Travel Thursday Encore: Rusty from Scotland and Ireland, Part 2

In Ireland there’s a small town known only because an Obama ancestor came from there. Some local boys hit it big with a Youtube video called “There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.” It got them a record deal, but the label insisted that they ditch their band’s longtime name: Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys.
I know I went a long way for that, but how is that not the funniest band name ever?

As the car passed a convent (or I think they, and Shakespeare, call them nunneries), and considering I’d been reading one of my favorite authors on this trip, David Gerrold, I remembered one of the jokes he likes to tell:
Somewhere in Ireland, a mother superior is at her desk in the convent when two leprechauns suddenly pop out of thin air and stand on her desk. One of them, the smaller one, is trying to contain his laughter while the bigger one glares at him, then asks, “Mother Superior, do you have any nuns in your convent that are my size?”
Fearing the worst, she answers, “No, there are no nuns of your size here.”
That makes the smaller leprechaun burst into laughter. The bigger one smacks him, then asks, “And Mother Superior, do you know of any nuns in the whole of Ireland who are my size?”
“No, I am sure there are no nuns of your size in Ireland.”
This time the smaller leprechaun falls to the desk, he’s laughing so hard. The bigger one kicks him, then says, “And Mother Superior, have you heard of any nuns in all of Catholicism that are my size?”
“I have traveled all over the world and I have neither seen nor heard of any nun of your size.”
Finally the little leprechaun can’t hold back anymore and he hoots, “I told ya, I told ya! Ya fucked a penguin!”
I’ll give ya a little time to recover from that. . .

While staying a night in a farmhouse in Ireland. . . it was well past midnight and I was sitting on the balcony, cruising the internet while breathing in the fresh air. With one window I was checking out my usual websites and e-mails, but I had another window open to listen to Leah West’s website player.
So just as I look up at what I think is a shooting star, Leah sings,
“If I could get the moon to land
Here in the palm of my hand
First I’d round up all the stars
Then I’d go and lasso Mars
And Venus too
And Jupiter. . .
And Saturn with its pretty rings . .”
After all, who doesn’t love an astronomical love song. . .?

And while reading one of David Gerrold’s books while driving through the Irish countryside–I wasn’t driving, of course–I happened to look up at a field of cattle just as I got to the part in the book that says: A cow doesn’t have a life. It has lunch.

I have a new hobby: writing limericks! Yes, I got the idea in Limerick, Ireland. Wrote 3 in 20 minutes as soon as it occurred to me.
Limerick #1
Always when traveling in Eire
You must have knowledge of building a fire
Even if you’re a fan of the rain
It will cost you a surfeit of pain
If your best friend isn’t a dryer!
Don’t worry, I’ll spare ya the rest. And I just realized I coulda used that on the gal in rainy Scotland.

Now I want to write a love song–not just a limerick–called “Sweaty for your Love,” then a sequel, “Sweaty FROM your Love.”

No, Jimi, I did not go to Blarney. . . or I guess that’s better for the song, right?

People always overreact or call me a liar after I answer their question: where have you been in the world? I do so hate being called a liar, though I do realize why most people do it: they’re so used to lying themselves that they can’t accept someone who doesn’t, because as long as they think “Everyone does it!” it makes them feel okay about doing it. But once that illusion is shattered. . .
That conversation basically ended with her yelling, “Don’t pretend you’re not like every other guy!”
“About as much as you’re like every other bimbo.”
“Fuck you!”
“You have neither the looks nor the money.”
My fault; you really can’t argue with someone that stupid.

At least on the flight back I had a fun conversation, based on something in the last of the four-part (so far, hopefully) David Gerrold series I was reading: “A baby makes a noise and gets a warm tit in its face. This life lesson is so profound we spend the rest of our lives searching for the right noises to get more.”
Have fun thinking about that for a while. . .


Poetry Tuesday: And Where Are the Graves

By Moses ibn Ezra, back in the halcyon days of the eleventh or twelfth century.

And where are the graves, so many graves
Of all who have died on the earth since the beginning?
Grave tunneling into grave,
Headstone and obelisk crumbled into one dust,
Bodies heaped upon bodies, in motionless orgy—
All sleeping together in deep holes,
Fragments of chalk,
Stained rubies.


Book Reviews: Graphic Monkeys and Immortals

Banana Sunday
A teenage girl takes her three talking simians, given IQ boosts by her mad scientist father, to high school with her. Hilarity ensues for most but not all.
I liked Kirby from the first panel; the other main primates are a mixed back. One has a massive ego, another thinks only of mating (with human high school girls), and the third is even more Neanderthal than the students. Kirby makes a BFF who right away says she can’t be trusted, while a guy gives her a concussion with his locker door and then asks her out. And of course there’s a mean alpha, though this one is redheaded instead of blonde.
“For whom the bell does clique.” Nice to see the orangutan can talk about something other than physics.
“Donuts are friends!” “Ducks are good poopers.” “Butterflies don’t fart.” Go-Go just might be the wisest of all.
A lot of the humor is of the two-people-having-different-conversations variety, though I do agree with Chuck about Atlantis. Add his sarcasm and he’s me.
So all in all, a pretty strange read, but funny and heartwarming too. Glad I read it. And remember, only good gorillas are ticklish. . .

Mortals and Immortals of Greek Mythology
A stylized version of the famous myths. Each character has their story told in prose on a colorful background, while illustrations paint the edges. They’re kinda Avant Garde, but some are delightful. The stories are not quick teasers, but take up a few pages of small script.
Hera is drawn as a redhead, which kinda figures, considering her temper.
One of my favorite drawings features Zeus looking annoyed. It’s small and easy to miss, but all the more impressive because of it; the details are exquisite.
Demeter in the wheat field looks amazing.
The story of Helen is told kinda funny, and the drawings add to it. Of course Aphrodite is always naked, and had no doubt she’d win. Atalanta is a story less told, but just as entertaining, as long as you don’t mind downer endings.

Louca 1: Kickoff
Everyone has something they’re good at. . . except this guy. Unless you count making the girl of his dreams angry and/or injured, he can’t do anything right, not even cheating. I don’t think there can possibly be anyone in real life as much of a butt monkey as this, but then this isn’t real life. This comes more into focus when a friendly ghost—not in a white sheet—shows up to help him with classes and, more importantly, soccer. Unfortunately the ghost is a bit of a jerk too, especially the way he peeks into the girls’ locker room.
Little kid #1: “Is he dead?” Little kid #2: “I don’t think so. He’s still drooling.”
Someone doesn’t seem to know the red card rule, but the diving header was drawn beautifully. . . the first one, anyway.
This volume ends before we find out if he gets together with Julie! Darn.
The cartoonish illustrations fit in perfectly with the story, which is a standard coming-of-age believe-in-yourself thing. Luckily the humor was mostly on the mark.

Dejah Thoris: The Gardens of Mars
Young Martian princess wants to bring her dying—and drying—planet back to life. There’s allies and enemies and enemies-turned-allies, all which make the plot last longer than it really needed to.
Even at my most. . . “licentious teenager,” I still wondered why women like Red Sonja were dressed so ridiculously for combat. One could argue that this is how the original version was done so many decades ago, but these metal bikinis, diaphanous gowns, and ridiculous platform heels could use an upgrade, especially with a woman as writer. And isn’t it a wonder that all these men gaze upon her and feel nothing? She’s not meant to titillate the in-world males with her wardrobe, which makes this the very definition of fanservice. And can you imagine the heat stroke and sunburn wearing that golden armor in the desert?
Funniest line: “Uh-oh.” Also “It would be against their custom to kill prisoners. . . I think.”
I applaud the main character’s courage and morals, but the author keeps showing her lack of maturity, as well as too-highly-developed ego, over and over. People die helping her and, like a royal, she’s not bothered all that much by it.
The living chess game turned out to be a big disappointment.
Almost 30 pages of extras at the end, for which I was glad, as I was tiring.


Travel Thursday Encore: Rusty from Scotland and Ireland, Part 1

Because I’ve been to Scotland and Ireland so many times, I didn’t notice much new, so I don’t have much of a travelogue, in that sense. This is mostly gonna be, like the Chicago one minus a president, snippets of conversations and musings on why humans are still the stupidest species on the planet, except for all the other ones.
{By the way, this blog was written under the spirit of Silverberg’s Law of Conservation of Research: Once you’ve done your research, never publish one book on the subject when you can publish more than one. . .}
We start with a headache in the security line at the airport. I’ve often banged my head against the wall of bureaucratic stupidity as regards to airport profiling, especially in the misguided belief that people who pay cash for one-way tickets are more likely to be terrorists.
Since 9/11, all hijackers are considered to be suicide terrorists; none of this “take me to Cuba” stuff is believed anymore. So if a terrorist is willing to sacrifice his life to bring down a plane, why would he bother paying for one-way? Who would save money when you’re about to kill yourself? Same with paying cash; for someone in such deep cover in the United States or Europe, they had to have a false identity, and with it comes credit cards. Again, why bother saving a false identity if you were about to die?
Okay, at least the flight itself was no big deal, and I actually slept a little. But like the last few times, things happened at Heathrow. Not like the time I had to scramble to catch a plane in Amsterdam because of a terrorist scare, but. . .
Normally it’s an 8 hour difference to Great Britain, but because we just had daylight saving time change, it’s only 7, which I didn’t realize until I barely caught my connecting from London to Edinburgh. Urgh!
Although I do have to say I was entertained by a “starlet”-type chick waiting for the same flight. Ever try this on a blonde? Especially one with an intelligence level somewhere between lawyer and coffeepot?
“Can you grab me a water bottle?”
“Sure. Diet or regular?”
“Uh. . .”
After that she went into a rant about how prudish her rich boyfriend was. “I like to run around half naked. Is that wrong?”
“Depends on which half.”
That one flew right over her head too, and the rant continued to how her boyfriend never listens to what she says. . . kinda what she was doing to me, of course. {I know I shouldn’t have teased the animals, but I had to entertain myself somehow. . .}
“If he loved you, he’d listen to you.”
“He loves me!”
“If he respected you, he’d listen to you.”
She tried to rebuff that one as well, but her brain wouldn’t move. After that she got a bit quiet, like she knew I was having fun at her expense {that self-awareness was shocking in itself}, until she said, “You think I’m stupid because I have big boobs.”
“No, I think you’re stupid because you wear so much makeup when you know guys only look at your big boobs.”
Hey, not like I was gonna see her later on, so why not be honest? And I’m really mad at the first asshole who called her beautiful. . . that would be a version of the truth called a lie. . .

You know, I think I understand the Scottish accent BETTER with a fever. There’s something surreal about wandering around in Edinburgh taking photos and wondering if what you just shot is what you think you just shot. . .
Not that I got much help medically from the locals, especially the guy who said infections weren’t a big deal. “After all, what did cavemen do when they got an infection?”
Uh, they DIED.
Never imagined getting into a religious/philosophical argument with a fundamental Muslim in Scotland, but it happened. He was going on and on about how horrible it was that women weren’t completely clothed, then he tried to say there were parallels in the Western world, because there were parts women had to cover here as well.
“The parts of the body covered in the Western world are the ones where men and women are different. But when you insist on covering shoulders, arms, legs, and others parts that men and women both have. . .”
Seems like a simple thing, but he didn’t bother arguing; guess he didn’t figure anyone would call him on it. Oh well. . .
One of my all-time fave musicians, Beverley Craven, has a new CD out, as I saw in a local store, and she describes part of her band thusly: “Gary, who is without doubt the best-looking keyboard player. . . in the band.” Sounds like something Genevieve would say. . .
Someone a long time ago said the song “Stairway to Heaven” is like an orgasm: starts of slow and easy, builds up little by little before that big explosive final climax. But as I was listening to it, walking along a big street with cars zooming by. . . after enjoying the guitar solo as always, going through the climax, getting to the end. . . I realized there was no cuddling. It just ends with a final wail about the stairway. Not even fun in the shower. . . definitely no pizza. sigh.
And speaking of showers, of course it rained most of my time here, which is one thing when it’s 50 degrees in El Lay, but quite another when it’s 30. One girl who walked into the hotel at the same time I did was all giddy and “wheee!” about being all wet–no umbrella, no raincoat–and smiled at me. “Isn’t this SO much fun?”
“This is NOT fun. I’ve had fun before. This is not it.”
Someday I might learn to go along with things and. . . well, who knows what might happen? My relationship with this girl ended right then and there, on a not-happy note from her side.
Whereas the next night, a woman I’d met–at least I thought she was a woman when I first met her, as compared to GIRL–did something so incredibly stupid that I can’t even tell you what it was. It was so bad I actually couldn’t make fun of her. . . not much, anyway. Even she deadpanned it by saying, “What a shitty day.”
“Hey, you’re still alive.”
“Is that infamous bright side?”
“More like things can always get worse. . . or, you know, usually.”
“Gee, thanks for that!”
“Hey, I for one am glad you did it. Makes all the stupid things I’ve ever done or ever will do seem logical in comparison.”
Once again, if I learn to stay quiet. . .
But on the more fun side, the next morning as I was going for my walk I passed by a cop mounted on a horse. The horse’s legs were white, so somebody had painted red and gold rings to make them look like athletic tube socks. Awesome.
That was also the day I got taken to some expensive grill, where the guy in the white hat–NOT a good guy–wouldn’t listen when I told him I didn’t want any sauce on the steak. I don’t care how rich I get: I want a cook, not a chef! Though I did manage to poke some fun at the stuffed shirt paying for the whole thing. I don’t know why he bothered, but he tried to convince us he wasn’t all about money by saying, as if he’d thought of the quote all by himself, “I would not exchange my leisure hours for all the wealth in the world!”
Giving me such an easy opening. . . “I would exchange a quarter of my leisure hours for a quarter of the wealth in the world.”
From there came a big argument, as if to prove the Scottish mindset when it comes to money is true after all, about how a human’s most primal drive is to own things. If he was trying to put himself in the same circles as Freud and Maslow and Adler and such, not that that’s heady company to begin with, he was in for a big surprise. After all, human’s primary drive is basically food and shelter, some kind of security. Then you get Freud saying it’s sex–or that’s just men–and the others talking about Will to Power and such, but it quickly got boring, with my only contribution being, “There’s no such thing as ownership, just control. Ownership is a temporary illusion.”
They didn’t like that.
The next day found me walking along Loch Ness. This time I decided NOT to look for Nessie, and therefore might see her/him/it, but that didn’t happen either; the monster saw through my fiendish ploy. Still, it was a much-needed relief from the urban landscape. In a lot of ways, especially noisewise, Edinburgh is a lot like El Lay, and therefore the trail to Inverness can feel like Big Bear or Arrowhead. Walking along the lake, on the side that doesn’t have the highway, the silence is deafening. But not just that: the visual noise is drowned out as well, mostly because there’s no billboards. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Kinda like the difference between spreading whipped cream on a girl’s boobs and explaining how to spread whipped cream on a girl’s boobs. . .
Yeah, like a fart in a hurricane {And if you don’t get that one, don’t bother to ask}.
Don’t remember exactly what made me think of this–and I hesitate trying to figure it out now–but back in college I gave a porn tape to a friend on his eighteenth birthday. The guy had been so enthused he went straight home to play it, only to call me immediately after. “Dude, you gave me the wrong tape! This is ‘The Little Mermaid!’”
“That’s the right one.” Click.
Missed seeing one of my fave bands, Wolfstone, in concert by a couple of weeks. Haven’t seen them since that time at the Portland Zoo. . . but that’s another story. . . they’re so incredibly high energy, even the elephants were dancing. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Cossante

From some part of the Iberian peninsula in the thirteenth century, Pero Meogo cuts a mysterious figure.

Tell me, daughter, my pretty daughter,
Why you waited by the cold water.
It was love, alas!

Tell me, daughter, my pretty daughter,
Why you waited by the cold water.
It was love, alas!

I waited, mother, by the cold fountain
While the deer came down the mountain.
It was love, alas!

I waited by the cold river, mother,
To see the deer, and not for any other.
It was love, alas!

You lie, daughter, you lie for your lover,
I never saw deer come down from cover.
It was love, alas!

You lie, daughter, for your lover by the fountain,
I never saw deer going up to the mountain.
It was love, alas!


Book Reviews: Not Comic Strippers

Dad: Daddy’s Girls
One father, four daughters. As a man in a similar family situation told me, “I have no idea what god I offended.” Don’t know if it helps or hurts that they each have different mothers. (Though I have no doubt some male readers are pounding their chests with a V sign and muttering, “Respect!”)
Though not in traditional comic strip form, there’s one mini-story per page, with about eight panels each, usually pitting man against girls. You can guess who wins most of the battles. Luckily it’s all pretty good-natured.
A heart attack scare means he wins. . . until he finds out he has to take suppositories.
My favorites are the athletic little redhead and the baby who, even when she can’t walk, beats the old man at a dance video game.
Things can be tough for a teenaged girl—or younger—when her middle-aged father’s an actor in commercials; bad enough he’s the Sniffle Guy, but modeling underwear. . .
I can commiserate with him about putting together kids’ toys feeling like building a log cabin, but I’m glad he didn’t complain about reading to all his daughters, not just the baby.
“I admit it. I’m not the perfect father you thought I was.” Truer words. . .
Despite the sometimes-not-so-playful acrimony, there’s an underlying gentle sweetness to it all. Makes it more than worthwhile.
And if I ever meet a woman named Pandora, I’m definitely calling her Panda. . .

Big Nate Goes Bananas!
Another volume of the comic strip featuring the loveable loser who is completely different than Charlie Brown.
Some of the plots are recurring, such as the name of the baseball team—Cupcakes is infinitely worse than Cream Puffs—and Nate actually sticking up for his sister, while others I haven’t seen before, like uncle Ted babysitting, and Nate being a trendsetter.
But really, after so many, what is there left to say? If you liked these in the past, you’ll like this one too. If you haven’t seen it before, check it out. They’re usually funny.

Sister BFFs
The title tells you all you need to know, and the cover informs as to how basic the artwork is.
My fave line: “You monstrosity!” Other highlights:
There’s a panel that is unintentionally funny to everyone outside Britain, or I guess the Commonwealth: Whoever could have thought it would be a good idea to have separate spigots in a sink for the hot and cold water?
They make up by watching cat memes.
“You’ve a stubborn face, but I’ve done my best.”
“Instead of losing a ball, you gain a ball.”
Some of the text conversations are funny, others go too long.
“Just a normal braid, yeah?” “Obviously.” Uh, no. . .
They do love to body-slam each other. They’re worse than big brothers, and that includes fart stuff. And poo stuff.
It’s actually my job to wear and review pajamas. I’m at work.”
“Why do my hands smell like vegan people?”
I can do without the sound effects that describe exactly what I’m looking at, like “shuffle.”
Back to the artwork. The hands and feet are incredibly tiny compared to the rest of the body, making for proportions that look strange. They both have permanent duck lips. There are times when too much is stuffed into a bubble, making it incredibly hard to read.
All in all, funny enough for a gander. Makes me glad I never had a sister. . .

Sharky Malarkey: A Sketchshark Collection
Since it’s a collection, there are different sections, some better than others. They shall be named: Megan, shark, lady, and dance party.
Obviously Megan is the first, which serves as a good intro for the kind of humor in this book. One of my favorite lines was, “Interrupt me again and I will leave you at the nearest Scientology center!” Another good one is “He’s a Man’s man!” Some of the jokes don’t work, some are too meta, but for the most part this is an entertaining collection. The best jokes are probably the most ridiculous ones.
BUT. . .
It’s bad enough that Megan has the cat from hell—oh, wait, that’s all of them—but she keeps a cat while being ALLERGIC to them? See that flying out the window? That’s any sympathy I might have had.
I didn’t find the shark section funny at all. The only one where I nodded had to do with dogs and babies. Oh well, guess I can’t make a “jumping the shark” remark there.
On to the lady section. The “vertical mermaid” is going to give me nightmares. When someone likes you because you’re “real,” don’t ask them what they mean.
Even the finale dance party gets meta.
I wish I could give it a higher grade, because I did enjoy parts, but there were other sections that I would have skipped over had I known how much I wouldn’t like them. Oh well.

Goldilocks and the Infinite Bears: A Pie Comics Collection
There’s no defining plot to these hilarious bits of insanity; this is more like those one-panel strips that have a slice of life, except these are longer. None of that matters, as this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
On to the best jokes.
Right off the bat I laugh at the joke that names this collection: how cold the porridge is, and how many there are, and why.
Frogs can do anything with social media.
“I like my glass a little stained.” What started off as a bit of social commentary turned into a well-crafted and slightly naughty joke. Awesome.
“East Hell?” Sure.
Some of these are more incredibly clever than LOL funny, like the Shakespeare lost opportunities.
“Aw, I’m their boo!” I can picture Trump in that role.
That thing about certain badly-named animals. . . totally me.
Yep, don’t trust that road-crossing chicken!
Puppies are so an element.
I admit I had the same thought about Little Red Riding Hood.
Murder-spikes and rainbow tails of pain. Perfect.
Totally get the Rudolph thing.
The dragon that barfs peanut butter could get a job anywhere, even if it is chunky. . . especially since it’s chunky.
“Let me check the rescue/sexual favor exchange rate first.”
Something felt really good inside when I read the blurb on the back and saw that the author writes for The Onion.

Ozy and Millie
Being a huge fan of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, I couldn’t resist checking out the previous strip the author did, and unfortunately I couldn’t keep myself from making some comparisons. Still, it was more than funny enough on its own.
The dragon is either “wise or messing with everyone.” Author’s words. Ozy is way too Zen even for a cartoon. Millie somehow reminds me of Phoebe, but more in her look than in her manner. Personality-wise they’re completely polar opposites. Their moms, on the other hand, are a lot alike, and I’m okay with that. On the third foot, Phoebe’s dad and the dragon have nothing in common. Maybe the dragon and the unicorn. . .
On to the best parts.
There’s little difference between a hippie and a vase.
“I really don’t understand laws.” “Yes, I’ve noticed that about you.”
I’m with Millie: I’d like a six-foot-tall grape too.
There’s a lot more academic philosophy here than in. . . any comic strip ever.
I don’t think the Tao would have approved of stealing a cookie, but Ozy was right to take it.
“You are a little girl.” “Oh right.”
I wanna see what an exaggerated sigh looks on paper!
“The DMV administrator shoots like an Imperial stormtrooper.” I very much doubt that sentence will ever see the light of day in any other situation. Similarly, the glossary at the end is unlikely to be repeated.
At the end there’s a tutorial on how to draw the characters. Remember, “He’s a chill fox.”
The artwork doesn’t vary all that much, though it does seem to have more diversity than the unicorn one. The one thing I didn’t like was the dragon’s font; it was difficult to make out.
If this had been written by someone else, or if I’d seen it before I became a fan of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, I probably would have liked it a lot more. The problem is in not being able to stop myself from comparing. Still a solid read, though.

Little Pierrot Vol. 3
The further adventures of a too-smart kid and his snail sidekick, this time finding him in puppy love with a classmate.
This is the second in this series I’ve read, and much like that other one, this collection of comic strips isn’t so much a LOL kinda thing as much as designed to get a slight chuckle and a thoughtful stare. For example, all the kids dress strangely, but Emily looks like she’s all grown up. . . in the 19th century. Too bad it wasn’t real.
There’s a strange yet beautiful illustration of some kind of mythical creature—maybe a tiny troll—and a soccer ball.
Things grow quickly out of hand in the “Can you see that?” game. An elephant with wings dancing ballet would usually be at the end of such a joke, not at the beginning.
I didn’t find this one as entertaining as the previous, possibly because it was trying to be more adorable than usual with the first love thing.


Travel Thursday Encore: New Zealand, part 2

The concluding piece of the wrongly-named trilogy, this time all about South Island.

What can you really say about floating down a river in the middle of town? It’s relaxing, nothing more.
With a name like Christchurch, sure as hell–sorry–sounds like a religious place, but then you notice the locals abbreviate it to Chch, and suddenly you feel much better. But there’s a damn good reason they call it “The most English city outside England.” Personally, I’ve seen plenty of cities in England more EnZee than this!
The aforementioned river flows right through downtown, forming a nice park with its bends. According to the story, it was named Avon to commemorate the Scottish Avon; I’m guessing they call it that so people won’t think it’s Shakespeare’s version. In one of the river’s loops is the Botanic Gardens, a must-see because everyone in this town is garden-happy; they even hand out awards. Even the big industrial factories compete.
I’m just reporting this–certainly didn’t taste anything special to me–but everyone made a big deal about the town having one of the highest-quality water supplies in the world, purest and cleanest on the planet. They went on to talk about aquifers and pumping stations all the way from the foothills of the Southern Alps that provide natural filtering and such. . . I got this huge speech just for asking where I could buy some bottled water!
Christchurch has a history of involvement in Antarctic Exploration–told ya I’d get back to those dudes–and this time they have a statue of Robert Falcon Scott, sculpted by his widow. That must be pretty cool, having your spouse do an art work of you that’ll stand for possibly centuries. On the other hand, you’re dead, so who cares, but you know what I mean. I thought about going to the International Antarctic Center (Centre, whatever)–their website is the very cool, ha!–but then I remembered my two hours in that Viking version of Hell down south and decided those explorer pioneers of the past centuries weren’t going to be pissed if I didn’t pay my respects. And speaking of pissed, do you ever wonder how they went potty in places like Antarctica? Brrrr!
As you might expect from me–since most people think I’m a pagan, and yeah, I hate the name of the town–I was anxious to finally catch the Wizard of Christchurch–recently elevated to Wizard of all of New Zealand. I was hopeful he was still alive–he is–but then got the news he only did his Cathedral Square rants in the summer. . . summer down under of course, not right now in winter. Dang. After all, how often do you meet a guy who brought 42 assistant wizards–I think he must be a Douglas Adams fan–and came down the hill {in a gondola} with tablets bearing. . . his website. Utter genius.
The Town Hall is no great shakes to look at–but go ahead and take its photo, especially with the river and that weird dandelion-type fountain in the foreground–but if you’re into music or acoustics, you must go inside to the two auditoriums, which they claim has the best acoustics in the world! Unfortunately there were no violinists nearby to show us, so we had to make do with some pathetic opera trilling–I passed–which wasn’t satisfying at all. So next time I’m here I’ll have to bring Felicia Day along. . . (private joke; I mean Hilary Hahn). {Updated to include Lindsey Stirling.}
One of the many places I’d wanted to check out on this trip but didn’t get to is called Oakland Gardens. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t told it was a cemetery. Since I have nothing but disgust for people and businesses that make money off of death, I demurred at first, until they explained it was no ordinary Forest Lawn. First thing, everyone’s cremated. Okaaaaay. . . so why waste a perfectly good lawn? Then they tell ya that each person’s ashes is used to plant a rose tree; you’d think you were in a nursery, except for the plates with the names and birth/deathdates. Okay, I get it now. Not a bad idea. . . but didn’t get to see it, don’t even know if it’s still there. Next time. . .

Mt. Cook
Was supposed to take the Trans-Alpine Express–on their website the call it TranZ-Alpine, like they from da hood–but that got cancelled, which is fine, I’m no longer a train traveler, certainly not for more than a couple of hours. Where’s the airport? Oh, it’s a float plane? Okay, where’s the dock?
When I looked at the map I saw that Mt. Cook was almost directly west of Christchurch, which I thought was weird, until I noticed how the South Island diagonals its way further south. . . yes, I’m a map geek, that’s what my degree is in, after all. But because I was merely flying over it–way too cold for the likes of me right now–I didn’t have to worry about programming the GPS or navigating from the passenger seat. But isn’t it weird how I get all freaked out on towers but I’m okay with little float planes? Also very weird, at least to me, was how high this mountain looks–maybe all the snow made it seem that way, and it does kinda tower over all the others–but it really isn’t any higher than the “hills” surrounding the LA basin, even those on fire. Probably the most fun shot I took from the plane was of a glacier slicing its way through the very green bush, like a huge white tongue. I loved that imagery so much that I. . . okay, I need some further inspiration there, but something will come to me!
By the way, the local name for Mt. Cook is “Cloud Piercer”–so much more poetical than simple English. I did get to spend a few hours at Hermitage Village, which has some amazing hikes from which to shoot the mountain and some wildlife, but soon enough it was time to get back on the plane and head off to the west coast, actually flying due north to get to the starting point of the long drive along the coast.

West Coast
So sparsely settled you’d think you were in the Australian outback, except green instead of brown and red. Tiny villages, rain forests–right now the whole country’s a rain forest!–glaciers, the Southern Alps at your back as you’re looking at the brilliant, tumbling, almost breathing–sometimes seething–waters of the Tasman Sea. The area between the mountains and the sea is 300 miles long but only 30 miles wide, and it reminded me of the coastal roads through Oregon and Washington, minus the snow.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the names of a lot of little villages and scenic lookouts we drove through or by, since at this point I’d given myself over to full enjoyment of the spectacular drive. . . though I imagine it’s better heading north, simply because they drive on the left and I had to shoot through the driver’s window to catch the ocean. On the other hand, I was close to the gigantic ferns that grow alongside the road, mixed with other forms of plant life that I had no chance of identifying even if they were popular all over the world; yes, I got a D in botany, are you surprised? Even though there was hardly any traffic, we were forced to go slow because of the constant twists in the road, and of course the frequent one-way bridges. It tempered the enjoyment a little, the great vistas of the sea not quite able to override my increasing fear of all the curves! It particularly reminded me of the road from Durango to Mazatlan in the Western Sierra of Mexico, an eight-hour ride in what is only about 100 miles as that darn crow flies.
Hokitika is a lovely little town with a river running through it, and of course a beautiful coastline, but its best time-waster is the jade factory! Though factory was too fanciful a word; I was expecting some behemoth building with assembly lines of beautiful green translucent rock, when it was a studio and gift shop. . . ok, it was bigger than that too, but that was all I saw. Still, for someone who enjoys photographing glass-blowing, this was pretty fun. The town even has a glow worm dell, but didn’t get to check it out.
Got into Franz Josef just as it started to rain, got some awesome pictures from the porch of the motel, but that was probably the photographic highlight of this part of the trip. I’m now thinking the previous photographer broke his leg on purpose so he wouldn’t have to deal with these conditions. . .
For a while I’ve been really anxious to get into a glacier cave–you know, the kind that let light in and make the ice translucent–and had a chance to do that on the Franz Josef glacier, or the Fox glacier, but I still haven’t found gloves that’ll keep my fingers warm while thin enough to allow me to flick and push buttons on the camera. At least with the temp this low, I wouldn’t have to worry about any water dripping on the camera, but c’mon now! It can wait. For that same reason I skipped over Westland World Heritage Park. I’ll be back some warmer day, and I got more than enough aerial shots–and from the car–to please the bosses.
Glad I wasn’t driving, the roads were icy! But if you want to get away from it all, this is the place to do it. Still, if the weather’s nice and you got plenty of time, definitely take route 6 down the coast, should be just as much fun as PCH north of El Lay.
At first I thought I wanted to know who named Mount Aspiring, but in the end decided it was none of my business. Another national park for another time. . . can I go back to the Bay of Islands? Preeety please. . .?

Fiordland National Park
“Some areas have never had a human being set foot.” I loved this brochure line so much I’m bringing it home and framing it. Another quote says that a formerly thought-to-be-extinct bird was found here, so now people look for moas and maybe even albatrosses. Pterodactyls, anyone? The bird that was found, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, is called the Takahe, and like all the others here can’t fly. There’s also a flightless parrot, called the Kakapo, which I have to think would make the perfect pet that doesn’t have to be kept in a cage! Well, at least you know it wouldn’t fly away, although birdy litter issues are something else. Can’t have ‘em anyway, they’re endangered, and don’t you go looking for trouble with the smugglers! One bird that could and did fly was the infamous Haast’s Eagle, which weighed 40 pounds and killed humans! Kinda not sorry to see that one extinct. And what I promise is the last avian note: the simple answer as to why birds around here didn’t fly was because they weren’t scuured some other animal was gonna eat them. See, most college courses would make a whole lecture on that, but now you can skip that day and go study at the library. . . yeah, right.
There was some cool stuff about a river with black water–fresh water on top, sea water beneath–but didn’t go there and neglected to get the name. I’ve got quite an itinerary for my next trip, in warmer times.
Of course Milford Sound is by far the most famous part of this place. The brochures call it “the world’s top travel destination,” which doesn’t sound likely, just usual travel hyperbole, but it sure looks like it could be. Don’t try to drive here, or take the bus, in the winter, and definitely do not walk the 33-mile Milford track in this weather. Gotta fly. . .
I can finally admit–to myself–that I have, at least photographically speaking, a waterfall fetish. The funny thing is it’s officially the wettest place in En Zee–although I guess you need all that rain for the waterfalls–but this is practically the only place on the whole trip where moisture did not wet my hair. . . or hat, you know what I mean. The trip here isn’t complete without a boat tour, which I took last time, but you gotta see it from the air too. Try to do both on the same trip, unlike me.

Don’t know how they got me a rez during full-on ski season, though going from 100 degrees in El Lay to snow is a special kind of hell (Firefly shoutout). Glad I did though, cuz my room had a huge satellite hookup and I got to see Wozniacki take out Kuznetsova at the US Open. Didn’t I tell ya that Danish beauty would go far? {Wow, this is old.}
Okay, I don’t know if they grow these gorgeous girls locally or are brought in by the tourism department, but every single female worker at the airport, from the airlines to car rental to food services to money changers to gift shops. . . no, go ahead, you take the next taxi, I can wait. . .
Wakatipu is one of the coolest lakes in the world, and I mean that metaphorically, although I wouldn’t want to dunk myself in it either, especially after the Rotorua hot springs. Glaciers scooped it out of the bedrock millions of years ago into the shape of a backwards Z, 1000s of feet deep in some places, but the really cool part is that it can change several inches in depth in just a few minutes. No one knows why, though there are plenty of theories, my fave being the Maori one that says there’s a demon breathing under the surface. Another Nessie? Awesome. But no matter what you’re doing in town, the lake inevitably draws you in. Go down to the shoreline, find a bench or sit on the beach, and simply let yourself enjoy the beauty. You hear about beautiful-looking water in the tropics, lighter shades, but here the lake is so intensely blue; the reflection of the Remarkables is majestic. . . until that damned steamer chugs by! I kept coming back to my bench the whole time, occasionally wondering what it would be like to live here. Less concerts and sporting events, for one, but I’m sure that’s not what I meant. By the by, have you ever seen tame fish outside of a room aquarium? It was so weird going down to the wharves, where fat trout follow you around like ducks, waiting for you to toss bread at them. You’re not allowed to fish, and I think they know it. . . if fish could be described as arrogant. . .
Hint–don’t take the steamer after going on a jetboat. You’ll feel stuck in slo-mo.
And I want to know what early pioneer named these mountains the Remarkables.
Like most towns, including El Lay and NY, they have a double-decker London-style sightseeing bus here. Yippee. . . ever have sex on one of those things, especially up top? No, that was rhetorical. . . {but be careful if you’re in an area with skyscrapers!}.
Shooting like a maniac from the gondola, partly because it’s so beautiful but mostly so I wouldn’t have to remember my fear of heights. Like in Wellington, the Skyline cable car–more like European gondolas–take you right from city/suburb streets almost straight up 1500 feet to the peak. . . Bob’s Peak, if you can believe that moniker. Thankfully I was alone in a gondola for four, there not being much call for it at that time of day, so I could do my little shuddering freakouts at the ever-increasing distance between me and the ground without anyone noticing. But hey, it should be worth it, if I ever see the photos, especially the ones at twilight; both the town and the lake glittered, kinda like a Swiss ski town at Christmas, but the water and reflections added so much to it. Should make for an even better shot without clouds, of course. It also helped, in this cold weather, to have the chalet just a few steps from where you get off the gondola, though it’s carpeted–watch out for the electric shocks. There’s a restaurant and theater up there, but nothing beats the view. And since we’re speaking of restaurants now, something I rarely do, beware of the Lone Star: you’ll go deaf, both from the loudness and the country music itself. . . no food is worth this, certainly not the “Redneck Ribs” {okay, “Shanks for the Memories” was funny} and the tribute to Elvis. After all, there’s a McDonald’s here now. . . heh heh heh, that was evil, but I couldn’t help it. There’s a Subway and KFC as well, but just for the name alone you might want to try the Beefeater! That just sounds more inviting than the Cow Restaurant, don’t ya think? Unless you’re into eating grass. . .
Walked by a girl who really smelled like a good time. . . havta think this is party central in EnZee. . .
Next to the gondolas, on the ground floor that is, there’s a bird park–more boring kiwis, but plenty of other birds if you’re into that. There’s also the Queenstown Tourist Gardens, though I don’t recommend visiting in the winter. . . well, except for the ice-skating rink, but don’t expect to see the roses. And they don’t grow from grandma’s ashes either. . .
From the plane you can see just how gigantic the Z of the lake is, although conversely the mountains look smaller. Queenstown does too, but then it is small. What’s really funny was those tiny white spots on the grass that had to be about 1000 sheep. But they don’t look nearly as dramatic as horses or gazelles when they run with the plane. . . Out of Africa, anybody? Opening credits of Firefly? No? you people need to stay in more. . .

Didja know September 6 was Father’s Day in New Zealand (and Australia)? So this entry is officially a shoutout to Sean Kinney, who’s so Celtic he named his new daughter Ireland. Gawd, I hope she’s a redhead. . . {Update: she’s around 7 or 8 now, and there’s definitely some chestnut on her head, though nothing like her mother’s.)
So it’s kinda-close-almost appropriate that I spent the day in the Edinburgh of the South, as Dunedin is called {Dunedin is actually Gaelic for Edinburgh, so they got that part of the similarity right}. Having been to the original earlier this year. . . I don’t get it. But I’ll try to squeeze some fun out of it, which won’t be that easy, if the people here are anything like the Presbyterian Scots who emigrated to Northern Ireland and then the American Colonies. I had no idea that “clever” and “original” and “innovative” were bad words here! That explains why Flight of the Conchords is a hit everywhere BUT their native land.
I find it hilarious that the California Gold Rush was started in a distinguished-sounding place, or at least serious–Sutter’s Mill–but here the place where gold was discovered was named Gabriel’s Gully. The alliteration helps.
Dontcha love the name of the main zocalo-type plaza? The Octogon! Somewhere between a military building and a fight cage. . . I wonder what the statue of Robbie Burns thinks of that.
As much as it may shock you, I did not take the Cadbury tour; I like being the only person in the world not into chocolate. But there is something to be said for a town where the most awesome-looking building is the train station. . . I don’t know what it says, but it definitely says something. Either way, this is not the most exciting town. . . in the world, in the southern hemisphere, in Oceania, in New Zealand, on the South Island. . . you get the point.
But, as explained before, I’m into all things Logan. Here there’s a Lake Logan, along with Logan Park, the place to catch soccer, rugby, artificial hockey(?), lawn bowling, and tennis, even futsal (beach soccer) because three universities are close to it. There’s even a cricket stadium, and by that I mean purposefully-confusing baseball British style, not a place where crickets fight each other for money (believe it or not, in some parts of the world they do that, for all you inveterate gamblers). There’s a Logan’s Point Quarry too, and let’s not forget the one and only Logan Park High School, home of the. . . couldn’t find the mascot, don’t even know if they have those things here, although the local basketball league has Pistons and Nuggets and such. They did tell me most EnZee rockers went to this school, though I’d never heard of any of them; no Conchords down here. And did you know there’s a New Zealand Idol? Imagine the long lines for those auditions!
The Otago Peninsula is the most fun part of the area, as you might expect, and the ultimate most-fun has to be Larnach Castle, not just for the sight but for the story. I’m shocked no one has yet made an opera of this guy’s life: rich chap builds this huge place for his wife, only to have her die. Another wife did too, and then the third one ran off with his son. Ouch. Then came the money worries, which of course was a lot worse than the piddling problem of spouses. Not only did he shoot himself, so did the son. . . which made me really curious as to what the gal they shared looked like. But damn is it a beautiful castle, especially for being the only one in the country, if you don’t count the crumbled Cargill’s Castle (shoutout to Christiane, the redheaded mom above).
I was a little leery of the penguin tour–at the appropriately called Penguin Place–because as I’ve stated before, the only animal smellier than the elephants are the penguins. Luckily you don’t get too close to them. It’s much like the place I saw years ago on Phillip Island near Melbourne, where you sit on stands and watch the penguies come up on the beach and drop into their holes in the sand.
As for Glenfalloch Gardens–love the name–when it’s raining, the chalet is more impressive than the garden. That’s all I gots.

Passed a sign that basically said that way–and how many km–to “Gummie’s Bush.” When asked, was told the town once belonged to an old Maori who was toothless. Yes, I like short stories.
Invercargill is no big deal, pleasant enough but nothing much to see. There’s a nice but tiny museum, simply called Southland Museum and Art Gallery; doesn’t take even close to an hour. This is really just the place where you go if you want to hop on to Stewart Island.

Stewart Island
Known as the “Third” island, Stewart is pretty big, though you never really get to feel how big it is unless you’re in a plane way high up. It’s kinda shocking to find there are 500 people who live on the island, most of them in one town, but then I didn’t see all 700 square miles. Mountains and forests, so hiking and camping more than socializing. In fact, there’s hardly anything to do but hike. Most people who don’t get seasick might like a boat tour, but I wouldn’t know about that. The sightseeing flight, however, was totally worth it.
Fright Cove is near the southernmost tip of Stewart Island, and of New Zealand, if you read the previous parts correctly. How’d it get its name? This one is too good not to quote directly: “At dinnertime one of those absent on duty was solacing himself with a pipe among the bushes, not dreaming anything that lives or breathes intruded itself between him and his messmates. But a huge seal had previously emerged from the waters and gone ashore to take this siesta beneath the shelter of this very spot. Annoyed doubtless by the unwanted odor of the weed, it elevated its bulldog visage right vis-à-vis to the smoker. {This is the best part!} Their astonishment was mutual.”
Just try to picture that and not laugh!

Well, that was fun! Two and a half weeks of no TV—except for that tennis match—hardly any computer–though one night I did get bored and watch the whole season 2 of The Guild. And I don’t consider my cameras as technology, just extensions of my eye and memory. . . shut up, let me have this one, okay? I reiterate, the original photographer broke his leg on purpose because he didn’t want to deal with all this rain! I loved it for about a week, then had to go back to the hotel and, after drying off, getting wet again–this time with hot water–and bouncing on the bed a few times, I turned on the TV and saw the 100 degree temps and wildfires back home, and decided I could take rain for another day after all.

Appendix (non-inflamed)
New words I learned:
Afters: Dessert. This was extremely good to know! Also, they sometimes say “beautiful” when they mean “delicious.” Which fits, but when a guy says that about his pudding, it makes me look up to see who passed by. . .
Box of birds: feeling healthy (like “Fit as a fiddle”) Did not even ask.
Bent: crazy. I didn’t need to know this, but it was fun. Also “scatty.” For some reason they wanted me to know all of these.
Browned off: angry, disgusted. Don’t even wanna think about this one. . .
Chilly Bin: portable cooler. This one is just plain cool! Use it at the next football game.
Ear-bashing: yes, it hurts your ear, but it’s from too much talking.
Cornies: corn flakes, though I can think of better. . .
Wahine: I only include this because I already knew this was the word for “woman” in Hawaiian. Never did get to find out if the local hunnies liked being called that.


Poetry Tuesday: The Silver Swanne

Attributed to Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), but they ain’t sure.
In the original Olde English.

The silver swanne, who living had no Note,
When death approacht, unlockt her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedie shore,
Thus sang her first and last, and sung no more:
Farewell all joyes, O death come close mine eyes,
More Geese than Swannes now live, more fooles than wise.


Book Reviews: Kiddie Mice, Soccer, Art

Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure
A mouse finds out about an underwater treasure and wants to go find it. He enlists the aid of a professor who in a previous story went to the moon, so he seems to be the right one to ask. The title gives you a hint as to where it ends.
The first page is giant and colorful, all the more for it being a bookstore. When a customer comes in and distracts the clerk, all the mice scurry behind the wall to the University of Mice. (Makes me wonder what they were doing out in the bookstore in the first place.)
Interesting that, at least in the beginning, it’s not about the quest, but the research. Rather than outsource, the professor takes the time to learn all the crafts needed. There’s one moment where it says they worked on the submarine during the night, because they didn’t want humans to catch them during the day. Where exactly were they building it? You’d think if there was enough room in the walls to have a whole university, the professor would find a place to build it. He is the only employee of the place, as far as I can tell, and there’s plenty of room.
Some of the words and ideas here are not likely to be understood by most kids, and the wordiness and length might turn off some with attention span issues. It’s twice as long as most children’s books, but there’s a lot of full-page art. There’s also a lot of text, but it’s small and generally fits on one side of the page.
The requisite front illustration page has old-fashioned blueprints—sepia, not blue—of all the steampunk-y equipment the rodent in question uses for his deep-sea diving expeditions. My favorite artwork is the humpback whale; got this one right, as it’s the only whale that sings.
The idea is great, but there’s too many little things niggling at me that keep me from giving this a higher grade. This is the third in a series, so maybe the author’s got the audience niche down, but I wouldn’t recommend this for any but the brightest of grade schoolers.

My Birthday
A bear throws himself a birthday party and invites all his friends, only to be disenchanted by the low turnout. He goes out looking for them, only to find them doing other things, then gets a surprise when he arrives home again.  Because of some of the things the other animals are playing with or making, it’s easy to see where this is going.
Bear has only one expression: disappointed surprise. He looks that way even before the bad news. I suppose the artwork is fit for a small child, but there were spots that could have had. . . more.

Sammy in the Fall
While I like this author’s writing, I’ve never been impressed by the artwork. These books are as simplistic as you’d expect them to be, considering the age group, but this one is even more so. It basically follows the lead cat as it goes around seeing and doing things that happen in the autumn, usually helping other animals in the process.
It’s really weird seeing a horse that small, especially with reins and a saddle. Sure, a talking horse is fine, but this takes some getting used to.

Joann and Jane: Who Made This Mess?
Two little girls play detective to find out who went into their rooms and made messes. Mom is more concerned with making breakfast, but grandpa offers some help.
At one point one of the girls lifts up the beagle’s ear and asks the dog if it was the culprit. When called on it, she says, “It was worth a try.” Adorable.
The story’s cute enough. The artwork is okay as well. Nothing is made about the family being mixed-race, which is as it should be.

Soccer Stars: Meet 40 game changers
The title tells it all. I suppose since it doesn’t say these are the forty best players in history, I shouldn’t grumble too much about some of the selections, but they’re still weird.
The first image we see is an 8-bit version of a player doing a bicycle kick. It looks hilarious.
It starts with the player the great Pele called the best ever. That means a lot more than, say, fellow Argentinian Maradona saying it. (Of course I hold Maradona in such contempt that there’s no way I’d believe anything he says, but still. . .)
The most interesting fact is that Matthews, who played until he was 50, in over 700 games never received a yellow card, let alone a red. Similarly, Maldini only received one red card in 20 years and over 900 matches. These are the kind of stats I like!
As mentioned, the artwork is on the simple side, in keeping with previous volumes in this line.
As a huge fan of women’s soccer, there are many I would choose before two of the included ones. It leans heavily on present players. I am quite happy that Ronaldo—the original—was included in here, as he should be, but also with enough to show that it’s a different guy than the current Ronaldo.
As expected, heavy on forwards and low on defenders, but more goalies than I would have thought. As a former goalie, that’s fine with me!

Ranger Rick Kids’ Guide to Hiking
This opens with places to hike, starting with national parks and forests, state parks, and the like. After some big photos the graphics settle down into locations on a map of the United States.
There’s what to look for as far as time, elevation, distance and such, followed by sections on what to wear, what to have in your pack, and so on. “How can I have the most fun?” is sure to be the most popular for the kiddies, with plenty of arts and crafts. Hopefully your child won’t feel like they’re in school.
Can’t imagine anyone, especially kids, memorizing all this, so it’s probably intended as a reference guide. Solid, if not exactly attention-getting.

Outside: Discovering Animals
First part is about tracking animals by following clues. Then it goes into bugs. Ugh. I found the amphibian section most interesting.
The presentation is kinda boring. Maybe it’s the lack of bright colors compared to other books like these. The drawings are really simple! Some are simple sketches, others have color.
It’s fine as far as facts go, but I didn’t get much fun out of it. I don’t think this’ll keep kids that interested.

A Boy and a House
A little boy who really shouldn’t be walking alone in that neighborhood at night finds an open door and doesn’t hesitate to go in. (There’s a sign just inside that says “Close the doors.”) After finding a kid’s drawing in the lobby, he follows a cat up the spiral staircase and into someone’s apartment. Other than picking up more drawings, he basically ignores all the paintings and knickknacks and books, instead heading right for another stairs, and then another, always following that cat.
It’s important to note that there’s no words in this entire book, other than what’s written on the walls, and that’s minimal. It’s like watching a vintage silent movie. I wish the kid was more interested in his surroundings, but children’s books are always short on space.
The artwork has a grainy quality—from a photography perspective—and the colors are muted, but that tone works here.

How to Catch a Bear Who Loves to Read
Bored with more typical animals, Julia wants to meet a bear. Having read it a book—not Winnie the Pooh—to get it to show up, she sets out some honey. It doesn’t help, but she keeps trying.
Why would anyone have a farting contest with a skunk? Not only are you bound to lose, but. . . does she have a nose?
I guess in a world where animals talk, a treehouse that big isn’t so unrealistic. Getting a bear up there, though. . .
The artwork feels strange. It’s not trying to be realistic, and that’s fine, but somehow the little girl’s face is too pronounced. But the colors are bright and enticing.

The United States of Sports
In this book written by those  geniuses from Sports Illustrated,  The states go in alphabetical order, so the first thing you see is a full-page photo of the Alabama football coach. There’s stuff on stadiums, whether they’re pro franchises or college, rivalries, and so on. “Enemy of the state” was funny. Loaded—or overloaded—info graphics saturate the pages.
For most states they give equal billing to all the universities. For California they featured u$c and gave only a tiny blurb to UCLA, Cal, and Stanford. Even in the index they only mention the Trojans. The authors are dead to me.
There’s a full two-page photo of a dog surfing; neither a sport nor a stadium, just sayin’.
This is supposedly for kids, but I doubt the creators had them in mind when they made this. Especially when you consider the state of today’s youth and their short attention spans, this is more likely to be boring rather than interesting even to the most ardent sports fan.

The People Awards
If there was some criteria to how these selections were made, it eludes me. While I appreciate Ellen DeGeneres and what she’s accomplished, she’s next to Nelson Mandela. Cleopatra and Pele are another curious pairing.
Every entry receives an award; Abraham Lincoln gets the “Stopping slavery” award, so you can see how specific this gets. Nobel gets the “giving out prizes” award.
Lots of interesting stories, but nothing stands out.

The Know-Nonsense Guide to Space
A not-well-thought-out alien in a tiny spaceship takes a trip through the solar system. One page of facts is followed by a drawing of the planet, or whatever the chapter is about. It made me smile to see Earth gets the Goldilocks story. The asteroid belt was the most interesting, from shapes to distance between them. And there was a fascinating definition of the Oort cloud.
“Milkomeda (groan).” Nice. Self-deprecating and meta at the same time.
There’s also a section on technology, from telescopes to the space station.
Unlike a lot of children’s books I’ve read recently, this one does feature the simple language and short sentences that would make it easy for kids. Mercury with a thermometer is cute, but for the most part the drawings are kinda silly, especially Uranus.
Science and humor mix nicely here.

If I Had A Dog
This story is of a little girl who either wants a dog or doesn’t, mainly changing her mind because she likes to rest and not get slobbered all over.
The intro notes that this isn’t so much a book to be enjoyed for its story as much as to help learning to read. At the end is a list of words featured in the book, which the child now knows how to read.
The illustrations are done in a throwback style that at times is too cute, if that’s possible. You get that sense right from the little girl on the cover.

Little Hoo Goes to School
A very simple story in which an owl is going to his first day of school and is reassured of all his questions before he can ask them. I’d be more concerned as to why Momma Owl is feeding her kid pickles, but all seems to end well. It’s part of a long series, and without reading any others I can’t tell if this is meant to entertain or simply provide a bit of psychology for those kids starting school.
As expected for such a young audience, the artwork is all exaggerated broad strokes, making things easy for the little ones to understand.

Discover Nests
Like the title shouts, this is a small primer for little kids on what nests are all about. From building materials to size and occupants, it shows just about everything there is to nests, because if you think about it, there really isn’t all that much to it.
As expected, most of this is taken up by bird nests, but other animals have their pages as well. I think a rabbit’s hole is more likely to be called a warren, but why quibble? Other than the gross closeup of a slug, the photos were well-chosen. Perhaps a penguin would have been a better inclusion than some of those in the latter pages.

I Like Art: Renaissance
As always, I like books a little more when the title tells you everything you need to know.
The little redheaded guide is drawn as far as possible from the style the book describes, hopefully on purpose. She does have a huge smile. But she talks in big words, probably above the heads of the kids reading this.
Botticelli is mentioned, but the examples are religious rather than his most famous works. For those who know art, a lot of the selections are suspect. There does seem to be a religious undercurrent to them.


Travel Thursday Encore: New Zealand

Today on Travel Thursday, we feature my last trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand, where it rains and snows in summer but has the most beautiful cave in the world! Land of Kiwis, but not Kiwi fruit. . .

Kia Ora, people!
Didn’t expect to find myself on another trip just a couple of weeks after being in Europe, but here I am in rainy Auckland–it ALWAYS rains when I’m here–because the photographer who had the job broke his leg. And since I’m always in need of money and I love New Zealand. . .
13 hours later, after some sleep, which is a miracle, and of course fun with the best in-flight entertainment system in the biz–thanks Air New Zealand!–as well as Paulina Logan’s latest CD, time to pretend it’s a new day. . . actually the day after the new day, time zone issues. As always, first thing to check is the hour, then make sure the McDonald’s is still in the same place. It’s a funny thing, changing hemispheres–thought it was a simple four hour difference (and a day), except of course they’re not on daylight savings down here, so make it 5.
Someone called New Zealand “Scotland with ferns.” That is the most awesome description ever. Some of you may instead love this place for being the first to let women vote. Others may like it for inventing the 8-hour work week. . . unless you wish it was 6.

As I stood looking at the roaring sea, I could convince myself I was all alone.
Then I turned around; there’s high-rises behind me. Damn!
The Maori name for the place–before the whities honored the boring Earl of Auckland–was Tamaki-makau-rau, which as anyone knows means “spouse of a hundred lovers.” There’s a Mormon joke in there somewhere, until I realized it coulda been a woman. Oh well.
Auckland has 1 million people sandwiched in a narrow strip of land, though the city itself is supposed to be larger than London or Paris; don’t see it, even from the tower. The locals do love saying it’s probably the only city in the world with harbors on two separate bodies of water; yippee.
Queen Street, of course, is the local big hooey place. When they told me this street was the most expensive on the EnZee version of Monopoly, I decided I’ve seen it enough before.
It makes me laugh that there’s a “Khyber Pass” in Auckland, or the suburbs, at least.
Of course I spent the first day doing more than the McDonald’s thing, checking out all the old places I remembered so fondly, like Underwater World–I did not walk the 8km back to town this time.
Has there ever been a TV show called Mt. Eden? Because the other high place in Auckland is called One Tree Hill. Too bad it’s Mt. Eden where the driver to the airport told me usta be the red light district, although he called it “massages.” Bet that’s not in the travel literature, but if you don’t see the makings of a TV pilot there, I sure do. I can even work the observatory into it. . . wait, that’s on the other hill, dammit. So much for new uses for that telescope. . . but the old prison has its possibilities. . .
By the way, One Tree Hill actually did have one single pine, though they’ve added an obelisk, earliest settlers memorial or such, John Logan Campbell buried underneath it {don’t know who he was, but if he’s a Logan, it’s gotta be a good story}. I say “did” because people, particularly Maoris, kept trying to cut it down in protest, even more often than the Little Mermaid gets beheaded in Copenhagen. So now it’s (N)one Tree Hill {Wish I could take credit for that one, but some jerk thought of it before me, dang it!}. The park that surrounds the One or None Tree Hill, Cornwall, will make you think you’re in England. More useless trivia: both hills are volcanoes, so virgins beware. And neither is more than 643 feet high, so Hill is a better descriptive than Mount. If that’s not too high for you, go up and get the shots that’ll impress the neighbors/book club/yadda-yadda. {Hell, you can take a taxi or bus all the way to the top!}.
I remember Kelly Tarton’s Underwater World for many reasons: the snowcat-type vehicle when you go in, the penguins, the guy who seemed way too anxious to meet me and shook my hand without letting me know he was missing a couple of fingers–that was startling. Also a lot of blurry shots of sharks overhead, cuz it’s kinda dark, though I did get the shot of the moray eel {what kind of eel is that? Sing it: That’s amore. . .} on my first trip. But most of all I remember having a lot of time but no money left on my last day–other than what I was saving for the airport tax, glad they told me about that–and walking the aforementioned 8k back to town. Well, I did have enough for a soda on the way, and there was this beautiful Canadian pro cyclist redhead resting at the park. . . but still, 8 km! My feet ached in sympathy for the past just by remembering the road from the bus.
MOTAT is a typical acronym, this time for the Museum of Transport and Technology. The best display: in 1903 or 4, an eccentric South Island farmer and mechanical genius built and flew a powered aircraft on a controlled path either a few months before or just after the Wright Brothers, but because New Zealand was so remote back then, the name Richard Pearse is never heard in discussions of aviation. The special exhibit of Hillary (Mr. First to Everest) to the South Pole was also fascinating, but really, there’s so much stuff in this place it’s crazy! There’s also the War Memorial museum, up on the hill, but I did not go this time, mostly because I’d been in it last time. I remember the war canoe and the giant moa, and other stuffed extinct animals, but I had other places I was ordered to shoot. . . sigh.
Another place I missed on this trip was the Auckland Art Gallery, which I remember accidentally wandering into my first time here. Very nice and not at all huge like the ones in Europe! Missed the zoo this time as well, even though it’s close to MOTAT; kiwis–the birds, this time–not worth all the hoopla, pretty boring non-fliers.
Ignoring all the jokes about “American” being an “ethnic cuisine”–seriously, don’t go there–I HAD to find out if Rick’s Café Américain was real. Unfortunately I once again didn’t have the chance to go, and then was told it was gone. Let that be a lesson: gather ye burgers whilst thou may {okay, I’m a poetry geek too, is it that surprising?}.
Since I’d already been to the Sky Tower–the local version of Centrepoint in Sydney or CN in Toronto and the granddaddy of them all, the Space Needle–I didn’t feel the need to go up to the top of the BNZ tower, but I did go to the basement, cuz that’s where the food court is. I remember a McDonald’s in a rococo-type place around here that usta be the Bank of New Zealand, but didn’t think to go catch a photo of it. There was an “American Embassy” {as the bus driver my first time here coined the McD’s} closer to the hotel which I already knew about anyway, so I didn’t have to go without my fry fix. But back to the Sky Tower. I remember my first time here, with a giant telephoto getting a shot of a huge banner advertising a new Star Trek movie–don’t remember which one, but I think Picard’s bald dome was taking up quite a bit of it. But I didn’t know about all the other stuff on it–casino, theater, a whole friggin’ hotel–till this time. It’s one thing to spend 13 hours on a plane, but this is ridiculous! Bad enough to be on a regular skyscraper, but on something that looks like a futuristic space elevator? Why don’t I just faint from the vertigo right now, and you can wake me up when we’re back on the ground, ‘kay? Of course, all that was before they told me the complex is at the base of the tower, not up in the tower itself–why fuckin’ call it SKYcity, then? Idiots–so it was a waste of perfectly good rant. Though I’ll never take back the part about the bunjee jump; screw ‘em.

Bay of Islands
This was the first place those darn white people came to, particularly the whalers. {In case you’re here looking for that very first settlement, Kororareka, it’s now called Russell and you can’t miss it.} The whalers called in at Kororareka for provisions, and also for women, in the numerous brothels which sprung up, so the town quickly earned a very bad rep, a place without laws; it became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific.” Actually, all of New Zealand was known throughout the world as a land without law and order, which always makes me laugh, because now this country and its people can be oh so prim and proper when left to their own devices. But this was the Wild West before there was a Wild West in America. On the other hand, it was probably no different than the waterfronts of London, Lisbon, Athens, probably even Copenhagen and such. And now it’s just a place with cafes and gift shops rather than people, though of course it’s one of the most picturesque locales in the world, one of the places where you don’t bother to describe it, just look at the photos and make plans to go. Or as I muttered to the guide, “Screw the sights. I’m gonna spend the whole day shooting land- and seascapes.” With more than 150 small islands in deep blue waters, tall pines growing side by side with banana plants and fat palms. . . I could spend weeks just shooting this place. Might even try a sailboat ride, one of those Captain Cook wind-in-your-hair flapping-sails things that always make me seasick, but with hundreds of hidden coves and secret beaches that you can’t get to by car. . .
By the way, do not laugh when they tell ya the history of the flagpole. Don’t even bother imagining it, because that’s what made me laugh. . .
Most people, I’m sure, love going all the way to the northern tip of North Island, but I didn’t find it much of a much; seen too many of them, I guess. But in my usual mindset of not letting anything go, why is 90-Mile Beach called that when it’s 64 miles long? Yes, obviously it’s 90km, but that doesn’t make it right!

Last time I was in Waitomo was with a lovely lady named Alice who told me she hardly ever laughed, but I made her giggle three times. Haven’t seen her since, but being here again makes me miss her. Especially as we wait in line to get on the boats; I told her that time long ago that this wooden staircase reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (before they remodeled it and destroyed the memory. Don’t ya hate Disney and their greed?)
Anyhoo, I was vera vera scurred that the Waitomo Caves would be a huge letdown, since I’ve been in there before. It might have been exciting if I was allowed to take photos, not that I would have the slightest idea how to shoot it, but of course that didn’t stop me from going in. And thankfully I did. Right through the first two little caves without stopping, onto the aforementioned wooden staircase and then the boats. You never get used to the dark passage, but it’s necessary, because as you come into the main cave you can’t help but gasp. For a moment you think you’re outside, looking at the stars, even though there’s no way stars are ever that bright without leaving Earth. This time I was ready to answer a question I had the first time: is it bright enough to read by? Yes! Those glowworms, like butterflies, are better to look at from a distance than close up, but it’s definitely one of those things you have to see in your life, not like that stupid book that gives you a list of places that probably paid for inclusion. And now I’m sure that no matter how many times I pass through that cave, I will always feel the grandeur and magnificence, even if I break my neck looking around frantically to squeeze every drop out of the experience.

Made a Maori kid laugh when I stuck my tongue out at him.
Was told that there are only three geysers in the world that qualify as “Old Faithful”: the obvious one in Yellowstone, one in California, and the one here that I missed the first time I was in this place; it was not on time and I had to make a restroom run. Rotorua and Yellowstone are incredibly similar, but since I’d never heard of the one in California, gotta go find that! Here you go along a wooden path to a small cleared area with benches, almost an amphitheater to nature. Eventually you hear a gurgle, see the steam from the six-foot-high cone increase, and you hope it’ll be soon so you don’t miss it again. . . okay, I’m projecting, but then, so’s the geyser. Steam, water, and a loud roar like Mother Nature’s pissed. . .
“Don’t worry about drowning in quicksand. It’ll boil ya first.” They’ve been using that line for decades. They also tell you there’s no digging, because your hole will collapse and you get steam–if you’re lucky–in the face. Which of course means you get buried above ground, and until you’ve seen steam coming out from a grave. . . our first ghosts of the trip! But not the last. . .
Still selling the corn at the end of the walk! Don’t know if was the same lady, and luckily the sulfur smell doesn’t go into the corn, but this is still the best tasting corn in the world! It was so good I did a blog about it the first time.
Back in town there’s a place called Government Gardens. . . not really a big deal, except I think I took a picture of Alice here. . . ya know, I think I still have her dad’s phone number somewhere, from when I visited them a few months after in the Pacific Northwest. . . hey, less stalkerish than looking her up on the internet! I think.
I don’t remember if I ever showered in Rotorua before–I hope so–but to jump into a bathtub full of this water is an experience in itself. The female guide, who’s probably older than she looks, claims she’s swum in the water all her life, and I do have to admit she doesn’t have wrinkles. I can’t believe they’re not selling little bottles of the stuff. . . maybe they are, didn’t go into the little shops. Then I remembered hearing about a hotel where you could jump into a heated spring from the window of your bathroom, but that’s way too adventurous for me!
Wow, the Agrodome is still there! I think I still have the sticker somewhere, but did not go this time. Seeing sheep being sheared, herded, and made to jump obstacles–once was enough, since I obviously still remember it. Yeah, I’m pretty sure the ram’s “escape” was fixed. . .
Past Blue Lake and Green Lake, and they really are those colors, is the biggie body of water, Lake Tarawera. I stared across the water for a very long time, looking for the ghost canoe that had appeared a couple of weeks before the volcano blowup of 1886 {when asked, I said I was trying to imagine how the Pink and White Terraces looked before the explosion}, but of course the more you look for a spirit the less it shows up. I haven’t seen Nessie either. . . yet. And seeing the dug up remains of Te Wairoa, the town destroyed by the volcano. . . don’t know why, but it seems a lot more poignant than Pompeii or Herculaneum.
Didn’t get to go to Southridge this time, don’t even know if the restaurant with the amazing steak is still there, but one day I need to find out! Such great memories of that place, not just the food, especially of having to share a table with the aforementioned Alice and a stuffy old English lady. Like the time I said that when I first went to England I had no idea what a quid was. . . only to be interrupted by the old lady with a condescending “That’s a pound, dear,” so I gave her a much deserved, “NOW you tell me!” which made Alice break out in loud hoots that left her embarrassed. Hmmm, I remember taking a photo of that, wonder what I did with it. . .

Zooming further and further south, I caught sight of a sign and remembered I had been here before, spending a week on a sheep ranch with a beautiful model. . . thank goodness it wasn’t Rachel Hunter!
Every American who comes to Wellington says “It’s San Francisco!” so the locals were very surprised when I didn’t. While here there was supposedly an earthquake; I didn’t feel it, and the locals didn’t either. Don’t know if that’s good or bad. . . and they do have cable cars, but they look nothing like the cute little trolleys in Es Ef.
But hey, at least there’s no fog! That’s because there’s a real bitch of a wind that can go up to 80mph and rain horizontally; people don’t even use umbrellas, though from what I saw galoshes and waders are a big hit. But it does keep the air clear. . .
I’m no engineer of any kind, but you don’t have to be to appreciate the way this place is built on the steep mountainsides, while still having to be earthquake safe. I didn’t know until after walking along the waterfront that all that land was underwater before the 1855 earthquake. That was kinda spooky.
So. . . is this where they invented Beef Wellington? Or was it the General dude?
If you’re one of those people who love the view as much as the food, the best place to eat would be at the top of the cable-car run at Kelburn, a place called Skyline Restaurant; as always, food tastes better when someone else is paying. And if you don’t want to eat at a place where the view is more delicious than the food, I can’t help ya. Sit on the left side of the cable car going up, it’s a better view. It’s a bit funny going from the business district through a university and then a suburb, and finally you’re on top of a hill. . . well, it was funny to me. There’s a botanical place right where you debark, and they claim to have glow worms too, but didn’t see them. Didn’t go to the observatory, not even to get out of the rain.
The other great view in town is from Mount Victoria–but you can call her Vic–and also has a monument in the shape of a tent. . . at least that’s what they call it. To me it was just a standing triangle, then I thought of one of the “sails” of the Sydney opera house. To my absolute shock, it wasn’t in honor of Edmund Hillary or any of the British Antarctic explorers, but rather Admiral Byrd, an American. More on those guys in a later chapter, but don’t forget to take in the view! This time without eating.
Not much to say about the Parliament buildings, other than I shot them for a while, enough to make me lose track of time. The most interesting government building is called the “Beehive,” for obvious reasons, if you look at it. For a while I thought about asking a gardener if there were any beehives in the nearby gardens, with the building in the background for a visual pun, then decided my bee sting allergy made it simply not worth it. By the way, I’d heard there was a place in the Parliament building called Bellamy’s, which is supposed to be the most exclusive restaurant in the country, just for the politicians. I almost asked the tourism minister, when I was taken to his office, if he could get me in, but in the end I decided not to, wasn’t really worth the trouble. But someday. . .
Close to Parliament is the National Library, so I had to go in there for a while, trying not to compare it to the one in Vienna. Yes, I’m a geek. Even more fun was Government Buildings–don’t know why it’s plural–and at first it looks a lot like an Italian-style structure made of rock. But when you get close to it, you realize it’s actually made of wood! They say it’s the second biggest wooden structure in the world–temple in Japan of course number one–and yet it’s supposedly earthquake-proof! Didn’t hang around long enough to figure that one out, but next time, I’m taking the tour. . . if they have one. If not, I’ll just sneak my way in. . . as usual. They also say it will never be duplicated, because the wood used to build it is now protected; good way to make it one of a kind.
As you must know by now, I love zoos, and there’s one here near Mount Victoria. More kiwi birdies in the night enclosure, but I found the opossums interesting, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen one outside of cartoons. The guide was dead on as she said, “Most people only see them as road kill.” Some slang’s the same, huh? And really amazing is that the elephants don’t smell! The only animal that smells worse at zoos is penguins, but there was a long explanation as to why these pachyderms smelled fresh; it was just too scientific for me.
One more thing, even if it was kinda out of town. Most of you who read these blogs would be shocked to know I served in the United States Marine Corps. At McKay’s Crossing, there’s something called the Memorial Gates to the U.S. Second Marine Division, who were stationed here in the Second World War. My favorite note–and not one they tell you officially in the place–is that 1400 Kiwi women married Yankees during that time. Make up your own joke there. The plaque reads, “Half the world distant from their home they came here. This plaque was erected by the New Zealand-American Association to record the grateful thanks of the people of New Zealand to the U.S. Marines. They camped at this spot from June 1942 to November 1943 while helping to defend this country. Later they fought on the Pacific islands where many of them made the supreme sacrifice and cemented an everlasting friendship.” By the way, the crossing between the highway and the railway is supposedly very dangerous, just so you know, you’ve been warned, etc.
Finally stayed in one night and caught Waitress for the first time a long while. Couldn’t help but wonder what the locals thought of those accents! Nathan Fillion was born to play a bumbling fool, but Keri Russell is so luminous. . .
No way was I taking the ferry across the big islands; when people call the local waters “confused,” you know it’s better to hop on a plane. And not a scenic plane either, because the air gets confused too. I’d never thought about it, but heavy waves and turbulence are exactly the same thing. Found out later they call it the “ventura” effect, but I decided not to look it up; I was just happy not to vomit. At least when my fear of heights manifests, I only get dizzy. . .

That takes care of the North Island. Next week will be the sequel, or second part, or whatever you want to call it, featuring the South Island and a little bit of Stewart Island.