For weeks, we´d been admiring the work at the community art gallery. So when we found out that many local artists welcomed visitors to their studios, we were keen to go (as they´d say here).
On this fine summer day we traversed the island, visiting studios tucked in the village, perched over vineyards, overlooking the sea, and nestled in the bush. It was fascinating to enter the work spaces (all so different!), meet the artists (equally eclectic), and see all the creativity that this place has directly or tangentially inspired. Here are a few of the people we met.
Many people ask us how we´re able to work and be productive in the midst of a big vacation. Well, the secret is this: by creating a dedicated work space that is organized, ergonomic and physically removed from all hedonistic temptations.
Here, for the first time, is a photo of the place where all 2H activity has taken place during the months of December and January. (Note: We´re still waiting for the Aeron chairs to arrive.)
NZ dairy is a big international enterprise, and ice cream is the national prize. In fact, Kiwis are the world´s #2 per-capita-consumers of the sweet stuff.
They empty the freezers of the corner food shops (called dairies), whose exteriors are emblazoned with colorful ice-cream logos. They argue about the best brand and flavor. (Our son favors a concoction called Hokey Pokey.) And they come running when they hear the happy sound (Ta ra rah Boom-dee-yay!) of the ice cream truck that plies Waiheke´s streets and beaches daily. (P.S. The #1 per-capita ice-cream consumption nation? U.S.A.! U.S. A.! U.S.A.!)
We´ve been delighted to find that live music often fills the air here. Whether it´s a young girl´s recorder warbling “Greensleaves” at the Saturday morning market, or the Plastic Paddies leading the crowd through “Cockles & Mussels” at Molly Malone´s, you can stumble upon harmonious scenes most anywhere.
This is a welcome change from Italy, our trip´s other primary placement. There, we´re told, live musicians must pre-register, pay a tax, and answer to a copyright official who patrols performances. It´s doubly sad because Italy is one place where people commonly carry guitarsÑand can sing along to opera on the radio. Here, making a joyful noise is still legal. Alleluia!
A month ago, we met James the Gardener. Today, we introduce you to another Waiheke resident, a local artist who creates and sells his works at a main street studio/shop called Jade Jade Jade. The shop is always busy. And his pieces are so distinctive that wearing one turns out to be a great way to meet people on the island.
Interview: Bob the Artist
Q: Every time I come into your shop, there are new pieces. How many do you make? A: I make about six big pieces—that can each take up to a month—each year. Then I make about five smaller tems each week, plus an occasional quite small and cheap—for the marketplace.
Q: Most of the smaller pieces are pendants that people wear; do you think of them as jewelry? A: No, they´re little sculptures. They´re ideas that hang. I´m not really interested in decoration, and don´t really understand the world of jewelry.
Q: I´ve noticed that a lot of people in New Zealand wear jade. Why? A: Mostly because of the Maoris, our native people, and their traditional use of it. To them, jade is the most valuable treasure. It´s the touchstone for their ancestors, and embodies the manna of their people.
Q: Is that true elsewhere? Or with any other stone? A: It´s more true with jade than any other stone. And it happens in China, Europe, and Central America.
Q: What do you think makes jade so extraordinary? A: It´s so durable they made axes with it in Neolithic times. And time has made it special. Jade is metamorphic, and goes through transformations you can see. There´s a story and history in each rock; it´s slow, fast, pure, and corrupt.
Q: How do you create your pieces? A: Sometimes I start with an idea and sometimes the idea finds me. Each rock determines it, really. I have to find the story. It´s always a challenge. And the finished product is never as good as the primary idea.
Q: Is there a particular type of person who buys or wears jade?
A: Not at all. Even businessmen in Auckland wear them under their suits. It has nothing to do with their culture, wealth, or age.
Q: What do you think it means to people? A: People wear it as a talisman. It´s a token of one´s connection with the earth, and of a migratory, nomadic people.
Q: What do you mean? A: New Zealand was last place on earth to be colonized—the end of the line. When you live here, that imbues your sensibility. Jade is a way of finding commonality with our people back to the first Polynesians.
Q: How does that affect the forms you make? A: Jade carving is the quintessential art of expressing that. I seek dynamic forms—curvilinear, infinite, open, and not tied down.
Q: Do you think your customers understand that? A: I think so. I insist that the buyer knows what I was intending. That sounds egocentric, and I don´t mean it that way. Most people respond to the pieces and can´t even articulate why. But something touches them and they open up.
Q: Is that one of the perks of your job? A: Very much so. I get to see what rhythms move people. It´s not immediate; it´s a spiritual thing—in the hearts of the people.
Q: Which gets back to jade helping people find a connection with the earth? A: Yes. On the surface, it´s part of an environmental movement here. But I think it runs deeper. It´s part of our essence, and it´s coming back after fading for a while due to pressure from the American culture.
Q: What do you think might be the essence of American culture? A: America is full of hope, always has been. But unfortunately, the way that´s presented now is materialistic hope.
Q: How do you stay inspired to do this every day? A: If I´m going to spend a day or two on one piece, I need an idea—a good one. This is my way of reverence, of praying. What I do is quite monkish, really. So my body looks after itself, and I almost never lose interest or get tired.
Q: Have you always lived on Waiheke? A: No, I was brought on across the way on the mainland. On the beach, really. Waiheke was on the horizon—where the moon came up.
Q: So how´d you end up here? A: I´d been living and working in the city. The jobs weren´t working out, including one at the City Art Gallery. I couldn´t subject my children to the corruption and pretension of that world. So we came here.
Q: The art world was not for you? A: Not at all. After I left, I didn´t visit a gallery or pick up an art book for 25 years. I do now. But I still have a distaste for the arty-farty world.
Q: Is this a better place to raise children? A: Oh, yes. There is an enormous wonder throughout your life when your childhood is close to nature. I can´t imagine the emotional loss for children brought up in an apartment.
Q: And how´d you end up doing jade? A: I had studied some sculpture, years ago. But when someone gave me some jade, I didn´t have to learn. I was making pieces within six weeks. I think I´d been waiting a long time.
Q: And I´ve kept you from your work for a long time. Thanks for sharing. A: My pleasure. Enjoy your jade.
Minnesota is a darn nice place. It´s about as ecologically enlightened and civically savvy as American states come. But to the best of our knowledge, MN hasn´t yet taken a forward stand against the ubiquitous problem of doggie doo-doo in parks and public places.
Oh sure, there are laws and signs. But clean and green New Zealand takes it a step further. And the packs of dog-masters happily obey. Now, if we could only get the horsey-set to acquiesce!
We don’t have a car here, so we rely on taxis, buses, bikes, and our own six feet to get around. That’s okay. The island is small, we’re close to the main village, and one of the reasons we are here is to take a vacation from driving.
But on this particular sunny day, we decided to rent a jeep and see a bit more of Waiheke. This island is about the size of Manhattan—maybe ten miles by four miles, with lots of crags and bays. About 8,000 Kiwis live here; maybe 25,000 at the peak of the summer season. More than half of it is virtually undeveloped, and more than that is virtually useless. They’re in no hurry to dig into the future here. And of course, New Zealand ain’t exactly lacking for land. Thus the vast vistas everywhere. Here are some of the sights from our all-day tour.
Never before in our travels has the US dollar been as strong as it’s been on this trip. Never mind the free-falling NASDAQ. Forget about a plummeting economy. The dollar has been stalwart. Which means that everywhere we’ve gone, our bucks have gone farther. This was definitely the case in Italy, where we could splurge at restaurants and wine shops because the favorable exchange rate made delicacies delightfully cheap. It’s also true in New Zealand, where their dollar has descended to 10-year lows.
It’s funny, because prices here look much the same as at home—on menus, in boutiques, in real estate ads, and on grocery store stickers. Except that the NZ dollar is worth about 43 cents! Which means that most everything costs less than half what it does at home. To top it off, tax is always included in the price. And in restaurants, the tip’s included too! Thus we can visit our favorite nearby establishment, Vino Vino, and dine on filet mignon, garlic mash potatoes, roasted vegetables, and an herbal pesto for $10—while the fine wine lists runs from $10-25. It’s served with earnest smiles and breathtaking views. In total, three of us consume all the courses and drinks we can handle for about $50. At home in a comparable place, that might float one person. Might.
So you can understand if we occasionally get carried away—and buy things we aren’t sure we even need simply because they’re irresistibly affordable. Like the roadside goods shown here.
When we meet people, they invariably ask us where we´re from. We say “the United States” and sometimes they´re content with that answer. Other times they want to know more. So we say “Minneapolis, Minnesota.” This is usually met by a blank look or perhaps a perplexed smile.
So, if prompted, we begin an explanation that may include one or more of the following descriptive statements:
It´s in the very middle of the country, in the far north.
It´s next to Canada.
The closest big city is Chicago.
We have more than 10,000 lakes, including Lake Superior, one of the world´s largest.
The Mississippi River originates in our state.
It´s the home of Hercules (the TV series was filmed in NZ, so actor Kevin Sorbo is considered a big star here).
It´s the home of Prince.
It´s the home of Aveda.
We have the largest shopping mall in the world—and it has a roller coaster inside!
Our winters are long and cold and it snows a lot.
Guys from our town invented RollerBlades and Magnetic Poetry (both commonly found in NZ)
It´s the place depicted in the movie Fargo.
No, we don´t really talk (quite) like that. But those hats with earflaps? You betcha!
They speak English here. That was one big reason we chose New Zealand for the longest leg of our journey. Having settled before in places where English is not a first or even second language, we favored the chance to exercise literacy, converse completely, and minimize sign language.
It was a smart decision; we feel more connected and less dumb. But dialects are thick here, from the Scottish brogue of South-Island Kiwis to ex-Brits that can sound like Cockneys or the Queen. And then there are the Aussies and Maoris and Asians and Islanders. Still, we stand out. Ours is American-English with peculiar lingo. So conversational obstacles are commonplace.
For example, on my second day here I ordered lunch at Salvage, a trendy cafeteria hangout. The conversation went something like this.
ME: Good morning. HE: G´day, mate.
ME: I see there´s “kuh-MOO-ra” in this; what´s that? HE: Excuse me?
ME: Can you tell me what “kuh-MOO-ra” is? HE: Don´t think so. Don´t believe we have any of that.
ME: Well, the sign here says there´s “kuh-MOO-ra” in this. HE: Oh! Righty-oh. That´s “KOO-muh-ruh,” mate. A local sweet “po-TAH-to.”
ME: OK, great! And what´s that it´s in? HE: That´s a “slauce.”
ME: A “slauce?” What´s a “slauce?” HE: It´s like a big, square quiche that we cut into “slauces.”
ME: Oh, sure. I´ll have a “slauce,” please. And the sign says it´s got “bacon” in it, but we´d call that “ham.” HE: “Homm?” Hmmm. Fancy a “bah-ROON-uh” with that. Our local “BEE-ya.”
ME: Yes, please. So THAT´s how it´s pronounced! Just a small. HE: Only got one “saze.” That´s “ite” dollars.
ME: Wow. About $3.20 at home. The beer alone would cost that much! Here. HE: Would it, then. But that´s only a “FOI-vuh.”
ME: Oh, sorry. Here´s a ten. Keep it. HE: No worries. (handing back $2 coin)
ME: No, this is for you. (pushing coin back at him) HE: Ah! Good on ya, mate! Ta!