We leave Whitianga without a backward glance. It has been good to slow the pace, but did it have to be there? As good as any, I guess. A two-and-a-half hour drive will get us to Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty, where Greg and Tori live. They were friends of friends who stayed with me on Bleecker Street six or seven years ago. He’s an architect and she’s a teacher and a mom. We are to meet Greg for lunch because he has the key to Tori’s grandparents’ bach (pronounced ‘batch’), a seaside cabin where Jocelyn and I will spend the night. Greg is cheerful and lanky. Over sandwiches Joss explains burlesque – “Stripping is making $500 in a $10 costume. Burlesque is making $10 in a $500 costume. The audience is totally different.” I’m not sure he’s convinced.
J & V wind their way to the bach, a blue, two-bedroom bungalow with french doors that open onto the beach. And, what a beach! It’s astonishingly wide when the tide is out, but at high tide, the water reaches a point only fifty feet from the house. To the right and left, the sand goes on as far as the eye can see, with maybe a speck of a person half a mile away. Islands dot the horizon.
At four o’clock Tori arrives with their two kids, Hannah and Holly, who have a combined age of three. The kids get fed while we gab. This is a familiar yet miraculous process, fraught with smearing and negotiation and directed with vast equanimity. Soon, it’s time for the rugby match. Greg and Tori belong to a Wednesday evening touch rugby league. Joss and I have been invited to spectate. Tauranga has a sprawling sports complex with several rugby/soccer fields, a professional cricket pitch, and god knows what else. Greg and Tori belong to the black-shirted team. I can follow the action, but making head or tail of its objectives is beyond me. The sun is glorifying the play with late afternoon’s slanted golden light. A half dozen children, ages eleven to stroller, mill about on the sidelines. This is obviously a parents’ league. After the game – G&T’s team has lost – there is beer. I tell stories of New York and the US and generalize recklessly about human relations. Joss laughs and describes polyglot Queens. It’s great to talk with other people.
Tori takes the girls back home, while we go with Greg to pick up Indian food. Greg and Tori live in a house of small children. Stuff everywhere. I remember this well. We eat gosht pakal and butter chicken on our laps. The best Indian food I’ve eaten, maybe ever. Greg drives us back to the bach. Thank the Lord! It’s darkest night and navigating unfamiliar territory in the blackness won’t be done by me.
Best sleep so far, lulled by the syncopation of the ocean.