Sister Mary Francis. (Another) Future Patron Saint of Travelers, working miracles every day. Lover of dirt roads and New Zealand vistas. Used to like staying home and reading in the garage, but now ready for a few adventures. Dislikes U-Turns. Her pet peeve is when someone leaves a door
New Zealand works hard to give travelers an “authentic” experience and “100% New Zealand Made” souvenirs and crafts. But the border around the term “authentic” gets stretched anytime you must serve millions of tourists and the stakes are in the millions of dollars. We find this conundrum at
If you’ve read a few of the things I’ve posted here, you may have noticed that I enjoy travel. One of the things I’ve found that helps make travel more enjoyable is learning some of the language of the place I am going to visit. Prior to visiting Cancun a few years ago I studied up on my Spanish. Prior to visiting Rome I learned enough Italian to become terribly confused, as it is too similar to Spanish for me to always tell them apart. (But I did learn to hear words, and was amazed that, in fact, Italians, at least Romans, tend to speak rather slowly.) Prior to visiting Germany last year I studied German. We are planning to visit England this Spring, so maybe I should study English? Since a writer is concerned with language (or else they’re not a very good writer) I find it interesting to see how languages other than English are put together and used. Here are a few observations from my time in other countries.
As I pointed out above, not knowing a language at least a little can lead you to some plainly wrong conclusions. Such as thinking that Italians speak very fast. Actually, every word ends in a vowel in that language, so it can be difficult to tell when one word ends and another begins. Also, most words have a lot more syllables than they need, so if you can’t hear the words, it sounds fast. French is special to me because it is the only language besides English that I started learning by immersion. I got off of a train in Calais at 4:30 in the morning. The train to Paris left at six. I needed coffee. I was hungry. To hell with what they think of my accent. I asked my companion how to say various things, and, eh voila, I got my coffee and pastry. To this day, French is the easiest foreign language for me to use, probably because I started learning it from the ground up.
Spanish, though, was my first. My sister was taking Spanish in college, and she taught simple Spanish words like numbers and other single-syllable things to my seven-year-old self, in order to help herself learn. Well, she still speaks some Spanish, and by cracky, I do too. Unfortunately, we can’t hide anything from her son, my nephew, because he speaks Spanish better than both of us put together. Lo siento, Ed.
As to German, it is common to think that German is the closest thing to English, and in some ways it is. However, more than half of our English vocabulary comes from French, as do our verdamt (get it?) spelling rules. A thousand years ago, English and German were the same language, more or less. Now, not so much. But some words are exactly the same in German. Words like active, relative, and the like, except that they’re spelled “activ” and “relativ.”
All of my three non-English languages do have something in common that English has lost: personal versus formal second person pronouns. That is, if you know somebody well, you use one word for “you” with them. Otherwise, you use a different word for “you.” But, hey, the personal “you” does exist in English, even though virtually nobody uses it any more. Oh really? Really! And thou dost know whereof I write, dost thou not? Sure, and if I hadn’t studied at least one other language, I would never know what that “biblical” or “Shakespearean” language was really all about. It comes, one way or another, from the German: Thou hast looks a whole lot like du hast, doesn’t it? Especially the “hast” part!
So I’d recommend studying another language if you want to write English. It really helps to understand how language is structured and used, which of course just what you’re trying to do when you write, fiction or non-fiction makes no difference. As Twain observed, The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening! Oh, isn’t it, though?
I’d like to close with an observation about the French language. I used to say that the French didn’t know how to spell, because what they write doesn’t match what they say. However, in recently starting some formal studies, using Duolingo*, I have learned that in fact, I had that backwards. The French spell quite well. The verb conjugations and the various inflections are familiar, not at all unlike Spanish and Italian words. But what is pronounced is more of a sloppy creole of only vaguely comprehensible syllables, when they use syllables, that is. I read a theory that English is a creole, and maybe it is. And maybe we got that, along with a lot of our words, from the French. Merci boucoup, mes amis!
*Duolingo is a free online language course that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn a new way of speaking. Not quite as good as getting off a boat in the middle of the night in Calais, but close, very close.
I’ve tried a lot of diets. Who hasn’t, right? There is one philosophy that says if you are craving your favorite treat, one should belly up to an entire tub of your treat and finish it all off. You will make yourself so sick of this particular treat that you will never want this treat again.
I’ve been thinking about paying attention for the past few months. Yes, it is a strange obsession, maybe. I’ve read articles from those extolling the virtues of the practice. I don’t have any idea what is meant by “Mindfulness” in it’s current popular use, but I suspect that originally the term had something to do with simply paying attention to what’s going on.
Paying attention can have some definite value for a writer. By paying attention to conversations you hear, you can get a better sense for the rhythm of language as it’s really used. By carefully re-reading your projects and paying attention to the rules of writing (someday, I’m going to write a book!) you can cut a lot of time and frustration off of the publication end of the process. Most people only consider paying attention to be critical to certain occupations. Airline Pilot comes to mind. Or the carney operating the tilt-a-whirl. If those people don’t pay attention, other people will die. But writing, too, is a profession where paying attention is critical. Because, if you don’t pay attention, your story will die, and all of the people in it.
Paying attention isn’t common. Here are two quick examples from commercials and their use of music. For instance, there is the Beatle’s tune Getting Better, which has been used in more than one commercial series. The next line after the one you hear in one of the commercials is “Can’t get no worse!” Really? Your product is as bad as it gets? Do the people who produce these ads ever listen to themselves? Maybe not. I had a boss back in the 70s who owned a pizzeria in a college town. M.A.S.H. was popular then, so he used the theme song from M.A.S.H. in his commercials. The title? Suicide is Painless! Not sure about that statement in the first place, but it really doesn’t put any kind of restaurant in a very good light does it? In this case, I pointed this fact out, but the boss didn’t care. Maybe because he knew that very few potential customers were paying attention, do you suppose?
Why ever, at least some clients noticed, of that I’m sure. And I’ll bet they ordered from the shop down the street, where the pies wouldn’t kill you.
As a writer, you must pay attention to how you are writing. I’m possibly the greatest violator of this principle that I know, but if that’s true, then consider that I know whereof I write, okay? If you are telling us things all the time, and your reaction to that being pointed out is that, “the reader has to know all that to understand what comes next,” then you need to do some serious study to see how to show us all that before whatever comes next, um, comes next. If you have characters who all talk the same way, you’d better believe that you need to pay attention to manners of speech in order to differentiate them one from another. And so on.
Paying attention, even if it isn’t what people mean by “mindfulness,” is an important component of a productive project or life. I’m running out of space here, but trust me, I could cite examples until my ISP fined me for taking up all of their disk space. So, this week’s advice: Simply Pay Attention!
And don’t get me started about paying attention on the road! Yoiks!
I could hear what my day would be like before I could see it. Thumping on the roof of the van meant a wasted day. I pushed the curtain back and looked outside only to see the grey, bleak morning and rain drops splashing in puddles. My ever present, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) twists my gut into a knot of frustration and irritation. What to do on a rain day? As a desert rat, this is an issue I rarely face. When it did come along, it was almost something to celebrate; Leslie and I would pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine and sit on our covered front porch to watch a lightening show and smell the creosote soaking in its much needed water elixer. Here, rain comes and pours in sheets every few days or so. We have met a few locals, one claiming it is the “worst summer in my 77 years”. We have been dancing from East to West coasts trying to out wit the rain, but sometimes, it can’t be avoided and then what? What should you do to mitigate your fear of missing out when it is raining in the “outdoor adventure capital of the world?” Because we have had several “adventure fails” over the last few days, this rain is inflaming my FOMO even more than usual. I know, I know you are saying “Poor Andrew” and rolling your eyes, but please try to sympathize with my vacation related problems. Let me set the scene: I consider myself a seasoned explorer; I know it won’t all go as planned. My dad and I have been exploring new biking trails since I was 13 and this (~1995) was in a period before mountain biking had really taken off in Utah. We would read about a trail from an actual paper book, try to drive out and find the unmarked dirt path that went off into the woods or the desert. We would pedal 20 miles or so with the hope that we would find our way back to the truck. There were a few times we risked freezing to death after forging unexpected rivers late into the evening. But that was long ago. With the advent of the internet and Google Earth, we no longer forge new paths in unknown wilderness; every ride is a success. We have not been quite so lucky here in New Zealand. The last few days, Leslie and I have struggled to find the wonderful places we read about. One “ride” consisted of pushing our bikes up a mountain, then walking them down the mountain, with a couple attempts to ride where I fell on my head and broke my helmet (which is better than my neck or collarbone…). On the next ride attempt, the twenty mile drive to the trail head took three full hours over a narrow, steep, windy road, with sections that were crumbling off into the ocean a thousand feet below. We reached the trail head only to discover that the trail was closed to bikers this time of year. We scrapped that ride, drove the three hours back and headed to a campsite I had planned in Abel Tasman National Park. The Abel Tasman camp site is described as beautiful and remote, located at the end of a long dirt road. It is supposed to be nestled at the base of steep mountains, on a soft sand beach. Leslie and I were both looking forward to this epic spot. It was not to be. As the van slowly lumbered along, multiple cars sped past us on the wide spots, kicking up a cloud of dust in our faces. We come upon a jam of three cars with several barefooted men trying to push an old rustbucket off the road. This should have tipped me off. But once the car was removed from our path, we carried on. Suddenly, Leslie sees a glint of metal reflecting light in the valley below and we come to a stop in a line of cars. Leslie, being the wonderful wife that she is, stops short behind the last car and leaves us enough room to turn around. She is already suspicious. I get out of the car, dressed in my crisp collared wine-tasting golf shirt and kahakis, and approach the barefooted man standing outside his van in front of me. “What’s going on?” I ask. “Oh, hey man!” The guy drones. “It’s the wellness festival! Eight days, and it’s going to be great.” Inside I scream. “Oh yeah?” I say. An 8 day “wellness festival” in the wilderness and I have stumbled into it…. “What’s with the line of cars?” I ask. “Oh, yeah. They are searching cars for alcohol. It’s not allowed. It’s cool, though. There’s a healing tent and local artists, it’s going to be epic.” Inside, I scream again. Although land-bound for the moment, as a self-respecting sailor, I have my little van loaded to the gills with alcohol at all times. This is not acceptable! I am not going to be trapped out in the woods with hundreds of hippies for an 8 day, rainy mud fest without alcohol! The hairs on the back of my neck are screaming RUN! I hop back in the car – Leslie would later report – wild eyed and out of breath. In just the few minutes I have been talking with the guy there are about 20 more cars that have accumulated behind me, and the
With a goal to reach the South Island by February 1, decided to make a move and get down to Wellington. The weather turned foul again anyway, there is nothing better to do but to drive through sheets of sideways blowing rain. To get there, we drive up and over a very steep mountain pass. Shifting back and forth between 1st and 2nd gear, we grind our way up and over, around hairpin turns and narrowly squeeze between oncoming car and the side of the cliff. As we twist around blind curves, all we can do is trust fate and hope a Two-Week-Tourist in a rental car isn’t trying to pass a Three-Month-Tourist in minivan at the wrong moment. With the blind curves, rain, speed, and the tendency for the road to crumble off the side of a steep cliff, these roads are far more dangerous than anything I have seen at sea so far. I pat Sister Mary Francis’s Steering wheel and give her some encouragement. After all, she has driven sixteen+ years in New Zealand without major incident. She seems pretty lucky. [INSERT VIDEO CLIP OF DRIVE] Finally, we reach town and drive through a beautiful neighborhood protected from the wind by tall mountains. As I suspected since arriving: New Zealanders are fabulous gardeners. Our hosts are no different. Giant mums, roses, hydrangeas line the walkways. The cat in temporary residence skulks around keeping watch over the grounds. A plum tree is heavy and full with ripe delicious fruit, and when we are invited in we find jars of homemade marmalades out on the counter, being labeled. We are welcomed with smiles and cheers. We met these people when they visited sailing friends in Tonga, so this is the reunion of quickly made friends. It is so nice of them to host these wanderers in a stationary, and dry home. Our tour guide takes his duties quite seriously, and we ares cooped up and taken to the heart of Wellington for a tour of the best Cafe in Town (stiff competition, these New Zealanders LOVE their coffee), Cuba Street, the sea front, and one of the many green space parks New Zealanders are wise enough to preserve within their cities. We practice eating a little bit of Malaysian food, preparing for this upcoming sailing season. It’s delicious. Wellington is clean, cold, windy, and filled with small shops. A rebellious streak runs through the community, priding itself on variety, diversity and apparently fighting the man. We wander Wellington’s National Museum Te Papa Tongarewa, learning that New Zealand sits directly astride of the Pacific and Australian techtonic plates. (If the numerous active geysers, hot springs, recently erupted volcanos and frequent earthquakes were not evidence enough, now we know.) With each rumble, the North and South Islands grow ever further apart. The people who built the set of Lord of the Rings created an exhibit all about New Zealand’s involvement in World War I, making these giant, extraordinary life like soldiers for display. Dwarfing all the people walking through the exhibit, their lifelike arm hair freaks me out. *Husband for Scale* The lawyer in me is fascinated by the exhibit showing the two translations of the Treaty of Waitangi. English and Maori translations set side by side, the subtle differences in the language indicate two very different intentions. (1) Maori’s scene complete governance to the Queen of England; and (2) the Maori Chiefs retain their sovereignty and control over their country, entering into a partnership with England. A problem that occurred all over the world with native people of new lands. The Sailor in me is excited to see a real (formerly alive) Craken or Giant Squid. Lore has it that a giant squid can wrap its tentacles around a ship and sink it in one fail swoop. You know, Pirates of the Caribbean type stuff. I don’t know if they get that big, but giant squids are real. They have one on display in a glass case in New Zealand. She is giant and creepy, with rotating hooks on her tentacles and a giant beak. I hope never to meet one in the wild. *Tourist dude for scale* We discover Polynesian culture is alive and well here, with kids jumping off of wharfs or even a bolted on plank, despite the 40 knot winds and chilly temperatures. They look cold. We meet our Wellington host at EKIM for a tasty burger, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather… …then on to an open mike comedy show. Our host, one of the open mike participants, gives the crowd a good laugh. I can’t wait until he’s famous and I can say “I knew that guy when.” I was so distracted by the show that I forgot to get a good picture while he was up and laughing. So, here’s a crappy photo of the comedy crowd generally. Between acts, the thought did occur to me that I am in the basement of a very old building. I hope that Wellington doesn’t experience one of those famous New
While in the E.U., we did take a couple of trains and a bus or two, but for the most part, we did the American (and increasingly European) thing and drove a car. The car we rented was a SEAT Leon, which is not sold in the US or Canada. If it were, we’d be tempted to buy one. It’s made in Spain by a company owned by Volkswagen, which I guess is why they gave us one to drive in Germany. The picture above is the least modern street, road, or highway that we were on during our trip. The alley (which is all I can bring myself to call it) did have a name, but we never did figure out why Google Maps wanted us to take it.
Of course, in Europe, they have what we would call freeways. In fact, what we call a freeway was invented in Germany during the 1930s by Nazis. That’s true, and worth thinking about the next time you’re stuck on the 405, but in any case, we Americans did not invent the things. We encountered some narrow spots, but nothing else this primitive. A typical rural road looks a lot like what’s in this picture:
As you can see, they aren’t big on shoulders. Apparently if you break down, you’re stuck finding a place to pull off. Luckily, we didn’t break down. Most of the miles we drove were spent on one of these:
In Germany, they call this an Autobahn, or Automobile Road. You may have driven on one at some point. At times there is no speed limit on the German Autobahn, but only at times. And even where there normally isn’t one, if the traffic gets too heavy, or it rains too much, speed limit signs magically appear on the overpasses. In Western Germany, it was virtually impossible to go more than 100 miles per hour (161 kph) anyway, and very few people tried. Unlike Americans, Germans tend to be very good drivers, so the lack of speed limits doesn’t cause the sort of chaos it would cause here. (You can’t get a license in Germany without attending an intensive driving school, something which most Americans have never done.)
All of the places I’ve written about up to this point were/are easy to navigate. Other than some amazing hairpin turns in the hills of the Eifel, there isn’t any real challenge, even in that alley, which was, as you may notice, otherwise unoccupied. Most of the problems came in places like this:
This is a street in Heidelberg. It’s typical of the width of a city or village street. What is not typical is that this street is straight and easy to see along. Mostly they are crooked and you get surprised by oncoming traffic. You might think that this is a one-way street, but look at the corners: no do not enter signs. Yep, it’s legal to park along one side of the street, and to drive either direction at the same time. Did I mention that Germans are skilled drivers? It can be done, of course, and without running into a pedestrian.
Villages that crop up along the rural roads present their own challenge. For one thing, the speed limit in a typical village is 50kph, roughly 30mph, In a few cases it’s even less, as low as 10kph, which is just 6 miles per hour. (6.1, technically.) Both Tami and I got caught by camera failing to slow down quickly enough when entering a village. A nuisance, but the fine was only Fifteen Euros, which is just a tad over fifteen dollars at the current exchange rate. (Reportedly, Europe was shooting for parity with the dollar this year, but events intervened.)
And finally, parking. Our first hotel was in a 13th century building, with parking in the courtyard. I could never have exited if other guests hadn’t left first, it was that tight. The Holiday Inn Express we stayed in at Strasbourg was, well, as they say, no surprises. In Luxembourg, we got to circle a large block a bunch of times before we found the lot where we got comped parking. In Frankfurt, it was a weekend, and I was the only one parking a car in a cavernous underground garage beneath our hotel. We had to pay. We visited a lot of parking garages and lots. I have a parking chit from Bitche, France, my grandfather’s old home town, even. But the most interesting was in Cologne, where, as Tami was driving, she left the car in a “Women’s Parking Only” spot in a city garage. Sound weird? Check this out:
So, all-in-all, we did okay. Unlike the first time I drove in England, I didn’t break anything, and neither did Tami. We did get caught speeding, but the fines are modest. And, as I said at the beginning, we did get to drive a really nice car.
And heck, gas is only about nine bucks a gallon! Chump change!
I have a series of posts about Route 66 available. Click the tag “historic route 66” below to see them all.
I am guilty of not writing any comedy for the better part of a year. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy writing and performing comedy. The reason why this is so would take up at least an entire post, so I’m going to leave it at the simple fact. But, and this is true, I do know how to write comedy. I’ve been a wise-ass all my life, so it comes naturally. And comedy is mostly writing! So, here we go.
First, that all important step for a stand-up performer, is the rant. Some comedians, like Dennis Miller, make a career out of rants. But, you may be sure that the “rants” you see them perform are not the rants with which they began. Far from it. Even in written comedy, you start with a written form of a rant, called by the descriptive name of Your First Draft! Hmmm. Non-comedy writers, does that sound familiar? It should. A rant, when performed, is a test of a concept. A field-test, as it were, of new material, new jokes, or even just new ideas for jokes. Some of the rules are that it doesn’t have to be funny, although you, the writer, hope that it mostly is. Also it doesn’t have to be final. In fact, if experience is any guide, you will throw out most of the material from your rants, and polish the stuff that did work until it’s really funny. Trust me, that’s what Dennis Miller has always done. It’s what George Carlin always did. It’s what Andrew Dice Clay does. It’s what any good comedian does, because otherwise you’re just not going to be funny. And a comedian wants to kill, not die, right?
Does that make the business sound sort of nasty? You’re catching on.
Your first draft, your rant, can be about anything. For me, it is a way to discover what I’m really thinking about. And, this is a surprise to many who try it, it is rarely what you think you’re thinking about. Too tight a curve? Well, your own impressions of yourself are frequently not in agreement with everybody else’s, so why should your thoughts be any different? Better? Good! I use ranting by keyboarding to get down new story ideas. It works better than if I think about the story too much. So, here’s another way to find story ideas, guys: just start writing and see what comes out. Remember, it’s a rant, not War and Peace! It will suck big time, and that’s okay!
I do have an observation, based on watching American politics. That is, those who are too close to their subject don’t do as well at making it funny as those who can step back a bit. For instance, the funniest jokes about Obama have always come from Liberals. Maybe because they like him, or maybe it’s because Conservatives hate him that their Obama jokes have always been too on the nose. “On the nose” means that you are telling, not showing. It’s as simple as that. And what has to be close to Rule No. 1 of any writing, comedy or not, is “show, don’t tell.” If you make a political joke and say “He’s just an idiot because he signed that bill!” You’re on the nose. If you can craft a story that surprises the audience/reader with the sudden knowledge of that fact after leading them astray as widely as possible, then you’ve got a joke. Trump is too new, still, to know who will tell the best jokes about him. But, historically, Conservatives tend to be more on the nose than Liberals, which may explain why most popular comedians are Liberals. I don’t think that this is a requirement of Conservatism or Liberalism. P.J. O’Rourke is very funny, and Conservative. Maybe it’s a lack of training? Whatever, it is what it is, at least so far.
So, that’s the writing post for this week. There are quite a few books available on Amazon on how to create comedy. If you’re interested, I’d suggest checking them out!
So, a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Parrot walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”
We got a slow start on the morning, enjoying coffee and the view from our fold out camp chair. Once we were rustled out of place, we got moving toward one of the lower points on the North Island – Cape Palliser. Channeling Andrew’s maternal Grandmother who so loved the lighthouses of Maine, we went to climb a New Zealand Lighthouse, just for her. The terrain changed from farmland to a strange almost desert-like coast. Succulents with pink flowers covered vast meadows at the foot of a mountain. White puffy grasses caused the grass on the hills to glow white. To the touch, they have the texture of wool. A fishing village is tucked against the mountain at the point, where every man, woman and child must own a bulldozer to pull a fishing boat in or out of the water. A line of bulldozers are parked on the beach in various states of operation or rust. They all wear different expressions, or congregate with feathered friends. I could have a hay-day naming all these bulldozers. We climb the lighthouse and check out the view from up high. A sundog surrounds the lighthouse, making a faint rainbow ring around the top. On the beach across the way, we visit a sea lion colony in various states of relaxation. They stretch, scratch, and sleep in the warm sun. I imagine it is a lovely reprieve from the cold ocean they swim in most of the time. The ocean is roiling today, making some really great waves on a black sand beach. We stop to watch the surfers. These guys are the best surfers I have ever gotten to watch! They make it look so easy; which I know surfing is not. One guy is surfing in a little sunhat. He obviously ins’t trying hard enough. The guy on the yellow surfboard is killing it. He chooses his wave carefully, then hops up on his board and rides the wave up and down to the crest and back into the curl, back up to the crest over and over again until the wave reaches shore. After the beach, we head back over to the Rimutaka, Wild Forest Track we tried to ride the day before. This time, the river across the road was still there, but we had plenty of daylight to ride the extra miles. We pull the bikes out of the van, attach the front wheels, and pedal off. There is some drama trying to hop across the road/river with our bikes, but we make it and start pedaling along a coastal road decorated with ocean and mist on one side, steep cliffs to the other. This is a trail you can smell as much as you can ride. It is surrounded by fields and fields of wild fennel. Fennel, in case you have never come in contact, has a root that tastes like black licorice. It is a close cousin of dill, and like dill, its leaves are feathery and soft. If you rub the leaves, instead of smelling dill you smell that sweet licorice scent. With so much fennel blooming everywhere around this trail, the smell of salty ocean air, sun warmed dust and sweet fennel was spectacular. We forge a few more rivers and ride along the beach until the wind kicks up and pummels us with blowing sand. Time to turn around, we make our back to the car and toward camp for the night. New Zealand has a way of making one feel so small. Off to Windy-Wellington the next day! You can tell we are getting closer: the trees grow sideways here.