[morgueatlarge] Moa, Moose & Maeroero

Or: Creatures of the South

There are moa down there. New Zealand’s largest flightless bird, the moa, is reputed to be extinct since before the arrival of Captain Cook – but I choose to believe it’s not. Because the world would be a cooler place if there were still gigantic, curious birds stomping around its most mysterious recesses.

Besides, a moa was seen just a dozen years ago. By a guy who ran a pub in the area. The pub then becoming a well-patronised tourist destination. Hmm. His name was Paddy Freaney, and yes he’s Irish, and you can see the photo he took of the moa at Wikipedia. Unless it’s a photo of a sock puppet. Or perhaps a seagull.

So now that we have established beyond all doubt that the moa exists, it is with regret that I report Aaron and I failed in our quest to find one, despite making numerous moa-appropriate calls into the bush wilderness. Inexplicable.

And moose. The moose of the deep south were confirmed to exist in 2000, with the discovery of a verifiable clump of moose hair in the depths of Fiordland. The http://www.nzwt.co.nz/projects.htm New Zealand Wildlife Research Trust is working on finding out more about them, and perhaps snapping an elusive picture of the Fiordland moose in its natural Fiordland habitat.

As an aside, I love that a large chunk of New Zealand is called ‘Fiordland’ because it is entirely made up of fiords/fyords. That’s how they do it down south – no fancy dressing things up for them. They call a land of fiords a Fiordland and crack open a Speights mate, pride of the South.

And despite the drinking of Speights, and Monteiths, in abundance, and making numerous moose-appropriate calls into the bush wilderness, no moose came to disturb our campsite. Or if they did we were already asleep in our tent.

And the maeroero. The sasquatch of the Catlins, on the South Island’s southeast tip – as it says on http://www.catlins.org.nz/iwi.htm the Catlins site, “Maori legend has it that large hairy monsters inhabited these valleys of forest, their name was Maeroero, meaning wild man of the forest and were feared by all Maori.”

We did our best to lure a maeroero to our table by playing abundant cribbage and drinking bourbon and making numerous maeroero appropriate calls into the bush wilderness, but no maeroero emerged from the darkness. The only wild hairy men of the bush were Aaron and myself.
And perhaps that’s the truth in all of this – that you can go looking for the secrets of the wilderness, but all you find there is yourself. With a beard.

So, given our lack of luck with the moa, the moose and the maeroero, what creature did make an impact on our Southern Odyssey? It was the sandfly. New Zealanders, and travellers who’ve experienced them, will give a shiver of acknowledgement at the thought of these creatures. They are tiny, millimetre-long flying insects with a disturbing desire to drink your blood, and they leave behind swollen irritations which in their numbers can be atrociously uncomfortable. Tenacious and pernicious, the sandfly accompanied us all down the West Coast, out to Milford Sound, and turned up again in Piano Flat on our last night together. They came at us in great numbers, hundreds, even thousands of them, clustering against our tent and flying into the car and landing on us all over. They were constantly drawn to us. I do believe they worshipped us as Gods, whole sandfly civilisations rising and falling over different interpretations of our holy writ. They loved to get on to our exposed skin and bite.

We hated them. Strict biosecurity measures, learned at the NZ border crossing, maintained the integrity and safety of our tent. Outside of that, we relied on some very effective insect repellents, which had the effect of convincing a sandfly that has landed on you not to bite, but instead to fly to another part of you and see if it can bite there, and so on and so on.

The sandflies were fairly intense in tiny Haast, at the south end of the West Coast road. Haast, you will recall, is a tiny hamlet of a few hundred people – this total a huge advance on the population in 1990 – with a single small “supermarket”. It gave me no end of bewildered pleasure to note that sandfly-beset Haast’s only retail outlet had a sign out front saying that no-one wearing insect repellent was allowed within. The owner, it seems, is extremely allergic.

One supposes she married into the region.

Wayback Machine link to archive of original message

[morgueatlarge] alp, alp, the comedian’s a bear!

When I look to my left I see an array of red-brick apartment blocks, three to five stories high, arrayed in a loop around a block of bright green that could have been drawn in with a felt-tip pen. Near to me there’s a sloping rock garden leading down to the driveway, to its left a small play area, a wooden tower with a pyramid roof and a slide rolling down from it in a narrow plastic wave. On the top floor of the nearest apartment block there’s a man in his twenties on the balcony. He’s leaning inside the sliding door to talk to someone else. He has a shoe on his hand, a black workshoe. On the balcony railing, looking down on the concrete path at the foot of the building, is a santa claus figure, two feet high with a smiling cherub face and waving his glove to the nonexistent passers-by. The trees to the left of that block have given up to winter already, their limbs bare or fuzzed with brown, but to the right they are still green, although fading. It has rained through the night and is starting to rain again. The drops come down thin and perfectly vertical.

These buildings make up the bottom third of the view. Beyond the apartment blocks is a hillside. It is an almost vertical slope covered with tall trees, almost all of which are bare of leaves. The ridge rises and falls sharply, echoing the shape of the children’s slide.   The hillside makes up the middle third.

The top third is cloud. Cloud is heavy here, rarely lifting, sometimes casting tendrils of mist down into the valley where they settle or drift, sometimes enveloping the whole valley floor in a cloud so thick that one can only hear, not see, the destination of a thrown stone.

It’s a beautiful valley. A few days ago I went for a walk, it turned into a five-hour expedition, to see what I could see. All around there were hills and mountains, wreathed in fog that occasionally teased me with areas of clarity – snow on the pines here, a steep bank of green there. I walked from Stansstad village to the larger town of Stans, and kept going, following the road and railway line up the valley. Had I kept walking I would eventually, long after dark, have made it to the ski resort of Engelberg, at the foot of the Titlis mountain, one of the giants of Switzerland. This is also the place where Craig, my co-host and old friend, is teaching.

Titlis was obscured by intervening hills and mountains, but there was plenty to see around me. The valley floor has wide fields, impossibly green, agricultural stations mingling with the fringes of the towns. The sloping valley sides, as green and smooth as a pool table, play host to tiny gatherings of cottages, halls and churches, while in the centre a bright red train runs along a slowly curving line. It reminds me of nothing so much as the model railways my grandfather so enjoyed; too detailed and delicate and unblemished to be real. As the eye drifts up the slope the green shifts to white at the snowline, or sometimes to a line of white fog that had wiped away the upper parts of the hill like an eraser to a pencil sketch.

The clouds lifted as the day wore on and I was treated to more and more of the mountains until finally, late in the day, I had a clear view of the two nearest peaks, the Stanserhorn just above Stans and Stansstad, and the more distant and still taller Pilatus, both classic mountains, studded with dark green trees and steep slopes of rock and snow, towering paternally over the small villages.

And I’m told its even better in summer.


Saturday night and Craig and Marcel were dinner party hosts. Eight of us gathered around their dinner table for a traditional Swiss raclet. Two hot grills were set in the middle of the table along with a wide variety of cut meats (bite sized), slices of cheese, small baked potatoes and gherkins. you cook for yourself at a raclette, putting the meat cuts on the top of the grill and plucking them off to your plate and your mouth when they’re ready, and melting the cheese slices in special trays with handles that sit under the element. When the cheese is good and melted you scrape it off the tray with a wooden scraper, over the potato or gherkin or whatever it is on your plate that you want to douse in cheese. And then you eat, and throw some more cheese on the tray and some more meat on the grill.

It’s reminiscent of the traditional kiwi barbecue, but it has more in common with the happy camaraderie of a good fondue party – that of course being another Swiss winter specialty. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, listening to conversations switch from English to German and back again and indulging my affection for cheese. I managed to completely cover my melting tray in a bubbling, browning crust of cooked cheese, clearly the sign of a rank amateur.

The Swiss love their cheese, and they also love their chocolate, represented at the dinner party by Craig’s ridiculously intense mudcake which gave me a glorious headache when I was halfway through the square-inch section I had.

(Craig, making the mudcake, checks the icing: ‘hmm. needs more chocolate.’ Unwraps an *entire block* of Swiss chocolate and dumps it in. Oh Lordy.)


Sunday, Craig and I went driving. Switzerland is surprisingly small, since we went almost the width of the country in a couple of hours, travelling via autobahn from Lucerne in the German language area to Gruyeres in the French language area. This is a small, well-preserved medieval village with castle on a hill overlooking the lands the Count once ruled, and itself loomed over by a range of stunning alpine heights, which happily were under sun and blue sky when we arrived. It has given its name to the cheese, but I was more interested to find that the name comes from ‘Grue’, the heraldic creature on its coat-of-arms, a sort of fearsome heron. The reason we made this pilgrimage, however, apart from as an excuse to do a grand tour of the Swiss countryside, was the HR Giger museum.

Explanations. I’ll try and keep this short.

When I was 11, my friend Luke managed to source a bootleg video copy of Jim Cameron’s film Aliens, newly out to the rental market. We settled down in my lounge on a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch. It scared us so much we had
to turn it off half way through and go for a long walk before we had the nerve to watch the rest.

Thus Aliens became my favourite movie of all time (a title it holds to this day, still seeing off all challengers). Furthermore, I’ve long been active in the roleplaying game scene in Wellington, and between 1995 and 1997 years I organised a series of well-received events based around the Alien movies, involving nearly 150 people across all the different events. Thus my reputation as ‘the Aliens guy’. Since the last event, in December ’99, I’ve given the Aliens thing away through total burnout, but still my reputation precedes me and Craig had the Giger museum well and truly on the list of things to show me. And I’m glad he did.

Giger is the Swiss painter/sculptor who designed the creature in the first film, and the success of that movie is largely due to the absolutely terrifying nature of his design. It didn’t come out of nowhere – through the sixties and seventies he had created a series of airbrush paintings exploring the juxtaposition and integration of the biological (usually in
terms of the human form) and the mechanical. These are some very disturbing images; there’s something very visceral and primal about their impact, about combining biological elements with mechanical structures and experimenting
with different kinds of interface, not least the often overt sexual/death
imagery that is part and parcel of any exploration of biological reality.
Furthermore, while a surrealist, Giger specialised in realistic depictions
of coherent environments and landscapes – they don’t distance you through
abstraction, thus making the impact of the bizarre entities and structures
he designed still more profound. There’s a beauty to it, but there’s also
something abhorrent, and in a way it’s the combination of beauty and
abhorrence that is the most important thing about Giger’s works. (For more
on Giger, see www.HRGiger.com)

The gallery is spread throughout three floors of a house in the middle of
Gruyeres, and it included lots of things I’d never seen before, and lots of
things I had. Seeing the originals of images I had been familiar with for
well over a decade was a lot more exciting than I expected it to be,
particularly the originals of Giger’s little-seen designs for sections of
the first movie that were cut from the first draft of the script. The
filmgeek in me was most excited, however, by the extensive design sketches
Giger completed for Alien 3, almost all of which were not used and none of
which I’d seen before. I can see why they weren’t used – they were very,
very weird and disturbing, far too weird for mainstream Hollywood. Hell, if
Alien 3 was my movie I wouldn’t have used them either. But they were
absolutely fascinating.

Craig – thanks for organising this, because even if I’d known it was there,
I probably wouldn’t have bothered to go, and I really would have missed out
on something cool.


My tan is fading.


Be well you all,


[waybackmachine link to original]

[morgueatlarge] morgen morgen: morgan

Switzerland began with another train journey, a long one. I farewelled Julian and left Auch on the 7.30 train and pulled into the station in Lucerne three changes and almost fourteen hours later, just after nine pm. It was a pleasant enough ride, lots to see through France, particularly tripping over a flooded landscape where fields were submerged, fiery autumnal trees spiked up from brown water, and isolated cottages rose like ghost ships out of apparent lakes. It was dark by the time I was cruising through Switzerland but it was also apparent I was in a different place, a long way from the placid south of France. The view from the train showed lights arrayed on slopes and around lakes, and there seemed to be a lot of people working late at the office buildings we were passing. The stereotype of the Swiss-German work ethic is very true; and sure enough, the trains did run on time.

Through the journey I read from cover to cover Herman Hesse’s 1920s work ‘Siddartha’, a distillation of Eastern philosophy into the form of a novella, along with explanatory notes from some bloke who prepared the Picador edition I was reading. It was a great read, and I must make due shout-out to Aaron Andrews who made the trade – I think I got the better part of the exchange, coming away with Mo Yan’s satire of Chinese culture ‘The Republic of Wine’ and ‘Siddartha’ while he had to walk off with Edward Rutherfurd’s history lesson/potboiler ‘London’. Sorry about that.

(Now’s as good a chance as any to mention the way reading is so huge in backpacker culture. Everyone reads and talks about what they read and trades old books or simply gives them away – a finished book is just dead weight, after all. I have been consistently surprised by the kinds of books getting read. They don’t tend to be the ones on the bestseller shelves of your local bookstore. Instead you see a lot of classics – I’ve seen Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald… and a lot of more modern works, but ones off the beaten path are fairly common. Lord of the Rings has finally disappeared from the circuit, apparently, I’m told it was what everyone was reading nine months ago. Harry Potter still turns up now and then. Anyway, there’s no real point to this aside, except to say that everyone reads, and they read interesting stuff, and it’s all good.)

Right, where was I. Oh yeah, Hesse. Well, he was German, but he ended up in Switzerland. So there you go. It was even relevant.

I was met at the platform by Craig Duncan. He’s another old friend, one I met on the same first-day-of-intermediate-school that provided my first meeting with Leon, travel buddy on the first part of this mission and again through Portugal, and Adrian, kind host on that first anxious night in the northern hemisphere two and a half months back – a fateful day indeed. Craig is now living with his partner Marcel, who is Swiss, here in Lucern He’s currently teaching hotel management law at a hotel management school but as I understand it other opportunities are appearing all the time so I don’t know how long that will last. He and Marcel live in an enormous, beautiful apartment in Stansstad (I think that’s the spelling), a short car journey from the Lucerne train station. To my eyes they seem pretty well set up. I’m told they have a great view of the mountains but it has been foggy, but still scenic with the nearby craggy hills, and the lakeside just a short walk away – this is very nice indeed, especially with the fog drifting over its surface and obscuring its far side.

I’ve been here a full day now, and apart from a bit of walking about the neighbourhood I haven’t done much – most of today was spent in intense catch-up/discuss Switzerland mode with Craig. Nevertheless I can pass on some things I have noticed about this country that differentiate it from all the others I have been in since leaving New Zealand:
* no dog-gifts in the streets
* no-one asking me for money
* some evidence of driving laws

All of these are changes for the better.

Right now I am stupendously full after eating an enormous plate of food prepared by Marcel. I will sleep this off in the room I have all to myself in a comfortable bed with a fogged-out view of the mountains, and the only unnerving thing will be the full military kit, rifle included, sitting next to my bed – Marcel is off to military service on Monday.

I’ve never shared a room with a rifle before.


Shout outs to Luke and Sam, who got married on Saturday, and Dan and Chrissy, who did the same thing on Sunday. Hope the days were, respectively, a blast and a blast.

And to Julian, my kind and generous host in Auch, who for some reason walked me to the train station at 7 in the morning. Cheers.

And to Tintin.


[morgueatlarge] the aftertaste of chocolate

is in my mouth. mmmmmmm. I had a late-night chocolate crepe. all of europe has a sweet tooth but this really is ridiculous – a delicate crepe liberally sprinkled with sugar and then thick, melted chocolate poured warm into the folded nest and then you just can’t quite eat it fast enough and the chocolate goes all over the white plate and it really is divine…


i am in Montpellier. It’s a great town, elegant and sincere, with a pedestrianised heart that keeps going and going. I’ve found it a bit hard to penetrate the nightlife, much as I found Toulouse by night somewhat impenetrable – both student towns, both very pleasant, but unless you want to stand and drink alone they can be difficult after sundown.

i spent a bunch of days in scenic Auch, west of Toulouse, before heading here. There I enjoyed the hospitality of my childhood friend Julian McKenzie, working in Auch as an English language assistant in the high schools. We’ve had a fine old time, and he’s taken me to a different bar each night, and introduced me to a pleasant bunch of fellow tutors. In Auch there is a cathedral and a statue of d’Artagnan, so I’ve seen both of those about a thousand times as well.

France is interesting. The suburbs look more like suburbs to me than elsewhere in Europe. The people I’ve found to be very pleasant indeed, even as I butcher their language and drop its twitching corpse in front of them and expect them to LIKE IT, okay??? Let’s just say I’m better at listening and reading French than speaking it.

(This is the perfect point to note that I had to jump through numerous hoops to study French in my sixth form year, leading to the pleasant solution of being sent to the girls school down the road for that class… it might even have helped my French a bit. More notably, it gave me a wonderful friend, hey Melissa!)

(okay, it also gave me a good story to wheel out when schooldays talk gets going, but thats by the by.)


the place is about to close around me and I’ve barely begun to write! more will have to wait. I had a coffee in a cafe last night and filled 16 pages of notebook with furious scribble, so there are definitely things to be said.

in the meantime, I’ll just recommend those who have time to check out Krzystof-from-Barcelona’s webpage, its fascinating reading.


a bientot!


[waybackmachine link to original]

[morgueatlarge] Another flashback: San Sebastian

I spent a few nights in San Sebastian. These nights just happened to be over all saints day, which are pretty big-deal holidays in Spain. On arriving at the train station and finding via phone that the hostel was full (despite promising us there´d be no problem when we´d called that morning), we actually listened to one of the room touts at the station.

(Whenever you arrive at any place with a backpack on, there will be someone at the station offering you a room at a handy price. Usually the best plan is to walk past these people, but they can come in useful, as here.)

We ended up in a dinky little room right smack in the middle of town, about two doors along from the big fancy hotel that, the tourist brochure gushed, was where all the big names stayed when they came to town for the San Sebastian film festival! So the location was great, and the price wasn´t bad at all, thanks to some nifty negotiation by Ella.

We went exploring of the old town, which is right nearby, and find large numbers of bars, a reminder that this is a big tourist town. The oddest thing is stumbling on the presence of a fifty-foot woman, well, perhaps thirty feet – I came up to her shin. She was made of cardboard and dressed after Xena, and promoting the San Sebastian festival of horror and fantasy films, which was going on all over town. She loomed at the end of a long narrow street, and whenever we walked through the old town we´d glance down and see this woman with her sword in the air far, far away. It was, I have to admit, pretty fun.

San Sebastian consists mostly of two beaches, which are both beautiful. One of them is excellent, yellow sand and pleasant surf and long and wide, but the other is simply magnificent, a glorious curve of archetypal beach-ness that just kept going and going. Hence the tourist destination. At night the beaches become the domain of groups of teenagers drinking under the walkway, but they´re still very pleasant, and the strange curve of the bay inside the harbour mouth gives rise to interesting surf. At either end of this beach are hills, neither of them too large, one of them rising up over the old town and playing host to a grand lit statue of Jesus, which itself rises out of an old castle/fortress… we explored the fort by night after finding the gate unlocked, which was hair-raising and not exactly informative, but did give a great night-view of the city when we hit the top and relaxed at Jesus´feet.

The other hill is climbed by a cable car, which both Ella and I weren´t interesting in using, so we tromped up the road. It´s on a similar scale to, say, Mt Vic, maybe a bit higher. Anyway, just near the top we find the road blocked by a guy with a road barrier and a sign saying you have to pay a euro to proceed, because, apparently there were restaurants and a lookout up top. Well, we weren´t standing for that nonsense (its the *principle* of the thing), so we settled at the side of the road just in front of the barrier, where there was a pretty stunning view, and hung out. For a very long time. I thought the guy would be perturbed but he didn’t seem to be, Ella was convinced he was having too much fun raising and lowering the barrier arm when cars came up or down to really care about us. He did seem to enjoy raising and lowering the arm.

On our last night in town, we went to a bar for tapas – small snacks that you consume with your beer, arrayed all over the bar surface in an enticing smorgasbord – which served as our dinner. I can´t even describe the things I had, but they were all very nice indeed. Then we found a notice saying there was a free movie at a cinema down the road. So it was that Ella and I ended up watching the ’57 Hammer classic The Abominable Snowman, starring Peter Cushing, in the foyer of a cinema with one other guy and the cinema staff. Peter Cushing is even more dashing with a Spanish voice.


Ella is gone, and I strike out alone for Toulouse tomorrow. From the calls I’ve made, everywhere seems full. Will I find a bed? Will I survive? Don’t touch that dial.


Jocularity from the UKers in the hostel after the All Black´s big loss in the rugby test to England. Hope all of you back home are staying indoors until the riots have ceased.


[waybackmachine link to original]

[morgueatlarge] Back in Barcelona. (Okay, with another flashback, but I need to.)

I didn´t talk about Barcelona last time I was here, except to say it was great and I was going to come back. Well, I have.


The past few emails you´ve probably noticed I´ve been mentioning this person called Ella that seems to be in all the same places I am. The reason is we´ve been travelling together for the last couple of weeks. She´s Canadian, which (as those who know my history will know) is an instant bonus point, and she´s a writer, which earns another. She, like all the best people, is capable of being utterly absurd and deeply profound, often within minutes of each other, and with complete sincerity for both. (I´m even stealing from her in saying that.)

She’s a Winnepegger. She has long brown hair. (Clear enough mental image for you?) And she´s become a fantastic friend very very quickly. She´s been supporting me through emotional rollercoasters and a nuisance of a cold (which is now all but gone, thanks for asking) and she´s generally an amazing person.

But, in terms of the stories I am telling you, there´s one thing you should remember: she speaks French and Spanish, and she could get by in Portugal as well. The deal is, she´s the translator, I´m the bodyguard. (Stop laughing. Stoppit. Yes, I know, I know. Look, she´s much better at her job than I would be at mine, but I figure I can play the odds on this one a few more days. Just shhhhh. She thinks I know kung fu.)

So we´ve gone to some places I would never have gone to alone. I´d like to take this opportunity to publicly give the big big ups to Ella.


Anyway, so I´m back in Barcelona. Yesterday Ella and I went to see the Sagrada Familia (my third time, still amazing) and Parc Guell (my second time, still amazing). I had been craving getting back to the Park – it´s my favourite place in the city, I think, even knowing that the city is full of great places. The last time I was there I didn´t get to linger as much as I would have liked…

…cue flashback music, go to black and white…

(1) morgue wandering around Barcelona with two reasonably normal looking American guys of a similar age to he… VOICEOVER: …because I´d fallen in with some jumped-up crazy punk rock guys from Fargo, Shipley and Mark.

(2) Mark stroking his beard and thinking about Amsterdam… VOICEOVER: they´d seen some interesting things on their travels

(3) Shipley lifting up his t-shirt and rubbing his nipple, apparently while dancing, as onlookers regard him, appalled. SFX: that “its getting hot in here” song VOICEOVER: and picked up some interesting habits

(4) The trio in montage at Pârc Guell, past the amazing works of Gaudi, strange pillars, crosses on a panoramic lookout, the steps with the colourful lizard, the corridor that looks like you´re inside a cresting wave, and more, faster and faster and faster, intercut with Shipley looking more and more uncomfortable. VOICEOVER: but the real problem was the quart of juice Shipley sucked down at the wrong time.

(5) Montage goes past faster and faster until it´s just a blur and suddenly CRASH CUT to still shot of Mark and morgue hanging around outside the toilet. The door opens, Shipley comes out, shaking his head. He pauses, looks thoughtful, turns around, goes back inside. (Astute observers will note that Mark looks somehow gleeful.)

(6) Different shot. Still waiting outside the toilet. VOICEOVER: the gates were opened, so to speak.

…end flashback, back to colour…

So. This time, Ella and I were careful with our food and drink, and we were fine. It´s a stunning place. We could have lingered for a long time. I´d like to think, if I was a local, I´d go there often. Places like this shouldn´t ever be taken for granted.

Barcelona keeps opening up new possibilities. I could stay a lot longer, but the road onwards is beckoning.


Shout outs to my amigos from Fargo, who I have shamelessly mocked for purposes of your amusement.


[waybackmachine link to original]

[morgueatlarge] Flashback to Lisbon

First, Leon followers might remember this from an earlier email:

“Leon has headed off on his own, back to London… He´s going to try and get things going in the theatre scene, and with a bit of effort and a pinch of
good luck I´m sure doors will start opening.”

Well, he´s now working backstage on this thing Ken Branagh is directing. So. Now you know. (The show is called ´The Play What I Wrote´, check out
http://www.theplaywhatiwrote.com/ for more info.)



Second, while Percy´s funeral was occurring back home I was wandering the streets of Barcelona alone. I was pretty tired from travelling, and I´d been in a bar with some new hostel friends, and then I just wandered a bit. And I ended up checking my email, and received a flood of messages from people who´ve been reading these emails. And it was actually a really important thing for me. So thanks.


Third, because email has been so bitsy and inconvenient and quite frankly I’ve had other things on my mind, I´ve given pretty scattershot coverage of the last several weeks.

Here´s a flashback.

I stayed in Lisbon until Thurs Oct 24. You´ll recall I wanted to see fado, but ended up eating pizza and watching a video with Lisbon native Tanya and hostel-friend Amund. Well, my local contact Rui decided he was going to do something about that, and two nights later he mustered his compadre Ricardo and they went to meet me at the hostel, as arranged by email the day before.
The problem, of course, was that I had completely screwed up what day I was doing what and had in fact crashed out in bed when he arrived. Rui and Ricardo sat in the bar for what must have been hours waiting for me and finally sent the guy at the desk up to knock on my dorm room door. Guys at hostel desks don´t normally do that kind of thing, but there you go.
(Actually, the guy at the Rome hostel kept running messages for me as well.
Maybe I´m a bad hostel guest.)

So I´m just starting to drift off to sleep and there´s a knock and the door opens and the guy says there´s some people downstairs, and I jump out of bed and get dressed and run down, and along the way I realise what I´ve done ´- lost track of what day was what. There was a rogue Munsday in there that threw out my calculations, I guess. (Munsday = that day of the week that either should exist or accidentally does.)

So, Rui and Ricardo are astonishingly gracious, and won´t even hear my
abject apologies and general feeling of foolishness, and we jump in
Ricardo´s car and head down to Alfama. Alfama is the real old town of
Lisbon, the part that survived the 1755 earthquake (hope my date is right
Rui). It´s a hillside crammed with tall and narrow lanes and tiny squares,
honeycombed with small bars and restaurants, full of atmosphere. We enter this little fado bar and order a beer each and sit. There´s hardly anyone in the place. Things get weirder when three of the clientele reveal
themselves to be the musicians and singer by ending their break and taking
the floor. And then they began. There were two guitarists, one playing a
conventional instrument and the other a portugeuse guitar, and the singer. He was an older man, immaculate in suit and tie, holding himself very straight, and he sang and they played and it was amazing. Throughout I was reminded of the flamenco singer I´d seen in Barcelona and his dishevelled
appearance, his movement, the wildness in his song. This couldn´t have been more different, and yet the same in so many ways, deep expressions of
profound sadness, heartwrenching emotion, laying out the truth of life. Rui
and Ricardo said that it was an example of the difference in character between the Portuguese and the Spanish.

The musicians took a break. Rui and Ricardo told me about the history and
importance of fado and soon the musicians returned, this time with a young man singing (yet another of the audience transformed into performer), his voice full and rich, technically brilliant, although perhaps his heart wasn’t old enough to have learned the sorrow of his colleague.

And all of this to Rui, Ricardo, myself, two other locals, and the bar staff.

Astonishing. I recall Tanya´s words from when I was asking her about her nation and culture – “we are a sad people”.


Thanks Rui and Ricardo. And I better also point out that the only impression I´ve given of Tanya is ´don´t waste your time with Fado, eat pizza instead´, which isn´t a very good picture. She was full of love for her country and full of insight about what was around us, and it was thanks to her that Ella and I made our way north from Lisbon to Geres, land of the giant slugs – but that´s another flashback.



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[morgueatlarge] a train ride

I’m in San Sebastian. There is a beautiful whitesand beach and the sun’s
coming in like it wants to see what’s going on. Not much is, there’s only a
few people, the season is off but the weather’s still on. It’s a nice place
to sit and think.

In the first minutes of All Saints Day my grandfather, Percy Patrick Geddes,
passed away.

He’s one of the reasons I’m travelling. Growing up, it seemed to me that he’d been everywhere there was to go. He and my grandmother Felice drove all over New Zealand, all over Europe, to so many places. I was always finding out about more places he had seen and I’m sure there are plenty more that I still don’t know about. He loved to travel.

He was a great grandfather and a great friend and a great role model. I guess I idolised him without even realising it. He did living the way it was meant to be done.


So I was sitting on the train on the other side of the world from my family and I’m feeling every mile of the distance. I love to travel by train, and that’s another thing I get from Percy, railways man with the train set in the garage; I love to feel the carriage rock, love seeing the scenery scrolling past. The trip from Leon to San Sebastian goes through barrens, wide swathes of brown with low hills scattered with deep green, the sky thin
and grey. I was remembering all the things there are to remember and
feeling the ride carry me forward, a bit overconfused, a bit down, and I
began to wonder if I could even call the image of him to mind.

As if in answer, I suddenly saw him right in front of me, sitting on the seat ahead and facing me, smiling, wearing his thick coat and his hat and smiling that way he smiled. It was incredibly vivid, like my brain was
slapping me upside the head for being so foolish: of course you can remember him!, it said to me, look! And my imagined Percy grinned at me, nodding agreement.

It felt good.


Family, I’m thinking of you.
Friends, thanks for the support, especially Cal and Billy and Ella-on-the-spot.
I’m getting on, and travelling. The last thing I said to my grandfather before leaving new zealand was that I was following in his footsteps. I didn’t say this bit, but I meant not just around the world, but in life. Because, like I said, he did living the way it was meant to be done.

Take care everyone. We are a beautiful place.


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[morgueatlarge] Apologies if you’ve tried to reach me

I received a 1.5meg spam that disabled my account, and only just now cleared it.


I´m still in Portugal. There are some good stories to be told, such as the Andrew three-peat, the exciting trip to the wrong Geres, the giant slug, and the night I saw Fado despite a very high level of personal incompetence (thanks Rui!).

But I am not going to tell these stories now.

Because I have a cold.



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[morgueatlarge] Local culture in Lisboa

A bigger picture, now that I have a chance.

I´ve been in Portugal for a week and a half now. I like it a lot. I´ve been through the back roads with Badal and Devamani, and down on the touristy beaches of Lagos to decompress from life and tan up, and also in the big city of Lisboa. This city is so comfortable for me I can´t quite believe it.

Leon has headed off on his own, back to London (with a side trip to Paris thrown in). He´s going to try and get things going in the theatre scene, and with a bit of effort and a pinch of good luck I´m sure doors will start opening. Go Leon, my friend, go!

Yesterday I went back out to Belem. I´d seen the sights there before with Dean and Kerry and Leon, but this time I went with Ella the Canadian who came up with me from Lagos. The Monastery in particular was stunning, and it was something we´d skipped on our last visit. Truly an amazing place.

Again, I´ve found the structure of these places to be the greatest education about past ways of living – being in a classical monastery creates understanding about what it was to be a monk, walking the terraces and contemplating the richly symbolic decorations that covered almost every
surface, all different, all elaborate. The tiny confessionals that backed on to the church, and the long refectory, were also evocative of another way of life. I feel I could have been a 15th century monk, actually, if the opportunity had arisen. Additional bonus – Fernando Pessoa, the poet I mentioned in an earlier email, is entombed in the monastery. His small, elegant monument is marked with quotes attributed to three of his alter egos.

I had no idea this was there, and was very pleased to find it.

Anyway, the header of this email is ´local culture in Lisboa´, so you know I must have experienced some. After Belem, Ella and I went to see Amund the Norwegian´s new apartment, a very handsome place on the second floor of a building in Graca district, just over from historic Alfama. It´s right
above a tiny pentecostal church full of clapping and histrionics. He lives there with two young Portuguese women, one of whom was there last night, Tanya (spelling may be incorrect, but that´s how it was said). THe goal of the evening was to seek out some Fado, the local Portugeuse music, a kind of lilting, structured singing build around heartfelt sadness.

Well, Tanya discouraged us from checking out Fado, and we ended up renting a video and eating pizza as the rain came down outside. (The video was ´The Others´, which at least has a Spanish-speaking director.)
Then she threw on some of her monty python tapes. Then we went home.

Viva local culture in all locales!

I´m going to be in Lisbon for a few more days. Then onwards to some new

I´m not exactly homesick, but I am constantly reminded of all the wonderful people at home, family especially. Thinking of you all.

morgue (who still intends to check out Fado)

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