Thursday, August 31, 2006

Madonna Wannabes

Tomorrow will be my last day working at Cafe Narnia. It also happens to be a Friday which of course means it's Dress-Up Day and this week's theme is 'Great Madonna Music Videos'. It's an excellent theme of course because Madonna creates a unique sartorial paradigm for each new video which gives us a wide range of possible looks to choose from. This would have been the perfect dress-up theme for me ten or twenty years ago, when indeed I did dress up as Madonna for parties, if not work.

However, my current wardrobe is so extremely limited that I only really have the option of dressing as either a frumpy middle-aged woman or a daggy slob. Surprising as it seems neither of these styles have featured in Madonna videos to date- at least not that I'm aware of. It could happen, but I suspect not soon. Even my underwear is too sensible and too aged to pass as Madonna-wear. I'm stuck for a costume, unlike Ashleigh who has been loaned a PVC corset by a groupie, I mean customer.

She pulled out the corset today so we could all wonder at its kinky shine. It looked best on Zane who makes Kate Moss seem porky. I was quite pleased with my reflection in the oven door and gratified at my colleagues wonderment at my waist coming out of concealment: like objects in the mirror actually being closer than they appear, I'm actually more shapely than my daggy/frumpy clothes usually suggest. Tim refused to even allow the corset to be held up against his generous frame and attempts to do so led to a lively chase through the cafe as Kate sprinted after him and the rest of a trailed hoping for a perv*. No luck, and despite the promise (or threat) of seeing Tim in a cheerleader uniform** tomorrow I expect he will, as always, be in his chef gear. I hope to have the camera with me and plan to post pix of the whole Narnia crew a la Madonna so watch this space.

* Just for the record, there were no customers on the cafe during the entire corset episode.
** Apparently Tim decided that he'd rather come as Kirsten Dunst than Madonna, which is fair enough I suppose.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Magnolia of the Year

As I may have mentioned once or twice I am slightly obsessed with magnolia trees in bloom. Whangarei is a particularly fine town for magnolias and the past few weeks have been greatly enhanced by spotting them hither and yon on my travels through town. Aside from my wonderful childhood memories of sheltering in a beloved magnolia tree I think there are several reasons why I'm willing to make an exception to my favouritism of fragrant flowers (though I did recently meet an unusually strong sweet-smelling magnolia in the rose gardens downtown).

I love them because of their luminous purity. The pale pink ones show this trait most strongly, but even the dark magenta blooms seem to glow with an inner light. I think this might be because the petals are so fleshy and the pigmentation sits on top of a deep icy whiteness that much catch the light and reflect it. Blossoming as they do in the middle of winter, they seem to light up grey days with warmth and beauty. Magnolias start blossoming on bare branches in the depth of winter, for a week or two the trees are covered in luminous pink and then soft green leaves join and eventually overtake the flowers.

The two families of magnolia that I am passionate about are tulip and star. Tulip magnolias are the ones with a few big firm petals which start in something of a tight tulip-like bud before splaying indolently outwards. They are the most elegant shaped blooms and come in a wide palette of cream through pink to magenta. (See picture above).

Star magnolias tend to the paler shades of the magnolia spectrum. They have many thin floppy petals and I have a physical reflex to the sight of a star magnolia: I can't help but stretch and wriggle my fingers like a baby. Star magnolias seem both wanton and innocent to me and somehow make me think of fluttering angels wings.

If you get up close to a magnolia petal, whether still blooming on the tree or part of the carpet fallen below the branches, they are delicious to the touch. Cool, tender, moist but not sticky, remarkably like the fresh sweet skin of a baby's belly, they are pleasant to hold and stroke until they begin to bruise brown. Eleanor and I met on one of my magnolia pilgrimages a few years ago and Iremember her special interest in fallen tulip magnolia petals imprinted by shoe sole or tire tracks.

To honour this glorious plant I am introducing a new award: Magnolia of the Year. Consideration is solely dependant on my awareness of the tree, so it helps if it is visible to the public and not hidden in a private enclave. The criteria for winning is arbitrary and opaque. The prize is being highlighted on this blog.

And the winner of the inaugral award for Magnolia of the Year 2006 is this fine specimen currently blooming opposite Cafe Narnia on Kamo Road in Kensington, Whangarei. It's just started flowering so will be at it's best for at least another week or maybe three.

What is so remarkable about this particular magnolia tree? 1. It is so tall and so lavishly blossomed that it practically lights up the neighbourhood. 2. I was facinated by this tree even before the blossoms revealed it's identity as magnolia because of the 'hula skirt' (thanks Ash) modestly obscuring the lower trunk. 3. It happens to have exacty the same kind of cream and magenta coloured tulip blooms as my childhood companion tree so it gets points for nostalgia value.

NB Nominations are now open for 2007's Magnolia of the Year Award so feel free to write in about your favourite tree. Next winter the judge might take a tour before making her decision.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ngawha's Eccentric Style

Ngawha is probably better known as the controversial site of a recently built prison, I mean, Correctional Facility. The area is also a thermal hot spot, with a little power station and even better, two complexes of hot springs. Last winter I made several visits to the complex featured in the film Kaikohe Demolition, which was all very nice until I discovered Jimmy’s pool complex, and since then there’s no going back. Hot springs are good no matter what, but hot springs with character are the best.

These pools are lovingly handmade out of mostly salvaged and recycled materials with no regard for fashion or convention. The landscaping is as extravagently eccentric as the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. This place is to resort design what outsider art is to David Hockney.

Note the ‘Nga Puhi greenstone’ created by banks of knobbly bottomed soft drink bottles. Old banisters and beams, rope railings, black plastic pallets with blue spots are combined with pragmatism and creativity. Arrangements of concrete, stone, rubber, plastic and wood are thoughtful, balanced, and quirky. And the point of it all is the fifteen hot pools each with its own shade of brown or grey or black water, its own temperature and combination of minerals all contributing to the strong smell of sulpher in the air.

The entrance fee makes it probably the most affordable attraction in the country, but fortunately it's too far off the beaten track for many tourists to find. The soakers are mostly locals: old kuia and kaumatua soaking away their aches and pains, young families escaping their own prisons of childen inside on endlessly rainy days and all sorts of folks, ordinary and extraordinary, chatting quietly or not at all, enjoying the soothing heat and unique ambiance.

Warning: Not for the faint of heart or delicate of stomach

While wandering around Ruapekapeka, a beautifully maintained and interpreted pa site not far from our current housesit, a cow in the neighbouring paddock caught my eye. At first glance it looked like she was shitting a long red rag. At second glance I took in the new born calf lying at her feet and realised I was watching her expel an enormous placenta.

I beckoned Al over from his inspection of an old cannon and we watched while the cow shat then pissed on her calf before reaching round to start chewing on the placenta. It stretched the length of her body like a prayer flag, in shades of blood, tissue translucent with a pattern of opaque clots, beautiful and gross at the same time. She chewed and swallowed with persistance until at last the final bit fell to the ground. After a while she tried to cough it up but she had eaten too much and there was no alternative but to keep sucking it down. It was too tough for her grass-chewing molars to cut through. I started to feel a bit sick in sympathy as I imagined the feeling of endless slimy tissue filling my vegetarian gullet.

Due to our facination with the placenta eating we were late for our date at Ngawha Hot Springs but we had to leave before she finished eating and didn’t get to see the cute calf feeding scenes we were hoping for.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Vanity and the Low Maintenance Haircut

The first hour is always the worst after a new haircut. I think it's the lingering trauma of being forced to stare for 30 minutes into a mirror at my unadulterated face propped on top of a cape. No softening of its roundness with hair or clothes, no escaping all the features I avoid in the quick dance around mirrors at home to ensure I'm presentable with as little attention as possible.

This lengthy session of self-regard makes it difficult to feel anything but disappointed when the new hairdo fails to have made my face look any different. The hopeful magic promised by the NEW LOOK articles in women's magazines has not worked, again. I'm still me with the big cheeks and rough skin. Worst of all, that moment of truth is the one when I have to tell the hairdresser what I think of their work. It's impossible to blurt "It's awful" especially when I remember that the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is but 2 weeks, and that it will look completely different when I have washed it and let it dry naturally. So I feign enthusiasm and pay my money.

This time I fled to Narnia afterwards for comfort and sure enough the glad cries, the compliments, the fussing and playing with hair, the enthusiasm for its styling potential got me through that rough worst hour. An hour of not looking in the mirror and of letting my hair relax into its own response to being thinned out was enough for me to start feeling ok about it. After a wash I might even like it enough to post a photo.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beach Mystery

While I was on Tiritiri Matangi I spent some time picking up rubbish on the beach. The island is only 4 kms from Auckland's Whangaparoa Peninsular and catches a lot of the city's litter that washes across the harbour. Mostly I collected up bits of plastic which had originated with junk food and junk drink but I also found a single stylish shoe, a well-rinsed condom and this:

In situ, on a pile of seaweed and more tightly wrapped, it looked a bit like an old fashioned cartoon bomb, the kind with a sizzling fuse that will leave the hapless cartoon character covered in soot and frizzled hair, with little stars winking in and out over their head, at least until the next scene when they are miraculously restored to full health. So it was with some trepidation that I unwrapped the bright red cloth and found this:

It's a mystery to me. Does anyone out there know why a whole fresh coconut tied up with red string and then wrapped in red cloth would have fallen in or been cast upon the waters of the Hauraki Gulf? Regulars on Tiritiri Matangi said that, next to the dead whale, it was the most interesting thing anyone had ever found on the beach there. There was some speculation about possible Pacific Island People's rituals and jokes about fertility and curses. But no one really had a clue. Do you?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tiritiri Matangi

The highlight of my stay on Tiritiri Matangi Island, an 'open sanctuary' in the Hauraki Gulf, was standing in the midst of a flock of bellbirds/korimako singing in unison. All my walking about the island was to the soundtrack of many birds of many species calling their songs in a glorious cacophany but this is the first time in my life I have heard a dozen birds deliberately singing in harmony.

It was at the feeding station on the Kawerau Track, which is a long and lovely boardwalk through rejuvenating coastal bush. The feeding stations which provide nectar-water inside special cages are intended for the stitchbirds/hihi but the bellbirds join them in equal numbers. Their favoured feeding stations are a hubbub of activity and noise with dozens of birds of both species flitting to and fro, ducking into the cage to suck at the flower shaped feeders, chasing eachother around and hanging about singing lustily. As I stood there, less than a metre from the feeder, enjoying the visual and aural feast all around me I noticed more and more bellbirds chiming in with the same few liquid notes until about ten of them were all singing in unison, with the rest providing a counterpoint of clucking and trilling.

This weekend was the first time I'd ever seen bellbirds close up and my first ever sighting of the extinct-on-the-mainland stitchbird so even without the chorus I would have been thrilled. Not to mention personal first sightings of kokako with stunning blue wattles; takahe, like oversized and muted pukekos; North Island robins/toutouwai; saddlebacks/tieke and whiteheads/popokatea. One robin in particular was so fearless that I almost stood on it as it was the same colour as the damp leaf litter on the track. Despite this near death experience it stayed close to me for ten minutes or more until I walked on.

Other birds were delightful to see closer, fatter and in far greater numbers than before including tui, fantail/piwakawaka, kakariki/red-crowned parakeet, and quail. I find quail completely irresistable: something about their shape makes me want to hold them in the palm of my cupped hand. Sadly, no quail has ever allowed me to get remotely close enough for that to happen.

Unfortunately, the only penguin I saw was dead on the beach. I didn't join the night walk and so missed out on nocturals like live little blue penguins/korora, lap-landing petrels/oi and two tuatara!

Photos of takahe, kokako, saddleback and robin courtesy of Al.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Raised Atheist

My father was raised Jewish, my mother was raised Protestant and they raised me Atheist. Somehow as a child I had interpreted my parents’ well-meaning teaching as “religions are interesting cultural practices but really intelligent people don’t believe in God”. That wasn’t the message they intended, but it’s the one that stuck.

Despite this apparent conflict between intelligence and faith, the search for something to believe in has woven through much of my life. Unfortunately, although I wanted to believe in God, repeated disappointments made me feel that I simply was incapable of it. Like children of vegetarians who grow up without eating meat and find themselves unable to digest it when they want to, I felt as though the part of me that could be capable of believing in God had been starved out of existence when I was little. I felt like I just didn’t have the enzymes that could activate faith if I chose to, that I lacked a space inside me where God could fit.

I was attracted to my Jewish heritage but didn’t know any Jews who weren’t secular. I never saw inside a synagogue until I was in my thirties. Our family and community's Jewish religious observances were mostly fun parties which commemorated Jewish history but had no spiritual content that I could discern. So I don’t remember even searching for God in Judaism when I was a child.

There were plenty of Christian churches in the neighbourhood though, and they attracted my attention with their interesting architecture and pretty stained glass windows. Not wanting to deal with my parents’ reactions (which I imagined would be condescending at best) I sneaked off to a few church services on my own one winter in middle childhood. I did not find the spiritual epiphany I was seeking in any of the churches I visited, just a sense of being very out of place.

Another summer my grandparents visited us for a couple of months and were delighted to take me along to their adopted Baptist church every Sunday. Unfortunately, the puerile Sunday School homework just seemed a tiresome burden and I stopped attending after Grandma and Grandpa went home to the US. I was relieved to be free of the uncomfortable feeling that I was a freak for not being Christian, not being part of a church-going family and not believing in God but I also regretted losing my tenuous connection to a practice that might bring me closer to a faith of my own.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An excerpt from my memoirs

My earliest visual memory is of being in the womb: a warm red light all round me. I remember seeing a little pink hand with stumpy, finned fingers glowing in the light.

Around the same time had my first awareness of being a separate entity, of realising that the whole universe wasn’t me and I wasn’t the whole universe. Prior to this awareness of being separate I had a sense of oneness so total that concepts like ‘belonging’ or ‘connection’ seem heartbreakingly isolated in comparison.

* * *

I don’t remember anything about my birth. I was my parent’s first child, and the first grandchild on one side and the first legitimate and acknowledged grandchild on the other. I was born very early in the morning 6 December 1966, in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. I imagine snow falling through the streetlights outside the hospital. While my mother laboured my father told her jokes, keeping her laughing so hard that the midwife wouldn’t believe her when she said she was ready to push. When she did check and see that I was immanent dad was banished to the waiting room until I had emerged, too soon for any interventions.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Moving On

Bonnie tries to delay our packing by sitting in a box.

Despite practicing non-attachment and impermanence with the Sand Mandala, it was still very difficult to leave Mt Tiger and move on to our next housesit. The steady cold rain intensified my gloom at leaving Bonnie, cosy book-lined rooms, organic garden abundance, peace, quiet and general rural idyll. As is usual for me when making a move like this I barely slept, just enough for disturbing dreams to add to my anxiety.

So, I wasn't surprised to arrive in Hukeranui and realise that it sucked! Fresh paint and polyeurathane fumes filled the house. Once I'd unlocked 42,000 windows and doors to let the damp icy breeze through, the smell wasn't quite so overwhelming but by then Al had a terribly headache so I did most of the moving in that afternoon. In retrospect, my snarling temper of that evening was almost inevitable given lack of sleep, fumes and coldness. Though if I was a more advanced bodhichitta I'm sure I would have handled all these changes and challenges with grace instead of grumbling.

Two days later, the sun is shining into almost every room including the lovely space I've claimed for yoga and art, I've managed to connect to the net some where other than at the kitchen counter and I've decided I quite like it here after all. It's a ridiculously big house, especially for two people. The owners have had it rented out but are now getting ready to put it on the market so it's not really furnished which makes it feel like a motel unit (albeit a 3000 square foot unit).

I've managed to make at least one corner seem a bit more
homely by lining up my library books and
displaying some of my artist's books.