Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hotel California

12 hours is a long time to sit in a 600 mph metal projectile at 35,000 ft. Actually, 12 hours is a long time to sit anywhere. The conditions are not natural in large commercial aircraft, and so even the lure of recent Oscar standouts such as Babel and The Departed could not keep me from sedation and boredom.

However, the Bay Area Rapid Transit is a well thought out enterprise. My daughter and I slipped effortlessly onto a waiting BART train from the airport and arrived in my sisters North Berkeley neighbourhood a bit over an hour after landing in San Francisco direct from Auckland. Not having traveled together for well over a decade, it was full of laughter and fun, and continued through the week as we were shuffled from one party to another around the region in the lead up to the big event - my sisters wedding. Immersed in the not uncommon realm of the lost immigrant son/brother from the New Zealand, I was then totally enthralled by a lovely diverse and eclectic group of nearly 100 friends and family gathered together on a damp coastal Marin winter weekend for the occasion my sister waited 55 years to plan.

And plan she did. As an artist and designer, everything from the invitations to the table setting quotes and accompanying rocks all had her individual touch of class and elegance. The groom-to- be here, after one of many late nights, naps through some last minute details he probably would not have wanted to know about anyway...

After the first venue burnt down unexpectedly a month before the date, there were some severe panic sessions, but eventually all was meant to be. The Olema Inn hosted the reception, and a beautiful home in the Nicasio Valley with some sort of shady link to Jerry Garcia catered the actual ceremony(Marin was home to much of the creative zeitgeist in the heydays of the late 60's and 70's Bay Area).

Everyone from SkyWalker (George Lucas) to PlanetWalker (John Francis) lives there, and many have done a great job in their own way of protecting the area from excess development. remaining as gorgeous and pristine as ever. Pt Reyes has always been a favourite area of Lyn and Ken's, so to have the weekend spread out over a number of different Inns and restaurants was very fitting in the end.

The night before the ceremony, after a lively 80th birthday dinner for my mother,we all went to the local Rancho Nicasio Valley Restaurant, a great local pub in the middle of nowhere, for some fantastic blues by the Lara Price Band. If you have never seen 60 yr old ranchers dancing with their wives next to couples spanning the entire spectrum of, well, everybody, then get on down there... I mean it is like, sooo California.

"West Marin" as it is known, has been on the vanguard of political and social change for many a decade, and the number of hybrid cars per capita must be the highest in the U.S. Just the day before, the Tour of California, the states version of the biggest sporting event on earth, came barreling through and had huge support. My mother was out with thousands of others in her home town just north to cheer them on.

Sebastopol is a small Sonoma County rural town-turned-vineyard-boomer-hippie mecca near Santa Rosa. It borders Marin county, and is north of San Francisco by about an hour. My own university days from the area bring back memories of the many rivers and rustic VW van trips through lush redwood forests to communes in the surrounding expansive countryside. I did manage to attend some classes however, and the beauty in Somoma, Medocino, and Humboldt counties is still as vibrant as ever. My mother is an active resident of the quite liberal artist community here. Although my perspective about this part of California is somewhat tainted by the surge in population after 20 years in the other end of the Pacific, nothing can take away the natural beauty and good intentions of many of the progressive residents.

I was in Sebastopol to get my mom down to the wedding, and get through the maintenance list on her house, which I enjoy. I was also to deliver a gift parcel to a local resident from a friend in Australia.

Naturally, the only place to find her on a Friday would be on the main street corner of town in the weekly peace protest. The opposite corner had some guy with a placard full of pictures of soldiers, and so the giant 4WD pickups honked at him and revved their engines at the Peace Girls. Apparently that is some kind of message of support or otherwise. There were "V" peace sign of 30 years ago as well, and it felt like I was in a bit of a time machine. I posed the question that it could be possible to both support the troops and bring them home, but that irony seemed lost on most.

No visit to the Sonoma area is complete without the Russian River and a local vineyard experience. My mother had a favourite one all planned out, one she had hoped to visit for some time.

Naturally, it had a sculpture walk and meditation hut, amongst beautiful grounds. Highly recommended, Paradise Ridge has the ultimate view over the valley, along with very elegant winery and function facilities.

A cabin on the Russian River had long been a dream for family in the Bay Area, and recently some of them got a little cottage near the town of Healdsburg. It was definitely winter when we stopped by for a visit, but the charm and character is always there, along with the majestic redwoods. It served as a superb day of rest in a hectic week, even though the water levels were quite high. Naturally, it had wireless broadband for us mobile bloggers... Way to go folks!

So, the bride and groom are in Baja warming up for the next stage of their lives, I am back in New Zealand on Waiheke and my lovely Karakia Coast, on the tractor and living as deliberate and purposeful as I am able. This particular Americana group of friends and family have gone their respective ways, and I will look forward to seeing them again soon. All is said and done that will be for the time being, and another chapter is opened..

Best wishes always to Lyn and Ken, and to all who made the occasion what it was - friends, family and whanau from near and far.

Rumi lent words of wisdom during the ceremony, as fitting for marriage as they are for all our own particular journeys through relationship:

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
They’re in each other all along..

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?

If you are one of the many that have absolutely had it with holidays like Valentines Day, you are not alone. Songs for the Dumped, whilst not all that tactful, has found a place in our cultural repertoire at this time of year. My favourite is the title of this post. The list is not exhaustive, but NPR does a good job of making an offering for all those whom this holiday is just a bit smarmy and overdone.

There is certainly no dearth of events, festivals and activities for those in love or not, in New Zealand's all-too-short but spectacular summer. Long holiday weekends seem to be as common as the Vegemite that traditionally accompanies them. Not many seem to care or know much about the history or reasons behind them, but a day off is a day off...

Here on The Rock, we have had the Sculpture on the Gulf, The Waiheke Wine Festival, CultureFest, Little Day In, Outdoor Cinemas, Whakanewa Regional Park Opening, and Waitangi Day and Anniversary Day all in the last month. No one can accuse the planners of not taking advantage of this window they have to lure Auckland visitors out here.

In between that, I am going to squeeze in two weddings, try to grow some good grapes and olives, and be a host to the stream of visitors that are lured to the magnificence that is the Hauraki Gulf.

Sculpture on the Gulf is fast becoming a regular feature on the New Zealand artist trail, and the surroundings could not afford a better backdrop for some of the local talent to showcase their latest works.

I would normally take the walk along the Pohutakawa lined seashore anyway, and to have it so decorated with artworks is just another treat for visitor and resident alike. Air temp 23 deg C, water 20 deg C. The islands long history of catering for and supporting artists continues.

Elsewhere in New Zealand, one of my favourite musicians came to play in one of those outdoor vineyard concerts, and the promoters did not bother to find out enough about Eric Clapton to know he is a non-drinker, and promptly named a vintage of their local drop after him to mark the occasion. Oops.

I just happened to be making a trip up to the US next week, and of course in the only in America file comes this outstanding story of the crazed, in love astronaut driving 900 miles in diapers and weapons in the trunk to deal to her rival for the affection of another astronaut. Do they time these things for Valentines Day, or just write them to boggle the imagination?

Houston, she has problems..

Oh, and let's not forget about the 363 tonnes ($US12Billion) of cash sent to Baghdad shortly after that very well thought out invasion and occupation a few years back. Well, it seems there is precious little information as to where it might have gone, or what it was spent on. Unbelievable really.

Before I have my afternoon nap, I can rest assured I am doing something solid for my heart and my health, according to the latest research in this BBC article. That is the kind of news I like.

Remember Carl Sagan? Yeah me too. Don't worry, he isn't on tour. As it turns out, he passed away about 10 years ago, and his partner/collaborator is giving us another glimpse into his vast understanding of the cosmos and life's origins by publishing some of his most important lectures. In these heated times of God v Science 2.0, his articulate and non threatening belief in the vastness of the universe is a bit of relief. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dry Your Eyes

And it taught us more about living
Than we ever cared to know
But we came to find the secret
And we never let it go

And it was more than being holy
Oh it was less than being free
And if you can't recall the reason
Can you hear the people sing

Right through the lightning and the thunder
To the dark side of the moon
To that distant falling angel
That descended much too soon
And come dry your eyes

Come dry your eyes.

- Neil Diamond

The groom strode purposefully down the beach, head held high with pride and exhilaration. Behind him were best friends from around the globe, and waiting at the hand made alter (see above) were a small and curious group of family and friends. The feet were bare, the eyes became moist, and the sand soft. A light breeze blew along the seashore as he waited patiently for his destiny to appear.

Dad escorted the lovely young bride at the end of a procession which included a pied piper, and bridesmaids, all looking gloriously bedazzled by the occasion, as were many of the witnesses.

This was not an ordinary wedding, but the "union of free spirits", I was told.

And so it was.

The party went on well into the night at the local Boat Club in Russell, fancifully decked out by friends to cover the salt and stodge of the many yachties that pass through this famous portal of the Pacific. When I too,got married in a boathouse in Puget Sound in Washington State, this bride was not even born, and the groom was 9yrs old.

Like so many of these celebrations, it is a time of remembrance, of story, of appreciation, and of family. This story has the immigrant son wandering the globe and landing on an island in New Zealand where his life is changed completely by the people he meets, one of whom he soon marries. Everyone is happy in this moment. And with the tribal drumbeat of our complex relationships to each other, to the earth, and to larger humanity, so continues all of our stories.

Come Dry Your Eyes.