Monthly Archives: February 2016

New Zealand – February 27, 2016

This morning, we are the testy travelers. Joss can’t locate our destination with her GPS, which prompts some agita. I spell the name and include even the hyphens to no avail. We had driven past the entrance yesterday on our way to Orakei, but “We’ll find it” did not satisfy her. One could not but speculate upon the marvels within – Wai-o-tapu, Thermal Wonderland. As opposed to – My-long-johns, Thermal Wonderland. Compounding the general prickliness, the Focus is acting a little sulky. We had to get an early start in order to bear witness the daily geyser, Lady Knox, express herself at 10:15. Quickly, a decent long black is procured and the center will hold.

We have time to walk through one of the loops of geothermal wonders before queuing up for the geyser eruption. In the cool morning air, steam pours off streams and pools, wrapping the forest in mysterious gossamer and rising in great clouds before vanishing. One remarkable pool, the Champagne Pool, is a blue depth with a rim of bright rust-colored tracery whose clarity shifts as tatters of steam drift across.

Following instructions to drive to the Lady Knox Geyser site three quarters of an hour prior to her performance, we file into an amphitheater that focuses attention on a four-foot chalk white cone. The entire United Nations files in after us. At twelve past, an amused man with a mic offers the spiel about Lady Knox and her connection to the geothermal nozzle and how this will be an artificially timed eruption. “I just pour in this bag of detergent and within three to ten minutes Lady Knox will blow for fifteen minutes to an hour.” Sure enough, soon she’s foaming with ever-increasing enthusiasm and, woohoo, hot soapy water shoots thirty feet in the air. Photo frenzy. Subsidence. Almost immediately, the audience begins to bail. We linger, because that’s what we do.

After a sandwich and a meat pie, we’re on the road to Raurimu. Anticipation is high: we’ll be making the Tongariro Crossing tomorrow, weather permitting. Predictions have been improving all week, but rain is still promised. Just not in biblical proportions, we hope. At a Countdown supermarket we harvest ingredients for a Joss-and-V-made spaghetti-and-meatball extravaganza. We translate the recipe’s measurements into metric on the fly as we cruise the aisles.

Joss’ immense navigational powers draw us inexorably to the Wood Pigeon Lodge in Raurimu. She is that good. Marinara bubbles and the meatballs fry and up pull two cars simultaneously, Greg and Tori from Tauranga in one and Louise and Devon from Wellington in the other. We are now the assembled multitude. Dinner is delicious. No dessert? No dessert. We nibble Pineapple Lumps, a bona fide Kiwi confection, and the nonpareils I brought from Li-Lac in NYC.

Tomorrow’s the day.

New Zealand – February 26, 2016

Good Morning, Rotorua. It’s a little fetid in our strange suite-like setup in the Sport of Kings Motel. Basically, it’s one bedroom suite, with a single bed in the kitchenette/living room, which also contains side-by-side La-Z-Boys. However, should someone wish to sleep with the fishes, through the bedroom is a hot tub room with a steamy, bubbly jacuzzi. Sulfuric dampness permeates all things. And not only that, but coffee situation is once again fucking unsatisfactory. A cup of bogus instant won’t do.

Soon, we’re on our way south to Orakei Korako, a geothermal zone accessible by launch across a man-made lake. An immense calcium and silica terrace appears to be sliding into the water. Pathways lead up through forest and fumaroles. The each level of the terrace has a grandiose name that bears no relation to its actual appearance. Walking through the vapors and the gurgling is very entertaining. So is observing our fellow tourists, also vaporous and gurgling. On the launch ride back, we are directed to an eel-viewing platform that adds an element of creepy nature to the trip.

Back at Rotorua, we deal with practical matters – breakfast foods, more gingernut biscuits, a full tank of gas, and the dreaded, absolutely necessary, laundry. It takes us three loads to restore spiffiness to our wardrobes.

Behind its hyper-touristy exterior, Rotorua has an admirable dining scene. Even the peculiarly named, Atticus Finch, in a block-long outdoor food court, serves up delicious light fare. And more people to watch. After dinner, we get ice cream cones and stroll to the lakeside through what billed itself as a ‘gypsy encampment’ and truly is. It’s a thrown-together carnival / community, with plenty of opportunity to spend (lose) money.


New Zealand – February 25, 2016

Good-bye to the Bay of Plenty. Fortified by a hearty breakfast and a couple long blacks we make a break for Hobbiton. This place couldn’t be more hokey or more eagerly anticipated. Yes, we are nerds, big nerds. My girls and I were at the front of the line on Opening Day of all three LOTR movies, so Joss and I are pumped.

Hobbiton is easy to find with Joss’ expert, if somewhat impatient, guidance. I don’t fade onto the shoulder of the road much anymore, but I can burst impulsively into roundabouts without looking. I am ever so slowly adjusting to driving with everything inverted. Hopefully, I shall be ambidextrous real soon.

The parking lot for Hobbiton, the Movie Set is mostly grass. Grass is appropriate, I guess, for such pint-sized pastoral folk. Another grass-related observation, we notice three or four hippie-style vans, rentable vehicles grimly emblazoned with graffiti smurfs and snarky weed-related jive. Oh, the lame and craven bullshit. Here’s the real bullshit, the Hollywood bullshit that we love. There’s a gift shop, a café, toilets, and a shed for lining up in the shade for the buses that will take us to the tiny town.

The Alexander family, the sheep and cattle farmers on whose land Hobbiton was constructed, have shrewdly capitalized on the global fascination for these hairy-footed little buggers. Ten years after LOTR, they prevailed on Peter Jackson to rebuild the set with durable materials for the Hobbit films: they charge admission and the man gets a cut, of course. Strikingly, in addition to the legions of LOTR fanboys and girls, tour groups now show up with absolutely no hobbit aficionados at all. Hobbiton has become part of New Zealand’s essential tourist itinerary.

This little village is enchanting. It looks exactly like the images from the movies, lived in by vegetation but not be actual creatures. It is interesting to note the different sizes of the various hobbit holes, built for forced perspective purposes, when the difference between the character’s height and the actor’s were needed to differentiate the sentient species on Middle Earth. The siting of Bag End, the Party Tree, and the Green Dragon all match with perfect continuity. Our guide does a lot of superfluous explaining, as guides tend to do, but most guides are talking to idiots, not virtual Hobbits, masters of all possible Tolkien lore. Still, it is with great pleasure that we quaff a ginger beer at the Green Dragon once the tour has concluded.

We finally pull into the very tight parking lot of Sport of Kings Motel in Rotorua, and when we open the doors of the Focus we are almost felled by the sulfuric stench. No one could have adequately warned us. The person behind the desk triangulates between her incoming guests and an aggressively cute little girl, presumably her child. I stifle the impulse to jump across the desk and throttle little fucking Eloise. We get settled, plan an ambitious assault on our laundry problem, and book a restaurant for dinner.

It’s within walking distance, a huge plus, and seems to be on the fine dining side. I mention to Joss that she may be the youngest person in the place. “Yeah, I know, everyone here looks like a fourth-grade teacher.”


New Zealand — February 24, 2016

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.

New Zealand – February 23, 2016

We are in grave danger of overdoing, a by-product of the twin perils of travel planning from afar – too much enthusiasm and scant practical knowledge. So, instead of two nights at two places on the Coromandel Peninsula, I cancel one and book us into the one place for two nights. We have ended up in Whitianga (‘wh’ pronounced as an ‘f’) on Mercury Bay, so-called because this is where Captain Cook and his astronomer measured the transit of Mercury across the Sun in order to accurately determine the distance between the Sun and the Earth. Whitianga is now a yachty town with lots of second homes.

Last night I made, or tried to make, a 10:30am reservation for boat trip in the Mercury Bay that would show us the sights of the Marine Reserve. All’s well, it turns out, so off we go. The boat departs from the Wharf, which we are told, “You can’t miss”. Seven of us fit in a Zodiac, three pairs in personal flotation devices, and our captain, who has a badly wounded, but poorly bandaged, big toe.

Soon we’re skimming across the crystal clear water, while Captain Whosits points out real estate, both geological and residential. One of the first items of interest is a big old blowhole that we’re able to motor into and then stare up through foliage to the sky. There are many formations to see, Cathedral Cave, for instance, an enormous room that extends through a promontory separating two coves. We forego the snorkel opportunity. Still, it’s a pleasure to be on the water.

Post-lunch calculations indicate that we are in the middle of a low-tide window of opportunity to experience Hot Water Beach, so-called because hot springs seep through the sand. Therefore, if you dig a hole you may loll in bath-like temperatures or, if you’d rather, hard-boil a dozen eggs. Our lodgings will provide towels and spades for such an outing.

The beach is broad and the surf regular and mild. “Where’s the hot water?” asks Joss. I gesture to a cluster of people in the distance. “Let’s see what they’re up to.” Yep, these are the parboilers in their self-made pots. Some holes appear to have been abandoned. We claim one and begin to dig in search of hot water. It ain’t happening. “Well, this is a bust,” I say and take a step backwards. “Jesus, yikes!” I squeal. Hot fucking water. Hot, just like they said. “Wow, Joss, they’re not whistling Dixie.” We prance in the scalding water for a bit, but quickly lose interest in geothermal pools. “Let’s walk up the beach.”

A man and his son are whacking a ball about with a cricket bat while a dog chases after it. Further down the shore, high seagull drama develops as a bird attempts to claim and then escape with a very large dead fish. He has an equally stupid rival, who confronts the fishnapper only to forget what’s going on and fly off, then return to rejoin the conflict already in progress because the original bird can’t seem to get the fish aloft. Lots of noise and flapping and a really, really dead fish. Oh, birds.

New Zealand – February 22, 2016

Jesus Christ, that’s a fucking rooster I hear. Fuck-a-fuck-a-you. Fuck-a-fuck-you. It’s still night, for Lord’s sake. Yesterday, at twilight, as we ate our sandwiches on the patio, bird insanity erupted in a tree a short distance away, hundreds of deranged creatures squawking for dear life. Birds are so annoying.

We’re on the west coast of the Northland now, in a cabin by a lovely, nevertheless unseen, lake. At breakfast we now have enough perspective to look objectively at yesterday’s hapless journey. There is this new invention called a ‘map’ that can provide truly amazing clarity.

“Look!” says Joss, pointing. “We went THAT way!”

“Well, it is diagonal, the shortest ‘crow-flies’ way.”

“Yeah, but look here. Roads are coded, there’s Limited Access Highway, then Major Route, then Main Road, then Minor Road, then Other Road, then … Other Dirt Road. We went down Other Dirt Road, Dad. If only we had this map then. It’s miraculous!”

“Let’s never be without one.”

While offering a surfeit of bird noises, the Wai Hou Oma Lodge stints on hot water. No showers this morning. Let’s go, then. In an hour we find ourselves at the Kauri Museum in Matakohe, noted in all guidebooks as ‘not to be missed.’ True. It could not be more spectacular. Every aspect of the kauri trade, from its fine-grained wood to its glowing fossilized amber called ‘gum’ to the communities that supported the industry, is exhaustively illuminated. New Zealand’s great kauri forests are gone now: all that remain are isolated groves. And these remaining are in terrible jeopardy from a soil borne ‘die-back’ disease. Enormous ghostly trees can be seen from the road. Sad sentinels.

In the early 20th century, the Northland boomed as the ancient giants were chopped down and milled into lumber and fine furniture. Kauri gum, the byproduct of these conifers, was exploited as an ingredient in varnish and linoleum, as well in fine jewelry. We wander through room after room of large logs, large machinery, milled wood, hokey/eerie dioramas (see: dentist’s office), peculiar collections (the wall of 100 chainsaws, for example): all describing every detail of life in the Northland. We know these Northlanders intimately after two hours.

‘Not-to-be-missed’ within ‘not-to-be-missed’ is the Gum Room in the museum’s basement. It glows with a treasure room’s radiant light because it houses a dozen personal collections of this amber in all its forms, from big, brown, raw lumps to golden, fossilized chunks; and carved into all manner of things, from women’s fan combs to busts of Maori chieftains.

We’re back on the road at two o’clock with maybe five hours to go before we’d reach our destination, Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. We will be obliged to traverse every type of road, with the exception of ‘Other Dirt’. Joss and I chatter and complain and hiccup along. Hopefully, it will rain and wash some of the perma-dust off the Focus. The trek is fucking endless. A long black to take-away at a café called Bugger Off helps a bit.

Coffee in New Zealand seems to be exclusively espresso. A long black is a double shot of espresso with a splash of hot water, not unlike an Americano. It is delicious and all business. A flat white is two shots of espresso topped with velvety milk froth, not foam. It is not a latte. It, too, is delicious and sometimes a necessary substitute for a long black when the wallop is too intense.

Bleary, but situated at last at the aimed-for terminus, we drop all pretense of intelligibility and focus on our next meal.

New Zealand – February 21, 2016

I wake before dawn and sit on the terrace watching color leach back into the world. I finish yesterday’s posting as the sun flares from behind one of the islands. Dan will bring us breakfast at eight o’clock, so I shower in order to be presentable. Just before he’s due, an email arrives announcing that yesterday’s reservation had been cancelled. What? I had double booked somehow, leaving us with no place to rest our heads tonight. I call the place at nine o’clock (Joss’ phone has a super duper international internet plan for navigation and communication purposes) and explain our predicament to a patient and good-natured woman. “I booked online months ago and I have big stubby fingers, apparently.” “Oh, you’re alright,” she says, “You booked two nights.” Double-double booked. Phew.

During breakfast of fruit, toast, and coffee, I complain bitterly to Joss about the big honking Holden. “But we’ll be going through Auckland again, won’t we?” says she. “Take it back to the airport. Maybe you can exchange it.” Brilliant. The wheels are now in motion to shitcan the wheels. An internet search reveals nothing but inoperative Hertz phone numbers, however, the slipcover of the rental agreement indicates a Hertz location at the Kerikeri airport, maybe a dozen kilometers north. We can do this today.

With plan in hand, we head to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, New Zealand’s most historic place. In 1840 the Maori signed an agreement with the British recognizing that nation’s sovereignty over the North and South Islands, while guaranteeing the Maori unalienable rights to their land and its treasure as well as full British citizenship. For almost a hundred years the treaty was ignored, but slowly during the 20th century, Maori resistance grew. They held up the Treaty to power, much the same way the barons held King John accountable. The subsequent changes in New Zealand society have been immense.

The grounds consist of a broad grassy plateau that slopes down to the bay. The world’s largest war canoe, 115 feet long, rests under a long shed. Every year on Waitangi Day, February 6th, the canoe slips into the water manned by one hundred rowers. It must be magnificent.

At the crest of the great lawn sits the modest house of James Busby, the British Resident, chief magistrate for the Crown and one of the designers of the Treaty of Waitangi. Chiefs of many Maori tribes attended what was a convention to create a document establishing peace and order. A brand-new museum dramatizes the centuries of conflict and accommodation between the British and Maori before and after the Waitangi Treaty. It is a stirring drama. We leave humbled, as only people who learned an important lesson can be humbled.

The Kerikeri airport is Quonset hut small. That it has the capacity to furnish autos to tourists is remarkable. It seems the rent-a-car counter had just opened for business and it’s 1:30. Two kindly women listen to our story and offer a choice of two alternates to Holden, the Roadhog. We pick the red Ford Focus. Suddenly, the road seems hospitable. I have wiggle room.

Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, is an enormous Kauri tree, the largest of its kind, a species logged almost to extinction in the early 20th century. I want to see it, the One Tree. Few stands of these giants remain and the Big One looks like it’s a straight shot from the Kerikeri airport. Then all of a sudden, the country road we’ve been traversing dissolves into gravel. And stays that way forever. We motor for at least two hours without seeing another fucking vehicle or even a person. Enigmatic signs alert us to ‘Dust and Children’. The variety of countryside could be mesmerizing to a less skillful driver. Grand vistas of grass-covered hill after hill dotted with cattle and/or sheep pass before us. We duck from pasture into forest primeval, only to turn a sharp corner and confront devastating clear cut. There appears to be a lot going on, yet nothing happening. Maybe because it’s Sunday.

Joss and I maintain a genial, if sporadic, animation for the balance of the journey until, at last, we find our way blocked by a locked gate that prevents us from fording a stream. Stunning reality. Oh yeah, we’re fucking lost. To fully absorb and acknowledge that fact, I get out of the car to photograph the warning sign attached to the gate. As we assess our predicament, what to our wondering eyes should appear but another car. They’re unlocking the gate. They pull up to us. “Are you lost?” “Yeah, we’re looking for this really big tree.” “GPS doesn’t work down here. It can’t get a fix on anything. Go back to State Highway 12, turn left, and maybe fifteen kilometers of squiggles later you’ll see signs.” We are too giddy to be mortified.

Well, hello, Big Guy. You’re a big anticlimatic tree, all right. It took us five hours to get here but, yeah, you fucking rock. Its trunk is a majestic, branchless cylinder, 50 feet around and rising 180 feet.

Back in the car, Joss offers me the ultimate compliment – “You’re a much better driver now.”

New Zealand – February 20, 2016

I will have the opportunity to prove my mettle behind the wheel today. We have a three-hour drive north to the Bay of Islands in the monster blue Holden (such a make of automobile exists). Why did I reserve such a huge fucking car? Jesus, I don’t even like driving on the right side of the road. My reflexes can be very casual and my stamina is diminished. These roads have no shoulders and only imaginary guardrails. They feel maliciously narrow and have an aversion to straight-aways. On a map of New Zealand, the shortest distance between two points looks like a plate of spaghetti.

Joss navigates us out of Auckland and onto Route One North, which is briefly a six-lane divided highway but quickly devolves into a two-lane country lane complete with a one-lane bridge, truly a fresh automotive hell. A couple of times, I fade to the left and the car’s wheels brush the curb. Joss hollers and splays herself across the passenger seat. I’m freaking her out. I hope my powers of concentration can prevail over the distracting inversions inherent in driving on the left hand side. Because the driver’s seat is switched, I can misplace the rearview mirror for a split second and end up sliding onto the non-shoulder or, god forbid, the slow lane before I get my bearings again. More than once, I set the windshield wipers to dancing rather than provide the folks behind me with the visible turn signal.

Our destination on the Bay of Islands, a B&B called Tarlton’s Lodge, is achieved. Friendly Dan, the host, shows us our rooms, which share a terrace overlooking the bay dotted with goddamn islands, while explaining many things that do not penetrate. Across the water is the town of Russell, New Zealand’s earliest European settlement. It is accessible conveniently by a ferry called ‘Happy’ and inconveniently by a long and winding road called ‘No Fucking Way’. We had stopped en route and had some delicious fish ‘n chips at roadside restaurant, so once we shake the automotive tension, we’re good for exploring. The Happy Ferry chugs across the Bay to Russell, whose original name, Kororareka, means ‘how sweet is the penguin’ in Maori. Russell was a sinful whaling port in the early 19th century, ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’. Charles Darwin stopped there on one of his trips and was totally grossed out. Check out The Voyage of the Beagle: under his entry for Kororareka, he notes only – “ew”.

Russell is a tourist destination now with a number of historic buildings and a quirky local museum. One such structure, the Pompallier Mission, was the headquarters of the French Catholic mission in the Pacific in the mid-19th century. Long derelict and now much restored, it tells the fascinating story of the Marist Fathers’ efforts to proselytize by translating Latin texts into Maori and then printing and binding tracts. The labor required boggles. Our guide, Lydia, delights in interspersing her descriptions with English catch phrases that come from the printing trade. ‘Mind your ps and qs.’ ‘Make a good first impression.’ ‘To be a dab hand.’ We hear someone playing guitar and singing Cat Stevens and from the second story window we look down at the wedding of Fiona and Matt in the garden below.

At last, ice cream, and we sit by the dock of the bay, licking. As we congregate to board ‘Happy’ we witness a badass woman weighing her huge tuna and posing with her catch.

New Zealand – February 19, 2016

The plan is to meet for breakfast between 8:30 and nine o’clock. I head down at 8:30 and Joss has been there for a half hour. We gather our wit (the one we trade back and forth) and attempt to restore a little caffeinated spring to our step. I slept okay. So did Joss. Maybe jetlag will not manifest.

Auckland is a humming metropolis where modernity condescends to its nineteenth century antecedents. Dwarfed by tacky gleaming towers, isolated and elegant Victorian municipal buildings suffer unimaginative mercantile reuse with all the aplomb of a cat in a dress. A walk along the esplanade starts at the Ferry building and leads to the Maritime Museum where Auckland demonstrates why it calls itself The City of Sails. The Museum has many nautical stories to tell, from the incredibly intrepid Polynesians, the last humans on the planet to discover uninhabited lands, to the doughty Brits and their tenacious seafaring ingenuity. It’s all capped by the glamour of recent America’s Cup combatants.


We make arrangements to spend an hour in the harbor aboard the Ted Ashby, a ketch-rigged scow, representative of the fleet of flat-bottomed freight haulers that plied the waters of the North Island carrying cargo on their decks. Twenty-five French teenagers are part of this crew. Joss is able to figure out that for most of the way they’re talking about Game of Thrones. Hodor in French is pronounced ‘Oh-dor’. The sail is breezy yet deliberate, for the scow was built for durability, not for speed.


Oysters for lunch. Mollusks have a compulsory appeal for the two of us. The waiter asks if we want a ‘creamy’ dozen. Creamy? That adjective does not apply to oysters, but we say ‘yes’. Yeah, they’re creamy, I guess. A certain fatty mouth feel. It cuts the brine and the sweetness, in fact, the ‘oyster-ness’ we’re used to. Anyway, the second dozen we order, we order ‘not the creamy kind’ and they satisfy.


Wandering, we try to follow the guidebook’s fragmentary goddamn maps. My short-term memory is on the fritz, so we have to stop every hundred meters in order to reconnoiter through the narrow streets of cafés and boutiques. Joss finds a pair of pants that look great and make a splendid birthday present. Now the map suggests we cross this park, which turns out to be alpine steep. At the top is the Gaudi-meets-Gothic clocktower of Auckland University. We venture inside, marvel at the airy, columnar space, several floors of fluted balconies, arched windows, and offices all bathed in a watery light, and find the bathroom.


Our search of ice cream is epically futile. This would not happen in NY. There’d be places to fatten up on every other corner. So, we end up back at hotel. Pfeh. The ascent up Queen Street is long and trudgy, but I’m acclimating, it seems. Though I perspire like a stuck pig, I didn’t feel on the verge of a coronary today. A couple hours downtime is spent soaking in the tub and writing at the desk provided.


I have picked out a couple places for dinner. The decided-upon Asian fusion place is down towards the harbor, yet another trek, but we’re in training for our hike across Mordor next week. We have tickets to the late show of Briefs, a boylesque/acrobatic extravaganza that’s part of Auckland’s Pride Week shenanigans. It’s as close to a burlesque show as I could find. They’ve set it up café-style on the stage of one of Auckland’s newer theaters. The energy these fellows expend is astonishing, very gymnastic and very, very gay.


We learn a useful gesture for establishing dominance. Say you have an adversary. Raise your open hand palm out, close the fan of your fingers in cascading order, and hiss – Jealous. To submit, all one needs to do turn one’s palm inward. The word jealous sounds more muted. But not defeated; resigned.


One of the performers hails from NYC. His name is Evil Hate Monkey. Joss knows him; that’s showbiz for you. The show has been ridiculous and fun, mostly lighter than air with just a few clunky parts. We meet Mr. Monkey afterwards and I think he is delighted to see a colleague.

New Zealand – February 16, 2016

We’re aloft on the first leg of our antipodal journey, the JFK to LAX stretch. Some earlier observations – 1) Joss beat me to the airport, 2) Her suitcase was seventeen pounds lighter than mine, and 3) Her delight in Delta Sky Club (Iced tea! But, oh, sad carrots.) made me grin. Then, the following message from Alice appeared electronically almost causing me to aspirate a wasabi pea: Have fun returning the One Ring!!! Eat lembas and befriend dwarves. Stay the fuck away from Sean Bean.

LAX is confusing (see: endless blue corridor) and we are uncertain. Have our bags been checked through or do they spin on a carrousel somewhere in the netherbowels of this place? Which of these seven or eight terminals could be headquarters for Air New Zealand? Joss tosses her head and commences with some fast walking. “For a New Yorker, you walk awfully slow.” I tag along, keeping my mouth shut. We have plenty of time to resolve the mysteries and we do. My groovy Amex card gets us into the VIP lounge where snacks abound.

My job, while airborne, had been to write thirty invitations to the party I want to throw myself in April. I don’t have the presence of mind to inquire about a mailbox until we get to the lounge. The guy at the desk drops his chin and tells me that there are no mailboxes in the airport. Security, you know. I explain they’re just party invitations and show him the box. “Twenty bucks,” I say. He gives me the look that tells me I’m being persuasive and offers to mail them despite the risk to his job should this transgression be sussed out by the powers. He didn’t take the money.

The flight across the Pacific takes twelve hours, but first, there’s the requisite tarmac-sitting. The cause for this delay, it is eventually revealed, is a plumbing problem – aircraft-wide toilet malfunction. We sit. There’s an update. We sit for another half hour. Update. Sit. Good to go. The plane taxis a perplexing distance that could for all intents and purposes have taken us to San Diego, and then lifts into the air. Time stands still. Or hiccups. We hurtle from Tuesday, February 16th to Thursday, February 18th in half a day with all the turbulencia that crossing the International Dateline entails.

Happy Birthday, Dear Jocelyn. Happy Birthday To You!

Hello, Auckland. Watch me now drive on the wrong side of the road. The trip from the airport car rental to the hotel involves numerous encounters with rumble strips and a side trip up a dead end, where a man in very small shorts balefully witnesses me back the fuck up into traffic. Our rooms aren’t ready, a downside of arriving mid-morning. Let’s have some coffee and contemplate semi-productive ways to kill time. We order a pair of micro-muffins and I blurt out my terrible hygiene confession. “God, Joss, I just feel gummy. The next stupid thing I say, when I slap my forehead, my hand’ll stick. Let’s take them up on the offer of a shower in the spa.” We are renewed and on a roll. I suggest Joss visit the nail salon while I find a barber. We shall be beautiful and ready for lunch.

Adjoining rooms. Can we nap? Not really. More time-killing. I’ve made a 7pm reservation for Joss’ birthday dinner at a French bistro on Queen Street, but it’s only 4:30. A walk could while away a couple hours, so we let gravity draw us toward the harbor, only to distracted by sights along the way. Look, there’s a pop-up Globe Theater, sided in corrugated metal and featuring six plays from the Shakespearian canon in repertory. And it’s rush hour, so all Auckland is heading home. This is quite a cosmopolitan city, as diverse as some of the big northern hemisphere cities.

Jocelyn pays for her birthday dinner. Last month, she and her boyfriend, Jared, invited me to an Egyptian restaurant in Astoria for my belated birthday and I had to pay. We have a new tradition – Buy your own fucking birthday dinner.