A night at the…

I went to the opera. Does that make me cultured ? Our friend Michail works for a shipping company, & when his company gets hired to pack and move opera sets around the country, they get comp tickets (they also get comp tix for the rugby occasionally, but strangely enough the truckies don’t fight so fiercely over the opera tickets). So we went to see “Lucia di Lammermoor” last night (yes, that would be a 19th C Italian opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermuir). I did not wear the $5 silver mink stole that I got at the recycling shop by the southern landfill, although it did cross my mind. I *did*, however, pause in Arty Bee’s while I was waiting for the rest of our party, so I ended up going to the opera toting a tacky plastic shopping back of books. Ah, well.

The St. James is all Baroque inside; every square foot of the auditorium is junked up with carved vines & scrollwork, with Green Men and cherubs and karyatid columns between the boxes. Michail and I reckon that it’s nice to have a lot of stuff to look at and talk about while you’re waiting for the show to start — much nicer than sleek modern venues. People are always fun to look at, too, of course. From the blue-haired old ladies who *did* decide to wear their minks to Goth girls in brightly colored J-Pop dreds. Stephen and I saw the Chinese Acrobats at the St. James a couple years ago, and I am still vaguely appalled that you can buy ice cream at the intermission and take it to your seat.

The opera was properly bloody and tragic, and although individual scenes sometimes seemed to last for days (“Would you two please finish saying goodbye, already ?”), the opera as a whole went remarkably quick. I don’t know much from opera, but the Russian chick playing Lucia was pretty freakin’ impressive. Bonus: not only could she sing really well, she was actually a decent actor as well, AND she’s young and pretty — she actually looked like she *could* be someone’s little sister (er, someone’s tragically mad little sister, in a knee-length poet/night-shirt with one sleeve dipped in blood. The blue gown with the mysteriously water-stained hem was nice, but the disheveled murderess look is pretty memorable). Unfortunately, the guy playing her lover Edgardo was a bit of a goob. He chewed the scenery and kept doing these unattractive things with his face, and I spent a good portion of the scenes he was in sort of mentally holding my thumb over him and imagining someone more charismatic. The manipulative brother was good, and it was fun seeing one of my co-workers from Waiata as one of his retainers. For some reason I really liked the woman who played the maid/nurse. She only had, like, twelve lines to sing, but she was in a lot of the scenes as sort of set dressing, and she told a good bit of the story with just her own body language.

The set was great, and it combined with the lighting really well to get across “moody Scotland”, with something of a hint of rainy urban WWII, if you can picture that at all. Michail informs me that it took two trucks to haul *just* the something-like-a-hundred red stag racks they had decorating the Ravenswood manor hall. The costuming was good, too. Frock coats for Africa. Edgardo totally did not deserve that duster he had on (and didn’t know how to wear it anyway, to judge by the way he kept fiddling with the collar and batting the skirts around). Don’t ask me how you sing opera in a corset — presumably that problem was solved a hundred years ago.

Interestingly, I remember during the scene where Lucia goes birko (as you do in an opera) thinking that all the soprano frills and doo-dads (Wikipedia informs me the technical term is “coloratura”) reminded me of the opera piece in Fifth Element. Apparently it *was* the opera piece in Fifth Element. So it’s not that all opera sounds alike, so much as it’s that the *same* opera sounds alike. Wikipedia says “the mad scene” from Lucia was also used in the first episode of Gankutsuou, so when we re-watch that, I’ll have to listen for it. And for those of you who, like me, have childhood memories of the book (and Chuck Jones cartoon) “A Cricket in Times Square”, it’s supposedly the tenor part to the “Lucia Sextet” that Chester is chirping at the end, when he stops traffic in the Square. I don’t own the book anymore, and I haven’t seen the cartoon since rocks were soft, so I can’t verify that.

Anyway, Stephen’s in Dunedin, and I went to the opera. Woo !

PS: Michail, if you guys want to see Turandot in October, count me in !

Assigning plates

Winter in Wellington. Dark, cold, rain. Time for a party!

On Saturday we hosted our annual darkest-day party. And this year I could even attend, I was not stuck in a boring AANZ AGM down in Christchurch! People started to show up shortly before dusk. We had a roaring fire, plenty of food and mulled wine, and the shining of many tea-lights to carry us through the dark night.

It was a “bring a plate or bottle” sort of party, which in practice means that everyone brings enough food/drink for 3 or 4 people, and there is complete overload. It was great! All up we had 27 guests, if I counted correctly (they kept moving!). Two people ended up staying the night (one who had too long a drive home, the other who was out past her restriced drivers licence cutoff), so they got a giant scrummie breakfast, too.

Now I have 3 days to prepare for my trip to Dundein next weekend for the AANZ conference. All I need to do is come up with fun material for my 50 minute talk (“alpacas- te details are in the science”) and make a powerpoint slide file to send down. Oh, and I need to pick out some very warm clothes for my trip. A huge winter storm double-tapped the bottom of the South Island last week. They are just getting airports reopened now in many places, and were talking of 2-3 meter deep snow drifts on the main roads. “Bitterly cold southerly winds” have been a common feature of many weather reports. In fact, it is what has been reportred for us in Wellington today, as we catch the edge of the latest storm that hit our southern neighbors. I am gad I have built plenty of shelters for the alpaca.

What day is it?

Ah, the joys of jet-lag.

I returned to NZ on Friday morning. It is now Monday, and my body is starting to catch up. Adapting to a time differential is easier when the environment is warm and brightly lit, coming back to the cold and dark makes it a good bit more difficult to stay awake.

My final week in the States was good. The “big shindig” (my parents 45th anniversary) went off really well. I got to see family friends that I have not seen in, well, decades.

The trip back to NZ was a bit fraught. First, there is the TSA. If anything represents the creeping fascism in the USA, it is the TSA. They have a casual arrogance and thuggary which is not at all healthy in a democratic society. At least this time they didn’t steal any of my stuff. They did, however, “search” my checked bags. This seems to involve pulling out the carefully packed contents, tossing them with giant salad forks, then pouring them back in. This is very helpful for ensuring that carefully packed fragile and delicate items will be damaged in transit. Thankfully the damage is mostly annoying (bent and damaged book covers), but it exemplifies the whole attitude of “we are the TSA- so you can go $%#& yerself.”

The airlines also added a twist for great customer service. One of the flight attendants was late for work for the Philly-LAX leg on US Air, so nobody was allowed to board the plane until she sauntered in. So now we are a half hour late, which gets us caught in a 90-minute traffic jam on the ground (due to develoing storms west of the airport). Did I mention I had 2 hours to make my transfer to the NZ bound flight? Sprinting from end to end of LAx was quite envigorating. I thought my luggage would not make it, but a 20 minute delay loading the Qantas plane gave it time to transfer.

I was hoping the plane would be empty, as we are in the “off” season for tourists heading to NZ. No such luck, every seat was filled. Why? Christian missionaries. There was a big church group, with evangelical kids from all across the US, off to bible camps in NZ and Australia (plus some limited touring around the Auckland region). I was sitting next to one of the adult leaders. My readings in the last few years have taught me enough about Abrahamic religions that I could have totally ripped his theology, but why bother? A pleasant non-confrontation flight was more to my liking, and he was a nice guy in spite of all his narrow-minded religious views.

Now, I need to get back into the farm-groove. Plenty of projects to do, now if I could only remember what they were!

Meanwhile, back at the farm…

So what have I been doing while Stephen is swanning around the East Coast ?

Er, playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, mostly. After playing a bunch of games at Alan’s B-day party, I gave in to temptaion and bought a used X-Box off TradeMe. The PS2 is great for RPGs, which is what I mostly play, but Stephen and I really like playing games *together*, and there’s only so many times you can replay Neverwinter Nights before the entertainment value palls. (Yes, I know, KotOR is *also* an RPG, but Stephen’s away, remember ?) So the X-Box came with a bunch of games, plus Kerry has loaned us some of theirs, plus now I can actually look at the cheap used games in EB or Gamesman, because I have something to play them on. I anticipate getting nothing useful done this winter. :^)

The long holiday weekend was spent at the first ever Darton Collegium — a “collegium” being an SCA event comprised mostly of classes. I learned all kinds of cool things about Medieval leatherworking techniques, what sorts of modernly-available thread is most appropriate for handsewing various types of garments, etc. I missed the bookbinding class, but I suspect it will be reprised. There were people from some of the other local Medievalist groups there, too, so it was good to meet them and share perspectives.

This past weekend, Kerry and I grabbed some alpaca fleece and went up to a felting workshop at Dianne’s place up in Judgeford. Man, felting is hard work ! Definitely need to arrange some kind of mechanical aid for this kind of thing. We made “cria covers” — although they might be better suited to pillow covers or something. We learned why it’s important to card or comb the fleece first, or be very assiduous about pulling apart the staples: anything that still thinks it’s part of a lock will bind back into the lock when you felt, making little loops and warts on the finished surface. So our pieces came out a bit goofy-looking. But we had fun & got to chat with alpaca people (okay, well *I* had fun and chatted to alpaca people — I’m not sure what Kerry got out of it, apart from maybe sore shoulders…). It was a good day for it, too — sunny and not too cold.

In place of our usual Friday-night gaming slot we’ve been playing other games. We played a four-board game of Robo Rally, and not only did we *finish* at a reasonable time, I actually *won*. I don’t think *either* of those two things has happened before… And Geoff took away our little robot figures and painted them for us. Thanks, Geoff !

I haven’t been doing much with the week-nights (apart from A&S and KotOR), mostly because I’m still (yes STILL) getting over the Dunedin Death-Grip. After a couple of false starts where I’d think I was doing better and go to dance class or something, and then fall over for the next two days, I’ve been deliberately taking it very easy. I *think* I’m now over the hump, and am just dealing with the lingering cough. I haven’t had to take a day off work in a couple weeks now, I’ve been going back out for walks at lunchtime, and this week I’ve gone back to getting up at the usual time. I’m now horribly out of shape, though, which is annoying, and missing dancing is a bugger. Oh well, it beats gallstones, right ? Meanwhile, Stephen, convinced that my ability to feed myself properly has atrophied since I’ve been living with him, carefully stuffed the fridge with leftovers for me to eat while he’s away. Hee. I’ve mastered the one-match fire, too, so I’ve been keeping cosy.

The alpacas are fine. (Metservice keeps pushing back the days when the bad weather is supposed to finally get us, so while it’s been chilly, it hasn’t been *bitter*, or too wet or windy.) I’m sure the cats think I am *slack*, though, as I’ve occasionally let the food bowls get empty before remembering to refill them. On the other hand, I think *they’re* pretty slack, too — we had *two* mice in the the house Saturday, and Kerry and I had to catch both of them. *tsk*

Only a few more days to go til Stephen gets back !

Unexpected Fun

Sometimes chance takes you to a place you would have never gone yourself, and fun is had.

Tuesday I took the train down to DC to visit my friend Maura. We headed over to the Spy Museum, but could not get tickets for a few hours (they let in only so many people per hour). Directly across the street was the Smithsonian Portrait Museum, so we decided to kill a few hours in there.

It was surprisingly fun. Anyone who has read or watched American history knows the classic photos and paintings that are used (presidents, generals, abolitionists), here they all were, on display. Some were great works of art, while other were fascinating for how they captured (or distorted) the personality of the subject.

The gallery also had a few visiting exhibitions. One was by some famous photographer (Besson?) who has been at most of the big events of the last 50 years. He had, by far, the most frightening photograph of Michael Jackson I have ever seen. Apparently the photographer has a great talent for “innocently suggesting” his subjects stand in places that give great photos- even if they are not what the subject would necessarily like. The photo of the “king of pop” was at the doorway to his bedroom in Neverland. In front of the door was a archway formed of two child manequins, one in a boy scount uniform, the other in a dress. Icky. Very, very icky. Now I fully understand why the police, after being in there, were so keen to investigate and seek prosecution!

Another traveling exhibit was of famous British works, inclduing lots of royal portraits- including Richard III and a really big and famous one of Elizabeth. We were both surprised that they would loan it all out.

The presidential portraits were also revealing. I could tell that Clinton was going for “cool and hip”, but what came across was Smarmy. For better or worse the portraits of the last 4 presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton) all perfectly captured both the Zeitgeist, and the character of the man.

We also discovered, comparing portrait and picture, that Donald Trump and Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon church) hold their lips and jaw in exactly the same way. At least Trump doesn’t have the mesianic gleam in his eyes.

The Spy Museum was cute, and much more touristy. I liked the big photos were you had to pick out 4 surveilance operations, or spot 4 dead-drops. Cute. You also have to memorize a persona when you enter, and you are quizzed one the way out. We apparently missed clues hidden in the exhibit, and thus could not answer all the questions of the virtual customs agent on the way out (and thus were taken away for questioning). The fact that we got turned around and went through half the museum backwards may have helped us miss those clues!

All in all, some very fun and non-traditional museum visits.

Back in the US

So, after 5 days back in the US, I have finally managed to adjust to the time differential. The first few days were the most zombie-rific, but a 16 hour shift is tough no matter how you slice it. Going from shortest day to longest day also was also more than a bit confusing to the ol’ body-clock. And going from 14C to 33C was also a bit of a shock, too. To best survive the weather I have spent my time sitting on the back porch, reading and drinking iced tea. Not a bad way to sepnd a few days.

Well, that and the shopping. Have to pick up all those rare and exotic items in the US to bring back with me (cheap used paperbacks, Crystal Light instant lemonade, PS2 games, etc.) This has involved trips to temples to capitalism for which there are no NZ equivalents, like BJ’s. Ah, BJ’s, where you can buy gallon jugs of mayonaise. I really want to know who needs mayo in gallon size jugs. And what sort of refridgerator do you have to put it in? Questions for the ages.

Only in the South Pacific

There are pairs of words that I wouldn’t usually think of putting together. I’m not talking about oxymorons like “business intelligence” or two-great-tastes things like “peppermint bologna”. More just words that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect would have any reason to associate. Like, oh, “iconoclast manhole-cover”, or Ukulele Orchestra.

I say “Only in the South Pacific”, but the first page of Google hits finds one in Great Britain and one in Denver, as well as the Wellington one, so.

Cuter than Cute

What’s cuter than cute ? Nazani chasing fantails, apparently. I missed it, as it was while I was at work, and these things never happen when you have a camera ready anyway, but the mental image alone is like having one of those honey candies inserted directly into my frontal lobes.