Monday, May 05, 2008

The Big Trip: Dunedin

We had a pleasant day in Dunedin, the largest city in New Zealand’s Otago Province in the southeastern corner of South Island. It was our last landfall before Australia.

Dunedin is at the far end of Otago Harbour but cruise ships dock further up at the bay, at Port Chalmers. From Port Chalmers (Chahmuz, in the Kiwi dialect) we took another coach tour, this time to Dunedin’s CBD, also known as the Octagon, and from there to:

(1) Olveston House. Impressive enough, a big Edwardian pile, but the ladies who run it have the Museum Nazi quality in spades, so much so that there was a particular, prescribed way for carrying your book bag and if it wasn’t just so they gave you grief about it. After the third admonition (as if having it clutched tightly to my chest was a problem) I said “screw it” and walked out, against traffic through the narrow corridors, to get some fresh air. They wanted to know where I was going and I told them “anywhere but here.” They were shocked, just shocked, I’m sure!

(2) The Otago Museum was really, really great. All kinds of natural science stuff (scale models of Moas, for example) plus an attic showing how the original museum was set up (butterflies for days) and a small but cool exhibit on the development of Down Under swimwear.

(3) A look up Baldwin Street, allegedly the world’s steepest street. Long and steep, yes, but without the dizzying change in perspective you get on Lombard Street in San Francisco, for example. Probably didn’t help that we were at the bottom instead of the top.

(4) The Dunedin Botanic Garden. A pleasant enough little place, although the canal that separated it from the upper part of the park was not terribly well-kept. On the other hand, it was right across from one of the Univesity of Otago playing fields and I enjoyed watching the young men practicing at the cricket pitch.

Back in Port Chalmers, we did a walkabout on our own, up to the Lady Thorn Dell, a rhododendron garden and viewing platform overlooking the harbor, and then back through the little town for a coffee before heading back to the ship. We didn't leave the ship again until three days later, when we reached Melbourne.

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Weekend Festivities

Naoyuki turned 39 on Sunday (May 4) and to celebrate Saturday night we went to see the traveling production of Broadway’s Avenue Q at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in downtown Buffalo’s theatre district.

We already knew a bit about it so we weren’t surprised by the colorful language (and equally colorful puppet activities!), which may not have been the case with many of our fellow audience members. From what I can tell Shea’s core demographic is retirement and/or upper-middle aged. A lot of people in that group were pointedly not laughing but just about as many were.

It was our first visit to Shea’s. Quite a grand old movie palace (which, naturally, has certain built in limitations as a performance space.) Very similar in layout / design with its many contemporaries, including those in Ann Arbor (Michigan Theatre), Atlanta (the Fox), and Pensacola (the Saenger.)

Sunday evening we joined our across the street neighbors, the Weppners (Matt, Anita, Hannah, Erin, and Brennan, plus a cat, three dogs, and two bunnies) for “pasketti” (courtesy Anita), garlic bread (courtesy me), and birthday cake (courtesy Wegman’s.) A good way to end a pleasant birthday weekend!

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Big Trip: Christchurch and Arthur's Pass

From the port of Lyttelton we took a coach ride through the Port Hills tunnel and to Cashmere, a scenic neighborhood with a killer view over the broad Canterbury Plains, the South Island farming region dominated by Christchurch. We made a quick stop at the historic Takahe house and the lookout at Victoria Park before heading down for a drive around the CBD, then out into the country.

Christchurch is linked to the Southern Alps, a couple of hours to the west, by the TranzAlpine Railway, reputed to be one of the best train rides anywhere. The drive up on the coach was scenic, passing through half a dozen small farming towns (and innumerable giant hedges), including Springfield, where the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie occurred, to Arthur’s Pass.

Arthur’s Pass is the jumping off point for weekend campers and hikers exploring the surrounding national park, as well as a TranzAlpine railway station. We were there about an hour early so we checked out the tiny collection of shops and stores, milling about with our fellow tour groupies as well as the day trippers and the occasional, nearly tame NZ pigeon (or was it a parrot?)

The train ride back was pleasant, too. The railways in NZ are narrow gauge so the cars themselves are petite in an entertaining sort of way. With a box lunch and a great view, all was right in the world – except that the people directly across the aisle were rabid Republicans (to the extent of having named their eldest son, born in 1981, Reagan) and the unending tales (Nixon’s cufflinks, for example) were hard to tune out. On the other hand, we saw a zillion sheep and, in a shed that you couldn’t see from the road we’d driven up, the giant donut that served as a prop for Springfield’s Simpsons premiere. (According to the Wikipedia entry for Springfield, that's a statue, not a prop, and it's not in a shed, but it certainly looked that way from the train.)

On balance, the coach ride was more entertaining, mostly because we had a chance to get out and about at one point; also, with a coach you are sitting forward and can sort of kind of see in front of you. With the train, it’s out the side and (in my case) looking back. Plus that part of the Southern Alps, while plenty attractive, isn’t exactly eye-popping to anyone who has spent any time in the Rockies or the Desert Southwest.

My guess is that the overnight trip from Dunedin to Milford Sound is much more scenic (more about both in a subsequent posting.)

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The New Job

On May 19 I will start my new job as Head of the Continuing Resources Division, Central Technical Services, University Libraries, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

Whoosh! What a mouthful!

As I told a friend, in library land we have very big titles for very small jobs.

Actually, it’s not all that small a job. The Continuing Resources Division is that part of the UB Libraries tasked with acquiring and maintaining all newspapers, magazines, journals, and other periodicals (in print or online) and any other electronic resource. The staff I’ll be joining includes four librarians, each of whom has a national reputation, and a number of support staff, most of whom are actively involved in staff organizations at UB and in Western NY. A very impressive group of people!

So, nearly three years after moving to Buffalo (June 2005), I will finally have a full-time job with benefits, a decent salary, and a five-mile commute from our house. It’s been a long time coming!

I wish I could say the past three years of unemployment / underemployment have been wildly productive, empowering, mind-altering, or whatever. The reality, of course, is that I’m a lousy housekeeper and absent any larger structure or purpose I tend to sit around and dither. Besides keeping Naoyuki fed and clothed, doing a bit of yard work and a lot of travel, my most significant accomplishment has been getting back to the gym on a regular basis. (And there’s no downplaying the significance of that; it was way overdue and the psychological and physical benefits have been extremely positive.)

Likewise, I’m extremely thankful to have had my job as a part-time reference / instruction librarian at Genesee Community College for the past year and a half. The earnings were low but they helped with the overall domestic economy and, more than that, the work gave me some structure (and sanity.) Helped that the GCC folks are totally topnotch and fun to work with!

My last day at GCC will be Friday, May 16.