Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I lived with them on Montague street in a basement down the stairs, there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air

Ugh. I've been writing this lengthy wordy descriptive blog post in my head now for three weeks and and I just can't seem to find the time to get it out onto the damn screen. So instead of doing what I do best, procrastinating, I'm going to give a very quick update, with an IOU for a better writing.

I've made it Queenstown and have been sharing a room with Morgan for about three weeks. He has plucked me into the social pipeline here and I have made several new friends and found a job. I am pizza chef at Winnie's. http://www.winnies.co.nz/ and I love my job. I work with awesome people between the ages of 18 and 35 from about a dozen nationalities. I enjoy going to work just to learn more about my co-workers. I have found the German kids to be the most interesting.

As I mentioned before I could fill volumes about Queenstown but here are the essential facts: 1. It's the most beautiful place on the planet. 2. The sun never sets 3. The bars never close 4. You can walk everywhere you need to go 5. There are no children or elderly here, just teenagers to 30 somethings 6. The beer flows like wine 7. It's the most beautiful place on the planet.

I've stated this before and I'll say it again. I have severely misjudged the weather in New Zealand. This is a cold country. This may be the only thing that stops me from staying here forever.

That's all I have time for now kids. Those pizzas aren't gonna make themselves. I promise to write more soon.

Short Circuits:

  • I love music. I hate Christmas music.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One, two, three, four, five against one

Christchurch (11/28-11/29)

Top 5 people that I’m told I look like:

5. Jeremiah Johnson

4. The dude

3. Eddie Vedder

2. The Geico Cave Men

1. Jesus (fully grown Jesus, not sweet baby Jesus)

I have also heard Grizzly Adams, Kris Kristofferson, Sebastian Chebal and most recently Charles Manson.

After eating a second Thanksgiving meal for breakfast on Saturday morning, I split with Team Lacy and set a course for Christchurch, New Zealand. It was there that I met my long lost friend Morgan Tucker. Morgan and I were classmates together at Chapel Trafton Academy (which is currently referred to in the common tongue as Dunham) from grades 1 through 4. I learned through mutual friends that he has been a kiwi for about 8 months now. I contacted Morgan before leaving the United States and he has been my personal New Zealand advisor ever since. He lives in Queenstown and is hosting me until we find a new place. In a similar fashion to Harry Bowers, I hold Morgan in the highest regard for everything he has done in helping me transition into New Zealand.

Morgan and two of his buddies, Craig and Ed, had driven to Christchurch from Queenstown that afternoon and I met them at their hotel. Craig and Ed are both from England and at the end of the weekend it still was a struggle for me to understand them. It was also quite frustrating to realize that Craig could imitate our southern Louisiana accents perfectly, while our impressions of their British accents were pretty much god awful. I was impressed that both of the Englishmen were big fans of Team America. They would randomly yell out “America” in the fashion of the movie, and I would whole heartedly finish the line for them in call and answer fashion. We gorged on some Chinese food and then hit a mildly cheesy bar called Sullivan’s where what I thought was a Kings of Leon cover band was playing as that was all I heard for the first 20 minutes we were there. The band turned out to decent, covering a wide range of material, and about halfway through the night the lead singer announced to the crowd “hey, Eddie Vedder is here tonight” and then pointed at me. We all got a kick out of that.

Of course Eddie Vedder was not in fact at Sullivan’s, the Irish pub, but he was in Christchurch gearing up for the Sunday night gig we were anticipating.

An American Sunday

On Sunday morning, Morgan and I checked into the Base Hostel in downtown Christchurch. Base is a chain of hostels in New Zealand and I believe Australia and from what I can tell are the most popular hostels to stay at in the country. Each Base hostel is flanked by a bar that never seems to close, with edgy original names like Basement, Sinners & Saints, and Altitude. The hostels themselves vary in quality, but Christchurch seemed to have a decent facility. The weather in the city was pretty dismal: cold, rainy and overcast. This was discouraging to me as the concert we were there for was to be outdoors at the AMI rugby stadium and I was starting to develop a throat cold.

We threw our backpacks on our bunks and walked a few blocks to a giant sports bar called The Holy Grail (a name that I actually do think is kind of original). We ordered French fries, pizza (my first pie since leaving the states) and beers and sat down in front of the only TV that had an American football game on, which was Stanford vs. Notre Dame. After weeks of not seeing any football, I FINALLY reach a destination where I can see a football game and the ONE game they are showing is Notre Dame vs. Stanford?! We watched this game with no sound as the Grail’s speaker system was broadcasting a cricket match. On that note, if I ever meet a professional cricket player, I’m going to immediately punch him in the face for participating in the promotion of the most boring sport on the planet. I’d seriously rather watch my fingernails grow and have plenty of opportunities to do just that, as cricket is broadcasted on TV’s everywhere in New Zealand. But I digress and I exaggerate as we were actually quite content to watch any kind of football that involved pigskin. I caught a few clips from the LSU game and found myself more distracted by horrendous uniforms the Tigers were wearing than the score of the game. Happy to leave Charlie Weiss on the screen in the bar, we bolted for AMI Stadium around 4:30 with our British cohorts.
If my memory serves me correctly the first live rock show I ever attended was a Becky Sharp concert at the Varsity in Baton Rouge and I was probably 12 or 13 years old. Or maybe it was Better than Ezra? Either way, since then I have spent countless hours in various bars, venues, arenas, stadiums and grassy fields listening to live music. As a live music fan I’ve endured the sweet with the sour. Some concerts are spectacular and others are more forgettable, but once in a blue moon you catch a show that can only be described as special. I wasn’t expecting a special show when I bought the Pearl Jam ticket and the weather was all the time lowering my expectations, but I was in for a nice surprise.

Liam Finn was on stage when we arrived. I wasn’t familiar with his music, but immediately suspected that he must be some descendant of the Crowded House Finns. His music was experimental and noisy, but not awful. He proved to be a decent drummer on a few of his tunes, but I wasn’t rushing out to buy his album after his set. The first highlight of the night came when Eddie Vedder joined Liam on stage to do Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”. Eddie’s voice is so distinctive that anytime he covers a tune it takes on an entirely different dynamic. He seems to have a real knack for singing Neil Young songs.

Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 took the stage after Finn. The Relentless 7 is Harper’s latest backing band and is in fact comprised of only 3 guys. Critics and fans alike trashed the album he recorded with them and I was longing for his original band, the Innocent Criminals, for most of their show. The music wasn’t bad; it just didn’t keep my attention for very long. Eddie provided a spark in their mellow set and stole the show when he jumped on stage for “Under Pressure”.

The general admission area in front of the stage was tightly packed by the time Pearl Jam took the stage. The first hour of music was solid and included fan favorites like Once, Animal, and Elderly Women behind the counter in a Small Town. The show really kicked up a notch with Even Flow. Pearl Jam normally plays their songs tight and fast, with little improvisation or variation. This night proved to be different as Mike Mccready wrecked havoc on lead guitar for about five minutes at the end of Even Flow. He was on fire and really got the crowd energized despite the light cold rain that started to fall. I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my personal favorites, “Garden”, played a few songs later as it rarely makes it onto the set list. This was followed by two rockers, “Do the Evolution” and “Go” and then PJ took their first exit. As it turns out, this was the last show of Pearl Jam’s international tour and also the first time they had included New Zealand as a stop in over 12 years. They wanted to go out with a bang and they certainly would.

The first encore opened with Eddie singing an acoustic song I didn’t recognize. Then the crowd got to participate in singing Happy Birthday to drummer Matt Cameron. Ben Harper came out to play slide guitar on “Red Mosquito” and sing on “Indifference”. They closed with “The Fixer”, a very radio friendly song from their latest album. I could have left more than satisfied with what I had seen and heard after this. But it was not to be.

The second encore opened with the 1-2 punch of “Jeremy” and “Betterman”, which was followed by another great cover in “The Real Me”, by The Who. I thought for sure that would be the end of the show, when I was stunned to hear Eddie welcome Liam Finn and his father Neil Finn to the stage. I was enthralled. I knew that the Crowded House front man was extremely popular in New Zealand and also a huge PJ influence, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him perform that night. 35,000 people screamed along to the Crowded House classic “You’d Better be Home Soon”. Neil and Liam stayed on for one more number and then the band launched into “Alive” as the rain picked up, heightening the dark song. Every musician who had played that night returned to the stage for a roaring rendition of “Keep on Rocking in the Free World”. PJ members loaned instruments to Relentless 7 players and Eddie threw tambourines to anyone who didn’t have something to play. Harper got the crowd clapping and stomping while Mccready and Stone Gossard burned through face-melting guitar solos. Everyone took a bow to a well deserved ovation and THEN I REALLY THOUGHT THE FREAKING CONCERT WAS OVER when Eddie ran back on stage grinning and said “How bought one more?” as the familiar chords of “Yellow Ledbetter” came on.

Remaining consistent with all things I have experienced in New Zealand, the entire evening was truly amazing. Back at the hostel guy who looked nice and buzzed threw his arm around me and told me how awesome it was that I looked like Eddie Vedder. One final incident really made the day truly American, at least for me. Morgan and I were standing outside the hostel when a barefoot kid who could not have been over 20 years of age or over 110 lbs. in weight came shooting out of the entrance. He lunged for the handrails and immediately started projectile vomiting. He then looked up at us grinning and attempted to stand, but ended up stumbling about 10 feet in the other direction before falling over onto a drain grate where he lost the rest of the bourbon and cokes he had been consuming all night. We found this incredibly funny and reminiscent of something you might see in Tigerland or East 6th street on a Saturday night. It was a good note to end the evening, and the Christchurch trip on. I would not find the Japanese kid who decided to blow dry and straighten his hair in our dorm room at 7 am the next morning nearly as amusing……

Personally, I see no resemblance what so ever

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Living on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean

Wellington (Tues. Wed. 11/24-11/25)

After three nights of camping near Mount Taranaki, it was time to start thinking about crossing over to the south island. Hopping islands is achieved by boarding a ferry in Wellington that carries you down to Picton, or vice versa. Living on campgrounds and sleeping in Voodoo is wonderful, but I was definitely longing for some amenities of a larger city. On Tuesday morning, Snow thawed out some White Bait fish. I’m not familiar with it, but according to him it is a rarity and quite expensive. It looked and tasted like long pieces of lump crabmeat to me. We saw an advertisement a few days later in another city for $69 per kilogram, so I guess Snow was right. After the white bait tasting we rocked out for Wellington.

Wellington is a big city and has a big city feel to it. It has been dubbed “Windy Welly” due to the constant flow of gusting winds that, like most other New Zealand weather, attacks when you least expect it. Wellington also serves as New Zealand’s capital with a city population of 164,000. Team Lacy has been utilizing information centers, called i-sites and marked by easy to spot blue signs, in each town/city that they have traveled to. I hit my first I-site in downtown Wellington. This hub puts the “Welcome to Louisiana” center right off Interstate 10 past the Sabine River to shame. Brochures for accommodation and activities lined the walls, organized by price range and location. The center is also staffed with 3-4 capable employees that can do everything from suggest a mid price range Thai joint to booking your first jet boating trip. I inquired about a cheap room close to downtown where I could park Voodoo safely and at the suggestion of the i-site clerk, found myself at Rowena’s lodge. Rowena’s is a cozy little run down hostel tucked right outside the central business district (CBD). I dumped my backpack on my hostel bed and headed out into the city to meet Georgia Cottrell, Mark and Elizabeth’s daughter at St. John’s Bar on the waterfront. The walk through downtown highlighted the well known trendy-hip side of Wellington. I walked past heaps of coffee houses and clubs decked out with modern furniture with well-dressed 20 somethings packed inside sipping 9 dollar lattes. The water front area was quite stunning and I took an extra long stroll along the harbor admiring the mountains and ultra blue water. I was surprised to see teenagers jumping from the harbor into the water as it must have been extremely cold and about a 30 ft. leap.

I met Georgia and two of her roommates, or flatmates as she referred to them at St. John’s bar, which appeared to be at max capacity with people drinking pints of beer and soaking up the afternoon sun. They corrected my misconception that I would have to give up live music in New Zealand, informing me of several festivals and events which I scribbled down furiously to google later on. We also discussed the subtle but intriquing differences between American and Kiwi education systems. When the sun started to set it became quite cold and it was time for me to meet Team Lacy at the Flying Burrito Brothers Mexican restaurant for dinner. We polished off two pitchers of margaritas and heaping plates of fajitas like the seasoned Tex-Mex patrons we are. The food was tasty, a welcome change from all the fish we had been eating, and the only difference we noticed between New Zealand Mexican and American Mexican was that their fajita tortillas were burrito sized and each order included only two. And of course the margaritas were watered down compared to Texas margs. We sat at the table waiting to pay for about 10 minutes before realizing that in New Zealand, once you have been given your check, you take it to the counter yourself and pay for it. We left the restaurant stuffed and satisfied and hit the Wellington streets looking for a little bit of night life.

This led us to a hostel bar called Basement which is as cheesy as it sounds. As it turns out, I would find myself in several cheesy bars over the next few days. I am clearly too old to be frequenting these establishments, but not quite old enough to stand out yet. At least I think so. Basement is your typical stomping ground for 19 to 23 year-olds traveling the country and looking to get closer in proximity to the opposite sex. I found it quite enjoyable to watch the hair-gelled guy with his popped collar polo two sizes too small try to yell over the Black Eyed Peas being blasted at arena volume levels at the drunk girl with a full glass of wine in each hand throwing her neck back in near convulsions of screaming laughter. I am all too familiar with this scene, but it still never fails to amaze me, especially when I realized that it is the same all over the world. But in the end, we didn’t stay amused long and our hearing started to suffer so we made our way out of there. I expected the evening to end after this, but in a strange twist of events it was only getting started. Someone suggested karaoke and someone else seconded that notion and before I knew it I found myself barking out the lyrics to Gloria in a completely empty karaoke bar. Nate did a stunning rendition of Cracklin Rosie in which he rarely had to check the monitor for lyrics. We all sang, we all danced and we all had a brilliant time. Upon returning to the hostel we talked to some interesting young German travelers before retiring to our 6 bedroom dorm where a young man from Chile (or maybe Brazil or Belize) tried to go to sleep as we giggled uncontrollably at the evenings’ events.

The next day was essentially all business for me. I did laundry, booked my ferry crossing and had the cables on my bike installed. I was ready for the south island.

Nelson (Thurs. Fri. 11/26-11/27)

On Thursday I rose early, drove Voodoo down to the docks and loaded her onto a large ferry and got settled on the passenger deck. The ferry crossing across Cook Strait is very scenic and I was lucky enough to have beautiful weather on this three hour tour. I arrived in Picton on the South Island, rendezvoused with Team Lacy (who had crossed over the evening before) and we all set out for Nelson with one thing on our minds: Thanksgiving Dinner. The drive from Picton to Nelson afforded me my first views of the south island. The south island is consistently billed as one of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet and it lived up to this reputation. I was told by someone a few days earlier that it is similar to the scenes in Jurassic Park where the helicopters are flying to the island and this is an effective way to try to visualize it. Nate accompanied me for the snaking drive through the mountains and our jaws were pretty much glued to our chins for most of the ride.
We checked into another 6 bedroom dorm at the largest holiday park in the southern hemisphere, according to the desk clerk. We searched high and low for a turkey that we could cook for Thanksgiving dinner, but were unsuccessful and in the end settled on rustling up four drunk chickens instead. We also made broccoli and rice casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cream corn and the best imitation queso we could muster up with the limited ingredients we could find. All in all, it was a huge success and we ate like kings as usual. I had a wonderful Skype video conversation with most of my immediate family and also several members from Mom’s side. One new born baby plus aunts, uncles, cousins and even my 95 year-old grandfather squeezed in front of a webcam and wished us all a happy thanksgiving. One of my younger cousins asked if Nate’s mustache was real and I felt like I should go ahead and publicly clarify that it is. Even though the video cam picture was blurry I cannot exaggerate enough how much of a blessing modern technology is. Seeing my family really made my day. I have not experienced homesickness yet. I think it has been replaced by a longing desire for my family and friends to be here with me. The video conversation kind of allowed that to happen for a little while.

After cleaning up the kitchen we headed out to the beach to toss the Frisbees around. I tried to teach Team Lacy how to play Quashambo, a game that I helped create with some good friends at a campsite in Texas around this time last year, but it was entirely too windy to play properly and we soon made our way back to the dorm. We agreed to lay down for about 20 minutes before getting up to head out to a bar. That notion drifted away as quickly as it had been drawn up as we were all in deep slumber by about 8:30 pm, and would not stir again until nine o’clock the next morning. Needless to say, my first New Zealand thanksgiving was a roaring success.

Short Circuits:

  • I want to thank everyone who has posted comments on the blog, emailed and facebooked me. It may be hard to believe, but hearing from y'all is just as exciting to me as all the adventures I write about. I love to read about what is going on in the states in your lives, so please keep the communications coming. I may not always be able to send an adequate response, but you can rest assured that I read every single transmission and I am always thinking of you.
  • I have been posting interchangeable words on the blog pretty regularly now. I have even started to mix a few of them into my own speech. However, I have encountered one that really aggaravates the day lights out of me. That word is queue. When people want to reference a group of people standing one behind the other, they use the word queue. We use the word line as in "Dammit the portapotty lines at ACL are long". Where as they might say something like "Bugger, the bloody toilet queues are full at ACL." And for some reason, this really grinds my gears.......
  • I've added a few little gadgets to the side of the blog, I hope you enjoy them. I have also updated the photos BUT they go further ahead in time than I have written about, so you may want to wait to look at them if you care about spoilers at all.