Turning things totally topsy turvy with this special issue (not quite) live from the southern hemisphere. After 23 months in France, the bank balance, professional and personal calendars finally aligned for a trip home in August.
First up though was a wee pitstop in:
Why Melbourne? Long story short – right place, right time, right things to do. As a bonus, it miraculously broke up the flying. I flew from Lyon to Dubai, 6 hours, then Dubai to Melbourne, 13 hours. And that was it! The 3.5 hours to make it to Wellington three days later barely even registered. This may not sound like much to write home about to you northern hemisphere-dwellers but compared to the standard 2×12 hour (MINIMUM) flights from NZ to Europe it was pretty bloody luxurious. It also seemed to cheat jetlag, as I left Lyon at night, got to Dubai in the morning, and after flying for what felt like a whole day got to Melbourne the following morning. So although I was tired, my body wasn’t confused about when it should be sleeping. There was a downside to all this however as the indirect route meant my flights were even more expensive than had I just done a straightforward return ticket. Treat yo self…
Anyway, back to why Melbourne? Reason number one, shows. Spurred by my unsuccessful attempts at West End ticket lotteries in London in April, I casually asked mum if she fancied a wee theatre trip across the ditch. We’ve done this a couple of times over the years as NZ just doesn’t have the same professional theatre opportunities as Melbourne and Sydney. She didn’t exactly need convincing, and that was that.
The number one priority was The Book of Mormon, as it had now been four years since we first tried and failed to get tickets in both London and New York. For the uninitiated, the plot in a nutshell follows two naive young Mormons on their mission to Uganda. Overblown stereotypes abound. It is not for the faint hearted as absolutely nothing, I mean NOTHING is off-limits. It is highly offensive, but actually very clever in its music and lyrics as it parodies musical theatre tropes. I think this video does a pretty good job of encapsulating all that:
The other show I went to was Aladdin. When I first heard Aladdin was being made into a musical I was pretty skeptical, but had since heard good things and wanted to seize the opportunity (mum didn’t – she went to Jesus Christ Superstar instead). So off I went to the matinee having landed at 6am, and I was absolutely blown away. As the show went on the sets got more and more sophisticated, the costume changes more and more elaborate, and the ensemble pieces more and more impressive. On top of all that was the base of songs I already knew from childhood and all the nostalgia that came along with it. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
The other primary reason to go to Melbourne that developed in tandem with the shows was to see two friends of mine, Matt and Mel, who I had met on my trip to Italy in 2013. I had seen them again in Feb 2014, and decided a proper catch up was in order. We hadn’t been in contact too much over the past couple of years but it was really like no time had passed at all.
Aside from those three events we had nothing planned for the trip, but managed to fill it without too much trouble. It should come as no surprise that I hit up a couple of exhibitions while there. The first was Wallace and Gromit and Friends at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Fed Square. It was an expensive exhibition, but worth it, as it gave a fascinating insight into all aspects of Aardman Animations’ stop motion film production. The pièce de résistance though was the studio where you could make your own mini stop motion clip. Not being a naturally creative person, I was not very optimistic when presented with two lumps of plasticine and free reign. However, the stars must have been in alignment as somehow I produced a MASTERPIECE. Mum and I literally squealed when we saw the finished product and even the exhibition assistant was legitimately impressed. My greatest artistic achievement to date.
The other exhibition I went to was Katsushika Hokusai at the NGV. Hokusai was a Japanese artist who lived from 1760-1849. He worked primarily in woodblock prints, and went on to be extremely influential on European artists at the turn of the twentieth century. His most famous work is undoubtedly The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which if you own a smartphone you are probably familiar with (for the rare creature who doesn’t…it’s an emoji). This exhibition too exceeded my expectations with just how thorough it was in not only its collection of 176 prints, but also the blurbs that accompanied every one of them. What I found particularly interesting was that there were in fact two prints of the wave, juxtaposed to show the slight variations caused throughout the repeat printing process (basically, the 100th print made is not going to have as much detail as the first one as the matrix gets worn down through repeated use). This work has attained such cult status it was a good reminder of what it really is.
The rest of our time was spent exploring laneways and eating delicious food which is the whole point of Melbourne.
Melbourne was absolutely FREEZING, about 10 degrees every day, so it didn’t quite provide the stepping stone between European summer and NZ winter that I was hoping for. However, for a sentimental sucker like me it was definitely nice to have that middle step of being in a place that is so similar to home in many ways before being 100% home in…
As it turned out, Melbourne was as wintry as it got. I was very lucky with only 1-2 days of rain per week in Wellington, and temperatures around 10-15 degrees every day.
My time back home was dominated by a few key themes:
This was an ambitious project from the start, but frustratingly not outright impossible, so I had to give it a go. New Zealand has a three step process to getting your driver’s licence. To simplify: after you pass a theory test, you get a learner licence and can learn to drive, accompanied. Pass a practical test, and you get a restricted licence – you can drive alone, but not with passengers, and not between 10pm-5am. Pass another practical test and you get your full licence; the road is your oyster.
I got my restricted licence in August 2015 just before leaving to France. It had been two years with no driving whatsoever (and before that, I had literally driven twice since getting that licence). I have absolutely no desire to drive, but, also absolutely no desire to have to retake the restricted test. The restricted licence is now only valid for five years, and I was already two years into it. Not knowing when I would next be back in NZ, it seemed like my best bet to try my darnedest to get it out of the way while home. For the odds to be in my favour, I attended a defensive driving course, and was out in the car for an average of an hour every day. My test was the day before I left, and to everyone’s great relief I BLOODY PASSED! Whether I can actually drive in France is another bureaucratic nightmare I don’t yet have the strength for, but I don’t really care. I’ve got though the system and don’t have to resit any tests. Definitely up there with my proudest accomplishments.
While my days revolved around driving, my evenings were structured around catch ups with friends. And what do most catchups hinge on by default? FOOD. As luck would have it, my visit home coincided with the Wellington on a Plate food festival. In the three and a half weeks I was there, I think there were about three days where I didn’t have any meals out, and just as many where I was out for both lunch and dinner. It was exhausting! But, delicious. We mostly stuck to the old faves, though I did try out a few new places. I also had a list of things I had to eat when home, and even broke my cardinal no-beef rule for a mince pie. Worth it.
Wellington being Wellington, without really meaning to I found myself at four films in the NZ International Film Festival, and two amateur theatre shows that friends were involved in. I also stopped by the National Library to see its new He Tohu exhibition of New Zealand’s founding documents: the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. Unfortunately we were short on time so not able to do it thoroughly, but we did manage to find my great, great grandmother’s signature on the Women’s Suffrage Petition which was très cool. It is also possible to search the petition online here. However, I highly recommend going to see the documents and learn about their context in person.
I had another challenge courtesy of one of my librarian colleagues, with three French books to read over the holidays. As with the driving, I am very stubborn and was determined to succeed, even though it became quite a chore to force myself to sit down and plough through the pages. Nonetheless, I was determined to get back to my long-lost roots of reading in my spare time, and I succeeded! I also think the constant reading in French definitely helped me keep up my level – I shudder to think how much worse la reprise would have been if not for that.
- Une Vie, an autobiography by Simone Veil
- The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, translated from Swedish
- The Year of the Hare, by Arto Paasilinna, translated from Finnish
The second one was my favourite, as it was the most intriguing and entertaining to read. I also appreciated Une Vie, but the subject matter was heavier. I had had several people recommend the last one, and the premise sounded good on paper, but I just didn’t click to it. This is for sure due in part to the fact that I was just sick of reading by that point. Nonetheless, I stuck it out to the end, bringing the number of books I have read very nearly in line with the number of months elapsed in the year, another of my ‘I don’t make New Year’s resolutions’ New Year’s resolutions.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I had set myself one more challenge: learn Comptine d’un autre été, one of the main themes from Amélie, on piano. Why? Because my parents have a piano, and I don’t, and playing it is a mediocre skill I have not yet entirely lost. Why that tune? Because EVERYONE knows how to play it in France, and much like the driving test, it was the perfect level of ‘achievably within my skill level if I apply myself’. Unfortunately, what I had not anticipated was the fact that my baby hands have not grown since I last learnt piano eight years ago and I still can barely stretch an octave. So while this piece was not out of my range in terms of its intricacy, I just physically could not play it very well. I didn’t give up, but the results were not the most…delicate. Let’s just say I won’t be jumping onto a public piano to play it any time soon.
So, with all that going on I didn’t really have much of a relaxing holiday! I have therefore been making the most of the past three weeks of ‘being sort of back at work but not really’. More info to come on that next blog. Classes start on Monday and I’m looking forward to getting stuck back into things. As always, next post to come when it comes…
Ta ta for now,
Grace is disappointed her ‘biohazard event’ didn’t make the cut. As I like to keep my fans happy, I shall rectify this. But it needs a set up. Grace is one of my old flatmates from NZ who has been in Canada from the past two years. As luck would have it, her return home overlapped with mine by a couple of days, and it was time to get the old gang back together with Sophie, our third musketeer. Now, obviously this was exciting in itself, but over the past couple of months the potential reunion had taken on a life of its own thanks to a recurrent facebook meme. Which of course I can’t track down. But it revolves around buying a rotisserie chicken, coleslaw and rolls as the height of treat yo self cuisine. When we flatted together this was our regular Monday night dinner after we traipsed to the Chaffers St New World to do our food shop for the week and all the way back up Majoribanks St to our flat. After several months of tagging each other every time we saw this with ‘omg the dream’ type comments, the stars aligned and the 24th of August was The Big Day. Unfortunately, the 25th of August was a big day for Grace for other reasons.
Sophie’s flat had the honour of hosting the esteemed coleslaw chicken night, and it was everything we could have hoped it to be. Grace had only got back to NZ the day before, so instead of risking the long drive back to her parents’ in Raumati she decided to crash at mine. Unfortunately, this was not the place of happy memories, as she was up vomiting from 3am. My mum was up from 5am looking after her, and her parents arrived around 7 to take her home. Somehow I managed to sleep through all of this. Meanwhile, mum was disinfecting everything to within an inch of its life so I didn’t go down right before my driving test and long haul flying. With the door to my brother’s room kept firmly shut for the next day or so, it really did feel like a biohazard zone.
If you’ve read this far, you must be thinking…WAS IT THE CHICKEN?! Panic certainly spread through the camp. While we didn’t get an official verdict, Grace did recover fairly quickly after the initial ordeal, so it seems it was probably not campylobacter as feared but a mere 24 hour gastro type thing. Welcome home Grace! Ask and ye shall receive, enjoy your newfound notoriety as ‘the vomit girl’!