Thursday, November 27, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 11

Last night we took a cab back to the Court Theatre, which is a great facility despite being located in a warehouse, and we saw the play One Man, Two Guvnors. This was big in London and New York a few years ago, and even won a Tony for best actor, but as far as I know has yet to be produced in Toronto. It’s a flat-out farce, driven by sheer silliness and dexterity, and works very well as such, although if I were the director, I would have been pushing the cast to work even faster. There’s a certain amount of picking on the audience, and at one point the lead actor targeted me in the audience (we were in the second row) and asked me where he should take the object of his desire on a first date. Despite being new in town, I shot back Tequila Mockingbird, which seemed to be a fine answer and earned a smattering of audience applause (of course the character rejects that suggestion, over his object of desire’s objections, and the play grinds on). This was an especially high stakes moment for me as the previous audience participant ended up covered in fire extinguisher foam (it’s confirmed later, for anyone who wasn’t sure, that she was actually a plant).

Pure and Deep in Auckland was a tight, minimalist, contemporary show, and this was basically the opposite, making for a fine counterpoint. We took a cab to the St. Asaph Street Kitchen (I was born in St. Asaph, a different one obviously) where despite the “…till late” thing, the guy had to check that the restaurant staff were still able to make us a meal; fortunately, they were. Then we walked back maybe eight blocks to the hotel, and although I’ve made this point several times by now, it’s still eerily remarkable that you can walk that far through a world-famous city (one of the year’s top travel destinations per several sources) and see no one else walking, not on the other side of the street, not anywhere (we did see one cat), and virtually no traffic. We kept registering new sights – a row of storefronts where a hairdresser seems to be open for business, just a few doors down from another that’s still a wreck, still with an almost four-year-old notice on the door inviting applicants for positions. This is something we’ll truly never forget.

“Climb aboard one of the world’s most famous train journeys,” says the blurb for the KiwiRail TranzApline railway, “between Christchurch and Greymouth. Cross the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, and enjoy thrilling vistas over deep gorges as you travel alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri River. Traverse the mighty Southern Alps, where spectacular views of the chiselled alpine landscape will take your breath away at every turn. Descend through thick stands of native beech forest to your destination, Greymouth – a great base for exploring this unspoiled region with its mighty glaciers, wild rivers and famous Punakaiki pancake.” We didn’t do the last couple of sentences – we caught the train at 8.15 am and got off a couple of hours later, not quite halfway through the journey, at the tiny station of Cass – the only passengers to do so (to the apparent bemusement of some of the others). The journey is indeed spectacular at times, but the train was packed and noisy (unfortunately we were sitting right behind a group of American seniors, and you know what that means) and the carriage which is open for better viewing was full of people with selfie sticks.

We were picked up and driven to the Grasmere Lodge, a couple of miles from Cass, where we’re spending our last two nights. Since we couldn’t check in, we embarked pretty soon on a two and a half hour walk down to the nearby Grasmere lake, where we followed the trails for a while before sitting on a hillside and surveying the astonishing landscape. At one point I counted at least seven layers to the landscape – the sky, two mountain ranges (one with snow, one without), a row of trees, the lake with a grass frame on either side, and the yellow brush flowers in the foreground. Even the world’s most beautiful landscapes might ordinarily be content to constitute, say, four stunning layers.
During the walk, we attracted the attention of a herd of cows on the other side of the wire, and they all followed us for a vast distance, bunching together so that you’d seriously fear for your safety if you were caught in the middle (see for yourself!) When we came back though, many of the cows had entirely disappeared from view, reminding us of the African safari where animals might roam vast distances. In the beef-rearing run of things, those are some pretty lucky cows. We also attracted the attention of a lamb who very loudly tracked us for as far as he could, and then did the same on the way back. We later learned that his name is Marcus (doesn’t it seem like every damn sheep nowadays is called Marcus though?) and that he’s spent too much time around humans; they’re trying to reintegrate him with the other sheep, but it’s not really working. We thought of offering to take Marcus home as a nice friend for Ozu, but I guess Ozu might not be entirely sympathetic to the idea.

We had lunch, and then the owner took us and another couple (from Christchurch, so that was an inevitable conversation topic) on a drive of the property and the surrounding area, which I’ll summarize basically as saying that three or four local landowners appear to own the equivalent of Toronto (but of course with a miniscule fraction of the population). Although Cass apparently has only one resident, it has a mini-golf range, and an annual cricket tournament/booze-up for which a few hundred people show up and camp – it’s happening tomorrow, so the formation of the camp is fairly well advanced. Our room, which has little in common with the Cass campsite, is enormous (we got an upgrade!), with a gas fireplace and terrific chairs (and a mini bar we can empty out for no extra charge, if so inclined) and for Friday night we’re the only guests in the whole place (the Christchurch couple were on the way home), by ourselves at the far end of a very long lodge, separate from the main building. So we just have to hope one of us doesn’t go nuts in the manner of The Shining.

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