House. Ohmygod what a fragrance in that place. I took so many photos and notes there and in the Tropical House that a couple of guys on staff started to chat with me about all the offerings — golden shrimp, torch ginger, etc.. It was so clear that they loved their work, that it still makes me smile. The older one asked me “is horticulture your field back at home?” LOL, don’t I wish!
If you get to Auckland, *do* visit there. (Especially you, Kim!) And check out their Fernz Fernery there. Unfrigginbelievable. My photo will never do it justice.
The Auckland Museum sits atop the lip of a crater beyond the greenhouses, and it is quite foreboding. I learned later that it is also a war memorial, so that explains the grand columns and the imposing character. I won’t say much about all the exhibits I saw. Hey, it’s a museum after all (complete with yucky cafeteria food), and after living in the shadow of the Smithsonian all these years, it is hard to be impressed by what I see abroad. (Louvre aside, of course.) But the Maori artifacts -especially the waka (war canoe) and reconstructed meeting houses — were superb! I also saw a lovely exhibit called “Fashion on Wheels: The New Zealand Gown of the Year,” about an annual 1960s national contest for the best ballroom gown. Consider it the precursor to American Idol, complete with traveling sites, popular votes and stardom. It was interesting, too, that many of the designers behind these treasures were housewives who sewed for extra money on the side.
After the museum, I hopped a bus into Ponsonby. It is supposedly Gay Auckland, but there wasn’t much. The Surrender Dorothy bar had an amusing graphic of a hairy-legged man in ruby slippers. I also found the local feminist bookstore. Nice, but small and dominated by “healing” books. Sigh. I sat for a while at a local cafe, had a yummy chicken-cranberry-brie wrap and started reading Speaker for the Dead. Julian, I hope I get some points for the latter.
Between the walk, the hunt for food, Cat Stevens, Dorothy and the wrap, I was a bit tired. But I still had committed to getting out to a happy hour that some folks on the backpacker board had organized. I got back to my room, unloaded some of my gear and had a pep talk with myself when I was considering just bailing out. LOL, I’m glad I didn’t. I met the most lovely woman…
I was lost. It was 7 o’ clock, which would make me on time (or grossly early), but the bar wasn’t where it was supposed to be on the street. Maybe addresses worked differently here, but wasn’t 62 Fort Street supposed to be between that 58 and 64? Grrr. No matter, I thought, there goes a cutie that I can ask… 😉
So Sophia is from Germany and living with her aunt since she arrived 6 weeks ago. Like me, she didn’t know a soul here, but was willing to help a stranger if she could. It turns out that she had been to Base at 62 Fort before and led me there directly. She was going to the travel center there, but, after depositing me in the bar, said, yes, she’d come back to have a drink with me.
While I waited for her and the rest of the backpacker group, I forced myself to accept the invitation of some guys who were just sitting and drinking which, as you all know, ain’t my thing. Two were from Canada, military enlisted and the other an officer. I don’t know where the others were from, and they weren’t really all together. The Canadians were on break from Dubai, which they couldn’t wait to leave in just four more months. The chat was quite difficult (I think they needed more alcohol), so I was very relieved when the members of the board arrived.
I was a little nervous when I went over to introduce myself, but the organizer, Mickey, greeted me like an old friend — a loud HI! and a hug. (Thanks, Mickey!) It broke the ice for me, and I slipped into the round of introductions: Dean the French Canadian, Simon the Pole, Amanda from Michigan, Marc the Aussie, plus May, Joanna, and many other names I will never remember. John the Scot made an early bad impression: “you look like Whoopi Goldberg.” Yeah. Uh huh. Sophia showed up just afterwards and it began to feel like any party at home: easy, funny, and new.
Not surprisingly, we all began to drink a little too much and to talk a little too loudly. Mickey and I got it into our heads to go dancing at another bar that she’d been to the night before (80s music!) and gathered up about 10 to go there. Sophia wasn’t sure– she was waitressing in the morning. No problem, I said, you can sleep over with me if you need to. Oh, Tammi, you are soooo slick.
There was no dancing at the other bar that night, so we all headed back to Base for more drinking silliness. And this, of course, is where things took a turn for the worse. I was chatting with Micki, Joanna and Amanda when I learned that John the Scot (of Whoopi fame) had offered each of them, privately, a chance to see him via webcam in his Speedos. LOL!!!! To Joanna, he also mentioned that he had a thong with the British Jack on it. Holy Mother of Christ! And they were sharing a dorm with this guy! At this point, having confirmed that they were collectively subject to his bs, they were NOT happy that he was there and were uncomfortable that he still wanted to hang out with them for the evening. I was STUNNED that none of them had told him to simply get lost.
So I did it.
I would like to say, in my defense, that I was sober when I pulled him aside. I would like to note, too, that my peer women were openly slapping me on the back and offering to ply me with drinks for the rest of the night. But oh, did it cause a scene! He said that I should tell them all to “fuck themselves” and he stormed off, not before telling his male buddies that “he wanted to hit someone” and “I’m getting a new room.” Heeheehee. Strike another blow for feminism!
Ok, I have a lot more to post — about Marc, for example. (No, Julian!) But I will simply have to leave that for another day. Hm. Hopefully there will be more to share…