Wednesday, 20 December 2006

To the Is-land (Lauren)

Islands are cool! Nature reserve islands are even cooler.

Lured by the coolness of islands, Tane and I went to visit Matiu Somes Island about a month ago. Matiu Somes sits plonk in the middle of Wellington Harbour and used to be where people were quarantined. Except for in the World Wars, when lots of Italians, Germans, and Japanese were sent there to live. These poor people weren’t aware of it themselves, but apparently they were a national threat. Matiu Somes was very cool– you can see gun enplacements (in case Wellington got invaded), woolly sheep (the current inhabitants) and giant seagulls (very scary when they want your lunch). Apparently you can see tuatara there too, but we only saw their weta body part-filled poo. Given that the boats only come every few hours, going to Matiu Somes was a great way to catch up on some reading as well.

One of the gun enplacements on Matiu Somes island

On the general island theme, Tane and I went to Kapiti Island last weekend as well. For those of you from far-flung lands, Kapiti Island is a large nature reserve off the coast north of Wellington. It's large and lumpy, and when I was little I thought it looked like a crocodile sleeping.

We went with Bonnie, Ash and Ed, after booking the trip months ago. The Island is amazing – native birds completely dominate it, and I have never heard so many of them singing in one place. The sound of them is so overwhelming most people were walking around in silence as if respecting the birds’ space.

Kapiti is well worth a trip. You can climb to the top, be harassed by weka, and get a neat boat trip to boot.

You can also delete the entire memory card of your digital camera at the end of the day too, eh Tane?

Being stalked by weka while eating
lunch at Kapiti
(photo courtesy of Bonnie)

Five most memorable moments of 2006 (Lauren)

The year is about to draw to a close, which is a good excuse to be self-indulgent and reflect upon my five most memorable moments of 2006. And note that by ‘memorable’ I don’t mean ‘best’. Merely, the five moments of the past year that I am most likely to remember in moons to come.

One: The one with the wrongly sent email

While at work one day I sent a kissy smoochy email to Tane.. After I pressed send I realised that the email had gone to my boss instead. Lucky I was able to tell him in time that wasn’t him that I was interested in planting a sloppy kiss on. The minutes following the realisation my heartfelt goop had been sent to the wrong person were by far the most stressful of the year though.

Two: The one with the missed flight

On a trip to the Far North, the people I was with and I decided that we had enough time before the plane left to stop for a coffee. All was well and good until we arrived at the airport to see our plane cruising down the runway and taking off. It was one of those moments where all you can do is gape like an idiot.

Three: The one where Bruce came to the rescue

Tane and I were on the very first day of a week long holiday around the East Coast. That day had all the makings of a fantastic first day of a fantastic holiday, until ….

We stopped at a small bay about an hour's drive east of Opotiki for some reading by the warm sea. I decided to get my book from the car, and after fumbling around in my over-packed suitcase for a while retrieved the book and closed the boot. I then realised, about a second too late, that the keys were still in the boot.

I timidly approached Tane with the most bashful expression I could muster before admitting that I had locked the keys in the car. He laughed, thinking I was joking. His laughter stopped abruptly when realising I was not. We were in the middle of nowhere, and after finding out that shaking our fists at the car wouldn’t open the boot, Tane set off on foot to find help. He returned what felt like hours later with a hard case mechanic named Bruce, found somewhere in the middle of nowhere fiddling with cars and the like. Bruce told me that I should be “hung, drawn and quartered”. I was so grateful that we were able to set off on our way, though, that I didn’t care.

Four: The one with the lying signpost

The tramp around Waikaremoana was awesome. The beautiful lake, the scenery, the mist reminding you that you are in the Tuhoe country Elsdon Best wrote about. There were less fun parts too – the man who snored like a foghorn, the kids that preferred to sing The Sound of Music than sleep, the blisters the size of 50 cent coins (the old ones!) … and the lying signpost.

On the second day after about 8 hours of walking, we came upon a sign telling us that the hut where we would spend the night was 45 minutes away. ‘Hurrah!’ I thought, too tired to even say it out loud. Knowing it was the last walking we would do that day I poured every ounce of my energy into that last stretch. Checking my watch every 5 minutes, I urged my legs along thinking “just 30 more minutes … just 20 more minutes”.
When 45 minutes had passed my heart soared, happy that I could finally take off my smelly tramping boots and snuggle up somewhere soft and warm. I was so busy imagining how lying down would feel I almost missed yet another sign, pointing to where our hut would be, and taunting me with the message that the hut was another 45 minutes away. It felt like Groundhog Day, and was the most physically painful moment of 2006 by a long shot.

Five: The one with the chopsticks

I have been in so many situations where I am in an Asian restaurant, and am the only person present who can't use chopsticks. This is always a dilemma - do I ask for a fork and look like a fool, or attempt to use the chopsticks? The first options takes a bit of swallowing the old pride, whereas the second option always runs the risk of dropping food down your cleavage by accident, which has happened to me. I have been told so many times to 'hold them like a pencil!' This advice is flawed though as apparently I hold my pencil like a munter.

The whole chopsticks thing was becoming a bit of a drama. My sister Erin finally intervened and bought me some baby plastic chopsticks. They are great, and look like a giant peg. But, they did the trick and now I can use the real thing. Yay!

Honourable mentions:
  • Doing a triathlon in the pouring rain.
  • Crashing my Dad’s place one stormy evening in the middle of July after the weather grounded my plane to Hamilton, scaring the ba-jesus out of my sister Ngaire who was staying there alone when I thumped on the door.
  • Finally making it to Hamilton the next day and arriving to Tane holding a giant sign featuring elephants, stilt-walkers, a blimp and the words “Welcome to Hamilton Lauren!”
  • Tane giving his notice at the Times and moving down.
  • Hearing the Prime Minister deliver a speech that I wrote.
  • Seeing my Mum after she’d been in Pitcairn Island for 4 months.
  • Swimming in the Karangahake Gorge in the freezing cold and the rain just because we could.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Tane's reviews: Casino Royale

It’s Bond, Jim, but not as we know him.

In just about every previous Bond film, Agent 007 is much the same person. A cunning, suave and deadly man, aged in his thirties or forties, with years of work for Her Majesty’s Secret Service behind him. Times change, but Bond does not.

Nor, as a rule, do his movies’ plots. Here’s the formula: megalomaniac hatches scheme for world domination, aided by an army of henchmen and a quirky bodyguard who is nearly as dangerous as Bond. There are two main women, one evil and doomed, the other good and destined to end the film in the all-conquering Bond’s arms.

This is not the plot of Casino Royale.

Like Batman Begins, Casino Royale hits the reset button on a franchise that had gotten increasingly over-the-top. We are back at the beginning of the legend, with Bond (Daniel Craig) killing his way to “00” status, then taking on his first big mission.

That mission involves Bond, on the orders of spy chief M (the magnificent Judi Dench), trying to smash an organization supporting terrorist groups. The trail leads him to sinister banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), and a poker game with very high stakes. Keeping an eye on the government’s money is Treasury official Vesper Lynn (Eva Green), a beautiful woman who can hold her own with Bond when it comes to cutting observations.

This is a darker and more realistic movie than any other Bond film I have seen. The gadgets are gone, as is the man who handed them out, Q, and the action stays just on the right side of believable. No invisible cars here.

In short, silly is out and serious is in.

As this grimmer hero, Craig is perfect. He has arrogance, roguish good looks, a tigerish physical presence. And his glacial blue eyes are those of a man who could kill you and not care one whit.

But he is more than just a beautiful killer. Craig has showed in arthouse films such as The Mother than he can really act, and the script lets him show his skills. We see Bond bruised. Bond failing. Bond tender. Bond introspective. Bond in love. Bond a much more interesting character.

And this is appropriate, because Casino Royale is at heart a tragedy. This is how Bond became 007 and, when you strip away the veneers of charm and selective morality, 007 is a failure as a human being.

He kills without remorse, and sometimes with pleasure. He is incapable of maintaining a loving relationship. He drinks too much. He trusts no one. Frankly, Bond is a borderline psychopath.

Many of the characters in the film realise this, including himself. This is his chance, as he says to Vesper, for him to get out with what little soul he has left.

It’s not all brooding, of course. There’s some very funny lines in Casino Royale – Lyn and Bond’s first conversation is straight out of the Bogart and Bacall school of wit – and the tension rarely lets up. The poker game is gripping and the bare-knuckle action is perhaps the best of any Bond film – the tank chase in GoldenEye excepted. And the exotic locations are as gorgeous as ever.

What stops it from being a great film is the final quarter, where the film takes too long to get to its climax and makes the mistake of introducing a new main villain. And, much as I like seeing Bond in love, it’s a bit too soppy.

The other thing that gives me doubts is where the series can go from here. Yes, in the wake of grittier, more plausible rivals such as the Jason Bourne films, the series needed a reboot. But take away the silly superhero stuff that made the likes of Die Another Day such enjoyable trash, and can we stand to watch a professional murderer shooting and shagging his way through another film? Craig’s magnetic, but not that magnetic. I suspect that even the way he fills out his blue togs (which I have on good authority is impressive) will not be enough.

Despite these reservations, and some pretty ridiculous opening credits, Casino Royale is one of the best Bond films. Kiwi director Martin Campbell, who also helmed GoldenEye, has now directed the two finest Bond films of recent decades. It’s a must-see for fans, and a good entry into the series.


Sunday, 10 December 2006

Tane's reviews: Children of Men

There’s a line that ends a David Eddings book that I really like. It goes something like this.

“And so they went to see that thing which, though it is an everyday miracle, is a miracle nonetheless.”

But what would happen if that miracle stopped?

London, 2027. A city of dirt, rubbish, and blank eyes. Policemen stand on every corner. Billboards advertise suicide pills. Illegal immigrants are sent to a walled-in ghetto on the coast. Bombs explode in cafes. Elsewhere in the world, it is supposedly even worse.

It is a world in despair, because no child has been born in more than 18 years.

Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is like most people. He is slowly stumbling towards extinction, without knowing why. The only bright spot in his life is his friendship with Jasper, a political cartoonist turned dope grower (Michael Caine). That is, until Julian (Julianne Moore), an old flame who has become a rebel leader, reappears. She introduces him to Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), who shows him miracles can still happen.

It is up to Theo to protect the only pregnant woman in the world.

There’s a lot of minor imperfections in Children of Men. Some weak acting from the minor actors, some wooden lines, some clunky lurches in plot. But these are overwhelmed by the sheer power of two things – the concept (Lord of the Flies in reverse) and the atmosphere.

A bleak pall hangs over the whole movie, an air of decay and encroaching anarchy. It’s a backdrop created by the unbroken sense of realism. Here and there are touches of technology, such as the electric cars, to remind you this is the future, but everything is touched with grime. Violence is common, and is brutally realistic – wait for a battle scene that is something out of the Gaza Strip.

Against this desolate backdrop, the one hope there is shines all the brighter.

Of course, the quality of Children of Men’s production design wouldn’t mean much without the strong acting by Owen, Caine, Moore, Ashtiley and most of the others playing the main characters. They and director Alfonso Cuaron can take a bow – this is a damn fine film.


Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Tell us your strange food story! (Lauren)

As any of you who have travelled would know, one of the delightful parts of seeing the world and experiencing diverse cultures is sampling the foods that other people consider delicacies. This can be a challenge, however, when someone presents a plate of food to you with pride, and upon taking one look at it, all you want to do is vomit in your own mouth. Or, at the very least, openly shudder and the idea of what is on the plate will soon be in your poor unsuspecting stomach. The person serving the food may smile, proud that they have a nice meal to feed their guest. You, on the other hand, both wonder what the hell is on your plate, and is it poisonous.

I was reminded of this aspect of travelling last Friday during a visit to a marae in Rotorua. We were herded into the whare kai, single file, greeted by the fantastic, strong sound of a local kapa haka group in full song. It was a festive occasion, and Te Arawa (our hosts) had put on a feed that most would have loved to eat. I, though, am not a seafood kinda gal, and was put in the position of being served a plate filled with food that perplexed me. First, a little orange sea beast stared up at me with small beady black eyes. If I wasn’t certain it was already dead, I could have sworn it was laughing at my discomfort. Also, I say ‘sea beast’ because I am not completely sure what it was – although suspect that due to the crusty exterior and dangerous looking pinch claws it was a sea best of the crawling-around-in-the-rocks variety. Next to the sea beast was some dark goo – eel, I was told later. The plate also contained kina, and something that looked like seaweed. I tried each in turn, not necessarily enjoying them, but trying them nonetheless.

The seaweed like substance was by far the most perplexing – it tasted like a strange mix of oil and salt. I never would have guessed that it was mutton bird, and can only guess that it was a mutton bird that had been to Jenny Craig as I didn’t taste any meat. Unless, of course, it got melted in all the oil!

My best food story is a few years old now, but was when I was living in Italy I woke up one morning and got myself a glass of water from the tap. I almost wound up looking like Cruella De Vil after finding four sheep heads floating in their own blood in the kitchen sink. I’m not talking skeletons either, but the works – brains, eyes, and tongues as well. I later found out from my bemused host mother that as it was Easter, we were going to all have something special for dinner. Not Easter eggs, oh no. A sheep’s head each. I can’t remember if I laughed or cried, but all through that dinner, I felt four pairs of sheep eyes on me. Until they were eaten, of course.

Now, this kind of experience is by no means unique to me – I am sure heaps of you have great foreign food stories. Tane’s spider eating story still makes me shudder if I think too much about it, and someone at my work says that one of the best meals they have eaten was goat testicles.
What’s yours? A virtual chocolate fish to anyone who can impress me!

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Lauren and Tane go on a Lighthouse Mission (Lauren)

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to see each of the lighthouses at the four tips of the North Island; Cape Egmont in Taranaki, the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, East Cape lighthouse, and Cape Palliser lighthouse in the southern Wairarapa. Lucky for me, Tane was also keen, as he has requisite vehicle, excellent selection of mix tapes, as well as being my favourite travel buddy.

The first lighthouse we went to was the one at Cape Egmont. Tane and I drove there on a grey Taranaki day, playing ‘Spot the Maunga’ as it peeked out from behind the clouds and stopping small country pubs to sample the local beer. Access to the lighthouse itself was through farmland, and our trip was delayed by large groups of ducks walking over the roads. The most memorable part of the day was not the lighthouse, but watching Tane avoid backing the car down a large hole by the side of the road. The lighthouse itself was lovely though, and I imagine would be even more so had the Mountain co-operated and appeared from behind the clouds. For something that so many people would love to photograph, have paintings of, or mihi to, it really is very shy.

The second lighthouse, East Cape, was visited during a week long road trip around the East Coast. For those of you who have not been to that part of the world I thoroughly recommend it – not only is the scenery unparalleled, but after a few days up the coast I began to feel like I was in a whole different country than the New Zealand I was used to. In particular, when in a dual language 4 Square in Tokomaru, or a burger bar in Ruatoria where English was not spoken at all. The East Cape lighthouse was by far the hardest of the four to get to by road, and the best thigh workout to actually climb up to. I was in the middle of my tri training at the time, and still found it a huge effort (I shudder to think how bad I would find it now). Not only was the staircase at least 10 km long (or so it felt), we were climbing up in winds that made us think that we were going to be pushed off the hill, as well as rain that made the climb esecially slippery. The elements added to the fun, however, especially when the top was finally reached. Due to the weather we were completely surrounded by fog, making Tane and I think that we were at the edge of the world. That, and thinking that if I were ever going to climb to this lighthouse again I would have to put in some serious work on the stair machine at the gym first.

Lighthouse number three was the one at Cape Reinga – the point wrongly thought to be the northernmost point of New Zealand. I was unable to go to the actual northernmost lighthouse on Murimotu Island on account of it only having helicopter or boat access. How inconvenient. Cape Reinga, though, is still important to many Maori as it is the end of the Spiritual Pathway (Te Ara Wairua), where the spirits are said to leap to Hawaiki after a long journey up Ninety Mile Beach. The lighthouse itself was fairly standard and access was disappointedly easy. Northland is a great province to visit nonetheless. While there I was lucky to get the chance to travel up the entire length of Ninety Mile Beach in a four wheel drive as well as stand on the actual northern tip of New Zealand (the Surville Cliffs) despite it being a scientific reserve with no public access allowed without DOC permission. Very cool. I wish Tane could have come too, but it would have been difficult to pass a journalist off as a Crown official at that point. Lucky he has since come over to the dark side.

It was funny that the last lighthouse we visited was the one nearest Wellington, Cape Palliser. Tane and I went for a mini break to the Wairarapa, which was a fantastic weekend. We went to random small towns, as well as the home of Tui Beer in Mangatanauka - one part of New Zealand that feminism has not reached yet. We also had a great time at a wildlife reserve where we saw kiwis, tuataras, and a big scary noisy bird that Tane said reminded him of me in the mornings. Cape Palliser was a long windy drive from Masterton, through countryside so remote we were having to remind ourselves that Wellington was only a couple of hours away. The lighthouse itself was up a huge hill, and after the East Cape experience, I embarked upon the climb nervously. It was much easier to climb, however, and we could actually see things from the top. The way down was fine too, although a combination of the cold day and the steps obviously had a toxic combination as I had trouble walking for about the next three days and Tane was equally sore. Perhaps we are just wusses? Maybe. Although I prefer to think that there is some sort of curse on the lighthouse that strikes especially cool people when they visit instead.

In sum, the lighthouses themselves were pretty much exactly the same. Big, white (or red and white in the case of Palliser), majestic and lonely looking. Seeing the four tips of the North Island was a great thing to have done, however, as it took us to random locations that I may not have gone to otherwise. I really would recommend it to anyone wanting to see a great cross section of places in the North Island. That, and getting a great leg workout.

Introduction (Lauren)

Well, I have finally embarked upon getting a blog albeit a joint one. I used to think that they were self indulgent and egocentric, so resisted getting one in the past. I still think that they are self indulgent and egocentric, the difference being that I now don’t care. Also, this way, when we go overseas next year, Tane and I won’t be bombarding the same people with different emails about the cool things that we are seeing and doing.

It does occur to me, however, that it’s a great pity to focus on grand overseas adventures when there are so many things to see and do here in New Zealand. At a guess, more people who are likely to read this blog have been to Paris, Rome or London than Ruatoria, Te Kao or Ngawi – three very cool towns in different corners of New Zealand that I have been to in the last year. I’m not saying that I am not gagging to get my OE started, as I am, nor that Paris, Rome and London are not amazing cities to visit. Merely, that I am determined to be a tourist in my own country while waiting for next July to roll around, and to remind myself that just because it’s in New Zealand doesn’t mean that it is boring.

Now that rant is out of the way (my first blog rant! Bless!), I can move onto my book reviews… I love reading, and wanted a place to put my reviews. There is no way I can review every book I read as I read them at a crazy rate, but want to review at least the ones that I loved, hated, or that are being talked about. If you have read any of them yourselves I’d love to hear your opinions as I love a good discussion about books, although I am a bit over talking about the Da Vinci Code.....

I look forward to your feedback!