Sunday, January 27, 2008

goldfinger, meet mr. universe.

Just when you thought it was safe to stay home in a small town on a Saturday night, reading by the light of your Rogan lamp on the bedside table...

[Addendum: There seems to be a bit of confusion about this photo, which is not actually me, but a film still from "Goldfinger." It sort of makes me wonder what you guys thought the young Sean Connery was doing here in his bathrobe, but that's another story.]

Gary Anderson, Cromwell's local stereo slanger, the man who brought Bose to New Zealand, had his fortieth birthday party last weekend--a James Bond theme. No, that's not my real hair--the sun here is strong, and chlorine is damaging, but come on. It's not Sara's real hair either, which Nicolette observed was, "very Brighton Beach." I styled it, by the way. That gold suit was a last minute wardrobe move. I inherited it from someone wiser who chickened out and wore hotpants and fishnets instead.

It was just your average theme party--blood-spattered women, white eyeshadow and men in drag with impressive legs, until...

Gary gave a speech thanking everyone for coming and then called his brother on stage.
Who is Mr. Universe, literally. It's a good thing that the crowd was pretty well-watered at this stage or it could have been seriously awkward when he got up on stage and did his flexing and posing to Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus." Here's a video of that, just to prove I was there.

In just one month now I have seen competitive bull-riders, stock-car racers and bodybuilders in action. This must be what people mean by "expanding my horizons."

Even Robert Plant didn't quite know what to do with that.
But really, Gary had a great party. Sara danced the night away in her scarlet dress, I added yet another jumpsuit to my repertoire and Doug made it home missing only his jandals.

Monday, January 21, 2008

saturday night at the speedway

I never should have gone two weekends without updating this. So much has happened, beyond it being so windy for a few days that this port-a-loo almost didn't make it.

Last Saturday we went to the neighborhood Speedway, for the New Zealand Stock Car Racing Championship. I've never been to a speedway before, but I can see why people like it--evening sun, dust, picnics/tailgates and a bit of adrenaline on a summer Saturday night.

A good time was had by all.
I made a new friend, Jono, there. He was the newest expat in town until our dear friend Elise Holton from our native St. Louis, MO dethroned him today. He's also from a city with a French name--Bordeaux, France, and is here to work at Mt. Michael Winery.

We took a Sunday drive to Lake Hawea and went for an outrageous hike during which Jono taught me to eat tomatoes like any other whole fruit and I taught him how to use the word "heaps" in a sentence, which sounds like "eeps" when he says it.

This is about a quarter of the way up the trail. His shirt has a picture of John Goodman from "The Big Lebowski" on it. It's one of his favorite movies, but he's only seen it dubbed in French. I wonder how that translates.

Epic trail. It reminded me of Kauai a little bit...but with California wildflowers.

This is the lake at the bottom. These hiking photos are mostly Jono's. I have to give credit where it's due. We've already established that his camera is like, way cooler than mine.

This is a typical Kiwi camper bus at the campsite where the trail began. I just love them. One of great things about Kiwi people, besides that they practically all love camping, is that they take care of old stuff, so there are cool old boats, caravans and bikes everywhere.

For example, my awesome new wheels. This is my new (old) dove grey Healing Commuter (yes, it's really called that) with a white quilted leather seat.

Monday, January 14, 2008

no way jose

My Christmas present from my sister was a day out to hear Jose Gonzalez play at Peregrine, a vineyard between the farm and Queenstown.

When I sent some songs to a friend of mine he pointed out that he is sort of a glorified folk cover singer. I guess that's true, but he does it pretty well.

If it weren't for him I may never have heard Kylie Minogue's "Hand on Your Heart." It's actually pretty amazing what he does with that song. He also played "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which I overheard someone say is the most covered song in the world. But how would you really prove a statistic like that?

Anyway, it was a gorgeous blazing sunny day and we didn't get burned.

While we were doing this, Brother Doug was busy on the west coast of the South Island near Haast. This is a place I've heard referred to as "Man-Land," a rugged coast populated with only sand-flies and six-packs.

Doug prepared for his trip by rigging his own gaff (a hook on a pole for stabbing fish) with tools he found in the garage, checking the expiration dates on his flares (two in 1986, one in 2006) and trying on a variety of wetsuits that may also have been beyond their expiration date. He left at 10:30 one night and came back in time for dinner the following evening, with no sleep and one failed engine. He did manage to bring us back a few crayfish.

After we destroyed the legs Sara made a beautiful pasta with the meat.

Our mom had returned to the States the day before. In her honor, my contribution to the meal was a green salad, which she has trouble dining without. I've moved into her house in her absence. It is a block away from the lake, and is a great spot for writing, cooking and having neighbors call in (Kiwi for "stop by") for a drink. The neighborhood pub is down the road too. I haven't ventured in yet, but there's sure to be more on that to come...

Monday, January 7, 2008


I know it seems a bit mad after the night before (see "Saturday"), but waking up in a tent with a sunburnt nose and two days' worth of campfire hair really calls for a swim.

The day before Sara and I had a great swim down the rapids, but today I kept hearing that little guy from "The Princess Bride" say, "Watch out for the shrieking eels, princess!" I couldn't bring myself to jump in with limited visibility. (Again, see entry entitled "Saturday.")

So I scouted out a swimming hole sunny and calm enough that I could see to the bottom of and went for it. There was an even prettier one down the river, but I had to swim to get to it, so I can't show you a picture. Such is life.

I made it out, unscathed by shrieking eels and feeling much more awake, although my eyes don't seem to be totally opened here. In the city, especially on Sunday mornings I have long
dreams about swimming underwater in the sunlight, and I'll be damned if some fifty year-old flesh-eating eel is going to take that away from me.

By the time I got back to the campsite both the younger (Bella) and older (Mom) generations were getting over camping so we packed up and headed for a more luxe outdoor site. These are the vines at Mount Michael vineyard, just between home and the farm.

They have a pool too.

This is more Mom's kind of camping.

Here Bella really lives her dream too, luxuriating with her marmite sandwich in the water. So that's how we beat the heat this weekend.
To each her own.


The weather last weekend was epic, so when we got home from the party Saturday morning we made a quick turnaround for a family camping trip on the farm.

There's a lot of stuff involved in packing for family camping. Here are the girls and the gear, ready to go. No easy feat.

A few years ago we sussed out a site in Gravelly Gully, a section of Locharburn Station along the Clutha River. Now the Kiwi Tent is a second summer home. I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but this tent is giant. Maizie, Lucy and I have one bedroom, Sara, Bella and Doug have the other.

Still a bit rough around the edges from the night before, I had a solitary wander through the woods for a quiet spot to swim and dry out a bit.

Sometimes everything looks better once you get horizontal. After a big Friday night, a two-hour drive home and a marathon to get the fam to the campsite, this was definitely a moment to appreciate my Auntie status.

Back at the ranch, Bella played hard to get with her friend Harry when bedtime rolled around. Don't worry, Harry, she'll be back.

After the little ones were asleep (which takes an exceptionally long time when camping as it's light until after 10 pm), the real fun began.

The last time I saw a fire like this was on a TV screen at a Christmas party in Chinatown.

As an American, I always thought that the main late night event of camping was making s'mores, which we taught even the most seasoned Kiwi campers to do. They appreciated it, but had something else in mind...

You're never going to guess what it was.
While we were roasting marshmallows, Patrick, who is 14, was off shooting rabbits (commonplace, as they are a menace to the livliehood of sheep farmers.) He brought one back which Doug skinned by the light of a flashlight next to the river. I have photos of that, but I'm not posting them, cause I don't want my more squeamish friends to stop reading this. Sooo...he skinned the rabbit, cut out the liver, tied it to the end of a line, tossed it in the river and came back to the fire.

And we waited. And it got very very dark.
Patrick and I checked the line with the flashlight, and nothing was there. We waited some more and then Patrick checked it again, and said "Hey...Doug?
And we caught this:

That, my friends, is one hell of a large eel.

Since the creature could have been older than us, returning it to the river seemed to be the right thing to do. So my bro the crocodile hunter took out the hook and it swam away.

Really, that was enough excitement for one night.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Doug's cousin Fatty (I only learned his real name after five years) had his 33rd birthday party on Friday night on his farm a couple of hours away. Sara and Doug left one baby with each grandmother and away we went for the night.

Here's Lake Dunstan, which the town of Cromwell (home) is on the other side of.

The region of Central Otago is known for hills like these covered with golden tussocks. This is a typical landscape. The sign is for the Lindis Pass, which we drove through to get to Fatty's place, a sheep station called Simon's Hill, between Lake Tekapo and Twizel. New Zealanders are good at naming places to sound like they should be in fairytales.

The only route is the scenic route. Nearly all the roads on the South Island have only two lanes, and the bridges just have one, so we take turns.

After climbing a few more hills in the station wagon we arrived at Lake Pukaki. That mountain is Mount Cook, the highest in New Zealand. It's also as Aoraki, Maori for "cloud piercer." Even the locals can't help pulling over for photos. Ours are different in that we leave out the tour bus. Here are our family photo ops:

Young love.

Just young--and loving to be on a road trip.

This is a massive sculpture of a biker and his chopper that a farmer equally inspired by the open road made out of pieces of old farm machinery.

After countless more photos of Aoraki we made it to Fatty's. He just moved into the old farm house, and there is still some work to do. He's working on covering up the writing on the wall, but I thought this one near the ceiling was worth preserving.

In New York if you arrive at a party in a helicopter it means you really want attention. In New Zealand it just means you're a helicopter pilot.

Here's Aoraki again, the other side, from Fatty's backyard. I couldn't help it.

Here's the party. I met all sorts of interesting people. After my second drink I started to seriously consider joining Emirates flight crew and I ended up staying up until 4:30 in the morning talking dairy farm conversion around the fire with three farmers.

Here's the birthday boy in the wee hours, modeling Sara's sun hat.

Arriving home the next morning, there's Locharburn station, Doug's farm (all the way up those mountains). The strip of green trees along the bottom line the Clutha River--more on that to come...