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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas with the Adams Family

No, not that Addams Family. And yes, I am well aware this is my second post in a row that fronts a YouTube video.

More later on my great Christmas with my friends Simon and Sarah at Simon's aunt's house with much of Simon's family. For now, just check out this song. I know it's like four years old here now in New Zealand and I'm - as usual - way behind the 8-ball when it comes to new music. But for those of you back in the States who may not have heard this tune, check out the video above.

"Sophie" is a song by a Kiwi band called GoodShirt who unfortunately are not around anymore. In spite of that, this is one of my favourite songs that I've heard since moving here, and I've heard lots of great Kiwi bands so far. So that is saying a lot. I think you'll find it as catchy and groovy as I do, and the video is hilarious to boot!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the Brooksie

To everyone who reads this, I hope that wherever you are, you are having a great Christmas. This is probably my favorite Christmas song, and there are many that I like. This one is tops in no small part because it is in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, my favorite Christmas movie! And while I am loving life here in New Zealand, including experiencing these balmy, sunny Christmas days, I do miss home more at this time of year than any other!

So for those of you in the northern hemisphere fortunate enough to have snow on this day, enjoy it and your egg nog (although not too much of the latter!), and for my mates in the southern hemisphere, I'll see you for a pint at the barbie!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Night at the Brazilian Embassy Theatre

If you are a bit confused by the title, then you will know how I felt when I got a text from my friend Dana the other day. The gist of it went something like:

"They are showing a Brazilian movie at the embassy, would you be interested?"

I texted back that of course I would. I was thrilled as Dana, my Dutch friend who was in the Ginger Crunch performance with me, had just earned the right to stay on in New Zealand another two years. So this would be our first chance to catch up in a few months.

Anyways, I made the assumption that Dana meant there was a Brazilian movie being shown at the Embassy Theatre, where they held the world premieres for the Lord Of The Rings trilogies. So when Dana texted me back the next day confirming that we were, in fact, going to the movie, she confused me when she gave me the address where I'd meet her: Brandon Street. The Embassy Theatre ain't on Brandon Street!

Yes, there really is a Brandon Street in downtown Wellington, and I am long overdue in getting a photo of me standing underneath the sign - perennial tourist that I am!

But I should know better than to ever 'assume' anything, as it only makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'. Brandon Street is quite a long way away from where the Embassy Theatre is, so I figured that Dana must be working on that end of town and I'd meet her there and we'd head to the theatre together. Given the time she'd mentioned to meet up, however, I knew we'd be getting to the Theatre late!

So I show up at the address a little early, and step inside the building. Then I read the building's directory and it finally dawns on me: we were meeting at the Brazilian embassy where they would be showing a free movie! The actual "Embassy Theatre" across town didn't enter into it, except in that fictional notion I had that they would be showing a Brazilian movie there. With my thick mindset, I didn't pay any attention to the fact that the only two movies on last week at the Embassy were Hitman and Into The Wild.

Why I'm sharing my dimwittedness with you, I'll never know, except in the hopes that it gives you an idea of how much stuff is in Wellington and how easy it is to get confused here.

But it turns out the Brazilian embassy here in Wellington runs a wonderful yearly program of free movies. They even provided free wine, cheese and crackers for us! And I got a free T-shirt, simply because I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at their final film of the 2007 season. The embassy staff were quite welcoming and friendly and I'll certainly be headed back for a movie or two next year. If/when I ever make it over to my own United States embassy I'll have to see if they are doing anything this nice for the masses! If they are showing free American films, however, this could really backfire - depending on the film.

But that is another topic for another day!

The film on offer this day was called O Caminho das Nuvens or "Middle Of The World". A bit coincidental that it sounds similar to "Middle Earth", home to the hobbits?

Nah. It was an uplifting movie about a poor family's struggle across the vast expanses of Brazil in search of work and happiness. I'd recommend it to anyone as the performances were excellent and it's a nice window onto Brazilian culture. There were no hobbits in sight (not that they're ever easy to spot), but if you want your next hobbit fix then you'll have to wait until 2010 or 2011!

So I really enjoyed finding yet another way to enjoy Wellington, this time via the Brazilian embassy and their open-handedness with the plunder: free movie, food, wine and T-shirt! After the film Dana and I repaired to KK Malaysian on Ghuznee Street for yet another first for me, but for Dana this place is a regular stop. I had the fish curry and it was excellent, and we split an order of mussels as an appetizer and they were top-notch as well.

I'll be going back to all of the above places again in 2008, of this I have no doubt!

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Oh, you're from New Zealand! I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan."


I'm back from the States and from semi-retirement from this blog. In the words of Inigo Montoya:

"Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

So, in no particular order (unless 'random' is an order)...

I get home to New Zealand and resume the much-missed habit of my 'Wednesday cafe crawl' through Wellington. Whilst on the way to one of my favourite haunts (Cafe Astoria), I know I'll be passing by my favourite place to buy clothes: Swanndri. I almost walk past it as it's down a side street, but it doesn't take me long to recognize the tell-tale triangular intersection near the store. So I double back and head down the side street, the familiar planter with the Swanndri logo painted on its side now in full view.

Yet as I get to the short set of stone steps leading up into the building, I see nothing but frilly summer dresses and women's shoes in the store window. I do a double take (which would've been a spit take, had I been drinking anything at the time) and look up for the Swanndri sign, and sure enough - it's gone. In its place is a sign for some frou-frou dress shop. Or shoes. Girly stuff. Definitely not Swanndri!

Swanndri is gone???

Say it ain't so, Joe.

Thankfully, the company is still around, and thriving from the looks of it although I'm a little uneasy that they've been bought out by a New Zealand company that seems like it might start outsourcing work overseas. But as long as Swanndri stays in business, I'll always have mail-order.

But gone, too, is the pretty girl who worked there. It was admittedly as much a guilty pleasure to go and chat her up from time to time as it was to spend money recklessly on yet another jumper or jacket.

Meanwhile, back in the States, in the roughly 12 days I had to actually see people, I managed to fit in spending some quality time with my parents for Thanksgiving. I also caught up with some good friends in Newport News where I lived the 9 years prior to moving to New Zealand, and I also fit in 3 days in Vegas where I stayed at Paris - in a suite with a Jacuzzi, no less.

It seems as if almost everybody I know back home has moved into newer, bigger houses. Well, at least 100% of the people I stayed with on my trip were in new houses, those people being my parents as well as my friends Kathy and Robert. So, combined with the very nice suite in Vegas, at least my short time back in the States was spent in quality digs.

My friends Mary and Ted in Williamsburg have also moved but their house needs a bit of work. The trade-off is they're in a great neighbourhood and I have seen the improvements they did on their last house, so I know they're capable of great things. They have all of my respect, for there is no way I could ever succeed where they have and will surely. So I can't wait to visit them again someday and see what they've done with the place!

While home in Lynchburg, I managed to visit the National D-Day Memorial for the first time, and it's located in nearby Bedford, Virginia. It is there because that little township lost more people per capita on D-Day than any other town in the United States. In this regard, Bedford, Virginia, parallels New Zealand in a way, although for a different war: New Zealand suffered more casualties and fatalities per capita as a country in World War I than any other contributing force.

There is a commanding arch that dominates the centre of the D-Day memorial, and flags of all of the nations that contributed to that historic assault on that day fly around its perimeter, including New Zealand's flag. It was a good day for visiting, as far as sunshine went, but it was terribly cold and windy. I managed to take some photographs and will get them online at some point soon.

It's an excellent monument and I encourage anyone interested to go. Even though there is not much nightlife to speak of in the region (although there's a great restaurant in a restored train station, called - wait for it - "Old Liberty Station"), you would be remiss in not exploring the Peaks of Otter as well as the associated parkway all the way up to Skyline Drive if you can make it. You won't regret it.

This trip home was bittersweet, as while it was great to see everyone again and catch up, I had to take my leave of them once again. It was also nice to just be in the States in general. There really were no moments of absolute 'reverse' culture shock, which is what you might experience upon returning to civilization for the first time after a significant chunk of time away in a foreign land. Perhaps this would have been more the case if, instead of living in another first world country these past 18 months, I had been roughing it in the jungles of the Amazon Basin, or trying to eke out an existence somewhere inside the Arctic Circle, or even Arkansas.

Anyways, about the only thing that took me aback was the size of the Coke I had ordered with dinner at one restaurant. Holy big thirst, Batman! It was like ... a bucket with a hose attached to it. Sheeza. Even though we've waged war on 'Big Fat' now in the States, we still have some embarrassingly large portion sizes over there. At least the percentage of people categorised as 'obese' has levelled off this year for the first time in five years, and that is good news.

Finally, just as a general observation that fits here more than anywhere else, I like how the administrations in the United States and New Zealand are warming to each other over the past few years. There is the new student visa program sponsored by the U.S. for Kiwis wanting to study in the States for a year, up from six months as it was before.

Condy and Winnie have been chummy for the past few years.

And, perhaps most significantly, Jemaine and Bret are succeeding as diplomats for New Zealand in ways their government otherwise could never have hoped! As one of the posters featured on Flight of the Conchords states, "New Zealand... Rocks!!!"

Anyways, the trip home and back again wasn't nearly as taxing as I thought it'd be. I haven't had any problems sleeping or getting back to work like I thought I might, although I did have a very hard time getting up before noon while I was back home! I blame the jetlag. Or my pineal gland, or something.

It's good to be home in New Zealand again, and my trip to the States has helped refresh my perspective on my journey down here. With the advent of summer here now Down Under, I'm ready to renew my commitments to touring the waterfront and cafes of Wellington on my days off as well as to doing more stuff with my friends. Gone for now are the short, cold days of winter, bad habits (*cough* World of Warcraft *cough*), and just hanging around the flat.

That means I'll also be giving this slack blog a kick in the backside in the process. Whether I write anything interesting or not is a whole other matter, and I'm not making any promises there.

This post was composed while under the influence of a heavy dose of caffeine on an AlphaSmart 3000 on various table tops in cafes throughout Wellington, including but not limited to: the Jimmy, Cafe Astoria, Starbucks, and Deluxe Cafe.