Titirangi Storyteller

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Archive for January 2009

Time Twister

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Sometimes when I am remembering, I am not remembering at all, but creating what has already happened in the past in a new way, a new light, a new version, maybe one I like better, maybe one I like less.  Sometimes when I think I am remembering, I am not thinking of anything at all.  And remembering becomes a state of nothingness, where all is not lost, but I am.

Orphan's cemetery, Blauvelt, New York

Orphan's cemetery, Blauvelt, New York

The line of human interaction is a tenuous one at best.  I think of hearts and minds connecting like the scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where God’s finger connects by electricity to Adam’s as he reaches skyward.  But as God would not use as mundane a force as electricity, neither does the power of hearts and minds.

It is Saturday morning, 10:56, no 10:57.  I was lost for a minute.

Did I ever tell you about the time I decided to become a boy when I was in a foster home when I was four?  I wanted to be a boy with red hair and freckles who could run really fast and climb to the top of the monkey bars and swing fearlessly from the very top.  And when I was a boy I wouldn’t be scared.  And my name was going to be Mikey and I was going to wear blue pants and sneakers and shirt with blue and gold stripes.

When I was bigger, about eight, I wanted to play with the boys so I could say fuck and shit like they did.

I liked Jay Black when I was seven because even though he was a boy, and he was two years older than me, he let me play soldier with him.  And he never asked me to take my pants down.  Not until I was thirteen anyway, after I kissed him.  By the time I was thirteen, I knew better than to take my pants down.  And we were too old to play soldier.  So we had no more in common.

Saturday morning, 11:38.

Minutes tick by irretrievable.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

31/01/2009 at 12:15 pm

Posted in dreams, time, Writing

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Paradise on a White Paper Plate

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A long, long time ago, back when I lived in the USofA, I lived in Rochester, parsells1New York. In a very bad neighbourhood. It was the kind of neighbourhood you read about in the newspaper and no sane person would never ever go there at night what with the crack dealers and prostitutes and parolees of all sorts and all kinds of goings on.

We lived there in a big old Victorian house with an enormous garden, plenty of space for the kids to play – plenty of kids to play with. Our neighbours lived there, too in their rambling old homes. We liked it most of the time. So did they. We liked each other. There were times it was the easiest place on earth to be.

Summer on Parsells Avenue, hot nights steaming, when everybody’d be sitting outside on the front steps, or on the porches, just hanging. Records, all kinds blasting from cheap tinny speakers, rap, salsa, rock’n’roll, soul, funk, sort of like a music salad as you walked down the street to the corner store for a quart size bottle of Wink orColt 45, kids crowding around the counters looking for the perfect five cent ice pop.

Google Earth shot. The white house was mine. It used to be dark green like the neighbour's.

Google Earth shot. The white house was mine. It used to be dark green like the neighbour's.

I loved those nights. People would put up card tables on the sidewalk, playing spades or poker, small stakes to while away the hot night. The young girls cruising by in their little floral dresses, showing way too much, causing more of a fuss than they realised, strutting for the boys, especially the ones with cars,  shiny fast cars. Little kids screaming up and down the street on their hot wheels, careening past the teenage girls and their foolish drooling beaus. Every once in a while one of them would crash, topple over, skin their knee, bump their head. And you’d hear the screams and their mamas would go running to them, picking them up, hushing their cries, drying their tears, and sending them back out for more crazy screaming and careening down he same bumpy sidewalk.

And the babies crawling all over their mamas. One thing about the folks on Parsells Avenue, they loved their babies. I don’t care what you say about how they treat their kids when they get bigger and brattier, but they sure did love them babies. They fussed over those little ones, holding them, passing them around, never letting them cry.

An old white man lived down the street in a rooming house. Nobody knew what was wrong with him. Some said it was oldtimer’s or the syph, or maybe a head wound from the service. Anyway, he was always walking up and down, saying ‘hi’ to everyone, asking their name, counting the trees. He never did remember anything except where he lived. Probably still there, walking up and down the street counting trees.

Those summer nights under the old maples went on forever, beginning with the first warm breath of spring in May and not stopping until the end of September when the nights got so cold even the little kids wouldn’t stay out past six or seven on their hot wheels.

Barbecues. Most everybody had a barbecue going every single night, filling up the air with all kinds of rapture. Mostly chicken. We all had a thing for chicken. But the Jamaicans would be doing up some goat which smelled so good you could die, not that you would even think about eating goat. And folks who went fishing down on Lake Ontario would come home with catfish and throw it on the grill. The white folks who were just living on Parsells Avenue until their kids got old enough to go to school when they moved to the suburbs, they’d cook up some hamburgers and hot dogs. But it all smelled so good. Everybody had their own recipe for potato salad.

You never knew there were so many different secret recipes for potato salad. Creamy salads, crunchy, some pure white, some a mess of white and green and orange. Salty or sweet or a little bit sour. Mine was always the best – and my neighbour Esther, two doors down, swore she couldn’t believe it was made by a white woman. I never did tell her I learned from an old black lady visiting from Georgia.

Of course there was also shrimp salad, you know, mostly macaroni and mayonnaise with a can of tiny little shrimp thrown in for flavour, peas too. Got to put peas in the shrimp salad. And there were greens and jell-o, too.

It all went down so good. And a good reason to be on friendly terms with your neighbours because if you were around they had to offer you some.

Me, I always just took a little potato salad – making sure mine couldn’t be beat. And a beer. Nothing like an ice cold beer going down on a hot day in the backyard with a barbecue.

Heaven, that’s when Parsells Avenue was pure heaven, paradise on a white paper plate.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/01/2009 at 10:29 pm

More on New Year’s Dreaming

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Back around new year’s I wrote a bit about having new year’s dreams instead of new year’s resolutions.  It’s far more positive, and if you dream of doing something rather than NOT doing something – well, I think you are more likely to DO.

So… four weeks down the track, I’ve got an update. At that time, I had writtendream down my 1oo dreams, as suggested in The Dream Manager, by Matthew Kelly. They were all over the place, though there were recurring themes – travel, photography, learning foreign languages, writing and of course family and friend oriented ‘dreams’ that were more chiding myself for not spending more time with them.

I met with my mentor. He noticed that very few of my dreams had anything to do with my job. He flippantly said, “You need to retire, so you can pursue your dreams.” And then we went on to categorise the dreams, by type, by urgency, by likelihood of realisation, etc. Interesting, but nothing really came out of it – though it was a good session. For most of us, any time we can sit around and talk about ourselves is a good time.

But a few days ago, something twigged. I do need to retire. At least, I need to titirangi-tree-watercolourretire from what I am doing and find a way of making travel, writing and photography pay enough to sustain more travel, writing and photography.

And suddenly, the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, gushing forth. It’s possible. It’s doable. I’m going to do it. I’ve got courses booked. Preliminary plans afoot. 2011 is the goal – but I there’s a good chance I’m going to pull it off long before then.

There’s something to this dreaming thing. No – I’m not suggesting it’s the ‘one true way.’ Nothing is ever one size fits all. But I’m coming to realise there is much much more to it than meets the eye. It’s not just for people ‘with their whole lives ahead of them.’ Maybe people with most of their lives behind them need to have dreams even more, so we don’t get caught in routines and habits and the daily grind of survival.

And if I’m tilting at windmills – hell, at least those windmills will be in The Netherlands or Greece or who knows where?

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

28/01/2009 at 11:36 pm

Tom Robbins in New York???

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There were about three hours today when I mistakenly believed Tom Robbins The man.was going to be hosting a 3-day writing seminar in New York at the very time I am going to be there in March. Registration is open until Tuesday.

My friend Bindi, who is coming with me, sent me an email with this brief info in the subject line. I don’t think Bindi realises just how much of a Tom Robbins fan I am. Or just how my heart was set aflutter at the mere thought of being coached by my favourite author of all time.

I was 19 or 20 when I first read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and I was convinced Robbins must have been following me around. I considered myself the utr-ecgtbltimate passenger and hitchhiked up and down the east coast of the USofA in the mid to late seventies. The people I met were an awful lot like the people in Cowgirls, right down to the Chink – who didn’t live in a cave but was a crazy dragon lady named Mrs Lew who let me waitress part time in her Chinese restaurant. My best friend and I fancied ourselves the real-life Cissy and Bonanza Jellybean – me being Cissy and she Jelly because she went horseback riding every weekend we weren’t off on a mad jaunt.  One of my favourite memories is the two of us sitting on the bare metal floor in the back of an old Ford pickup truck, leaned up against each other, drinking cans of Schlitz and rereading Cowgirls. We knew right then we were having a ‘moment.’

tr-still_life_with_woodpecker1By 1980 life had changed and I found myself married with a baby daughter. It was a strange new world, all topsy turvy – nothing the way it used to be or the way I planned it to be or even how I thought it should be. Mr Robbins saved my soul with Still Life with Woodpecker, a fairy tale about a princess, Leigh-Cheri, who falls in love with a bomber, Mickey Bernard Wrangle aka The Woodpecker. When Mickey went to jail, Leigh-Cheri locked herself in the attic (with a maidservant to bring her meals.) It was a strange analogy for post-partum depression, but it worked for me. And made me laugh.

Robbins got a bit more serious and literary with his next two outings, Jitterbug Perfume and Skinny Legs and All. I was very busy being a productive grownup, had another baby girl and Robbins’ quote, “I believe in nothing, everything is sacred. I believe in everything, nothing is sacred,” was a the kind of reminder I needed every so often. I also found myself aching for the freedom of Boomer Petway’s Airstream turkey from Skinny Legs. I wrote a novel. Sadly, it was nothing like a Tom Robbins’ novel.


tr-skinny1 tr-frog1

1994 was a watershed year. I moved to New Zealand and Tom Robbins gave me Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. I’ve never quite gotten the connection between the two – I guess we weren’t always in sync. Although – it was a year of isolation and loneliness and there was more than a bit of that in there. I just didn’t relate to Gwen, the heroine, though I surely would just a few years later.

tr-fiThings got a bit more interesting when the internet arrived. I joined a Tom Robbins discussion group – and four years later, ended up marrying the man of my dreams, a scalliwag bearing more than a passing resemblence, at least psychologically to that old Woodpecker. Robbins’ wedding present to us was Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. A friend got him to sign a copy. We were chuffed!

Now I’m ashamed to say that neither of us have ever sent Tom Robbins so much as post card. We had a couple of fan tr-villareunions in Maine and considered inviting him – after all we’re his biggest fans – but there was something a little too Misery about it – I really didn’t want Robbins taking me for a Kathy Bates wannabe. So we were gobsmacked when Villa Incognito came out in 2003 and one of the lead characters’ surname is Stubblefield, which happens to be my husband’s rather unusual surname. And the description was so accurate and the behaviours… Well, I’m back to thinking Tom Robbins is following us around.

And that pretty much takes us up to this morning’s email…

It turns out it is a 3-day seminar given by Tony Robbins. Tony, not Tom. Sigh, I feel so deflated, so flat. Kind of sad. Lost something I never had… Perhaps I should send Tom a postcard and just say, “thanks.”

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

27/01/2009 at 12:12 am

Posted in Books, Tom Robbins, Writing

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Sukiyaki Western Django!

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Filmmakers learn their art from those who came before them. In this case, there was Akira Kurosawa and Yojimbo in 1961; hundreds, if not thousands of Hong Kong django-1024-4chop-socky flicks; and the Japanese film industry’s obsession with the yakuza gangster flick in the 60’s and 70’s. Quentin Tarantino and Takashi Miike spent their youth and student days sponging up the masters and went to work on their own films. Before long they were studying each other. Tarantino came up with Kill Bill in 2003. Miike has delivered us Sukiyaki Western Django – a distillation of 500 years of storytelling and 100 years of movies into a dazzling surreal filmscape that is blindingly beautiful and ruthlessly violent without a wasted frame of film or line of dialogue.

Crossing the War of the Roses subplot of Shakespeare’s Henry VI with Django, Sergio Carbucci’s seminal 1966 spaghetti western – a lone gunman (played by Asian superstar Hideaki Ito) arrives in a desperate town torn apart by rival gangs. The Reds are brutal and coarse and the Whites, disciplined but merciless – both in search of a legendary buried treasure. Having to choose sides, he declares he will work with whoever offers him the greatest share when the treasure is sukiyaki_western_django_movie_image__3_found.

He withdraws to the White run saloon and after watching one of the whores, Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura) dance, he brings her upstairs. She recounts in flashback how she belonged to the Whites, but married a Red man and had a son with him. They raised red and white roses and dreamed of peace between their clans. She and her son watched him murdered by his own gang. Fearing for their lives, she returned to the Whites and was raped by their leader Yoichi (played by teen heart-throb, Masanobu Ando) and forced to work in the saloon.

Violence soon escalates as rumours of a Red secret weapon leak and the uneasy truce erupts to all-out war – culminating in a battle between sword and pistol.

Director Takashi Miike, who speaks no English, opted to shoot the film entirely in English. While most of the lead cast have an acceptable grasp of the language, hearing a bit-player threaten to ‘clean your plough’ spoken sukiyaki-western-django2phonetically is disorienting. Yet, the accented English and playful soundtrack from Koji Endo which wanders from east to west and occasionally rocks out, make sense in this alternative universe. As does Quentin Tarantino in a small, but vital role tidying up the madness.

But it is the visuals that continue to play, long after the credits roll. The exquisite choreography of the fight scenes would leave Sam Peckinpah drooling, especially the final battle which takes place while snow blankets the dirty landscape. Miike plays with colour, so it almost becomes a character of its own – burning hot saturation or brought so low the world is almost featureless. I’ve been watching films since childhood and viewing over 300 films a year for the last ten years and I cannot recall a single flick that compares visually.

django-1024-1Takeshi Miike hasn’t been one of my favourite directors – he’s best known as a horror director who pushes the boundaries of ‘decency.’ His breakthrough film, Audition (1999) terrified audiences around the world, but Visitor Q so horrified censor boards in 2001, the film was banned in many countries, including New Zealand – though this was lifted to allow the film to screen at festivals. I am not a big fan of straight horror – I get too scared watching truly scary movies and grossed out by slasher flicks. So I’ve taken a pass on many of his flicks, though The Happiness of the Katakuris from 2001 is a favourite.

Sukiyaki Western Django is destined to become a cult favourite, one of those films that will be referenced by future filmmakers and continue to play in festivals. It’s that rare 5 out of 5 star – not to be missed.


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

25/01/2009 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Film

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No phones, no internet, oh no!

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The first thing we need is electricity. Without that, nothing works at all. Secondly we need our communication tools – the telephone and internet. Life as we know it springs from those two things.

Public convenience in Riga, Latvia

Public convenience in Riga, Latvia

I live in the woods. The road down here has been paved for less than 20 years and is barely wide enough for two cars. Electricity went in during the sixties, cumbersome wires on towering concrete poles that are now pitched at all angles. During the stormy winter season, we can get several power cuts a week, so the alarm clocks all have reserve batteries so we can wake up in the morning.  They seldom last more than a few hours. Unless some poor punter has managed to wrap himself around a power pole and things are a big trickier to fix. But power company trucks cruising up and down the road looking for downed wires are a common winter site. I don’t mind power cuts so much – there’s something charming about lighting candles and we can use matches to light the gas stove or fire if necessary.

Phone outages are a whole ‘nother thing. I’m sure they installed phone lines down here around the same time the electricity went in. But it seems they have never been properly upgraded, meaning we are running our phones and internet on a forty year old installation, meaning the day was fast approaching when they withered and died under the force of one more gale.

That arrived Sunday night. And as the lines dried out, they heaved a final gasp and went kaput!

Yes, I do envy the folks who have wireless internet and who can use mobiles for voice communication. Down here we’ve managed to keep those unsightly transmission towers away – so our reception is less reliable than a tom-cat on the prowl and just as spotty.

When Telecom finally let us know what was going on they told us we would be without phones and internet until end of day on Wednesday, possibly later. But they would transfer all our calls at no cost to our mobiles. (See the previous paragraph.) But how much time do we spend on the phone, anyway?

The real horror is three days without internet! No email, no Facebook, no blogs, no mailing lists, no news, no games, no easy answers to tough questions, no research for my column! Nothing.

Strangely, I did get my column written – I had forgotten how much I actually do know about movies. And when I finally brought my email in, 2/3 of it was offers on how to dramatically increase the size of parts I don’t possess, and the rest was the usual on-line magazine updates I always get. It was a bit of a denouement – though I do have one new friend on Facebook…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

21/01/2009 at 11:49 am

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New York, New York!

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Just last week I had a bit of a whinge about not having any travel plans for 2009. Apparently the airlines are reading this blog, because three of them trees1came up with irresistible fares. I’d been bantering with a friend who’s never been to the Big Apple, that not only did she have to go – we should go together – just the two of us and tear up the town. Mind you, we adore our husbands and love travelling with them – but this would be something different!

Yes? No? Yes! Two tickets bought and paid for for the middle of March. We’re going.

Time for a little madness. New York always brings out a little madness in me, plays to my hypothalamic urges. Feed me pizza and buttered hard rolls and jelly doughnuts. Let me breathe the hustle and the frenzy and the fountains and the taxis.  Give me street theatre and designer knock-offs, Calvin Klein clad pooches and street divas. Ni hao Chinatown, Bergdorf’s and Macy’s. A trip to TKTS for cheap tickets to a Broadway show. Friday night is free at MOMA.

fluffysFirst thing, of course is to research places to stay. Since I’m travelling with a friend and we will need separate rooms, I can’t stay with family. I can’t remember the last time I paid to stay in New York. I think it was New Year’s Eve when I was 19 and my boyfriend and I stayed in some dodgy 2 star in Times Square. Had the time of our lives.

Fast forward a few years and I’m looking for something a little different. An apartment – a place to chill and a place to wander the pizzaneighbourhood. Someplace with cafes around the corner and an all-night diner a block away. I want to flip for who goes out to get bagels and biales in the morning. An Irish pub would be nice. And a Chinese take-out. Don’t forget the pizza… And of course not too far from the subway. Near Central Park would be nice. Oh, and it’s gotta be cheap. -ish…

Back to the food… New York has the best food in the world. No contest, though I will allow I have had some amazing meals in pretty much every corner of the planet, none compares to New York in the consistency of oyster-useamazing quality and use of fresh ingredients. Singapore comes a good second. Strangely, and this was entirely influenced by a dear friend who really showed me the town and spared me the experience of the legendary deep-fried frozen pizza – I have to give third place to Glasgow.

Whenever I am in the city I discover or am brought to a new crop of incredible eateries, but I rarely get back to them as there is another bunch open by the time I return. We will have to choose carefully and choose often.

Then there’s the shopping. Shopping in New York isn’t necessarily about bendelbuying, though trundling through the streets with parcels and packages is a pleasure I will never tire of. But the shops themselves are so often breathtaking objects of beauty, colour, light and sound – otherworlds where my imagination trips into other lives I might have had, someone else I might have been – deliriously playful moments. Which isn’t to say I don’t equally love the op-shops and bargain basement discount stores, where I’m happy to pay $10 for a pair of perfect purple pumps that I will only wear once. I’m also partial to street vendors, and there like everywhere, can haggle them down to cost. Damn! I need a salted pretzel or a knish right now.

I’m looking to see what’s on while we’re there. St Paddy’s Day – we’ll have to catch the parade. The Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac are in town, but I’m not sure I’m in the mood for nostalgia… I think I’ll wait until closer to the time before making those decisions. I stick with exploring my accommodation options for the time being.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

17/01/2009 at 3:11 pm

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