He's Still Here !!

Yay !
Luggage at the airport — the big green sewer pipe is the container Stephen and his dad built to protect our new bows from the gorilla luggage handlers. It weighs a ton, but did its job to perfection:

And here are Stephen and Natasha at the Chocolate Fish, a little coffee shop in one of the bays facing the harbor channel. The outdoor seating here is on the other side of the road from the cafe itself, so there are Waiter Crossing signs as you drive up. It’s cool, though, ’cause you can watch all the ships go in and out. Couldn’t get a shot of the water, though, cause of the sunglare.

Here’s a house we’re looking at and seriously considering putting an offer on:

You can see more of it here.

I’m, of course, not the only one glad to see Stephen:

Woo-hoo !

Eureka !!

I have found one of the Holy Grails ! (You didn’t know there was more than one ? Silly you.)

I have found the Wellington analog of the much-missed Philadelphia Center City TLA — which is to say: a video rental place with a decent selection of anime, HKC and Sci-Fi (movies *and* TV shows), not to mention Playstation games and a “Festival” section that blots out the sun.

Now all I need is a TV.

This totally makes up for not being able to find — despite checking three very likely places — one of those hanging canvas shelf things for the closet.

Hoody-hoo !

— 2.5 days to Snog Week !

Sweden update

So, I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Sweden. Lots of fun. Tiring, as the working days were 10-12 hours long, but full of fun stuff. Lots of meetings where they tried to suck info out of our (Pascale and me) brains. Yummy brains! I also gave 2-4 hours of presentations per day, so by the end my voice was quite raw. Trying to fight off some Swedish cold is not helping either. (I wonder if this “mild cold” with be like a death plague to all the poor people of America and New Zealand who will soon be exposed.)

Biacore offered me a job, working full time as a technical writer! Woo! I already have my first project sitting in my bag, though I said I would not start working until around September 15th to give myself some much needed rest and acclimation time. Now we just need a house with either DSL or a cable modem, as I will need the connection for work. But we probably would have wanted such a place anyway, as Tamara likes her internet to be high speed.

Had much fun with my coworkers, the best was Wednesday night when about 14 of us got together for an August tradition, crayfish and bread. The crayfish are boiled with dill, and served cold. The only other food is bread, well, plus a liberal helping of schnaps. Or vodka, depending on your taste. The Swedes have lots of drinking songs, which they all know. Not a tradition we have in the states. Pascale sang us a few French drinking songs, as Andrei treated us to a Russian one. By far the most amusing moment was when Helena and Greta started singing a song in Swedish that I suddenly recognized… “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I’ll eat some worms!” Not a song you expect to hear in Swedish!

Now for 2 days of recuperation before the massive 36 hours plane trip from hell. Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angelas to AUckland to Wellington. Woo!

…and some more Teks

Oh, I totally forgot to mention ! Apparently Hossam and Serena *do* usually perform a piece together — it’s their encore at the end of the show. Only apparently the Kiwi audience was a far more restrained bunch than they are used to (although they were actually quite raucous for Kiwis, apparently), and because we were merely standing and clapping and occasionally whistling — instead of screaming and howling and stomping the floor until the plaster came down — we didn’t get the encore. I know I and several poeple I spoke to were quite disappointed to not see her dance to his drumming live.

We *did* get to see it at the dance workshop, though ! And here’s the other cool thing about it: it’s completely improvised. He just bangs away and she interprets it as it’s happening — neatly illustrating all the stuff he was trying to teach us about patterns and cues and stuff. Very, very cool. Plus, since it was at the workshop, it was much more casual. She was just in her unitard and belt, and he could have fun and try to fake her out and stuff. And as an additional treat, we got to see her dance the solo he wrote for her on Sabla Tolo. W00t!

— 3 days to Snog Week !!!!

Dum… and, uh, some more Dum

Well, having failed to strike while the iron was hot, I now find I have very little to say about the drum workshop Monday and Tuesday, except of course that it was faboo and I learned tons — including how to do those funky toks and pops and slaps and stuff, which I must now practice and practice until I can do them consistently.

Pictures were taken on other people’s cameras that I hope will eventually filter their way to me, at which point I will post them. As for me, I was lame, and all I got on my own camera were some blurry pics from the second day of the drum workshop:

Monday night was another dinner, more casual this time, at Istanbul on Cuba Street. (I note that while most of the Middle Eastern restaurants — even the little kebab shops — around town have carpets incorporated into the decor, Istanbul expanded on that with a variety of drool-worthy Turkoman textiles. Yum. I’m also pleased to note that there was no sign of the rather frightening chicken toothpaste dip we had at Sahara on Friday.) Stephanie, Patrick and I spent most of the meal chatting with Alan and his wife, who seem very cool. After the food was cleared away, the drummers started up and there was dancing on the tables and etc. All very right and proper. Hossam joined in the drumming and seemed to enjoy himself very much, to see the dancers putting into practice the stuff we’d been taught at the workshop.

Despite the fact that they all got sick the last couple of days, Hossam and Serena seem to have liked NZ enough that they are planning to come back in a year or so and do more workshops. Hossam was impressed enough with the way Glen organized and promoted everything that he hired him on to be his manager. How cool is that ?

— 3.5 days to Snog Week !

Ahhhhhh…

Traysi — a word about Traysi: she’s a dancer, and she owns the funky ethnic shop “Indeja” in Cuba Street where Chris and I found the belly dance class and Hossam Ramzy workshop flyers, and she has the lifestyle I want, which is to say, she flies to funky exotic places and buys funky things to sell in her shop. (sigh) This also means she has tons of kewl stuff, jewelry, funky clothes, etc. Oh, and fabulous spiky pink/purple/orange hair.

Anyway, Traysi, a thousand blessings upon her, has loaned (given, actually) me her old vacuum cleaner, to use until I finish my anal retentive comparison shopping and buy one of my own.

Back up. Okay, cat litter.

Warning: Oversharing is Imminent.

Most Kiwis seem to use regular sort of absorbant stuff made from recycled newpapers or something. The kind you change. However, you *can* get the clumping kind of cat litter here, and I’ve been trying out the different brands, looking for, as the Kiwis would put it, the best value for money.

As near as I can tell, the clumping efficiency of cat litter is in direct proportion to its fineness. You got big chunky grains, you got not so great clumping. You got what is effectively dust, you got neat little balls of solidified cat wee, all ready to be scooped and discarded (twice a day, because the two cat boxes are in rooms I live in, for pity’s sake (because, you know, small apartment)).

However, there is another feature of cat litter — one I’d never been particularly bothered about before — that is *also* in a direct proportion to how fine it is (and therefore to how well it clumps), and that is its trackability. Yes. You got nice clumping litter, you got it scattered everywhere the cats go. (Ah. I see you’ve been on the counter while I was gone, you wretched things… AGH. Cat litter on the COUNTER! Ew, ew, ew, get the cleaner…)

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been spending 10 minutes every morning and evening on my knees, brushing up cat litter from as much of the apartment’s carpet as I can muster the energy to do, with a HAND BROOM. Ugh. “This is a labor of love,” I tell myself. “This is temporary,” I tell myself. “This is driving me BATSHIT,” I finally admit, half-crazed.

But Traysi, may her hair never fade, has given me a vacuum. It’s held together with tape, it smells kinda funny, and it does bugger all to get up the shed fur the cats have been determinedly putting down in a near-solid sheet (I’d swear this carpet was blue when I moved in…). But it picks up the tracked litter, by gum, and that is *such* a relief I just can’t express it.

Hallelujah.

— for Snog Week Countdown, see previous post.

Teka Dum — Sat & Sun continued

So. Dancing, freezing, dancing. The relationships between several of the most common Egyptian drum rhythms. (note: Rhythm is a musical sound characterized by regularly occuring accented beats. It is not “The space between the notes”, as several of the dred locked hippy guys indicated. Nor is it anything so esoteric as “The heartbeat of the music”, which sent Hossam onto a five-minute anti-sap tirade. Hee.) The composition of the Egyptian orchestra, and the sorts of dancing one ought to be doing to each instrument. What dancing *is* to begin with (it is a visualisation of the music — you should let the audience hear with their eyes. Now imagine if Winamp came with a Belly Dancer, instead of “Down the Drain”…). Bad puns. Bad sandwiches from the canteen at lunch.

Hossam Ramzy very much loves music, loves the tabla, loves his culture, his country, and his countrymen (and women). When he spoke about the fellahin moving to Cairo from the country, describing the sprawling haphazard suburbs, I remembered vividly the half-completed concrete blocks, with the goats outside and the rebar sticking out of the empty upper storeys. When he talked about the fellahy rhythm, I flashed back to nights around a fire on the banks of the Nile, listening to the felluca sailors play tabla with the farmers. Very, very cool.

Saturday night (after racing home to change and shower) was a big group dinner at Tug Boat on the Bay, a — you guessed it — old tugboat moored at Oriental Parade and turned into a restaurant. It’s a good idea in concept — you get a great view of the harbor at night; it’s a neat venue. Unfortunately the food was not really up to scratch for what we paid for it (apparently, it has that reputation). The only reason the dinner was held there, really, was that it was the only place Glen could find willing to close for a private function on a Saturday night. Still, it was fun. I got to chat with several of the dancers I hadn’t really had the opportunity to before.

After dinner, we all trooped downstairs to the bar, where there was drumming and (sort of) dancing. Unfortunately, the drumming was mostly monopolized by the hippy guys on djembe, and just like at Pennsic, the African drummers all devolved into Boom-badda-Boom-badda-Boom, which is really boring to dance to. So there wasn’t much dancing except for three set pieces that a few of the dancers that didn’t perform at the show did there to recorded music. Most folks seemed to have a good time, though.

Sunday evening (after again racing home to change and shower) was the “Stars of Egypt” video lecture. Hossam Ramzy, at considerable personal expense, accquired the rights to pull clips of dancers from the very earliest Egyptian movies (Cairo is its own Bollywood). Basically, no one knows what “authentic, historic” Egyptian dance is (and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you three-legged camels). Anyone you’re learning from today learned from someone who learned from someone who learned from someone who (etc., etc.) very likely learned from the women who starred in these films, or women like them. And *these* women knew what there was to know at the time about “authentic” dance. So this is it. This is the earliest documentation we’ve got, and a lot of it probably would have been lost for good if someone like Hossam hadn’t made the effort to collect and save it. I have to say I ate it up with a spoon. It was especially cool getting all the behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Hossam — how this dancer got her start, how that one ran a famous nightclub, who that guy playing the accordion was, who was having an affair with whom. Great stuff.

So that was Saturday and Sunday. Must eat something now.

— 4.5 days to Snog Week ! Eeeeeee !!!

Dum Teka Tek — The Dance Workshop

Saturday and Sunday was the dance workshop. Despite the fact that the flyer indicated this was to be taught by both Hossam and Serena, I was expecting Serena to do most of the teaching, with Hossam maybe providing some accompaniment or something. Instead, most of the workshop was taught by Hossam, who spent quite a bit of time lecturing on the history of the dance and the foundations of rhythm, all very much in an Egyptian context. (Karshlimma ? What’s that ? Chiftitelli ? That’s Turkish. The Turks invaded and occupied Egypt for quite a while, don’t you know.)

Let me back up a moment and describe the venue. The dance workshop was in the Riley Center auditorium of Wellington High School, which near as I can tell has a campus the size of, say, Drexel. There was a big stage, some fixed seating at the back, and a broad expanse of very badly gouged and scuffed wooden floor between. There were a good 70 or 80 of us there — quite a lot if you consider what I was saying earlier about the size of the community here. (Of course a lot of women came down from Auckland and elsewhere.) The floor had a slight rise in it for about the last eight feet before the chairs started, which made spinning a somewhat fraught affair, but not nearly so fraught as dancing next to (or even within 12 feet of) the woman who came wearing a brand new loop-beaded hip scarf. I’m surprised I’m not *still* picking gold bugle beads out of my soles.

The other thing of note about the auditorium is that it was *freezing*. The ceilings of course were way the heck up there, so it would have taken three days to heat the place even if it would have held the heat anyway, which I doubt. So the first day, we all huddled on the floor listening to our joints seize up during the lecture parts, and scurried back to discard coats and socks when it was time to dance. The second day, we all wore thermals under our dance togs and carried chairs out and back. Alan was taking photos during the whole weekend, and got plenty of shots of us all shivering in between the shimmying.

So we froze our asses off and absolutely loved it. Hossam, as I said, taught foundation stuff, and it was a very very solid, very stable foundation. A lot of stuff I understood about the dance in a sort of taken-on-faith kind of way now makes more sense, and I now feel like I’ve got a strong base to work on the stuff — like improvisation and choreography, for instance — that I had always felt uneasy about before.

Hossam himself is… well, I don’t know what I was expecting, but he seems like it, if that makes any sense. He’s got the sure-of-himself, settled air of a Master who’s gone through the egotistical rock-star stage and come out the other side ready to teach. Still a bit volatile, still a bit moody, still the Arab Alpha Male (PC he ain’t. Feminist, he ain’t, although he has a strong chauvanist respect for women and women’s strength, if you know what I mean), but also charming and funny and always *always* full of praise and admiration for the many skillions of other fantastic artists and dancers he’s worked with and learned from. A cream puff if you catch him in the right mood, but all kinds of unpleasant if you don’t (I saw the start of a row between him and the woman working the canteen over whether she did or did not owe him the cup of coffee he paid for but never got…). That said, although I would not say he was infinitely patient with us, he had the grace to not be obviously *impatient* with us, either.

Serena, for her part, was an absolute sweetie. Yes, drop dead gorgeous, a fantastic dancer, *and* genuinely nice. Not a catty, egotistical or vain bone in her body. She demonstrated certain things Hossam was explaining, and taught us the two (and a half, if you count the sort of drum solo) choreographies we learned when we got to the dancy bits. She teased Hossam and encouraged us. I wish there were more like her.

So anyway, I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow, so I’ll have to get to the rest later.

Dum-Dum Teka-Tek — Friday

Okay. So. I have survived the Middle Eastern Death March Weekend. W00t !

Festivities started Friday with a concert at the Soundings Theater at Te Papa. The first half of the concert, as I think I mentioned previously, was local dancers and local musicians. But before that, Chris and Natasha and I went out to dinner at the Sahara restaurant on Courtenay Place. It was pretty good.

The musicians were up first — a put-together-pretty-much-entirely-for-this-show ensemble made up of Tim and Liz (on oud and violin respectively), Alan (the guy who drums for Beverley’s dance class occasionally), a guy I don’t know on tabla (tabla=doumbek=darboukka — and I think I probably saw this guy drumming at Zebos last full moon, but I’m still getting all the drek locked hippy guys confused), and another guy I don’t know on double-bass. They were quite good, although Liz looked concerned going on perplexed for most of the piece, for some reason. (Alan, BTW, as a total aside here, recently brought to class a pair of truly funktastic African finger-bell things made out of CAST IRON. Really. Each one looked like two cupped cast-iron leaves joined at the stem and the pointed tip. The “stem” curved over your middle finger, and you played them with iron rings worn on your thumbs. TOO freakin’ cool.)

After that was local dancers, some of whom were good, some of whom were merely passable, some of whom made good costume choices, some of whom didn’t. A nice wide variety of styles though, including yet *another* choregraphy to Marco Polo (I still like ours best).

[Whup. Just copped a dinner invite from Stephanie and Patrick — gotta finish this later.]

Right. Dinner (Patrick cooks !) and a trip through Mt. Vic to the Kilbirnie Pak ‘N’ Save accomplished. (Total aside: I’m really looking forward to going grocery shopping with Stephen. Picking out a brown mustard to try. Picking out an ice cream to try. Comparing tuna prices. Gawd, I’m pathetic.)

Anyway, the first half of the concert was good, and I have to say just going and looking at the crowd brought home to me how small Wellington really is: I recognized — and even knew well enough to wave or say hi to — a *startling* percentage of the people there. (Note to self: Don’t burn any bridges. I can totally see pissing off the wrong person and finding an entire community effectively shut its doors. A sobering thought.) Huda MC’d, looking like a real diva in this gorgeous sequinned thobe.

The second half was Hossam and Serena Ramzy, pretty much alternating performances. They were both amazing. I mean, I was expecting Hossam to be fabulous, because you know it’s HOSSAM RAMZY. And he was. But his (quite a bit younger) Brazilian hottie wife, Serena, was also just stunning. (Go check them both out here.) She’s got hips that sing and a belly to die for. SO pretty, all of her. The only disappointing thing was that they alternated: Hossam would play some utterly gobsmacking thing on the tabla or the riq (the tambourine, which in the hands of an Egyptian who knows what he’s doing is something entirely else, believe me), and then he would go off and Serena would come on and dance to a recorded piece. I *really* wanted to see her dance to him playing — especially as it became clear that they have a very sweet and genuine affection for each other. But more on that later.

— 6.5 days to Snog Week !