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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A hobbit, an actor, and a vixen all walk into a bar ...

Well I can just get this post in under the wire, and bookend the month of March nicely with a post on its first and last days. This wasn't intentional, mind you, as I've been wanting to post about many of the things I've got up to in these past few weeks. But, as with my growing stack of unread books (many of them borrowed from friends), so too has my progressively longer list of blog drafts (all original, none borrowed from friends) been ignored recently.

So in rapid-fire procession, I'll rattle off a list of things I've found interesting or done that are newsworthy (heh) over the last few weeks, before getting down to the main topic of this post.

Guillermo del Toro, director for the two upcoming Hobbit films, arrived in town just over a week ago. He was spotted in a local bookstore, buying up graphic novels, which are one of his passions. According to the article, Mr. del Toro has two homes in the Los Angeles area: one for living in, the other for storing his massive collection of graphic novels and other books. Suddenly, I don't feel so bad about my stacks of books which currently invade just the odd bit of free tabletop space in the flat! But I'll bet Guillermo is better about actually reading his books than I am, and he's got two whole movies to direct ...

Needless to say, I am excited about the prospect of experiencing life in New Zealand whilst they shoot the next two Middle Earth movies here. There's always the chance for a celebrity sighting anywhere in the Wellywood region. Odds-on favourite sites are: Molly Malone's, The Green Parrot Cafe and especially the Dom Post Ferry between downtown and Eastbourne, should Sir Ian McKellen decide to live out there again. But if/when I see any famous elves, hobbits, wizards, gollums or otherwise, I'll not gush and fawn all over them like some sort of tourist! I will, however, do my level best to get out to some of the shooting locations to see some of the sets - especially The Shire, once it's rebuilt.

Speaking of celebrities, a personal favourite of mine is the British actor Peter Davison. He'll be a guest of honour at this weekend's Armageddon Expo, which takes place here in Wellington after being in Christchurch last week. He earned his SciFi 'street cred' by playing one of many incarnations of "The Doctor" on the original series run of BBC's Doctor Who. I knew him best as "Tristan Farnon" on the All Creatures Great and Small series, also from the BBC. I love SciFi cons and haven't been to one in a while, so if I can con (get it?) any of my geeky friends to go with me, it'd be fun to see Mr. Davison in person as well as see what else emerges from the woodwork.

In other news, I am now officially a WIT member and, although I haven't had my official stage debut in any shows yet, I am happy to finally be able to partake in Tuesday Training and continue to learn all I can about this most enthralling way to entertain and be entertained. I have also been elected to the post of Treasurer for WIT, in which my first official act was to declare myself ineligible to be Treasurer! It's a long story, but once elected into the post I soon realized, in going over WIT's bank records and membership rosters, that I had never in fact been voted in to the club nor paid any membership fee. I blew the whistle on myself, was then briefly stood down, hastily granted membership by the committee, seconded into the role of Acting Treasurer, and finally then as an official WITster I was re-voted into the position of Treasurer in a second general meeting!

Yeah, I know, I'm sure Hollywood is all over that story for the official screenplay rights (I'd like to request that Ethan Hawke play my role). But that experience, combined with my 'unofficial' and truly impromptu stage debut with WIT in last year's New Zealand Improvisation Festival, has made for a very interesting start for my life in WIT!

What I wanted to write about most, though, was the opera I saw last Friday night. It's called The Cunning Little Vixen, written by Leoš Janácek. A friend of mine from WIT, Robbie, did the lighting design for this production so that's how I heard about this opera. The other two operas I've seen here in Wellington were both at the St. James Theatre so of course I was surprised to find out there was another opera company in town, known as Nimby. The theatre they use for performances is a building called the Salvation Army Citadel, which sounds like some sort of place where they, well... not fight to the death, as it's the Salvation Army! Perhaps it's a place where they give until it hurts?

Anyways, it's a building I've driven by dozens of times - even parked outside it once or twice, but I've always failed to take a good look at it. It turned out to be a wonderful venue for this opera, as the acoustics were great where I was sitting, which was the back row of the balcony section. There was a nice little stage and there was a 5-piece chamber orchestra playing for this production of Vixen. I'm not sure if that's a function of the piece itself or is a reflection of the fact that this is a smaller, up-and-coming operatic company that is working out of a littler theatre.

The cast were all brilliant, especially the female lead, one Kate Lineham. She channelled the spirit of the title role expertly, and it didn't hurt that the cast's costumes were really bright and original. There was some animated art that was woven in seamlessly with the production and it served to really enchant the place and enhance the experience of this opera. I also thought the supporting women in the cast were particularly strong, and their positive energy and quirky characterisations meant they stole lots of scenes.

I had never taken in an opera prior to moving to Wellington, largely because it was something that never interested me. But after seeing Turandot, my first opera, I became instantly hooked, as did my friend Karen who attended with me, also at her first opera. Now that I have experienced one of Nimby's productions as well, I know that we in Wellington are spoilt for choice when it comes to great opera, and I'll certainly be in the audience again!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Arthur, King of the Sauna

"G'day!" the cheery old man called out as he joined me in the sauna, now doubling its current population.

"How are ya?" I replied, American aphorisms still being the default greeting responses hard-wired into my brain. Maybe after a few more years of Kiwi seasoning, I'll begin to reply with my own "G'day!" in kind.

I had been in the sauna for only two minutes but it felt more like twenty as I'd only recently begun doing the sauna with any regularity.

I've found that one way to keep your mind off of the fact that you are sitting in a boiling-hot room, slowly melting to become one with the humidity, is to strike up a conversation with the other masochistic denizens of the sauna (if there are any). The subject of said conversation is immaterial, as no matter how banal it is, its sole purpose is to try and get you to last as long as possible while your brain keeps firing increasingly shrill messages at you.

These messages start out as, "Boy, it's awfully muggy in here," from when you first cross the threshold into the boggy environs.

They then progress to, "OK I know the Wikipedia entry on saunas talked about how beneficial they were for your health, but you're now in serious danger of passing out. You can't even take a deep breath!"

Next comes, "You idiot! Unless you have an intravenous catheter and a bag of crystalloids handy, you are not lasting one more minute in this place! Initiating blackout mode."

Finally, it's just a never-ending repetition of the phrase, "Get out!" which increases in both volume and frequency with every second you remain inside that hot wooden box.

But, boy, what a great feeling you have when you do emerge! My personal best in a sauna is twenty minutes, but this pales in comparison to the times I have seen some people spend in there. They must have an iguana somewhere in their family tree in order to have survived in there for as long as they did.

Or maybe they've just mastered the art of small talk, which brings me back to my original point (/tangent).

This gentleman and I turned to that infallible staple of small talk, The Weather. He brought it up, but after a moment he became self-aware and started questioning the point of ever discussing the weather.

"I mean, unless you're a farmer or a fisherman, why should it matter to you? It won't change anything for you and there's nothing you can do about it anyway!" he said.

Seeing the wisdom in this, I had to agree.

Interrupting our discourse on the unpredictability of Wellington's weather were two older women who threw open the door to the sauna and, in quite a demanding fashion, gestured for the old man to quit the sauna.

"Come on, get out of there!" they each said to the man, more or less in unison.

I made a half-step to go as well, they had such a commanding air. I figured they might not want any men in the sauna with them, but then I remembered it was a 'co-ed' sauna after all. I then saw that they were just having him on a bit.

Well, sort of. Turns out this gentleman (whose name is Arthur, as I came to find out) had not five months ago survived a life-threatening bout of heart failure. He was telling me about how great the health care workers were at the Wellington and Hutt Hospitals. His condition had deteriorated to the point where his doctor called his family to the hospital ASAP as Arthur had taken a sudden turn for the worse and didn't seem to have very long at all.

His one son, now living in Australia, had already come home to be by his side during his time in hospital, but his daughter lived in Scotland and was still in the process of getting underway. So, the family reasoned, at least she'd be here for Arthur's funeral if she couldn't be there to see him before he passed.

Apparently the doctor tried one last desperate treatment, not expecting it to work. Very clearly it did, or I would not have had the chance to meet Arthur that morning in the sauna.

This recent experience of Arthur cheating death is also why his two friends came and tried to roust him out of the sauna. Apparently it has long been one of his favourite things to do but, since his bout of heart failure, he has lower blood pressure than normal. So sitting for any length of time in a sauna, which dilates all of the blood vessels in your skin thus lowering your blood pressure, is a potential recipe for disaster for Arthur.

But it was I who eventually rousted us out of the sauna. The women gave up and Arthur continued to spin his tale, seeming quite content to stay in the sauna indefinitely. For a moment I half expected his two vigilant friends to return and haul him out of there bodily, but they were nowhere to be seen now.

I was rapidly approaching my limit of sauna tolerance. Secretly, I yearned for the elderly women to return and redouble their efforts to extract Arthur from the sauna.

"...getoutgetoutgetoutgetoutGETOUT...." my brain was now yammering at me.

I'm pretty sure my body took over at this point, as I suddenly found myself bolting upright and lurching for the door. Yes, an elderly man who has a heart condition and had recently cheated death outlasted me in the sauna!

Graciously, Arthur could see that I had had enough (of the sauna, not his story) and he came through with me. We stood and chatted for a few more moments. He said he felt bad for his daughter, who eventually got here but not until a couple of days after Arthur had turned the corner and been transferred back to Hutt Hospital. The reason Arthur felt bad, he says, was that when his daughter left she was told he was not going to be alive when she got to New Zealand. Yet there he was, grinning up at her from his hospital bed. So he told her he was sorry to disappoint her that there would be no funeral!

I had to laugh as I really enjoy the Kiwi senses of humility and self-deprecation. I told him I was sure his daughter saw it differently and that he looked great, which he truly did.

Anyways I'm sure I'll be seeing Arthur again, now that I'm swimming regularly and following that up with a brief session in the sauna. We'll see if I can outlast him in there next time, though, as it was I who was in danger of low blood pressure on that day and not him!

I must practice my small talk skills about the weather, that is the secret.

So, a bit muggy out today, wasn't it?