Queenstown? It’s a Mystery!

We spent last weekend in Queenstown, which is in the south-western corner of the South Island. We needed some serious R&R. The last few months have been difficult for lots of reasons (which is in large part why I haven’t updated my blog in so long!).

We didn’t choose Queenstown; rather, it was chosen for us. Air New Zealand has a very cool product called the Mystery Trip. It makes a fabulous gift (which this was for us) and covers airfares for two, accommodation for two nights, and transfers to and from the airport. In return, you turn up at the airport on the chosen day and find out where you’re going for the weekend.

To me, the best part about Queenstown is that it is a gateway to some seriously cool places, like Fiordland National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’d longed to get to that part of New Zealand since moving here. To me, Fiordland represents what’s left of a vast, wild tangle of land that cannot be “conquered” by man, and is so breath-taking, that man couldn’t bear to do so anyway (though that sentiment may be changing). Whatever you’re looking for you can find at Fiordland: glaciers, woodlands, waterfalls, rivers, sounds, fjords, mountains, and plains. It is a riot of sounds, colors, and ecosystems.

The river leading to the "Chasm", Fiordland. You can barely see it, but the water is glacial blue. There's a good reason for that--it's glaical water.

In contrast, Queenstown is a riot of ski and tourist shops, bars, and leopard printed jeggings and ski pants.

From reading that, you might think I didn’t enjoy Queenstown. That’s not strictly true. I did enjoy many parts of it. We enjoyed the gondola, the botanical gardens, and two visits to the Onsen Hot Pools. We had lovely meals at reasonable prices and didn’t lack for entertainment. It’s a picturesque gem of a ski town situated on a beautiful lake.

But perhaps—in a way—that’s what I didn’t like about it. Queenstown caters to the international tourist. There’s an almost perfection to the wide, beautifully appointed walkways; the names of shops are clever and visually appealing; you get ice in your water glass without asking. And everywhere you turn, you hear an American accent.

It was discomfiting to hear. It was embarrassing to see how some of countrymen conducted themselves. It was bizarre that I stared at the ice in my water glass and wondered for half a second what it was and why it was there. (Generally speaking, you don’t get ice in drinks here—not unless you request it. Nor do you generally have your order taken tableside at a café.)

Looking down onto Queenstown, with The Remarkables in the background.

I like that much of New Zealand is imperfect and remote; that it hasn’t been “Disneyfied”; that it retains an essential Kiwi-ness that you can’t find anywhere else.

Perhaps that’s why I much preferred our journey to Fiordland and Milford Sound on Saturday. You felt the fragility of your humanity in the face of implacable stone and ice. It was amazing. Thrilling. Awesome (in both the literal and colloquial sense of the word). I could have spent weeks tramping the various walking tracks and just *being* there.

Bill Bryson wrote an engaging book on this issue, called, “A Walk in the Woods, which was about his tramp along the Appalachian Trail. He experienced many of the same things, including the discomfiting experience of the resort towns along the way.

There is nothing quite as humbling as feeling for a moment the contradiction of having a vast wilderness to yourself and knowing that your short stay is at the land’s leisure. It puts everything into perspective; it’s like a press of life’s reset button.

Below are some pictures from the trip. We can’t wait to go back and spend some serious time having our own little walk in the woods.

Sitting at the shore of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand

A cairn in a valley in Fiordland.

Milford Sound. No words.

A close-up of Sterling Falls in Milford Sound. These falls are about 400 meters (1200 feet) high.

Me at the start of the Gertrude Saddle track. No, I didn't do it. It required alpine and navigation skills on an unmarked trail that takes 4-6 hours to complete. It's only 3.5 ks.

South Pacific! (Not the musical, the cruising adventure!)

Through a bit of luck, we had the chance to travel through the South Pacific for Christmas on a cruise ship.  It was T’s first ever cruise and it has easily been 20 years since I went on one to the Bahamas with two sorority sisters.  So at 4am one morning, we staggered to the taxi waiting to take us to the airport, got a crazy-early flight to Sydney, Australia, and got on a floating city (otherwise known as the Rhapsody of the Seas) later that afternoon.  We cruised to an area of the South Pacific known as Melanesia and visited islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu.  My French (a necessity in New Caledonia) was rusty to non-existent, and I wound up saying “Ah, oui!” a lot.  It seemed to work.  Je comprend un peu, however, so I had entire conversations with people in which I nodded a lot, said “oui” a lot, and occasionally said, “Non.”

One phrase I knew well, however, was”C’est combien?” (How much?).  It was always on the tip of my tongue.  Much to T’s distress.

We went snorkeling in Vanuatu, had a bit of a car adventure in Noumea, New Caledonia, got frustrated in Lifou (also New Caledonia), and enjoyed swimming in the sea and laying on the soft, shell beach of Mystery Island.  But by far, our favorite place was Isle des Pins (Isle of Pines) and we’re pretty sure we want to go back.  Here are some pictures from our trip.  Enjoy!

Leaving Sydney harbour and floating past the Sydney Opera House.

The Jean-Marie Tijbaou Cultural Center, Noumea, New Caledonia.

Our first stop was the capital city of New Caledonia, Noumea.  New Caledonia is under French rule, but the Kanaks are the indigenous people of New Caledonia.  The Tijbaou center is a celebration of Kanak culture and an homage to the leader of the Kanak independence movement.

A replica of a grand case (big/important house--primarily ceremonial and one per tribe)

Beautiful Anse Vata (still in Noumea) where we had lunch on the beach. French baguette, cheese, apples, and juice.

Saying "Au revoir!" to New Caledonia. For a day, at least.

Our next stop was Port Vila in Vanuatu.  I should mention that it rained for a good portion of our trip (though it IS rainy season!), so when we could snap pics in the sunshine, we did.  Vanuatu was all about snorkeling and eating super-fresh pineapple and berries from the market.

snorkeling in Vanuatu. Honestly, it was like swimming in a tropical aquarium!

Yummy fruit and veg from the market in Port Vila.

In front of the market in Port Vila. In addition to fruit and veggies, there were gorgeous flowers, exotic fruit drinks, dancing, singing, and lots of fun.

What does that say? No sitting on the wall.

The next day, we went to Mystery Island, part of Vanuatu.  It’s very small and just a great place to swim in the sea and laze about in the sun.  Which is exactly what we did.

Enjoying the beach and marveling at the crystal clear water.

Local boys, playing in a field, just off of a small cove on Mystery Island.

That's 200 Vatus, or about $4.00 NZ. Still, it's a long way to go for a cup of coffee!

After Port Vila and Mystery Island, we headed to Lifou, another island in New Caledonia.  This one was more frustrating.  We landed in an area that wasn’t near any major areas, and there was very little information (and a lot of misinformation) about how to get anywhere.  In the end, we paid for a 45 minute tour that we thought was taking us to We (pronounced way), but in the end, no one seemed to know the way to We.  (I couldn’t help myself, sorry).  No matter, we walked to the top of a cliff and got amazing views and got some great pictures too.

Coming in to Lifou.

The view from the top of the cliff. Definitely worth the climb!

Leaving Lifou--I was ready for another swim!

Our final stop on the trip was Isle des Pins (Isle of Pines), New Caledonia.  The people were warm and kind and greeted us with flowers as we came off the tender boat.  The island is pristine and mostly undeveloped (i.e., there was a complete lack of tacky tourist stops.  Hooray!).  We had hoped to go out on a Pirogue, which is an outrigger boat and something that Isle of Pines is best known for.  Alas, the weather did not want to cooperate, so we rented a car instead and explored the island by foot and by car.

Perfect snorkeling water.

Column pines, what the island is known for. They look like jagged teeth from far away. This was near Baie d'Oro. We took a nice bush walk across to a natural swimming hole, but it was too cold and rainy to take a dip.

Part of a pirogue, waiting patiently in the bay.

Like being home. Our walk back to the tender port--I could have walked this tree-lined drive for days.

A final glimpse of one of the many gorgeous bays at Isle of Pines.

The Beautiful and the Wretched

T and I travelled to the Bay of Islands this past weekend to celebrate his birthday early (unbelievably, our birthdays are only a day a part, and I have this thing about birthdays being both individual and individually special).  I had never been and he had only been there once or twice.

The top of the North Island. We started in Whangarei, drove to Pahia, Russell, Opua, and Kerikeri, and across to Kaihohe and Hokianga

The Bay of Islands is considered a wee gem, even by New Zealand standards.  Sometimes, it feels like you’re visually overstimulated living here.  You can’t appreciate the pretty because there’s no “ugly”, there’s no wretchedness.

This trip was beautiful.  And it was ugly.  And at the end of it, I came away enriched in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.  There are four reasons for this—some light-hearted, some just gorgeous, and others troubling and unsettling.  But first, let’s start with the fun.

Reason number  1:  The toilets

We flew into Whangarei and then drove to Paihia, stopping in Kawakawa for a break at the famous Hundertwasser Toilets.  Frederic Hundertwasser was a Viennese architect with a very, erm, interesting aesthetic.  He bought a second home on the coast near Kawakawa.  When the local council announced in 1998 that they wanted to refurbish the 40 year old toilets, he volunteered a design in his idiosyncratic style.  Given the whimsical approach New Zealand takes to many public spaces, it’s not surprising that Hundertwasser’s plan was adopted, grass roof and all. The design also includes a living Macropiper excelsus tree, after which the town is named (The Maori word for the tree is Kawakawa). This was the only building he designed in the southern hemisphere, and it now is probably the most photographed public toilet in the world.  It’s also, the weirdest.  Here are a few of my pictures of it:

The inside of the toilet area

From the outside

Reason number 2: Stunning landscapes.

This is simply photo porn.  Enjoy!

Looking from Flagstaff Hill, Russell

The shoreline in Russell

A small boat in the Opua harbour

A gorgeous old church near Paihia

Rainbow Falls

Looking down at the Stone Store in Kerikeri--the oldest stone building in New Zealand.

Reason number 3: Standing up for what’s right.

This was an unexpected experience and one—on reflection—I’m grateful for.

We took the ferry over to Russell from Paihia—all of a 5 minute trip.  Russell is a lovely, resortish sort of place full of boutiques, cafes, and old buildings with historical markers.  It is also the first capital of New Zealand and the sight where European settlers arrived, including Anglican missionaries who witnessed to the local Maori population.  It reminded me a bit of a seaside Savannah.

You could really feel the history in some of the places.  As I sat in one, alone and deep in thought, a woman came in with cleaning supplies.  She was on the building’s cultural board and it was her weekend to tidy up.  We struck up a conversation.  She was from the UK originally, but had lived in New Zealand for about  thirty years.  We talked about Savannah and the South.  She mentioned that the evening before she had attended a Thanksgiving dinner with some people from New Orleans.

What I’m leading up to starts with what she said next.

“They said that there was still so much racism there,” she said.

Not sure where she was going with this, I replied, “I think it’s fair to say that racism exists everywhere.”

“Well not here.  There’s no racism here.”

I think my raised eyebrows gave away my surprise.

She explained.  “It’s not about racism with the Maoris.  It’s about role models.  They aren’t very good role models for their children, are they?”

“Excuse me?”

She leaned in a way that I can only describe as conspiratorial.  And it angered me.  “They’re all on the benefit.  All they’re doing is teaching their kids to be lazy and live on the benefit.”

At this point, I had a choice.  I could smile benignly and change the subject, thus letting it go, or I could say something.

I said something.

“I don’t think that’s really accurate,” I began.  “And, regardless, it’s not about role models.  It’s about ending a cycle of oppression and racism.  That takes a long time– it’s endemic  *and* systemic.  You can’t just change that overnight.  And to say that racism doesn’t exist here is just… well, I’m sorry, but it’s just wrong.”

She waved her hands in the air.  “Oppression?  Racism?  I think that’s debatable.”

“There’s nothing debatable about laws that basically stripped Maori of their property or that laws that prohibited Maori children from speaking their own language in public,” I said, genuinely angry at this point.  “ I don’t know what you call it, but that sounds like oppression and racism to me.”

Before she could reply, we were interrupted by a jovial older man who came in to join her in her cleaning.  She turned away and I returned to some quiet contemplation.  I think God was probably looking out for us both in that moment.

I was seething inside, though.  The conversation had really bothered me, for obvious reasons.  But what really angered me was that she somehow thought I might be sympathetic to what she was saying.  Was it because I was an immigrant, like her?  Was it because I was a white girl from the South?  Was I being overly sensitive to the issue because I *am* from the South and race relations are always present somewhere in the periphery.   I don’t know.  At this point, I don’t care, but I was honestly astounded that she believed that these were “truths” and thus safe to share with a total stranger.

It rattled me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

In fact, it still rattles me.

In contemplation, I am glad of two things.  First, I am glad I said something.  For lots of reasons I won’t go into here, people don’t always have the luxury of being able to say something.  I know some would disagree with me on that point.

Second, it’s the first time I’ve encountered such direct statements about race in New Zealand, and honestly one of the few times I have encountered it in my life.  That shows me that while there is obviously still a lot of work to be done, there’s a lot that has already been done.  I can live with that.  For now.

Reason number 4: Seeing where it all started

Tying everything together was our visit to the Waitangi Treaty grounds on our last day.  Waitangi is typically translated as weeping waters.  Though, some believe it can also translate into falling tears.

The Waitangi Treaty grounds is the site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Crown and the Maori.  It is the birthplace of modern New Zealand.  It’s where it all started for most of us.  It’s where it changed for many others.

I thought about the Revolutionary War and the birth of America.  I thought about the riots and the skirmishes and the wars going on all over the world over so many of the things that I experienced in the microcosm of our weekend away.  Once again, I realised that the same struggles exist almost everywhere to one degree or another.  That people are fighting, have fought, and will fight for many of the same things.

As I stood looking out over a gorgeous bay under the shade of century old trees, the Tui birds danced and sang on their branches.  Anyone I know here will tell you that I have a thing about the Tui birds.  I looked up and I smiled.   And I thought to myself, “This is New Zealand,” this is the world,  both the beautiful and the wretched.

Looking out over the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Inside the Waitangi Wharenui

Home again, home again, fiddle-de-dee-dee

“You can never go home again.”

I’m not sure who said that, but I have to disagree. You can go home again, and it can be a wonderful and poignant experience. At least that’s what it was for me.

To explain my six-week absence (in part), I went home for three weeks. Back to Georgia. Back to North Florida. Back to everything I knew before moving to New Zealand.

I’ll be honest. I was nervous about it. I was afraid that I would see my beloved cities and friends through different eyes. I couldn’t bear the thought of that, really. What if I didn’t feel connected to anything anymore? What if my friends had moved on without me? What if the US felt foreign and like a scratchy shirt, cut strangely, and two sizes too small?

The reality is, I did see everything through different eyes, but not in the way you might imagine. There was no rejection, only thankfulness and appreciation for my past. For my friends. For my family. For my life.

Maori have the concept of whakapapa (Fawkahpahpah), which is used to mean genealogy. What it literally means is layers stacked upon layers, with papa defined as anything flat and hard, like a stone, for instance. Imagine a building of long, stacked stones and that is whakapapa. Whakapapa is our foundations.

That got me thinking. What are my cornerstones? What are my capstones? Are my layers strong and supple? Can they withstand a good shake? As it turns out, they can. I joke that you can take the girl out of Georgia, but that you can never take the Georgia out of the girl. It’s not really a joke, though. It’s my whakapapa.

All of us have whakapapa. Some of us (like me, admittedly) spent a long time pushing it aside, trying to forget it, trying to find something that I perceived as better. There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which are valid. But the reality is, even if you believe that you can’t go home again, you can’t run away from yourself, either. Our layers run deep and long and they are more firmly entrenched than we could ever possibly imagine.

I left Georgia three weeks ago with the profound sense of knowing who I am—more than I knew myself before, I think. I left Georgia knowing that the people I count as my closest friends are my friends for a reason. Loyal, kind, and true. I left Georgia knowing that there is much to embrace about my family, even if there’s a lot to reject, too.

The experience that best sums this up, I think, was visiting my grandmother in her new retirement village patio home. She’ll be 92 in January. She’s much frailer than the last time I saw her, but she’s still spry and sharp and full of fire.

I spent the day with her, talking about family, friends, and other important things. As the day drew to a close, Grandma turned to me with a serious expression on her face. She leaned a bit closer and I could see her lips twitching, ready to tell me something important. I was ready. Waiting. I leaned in too.

“I don’t like the new girl who fixes my hair,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper.

“What?” I asked, blinking a bit, not sure if I’d heard her right.

“My hair. It’s all flat and lumpy. I can’t go out of the house with this flat and lumpy hair. She’s nice enough, but she’s young and she doesn’t know how it’s supposed to be fixed.”

With that, she pushed herself up from her chair and started shuffling towards her bathroom. “Come fix it for me, Sug,” she called out behind her, her Southern accent drawing out the diminutive of Sugar into an elongated, Shuuuhhhg.

Dutifully I got up and followed her. I found her waiting patiently in front of the bathroom mirror, teasing comb in hand. For the next five minutes, I backcombed, fluffed, and backcombed some more, her sharp gaze watching and making sure I was getting it right.

We chatted about silly things, like the time when I was seven and I convinced Grandma to have my hair cut short, only to be deeply hurt when the other kids in the neighbourhood thought I was a boy. We chatted about my mother and the crazy things they used to do ‘Way Back When’ to get curls in girls’ hair.

I reached for the industrial sized can of Aqua Net beside her on the counter and gave her a good spray. I refused to think about the environmental sins I had likely just committed.

“Better?” I asked her as she craned her neck this way and that, looking at her hair from all angles.

“Better,” she said as she shuffled out of the bathroom and back to her chair.

It was only later, while driving to Savannah that I thought about the significance of that very small moment. The rituals and history of families—even estranged ones, ones separated by thousands of miles—can never be completely undone. How, in that moment, I realized the breadth of my whakapapa and what it meant to have history.

To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!

 

 

This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.

Yours,

Kiwijenn

“Here’s Looking at You, Kid.”

The New Zealand International Film Festival starts tonight.  It is two weeks of worth of love, lust, violence, laughter, redemption, and personal growth in over 20 languages.  I can’t wait.  Neither can T.  This is my second festival, and his 10th or so.

We have a ritual (if twice can be enough to establish a ritual) for picking films.  It starts with T perusing the glossy magazine-style festival brochure and marking a “T” next to the films that interest him.  Then I get my turn and I mark a “J” next to mine.  Then the negotiating starts.  Inevitably, we each pick more movies than we can possibly see or pay for and we have to whittle down the list.  We try to find common ground and see as many films as we can together, but there are some that he won’t see and neither will I.  But for the most part, our gentle negotiation goes something like this:

T: “How about this one.”

Me:  “Um, no.  I’ll take a pass of the Crimean War documentary.”

T:  (He tsks)  “Movies aren’t always about fun!  They inform.  Enrich.  Invigorate the mind and the senses!”

Me:  “Somehow, the Crimean War conjures up none of those scenarios for me.”

T:  “Look who’s talking!  You can sniff out a Rom-Com at fifty paces in any language!”

Me:  “So?  I like funny movies where people end up happy together.  What’s wrong with that?”

And on it goes.  Eventually, he agrees to two more Rom-Coms and I agree to a documentary about cricket.

This year, I’m seeing 15 films for the festival (though I did just try to sneak in a Chinese martial arts film that is supposed to be *AMAZING*).  Some of those will stick with me and I’ll continue to turn over their meaning and their stories in my mind for months to come.  Others I will forget almost immediately.  That’s the way it goes with movies.  But I suppose that applies to just about everything in life, whether it be a book, a song, or sometimes, even the people we pass in the street.

When I think back to last year, three of the eighteen films I saw continue to stick with me.  They were each extraordinary in their own ways.  If you haven’t seen these, I commend you to.

 

1.     Exit Through the Giftshop:  Ostensibly, this is a movie about a documentary maker trying to make a movie about Banksy, the elusive street artist.  What it is in fact, we’ll never know.  Is it an elaborate hoax?  Is the hapless documentary maker (who’s made to look a fool in this) in on the joke?  Is it a meta-narrative on the fleeting value of ‘art’ and the idea that cost often has nothing to do with intrinsic value?  Who knows.  But what I do know is that it was a thoroughly engaging film full of humanity and hysterically dry humor.  As an added bonus, it’s a great primer on what street art is, why it exists, and what it looks like.

2.     In the Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today?:  I love stop-motion animation.  It reminds me of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas specials from when I was a kid.  This Czech Republic film is a trillion times better, both in terms of the animation and the story.  The premise of the film is an enclave of old toys living their days in an attic.  Every day Buttercup, a pretty blond doll, bakes a cake for a teddy bear, a marionette knight, and a silly-putty man, who roll a special birthday die for the daily honor. Yet, danger lurks in the far reaches of the attic when Buttercup gets lost and is captured by an evil dictator (an old marble bust).  Her friends battle the odds to save her and their way of life.  The film deals with serious political issues, including authoritarian regimes, revolution, and the bonds of friendship and family.  What I love about animation is that it so thoroughly suspends disbelief into the realm of whimsy and fantasy, that these difficult and bleak topics can be grappled with in a manageable way.  This was billed as a children’s movie, and it was, but it was so much more than that.

http://www.flicks.co.nz/trailer/in-the-attic-who-has-a-birthday-today/2223/

3.     The Killer Inside Me: A fabulous American film with Casey Affleck giving an amazing performance as a sociopathic killer.  The film was sleek, elegant, and a great throw-back to the film noir of the 40s.  There weren’t any huge plot twists—you knew what was coming after the initial “reveal”—and that was fine.  The movie depended on riveting performances, and boy, did it deliver.  If you liked Dial M for Murder or Vertigo or Rear Window, this is the movie for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to peruse the 2011 program again.  Just to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything!

The Accidental Sports Fan

I’m not really sure how it happened.  It’s inconceivable that it occurred at all, really.  I mean, I’m just not the kind of girl who gets into things like this.  But I did.  And there’s no turning back now.

You see, on Saturday, 20 March 2011, at approximately 4:30 pm, I realized that I’d become an accidental sports fan.  And not just a fan of any sport, but of cricket.  The greatest game ever played.

I was at a second-hand book shop and my choice came down to either “Sexual Palmistry: Unlocking the Power Within” or “How to Catch a Game of Cricket”.  Come on now, in a normal universe, that wouldn’t even be a contest.  Who WOULDN’T buy a book on sexual palmistry, for the sheer amusement value alone?  And anyone who knows me knows that I take a detour at the first whiff of team sports.  That’s, like, a hard rule.

But no.  No, I chose the wilder, more alluring path.  The one paved with images of the guys at fine leg, square leg, slip, and gully; the batsman at the stumps; the bowler ready with his orthodox spin; the beauty that is the game of cricket.  I went home with the book on cricket and read it in a day.  Then I checked out three more books on cricket from the library.

My fate was sealed.  Black Caps 4-ever.

The main fielding positions for cricket

Now admittedly, in the beginning, I didn’t understand a thing about cricket.  It comes in domestic and international forms, as well as short or long versions (more on that in a moment).  The rules seem designed to obfuscate their very purpose.  Basically, it looked like a silly, pointlessly complicated game.

My first taste of it was listening to the 2008 Australia/West Indies game on the radio on a rainy Christmas Eve night.  Insufferable was the word that comes to mind.  When the game replayed the next day (what I thought was a replay), the conversation went something like this:

Me:  “Why are we listening to this game again?”

T:  “We’re not listening to it again.  They’re still playing.”

Me:  “What do you mean they’re still playing?”

T:  “I mean they’re still playing.  It’s still the same game.”

Me:  “The SAME GAME?”

T:  “Yes.  It’s a 5 day test.”

Me:  “5 DAYS??  They play the same game for 5 DAYS?!”

T:  “Yes, of course!  What do you think a 5 day test is?”

Me:  “Insanity.  That’s what I think it is.”

T: “Then you probably won’t like the part where I tell you sometimes there’s not a winner at the end.”

I leave my reaction to your imagination.

But somewhere along the way, I learned how the game was played.  I saw how—over the course of 5 truly grueling days—a team could turn their fortunes around and win the unwinnable game (or lose the un-losable game, as the case may be).  I realized that cricket is an elegant contest of will, intelligence, and physical prowess.  I challenge any baseball team to play seven hours a day for five days straight with virtually no padding or mitts.  I don’t think most of them would last the day.

There are shorter forms of the game as well.  There’s Twenty20 (20 overs (sort of like innings) a side—like cricket on speed.  You can play a Twenty20 game in about 2 hours) and one day international (a full 7-8 hours of play) and one-day domestic (same).

You have to understand something.  The fact that I know that there are various forms of cricket is astounding.  More astounding still is that I know the players by name and even have a rudimentary understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.  Martin Guptil—amazing in the field, is hit or miss in batting.  Daniel Vettori—an adaptable freak of nature who has an amazing left arm spin and through seriously hard work has become a seriously good all-rounder.  I gasped when Scott Styris retired from all international cricket this week, and nearly wept when Vettori announced his retirement from the one-day form of cricket.  I know that Ross Taylor has been tapped as the new captain of the Black Caps, and I question whether he has the maturity and skill to lead the team.  I don’t question it because it’s something to question.  I question it because I’ve actually seen him play, heard him in interviews, and have a sense of who he is as a player and a potential leader.

This is very scary stuff.

I have always had a healthy disdain for team sports.  I never saw the point of them.  Admittedly, this may have had something to do with my basic inability to catch, hit, or throw small round objects masquerading as sports balls.  Being picked last (or the team protesting that they have to pick you at all) does something to you.  But despite that, my beloved Black Caps, and indeed the sport of cricket as a whole, have captured my attention.

I think it’s because I understand it now.  I understand why we watch grown men and women play with sticks and balls.  It’s more than a game.  It’s about the intrinsic concept of the human spirit.  Whether the human body will match the force of will required to say, “We WILL win this game”.  When it does match, it’s like witnessing a rare bit of magic.

I saw that happen in the New Zealand/Pakistan Twenty20 game at the World Cup in Barbados last year.  It was our fifth match against Pakistan, and we’d lost the first four.  It looked like we’d lose the fifth, after only putting 133 runs on the board (a very low score in this form of the game).  And yet, as Pakistan chased the elusive 134, the Black Caps rose to the challenge and forced them lower and lower into their batting order.  Finally, it came to the last delivery (ball).  Pakistan needed two runs to win. The bowler taunted Pakistan with the possibility of a big hit.  But Pakistan hit it high and right to square leg.  Waiting those few seconds (which seemed like an eternity) to see if the catch had been made was agony.  We won that game by a single run.  That was pure magic. And as I was screaming my head off,waving the New Zealand flag like a loon, I’d taken my first step towards becoming a sports fan.  Accidentally or not.

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