Sunday, April 24, 2005

How Not to Go to a Food Festival

I blame that coffee, the one I decided I need before hitting the road. Up to then, all was well, I'd packed my bags, attended my lunch-time meeting at work and it was all "ready steady go" and off to Invercargill. It was, after all, the weekend of the Bluff Oyster Festival and oysters have been in my blood for ever. My father had this ritual, when we lived in Southland, of buying a whole sack of oysters every season. In fact, our family's departure from Southland was connected to this ritual. I was only 3 at the time, and have no recollection of these events at all, but my father told me that once I was born, the game was up for him. As fast as he might have been in shelling oysters, I could eat them quicker. For my own survivial, we had to leave because, in a contest between oysters and my father's first-born, there was no guarantee that I would win.

But back to that damned coffee: I had to do it, have just one last coffee. One friend turns up and we talk so long that when she leaves me, I think I'd better have another coffee. Sitting far away from where anyone is likely to find me, someone does, someone with an urgent need to go to the loo but is embarrassed by the fact he has a young boy to take care of. "Can Joseph sit with you, I'll only be a few minutes." So Joseph sits with me, and another friend comes along - she and Joseph have a great conversation about playing cricket with jellyfish. She stays when he goes, then another friend turns up "you must want some ginger crunch, Barry. I'm buying".

And so it goes, until it is dark outside, making a drive down through the Catlins, where I'd hoped to see the 160 million year old trees, redundant. Ah well, I'll go tomorrow, I think. And yes, I did get away to Invercargill on Saturday, but not until well after noon, still with plans to go through the Catlins. I'll have to do that again - the tide was fully in, meaning the trees could not be seen. Plus, it was raining and so windy that my windscreen wiper, yes the driver side one, snapped off. And it was cold, so I hunched into my coat, turned up the Decembrists, the Fiery Furnaces and the Killers respectively and drove on.

In Invercargill is where the real rain started - it bounced off Webster's roof with such vigour that if the energy could have been harnessed, it would have kept my stereo going for a year. And I was supposed to sleep in that? Luckily, there was space for me in the nice warm Tuatara Lodge. I learned something I did not know in my stay there. When you hit Invercargill at around 5:00 on a Saturday evening in the middle of a rainstorm, there isn't a hell of a lot to do. Surprised me, that did. I walked the streets, insofar as there was cover. I checked out the offerings at the local cinema - dire. I had a pie, steak and oyster, where they cheerfully reduced the price to $1.50 "because I have no idea how long it has been sitting about". (So far, I survive.)

I went to the Zookeepers, where the staff was nice and Emersons was on tap but nothing on the menu appealed. I couldn't leave at that stage; I mean, you can't really, can you, when the staff have been nice, and they've brought you a beer that's been put on a tab because you've said you're going to eat. I was committed to the least unappealing item on the menu - mussels in a chilli broth (not that I don't like that as something to eat, it just didn't match my imagined dinner at that point). It left me wanting another dinner. By the time I'd had that, I was back in the hostel, with a wet evening stretching in front of me, and it was barely 8:00. Ah well, it gave me a good chance to read on through I Am Charlotte Simmons.

At around midnight, I got chatting to this fellow: it turned out that he's looking at leasing the shop outside my back window to start up some sort of cafe, so I could share ideas with him on what to do. He doesn't want to run a Malaysian cafe, unfortunately. Now that would be heaven, as we could have come to some arrangement under which he could pass roti and rendang and chicken curry and lattes out his back window to me, and I could pass home brew back through to him.

So, anyway, finally, I got to the Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood festival just in time for lunch. What a let down - they've broken it, with their new vision of what it should be. I remember last year, stuffing my face on all sorts of goodies; 2 dozen oysters, (1 raw, 1 battered and fried) plus a hangi are what stick in the mind. This year - people couldn't even find the oysters. I know this, because I found the place selling raw oysters, stuck off to the side in a seperate little room. As I slipped them down my throat, one by one, people interrupted: "where did you get them?".

This year, they went all flash, inviting a bunch of restaurants to run stalls selling menu items and matched wines. The focus has broadened from oysters and the prices have sky-rocketed - $6 for a single oyster. So, I had a pleasant blue cod curry, some tempura shrimps, missed out on a scallop/monkfish/bacon/potato kebab thing, had a beer and left - only to find my friend of last night, who I'd encouraged to go to the festival, outside and equally disappointed. He hadn't even found the oysters, so I pointed him in the direction of a shop that was selling them and hightailed it for home - couldn't miss the Gilmore Girls. [So funny - it was the much talked about episode with Norman Mailer in it: Suki's all pissed off with him because all he does is sit in her dining room drinking iced tea, without buying any food and boy, does she let him know she's pissed off!]


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