Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘culture


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Titirangi. I named this blog Titirangi Storyteller after the village I call home. It’s part of Waitakere City, considered one of the ‘rougher’ areas of Auckland – but the way I see it, that rep keeps the house prices down and snooty folks who work in ‘firms’ rather than for companies’ away from the place. They’d clear the trees and put in lawns and swimming pools. There’s enough places in the world like that already. Gimme trees any day.

Located at the edge of the Waitakere Ranges, Titirangi means ‘fringe of heaven’ in Maori. Perfectly named, the English pronunciation titty-rang-ee never fails to get a rise from the menfolk back in New York.

The week I arrived in New Zealand, shell-shocked from leaving everything and everyone I’d ever known 9000 miles away – we went for a ride. Not sure how we meandered this way, but driving through suburban Auckland, we ended up out west and came up the famous Fungus sculpture in the middle of the roundabout at the edge  of Titirangi village.

Fungus sculpture

Fungus sculpture

We continued west and found ourselves winding through lush bush: kauris, rewarewa, tanekaha, putawetaweta, totara, manuka, kanuka – trees I had never imagined, interlaced with ferns and palms, so dense it seemed you would need a machete to get through them. There were houses in there. Ordinary people’s houses… not strange hillbilly huts or millionaire mansions – at least not all of them – most of them were fairly ordinary one or two story, three bedroom homes. Out of Hansel and Gretel they seemed – and I determined that I was going to live there one day.

bus shelter

bus shelter

It took a few years – but a few years ago that dream finally came true and I got my house in the trees. Little glimpses of the harbour from the kitchen and two of the bedrooms. Tuis and wood pigeons playing in the trees. There’s a stone bus shelter nearby and two beaches within walking distance.

To me, Titirangi IS heaven. Back in the US, anyone living on a half acre of woods with beaches this close and a major city half an hour away would have to be very well off. Here there’s beneficiaries, working class families with young children, middle class and also some wealthy folks – each tucked up in their corner of the woods. No, it’s not like that everywhere in NZ, but there’s something wonderful about living in a place that’s not divided along socio-economic lines, a place where people know their neighbours.

Lopdell House

Lopdell House

For the last half century, it’s been home to some of this country’s renowned artists – the Colin McCahon house is on the next ridge over and the tiny village is full of galleries and cafes, with Lopdell House, the only building over two storeys tall, housing a prominent art gallery and live theatre. There’s a thriving music scene with live music in a couple of the cafes on the weekend, a folk music society and an annual music festival showcasing Waitakere talent. I live just down the road from Lopdell House – and the walk home is breathtaking. Hard to capture in a photo – but there is an incredible bougainvillea

100 foot tall bougainvillea

100 foot tall bougainvillea

that has grown nearly 100 feet tall, supported by a kauri tree. In summer it is a wall of shocking pink blossoms. It’s summer now, so I was able to get this shot of it today. Try walking past that without a massive grin.

While the flora here is unlike anything else on the planet – the fauna is even stranger. Wood roaches are just plain icky. They look like common roaches, but fatter and slower. And yes – a few will come in the house. Fortunately, they make their nests outside, so you would never have an infestation.



Then there is the weta. One could easily mistake it for a massive spider – and reason enough to get off this island immediately. But it is related to grasshoppers and crickets. This weta’s body is about 2 inches, or 5 centimeters long – add feet and feelers and it’s over a foot long (30cm). This one was lounging on the side of my house when I got home one night. They are completely harmless and will never wander inside. They’re still good for a fright!

But my favourite spot is my garden. It’s all trees, no lawn, and if I sit just right, I have a view across the Manukau Harbour – to the airport. I sit out there in the cool of the evening, watching the planes take off and plan my next overseas adventure. I’ll leave from there… and always, always, always come back here.

View from the garden

View from the garden

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

25/07/2010 at 11:31 am

Some things I noticed in New York

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190309NYC - Midtown22Back in March 09 my pal Bindi and I abandoned our husbands to ten days of looking after themselves so we could take a little jaunt of our own off to New York. You may recall in the piece Planning for New York on the Cheap, that we made a zillion plans and hoped to get around to as many as we could. In brief, we did a few – like Bindi was dying to go to the top of the Empire State Building and I couldn’t give a stuff about it, so whilst we were on our way into Macy’s I pointed it out to her.

If she’d had a paddy, I would have taken her – but she agreed there were so many more interesting things to do. Two of which DID involve a Paddy – one the St Patrick’s Day Parade, which, after a leisurely breakfast we dashed off to see – had enough after fifteen minutes and then went and bought shoes from her favourite designer who just happened to have a shop on the street we were watching the parade from.

190309NYC - Midtown24We didn’t go to St Patrick’s Cathedral either. We stood there on Fifth Avenue with the cathedral to our left and Saks on our right and made the only sane choice under the circumstances. I took photos, Bindi bought perfume. And we had the most divine chocolate at the Charbonnel et Walker Chocolate Cafe.

All up I took over 1000 photos. Not surprisingly, it’s taken me this long to get through them – and there are still several hundred languishing as RAW files on my hard drive, but this TIME business is just so flawed – if I can’t buy some more, I wish I could borrow it. Although I suspect the only time I could afford would Monday mornings, or Friday at 3PM, which would be going cheap, but wouldn’t be of much use, either.

There are a million New York stories – and I can tell you about a third of them. And eventually I just might… What I like about THESE photos is they tell stories of their own, so I don’t have to waste time with words. Your interpretations of the stories are most welcome!

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/07/2010 at 9:05 am

Spirited Away

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spirited_away-coverI don’t often sit down to write a review intending to convince everyone that reads it to go see the movie in question.  You’ve got your blockbusters, and chick flicks, action movies and art house films and raunchy teen comedies and sci-fi and kiddie stuff and so on and so on… and most people seem to know what they like.  But Spirited Away is an extraordinary picture – for everyone.  Still, an astonishing number of perfectly sensible adults refuse to go to an animated feature unless it’s Disney and they have to have some wee ones in tow.  That is the dumbest of reasons to miss this.

Spirited Away is the latest work by Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese master who is a god to the Disney animators, which has been flawlessly dubbed into English by John Lasseter (Toy Story).  It was co-winner of this year’s Berlin Film Festival running against non-animated movies; it outsold Titanic to become the top-grossing film in Japanese history; and it is the first film ever to gross more than $200 million before opening in the US.

spiritedaway2Drawing heavily on Japanese mythology, Spirited Away is told through the eyes of Chihiro (voice by Daveigh Chase), a 10-year-old girl, travelling to a new town with her parents.  She is deeply unhappy about the shift and leaving her old friends and schoolmates.  As they drive through the woods, her father decides to take the family for a little exploration of a mysterious tunnel at the side of the country road. On the other side is what he believes is an abandoned theme park, but strangely the food stalls are overflowing with freshly prepared meals, but with no one to serve them.  As Chihiro’s parents help themselves to a free meal, she wanders away and comes upon a wonderland, a towering bathhouse.

spirited_away-oldwomanA boy named Haku appears as her guide, and warns her that the sorceress Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse, will try to steal her name and thus her identity. Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette) is an old crone with a huge face, reminiscent the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, who dotes on her grotesquely huge baby named Boh. Ominously, she renames Chihiro, who wanders through the structure, which is populated, like with little balls of dust that scurry and scamper underfoot.

In the innards of the bathhouse, Chihiro comes upon the boiler room, operated by a man named Kamaji (David Ogden Stiers) with eight arms, which perform a bewildering variety of functions. At first he seems as fearsome as the world he occupies, but he is no friend of Yubaba, and agrees to help Chihiro rescue her parents who have been turned into pigs.

spiritedaway4Chihiro is forced into drudgery, scrubbing and cleaning the numerous tubs for a menagerie of guests.  Trouble erupts when she accidentally allows Okutaresama, the spirit of the river, into the building.  His body has absorbed the debris, waste and sludge that has been thrown into it over the years, so he is filthy and reeks so that no one can bear to be anywhere near him.  She must prepare his bath, and as the detritus he has absorbed sloughs off, at one point actually yielding up a discarded bicycle, he is transformed from apparent victim to apparent predator.

spiritedaway-trainJapanese myths often incorporate shape-shifting motifs, in which bodies conceal a hidden reality – and animation is the perfect vehicle for shape-shifting.  Miyazaki does wondrous things with his characters: Okutaresama reveals his true nature, and Haku, Yubaba and even Boh are much more than they seem at first.

spiritedaway1Miyazaki’s drawing style is rooted in classical Japanese graphic art, with subtle use of colour, clear lines, and realistic portrayal that suggests the true nature of the characters.   Not fond of computers, he draws thousands of frames himself with painstaking attention to detail that brings the animation to life.  This is one of the year’s best pictures in any genre.  Bring a child if you must (though not a small one, as they would find much of Spirited Away quite distressing) – but don’t miss this exceptional film.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/06/2010 at 8:51 pm

On the streets of Antigua

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Two women in Antigua

Apologies for being remiss in posting, but I’ve been knocked back by the flu – which kind I am not sure, but it’s nastiest thing to invade my nooks and crannies in 20 years.

Thought I’d throw up a few of my favourite photos from Antigua, in Guatemala… the ancient and the modern live side by side, both aware of the other, but not really mixing all that much. Sorta like this photo… Most of the locals are descendents of the Mayan. They’ve retained their language and many of their old ways and traditions. I had the sense the Europeans are merely interlopers who will fade away eventually…

Why did the man cross the road?

I was nearly beside myside when I spotted this man crossing the road! Since I grabbed the camera so quickly, the shot was a bit blurred – so I posterised it. Rather prefer it this way.

Desolation row?

A last glance back as we were pulling out of town. An ancient church and a boy and his dog.

I loved Guatemala best out of all the places we visited in Central America. This sort of captures why.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

29/04/2010 at 11:16 pm

Romantic Train Journey in China??? (Part1)

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orientexpress1There’s a certain romance attached to train travel, an elegance associated with sleeper and dining cars. Think Some Like it Hot, or Murder on the Orient Express, or any of a dozen screwball comedies starring Cary Grant or Kathryn Hepburn. Though I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, the US and Asia, I’d never had the chance to experience it myself.

Until my trip to China. As part of the pre-arranged tour, we were to travel from Beijing to Xian on an overnight train – going ‘soft’ class all the way. I envisioned rich oriental furnishings, sumptuous delicacies served in the dining car and impeccable service from well-trained porters. I couldn’t wait!

We had a hectic final day in Beijing – the Great Wall, a rickshaw ride through a hutong (traditional high-density housing), followed by a visit to a local home and finally dinner. Our train was scheduled to leave at eight in the evening. During dinner our guide, Eric, told us there was going to be a change. As it was the start of the Golden Week (May 1st), one of two weeks a year, when most of the Chinese go on holiday. Over half a billion people on the move – and some official had forgotten to book something. Our train had been requisitioned by the government. The whole train. Eric had known this might happen the day before, but forgot to tell us since he had let the other passengers know during dinner, but we had gone out with a friend of a friend. We had packed the minimum we had previously been instructed – pyjamas and toiletries for overnight. Oh well, things happen. Our bags were already gone, so it was too late to grab a change of clothes.

After whiling the evening away in a hotel bar, the group headed for the Beijing train station. On the bus, we were each given a plastic grocery bag. Inside we found several packets of Chinese noodles, candy bars, tea bags, crackers and assorted other junk food. Eric advised that the food available on the train wasn’t very nice and probably not safe for us to eat. Uh oh.

beijingtrain-beijngstationThe bus dropped us off about a kilometre from the station. I did not take this photo, as we arrived about 11 at night. But it looked like half the city was in flight, refugees in a makeshift camp. The entire grounds were densely packed with people camping out, hoping to get a train out of town. We picked our way through thousands of families in sleeping bags, a week’s worth of travel gear stacked up around them, huddled together to keep safe and warm. We struggled to keep up, trying not to get separated from the group. Once inside, our guides navigated us through the teeming hordes (yes, hordes, and you have never seen such teeming!) With our tickets finally guaranteed, we made our way to the soft class lounge – standing room only – where we waited another hour. Our guide then informed us that the train we would be taking was not an express like the original train, so instead of a 12 hour trip, it would take 17 hours to reach Xian. Uh oh.

beijing-train-station-0As we approached the platform, my visions of rich upholstery and polished porters vanished. ‘Soft’ class meant we had inch-thick mattresses and would be joined in our compartment by only 2 other people. Fortunately, it was an Australian couple from our group. A French woman travelling solo with another group refused to bunk with three Chinese women and shrieked and wailed for what seemed like hours and finally slept on the floor in the narrow filthy corridor.

Our compartment was too small to call a cabin. The berths were barely two feet wide. The lowers were at a fine level, suitable for sitting. But the uppers were about six feet up and there was no ladder. You had to use rock-climbing techniques and scale the wall, fitting your feet into little ledges about 2 inches deep to get leverage. Since my husband has a bit of arthritis, he couldn’t climb up there, leaving it to me. I am not a small, spry woman – you would never take me for the rock climbing type. I couldn’t manage it on my own, not even with my husband pushing froxian-train-soft-classm behind. Alas, it required two men, profound humiliation and vows to never eat again to get me up there. No chance of a quick whizz in the middle of the night.

Once up I realised I had to lie flat. If I curled onto my side and the train came to a sudden stop, the tiny railing would surely break loose and I would roll off. Thank goodness I’m not taller.  At 5’6″ my head and feet touched the walls. Surely I could get to sleep. I was deeply exhausted… And tomorrow would bring more adventures – I was sure…

Stay tuned for part deux…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

02/04/2010 at 7:41 am

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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

27/03/2010 at 7:34 am

Strange things in Tallinn

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I was but a lass of 18 when I read “The Fountainhead” and was swept away by Howard Roark’s incorruptable rightness and the unusurpable power of architecture to define who we are. I’ve mellowed, wisened, thankfully matured with age – but my fascination with architecture in all its forms continues. Especially new architecture in old places.

This precinct in Tallinn, Estonia was particularly fascinating. It’s a small country, just over a million people, so there are no Trump Towers like you find in New York or Atlantis Hotels of the Dubai variety. Everything is small – human scale – nothing god-like. I was quite fond of this angular projection sprouting from the entranceway to these buildings. The man in the photo is about 5’6″ – so we have a bit of scale.

Even more interesting is this block of flats (which I shamefully chopped the top off.) No, it’s NOT a wide-angle lens – the building is leaning like that. Not sure what the plan is, other than a whimsically leaning tower of Tallinn. But you will note the turn of the century sandstone building beside it… There were dozens of them in the area and this one received a rather generous and subtle renovation.

But what the heck is going on here??? Three mini-tower extensions! Who thought this up? And who said OK? I’m not sure I hate it, but I’m pretty sure it’s architectural miscegenation. But as curious and inexplicable as these things were –

This is really the most baffling of all. A two story extension on top of a three story sandstone building.

To be fair, the whole area was full of experimental pieces – and whilst the Old City is virtually unchanged from the middle ages, there do need to be spaces for contemporary living and working.

Here in New Zealand, a very new place, anything over fifty years old is considered heritage. It’s a silly policy that results in a lot of law breaking. In Tallinn, these 100 year old buildings are virtually new.

Twenty-first century consruction – I’m pretty sure it will be gone in fifty years – no worry about making it to heritage status. But chances are, it will be easily recycled for the next generation.

In the meantime – I think it does the job. And I love those streetlamps.


(for now…)

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

10/02/2010 at 9:52 pm

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