Monday, February 26, 2007

The Irrefutable Truth About Demons

Film society started for the year tonight with this movie shot in Wellington in 2001. Somehow I had never heard of it, so had no idea of its reputation. When I got there, my friends were all "well' no matter how bad it is, its only 90 minutes". My initial reaction when it was over was, "I mean this in a good way, but that movie was complete nonsense", which is interesting on a couple of levels. First, because it is almost directly what I have now read Chris Knox as saying (his take is actually " This is also a stupid movie but stupid in a good way"). Second - how can a movie be nonsense "in a good way"?

Well, the story is the main problem with it - the writer doesn't seem to have known quite where he was going with it - in fact he says as much on the movie website:
I wanted this movie to be seen by people who would come out going, "Yeah, demons are real" or at least consider the possibility that there might be other ways of looking at the universe and reality rather than just our logical western point of view. But then I also wanted those very same people to sit down and have a beer with someone else who goes, "No no no, it's about a guy going crazy, being driven crazy by this cult.
The title promises some sort of "irrefutable truth" but we are left not knowing what is "true". Harry is an anthropologists, with a special interest in cults. He may or may not come across and defeat the Black Lodge cult, which is most notable for the amount of rubbish it professes to believe in. This cult may or may not have access to dark powers, and half a dozen reptilian demons. If we had had the cult/demon story, we could have had a serviceable horror. On the other hand, he might simply be having lots of bad nightmares or, as his girlfriend may or may not have said to him (she is supposedly dead at this time), he's been whacked out on drugs for the last six months. Again that might have been the writer's plan, as he demonstrates a keen interest in both drug use (one story is that a six day magic mushroom inspired high inspired the movie) and mental illness - but if that's the line taken by the movie, then there would be no cult, just his imagination going crazy. The problem is that the film seems to want us to believe both in cults and demons on the one hand, and going crazy on the other.

But the thing I really liked about this film was its visual aspect - not the hackneyed demon worshipers and the like, but the glorious footage of a Wellington I have never seen, all dark and mysterious, full of crazy people, including the wonderful Katie Holmes playing Harry's self proclaimed saviour.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Salaam E Ishq (Love's Sweet Salute)

This was not one, but six romantic comedies, all intertwined Love Actually style but with a very definite story of its own. It cuts between Delhi, London and various parts of India, as well as mashing up languages - conversations would take place with one person speaking Hindi, the other English, but whatever language was spoken, there would generally be words from the other main language dropped in. Oh, and of course there was the occasional song.

It followed the classic convention of the romantic comedy, some sort of intervening problem which is all nicely tied up at the end: since we had six couples, there were six different threats. It was a long movie, over three hours, but there was only point at which I was thinking "this is silly": otherwise I enjoyed it a lot. It was very entertaining, hugely colourful and a lot of fun. Insofar as there was a moral, it was that sometimes you have to fight for your love. Oh, and that love might mean being just a little bit mad.

Keeping the names of the characters straight was a bit hard, but I'll do my best. The movie starts with the second wedding anniversary of Asutosh and Tehzeeb:
While Tehzeeb is filming a piece on a new Mumbai to Goa train service for romantics, it is derailed and she loses her memory of the period she has known Asutosh. He is heartbroken and does all he can to re-establish her memory, but even when she has another skull-cracking accident, that is not to be. But love's sweet salute operates on them anyway : lost all the old memories? We can make new ones (and his lines work all over again on her!).

I think my favourite character was Raju, a taxi driver with very little English, yet he has a very specific dream of meeting and marrying a blonde:Stephanie has come from Canada to see Rohit, and hopefully stop him from marrying his Indian bride, whoever she might turn out to be - the marriage brokers have quite a sequence of families for him to meet - making the point that love is the reason to marry, not the random choices effected by brokers.

Raju is Stephanie's taxi driver; as soon as he sees her, he thinks the prophesies have finally come true. But when he learns she is on the way to her love, he shows his love by doing her bidding - badly! She wants the Taj (meaning hotel in Delhi), he thinks "Taj Mahal" and thus they end up in Agra! Trying to prevent Rohit from marrying means they have to race quite large distances around the country (Raju has beaten the marriage broker up to get the list). There is a reverse Lost in Translation moment between Raju and Stephanie - despite having no common language, he can see from the language of her eyes that if Rohit doesn't marry her, she will kill herself. But, you know, I could fully relate to him: she asks why are you doing all this for me; his answer was simply "I love you".

Two of the other couples have more commonplace stories. Vinay and Seema have been married 15 years and have a couple of kids: he is her life, but when he spots the much younger Anjali on a train one day, decides that he wants "more", without being too sure what it is. Shiven and Gia are a love match, about to get married, but he gets cold feet, and tries to facilitate her cancelling the wedding (he wasn't exactly my favourite character). There was another couple, I didn't really get what was going on with them until I read a review: they were already married, but thanks to the crowded nature of Indian family life, having trouble finding somewhere to consummate - that explains why they end up near naked on a train!

The most dramatic (and annoying) couple were Kkamini and Rahul: she is a wannabe film star, who has had an embarrassing night in which she ended up in a pool in a night-club with Shiven, and needs to do something to restore her reputation. She decides the way to do this is to invent a secret love, Rahul. It just so happens that there is a fellow, completely unknown to her, called Rahul who is carrying a major (stalker-sized) torch for her. He comes into her life, won't leave without being paid a vast sum of money. Of course, when he does leave, the realisation hits Kkamini that she loves him.

And so, three hours into the movie, and after following a fairly convoluted path, they all end up in the one place - at Rohit and Gia's wedding, as it happens. There, all is restored to the way it ought to be.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Long Way Round

I really want to see the TV programme of the trip taken by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman across Europe, what was the Soviet Union and the USA, but have to wait my turn for the DVD at the library. In the meantime, I have taken the chance to read their book: each takes it in turn to narrate, so it really is their book.

I suspect the trip itself is a little more adventurous than any I would care to take: I could obviously deal with the first and last component, and maybe even the central sector, but I'd have trouble with the motorbikes they were riding. Big heavy 1150 cc BMW Adventures,
laden with huge amounts of equipment, around 40 kg of which turned out to be unused. I don't know how many times there is a casual mention of "dropping" the bike: the idea of being caught under such a bike as it fell on me, or just trying to stand the thing up once it had fallen over freaks me out. Then there's the section where Ewan is writing of his earlier experiences of riding motorbikes, of having the bike leaning over, with his "backside nearly scraping the tarmac", having to tell his brain to ignore its natural instincts when cornering (presumably to slow down, to not lean over so much): it is not for me. Maybe one of these:
would be more my style! It is a Kamaz truck - their motto is apparently "No Roads? No Problem!" At one point, as they were crossing Siberia, the authors run into several rivers they simply could not pass on their bikes, but were able to hitch rides on a Kamaz driven by a fellow called Vladimir (of course he was - most of the guys in the book are called Vladimir).

There were some annoyances in reading this book: mainly because the authors would get so grumpy! At each other, at the difficulty of the travelling, at their support crew for not leaving them to ride their own trip, at the people they encountered who wanted to make a big thing out of Ewan McGregor being in town. This last criticism particularly annoyed me, as McGregor had traded on his celebrity status to get the funds to make the trip (he had sponsorship deals and a wad of money (over a million) thrown in by a TV company) and then objects to be treated as a celebrity. He doesn't seem to appreciate that his coming to small town Russia or Kazhakstan might be huge news for that town, or that its inhabitants might see it as important to honour their guest.

But there was lots to enjoy as well - I'll just mention two things. They get pulled over for speeding by a policeman (called Vladimir) in the Ukraine, who offers to put the authors and their entire crew up in his house. His wife seems to be ashamed of their humble quarters,, so instead, they stay with a fellow called Igor, who has an enormous mansion. A different Vladimir turns up:
All I knew for sure was that I was in a house where I'd already seen a machine gun. Now a man built like a bull was taking off his handgun and putting it down right behind me...

More men arrived, all with bulges under their jackets or sweaters. Menacing men who would be even more intimidating in other circumstances, but were on best behaviour in Igor's house. A small guy with a shaved head walked in. I could see the butt of his pistol poking out... A few hours earlier, we'd been on the open road, heading for the Russian border. Now we were in a room surrounded by men with heavy duty weaponry, while the top dog's wife cooked us dinner in the background. I felt very ill at ease.
They both stayed uneasy for the two days they spent with Igor, who was the local Mafia boss. It seems that he and his men were just relaxing and having a good time with their important visitors, unsuspecting that their guests were half scared out of their wits the whole time.

Now, the authors kind of moaned the whole way across Europe and Russia, pausing every so often to say how wonderful the landscapes were. And yes, the trip was obviously a difficult one to make, so some moaning is to be expected. The weird thing is that when the trip was at its hardest, when they had to dig tracks into and out of rivers in Siberia, and tackle rivers that could just as easily sweep them away, the moaning stopped. They seemed to most enjoy this part.

Getting across America was, obviously, the easiest sector so very little of the book talks about that: their main problem was in staying awake.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Girl in the Cafe

Although I can't really say the blogging experience is quite what I had hoped it would be, I do love the fact that thanks to blogging, I have come to "meet" all sorts of people a long way from where I live, and to participate in projects like the one set in motion by Ingrid. Concerned that this movie was not getting the attention it deserved (I don't think it was even released here - it is certainly not available at specialist places like Aro Video), she set up a couple of mailing lists so that the DVD could be forwarded around the world.

The central character is played by Bill Nighy: I can't even say when he first came into my life. I might have seen him in the episodes of Softly, Softly or Minder he played in. I certainly saw him in Little Drummer Girl, but it would have meant nothing to me. He has been in all sorts of programmes and films I have watched, but the first time he really came to my attention as an actor to watch was in Still Crazy. There he plays the temperamental flamboyant front man for Strange Fruit, the "greatest rock band of the 1970's" - apparently inspired by no other than David Lee Roth! He is probably better known to the world as a result of Pirates of the Carribean or maybe The Constant Gardener.

In The Girl in The Cafe, he plays a high up policy analyst for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the film opens, we get a strong sense of the kind of life he has led: it is raining, and his umbrella is just one among many. He dines alone, apart even from his colleagues. Despite the important work he has been devoted to (it turns out his special responsibility is to run the numbers which can be used to make policies that will eradicate poverty - something he obviously believes in yet is incapable of articulating in any sort of powerful way), his life is not a success. As he enters the cafe of the title, he is hesitant, there is no place for him. In what I am sure must have been a rare burst of gumption, he asks a girl (Kelly MacDonald - who I most recently saw in Tristram Shandy as Jenny) sitting in a booth if he can join her. An immediate comedic note is struck as we watch Lawrence pour sugar after sugar into his tea: he explains "It has been quite a tough day" - but still not the worst, that would be a four spoon cup.

I had to laugh as Gina explains that she broke up with a boy because he did the top button of his pyjamas up: Lawrence is all "I'd never do that" and yet he's exactly the sort of guy who would, we just know. Poor fellow, he's such a woebegone character. When he asks Gina if she'd like to have a bite to eat, he's obviously taken aback when she agrees, even if it is because "I have absolutely nothing to do with my time". Their conversations are on the border of making me cringe at all times. But somehow he manages to open up to Gina: still, it is a jump when he asks if she'd like to go to Reykjavich with him (for a G8 conference). I love the way he introduces it - this hesitant disclosure is pure Lawrence, instead of bragging: "I'm going away next week." "To Reykjavich." "To a conference." "Its quite a big conference." "Its the G8 conference."

There, all hell breaks loose. Once again, Lawrence can see his hard work ("its what I do") going down the drain, as the various leaders get set to compromise and are thus compromised. But now he can come back to the hotel (where, of course, he behaves chastely) and vent to Gina. She doesn't hold back, reminding me of someone I dated once (she bearded the senior partner of the firm I was working for over his failure to do anything about the starving people of Azerbaijan - he came to me the next day, saying "You've got to get rid of that woman."). Gina has bigger targets - the Chancellor and then the Prime Minister, whom she takes to task in at the conference dinner, interrupting his speech to do so. Majorly embarrassing!

I have to say it was the smaller details of the film - Lawrence's dream about being in the Rolling Stones, the nonsensical conversations he and Gina have about coconut, or that everyone knows only one fact each about Iceland - which are what it made it work for me. Gina as played by MacDonald was a real honey, and Nighy pulled of Lawrence perfectly, as well as Steve Buscemi was Seymour in Ghost World. Without being given a lot of detail about their backstories, we could nonetheless tell a lot about them. Sure, trying to stop a child dying every three seconds is an important thing, just the sort of thing that we'd want the G8 summit to attend to, but it is not like a random girl in a cafe could have an impact.


Phoenix Foundation = Fantastic

I have done well: I've seen the Phoenix Foundation twice this weekend. I saw them last night at a very full Arc. Anji Sami was not available to play in support, so they decided to do an extended set, which involved a fair amount of goofing around, such as a version of Purple Rain where Luke found it necessary to call out chord changes to his band members, and then to chastise the audience when only seven confessed to having seen it. Meanwhile Sam is holding his finger up to his lips and going "shhh" to us - not sure it worked.

So, the band was in absolutely fine form, playing longer versions of some of their songs - I'm pretty sure they were on stage for a couple of hours: as they said when they had 'finished" and we demanded an encore, they had nowhere to go

Their gig at the Oamaru Wine Festival was a bit more low key: the dancers were noticeable by their absence. I have to say that with only a handful of people up in the hot sun, and a large group of people lounging around watching, I didn't feel inclined to get up. It was quite nice, sitting on a park bench, drinking a cold beer and eating mussels wrapped in bacon on a skewer.

The other activity they had going on was a town crier competition - the woman dancing can also be seen in the photo below (seated): she was the ultimate winner, despite not actually doing any town crying: she instead chose to recite a long and rambling poem involving a pirate princess. Standing beside her is local Oamaru arts icon, Donna DeMente:

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Friday, February 16, 2007

New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

I have not read The Brooklyn Follies, which came out last year but was very interested to read Jabberwock say that any thought of the author behind the text was out of his mind within a few pages, given that in his Trilogy Auster is very hard to ignore. The little blurb at the front of the trilogy says the three "interconnected" (they are very tenuously connected so push the boundaries of being a trilogy) novels "exploit the elements of standard detective fiction". They're certainly not your conventional detective narratives! I think this thought is key to Auster's technique:
"The detective is the one who looks, who listens, who moves through this morass of objects and events [i.e. constituted by the world of the book] in search of the thought, the idea that will pull all these things together and make sense of them. In effect, the writer and the detective are interchangeable. The reader sees the world through the detective's eye, experiencing the proliferation of its details as if for the first time. He has become awake to the things around him, as if they might speak to him, as if, because of the attentiveness he now brings to them, they might begin to carry a meaning other than the simple fact of their existence."
And so, in the first novel, City of Glass, there is no detective, not really. What we have is Daniel Quinn, a consumer of detective fiction. You might also say that he is a writer, except that he has adopted a pen name, William Wilson and now "Quinn was no longer that part of him that could write books" - Wilson leads an independent life to the point that Quinn no longer believes that he and Wilson are the same person. But one night, Quinn receives phone call for the "famous detective", Paul Auster. My old friend Flann O'Brien would have loved this! Quinn doesn't really know what to do but to assume the mantle of being Paul Auster, and thus embarks upon the task of keeping Peter Stillman, just released from prison, away from his son, Peter Stillman. He had been in prison for child abuse: he had locked his son up in isolation:
"The father talked about God. he wanted to know if God had a language. Don't ask me what this means. I am only telling you because I know the words. The father thought a baby might speak it if the baby saw no people."
Further narrative complexity is introduced when Quinn starts providing accounts of other narratives - initially real ones, such as Robinosn Crusoe, but then invented ones, in particular a book purportedly written by Peter Stillman, which in turn quotes other narratives (one made up by Peter Stillman).

Eventually Quinn gets to perform his task, or does he? He goes to the railway station where he knows Peter Stillman is arriving:
"As Stillman reached the threshold of the station, he put his bag down once again and paused. At that moment Quinn allowed himself a glance to Stillman's right, surveying the crowd to be doubly sure he made no mistakes. What happened then defied explanation. Directly behind Stillman, heaving into view just inches behind his right shoulder, another man stopped ... His face was the exact double of Stillman's."
Poor Quinn: he chooses one to follow, but by the end of the novel, he is wondering what would have happened had he followed the other. The one he does follow intrigues him: he makes long walks each day around New York - he and Quinn both have red notebooks, and one day Quinn has the bright idea of creating little maps of the journey taken by Stillman each day, and thus finds yet another narrative: each day's map looks a little like a letter. Quinn gets so engrossed he forgets his client, and feels he just has to meet Stillman. He sits alongside him on a park bench, staring until Stillman turns to him (at least five minutes later!) - I like their initial meeting:
At last Stillman turns to him. In a surprisingly gentle tenor voice he said, "I'm sorry, but it won't be possible for me to talk to you."
"I haven't said anything." said Quinn.
"That's true," said Stillman. "But you must understand that I'm not in the habit of talking to strangers."
"I repeat," said Quinn, "that I haven't said anything."
"Yes, I heard you the first time. But aren't you interested in knowing why?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Well put. I can see you're a man of sense."
Of course, they have several other conversations, although (a) Stillman never seems to recognise Quinn and (b) Quinn always uses a different name for each subsequent meeting.

The only other thing I want to mention about this novel is that at one stage, for reasons I won't get into, Quinn decides he needs to actually talk to the famous detective, Paul Auster, but there doesn't seem to be any such person. All he can find is one Paul Auster, novelist, who happens to be married to "Siri" (in real life, Paul Auster is married to Siri Hustvedt) who is no help to him. Then, right at the end, the narrator speaks of being Auster's friend.

Ghosts is more straight-forward, and the least satisfying of the three novels for me. Basically, a fellow called Blue is employed by a fellow called White to sit in an apartment room and watch Black, who occupies another apartment across the street. All that Black seems to do is sit in his room and write: Blue, trying to make a record of all Black's movements is given little to write. of course, for anyone watching Blue, all he seems to do is sit in his room and write although, as he becomes more sure of Black's routines, Blue does take the chance to go watch a game (baseball seems to be a thing of Austers) or a movie. Maybe Black is doing the same. Eventually, Blue becomes oppressed with the idea that White has simultaneously employed Black to watch him, or maybe that there's no White at all.

I liked the third novel (The Locked Room) most, probably because it was the least mind-altering in its structure - although the names Peter Stillman and Daniel Quinn both make an appearance. Again, there is no formal detective, but our narrator takes on a detective-like task: he is to write a biography of a childhood friend, Fanshawe. This comes about because Fanshawe is believed to be dead, and his widow asked our narrator (he has no name) to look through the voluminous papers left behind. They turn out to be unpublished novels, plays and short stories, which our hero gets published, to great popular acclaim. So far, fairly straight-forward, but then the narrator gets a letter, evidently from Fanshawe. This provokes the narrator's search for clues as to where he might find Fanshawe, under the guise of writing his biography. We don't get a very clear idea as to why Fanshawe should have chosen to stage his own death, but there is the suggestion that he doesn't think very much of himself as a person, that people's lives will be made better by his departure, including that of his wife, who would be much better off with the narrator: I think that this is because the effort/self-containment required of him to actually be an author meant that there was little left over for those around him. He couldn't function as a husband and father: is the narrator any better when he takes on at least the guise of an author?

I've just scratched the surface of one of the themes of these novels (authorship), there is much more which could be talked about, some of which is raised in this discussion.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Russians Take Christchurch

Well, a small part of it anyway. Last Friday night I was dropped off at the intercity depot: as I walked around to the YHA, I noticed a new cafe which, highly important given my need to depart at a ridiculous time on Saturday morning, would be open at 7 a.m. Arriving back there bleary eyed, I was a bit confused to see that the sign said something about Russian cuisine - sure enough, the Red Square cafe on Worcester Street is run by some charming Russians and features Russian food on its menu. Not for breakfast, alas. I had to make do with pancakes, very thin pancakes rolled up like cigars. The place was very nice looking - an exposed brick wall down one side, a white painted wall down another, with a few black and white photos (of ultrasounds, my second examination revealed!) and paintings and decked out with smart black tables and red chairs. My disappointments were that (a) the butter and honey were served in plastic sachets and (b) the coffee was weak - but on my return visit, that had been remedied. I still have not had a chance to try the Russian food, but I will - thanks to the marvels of Grabaseat, I have a four day weekend in Christchurch coming up.

But Christchurch was not my destination last weekend. Oh no, I was on my way to Wellington to see Bill Callahan (Smog) and Joanna Newsom. When I'd heard she was coming to New Zealand, I didn't really think much of it - I'd heard snippets from her first album and dismissed her as a gimmick. But a friend started raving about her second album Ys to the point that I procured a copy for myself. Then I heard that Callahan was coming, and I was in: I've been listening to Smog for a decade, ever since I came across Lets Move to the Country in a Melbourne record store. So glad: it was an amazing night.

When I arrived at the San Francisco Bath House (still Indigo to me), the place was packed, but I struck it lucky. I had gone past the front of the stage to use the facilities; as I came back, those sitting on the floor were being asked to stand. I seized my chance and found myself leaning against the crowd barrier, right in front of the chair which was soon occupied by Bill Callahan. I was really surprised by how young he is: when I first heard him, I thought he was old (i.e. Johnny Cash old) but he must have been in his twenties (Wikipedia says he was born in the late 1960's). He has a very subdued stage presence - I think he did thank us after each song, and at one point commented on how quiet we were, despite it being dark so the "please don't talk" signs could not be seen - but puts a lot of effort into getting his songs right (at least if the grimacing he does as he sings is a signifier of that, he does). He started with "Lets Move to the Country" and "River Guard" before giving up a couple of new songs off his forthcoming album - one featuring a Sycamore tree. There were others to follow - they're all just an enjoyable blur now.

As for Joanna Newsom, her stage presence was the antithesis of her partner's: she has an elfin presence, plenty of chatter, the occasional funny story and what appears to be a genuine gratitude that we enjoy her music. It took me a little while, maybe three songs in, before I noticed how hard doing what she does must be. Playing the harp doesn't look like an easy thing to do, particularly when you're as intricate and precise player as she is. And her songs - they're ten minute plus torrents of words, hard enough to just keep up with when listening, and here she was , singing them as she played the harp. An amazing musician: my summary dismissal of her earlier CD was churlish. I still haven't heard The Milk Eyed Mender, but most of the songs she played came from Ys, together with a cover of a Scottish folk song. She has also formed some sort of group with some other traditional musicians, and played a new song they have worked up in their honour.
I respected their wishes for no photography, but once the show was over, I had to take a photo of this harp, taken from where I had been standing for the entire gig. Afterwards, I went into Midnight Espresso for a coffee: I was followed in by none other than Joanna and Bill. I didn't jump up and worship them, although I contemplated it: someone from the next table did and while Joanna was all sweet and did a wee genuflection of thanks, Bill just stood there and looked at the menu. My friend who went backstage to see them at their Lyttleton gig reported a very similar experience.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bright Young Things by Scarlett Thomas

Of the thousands who reply to an advertisement wanting “bright young things” for a big project, six are chosen. The six have everything and nothing in common - different tastes, attitudes and experiences but all are simply marking time in their life, with no ambition. None feels they would be missed if they were to disappear - which is exactly what happens to them.

After initial chapters introducing each of the six, the story really starts with:

“Where the hell are we?”
“What the fuck are we doing here?”
“Who brought us here?”
“Can you remember anything?”
“Is this some kind of island?”
“This is totally fucked up.”
“Please tell me I’m dreaming.”
“I still feel sleepy.”
The six are curiously unbothered about being stuck on an island with no apparent way off and no inhabitants: they make a bit of a game out of why they might be there, and show some fear that maybe they're going to be attacked, but ultimately seem pretty OK that they might have been kidnapped for some sort of experiment. By the second night, they have figured out how to make things work - they have what appears to be a self-sustaining house, with loads of food and drink.

Things I had read had claimed that the novel was something like Lords of the Flies but, really, it was the complete opposite. Instead of the isolation releasing the beast within, there is a recognition that they have got it made, that they have no need for any hierarchy of leadership and in fact it is the world which is the danger to be avoided (so, more Matthew Arnold than William Golding). The author certainly nudged reader expectations along by including several books about utopias in the library.

And so, within a couple of nights, the characters were content to play party games. It seems like half the book was given over to an extended game of truth or dare - it did drag on somewhat. But it did come across as authentic - the way in which the truths about the characters were gradually revealed, and the way in which characters would go on and on about the things they were passionate about. Given that these are 20 something graduates at the end of the millenium, it is no surprise that computer games, films, TV (even bad TV, like Home and Away) would be what they were passionate about. It is equally unsurprising that when it comes to the practicalities of existence, they don't have much of a clue.

Each of the six were quite distinct, but my favourite character by far was Anne. At age six, she stopped speaking because she was terrified she might lie by accident and go to hell. At twelve, she was given books to dumb her down, so she wouldn't be so weird. She spent four years in a special high school, during which she wrote 700 poems and attended no classes, a pattern she was to repeat when at University (English and Philosophy). Luckily, her University wanted her to write dissertations rather than exams: she does one on the meaning of zero one year (so it was kind of nice that on the island there is a math's geek, with whom she can discuss zero and its status as a number), then submits a "videogame" called Life the next. Her take on the importance of videogames is important:

"I was quite inspired by playing games ... where you do almost feel like your character has a real life, and you're able to earn money and then spend it on things. One of the problems in the real world right now is that a lot of the time you can't earn money even if you want to. So, if a game like mine allows a person to have a normal life, even if it's just in a game, which is basically ... fair and makes sense. Real life so isn't like that."

The one thing I had a lot of trouble accepting was that there was a seventh person on the island - their kidnapper is sequestered in the attic. I just don't buy that he could stay cooped up there, thinking he could go about his daily existence, without being detected. Apart from that, I really enjoyed the novel, and although its action only lasted a few days, think that these guys might have a shot at making it on their island.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Car - Time for a Road Trip

While I was travelling, it was on my mind that Webster might well have outlived his usefulness: the last time I went for a warrant, while there was nothing major required, what was required was tricky (i.e. expensive) to accomplish. And so, in my last week away, I was building a list of possibilities on trademe. Last Friday, a deal was struck: I bought a low mileage Opel Kadett, without seeing it simply on the strength of the fellow selling it saying nice things about it. Since the price was cheap ($656) expectations were not high! The car was in Rangiora, so I had to make a hurried bus trip up to collect it. One day I might come up with a name for it, but after a week’s ownership and throwing a number of names at it, such as Alfonso and Franz, nothing has stuck. In fact, I find myself most commonly just referring to it as "car": it has its blemishes, and when one manifests itself, I feel like reproaching car.

Coming home was a comedy of errors: I hadn’t even left Rangiora and I was wanting the AA to fix the first problem! Luckily I decided it would be quicker to drive to Christchurch and call them from there, otherwise I might have been embarrassed: I had no idea how to remove the petrol cap and the young fellow in the service station I consulted was convinced it was defective. An older fellow in a different stattion showed me how it was done, and I was off (via a compulsory stop at Borders and dinner at Happy). The further I drove, the more things stopped working - first it was the sunroof, then it was the electric aerial. The entire dash stopped working whenever I put the brakes or headlights on. Then in a Temuka caravan park where I had tried to stay, it simply refused to start - not a problem, as I knew of this fault and how to fix it should it show up. What I hadn’t been shown was how to open the bonnet!

Never mind, I did arrive home and had all of the problems fixed (just weird wiring, basically): since Waitangi Day was on a Tuesday, I thought I’d take Monday off and have a long weekend, just long enough to get up to the West Coast. My plan was to spend Friday in Roxburgh - last time I was there was on a bus, which had only stopped there for about ten minutes. I’m so glad I did, as there is much to like about this place, starting with its setting in the Teviot Valley.

Thanks to lots of sun, the water in all the rivers I saw were a glorious shade of green-blue.

In fact, the further I drove, the more I felt that this country has as much to offer, scenically, as any of the countries I have recently been through: when the weather is glorious as it was over the weekend, driving through it is a treat. Anyway, back in Roxburgh, Villa Rose Backpackers was warm and inviting, all youngsters staying: they went off to the pub but the guy running it and I had quite a chat. The coffee was good at Succulents and even better at Caffeine. I had decided to dine at Succulents, but after walking back and forth for more than half an hour with no seat coming free, I went for fish and chips. By the time I received this, I was regretting my order, as I saw the burgers they make here - they look magnificent. But I was happy with what I did get, a gorgeous golden crisp battered blue cod. Supper was lemon and cream cheese cake from Succulents:: in addition to the cream, they’d drizzled passionfruit sauce over the plate. So good that I went back for lunch - corn fritters.

The tentative plan was to then head straight for Greymouth, but Saturday didn’t quite go to plan. Once I’d wandered around Alex (I went into the Warehouse there for something innocuous, I don't remember what, but it most certainly wasn't the deepfrier I came out with!) and bought an enormous ice cream in Wanaka, it was already mid afternoon. So, when I hit Haast, I started looking around for somewhere to stay: pretty much everywhere was full, except for the very ordinary World Heritage Hotel, which wanted a fortune to stay there. Halfway out to Jackson Bay, I finally found a motel; it was only half full (mind you, it only had two units) and very nice. Much nicer than the dinner I had at the hotel - my lamb shanks were tasty, but who would ever mix the salad in with the (lumpy) potato mash? Cucumber and potato doesn’t really mix.

Jackson Bay was kind of average, and so full of sandflies it put paid to any idea I had of waiting for the food cart to open, but has an interesting history. Way back in the 1870's, the Government decided to create a community there, with a town as big as Hokitika, so they assisted all sorts of migrants to take up plots of land there. Unfortunately, they didn’t think things through very well: the land was far too wet for crops, so everything rotted in the ground. Those who farmed or fished had no way of getting their produce to market, as there was no road or jetty: these didn’t arrive until the 1930's, by which time pretty much everyone had left. There is still hardly anyone there.

I didn’t exactly have an early start from Haast - partly because my car needed emergency repairs. The exhaust pipe had become dislodged. Strangely, the service station couldn’t sell me anything to re-attach it, but wandering around their yard, I found some old wire and could make a kind of hook. I still thought I left in plenty of time, yet only made it as far as Fox Glacier - this was partly because I played a silly game with myself, saying that if I could stay in the Fox Glacier Hotel (an elegant old wooden building) for less than I paid the night before, I would. What I didn’t know was that they had a backpacker wing.

Ah well, I wandered out to the glacier (without falling in to the Fox River this time (in my defence, I was still a child when that happened) and watched a couple of guys walk in with their canoes:

And then come out again:

I also went to Lake Matheson: I simply don’t believe it is the most photographed lake in the country - the lack of road access means that far fewer people will see it than, say, Wakitipu. Funnily enough, it reminded me of the lake at the back of the farm on which I grew up where we would go duck-shooting (not these contented looking fellows):the colours of the water, the plant life around its periphery and the size were pretty much the same.

We didn't have the mountains, however.

People have a lot of trouble telling Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph townships apart, I did too until I stayed in one. Now I know that Franz Joseph is the more northerly of the two, and has an actual bookshop (but it did not have, as its sandwich board proclaimed, the "best selection in the world"!)

It also has higher surrounding mountains, so you're more likely to see snow:

Lunch was in Hokitika: a salad the way I like salads - very little vegetable, and loads of sauteed chicken dowsed in chili sauce at the Cafe de Paris, which followed a rather good coffee at the tin shed - wonderful decor, and the soundtract featured jazz-influenced blues music. I could have simply lingered there all day but (a) I only had one more day to get home and (b) I really wanted to get to Greymouth so I could have some more professional repairs to my car than the piece of nylon chord I had installed to hold the exhaust in place. Unusually for me, I didn't really fancy lingering in Greymouth, which is unlike any previous trip there. Plus they have the most dangerous Warehouse in the country - I went in for a pair of socks and came out with a set of garden furniture! I had read that the Station House cafe in Moana was the best on the West Coast: when I heard I could stay at the Moana Hotel, that's what I decided to do. It offers marvellous views right from your bedroom window:

It is my fourth visit to Lake Moana and it still rates as one of my favourates:

As for the cafe, it was nice, but I certainly wouldn't say it is the best I have been in, I'd even say there are better on the West Coast - the Tin Shed in Hokitika had a more interesting decor and menu (although I don't know how well executed) and the runner up (Westport's Bayhouse) is in a more spectacular location. Mind you, I think the Station House is one of the few cafes around which can boast a train (and I mean a real train, with 20+ carriages full of coal) in its garden! Foolishly, I simply gawped at the train and failed to take a photo, even when another came through a wee while later.

The food here was good - a nice pork steak on a cheesy risotto with smoked roast veges followed by a pavalova (sic) with passionfruit sauce and brilliant coffee. The one let down was that the scallops were a bit overdone.

It was then a quick trip home on Tuesday - leaving Moana not long before noon, I was up and over Arthur's Pass and into Geraldine for coffee. As I entered Geraldine, I had a slight problem with my eyes: they were telling me that some people had their car in the river:

I don't think I'll be giving my car to these guys to wash! But I do think my new car did me proud: in the ten days I have had it, I've done a couple of thousand kilometres as a post sale test drive, with the repairs required in Greymouth costing the huge sum of $4 to effect.

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