And the road becomes my bride

Taupo was fun. There was a bit of a bittersweet tang near the end, but it was mostly fun. It’s an interesting town. Teh Matt observed that lots of businesses (like cafes) had teenagers working there, when in Auckland they’d normally be staffed by people in their late teens to mid-twenties.

The thing is that Taupo has no university or tech, so I guess for a lot of people once they’ve finished high school, the next step is to get out of Taupo and go to a big city. The high school aged kids are left to take up the slack. Fast Times at Taupo-Nui-A-Tia College?

New Caledonia

nouvelle-madamoiselleI went on holiday to New Caledonia and I took a notebook with me so I could note down all sorts of amusing anecdotes, but here I am looking at the notebook with “the sexual politics of airline flight” scrawled on it and wondering exactly what it was that I was thinking of when I wrote that. So instead I shall ignore the notebook and instead delve into the inner recesses of my mind. Please also note that I bought a duty-free Polaroid I-Zone camera.

L’Hotel

nouvelle-hotelThe hotel I stayed at was classy, in a very three-and-a-half star kind of way. It had all this Gauguin copies all over the hotel. In my room I had two paintings of topless Tahitian vahiné staring at me. I woke up one morning at about 5.00 am and the sun had started to come up. All I could see were the ladies. Terrifying.

Booze ‘n’ fags

They speak French in New Caledonia. It’s such a classy language, it makes everyone who speaks it classy. Like on the way out from the airport I spotted a billboard reading “Winfield en 25 – Valuer Imbattable”. In English, “Winfield in 25 – Unbeatable Value” is pretty boring and (if cigarette advertising was legal in New Zealand), it wouldn’t really do anything to make people want to smoke. But in French it sounds so cool, no wonder everyone smokes.

That’s one of the cool things about a country with French culture. Everyone smokes. No one asks if you want smoking or non-smoking in a restaurant, because every table is smoking. Maybe someone could organise tours for smokers to places where smoking is allowed?

Where there’s fags, there’s booze. Booze ‘n’ fags. What does the hip tourist drink in New Caledonia? Why, local brew Number One, of course. I was wondering why they don’t call it Numéro Un. Then after a bit of contemplation, I realised Numéro Un sounds like a little little sigh, while Number One is a mighty battle cry. Number One! You can buy Number One every where, but, like most cheap lager, it goes best with pizza.

Le McDonald’s

nouvelle-leronaldNew Caledonia got itself a McDonald’s a few years ago. This was quite exciting for me after seeing the famous “Royale with Cheese” scene in Pulp Fiction. I was going to mosey on in like Vincent Vega and order a Royale wit’ Cheese.

But imagine my shock and horror when I saw the menu board. It just said Big Mac, not Le Big Mac. And what was the Quarter Pounder with Cheese called in this part of the world? Simply a Royal Cheese. In the end I decided to order an M&M McFlurry, or a Meek Flaaree Aym Und Aym, as they say (they didn’t even make it properly, not utilising the mixing power of the McFlurry machine to its full extent).

Dubbed

Now, it is an undisputed fact the the coolest French actor in the entire universe is Vincent Cassel. I was thinking it would be really choice if a film he was in was screening, but as fate would have it, there wasn’t anything. So instead I went to le cinéma and saw “O Brother, Where Art Thou” the latest offering from the Coen brothers. But unlike the version that will end up being screened in Aotearoa, this version (known as “O’Brother”) was dubbed en français.

At first it was weird seeing George Clooney and company speaking French, but after a while it didn’t really matter. I was able to follow the plot without too much trouble. I probably missed some of the finer details, but good on the Coen bros for making a good film that didn’t rely on long passages of dialogue to move the plot.

But I was not to leave the theatre without glimpsing Monsieur Cassel. The last trailer shown before O’Brother was for a French flick titled “Les Rivieres Pourpres”, starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Hoorah! Coming soon to the foreign section of a video store near me.

Miam Miam!

nouvelle-frootThe food was good. New Caledonia is really expensive so for breakfast most mornings I had some cereal called “Fitness and Fruits”, but a couple of times I had a traditional French breakfast of café au lait (a great wacking big bowl of milky coffee) and pain au chocolat (not unlike a chocolate Danish, but made with similar pastry to that of a croissant).

nouvelle-petitdejeunerThe best French food item, though, was the croque monsieur. Sold mainly at snack restaurants, the croque monsieur is essentially a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, but classier. All the ones I had were made with real ham, not processed meat. The cheese wasn’t processed either, it was gruyére, which just happens to be my favourite cheese. Yes, I have favourite cheese.

The French have a phrase for food like this: miam miam!

nouvelle-evianOne thing that appeared to be cheaper in New Caledonia was bottled water. Evian came in these really cool bottles with a big plastic loop on top so it’s really easy to carry when walking around. The best thing is bottled water didn’t seem to have the same wanker status that it does in New Zealand. h2eau, and all that.

Tourist Regime

You know what was the worst thing about New Caledonia? The tourists. Specifically, the Australians and New Zealanders. The baddest of the bad can be summed up by a couple who I will name Bruce and Doreen, because that’s what they seem like.

They were sitting at a table near me in a restaurant. Sitting with them was a French woman, who I shall name Madame Coco. Bruce was fat and sunburnt, Doreen was fat and sunburnt. Madame Coco was slim and tanned. Doreen was slurping down fruitie mixed drinks. Bruce was drinking beer and telling Madame Coco about the native people of New Zealand, “The Maoris, they called the white people Pakehas which means “white pig” and they called them that because they were canibals. Do you know what that means? They used to eat people. And they thought that the white people tasted like pigs.”

The meaning of Pakeha has caused much debate over the years, but the pork-related potential translation is “long pig”, not “white pig”. But then, if Bruce and Doreen wanted Madame Coco to think of them as white pigs, then so be it.

Parlez-vous?

I did a couple of years of French in high school. I was hoping to put some of it to use in New Caledonia, but given that most people who work in the tourist industry speak English and Japanese as well as French, I didn’t really get the opportunity. Once I said to a waiter, “Je ne parle pas français,” after he started speaking to me in French.

It’s cool being able to say bonjour back to people, and merci or au revoir when leaving somewhere, but anything else was too hard. I think I said merci way more than I’d normally say thanks. My written French was much better, I could pick my way through the menus and brochures I came across that weren’t subtitled. I came to the conclusion that I spoke good French, but I just didn’t have a very extensive vocabulary.

As I picked up more French words I started to get worried that I was forgetting English. That maybe there’s only enough room in my brain for one language, so the more French I learned the less English I could remember. I was trying to think of a word for sheds that you’d find on a wharf (does such a word exist?), and became convinced the the recent additions to my vocabulaire had forced out some English.

nouvelle-startruckThere were lots of amusing English translations, the kind that end up on hilarious email lists. My favourite instance of franglais was a nightclub by the name of Startruck. I don’t know who named it, or what they were thinking, but it’s a doozy.

nouvelle-mcmerci

Wellington

I used to live in Hamilton, and so did Mike. In 1997 I moved up to Auckland, and he moved down to Wellington. Ever since then I’d been meaning to go down there to see him, but was too slack to do so. Then Mike said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I’m having a big piss up for my birthday and you’re coming down for it whether you like it or not.” Choice!

So a fine Friday came along and I jumped into my automobile and drove for eight hours in a southerly direction. I had considered flying down, but as much fun as flight attendants with peanuts and orange juice are, that doesn’t quite make up for such things as the moment when I was driving into Taupo and suddenly the snow-capped splendour of Mount Ruapehu popped up in the distance.

I eventually made it to the capital city. I really like how the motorway was built along a fault line (well, it’s not like there was anywhere else to build it). I negotiated the one-way streets and drove around in a circle until I got in the right lane to get to Mike’s spatial palatial house of desire. His street has a big hill with a tunnel at the end of it, but only buses are allowed through the tunnel. You don’t get that sort of thing in Auckland (or Hamilton, for that matter). In Auckland car parks have been provided so the citizens of the city do not have to lower themselves to use public transport.

That night a cornucopia of delights awaited me. First up was the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was claaaassy, but wonderful. We headed to a skanky arse bar for a Private Function. After eating all the dip we left and went to Barney’s, Wellington’s premiere night spot. I wish there were more clubs like Barney’s around where I live. It was totally going off. We entered as the Grease medley was playing. That was followed by that famous tune celebrating a famous gay hang-out, “YMCA”. Other delights to rock the night were “Venus” and “Blue Monday”. If you like watching old men get down and shake their booty in an attempt to impress 18 year old girls, then Barney’s is the place.

The next day was big party day which means, of course, that the guests of honour had to shave their hair off. We abducted Mike’s friend Darryl who was kind enough to shave off the hair of both Mike and his flatmate Helen. We then buried the hair in the garden and prayed to the mother goddess spirit*.

Then party time came at Glenn’s house which used to be a brothel. We know it used to be a brothel because there is a basin in every room. Cool. Mike claimed that I was guaranteed to score at this party, but I didn’t so therefore he is a bloody liar, and probably just said that to lure me there. In fact, I have serious doubts that there were any heterosexual guys there.

As the evening progressed all the fairy bread and jelly shots were heartily consumed. There was the token person-who-drank-too-much, but most people were relatively well behaved party goers.

Eventually the party ended and we went home. I was about to retire for the evening when a glamourous young lady by the name of Ms PollyFilla knocked on my door. She had come home from a busy night out. By then I was very tired so I quickly slipped into a coma and didn’t come out of it until the following morning.

Sunday was tidy up day, and it was discovered that a large amount of beer and wine was left over from the party. Hooray! That’s New Year’s taken care of.

A bit of sun bathing upon the brothel balcony (a.k.a. fire escape) took place, then I demanded that Mike accompany me to Te Papa. He didn’t want to go and said it was crap, but I made him go anyway. But after looking around, I agreed that the Museum of New Zealand was, indeed, crap.

Back to the brothel where cards and trivial pursuit were played and fish ‘n’ chips were eaten. Yay. Then back to Mike’s haus where we watched those boring Olympic sports that no one actually cares about (softball, anyone?).

The next day I bid farewell to the fine city of Wellington. Heading along the motorway I noticed that it didn’t quite look the same as it had on the way there. Then suddenly I saw a sign proclaiming “LOWER HUTT”. Great. I was hoping I could go through life without ever having to go to Lower Hutt. As soon as I could I turned around and got back on state highway one and made my way back up north.

I had lunch at Taupo on both the way there and back. On the way there I at at a skanky doris cafe that did not pretend to be anything else. On the way back I ate at a skanky doris cafe that was trying to be a hip deli. Even service station pies are better than skanky doris pseudo delis.

You know how all those small towns try and make themselves interesting by giving themselves slogans? Turangi is the “trout Capital of the world”, Hamilton is no longer the Fountain City, or “Where It’s Happening”, but now is something like “More than you’d expect”. But the best town motto is for Foxton. It proudly proclaims itself to be “New Zealand’s Fox Town.” What?

I drove through Hamilton without stopping (a first) and then back to my home in Auckland. Oh, what an enjoyable weekend!

* No we didn’t. I think it just got biffed in the rubbish.

Med-i-cool

I woke up one Friday recently and I was really bored. I thought to myself “What would spice up today? I know! A minor surgical operation!”

So I got the bus into town and went to the very happy and friendly accident and medical centre. I saw a doctor and told him that I had a thing on my leg (he described at as ‘mainly fat and fibre’ – cool) and asked if I could have it removed. He said it would be no problem and so we went into an operating room thing.

He got a trolley full of goodies and then got out a big-ass needle and proceeded to injected some anaesthetic into the surrounding area. I’m not scared of needles (which doesn’t quite explain why I haven’t had my tetanus shot which I was supposed to have when I was about 15) so I just sat back and let him squirt the stuff in.

Unfortunately the actual anaesthetic stung, like getting salt in a cut, only it was under the skin. But soon enough the anaesthetic took effect and he was able to prod my leg with a needle and I couldn’t feel anything.

The good doctor them swabbed around the area with iodine. Then he got a scalpel and started to chop. I was going to look at it, but it was too uncomfortable sitting up so I just lay back and relaxed. I could feel the skin feeling pulled around and there was the noise of chunks of flesh being cut. The doc said it was quite tough to cut through.

Eventually he got the thing cut off and he stuck it in a little jar to be sent away to a lab to get analysed. He had cut the thing off, but cut around it in an oval shape so the skin could be pushed together. It was at that stage that I felt some blood trickling down my leg. The doctor had said that it was quite vascular so there would be a lot of blood.

Next he pushed the skin together and put some stitches in. I wasn’t watching, so I don’t know how many stitches were put in, but I’d guess that it was 3 or 4. I could feel the skin being pulled over. It was a really strange sensation.

After I was stitches up I took at look at my leg. My skin was really white – possibly due to the blood loss. The stitches pulled the skin firmly together and it was sort of bulging. It looked really ugly, it slightly reminded me of something in Seven.

The doctor cleaned it and put a few sticky plastic strips across which aided in bringing the sides together. He had to put some glue type stuff on to help it stick. He then put a small pad over the area, then a bigger sticky one. Finally he put a smooth thin plastic sticky thing over to keep it water proof.

So I walked around with the dressing on my leg for a week, unable to do Kung Fu kicks. I was so paranoid about ripping that stitches that I started walking funny. A week later the stitches came off and it was fine. It had nicely bonded and was healing. The lab report said that the thing was just fibre – nothing to worry about. Cool.

And that was it. It was fun and it only cost $40 plus $5 to get the stitches out

1994. Marina Del Ray, Los Angeles, California, USA.

It was my birthday. It was supposed to be really cool. Like “Yeee! It’s my birthday and I’m in LA!!!”. Ha ha ha.

I’d been feeling pretty bad the few days before. But on my birthday it was really really sick. I was unable to digest any food. I woke up and I was feeling so bad. My parents were like “So! What do you want to do for your birthday!!!”. I told them I damn well didn’t want to do anything because I was feeling so sick. I think they thought I was just saying it because I was being anti-social. Sure.

The day went on and I wasn’t getting any better. I demanded that I be taken to a doctor. I didn’t want to move from where I was, but I didn’t want to feel like that for any longer. My father and brother and disappeared in the rental car, so my mother and I had to take the hotel courtesy van.

I distinctly remember sitting in the back of the van huddled in a little ball feeling like shit. There were two American women in the seats in front who wanted to talk to be. They complied with every stupid stereotype of loud Americans: “OH, YOU’RE SICK. I WAS SICK LAST WEEK. I SPENT THE ENTIRE DAY IN THE BATHROOM THROWING UP.” “OH, YOU’RE FROM NEW ZEALAND. I WENT THERE LAST CHRISTMAS. YOU HAVE A VERY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY”. Blah blah blah.

We got to the hospital, and I was wished well by the women. The hospital has since been made vaguely famous as where Kurt Cobain escaped from in rehab about a week before he died. So I went in and an old woman who wasn’t a doctor or a nurse but some happy greeting person happily greeted me and took my name.

I had to go and give them my name and stuff. A problem happened when the computer had no space for my country, so they tried to put “NZ” as the state, but it wouldn’t accept it. And my 4 – digit postcode wasn’t long enough for them. I should have said “90210”.

Then they asked me if I had medical insurance. I did, but my mother had left the papers at the hotel. They wouldn’t see me without them or something like that. Mum asked me if I really needed to see a doctor and I gave her the most evil look I could muster. So mum had to go back to the hotel and get them. That took about 15 minutes. I was left sitting in the waiting room with the Time magazine “grunge” issue.

Just as I was reading about Babes in Toyland being described as “punkettes” (is that like Smurfette?) my mother got back with the insurance forms and I could finally see a doctor.

There was someone else who was walking through behind me. A nurse person went screaming at her “You can’t go through there with her!!! No one is allowed to be with the patient!!!” It turned out the woman was a patient herself, but it sounded like a law-suit prevention thing. Like if someone went in with me I could sue the hospital because I was sick and didn’t know what I was thinking and they should have stopped it or some bollocks like that.

I had to change into a paper gown thing and got given a plastic wrist band, which seemed really over the top.

All the times I’ve been to the doctor in New Zealand I’ve been seen in what ever I was wearing at the time. I even had the thing cut out my my leg with only having to take my jeans off.

So I waited around and a doctor turned up and her name was Robin. She checked my name tag and made sure that I was who it said I was. She asked me a few questions and did stuff like take my temperature and listen to my chest and all the time I was thinking why couldn’t I at least have my jeans on. Eventually she told me that I was sick (hey!) and prescribed me some penicillin.

The bill came to US$150 and the penicillin was about $15. This totally freaked me out because I am used to paying $20 for going to the doctor and about $5 for the drugs.

Fortunately the next day I was feeling better so I went to Tower Records and bought lots of good music.