Wednesday 30 October 2019

Murders, movies, meatballs and media

Depressed and cynical and jaded as we all are these days, with 2016 having been such an awful year in so many ways that we couldn't wait to get to 2017, which turned out to be worse, ditto 2018, ditto 2019 and so, presumably, on... Progressively, dramatically dreadful as these years have been, there were - surprise! - others further back that were pretty eventful too. I was reminded of that today, over a long, sociable, delicious and sunny lunch at Baduzzi (venison meatballs!), hosted by Silversea. It was their annual catch-up with media here, most of them editors, plus me, to tell us about their new ships and new destinations and new themes.

The MD began by reminding us that it is Silversea's 25th anniversary this year, and asked us what we remembered of 1994. Well, personally, it was my first year back in NZ with my English-born family, but beyond that, I was stuck. Turns out quite a lot of big things happened, from the Rwanda genocide to the beginnings of 'Friends' and 'ER'. OJ Simpson did his slo-mo car chase, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, there was warfare in Sarajevo, Chechnya and the Persian Gulf, Fred and Rosemary West were charged with 12 murders at Gloucester's House of Horrors (including that of their poor daughter Heather, who I'd taught at Hucclecote School a few years previously, along with her siblings Mae and Stephen). 

Better things happened too. I really should have remembered, having so recently been there, about the ceasefire in Northern Ireland. Mandela was elected president of South Africa, the Channel Tunnel opened and Eurostar started up, Amazon was launched. We lost John Candy and Fanny Craddock, but gained Justin Bieber (maybe not really a gain). It was a big year for movies: Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Lion King, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Once Were Warriors, Speed. Playstation arrived.

And here in Auckland, we had a water shortage and I stopped, forever after, leaving the tap running while I brushed my teeth. (Plus, less positively, I will never forget 'If it's yellow, let it mellow - if it's brown, flush it down'.)

Meanwhile, back in Italy, Antonio Lefebre d'Ovidio founded Silversea, aiming to set a new standard in luxury small-ship cruising with two purpose-built ships, Silver Cloud and Silver Wind. The latter took me around Ireland and through Tower Bridge a couple of months ago, and is about to be converted to another exploration ship for them, since that's a field that's seeing a lot of growth lately (Antarctica, the Arctic, and Galapagos). Silversea will soon have a total of eleven ships in operation, thanks to the boost the company got from what it likes to call its 2018 'partnership' with Royal Caribbean - though the rest of us are more likely to term it a takeover, since RC now owns 2/3 of the company.

They boast about visiting 900 ports, more than any other cruise line, and on top of their excellent facilities, food and service, that keeps people loyal. Their regular guests sign up and pay in full as soon as new cruises are announced - unfortunately, since I have my eye on their new Northeast and Northwest Passage routes, between Norway and Nome, Alaska via Greenland, which I would love to do if ever (clearly unlikely) a suite was left empty.
My association with Silversea goes back 10 years, to my first cruise - to China! - in 2009. Since then, I've done six more, and despite the occasional disloyal curiosity about their main rival, Seabourn, would be perfectly happy, delighted in fact, to set sail with them again in order to reach my own personal 25 goal - of Silversea stories published, that is (I'm up to 24...)

Sunday 27 October 2019

Journalistic integrity v famil-iarity

Selective memory. It's a phrase that's usually said with a bit of a sneer, isn't it? Raised eyebrow perhaps, a sense of 'pft'. Certainly, it casts suspicion over what's been described by - always - some other person. Which makes it all the more odd, that people bother to read the travel sections of newspapers and magazines, because without exception (and I speak with authority here) the experiences described in those stories are never truly factual.

The weather, the food, the locals, the scenery, the architecture: to read these stories, you would think that the writers are celebrating some Disneyesque Technicolor marvel where everything went smoothly and it was all unalloyed enjoyment from triumphant breakfast Bircher muesli to sinking into a silk-covered, lavender-scented goose down pillow at the end of a day filled with delight. Well, pft.
Case in point: my story in today's paper about the Silversea Aegean cruise I went on a few years ago. Everything in it is correct; but there's an awful lot missed out, or glossed over. Mostly it's tedious group-travel stuff, like queues and waiting and irritating fellow passengers; some of it is personal - bad mood, crabby partner, headaches, sore feet and not enough sleep. The weather was initially disappointing, there were ugly ports, litter and graffiti, crowds, beggars and smells. And, though this would only apply to travel writers, there's the lack of novelty, the here-we-go-again thing, jaded and jaundiced and totally missing what used to be the thrill of getting all this stuff for free.

Some of those criticisms are in my blog here; all of them are in my notebook. But very few of my disappointments got into the story, so at this point you would be justified in feeling cynical and accusing me of deliberately selective memory, as above, my journalistic objectivity having been bought off by the provider of the famil. 
The thing is, though, what I've done in this story is what everybody does, after a holiday. Nothing ever goes totally smoothly, there are always bad days, bad moods, bad weather; but once we're home, unless something went dramatically wrong (like dislocating a shoulder, for example...) we only focus on the good bits. And those are the ones we tell people about, and, in the end, are all that we genuinely remember ourselves.

Selective memory is a good thing, actually, in a much more general sense. The human race would have gone extinct without it; because what woman, with an undimmed memory, would ever submit a second time to giving birth?

Wednesday 23 October 2019

No go Orego(n)

Arriving, as ever, too early for my event in the city yesterday, I did at least have a novelty way of filling in my time: gawping at a huge fire. It seems a - presumably careless - workman with a blowtorch set alight the bitumen and straw roof insulation of the $700 million SkyCity Convention Centre that's been being built for ages now, and was meant to be the venue for, amongst other things, the APEC summit in 2021. That now seems unlikely since the blaze has currently been raging unchecked for 24 hours despite the best efforts of the fire service, who still haven't been able get it under control. Bit of a Towering Inferno scenario, it seems, not helped by winds gusting up to 50km/h, though there are 100 firefighters doing their best.

I couldn't get very close, of course, especially since, with unprecedented common sense, I stayed carefully upwind of the smoke (turns out it's pretty nasty), but could still see clouds of it billowing up into the sky, and gushing waterfalls from the roof of the building next door. It must have been deeply frustrating for TVNZ, who have had to evacuate their nearby building; and for all those drivers trying to get home in the evening rush hour.

And then I went off to my event, remembering the only other major conflagration I've seen, which happened on my first night in Copenhagen back in 1980. Going to bed pleased with having seen a Great Dane in the street (on this same trip I'd not been able to tick off a Siamese cat in Thailand, nor a Burmese in Burma), I was woken in the night by an enormous explosion. Rushing to the window, which fortunately faced in the right direction, I saw bright orange flames leaping up into the air from a building not far away across the city, and heard the sirens from engines converging on the fire. Even minutes later, debris was still dropping from the sky.

At breakfast next morning, we found that the ground-floor windows of the hotel, and surrounding buildings, had been blown in - and that the explosion had happened at a soya bean processing factory. Dramatic stuff. It also made me come to terms with post-bean consumption farting, subsequently.

The event was a Travel Oregon promotion, theme 'Oregon Slightly Exaggerated' with an early Halloween overlay (no, of course I didn't dress up (few did) - though as a token effort I wore an orange cardigan with my black trousers). I haven't been to Oregon, but would like to go. Its quirky image. especially for Portland, has been strongly promoted here and has certainly seen results, with a big surge in visits from this part of the world. But I didn't win a free trip in the business card lucky draw, so don't hold your breath.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Pollyanna lives

One of the - no, actually, the only advantage of having my travel restricted this year is that, being forced to root through old material to produce new stories, I've revisited, mentally at least, some gorgeous places. And really, I've been very very lucky to have been able to go to so many, and I should be grateful and stop hankering after auroras and suchlike (but I won't).
The most recent effort was about the Bay of Fires in Tasmania - it's billed as a four-day walk, but really it's barely two, and it's along a beach so it's eminently do-able. But what a beach! Well, beaches: a series of brilliant white silica sand empty beaches, bookended by heaps of rounded granite boulders dusted with a bright orange lichen that only grows in the purest air (and Tasmania has the purest in the world, they reckon - hard to disagree, even as a Kiwi).
It's all very sustainable - accommodation in floored tents and a substantial lodge, all of them dropped in by air, off-grid, solar-powered, with composting toilets etc. But there's no roughing it: Matt, one of the guides, humped in salmon to barbecue for our first dinner, and even an ice-bucket to chill our wine. That first night was a bit more basic, with no showers (hot water supplied for washing) but the next two, at the lodge, were really comfortable, and the food was brilliant, from the rhubarb and cinnamon cake for afternoon tea when we arrived, to the spinach eggs en cocotte for the final breakfast.
There was no foot massage then, though, which lying Matt encouraged us with the prospect of when we were fading a bit towards the end of the 14 kilometres of the second day (Kate got us out of bed the next morning by shouting "Dolphins!" which was another bare-faced lie. Aussies!) - but there is now. Eight years after I was there, they now have a proper spa which I would certainly have visited for the pepper berry pedi-mask and massage.
The only real disappointment was that there were so few guests - just the four of us, two Poms and an Aussie girl, so the company was a bit dull. Also, the Brits were somewhat scathing about how unstrenuous the walk was, which was pretty stupid of them, since it was clearly described as a beach walk. Really, they just wanted us to think of them as proper hikers. Me, I was perfectly happy to stroll along a flat surface, clamber over rocks periodically, wade through a stream and do a bit of bush walking (with added tiger leeches! Well, one, anyway, on someone's sock. Not really a Stand By Me scenario). As a bonus random connection though, the Poms, who live in England, had a friend who lived round the corner from me in NZ - a piano teacher whose house I walked past most mornings.

The scenery made up for the company though, in spades. Not just the beaches and rocks, but also the sea - the Tasman, same one that pounds in, grey and fierce, on West Coast beaches here, but over there it was clear and turquoise and totally gorgeous. Revelation.


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