Travels With Oso con Migo

Is There Life After Antarctica?

OAE On The Road Again, New Zealand

December 25, 1996, last letter November 15, 1996

Gentle Readers,

I want you to know that the withdrawal symptoms of leaving a high speed full time internet connexion behind are an agony. It is easier for me to go south to the ice and leave behind trees and grass and bicycles and real ice cream and book stores than it is to come north, back to all that, and leave behind my connectivity. Bummer!

What does 15 metres of 5/8 inch line (suitable for skipping rope), a half a metre of inch and a half by eight hard maple, and four holes have in common?

November 17, 1996 Cathedral Square -Just Back From The Beach

Despite my penchant for hiding coins in trees (and going back later when I can to see if they have been found) and tossing an occasional dollar (there are no paper dollars in New Zealand or Australia, nor paper twos, both countries use coinage for those denominations--there are no pennies either) to a street musician, when a kid (teenage, young woman) politely asked for a dollar so she could take a bus home my unthinking reaction was to bellow NOOOO! She turned to her friend and said: --Nooo! He said NOOOO!

I felt somewhat the fool but quickly rationalised, knowing what the bus fares are like here, if she only wants a dollar to get home then its not all that much of a walk on a nice sunny afternoon. Still, I shouldn't have bellow'd. It took me several minutes to unlash my daypack from my bike and dig around in it for a dollar; by that time she had gone off down the block checking parking meters and phone boxes. When I went looking for her she was not to be found so as a kind of penance I gave the dollar to an old man in the square playing the same ditty over and over on an out of tune violin. And that gave me pause to think of yesterday in the Art Centre--I'd been shopping for nothing in particular, (I did end up purchasing four more kites to take to the school in Erode tho I've not yet entirely made up my mind that I'm going there) and had a lunch from one of the ethnic food wagons lining the passage between the market and the central quadrangle. On the sward were two young girls playing violins.

They'd been good. Running on from one classical piece to another, some I recognised but never could have named, others were unfamiliar; they occasionally would look at each other and smile when a smattering of applause broke out amongst their audience or nod when it was one or the others turn to lead. Now I had to think about how the old man got his start--was he once like them? had he ever play'd professionally? or had he been a street musician all his life? And what about the girls now? What would their careers be and would they end up like the old man in Cathedral Square?

November 27, 1996, Wednesday? Viaticum To Cranberra

If this really is Wednesday then its been three sunny days in a row; I'm about plumb tucker'd out with all the biking and sunning and shopping in one of my most favourite bookstores. I'm staying in Weetangera with the Westons again. You northern hemispherites might try thinking about having Thanksgiving the third Thursday in May and perhaps you will have an idea of what the days are like.

I arrived here Sunday from Christchurch after a short flight across the Tasman Sea in a 747 named "Long Reach". At Sydney, my Port Of Entry, I ticked where it said "Do You Have ANY Food?" on the Customs Form and the Immigration Officer said --You go in the Red Line.

I don't bother anymore declaring the Cadbury Mint Chocolate that might be lurking in my munchies sack, nor the candied ginger in there with it (this present ration of ginger I bought here last year when Jim took me shopping at the weekend vegie market). The honey that is in my chewy granola bars might raise an eyebrow, these guys are really keen on keeping out foreign honey. But this time I had something new, something I'd been carrying as part of my viaticum all the way from New Hampster about this time last year.

At the Quarantine Desk in The Red Line I produced the half a pound container of dried Cranberries and told them it was for my friends in Cranberra. They read the label and took off the cover to see that the seal was still intact and then went back and reread the ingrediments. --Ya gotta be careful, the Inspector said, what you let your friends ask you to bring them.

The Outback, at least what I like to think of as The Outback, is pretty close to Weetangera. On the map it says Nature Park but I know an Outback when I see one, roos live there, and brown snakes; besides, there's no parking anywhere nearby, inside or out, not for a car nor a bike. Now the Outfront, that's a different matter; there's parking all over the place, on two levels even, with bike paths (paved, with a divider strip and signs to warn of steep grades) and shopping carts and KFC. Just a couple of blocks beyond the far side of the primary school is where it starts and except for a few sheep ranches and a railroad track or two there is not much in the way of so-called western civilisation until you get to Perth. I've got to read a few more National Geographics and learn more about what else is in there and spend more time here to see for my Self.

While I'm on the subject of National Geographics (and shopping carts) there is a pair of articles in Vol.183, Number.3, March 1993 that I would call to your attention. One is about Rapa Nui and the other is about Stonington Island. On the next to the last page of the Stonington article there is a photo showing Ben Hodges, OAE, with a couple of tracked shopping carts.

Let us return to The Outback. There must be someone else in this world besides me with the same sense of values to have come up with this great idea. What does the line, the maple and the four holes  have in common? If you take the 15 metres of line and cut it in half and place the four holes in the corners of the maple seat, then you have a nifty swing to go in what I have nominated as my next most favourite tree anywhere. So if you happen to be in the Pinnacle Park hie on down the track that goes past the steps to The Pinnacle and when you get just beyond between the next two little hillocks turn left into the scrub following the roo trace between the trees that look like they don't belong there. Follow the trace as it follows the contour of the hill around and if its still there the swing should come into view about on a line with where you are and the Telecom Tower on Black Mountain. Let me know if its still there. [Original art by Xtree Gold, thanks]

November 28, 1996, Thanksgiving Day

That's what I'm doing in Cranberra--having Thanksgiving Dinner with a American expatriate family. Not sure just how ex they are, Jim is talking about taking early retirement from his job with the Australian sort of equivalent of U.S. Fish and Wildlife/National Park Service before they run his redundancy fund completely into the ground. Its a long ways to go to help cook the turkey and you can't imagine the derision one has to put up with here whilst trying to find a proper pumpkin to make a proper pie. Pumpkins are pig food in this country. But there are other reasons to be here too. Lizzie is a neat lady whom I would do well to emulate if and when I get to be her age and playing with the roos in the outback is an adventure.

December 1, 1996, Sunday Weekly Magazine Supplement

This is old news but still relevant. "The West Australian newspaper's weekend supplement, The West Magazine put [photographer] Annie Leibovitz's most famous image [of John Lennon nude clutching his wife Yoko Ono clothed] on its cover to promote their (the West Magazine's) interview with the world-famous photographer." Thus starts the sidebar in Good Weekend the magazine of The Sydney Morning Herald which reprinted the interview on 14th September 1996. The sidebar, titled "On the offensive" went on to print some of the responses.

"It seems not many West Australians got as far as the storey inside. The magazine was flying into bins and fireplaces as readers tried to protect themselves and their children from the image's contagion. "

"The paper received 200 phone calls and hundreds more letters-- overwhelmingly negative--many from people who believed the photograph depicted intercourse or foreplay."

I read the article and the sidebar during commercial breaks in the evening news and the blood and guts Monday movie which followed and between the two... it was one of those gestalts that just tipped over the apple cart, again. I don't often respond to magazines (certainly no more than most of the folks who read my blathering respond to me) but felt this time there had to be added something, albeit rather late, to help balance the "overwhelmingly negative" response to the original article.

Please permit me to expatiate. As a Human on this Earth I am distressed, annoyed, shamed, outraged! by the attention we pay to the grisly carnage that makes up the bulk of the evening news, the deceit and greed we tolerate (and emulate) from our leadership. Then to read in your sidebar that someone in Nedlands "was hard put to supply an answer" to their eight-year old grandson and the writer from Ardross who claimed "I am not a prude, but..." put the frosting on the cake and are all too typical of the responses, in America, Australia, and everywhere else as well.

What is the matter with us that we celebrate with our children the deceit and carnage of our human condition but persist in hiding the affection and sex and nudity that are equally a part of our human- ness? How can we justify the stupidity of procreation that outstrips our resources? Where is the sensibility in even having to explain "why the nice man hasn't got his cloths on"?

There is no accounting for taste, I know that. We see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear. If glorification by the media is what it takes to sway the mores of our children then we need more nudes and fewer junkies on the covers of magazines, more celebration of love in the evening news and less recognition of hate and deceit.

December 19, 1996, Thursday, Sailing over the Bounding Main...

We drove all the way from Christchurch to Opua, a small village on the north coast of the North Island, somewhat north of Auckland. The drive took three days but I escaped having to learn all about right-hand steering on the left side of the road cos I'd misplaced my new license and had only the expired one. In fact I spent the entire drive in the back seat with the gingersnaps and my book _Sophie's World_ (which I highly recommend to any fourteen year-old girls, or boys for that matter) although I did do a lot of looking out the windows at the fantastic scenery: pastoral hills growing a stubble of sheep, lying like old wrinkled Jolly Green Giants asleep in the morning sun.

As we went on through innumerable villages, some not even on our road map, from one city to the next it occurred to Chris (who told us in a separate discussion he was named after Christopher Robin) it doesn't really matter how fast we travel from place to place in search of the wild--the corporations travel faster; strip malls (mauls?) look the same all over.

From Picton on the north coast of South Island to Wellington on the south coast of North Island plies a three hour ferry that carries passengers, cars, busses, trucks, and trains. That ride was at the end of our first day of driving and we spent the night in the Downtown Backpackers Hostel. It once was a pretty ritzy hotel, right across from the railway station, not far from the waterfront; the elegance is still there but the ritz got up and went somewhere else.

Mount Ruapehu, which erupted in 1995 putting a premature end to the ski season, was belching clouds of steam as we drove past, northbound on Highway One. Its sort of like driving past Mount Washington thru Crawford Notch to give you an idea of the lay of the land. Both mountains are about the same size and the road passes at about the same elevation except that Ruapehu with is several distinct and separately named neighbors rises from a vast upland desert of pumice, scrub, and gnarly hills. Even a few kilometres north at Lake Taupo the pumice ground is much in evidence and where we stopped for lunch there were many rocks, some the size of footballs, that floated when I threw them in the lake.

New Zealand is still a reasonably safe haven for backpackers hitching rides and many communities have backpacker hostels centrally located and public toilets in downtown parks. In Taupo there is SuperLoo with twenty-cent turnstiles on the mens' and womens' loos, plenty of parking, a playground for children, and a changing room for babies with mothers. There was no turnstile on the changing room.

At Auckland Harbour, as a kind of sign of things to come, a billboard advert for an advertising agency proclaimed "Get Noticed -- Expose Yourself Outside". Beyond Auckland we visited Lothlorien's Winery and then stay'd overnight with Tim's friends Pam and Ross Hood on a sheep and cattle ranch for the last night of our drive before picking up the sailboat Kai Iwi in Opua.

Kai Iwi is registered to sleep six but we found her a snug fit for four. Of course that included food for six days and two cases of wine. (But one of those cases we only brought along just to keep it cool rather than leave in the car to overheat in the sun. Not good for the fine vintage obtained at the winery tour a few days earlier.)

So from Wednesday to Monday we sailed around and between the islands. On the water from late mornings to later afternoons when we would find a protected anchorage, usually along with several other sailboats, in one of the many small bays. Some days we would go ashore and explore the beach or climb a hill. The weather was mostly nice, warm and sunny with occasional showers and enough wind to let Kai Iwi give us a workout hoisting-trimming-lowering sails, tacking port and starboard.

On Friday there was enough rain and wind and rain Friday night to keep an anchor watch until the wee hours of Saturday morning. On Friday morning the rain started and the tap-tap-tap of the main halyard on the mast as the wind came up woke me from some dream. My main philosophical debate for today has to do with pissing over the rail v.s. in the head which flushes into the sea. Over the rail is a singular experience for males, especially when the boat is underway and heeled over in the wind--one is obliged to hang on to the boat with one hand and one's self with the other. Doctor Betty, our skipper said she could do it just as well as the rest of us but declined our fervent requests for lessons. At one point, when Tim's South Pole hat blew off we seized the opportunity for a hat overboard drill and managed to come about and rescue it. But I stray from the debate. It is the same with the coffee grounds and food bits down the galley sink to the bilge v.s. over the side. Either way the fish eat.

I never did go swimming over the side; it was very tempting and on several occasions I was dressed for the occasion (undressed would be a more apt term) when I would hear one of the heads flush and know that if a head was flushing on Kai Iwi then no doubt a head was also flushing on any or all of the several other sailboats in the anchorage. Nobody else was swimming either.

Speaking of coffee--a secondary debate revolves around the proper use of a French press. The longer you leave the grounds to soak the stronger the coffee, and the colder. Betty contends that most of the flavour is leached from the grounds in the first few seconds after the application of hot water. Tim says a four minute minimum soak is essential. Beyond some point in time, one to three minutes, the strength of the brew does not increase but the bitterness does. It would seem that some folks who profess to appreciate good coffee cannot tell the difference between strong and bitter.

As I sit writing in my log, at the galley table cum twin bunk, after cleaning up from breaky, on the radio is playing Teach Your Children by C.S.N.Y., one of the songs in my Travelling Music, while the fore and aft head pumps flush in stereo and the barometer is dropping.

By Sunday morning the front had passed but the next one was close behind. We sailed out of Otehei Bay then northeast through Orewei Channel toward Motutara Rock. Out in the ocean at last, sailing in the sun. But after a while the next front came and as the wind came round from far reach to near the sky lowered and there was more rain. We had fun in any case.

Friday, 20th December, Through the Looking-glass to Wonderland

I went to see Lewis Carroll's Alice last night. Alice in or through the looking-glass adapted for stage by Margaret Mahy at the Christchurch Art Centre Court Theatre. Great fun, good music, fine cast and production. It was fascinating how costuming, stage props, and posturing can effect making young adults look like children on the stage and how in the intimacy of that small theatre the folks in the front row become part of the play.

Wednesday, December 25, 1996, Christmas in Christchurch.

Thanks to Joan and Roger for their Christmas card.

Over the past few years I have participated and observed the Christmas holiday in several diverse venues. At Palmer Station we did a so-called Chinese gift exchange (probly not PC to call it that now, eh) a couple of times. That is where each person who plays puts a gift on the table and their name on the list whereupon they receive half a numbered ticket. At the beginning the game leader draws a number from the hat and calls out a name and that person chooses a gift. Then the fun starts. After the first gift is unwrap'd and shown round the next person drawn by the game leader can choose to take that gift or get another from the table. Anytime a player looses their gift to another player then they in turn get to take someone else's gift or another from the table. As the game progresses it gets to be pretty funny with gifts changing hands back and forth amidst a chorus of groans and laughter until there are none left on the table.

McMurdo is too large a community for that sort of intimacy so any organised gift exchanges generally take place in sub-sets like work groups or department parties, just like in the business world that most of you inhabit.

I've written elsewhere of my Christmas experience in Canberra and Erode. This Christmas I am in Christchurch reading how Holiday Rationing in McMurdo prompted some folks to propose moving the "day off" to Saturday (the usual work-week there is six nine-hour days) so the community could have a two-day weekend.

Christmas especially has been so commercialised that it is hardly worth bothering with in many respects. At least Easter has withstood the machinations of the Calendar Corruptors and still happens when it will. I prefer to my Christmas gifting on Twelfth Night--very much more traditional and usually the shopping is better. I expect in a few years, as established mainstream churches loose more control to the splinter groups and secular majority, we are going to see a movement afoot to change Christmas to a Monday and New Years to the following Friday then business will force everyone to take that week as one of their vacation weeks and most everyone in America will think--What a blessing to get it all over with at once.

At McMurdo it was eventually agreed that Christmas should happen on Christmas but New Years for sure would be moved.

But what is really interesting as far as the celebration of Christmas is concerned is that there are almost no lights anywhere in any of the communities here. A few do up some street lamp-poles but since the sky is not dark enough to show them off to good effect until 10pm they are seen by only a few people. I don't spend all that much time in residential neighborhoods but when I have there are no lights in evidence. Christmas here is a two and a half day holiday for many folks, they get a half day on the Eve and then the day after Christmas is Boxing Day. (That's where all the kids fight over the presents.) And of course this happens during the six-week summer break for all the schools.

Sunday last I went to the Catholic Cathedral for a performance of Handle's Messiah. The Cathedral of The Blessed Sacrament was blessed and opened in February 1905 and sits somewhat in the southeast corner of downtown Christchurch, several blocks from the Anglican Cathedral which was opened in 1881 and now dominates Cathedral Square in the centre. The organ of the Catholic Cathedral was made by Halmshaw's of Bermingham and dates from 1879. The last time I attended a performance of the Messiah was maybe ten years ago and I am powerless before the emotional onslaught of Unto Us A Child Is Born and the Hallelujah Chorus especially when the audience is encouraged to participate. Getting all teary makes it difficult to sing and I have it hard enough to carry a tune. As a diversion I studied the cobwebs at the tops of the thirteen columns supporting my side of the gallery above the nave and the pattern of the embossed zinc ceilings. I also noted how the chair in the apse, the Bishop's Chair I later learnt, seemed out of place. The cobwebs were black--it look'd like there'd been a fire. Next morning in the newspaper was a story of the damage done by an arsonist who had torch'd the Bishop's Chair early that Sunday morning.

Last night was a Midnight Mass with more choral presentations and the Great Organ Mass by Haydn. Not as emotionally draining as the Messiah but a good homily to think on. In the meantime the rest of the city has been one great commercial war-zone, a morass of car-parks and busy busses as local shoppers compete with tourists for the attention of those business it is to make a living selling. This is peak tourist season.

To my Christian friends: Merry Christmas; to my Jewish friends: Happy Hanukkah; to my Atheist friends: Good Luck; and to my Agnostic Compatriots: credo quia absurdum.

Have a happy Winter, or an early Spring. Or both if you wish.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Love, me

 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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