A Canadian Raccoon In Middle Earth

For anyone who doesn’t know me well, hasn’t followed my Twitter/Facebook or what-have-you in the past few weeks, the above header will be very cryptic indeed. I’m fine with that, simply let it serve as the lesson that you need to read ALL my blog posts in order to bring you up to speed, and generally be more awesome. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

For the remainder of you who DO get my references (hi there, Mom and Dad) you’ll be able to decipher that I am, upon writing this, in New Zealand. This is my fourth trip here, and it’s funny since I’m unable to tell if it’s my attitude that changed and matured as I grew up or that with the onset of globalization that this little oasis finally hit it’s stride and got a really distinct voice and that the whole world is tuning it’s ear to it. Tough to say. But one thing is for sure either one way or the other, this place has a magic to it that you don’t feel anywhere else in the world, and for first time in a long time I’m feeling pretty tranquil.

My first trip down here was when I was seven or eight. I was a city kid and didn’t have much appreciation for the local colour. I was prone to homesickness, missed my house, my own bed, and books. I spent a bulk of my time in what’s now known to tourists as ‘Hobbiton’ but when I rolled in, Matamata was mostly dairy cows, farmers, and big sky. I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t backslid into the 1950′s with all the funny little tea rooms, single-level buildings, and interest in cricket. Of course, my mother despaired when upon arriving, she saw why my bags were so heavy: I’d packed them to the gills with sketchbooks, comic books and so on. I think I brought four pairs of underwear. Clearly, I wasn’t really prepared.

I came back when I was 14, surly, and deeply unpleasant to be around in the throes of adolescence. I was contrary, annoying, and it’d have been a public service to put something lethal into my food. Again, I wasn’t seeing the place for what it was, I was seeing it for what it wasn’t: close to home, near my friends, and endless source of AA batteries for my Walkman so I could pop my headphones in and listen to punk music and drown out the people around me. I’m shocked my folks didn’t dump me off in the southern most part of the South Island, and allow me to be raised by penguins. I would have.

The last time I visited, my folks were living in a different spot in the same area. The were living in a place that had been a marae, a gathering place for the Maori and there were some who were no longer of corporeal form and hadn’t quite gotten the memo. The land was thick with spirits after the sun set, and how my mom ever was able to stay there alone is beyond me. To think of her in that huge house on an isolated hill with all of that there STILL makes me skin crawl to think about it. Haunted house aside, something was starting to take hold. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy had launched a new type of fledgling fantasy tourism and more and more people seemed to be taking note.

Present day. My folks have since relocated, been working on a little patch of earth and I’ve had the first time off in two years. Time to recalibrate. In the four years since my last visit to this part of the world, my perspective has shifted a little bit more. I’m a little older, a little wiser. I’ve finally begun to appreciated the diverse beauty of this place. I feel the Kiwis are also kind of coming into their own, gaining notoriety not just among the D20 roller of the LOTR world, but making waves in the culinary/wine world, the arts (hello, World Of Wearable Art, anyone?) but most of all a strange affinity for the culture here. It’s a strange mashup of Canadian (helpful and friendly) European (arts and culture based) and British (common place Commonwealth things) but all somehow uniquely their own. They will not smack you or roll their eyes if you mistake them for Aussies. Just smile and correct you, then start a conversation about where YOUR from and your off from there. Green and gorgeous, yeah. It’s like that.

For a kick, I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in the theatre. I figured if I’m going to watch it, where better to see it in the place it was filmed and in Peter Jackson’s home country. It made perfect sense. All the while I was watching it, my brain was filing where each scene was shot, the cinematography and just the overall spirit of the country where my rump was now resting and my eyeballs were was taking this all in. Upon leaving the theatre, if I had seen this at home, I’d just be going back to drinking whiskey, or walking down Granville Street or through Chinatown. But here, where I was right now, after leaving the theatre, I would be walking back out into Middle Earth. It made the movie so much more of an experince for me rather than just a viewing that I almost want to come back to see the other two installments here.

After seeing the movie I wanted to stand up, turn around and address the theatre. I wanted to say to the audience, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is YOUR country!’ with a golf clap and a grin as big as any Hollywood ingenue accepting her first Oscar. If anyone asks me what New Zealand is like who have never been, I can only shrug. It’s Middle Earth. It’s competely like nothing else. It’s┬átikanga Maori. It’s something that needs to be experinced. And it feels kind of like home.

As if that’s not enough, the Air New Zealand safety video is cute and clever and actually made me pay attention to the briefing which I have not done in twelve years. For real. You can check it here…

Haere ra


Little Miss Risk

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