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Friday, September 22, 2006

Back

She’s flying over Wellington harbour,
Oriental Bay is standing there in the sunlight,
And they're playing a tape for the landing,
Speed bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward the sailors cry,
No, She didn’t want to stay there,
She's on her flight,
She'll be standing on the same ground as we are,
Tomorrow night

Tomorrow night (Harry Sinclair/Don McGlashan)

Well those lyrics aren't quite correct. For starters I’m not a girl, we approached from the south (i.e. not over Oriental Bay), and the song was Green Onions (though not the Booker T and the MGs version). Apart from that I like this song (Tomorrow Night by the Front Lawn) for homecomings.

It reminds me about New Zealand in a strange way. Like the last time we came back from Europe we marvelled at just how good pineapple Frujus are (very, very good). This time the revelation came at Christchurch airport (where the flight from Tokyo lands). I went to the café near my gate and walked up to the register and had they following conversation:

Girl: Hi there. What would you like?
Me: Could I have a long black and a steak and cheese pie please?
Girl: Sure.
She understood me, it was amazing. The phrase “long black and a steak and cheese pie” means almost nothing overseas, but here in Godzone, by crickey, it holds real weight*. But this is not the event that told me I was home. No, it was the second part of the conversation:
Serving Guy: You want sauce with your pie bro?
Me: Cheers ears
Serving Guy: Good on ya

Damn near brought a tear to my eye that conversation. To me it said “Welcome home Hadyn”. The whole thing would’ve been perfect if the pie and coffee hadn’t been shit.

But enough with the green, green grass of home; let’s talk about foreign lands and peoples.

Like an Oscar speech I need to start with the “thank you”s. Aoife, Steve, Jessamy, Dave and Katie, all of whom were hospitable and helpful beyond compare. Be it for mooching accommodation, taking us to cool bars or just speaking French when we couldn’t, thanks.

* it means “this weirdo drinks coffee with his pies”.

Bar Stories:
On the advice of Mike, we went to the John Snow in Soho. The only pub in the world named after a mathematician, apparently (I think he might actually be some kind of biological-statistician). Either way it’s a good story. Dr Snow mapped the outbreak of cholera in London and realised that it clustered around one particular well pump. He got the pump shut down and the cholera stopped (in the simplified version). It proved that cholera was a waterborne pathogen and opened up a whole new branch of biological science. Wicked. The pub sits on the site of the original pump (so don’t order a water) and a replica pump was placed down the road a bit. Note: the street was originally Broad St, but the name had “wick” added to it to distinguish from the many other Broad Streets in London.

I wrote about our best bar experience in Paris at Bob Cool. What I didn’t mention is that we went out drinking every night in Paris. We actually had a local bar called Petit Soleil. It can be seen behind the metro station in the photo to the right. On our first night we cautiously entered, apologised to the staff for our lack of French (Pardon, je ne pal pas francais) and ordered the easiest thing: Deux Bieres. In France beer comes in two sizes: large and small. We went for large, twice, and then a small one each. A large beer is 750ml, a small is 250ml. And French beer is like Belgian beer, very very nice and very very potent.

As we staggered home we passed a building with the following sign: Centre Opthomologique. I have to say that when you are drunk, the word Opthomologique is the longest word in the world and almost impossible to say. It may also cause you to laugh uncontrollably.

In Japan we didn’t do much in the way of bar-hopping as alcohol is stupidly expensive (NZD$10 for a regular beer) but we did Karaoke. The place was called Big Echo and was in the fashionable Shibuya district. Big Echo is actually a chain store and we found dozens during the next few days. They are multi-storey buildings with dozens of rooms some with windows that look onto the street (the karaoke scene in Lost in Translation was filmed in a place like this). You get your own little room with a couple of wireless mikes and a BIG book of tunes. The trick with karaoke is to be very drunk and so we ordered some $10 dollar beers and got to it. There are photos of what occurred but these are under heavy embargo until, well, forever. In a place like Big Echo it’s hard not to think that the staff have got cameras in the room and are down at the front desk laughing hard at your best Elvis impersonation. Perhaps it’ll show up on YouTube one day.

One last bar story (I didn’t realise I had so many). We were taken by Jess and Dave to The Foundry on Old Street, it’s an arty bar filled with recycled furniture and, well, art. So we get there and are told that the bar has just, this second, closed. “Bloody hell”, I thought, “how uncivilised”. Anyhow, Dave said that we had to see the basement. Down there we discovered a huge spinning floor (lots of fun) and art. Lots and lots of art. Good stuff too. In the other room there was a photography exhibition about mining and a table. Around the table were a small group of people. One of them was a drunken Irishman arguing with a drunken Brit about the Israel Palestine conflict. Very arty.

Tales from the Crypt:
A kiwi we met in Paris said that travelling in Europe was a good place to learn your ABCs. Another Bloody Church/Cathedral/Crypt/Castle. This is the cynical way of saying that Europe (including England) has a boatload of history. Most of it involves blood, and lots of it.

We did a brilliant Jack the Ripper walk through the back streets of Old East London. Moving in and out of the Square Mile we traced the steps of the Ripper with a world expert on the subject who was consulted for the movie From Hell. The old city is so close, claustrophobic and still quite dark in the evening and the walk had a strange ambience about it, very creepy. At £6 each it was possibly the cheapest tourist thing we did and one of the best.

London’s streets seemed to have soaked up a lot of blood and this morbid feeling hangs around emerging in strange events. The Marble Arch was near our first hotel, they found a body under it the first day we were there. The papers are full of people, families, who are murdered by relatives. Advertising hoardings remind the citizens that “knives take lives”, you see Londoners like their stabbings.

It was the mysterious old blood soaked London that interested me. Pagan temples, Masonic rites, secrets, conspiracies, pirates. I went to the Masonic Temple which is near the British Museum. I don’t know what I was expecting but I definitely was NOT expecting a gift shop. Nor guided tours twice daily. Nor photos of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy after party, held in the grand hall. Nor for that matter an exhibit about how the Norwich Karate Club became the Norwich Karate Club and Masonic Lodge. ::Sigh:: Where’s the mystery?

I had dubbed London at one point “The City of the Dead”. We had just been to Westminster Abbey, which is very impressive. But it is also chock full of dead people. Then later we went to St Paul’s Cathedral, again full of dead people. The city of London is also full of the bronze faces of dead people; statues fill every green space and stand at nearly every corner. Plaques on buildings tell you where (famous) people died. The masonry of buildings is often the grotesque faces of demons or worse. Even the boat ride to Greenwich was full of stories of tortured pirates, dismembered corpses and men trapped inside sinking ships.

On the Ripper walk the city seemed to close around you as the guide described how the victims were “cut open from the vagina to the breastbone, her insides taken out and placed over her left shoulder” etc etc. Small talk about the Johnny Depp film stopped after the first description, and there were five victims.

Of the many monuments to the dead in London there were a few that weirded me out. These were the monuments to the British soldiers who died in New Zealand. This is during what we kiwis call The Māori Land Wars. So these were monuments to people who came and killed some of our ancesters. The American who we met in Bob Cool (above) was half Apache and completely understood everytime he saw monuments to those great frontiersmen and leaders like Custer. I don't think it's quite the same but weird nonetheless.

The City of Light (no the other City of Light):
Tokyo blazed at night with neon and LCDs and sometimes just the pure energy of the people. The city buzzed 24 hours a day, and I mean literally, there was no such thing as an empty street. Even after 10pm in Akihabara long after all the shops had shut and the tourists had left, there were still people out on a Monday night drinking or playing video games or pachinko or sitting in internet cafes or playing music on the street or watching music on the street. Tokyo never stops.

Beside one of the stations on Tokyo’s Yamanote line (it might be Ebisu Station, but I can’t remember right now) is an original station that was uncovered in renovations of the new one and restored as a museum. The old station dates back to the late 1800s - early 1900s. The guide book noted that what the Britons use everyday to get to work the Japanese consider an archaeological treasure.

We went to Akihabara for electronics, like veryone else, and so we played the crazy computer games. We quite liked the one where you play traditional Japanese drums to the beat on the screen. We kinda good near the end but not as good as some (like the dude who played both drums at the same time). The also had whole parlours full of those claw-pick-up games. I say with some pride that I was able to win Amy a cute little bear, as all men are required to do for their ladies. It would have been more impressive and masculine if the attendant didn’t have to help me by placing the bear just so and explaining where to place the claw.

Good Eatin’:
Londoners seem to survive on sandwiches. Which is actually quite nice and very British. I’ve never ordered sandwiches in a pub before, and I still haven’t, but I have been there when someone else has. When we thought about it, sandwiches appear frequently in Victorian literature. I know the Sherlock Holmes was always ordering cold meat sandwiches that he could stuff into his pockets.

We also tried a London “Gastro-Pub”. These are pubs with gourmet chefs who try different things with traditional pub meals. We decided on the Anchor and Hope. Amy had puffball (a type of mushroom) and I had lamb shanks. I find it so hard to go past lamb shanks and this came with a spicy tomato salsa and whole olives. But I feel regret that I didn’t go for the roast pigeon.

Tokyo was crammed full of tiny little eateries. They would seat about 10 or so people and came in two types: Skewers (yum) and noodle bars (also yum). Sushi bars were usually of the “sushi train” variety and always had a queue outside at lunch and dinner time, even if other places were open next door. As such we didn’t eat sushi. We did have a goodtime at one skewer place. We acquired a drinking buddy who kept filling our drinks. You see in Japan one cannot pour oneself a drink, it must be poured for you. Good times, even if we don’t all speak the same language.

Paris was easily the best place to eat though and for one good reason: Frites. Or to be more specific, frites applied to hot meat baguettes in order to create: GYROS. Gyros are food from heaven (though they usually come via Greece). It seemed a little bit of a copout that my favourite thing to eat in France was Greek food, but they were SO GOOD! To make a Gyro for yourself follow these steps:

1. Take a real baguette (crunchy outside and soft inside, not the crap ones from New World) and add tomato, lettuce, mayo, hot chicken/lamb/falafel and chilli sauce (if you like chilli sauce)
2. Lightly fry French fries (pommes frites) in olive oil
3. Add frites to baguette
4. Laugh at the sucker not eating a Gyro

They can also be made in pitas, a variant of which my friend got hooked on while travelling around Morocco.

Naturally this wasn’t the only thing I ate in gourmet Paris. On our last night I had rack of lamb with beans and sautéed potatoes and Amy had baby chicken with cheese sauce and salad. Both were excellent as was the wine.

Service:
Is it irony that the only country where you don’t tip had the best service? Both London and Paris has a quiet and subtle type of tipping. Japan, as far as we were aware didn’t. Hence in Tokyo the service was magnificent to the point of being ludicrous and in London and Paris the service was less than exemplary.

I would like to excuse Paris though. In Paris we had a surly waiter who swore under his breath, was rude and took ages to take our (and other people’s) order. I tipped him because goddamit that’s what I want in Paris! Surly waiting staff. In London (and you get this in New Zealand as well) you have people in coffee shops looking at you like you are scum. How dare you ask for help, now give me a tip! To be fair it wasn’t all like that and we actually got some good service (especially in the pubs).

Actually in one pub (perhaps this was another Bar Story) I was yarning to the barmen while I waited to order. One of them was pouring two pints when he turned around, grabbed the lime cordial and poured a dollop in each. “What’s with that?” I inquired. “Takes the bitterness off”, he replied, “Normally the ladies have it, though this time it’s two blokes”. He nodded towards two gents standing at the far end of the bar. I couldn't help but laugh, I didn't want to say that British beer is quite bitter.

Best Dressed:
I’m only going to consider people with taste because every nation and culture has those for whom taste does not exist (for example the Chavs of England). Actually London is a very fashionable town. Even outside Soho and other prettier areas, London has some very well dressed people. I was also most impressed by the suit shops of Old and New Bond St.

Europeans always dress very nicely, hence I felt like a bit of a touristy nob by walking around in a tshirt. One night however I fitted in perfectly. Amy must’ve as well because a Frenchman bowled up to her and began to ask for directions.

Tokyo men have a preoccupation with three piece thin suits and pointy shoes. I love the suits, very rock and roll, but the shoes! Bleck! We went shoe shopping and there was a fella in there trying on some new shoes to go with his (very nice) thin grey suit. The shoes were also grey and had points that must have extended a good 10cm from where his foot ended. He looked like the world’s best dressed pixie. Naturally he bought them after getting the thumbs up from his girlfriend.

Despite all of the warnings about “the giant effect” (being to big for Japanese sizes), we were able to find plenty of things we could fit, and sometimes on sale because they were “strange sizes”. I almost blew our entire trip budet in the second-hand stores of Harajuku. I found a store that made Eyeball Kicks look like Supré. It wasn't easy to walk out with only one item, so we turned around and bought more things.

Conclusion:
I think I can wind it up now. We went to three of the Big Four cities (the only one we missed was New York) and had a brilliant time. I left my baby in London to work and start earning Stirling. But she’ll be back around Christmas. Until then I’ll get back to sports (what have you guys been doing to rugby while I’ve been away!?!).

2 comments:

Gibbs said...

"what have you guys been doing to rugby while I’ve been away!?!"

Ignoring it. Its boring. Totally over the silly ANZ Cup pools and repecharge rubbish. There have been two good games out of about 40. Auckland v Waikato (the draw), and Wellington vs Canterbury (the last ten minutes, 6 of which were minutes in extra time, Boomzing!). And its not just that the All Blacks havent been playing, its just that we have been fed a steady diet of weekly rugby since mid feb. I need time to recharge the rugby batteries. And we still have the ANZ Cup play-offs and final then the Southern hemipshere Teams tour to the Frozen tundra of the Northern Hemi. Don't worry "anonymous" ffeok from a previous Hadyn post, its unlikely Rodney will tour. they'll rest him and his replacement (hopefully Liam Messam) will flatten the his opposite number, whoever he may be.

Jo Hubris said...

//This is during what we kiwis call The Māori Land Wars.

Or some of us who did fifth form history call The New Zealand Wards.