Aug 01 2013

My Private Dancer

Published by at 7:50 pm under Travel

While walking to dinner last night we saw a nasty accident at an intersection that we were about to cross. Luckily no one appeared hurt, only shocked, but both cars were totaled. Once again I felt gratitude for our safe delivery from four weeks on New Zealand’s narrow roads.

This morning Syd crept out of the room, quiet as a panther, a little after five to head for the airport. Despite her stealth, I popped awake and stayed that way, trying to hush the worry voices: will there be hot water when I take a shower, how will I find my way to the museum this morning, where is my house key, will I be able to fit everything into my suitcase, how will I carry all my stuff by myself…? By 7:15 I was showered and down the street at Williamson’s Café, where the last flat white of my life was as tasty as my first, enjoyed in this same spot a month ago.

. . .

Well, this is stupid. I packed up my stuff and checked out of the hostel, found the green Inner Link bus in the proper direction, and walked to the museum — which doesn’t open for another hour. So here I am in the blustery wind and grey drizzle with nowhere to go. I found a spot that’s sheltered overhead, anyhow. Now what am I going to do with all this time? Make a list of what I have to do when I get home? No, too onerous. I’m glad I have my little iPad with me, so at least I can generate verbiage.

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I have mixed feelings about leaving here, as I always do at journey’s end. I’m sad my vacation is over, and sorry to say goodbye to a place to which I’m unlikely to return. There’s so much I didn’t get to see and do. At the same time I will be glad to stop living out of a suitcase and having to expend so much cognition on basic daily survival. Yet I can’t say I’m ready to return to Reality. The other night I started looking up airfares to Ecuador, just for fun. I’d like South America to be my next destination. I think it would be wise of me to have something on the horizon to look forward to, before my nose ends back up on the grindstone.

Traveling to an English-speaking country has a distinct advantage for a monolinguist like me. But there are drawbacks. Culturally this trip has been flatter then others. Maori language and tradition are at the root of New Zealand life, but that foundation is buried and nearly invisible to me as an outsider, except when I pay money for the opportunity to witness a packaged version. Since experiencing at least the surface of other ways of life is one of the reasons I travel, the trip falls short in this respect. Nature is my other major purpose in exploring the world, and in that New Zealand is no slouch. Weather and time thwarted us, but there was still plenty of grandeur to go around. I have no regrets. What I do have is another forty minutes on this hard bench till the museum opens. The tragedy is that I just washed my hair and it’s going to go all flat under this hat, and I’ll have to make the whole flight home looking like a total dweeb, with the crown of my head cap-shaped and the rest of my hair sproinging out sideways, like Bozo the Clown. Mister Right will probably be sitting next to me and will ask to relocate to a seat next to someone with nice hair.

It always amazes me in this weather to see Kiwis walking around in shorts and t-shirts. Bare skin has no place in such an environment. “What are they thinking?” I wonder while wrapped in two layers of wool and a down coat.

The reason I came to the museum today was to kill time while I wait for my plane. I bought tickets for a tour of the indigenous wing of the museum and for my third “Maori Cultural Experience.” I can predict what will happen. First, the warriors and their women will appear on stage looking truly fierce. They will stomp and dance and threaten, with their “I’m going to eat you, yum yum” expressions. Then they’ll ask for a male volunteer from the audience to serve as the chief of the audience tribe. This man will make a peace offering to the chief of the performer tribe. Then smiles will break out all round on the temporarily tattooed faces. We’ll be shown some of their traditional games, played by warriors to build strength and dexterity. They’ll display their warlike prowess with the spinning and thrusting of lethal weapons. We’ll get songs and jokes and jousting with sticks and swinging of balls on string (poi, I think they call them) and a haka. Even if it unfolds exactly as I’m expecting, it will be interesting. I especially like to imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago, to wander into Maori territory and encounter this terrifying display of force and violence.

Can you tell I have absolutely nothing to say. I still fifteen have minutes to kill but I won’t torment you further.

. . .

Now I’m in the museum reveling in the free wifi and drinking yet another farewell flat white. Before the show I poked around the gift shop where the saleslady noticed my pounamu (greenstone, or jade) necklace. “It’s beautiful. And it’s perfect for you. I can tell it’s happy being with you. It chose you.” That made me happy, and a little weirded out.

I was partly wrong about the cultural show. There was no choosing of chiefs or warlike bluffs, but only song and dance and talk. It was probably the least interesting of the three I’ve seen. I wasn’t in the best state of mind anyway, having been indelicately shoved from all sides on the way in by a group of tourists from a country where, I believe, that is accepted behavior. I got irritable eventually, and shoved back. By the time the show started, I was fairly fuming.

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After the show was the tour, which I’d not been anticipating eagerly: yet another horde of people pushing and shoving, like in Hobbiton yesterday and on White Island the day before, and me in the back, unable to hear the wisdom of the guide. But it turned out that there were only two of us, so I was in heaven. One of the dancers was our leader. I got to ask all the questions that have had no outlet to date. Have a lot of Maori been converted by Christian missionaries? Yes, but Maori tend to be polytheistic. They may be Anglican and Catholic and traditional Maori, all at the same time. Do people still get facial tattoos? Not very often because your job options are limited if you have one: like, you can’t be a banker, which is too bad, I think. After a while, the other person on the tour left so it was just me and my guide. My inner journalist went wild. How do the performers apply the elaborate temporary tattoos? Stencil or drawn on by hand from memory. How did people achieve status in their tribes? Their accomplishments, rather than their birth. How many people can fit in the waka (war canoe)? Eighty to 100, and only men, half of them rowing and the other half calling out time. Who are these gods, what is this made out of, why is the house raised off the ground so high? Here’s my dancing private guide.

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See that carved design he’s standing next to at the back of the canoe? That’s an infant who is channeling the power of the gods and feeding it into the boat via his umbilical cord.

. . .

Time to wrap up. I found my way back to the hostel all by myself, even going a different route than on the way there, intentionally. In forty-five minutes my shuttle is scheduled to whisk me away to the airport. I shall now hit the “Publish” button and be done with this thing once and for all. My magic greenstone necklace promises me a safe journey over water.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “My Private Dancer”

  1. Eleni says:

    So then there’s no need to wish you a safe journey over water. I will, however, commend you on how brave you are. Thanks for posting so diligently. We’ll see you soooon!

  2. Campbell as good izzz says:

    So glad you had your private dancer! Sorry you didn’t get back to sleep….still in Sydney….will watch for you in SFO. We are on the identical page when it comes to crowds, tour groups, and lines….don’t ferget yer timtams.

  3. Molly says:

    Let’s learn how to make flat whites here. We can drink them every weekend.

    “Mister Right will probably be sitting next to me and will ask to relocate to a seat next to someone with nice hair.” – if he’s Mister Right, he won’t give a damn about your hair or your gentle plane sleeping. He’ll like you all the more for it. SO THERE.

    That is so cool that you got a semi-private and highly informational tour, on your very last day there. Sounds fascinating, and such a nice conclusion.

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