Kia Ora, y’all!
Suddenly, writing a debrief of my trip to New Zealand, and the acquisitions for the Lunar Library, has become much more difficult. My heart is rent by the devastation there, a beautiful city I had left not even hours before after a wonderful week.
This was my first real non-space vacation in a long, long time. It was an opportunity to visit the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, and see the country where the Lord of the Rings movie was filmed. How could I pass that up?
With no particular reason to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, I flew out on a new adventure. Rob had recommended that I fly Air New Zealand, but that involved a transfer through Denver, which is always a bit iffy in the depth of winter when you have to book ahead. Qantas was okay, but they seem to have adopted many of the practices of the U.S. airline companies. The A330 I was on was giving me distinct flashbacks to a 767 flight to Paris from a few years ago. Definitely cattle class. Arriving in Auckland on Wednesday I saw numerous Air New Zealand 747s and decided I was definitely going to fly them next time around.
Thursday, W Day – 1, was spent in the central business district in Christchurch. The agenda was the Lunar Library, and acquiring new holdings. I had mapped out a number of bookstores, comic book shops, and other points of potential interest. After Rob dropped me off at the library I hit the streets for a long day of walking and checking out the local architecture. First up was Scorpio Books. This was the first place that at which I heard an oft repeated response to inquiries for science books, particularly space & astronomy – “Oh, we don’t get much demand for that sort of thing down here”. Though I usually was able to find a few things of interest. Smith’s Bookshop down on Manchester was good for some older stuff, and the Children’s Bookshop up on Victoria Street was a bonanza. That’s where I found the board game “Expedition Halley“, which bills itself as “Invest in space companies to make money, buy a space ship, travel to Halley’s Comet and photograph it. If you can!” I also picked up a Sevi Space Shuttle and numerous kid’s books. Definitely a top-notch shop.
There were a number of other small shops tucked in here and there as well, and now I’m wondering how many of them may have survived the last shake. In a sense, I may have saved some of these space books and documents sitting in a big pile next to my desk from destruction, and just in the nick of time. The coolest find was on Saturday, when I returned for a more cultural swing through town. In a small little collectibles shop, somewhere in downtown, I popped in to look at medals and coins and whatnot. After a while of browsing the owner wandered over to see if there was anything in particular for which I was looking. “Space, rockets, astronauts, that sort of thing. Which I understand is a not particularly popular topic in down here, so I’m not expecting to have much luck” I replied. Au contraire, he replied, and recounted how a couple of years ago someone had come to him with a couple boxes of space stuff, for which he had paid a nominal price. Now, two years later, he was basically cleared out of the stuff and for six times his investment. So he wasn’t buying the whole “space isn’t popular in NZ” line. We ended up with a number of postal covers, magazines, and a super-cool sheet of ten hologram astronaut on the Moon stamps. The scan doesn’t do it justice. The hella-coolest find is the “ticket” advertisement from the Regent movie theatre for their screening of the famous 1950 movie “Destination Moon”. Unfortunately, the theatre didn’t do so well this last time around.
W Day: Friday was the wedding, which meant getting everything set up. After working around the house, it was off to the community center to set up tables and chairs and place settings and glasses and nameplates. Unbelievable how many details go into a wedding. It did give me frequent opportunity to use the line “I’m an American and I’m here to help”. Heh, heh.
Rob and Lisa met through science fiction, and so they wanted it to be an important part of their wedding. Thanks to a local sci fi shop they were able to have a TARDIS (time and relative dimensions in space) backdrop. Another friend has a hobby of building replica Daleks. For those who didn’t grow up with Dr. Who, the Daleks are an evil race of robot/bio-organisms who have a genetic superiority complex and intend to rule the galaxy alone in racial purity. Nasty fellows, and the good Doctor can never seem to quite do away with them. The ringbearer, though, was theoretically under robotic control. Theoretically. You know how it usually goes with robots…
Afterwards everyone retired to the community center in Rolleston for fun and festivities. The Three Poplars Riesling was particularly tasty. I don’t much like white wines, except for Pinot Gris, of which I grew quite fond whilst studying at ISU. The Riesling was a notable exception. One gentleman, upon hearing that I’d been to China, asked whether I knew of the Tea Scam. Um, yeah. Then a quick clean-up afterwards and you couldn’t even tell that we’d been there. It was while hanging around afterwards and was checking out the sky (partly cloudy, as usual) that I noticed that the Moon looked wrong. It was different, somehow.
As noted, Saturday was spent on more cultural activities. The morning press was filled with content from the wedding, or at least a quarter of page 4. The last of the Twinkies were devoured for breakfast (the candy corn was much better received). After being dropped off again at the library I did a quick tour of some of the shops for souvenirs. I’d been told to ask in particular for a ‘Willie Warmer’. Mmm…warm fur. The one nephew got a fierce All Blacks rugby shirt that he loves. They also got lambswool slippers that they really liked the feel of. I’d already taken care of the adults at the factory outlet down the road from Rob & Lisa’s place out in the country, Knitworks. For me I got a merino wool/possum fur pullover that is soooo soft and so warm.
I wandered through the Arts Centre, and the open air market is where I first experienced L&P soda, world famous in New Zealand. The L stands for Lemon; the P stands for Paeroa, the town where the drink was conceived. The exact taste is hard to describe, but it is quite tasty. Sort of like a regional variant of Sprite. A few hours were spent in the Canterbury Museum, which has a surprisingly large number of really cool displays. I learned that we’re up to five Rs now. When I was a kid growing up it was all about the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Now there’s also Refuse (which I’ve been doing for years and years) and Recover. I still have to work a bit on that last one.
The map of aftershocks was a bit intimidating. I knew about the one on Friday morning, the 18th. I didn’t really feel it so much as hear it. The sound is unique. Sort of like a freight train, but not really. Sort of like an extended explosion, but not really. It defies easy comparison.
Afterward was a walk through the Botanic Gardens. I hadn’t enjoyed a walk in the park that much since the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. I made sure to ring the Peace Bell while I was there, which I’ve also seen at UN headquarters in NYC and I’m pretty sure the one in Vienna as well, while I was at the Space Generation Forum.
They roll up the sidewalks early in Christchurch, so it was off to dinner at the Lone Star restaurant at the Papanui location. I decided to play up the part and wore the Beaumont out for an evening on the town. The margaritas needed more tequila. The chicken nachos were good, and I enjoyed my steak. We stayed well into the evening, and I was introduced to the Pav, a dessert invented in NZ.
Sunday was off to a late start for an afternoon luncheon at the relatives, and then the Ko Tane Maori experience at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Yes, I did dance a haka. To top off the evening I gave my Moon presentation on Rob’s big screen TV.
Monday was nature day. I had indicated an interest in bungee jumping and horseback riding. The bungee jumping turned out to be a mere $190 for a couple minutes of sheer rush, as compared with $75 for an hour and a half of horseback riding up a valley and along a ridge. How hard is the economics of that decision?
We headed out to Hanmer Horses and after fording a couple of cricks in the minivan we arrived at the farmstead. Hand raised sheep greeted us as we walked to the office. There were the usual warnings of risk, although nothing as blatant as the last one I did down in Manor, TX, where the form basically said ‘You can die doing this. We’re not responsible, you are. Sign here.”
I was matched up with Nell, a fine Clydesdale, while the trailmistress took Ben, with whom Nell stabled, and Dan ended up with Shawma, a smaller gray that was a bit piqued at being teamed up with a couple of alpha horses. To my absolute dismay I was not allowed, by NZ law, to wear my much better Sun protection cowboy hat, and had to make due with a girlie helmet. Did I indicate already that I understand that you can die and/or become seriously maimed while horseback riding?
Off we headed up the valley, with the trailmistress in the lead and the more experienced of the two rookies taking up the rear, which suited Shawma fine. I tend to be indulgent with animals, and they all seem to like me, so Nell had pretty free rein most of the way, as long as she stayed in back. I could tell she wanted to run, though. She was just itching for it; I could feel it.
The valley was beautiful, with thickets of wild blackberries lining the way. Aound us steep hills climbed into the sky above the thick trees. After a while it was time to head up for a ride along a ridge, which offered spectacular views of the verdant valley below, until finally we reached the highest point of the ride. It was about that time that I noticed a peculiar effect. A couple of years ago we had a really good health plan at work, and so after over twenty years of patiently nurtured desire I finally got myself a set of prescription Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, loaded with all the protection. When I tilted my head to the left the sky would go white-blue, and when I tilted my head to the right the sky went blue-blue. So I proceeded to wobble my head back and forth playing with the polarization. It also renewed my annoyance at not being allowed to wear my Beaumont for the ride.
Descending through some gentle hillside pasturage, our trailmistress gave us a chance to run back uphill, but Nell decided she was going downhill, and off we went at a gallop. One thing to note – the saddles didn’t have pommels, so no emergency handhold. Getting to the bottom of the hill I could hear Dan yelling ‘Stop! Stop!’, as his horse had taken off in pursuit and wasn’t responding to Dan’s attempts to rein him in. Good thing too,as Nell was setting herself up for a jump that I wasn’t prepared to let her take, even if it was just a little one. While I had been indulgent with the reins throughout the ride, I had also subtly let her know that I would use them should it be necessary. So stopping wasn’t too tough.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one that I would happily do again,maybe the 2.5 hour ride next time around. I’m convinced that humanity’s contract with the horses is the second best one we ever did (dogs being the best compact, hands down). I wish I had more time and budget for horseback riding, but such tends to be the case with life’s real pleasures. Dan had a great time, and is thinking about looking into working at a local stable.
It helps to have thermal springs to which to retire afterward, which we did for a few hours. Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh…
And just like that, it was all over. Monday night was the final cramming of the souvenirs into the suitcases. Tuesday morning we woke to showers, and I made a comment, that I now regret, that the Maori spirits were crying to see me leave so soon. I was just trying to be a bit poetic, but it also reflects a certain arrogance and assumption that the universe actually cares about my existence. Given what happened less than an hour and a half after I flew out, I feel particularly terrible. The whole thing is only made cosmically weirder by the fact that the fortune cookie that came with the Chinese takeout after I got back said “Luck is with you now. Act upon your instincts.”
Let me just say that flying internationally is still something of a pleasure. Just as on the way out of Texas, I forgot about the soda bottle in the web pouch on the side of the backpack. The security officer saw me notice it just in time and whip it out in preparation for chugging it, and he indicated that it was okay, it could go through. Sweet as. It may have been because it was a bottle of L&P soda – Lemon and Paeroa, world famous in New Zealand. He also commented on the cowboy hat, and I showed the guard on the other side all of the cool pictures in the new passport, including the Moon one.
There were delays in Auckland, but no one was complaining. Everyone seemed to sense the gravity of the situation. It was also announced that much of the air traffic control for this particular section of the globe is run out of Christchurch. During check-in in Auckland the agent was kind enough to move me to a slightly less bad seat, and I ended up sitting next to a young Fireman/EMT from Florida who had just done a turn on the ice down in Antarctica. That’s got to be such a cool experience. I remember a couple of the RAs at the NASA Academy were trying hard to arrange for postings down there. I told him to make sure to watch “Inside Job” during the flight. Afterwards, I told him as pissed off as he was, the documentary only scratches the surface of the shenanigans and chicanery, the pillaging and looting that has been going on over the last couple of decades in the U.S. And isn’t it a pity that you have to go out of the country to see a documentary on all of the rotten stuff that has been going on. I wrote a post about the shenanigans a couple of years ago over at the Selenian Boondocks (you have to read down a bit), but ZeroHedge is a good place to get more current info.
Arriving back in the states was of course a horrific experience in comparison with the international travel. We are not friendly to the people who come to visit us, nor even particularly to our own citizenry. Lines, lines and more lines. The agents weren’t necessarily unfriendly, but nor were they particularly amicable. I had to go through extra bio-screening for my boots since they’d been on a farm the day before, but they didn’t ask any questions about the Manuka honey I’d picked up. According to Rob it has certain beneficial properties, and that some folk soak bandages in the honey to help keep wounds clean. He said they’re trying to figure out a way to develop a coating for mass producing the special bandages.
One of the points that I make in my Moon presentation is the concept of terroir. In the case of Lunar greenhouses, edible plants grown with Lunar regolith are going to have a different flavor to them. In the case of honey, the taste is affected by the types of flowers the bees visit during their work, a fact I learned to appreciate while living in Brooklyn. In this case it’s the flowers in Hanmer Springs, home of the thermal baths. So when I’m traveling I like to keep an eye open for local honey for a unique taste treat. The Manuka honey is pretty tasty, so I don’t think the jar is going to last too long.
I still hate traveling by air domestically, and would really rather not do so. I may not have a choice though, as through some bizarre fluke of fate I’ve been invited to an invite-only Lunar conference at NASA Ames in April, and then there’s the Dennis Tito dinner later in the month in LA. I’m just trying to figure out how to fly in and out the same day. At least I can drive to the ISDC in May.
First though, I’ve got to get through the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair tomorrow morning, bright and early in Fair Park. This will be my fifth year judging in the Physics & Astronomy category, though I don’t know yet if I’m doing Junior High or High School projects, but usually I’m Jr. High. There’re also the NSS of North Texas judges, who will be giving away $350 on behalf of the chapter to the project that best aligns with NSS‘s goals of humans living and working in space.
So, overall, a most excellent holiday. I was able to find a sense of karmic peace and relaxation that I’ve found in few other places (Paris & Austin come to mind), but of course it’s back to work. Next time it’s going to have to be for a longer visit, so we can caravan around and Rob & Lisa can show off the rest of the rest of the island. I’m certainly not going to need a wedding to get me back there again.