Monday 13 April 2020

1989 US, New Zealand, Fiji

15.9.89  Gatwick airport

Gatwick airport, North Terminal.  One day I will write a book about airports.  Their dynamics are so strange.  The mindless, time-consuming queuing, the smell of fear in the air, the cafés, the shops, the duty free (a nice concept, an enclave out of the country, but in it, sucked away by the air lanes they terminate).  The confluence and divergence of people, a secret masonry.  These places are nowhere, anywhere and everywhere.

The lottery of seats.  Optimising queues, judging which will move faster – the big family group or the stragglers.  Queue jumping, only to get it wrong.  Window seats for the day, but for the night?  Windows are undisturbed, but aisles have more room.  On a jumbo, side or centre?  The gamble of the centre, with four seats if you're lucky.  Never mind optimising for safety.  Another book: Playing the planes.

Sitting in the plane, waiting to take off.  Fifty rows of people staring at nothing.  It is like an audience waiting for a performance to begin, chatting, reading the magazines provided like programmes.  A long, thin auditorium, a forest of half heads, of varied human thatches.  Ten and a half hours to Los Angeles.  Long, long, long.  After a rum and coke, it all seems good – surreal, but good.  Here 300 of us are, sitting in a huge metal tube, passing over the Hebrides, hurtling towards Iceland.  The earth's geometry asserts itself.  Plane travel infantilises: you, eat, you sleep, you eat, you sleep.  You are cocooned and immobile, swaddled and entertained lest you become fractious.

16.9.89 Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times a civilised, if fractured read.  Signs o' the times: a report on ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide levels for parts of the town.  A dull, overcast morning – "the first rain since May" – ha!  Outside it is quite pleasant though.  I have been out to book a car for tomorrow – incredibly cheap at $40 for an Escort-sized car.  Today it looks like taxis everywhere – even I must resist walking – it really is too bi and too far everywhere.  As ever, it took an unexpected sight to place me in Los Angeles.  As I was coming out of Farmers Market, I happened to turn and glance up at the hills.  And there, in the hazy distance was the word which said "arrival": "Hollywood", uneven like bad teeth.

First things first: a taxi along – and I do mean long – Wilshire Boulevard to Farmers.  Buildings mostly low, parking very much in evidence.  The cars all rolling along equably, without haste – without even much congestion.  $8 for the trip – ouch.  Farmers Market itself rather factitious: rows of stalls selling neatly ranged fruit à la Kathmandu, meat, sweets.  I am forced to linger by heavy if intermittent rain, the air think with latent moisture.  I buy the National Enquirer – wacky enough – and the Daily World News – totally wacky.  As its name suggests, many of its stories global – including UK.  While wandering there, I turned a corner, and nearly bumped into a bloke – who leapt back and nearly threw a wobbly – a little unhinged.

Then walked (ha!) to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – a splendid primitive facade, but nothing hangs together thereafter.  The collections themselves a total maze – suffering from the bane of US museums – donors' insistence on named rooms for their collections.  A few good pix – de la Tour's Magdalene, great Rembrandt of Stoffels.  The rooms almost deserted, which is a shame.  Exhibitions of Percival Foundation's stuff.  Modern collection unexciting.  Far better was the Page Museum of La Brea Tar Pits.  Passing to this you actually smell the tar still bubbling up – not a nice way to go.  The museum is small, but the complete skeletons are break-taking – the physicality of the bones hits you.  One surreal wall had around 200 wolves' skulls lit by an eerie orange background.  

I sit now after eating at the Plaza Café.  Opposite is the Japanese Pavilion, an interesting swirl of shapes.  But not for me today.  A parenthetic note: where are all the beautiful people?  They look as er, large, as any other Yanks…  From Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Museum of Contemporary Art – 15 minutes in the cab, unbelievable: this city just does not hang together.  As I approach downtown, things get shabbier – and more Latino, including the billboard ads.  Finally to MOCA, but I actually want the Temporary Contemporary – a mile away.  So (foolishly) I walk.  When I get there, I find that over half is closed.  Pah.  And what there is includes Warhol's bloody Brillo boxes – which I've already seen once today.  What was amusing was that the building operations underway looked like an installation – particularly some very affirmative Rothkos – white on white… Walking back to MOCA I feel naked without the car's protective carapace.

MOCA is a good exhibition space, light and airy.  More people here – but nothing compared to the Tate, say, or even the ICA.  The very full show of Broodthaers gets rather silly after a while, as this kind of Dadaist/Magritte stuff often does.  However, things are redeemed by a video in the basement: using Wim Mertens' music,  Broodthaers's work is turned into a Tulse Luper-style artistic journey – pure Greenaway.  The Max Yavno show makes me sad: as photos often do – the sense of effort expended; it makes me glad I'm a wordsmith.  The Schreiber Gift again is full of itself.  The works are OK.  It is 1am body time, and the strain is beginning to show.

Watching the fountain just by the Music Centre: they change.  Intentionally?  It certainly works, captivating the eye and ear.  It's alive – you sense the particulate nature of water, rather than the continuum.  Brilliant idea – as in someone just playing?  There are four squares, with five jets one side of the squares, four on the other.  Sometimes one square is up, sometimes all; or they alternate.  The smack as they all fall down.  The baby jets, one foot off the ground, then Kraken-like, they rise to surging monsters.  Neatly, the water falls away invisibly; there is no pool.  So you have pure jets.  At the top the water is like an organic growth, a weird fungus.  White spray, white noise, always changing, always the same.

After an immensely long taxi ride ($23.50 – Andy Warhol eat your heart out), back to the comfort of the hotel – a long day, the body doing well.  Watched a Spanish channel for a while – I hear the future – then out to dinner.  To "Il Fornaio", just off Wilshire.  Atmosphere good – noisy, with Vivaldi in the background.  Alas, my starter – vitello tonnato – is off, as is the carpaccio; let's hope this ain't an augury.  Alas it was.  The food was good – and interesting – pickled aubergine, then smoked mussels and "angel's hair" – but the service went downhill and i dolcinon c'è.  And the place is now half empty; where is everyone?  It's Saturday night…

The smell of America is air conditioning.

17.9.89 Los Angeles

Unbelievable.  I am in Venice.

This morning I woke to a cold day, grey and overcast.  I went along early (8am) to pick up my Toyota from Budget – very cheap.  Then drove along the Santa Monica Boulevard, to Ocean Avenue, to Venice.  I sit now by the Ocean Front, just along from the Sidewalk Café.  It is a gorgeous day.  As the Pacific hove into view, the sun broke through high clouds.  Now the sky is almost clear, the sun hot and strong – even for 9.15am; there is a glorious sea breeze.  The mountains are still shrouded in mist.  The beach is clean and clear – few people around, just a few cyclists, roller-skaters.  Palm trees everywhere.  Driving is a dream.  Roads empty, and no one in a hurry.  Everything is well signposted – especially transverse roads.  It is so peaceful here.  But the canals – such as there are – are sad: swamps at one end, rather unloved.  Looking south, the scene is cosy and domestic rather than grand.  The palm trees along the banks are disconcerting.

From Venice to Greece.  Or rather the J. Paul Getty Museum.  Not as far as I thought, just along the Pacific Highway.  Then off to the right, up a steep drive, parking underneath the villa.  All very efficient.  Nice to know I really did phone Malibu at 1am one night.  The entrance to the villa is spectacular.  A long pond surrounded by a peristyled porch all round.  Clipped hedges and statuary everywhere.  On the walls Pompeian-style frescoes.  This is a beautiful setting for a select collection.  The British Museum and Louvre overpower and get in the way; this is manageable.  In the first room, archaic stuff.  Beautiful Cycladic figures of women, a proud kouros, an interesting inscription, fine sculptures.  In the next, a magnificent bronze: "the victorious athlete", the right-hand fingers delicately preening an absent laurel.  Fountains plash everywhere: there is an inner peristyle garden and then even an atrium pool.  I am half way through, and sit by the tea-room, facing east, with another fountain nearby.  The sky is an amazing blue, the sun high and increasingly fierce.  California dreamin'.

I re-enter the villa – the cool smell is almost like an Italian museum...almost.  The painting collection is much more extensive than I thought.  A nice David, a couple of Canalettos, but best of all the late Rembrandt of St Bartholomew: could easily be early Kokoschka.  Amazing.  Good Dutch generally, three or four Ruisdaels.  A surprising number of people now: where did they put their jam jars?  I see all these Americans looking diligently at all this culture, but where are their roots?  Culture is like cyberspace, a world of information you traverse from familiar points. 

Back, then, inevitably, to Venice.  Lots more traffic – and lots of people on the beach.  I decide, as only a mad Englishman can, to walk to the pier at Santa Monica.  A long way.  The beach is marvellous, wide and clean.  Huge breakers roll in.  Out to sea there are lots of boats – a stuff breeze must make perfect weather.  Lots of very tanned bodies – that glorious mahogany colour.  No topless at all – and this is California.  I can see why this should be such a sybarite's paradise.

I am sitting on the pier, tatty, but without the faded gentility of England's piers.  Characteristic sight: cops on beach scooters.  Reminds me of yesterday, seeing the park keepers blowing away leaves with reverse vacuum cleaners.  The mountains behind me are hazy, like Italy.  The beachside architecture is uninspired.  The beach reminds me of Cabourg.  Huge kites flap (or should that be "skirl"?) in the wind.  A planes takes off from LAX.  

Another long, slow walk, this time along the boardwalks (à la Trouville…).  Pass an amazingly graceful lady trampolinist.  Back to Venice.  Which is buzzing.  The place to be, clearly.  Everywhere, more bronzed bodies.  Some of the women...particularly affecting are the shorts and cowboy boots: put a pair of birch trunk-like legs in them and you're away.  I sit now in the Sidewalk Café.  Very studenty.  Noisy, full of smoke, the smell of beer, voices and music.  The sun is low above the water, which has turned to silver, then gold.  Could we hope for a sunset?  Humanity (ish) streams by outside.  People are roller-skating in here.  (Parenthetically, in true Venice style, two blokes were weaving their bikes around – standing upright on them.  Very impressive to watch. 

After a rather unsatisfactory meal – note: abalone does not mean abalone – I drive back to Santa Monica, then up to Hollywood Boulevard.  Bright and brash, near everywhere.  Sunset Boulevard, in contrast, is dead.  Driving in Los Angeles is natural in a way that walking is not.  With an automatic and power steering – even on my little Toyota Tercel – everything is creamy smooth.  The amazing thing is, even with all these powerful jamjars, no one really pushes it, even away from the lights.

18.9.89 Los Angeles

My last day in LA.  Walking round Beverley Hills – almost a sensible thing to do – not too drawn out.  There are even a few tourists here – photographing shops with their camcorders (uh?).  A warm morning, with big fluffy clouds breaking the sky's blue.  But there is nothing here.  Hundreds of clothes shops, restaurants – the perfect image of a narcissistic, hedonistic, but fundamentally vapid society.  Watching rush hour, I am amazed at the flash cars everyone drives – or am I just parochial?

Thereafter, a walk up Canon Drive to the Beverley Hills hotel, back down Beverley Drive.  The houses scream money.  Hispanic gardeners abound, even the grass by the road has plumbed-in sprinklers.  Styles clash and juxtapose in a very American way: colonial, modern, black and white, hacienda, gingerbread, Queen Anne.  All have signs saying "armed security".  What do all these people do?

Lunch at Kate Mantilini's – for some reason one of my guide books insists this is to do with a female fight promoter; perhaps it is, but whatever happened to Dickens?  The main room is long and high, an irregular rectangle.  Over the bar and kitchen is a curved mural – a multiple exposure/fractured view of a K.O.  A mysterious ballerina – Kate herself? - hovers.  To the east, a windows lets in light onto an arty metal construction, with fragments of the mural.  Everything is black and white and chrome.  It fronts Wilshire, providing a view onto the curious world.  The food was quite good – and excellent chicken soup, followed by crab cakes – the lamb's brain omelette was off (luckily?  - but no BSE here – I think).  Apple pie with cheddar unspecial.  But overall, a nice buzz, and a good farewell to LA.  A long, lingering lunch at Kate's, then a stroll back to the hotel – along the way I am stopped and asked directions by a northerner – north England, that is.  Typical.  Now I sit in the blazing sun by a bronze fountain – City Hall (?). 

LAX a fairly civilised place; too civilised.  It is too controlled and controllable.  I hanker for the madness of Kathmandu, or of late-night Denpasar.  I need the thrill of mild panic.  China was for good for that too.  In a paradoxical way, air travel exposes the primitive nature of it all: imagine all this fuss, just to move a few chemicals.

20.9.89 Rotorua

Whatever happened to Tuesday?

The flight to Auckland was long: 15½ hours with stopover.  It was good to experience the immensity of the Pacific – twice the distance of the Atlantic.  It put you in touch with what the Polynesians – and to a lesser extent Cook – achieved.  We stopped off in Papeete, but rather than tantalising myself in the duty free lounge, I slept on the plane.  Which was fully, and had difficulty taking off.  It felt like a total granny flight – or perhaps everyone in New Zealand is old.  I think I may have problems with the 30s pace of life.  I am sitting in a bus outside the airport, waiting to transfer.  It is surprisingly cold – and this is in the north.  Yergh.

I am in Rotorua, with a hard, brilliant sun in an almost clear blue sky.  There is nonetheless a real nip in the air, but pleasant.  There is also the pervasive smell of bad eggs: Rotorua is the town of the perpetual fart.  In front of me is the croquet lawn – with games in progress – and a totally immaculate bowling green.  I am faced by Tudor Towers – a red and white creation that was once one of the main spa houses.  Now it houses a rather nugatory museum – but then I am a connoisseur of such things.  Behind me, pools billow steam.  Rotorua is low broad streets, and looks like it was built yesterday.  Which it was.  The flight in a Hawker-Siddeley twin prop showed me a land alternating arable, pasture with forests.  The odd volcano peeped through low clouds.  

A crazy lunch at an Austro-Hungarian restaurant – run by an Austrian.  We are all so far from home.  Excellent food that seems strangely out of place.  New Zealand feels as I imagine Mars or some future colony will feel: everything goes on normally, but the past and culture are distant references.  Perhaps hell/heaven is like this, eternal white water rafting etc. - but not angst, nothing to create art.  It's raining, but who cares?  I'm in hell.  Sulphur all around, and the guts of the earth pouring forth.  It is very disconcerting seeing a huge blue-green pool of boiling water.  You know all of this comes from hell.  I've never seen geysers before: they're rather impressive – you feel they go down thousands of miles.  There's something totally indecent about these huge gloops of battleship grey mud as they leap up, frog-like, a cheap horror film effect.  Or like strange sea monsters, blowing steam through breathing holes.  [I have just noticed that this place is Ngmokaihoho: the Frog Pool.]

Back to the hotel for a needed kip: my body clock is 13 hours out from local time; doing pretty well considering.  Then along to the Hyatt for a hangi – well, it had to be done.  Round the swimming pool unfortunately, so it got colder and colder.  The food was lots of fish, venison (?), tree-tomatoes – quite good.  The music split quite interestingly.  The first piece was sacred and photos not allowed.  The singing was more sprechstimme than voice – and affecting.  Thereafter it was a kind of syrupy Victorian melody – with strumming guitar.  The old tongue sticking out and wild eyes was curiously disturbing.  I had a real sense of an ancient warlike culture.  And so to bed.

21.9.89 Wellington

A cold but beautiful morning, red sky.  But problems.  As I had had a strange premonition of, the hotel blithely told me that my passport and money were in the safe – which had a time-lock until 7am.  My flight left at  7am.  In the end, a manager was dragged out of bed and the time-lock proved not so formidable.  In any case, I had already devised two backups.  What fun.  Driving out to the airport, watching the steam rise from the land everywhere, I was struck by how pervasive Maori names were here.  You could tell this was a centre.  In Rotorua itself, the Maori people were unobtrusive, well integrated.  At least they didn't seem much of an underclass.  But I wonder what they really think.

The flight glorious.  I pass over the huge Lake Taupo – mistaking it for the sea – and then have stunning views of the great northern volcanoes – Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.  It was picture postcard stuff: now brown volcanic rock, rising in a perfect cone with spines, all topped in icing sugar snow.  Landed in a cold Wellington – I hope the south is not too cold.  Staying at the TAS Hotel – rather modern – in the TVC building.

Walking through Wellington is pleasant.  It is small-scale but varied and interesting.  Out to the Beehive Parliament building, then back past the "Temporary Contemporary" – sounds familiar.  A nice exhibition space for modern stuff.  Then back to the centre, to the main concert hall, which is unspectacular – and seems to have little going on.  Also stopped off in the City Art Gallery – again temporary.  Timely exhibition on Wellington past and present, and what they are doing to it.  The mayor sounds a right cluck.  Lunch at the City Limits Café – for the name if for nothing else – clearly the trendy place.  Then to the opera house – also unimpressive – to Downstage to buy tickets for Inside Out's "The Love and the Beloved" based on Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café at 6.30pm this evening.

I sit now in the wonderful Polynesian Gallery of the National Gallery, listening to chants, jew's harps, conch shells etc.  The displays really tap into the Oceanic magic for me, this sense of kith and kin across a million square miles, unity within diversity, the courage and indomitability.  Wonderful.  Surrounded by these proud and plangent musics, I find it hard to leave here after nearly an hour just sitting and listening and seeing with my inner eye.  Oceania.  

I buy a couple of tapes at the museum, but unfortunately I ask whether there is somewhere else; I am told about Tala's.  I go there, wandering back into town.  It turns out to be a real treasure-trove of Polynesian pieces – books, tapes etc.  I have to spend some money – but unable to carry it all, I'll get it sent back to the UK.  So much to read.  I am further weak – and buy a book of poems by Fleur Adcock – New Zealander originally, apparently – plus the Penguin book of New Zealand verse – new to me.  I am now in the Theatre Downstairs – a good space.  The performance by Inside Out is dramatic, very Edinburgh Fringe in its disjunctions, its love of the dramatic gesture, its looping and swooping verbals.

22.9.89 Wellington

Raining (again).  Up to St Peter's Anglican church.  And it is very Anglican, as you would expect, since the church has, by its very nature, to preserve its customs, its doxologies.  A wooden church, smelling of East Anglia.  By cable car to the Botanic Gardens.  Inevitably, I am reminded of Hong Kong – but also a day in Naples when I drank one of the best cappuccinos ever before ascending.  Writing this, I also remember the halls of the national museum by the harbour – and failing to find some paintings.  It was shortly after the earthquake there; hotels were nearly all full.  The one I stayed in was a tip.  Much of Pompeii was closed.  I saw a pure albino walking down the street like an alien amidst all these dark-haired, dark-skinned people.

It is very windy here, cold but with some sunshine.  Wellington lies before me, so small.  The harbour is a complicated design; low clouds touch its hills.  In the Botanical Gardens are huge – ten feet high – ferns with palm-tree like trunks.  It feels like autumn, but is spring.  On the way up, the car was full of schoolkids - who seem to start late – 10am.  I've noticed that many schoolboys wear shorts even in their teens.  The girls are almost uniformly dumpy: US girls know how to hold the muscles in their faces; NZ girls have not a clue.

Wellington must be as London was in the eighteenth century: everyone knew everyone, news travelled fast, you can walk everywhere.  Exciting in its own way.  There are a surprising number of Maoris in Wellington.  It is hard to get a handle on this place – the fact that I am the other side of the world to England: 12,000 miles of magma… I wonder to where Wellington is truly antipodean… I shall have to work it out.  What is people's perception of their lives here?  So much of TV, etc. is UK stuff; a fair amount of news picks up on Blighty too.  [Back in City Limits again, for coffee.  It feels like a café: a place where you stop and talk or think.  Music in the background – just turned up as I write.]

Last night and this morning, reading some new poetry books, Adcock and Penguin.  I really love poetry, the heightened sense of every word.  I have a fairly clear idea of the kind of stuff I want to -and believe I can – write.  I must try when I get back.  Trolley buses outside.  The phones a strange mish-mash – UK-type push buttons, and the same models – plus Irish button A, button B types.  To the old Bank of New Zealand building which noses into the traffic stream like Broadcasting House, or the Flatiron building.  Inside for an odd event: "Face Value" from Jordan & Co..  Again, very Edinburgh Fringe: four female dancers, electronic music, lots of vague floating symbolism, fresh grass cuttings.  As often, the venue made it: the Corinthian columns, the stamped metal ceiling masquerading as mouldings.    God knows what it was about: I suspected it was to do with the threatened demolition of BNZ, but the later death stuff seemed not to fit this.  Fun though – in a "young" sort of way.  Pleased to see the two characters from last night's performance there too – with young kids, about one and three years old, both clearly enjoying it – the three-year-old girl with wonderful histrionic gestures already.

I am eating at La Cantina – a Mexican restaurant (uh?). I must go to Mexico.  After lunch, to the Maritime Museum down by the harbour.  Again, it feels so English, with its sea shanties and displays of knots.  It also feels of another era, as it is: I wonder if air travel will one day seem as romantic; I expect so.  One searing exhibit: the sinking of the Titanic.  I had not realised so many had died – and that it was lack of lifeboats – only about half the necessary number.  What a terrifying three hours that must have been.  Also telling: it so "happens" that the proportion of first class saved is rather higher than of second and especially third class passengers.  Terrible.  And then it sank two miles down – inconceivable distance, and to think they found it too.  10,000 feet.  How long did it take to reach the bottom?  Many minutes, doubtless.  After failing to ascend to the observation platform of the Vogel building -  non c'è – I am sitting in the beautiful Old St. Paul's Cathedral – a lovely rich wooden church.  It feels almost Anglo-Saxon – reminds me of the church in Oslo, built of staves, and of the church in East Anglia.

I like watching TV in hotels – even in England, where it has a novel, sybaritic quality.  But abroad is even better: there it is a window on other worlds – better, it is that world's self-image.  Thus the ads are an indicator, as are news programmes.  It is also interesting to see what they take – Doctor Who, Neighbours, Coronations St. - and what they adapt – the omnipresent "Sale of the Century".  I am now at the Monsoon Restaurant – chiefly because there are not that many Burmese restaurants around, so it seemed worthy trying one. Wellington destroyed much of its Victorian heritage, apparently; but what remains is attractive.  Moreover, its new buildings are tolerably appealing and varied.  Excellent meal.  One idiosyncrasy of New Zealand – and anywhere else? - is the BYO – Bring Your Own.  One of these tiny government decisions on licensing which have fundamentally changed the way people behave socially.  Wellington fair bustles at 8pm – fair number of shops open – young people out – eateries.  Nice.

23.9.89 Christchurch

Another early morning flight.  These work really well: my body clock is happy and it means that I don't waste any time in the new town: it is 8.15am and I am sitting in room no. 5 of Warner's Hotel, looking out at Christchurch Cathedral.  The flight showed me the spine of mountains I must cross.  A beautiful sunny morning – really spring-like.  Driving from the airport I pass rows of Japanese maples in blossom, and young-leaved willows by Cambridge-style streams.  The city looks really attractive.

I am sitting in the Dux de Lux Café – healthy eating for a change; the sun continues to stream down.  My progress has been extraordinary: flights nearly daily, then to hotels, investigating cities – real, concentrated life.  I think I could live in hotels.  Mine – Warner's – is a lovely turn of the century building.  It smells of stale beer and cold rooms.  It is the instant cosseting, the perfect, contained worlds.  First I went to the Botanical Gardens, beautiful in the cold early morning.  Surprisingly big and well tended.  Then to the cathedral, to ascend the tower.  A narrow, winding staircase.  I have no problems with that or with height – although in the belfry there is a very steep ladder leading still higher.  I mount it, only to find the trapdoor locked.  I suddenly feel rather unsafe…

Later to the town hall, a square not quite working.  Then to Dux – nice atmosphere, reggae etc. Booming away.  I keep thinking of Chichester (the other one…).. Note: everyone seems to have such appalling chins here…  But it is very English, not just the name – Cambridge, Oxford, Worcester, at al. - not just the Avon river, the cathedral: the totality.  

I can still taste the white Zinfandel in Kate M's…

After lunch and a moment of weakness at the university bookshop (Barber CD) to the museum.  Small and – dare I say it? - quaint.  I delight in wandering through its random, small-town collection.  I am terrified by the huge turning globe: am I that far from home?  Idiot realisations: dinosaurs really existed; meteorites came from out there...aargh.  Then to the McDougal Art Gallery, a small, intimate space, with some unexpected modern art: almost a shock in this paragon of suburban virtues.  A refreshing shock.  Back to the Botanical Gardens, a wander through the greenhouse – what a smell, of Kew, of the Golden Gate Park – to sit in the gorgeous sun.  The sky a perfect dome of blue.  "Set tea" in the gardens restaurant – all I seem to do is eat – turns out to be incredibly sweet cakes and sandwaggers.  Brings back memories of a certain Grantchester cream tea – was it really a few years ago?

It is noticeable that many of the tourist signs are also in Japanese – who are, indeed, all over New Zealand – and the world.  The change has been dramatic in the last few years.  Travelling in New Zealand is strange and unthreatening – I think this is because I am so near the sea, which feels like a way out.  Compare this with Nepal or Samarkand: wherever I travel in these places I feel a million miles from anywhere – and correspondingly more threatened.  In this respect Oceania is the negative of Asia: pockets of land in an expanse of water.  

I visit the Arts Centre, which is bustling, and visit and exhibition called "Sex & Signs": heavy stuff.  My eye is caught particularly by one bloke's work using logic symbols.  Then for some reason I went to the Metro Cinema to see "Powaqqatsi".  The cinema was small but the screen and sound was good.  Alas, the film was not.  Lots of stunning images: the opening pit of hell, thousands of workers crawling up slimy mud, the 90 degree short of a plane passing over a flat.  But there was no real thread to the images or the music.  The latter was really coasting: no energy, just film music pure and simple.  Then a good meal at Italian Palazzo del Marinaio – fish restaurant run by a Maltese.  Tried a good New Zealand Chablis.  Still dreaming of that Zinfandel, though…

24.9.89 Franz Joseph Glacier

Breakfast in the tiny dining room.  In the background an old Pye (valve?) radio with a booming bass has children's time – including Tom & Jerry narrated...yikes.  A cloudy morning.  A final walk in the Botanic Garden to see the amazing cherry trees – Housman eat your heart out.  Then to the Art Centre's "Le Café" for an early lunch before car up.  Glorious sunshine again… Earlier the bells were playing, all so English.

What can one say about Arthur's Pass.  Except that it like Kashmir, Nepal, Scotland, the Lake District, the Alps?  Approaching on the arrow-straight road from Christchurch is awe-inspiring.  Across the whole horizon is this curtain of mountains.  As you head towards it, it looms up in front of you.  Practically no other cars around.  There are lone bridges over the nearly-dry rivers that remind me of Bali.  The landscape generally is like the ascent to Kashmir: fairly barren, with huge snow-capped peaks all around.  I am quite near the snow-line: must be hairy in winter.  But now the sun is roaring down through the atmosphere.  And the scenery just goes on: a lake, more peaks, constantly varied.  The only odd thing is the state of the road: you expect it to be a worn out Himalayan track – this is too neat.  Perhaps I really am in New Zealand.  As I approach Arthur's Pass, I can see clouds ahead: the west coast's.  I can also see trees on the mountains like a huge hairy cloak – the rain, I presume.  Before now is a vast dry river bed and a wooded mountain; the railway has rejoined us.  Arthur's Pass next.

Perhaps inevitably, Arthur's Pass is nothing special.  But the landscape has changed and is dramatically wooded, like the gorge of Delphi, a huge cleft opens up.  I descend to Otira for tea.  Now I am in a huge river valley; the sun is glinting on the water as it winds its way across the gravel.  Huge tree-covered hills on each side: a gigantic version of Black Moss Bottom in the Lake District. Amazingly the scenery got better.  I was in a huge broad valley, with snow glistening on surrounding mountains.  The latter are lushly covered with forests.  Even as the valley winds down, the peaks are huge.

The sea.  What was striking was the difference of each side of the watershed: one arid and Himalayan, the other lush and Scandinavian.  The journey along the coast was long, long, long.  And strangely lonely.  Normally driving alone has no effect on me.  But here human habitation – and even fellow cars – were so few  that the sense of isolation was extreme.  I really felt that I was in New Zealand, at the end of the world.  Some impressive lakes along the way.  The sea alongside, glinting crazily.  Nearing the glaciers, some hairy gradients.  Mists billowing down from the mountains – not good for tomorrow.  Amazing the UK place names: Oxford, Sheffield – a constant hankering perhaps.  The same on the news: the football results, even the Scottish leagues.  In fact, there seems to be little New Zealand news to lead with.

In the evening, after a four-course meal with New Zealand lamb – yummy – TV.  Very interesting interview with one Palmer, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Ex-Attorney General, very articulate, very calm – in short, very impressive.  Then University Challenge (ha!) - set the pulse racing – the same student unfunny wheezes – pretending to smoke pipes, silly subjects.  Then more Brit sitcoms – I'm surprised the Kiwis don't get sick of us all.  Everything is sponsored: the prizes on University Challenge, the subtitles on programmes – it's like a parody of US TV.

Oh, and gorse: I forgot to mention the blanket of flames, yellow everywhere, this side of the watershed.

25.9.89 Wanaka

Fantastic early morning: crisp air, blue sky, low sun catching the hills and the trees.  But it can't last.  In fact, I am lucky.  We took off at around 9.45am, and the sky was patchy clouds.  I don't think I've been in a light aircraft before: helicopter, yes, in New York.  It's quite visceral, and the sense of take-off more prepared, more real, more worrying.  Also the physicality of the turning is more.  Nice.  Brilliant views on the way up.  One thing that is so strange is this semi-tropical vegetation – a product of the more than 200 inches of rainfall.  First Franz Joseph, a great shattered slug, starting pure white and then getting dirtier as it gets older.  The cracks like wounds, incisions in a whale's back.  Rock-like, with gashes of blue.  A huge cornucopia.  Mount Cook and Mount Tasman gleaming.  Then Fox glacier, more of the same, but better.  And this time, we're going in.

First the crazy pilot lands downhill – what?  It's terrifying because it clearly won't work.  In fact, he's testing the wind.  He turns and lands the other way around, facing uphill.  Also terrifying – it brings back all the worst memories of skiing, the lack of control, the fear of falling over.  Up there is magic.  Perhaps the most total silence I have ever heard.  The sky ink-black – we are 6,000 feet up – and the snow with deep blue cracks in it.  My feet sink a foot through the crust.  It is another world, so pure and perfect.

Going south I find/bring better weather.  Stop in Bruce Bay, huge rollers pounding the shore.  The hills are enormous, isolated humps, furred with foliage.  I stop in Haast beach at a real out-of-the-way hotel/motel, like something out of a US B-movie.  But the weather is turning perfect – hard blue sky, scorching sun, but refreshing cool air.  Then inland towards the Haast pass.  It is like the reverse of yesterday's trip: first a huge river plain, covered in grey gravel, with a snaking flow of water.  Then up, through Spanish-style countryside, across a huge flat pass, then across the watershed to Lake Wanaka, where I now am.  A totally stunning sight – I am about 70 feet about the water, which gives a great view.  Opposite a range of bare, awesome rocky mountains, the tallest still topped with snow, and all reflected in the miles-long lake.  Barely a cloud in the sky.

[Parenthetically, one thing I forgot to mention yesterday: a frightening experience crossing one of those one-lane bridges.  Bad enough, but this was a combined road and rail bridge.  Never mind the problem of what to do if a train comes, the rails were problems enough.] [Ouch – mozzies.]

I am now gawping at Lake Hawea.  There are yuccas (?).  A lot of rocks have a heavy purplish hue.  Now that the sun is on the way down, the chunky scrunched-up nature is more apparent.  Cicadas whirr, birds twitter, sheep baaah.  What amazing walking land this must be.  And here, at least, I feel there is somewhere I could return to in 50 years to find little changed.  But where else?  I also forgot to mention that much of the road from Haast has been unmetalled – a bit dodgy with no barriers either.  But worth it.

This is a very peaceful holiday – not stressed like some.  Perhaps now, at the midpoint, sitting in Relishes Café in Wanaka, listening to Tracey Chapman over loudspeakers, staring at the lake, the sun streaming in, after tea and malt cake, this is the still centre of it all.  One by one, the noises of the day are going home on Lake Wanaka.  I decided to stay here rather than hack on to Queenstown.  It seemed so peaceful.  And so it is, once the water-jets and the power boats have gone.  Now I sit on the gravelly strand, with the setting sun before me, a pillar of wavering fire in the water. [Now the bloody hovercraft is out again.  Give me strength…]  Banks of clouds are beginning to fold over the most Westerly mountains; but here the sky is perfect blue.

The sun's rays are starting to cast long shadows: looking across them, I can see a great black slab – just as in Lake Srinagar.  The heat from the rays is remarkable, even though the air already is beginning to gain a certain bite. A willow tree, newly in leaf, glows from the low sun as if lit from within.  Nearby, I passed two tees whose colours were so intense and unique they looked as if airbrushed.  A huge dark layer of cloud is approaching from the north like an alien spacecraft twenty miles wide. Imagine it.  

This reminds me of Lake Phewa in Pokhara – a civilised, tamed version.  But as with everywhere in New Zealand, I am conscious of the lack of (Western) history, the lack of temporal depth for me.  This is what distinguishes these Himalayan landscapes from the real thing: there, you have a sense of people journeying since time immemorial. I had hoped for gorgeous sunset-tipped peaks à la Pokhara: alas, the cloud is winning.  But the sun is a huge ball of fire, a million miles across.  And now it is going, going.  Gone.  As the pillar of fire crept towards me, it went out.  But the light still catches the bank to my right, making it glow intensely green as all goes cold.

Back to Relishes for dinner.  Excellent food and a good buzz.  Then out to stare at the stars – inadvisedly, since it terrifies me, the sense of distance.  The brightness and sharpness are amazing: you realise why the Greeks spent so much time studying what were such blatant facts.  Also how the Polynesians could navigate by them – they were not so ignorable as our poor stars.  The Milky Way – I think – visible, horribly so.

26.9.89 Te Anau

[I'm losing track of the days here: Tuesday?]

Up early: at 6.30am the rising sun reverses its decline last night.  A band of light catches the mountains to my left, making them look like butter.  Generally overcast, but with promise of better weather.  I drive to Queenstown becoming sadly blasé about all this beauty: it is too unremitting, too undifferentiated.  I long for variety or historicity.  

Queenstown small and bustling; I book a room for tomorrow, then on down to Te Anau.  I find that as time wears on, I am driving faster and faster.  But I cover distances.  Since I am becoming saturated, there seems little point hammering on to Milford – especially without accommodation.  Instead, I stay at very first motel – which turns out to be very similar to a hotel, but cheap.  Down to the lake to book a trip for this afternoon – the weather seems to be turning.  Then to the Jail House Café – cheap, and distinguished by the Ivesian polyphony of space invaders and radio. I had feared that the trip across to the glow-worms would be naff.  The boat trip was unspectacular – the weather had turned cloudy, so although we could see the mountain from close-up, there was not m uch else.  Except the information that the depth went down about 1300 feet – that sense of sheer distance again.

Then into the cave.  First a bent shuffle into cold air.  Rustling water omnipresent: gnats too.  Impressive that they managed to build the walkways.  Then we boarded a boat – a metal tin, rather.  Filled to the gunwales, it seemed only inches higher than the water – at 5°C.  It was manhandled by one bloke pulling us along on a chain.  A further walk to a small landing stage, then, another tin boat.  The lights went out.  Suddenly hundreds of tiny lights overhead.  And no other sense of direction of distance or space.  It was exhilarating but also frightening – you felt so exposed, your head fragile.  It was like navigating galaxies with new stars heaving into view.  After a while I lost all sense of travel, and so I was surprised to see light – and people ahead.  We had turned round and come back – but I was till in there, 200 metres under the hillside.  Amazing.  

I am finding New Zealand TV irresistible – if only because it is (a) bad and (b) shows me all the programmes I never see in the UK – "Neighbours" et al.  The one characteristic programme is "Holmes" – a kind of local Robin Day – even looks like him, but with a better sense of humour.  Crayfish, salmon and boysenberries – a kind of cross between blackberries and raspberries – at Kepler's Restaurant.  Yummy.

27.9.89 Queenstown

Unexpectedly, and undeservedly a fine morning.  I drive out to Manapouri to catch the boat on my day trip.  The trouble with New Zealand, I have decided, is that it is too familiar: it has so/too much in common with Blighty, that it really is just an extension of it, an island off Ireland, perhaps.  Very beautiful, calm. - but insufficiently different to make it worth visiting often.  Apparently I crave this basic exoticism in my travels, a thrill of difficulty and strangeness.

Down inside the earth again: to the main hall of the hydroelectric station – like a hymn to a Russian constructivist power.  The low hum and harmonics a great symphony, the simple granite walls – undressed – and the metal pillars like a temple.  The warm smell of engineering.  Eerie descent down 2 kilometre tunnel, 360 degree circuit. Blasted rock, unsupported.  

On the way to Doubtful Sound.  Stopping – the view of vertiginous mountains – 4,000 feet – thickly wooded: this must be what England was once like.  The smell of ferns, dampness in the air.  High valleys catching the light breaking through the clouds.  So much greenery.  Stopping at the top of the pass: mist swirling, but Doubtful Sound visible through a hole punched out.  Everywhere around huge birch trees clogged up with moss which chokes and kills.  

To go back to the beginning – or near it.  The journey from Manapouri was miraculously in sunshine.  I sat on the top deck, gradually freezing.  It reminded me of Lake Saimaa, as the wooded islands passed by.  And so I remember the almost feverish excitement of that trip as I suddenly decided to enter for Kennedy and Harkness Scholarships – the latter of which I damn near got: 23rd out of 20 – to study Russian and Polish at Harvard.  How would life have been then?

I began to feel that I was finally getting away from civilisation; that I was at the ends of the earth.  Perhaps, in part, this is what I look for in a trip – a sense of maximum distance.  Then to the power station.  It turns out this amazing feat was largely to bribe an aluminium smelter to come to New Zealand.  Howsoever, it has a glory of its own.  The descent by access tunnel was truly bizarre – driving on the right, too.  As I have already described, the main hall, hewn from solid granite, was a modern cathedral, with its choir of turbines humming away in divine accord.  Then we drove over the pass – imagine bringing 200 tons over that, past 1200 foot waterfalls and these crazy vertiginous valleys reaching up to four or five thousand feet.  Down to the deep cove – so deep that the jetty is place the fjord is 1500 feet deep – yikes.

The trip, even in the grey swirling weather, one of majesty.  We turn left into the western arm, and pass mountains like woolly stegosauri, a huge scooped-out valleys curving sharply away.  This place is practically untouched: I have a sense of human eyes – Maoris – seeing it.  Pristine, virgin.  The engines are shut off, and we listen to the silence.  Back the way we came, I start reading "The Bone People" again, with a little more enjoyment.  But it is so over-written

I drive back to Queenstown.  Stunning scenery as ever, but I am cold and want my hotel room.  Which is nice: fourth floor of the Park Royal with fine view over the lake.  Dinner at The Cow – an enormous mouth-burning pizza – once I have found the damn place.  Unfortunately surrounded by tourists – euro and yank trash. Then to TV.  I flip between a curious 60s vehicle with Antony Hopkins and other Brits, then watch a Brit film on the Holocaust, more particularly on the camps.  Auschwitz: four million.  The de-humanisation which begins with the shearing of hair, the tattooing of a number.  The loss of family.  As they said, it does need to be shown regularly.  Lest we forget.

28.9.89 Queenstown

Much of the above written sitting on my balcony, watching the changing clouds and patterns of light on the chocolate brown mountains.  I am now sitting beneath the waters of Lake Wakatipu in Underwater World.  In front of me, huge eels squirm like nightmare phalluses.  There are also ducks and enormous trout.  It is a very odd experience.  The intertwining, wrinkled eels are disgusting yet fascinating.

About yesterday: it was real because I was pierced to the bone by the wind – I felt I was there.  And remembering other experiences that are burnt into memory, I was frequently uncomfortable – shades of Cellini and the salamander.  This is another reason that New Zealand is slightly passing me by: I have not suffered enough.  Travel = travail.  If it is too easy, we remain at home.  This is the trouble, I feel that I have travelled 13,000 miles to reach a parallel UK.  Another thing: New Zealand not only has no smell of its own, it has no food (rather like the UK).  When I go elsewhere I have eaten food strongly flavoured by the place; here it is all-too cosmopolitan.  Even the US has its delis.  The point is I needed an alternative mindset to engage with.  

After the eels, up by gondola to the top of the hill overlooking Queenstown.  I am still not quite sure how these gondolas connect with the continuous steel cable.  But it seems to work.  A fairly vertiginous ascent/descent; the view pleasant, but not really special enough to move me.

To the airport, where I get stuck into "The Bone People" – written on a large, languid scale, it bilds to its crisis quite well.  Two planes – how many will I take this hol? - then to Auckland.  I do the right things for the wrong reasons – or vice versa – a $50 hotel, so I take a taxi $30; to the Baalbek restaurant for a Lebanese meal – guess why.  But at least good pop Lebanese music swirls around me.  The restaurant is fairly empty – the Lebanese family owners outnumber the guests at times; my sort of restaurant.  Perhaps the music, the name, the food, puts me in touch with the civilisation I hanker for.  I love London.

I have been bitten to pieces by sand-flies.  

29.9.89 Auckland

Well, the deed is done: I spent 30 minutes removing my hard-won beard.  Of course, immediately afterwards, I thought: "what a mistake".  The skin looked obscenely smooth, hard – and white. A rather sleepless night – perhaps in anticipation.  In fact, more likely due to the sand-fly bites which tortured me.  I have more sympathy with drug addicts: although I knew that itching would make it worse, the urge was strong I succumbed occasionally.

After breakfast, a walk around Auckland centre.  This does not take long, even though the city is quite spread out.  After checking out – before 10am - to the Memorial Museum.  More Polynesian, Maori stuff – in many ways the most characteristic things in New Zealand.  Once again the sense of excitement, the exploration.  The story of man, rocks, initiating history.  Now in the Auckland Art Gallery care, about to battle with Picasso et al.  Actually first went walkies again, then to Gopal's – a veggie restaurant run by Hare Krishnas.  Read some of their propaganda: very woolly.  Walking around I was struck by how many Polynesians/Maoris there are, mostly just sitting around as the disaffected do in all big cities.  Also a few derelicts.  Big city indeed.  Except that there seem to be few shops…

After the propaganda – at least the food tasted of something – to the Picasso.  Some I'd seen before, some not.  Etchings and woodcuts too.  But what abides is a totally superhuman energy.  Beethoven may have that unplumbable depth, unsayable, Shakespeare the richness of worlds – both of which it seems to me Picasso lacks – but he pips them for sheer polymorphous creativity and energy.  And he had a more attractive second wife – Jacqueline was stunning.  Then round the town – again.  Still nothing.  To the quayside, trying to get a view of the coat-hanger bridge with its "Nippon clip-ons", (which I rather like): little dice.  To a brasserie/bar in the old port building, where I sit now, surrounded by the buzz of people who have nothing better to do at 3.30 in the afternoon, watching the fairly unbusy waters.  The skies light grey now, humidity down and generally quite bearable.

I have decided to pretend I still have a beard.

Just as space and spatial extent are only defined by objects within them, so a country, as opposed to a geography, is only defined by the historical objects within it.  This is why I find it hard – nay, impossible – to relate to much of New Zealand: nothing has happened here, or if it has, nobody remembers.  I go back to the well-worn analogy between people and places: visiting countries, towns, rich with history is like meeting someone with a rich and varied experience, someone who has lived life to the full.  New Zealand is an adolescent, gawky and energetic, but bland and ultimately rather dull.  Give it another century, though…  It is very noticeable that men's hair is quite long here; equally, miniskirts are much in evidence: perhaps the 1960s have finally reached these shores…

30.9.89 Suva

Well, unbelievably again, here I am, somewhere else: Tavua, on the north coast of Fiji.  The flight was good – I slept for most of it, and woke to see twinkling sporadic lights below, like refelcted stars – or those glow-worms again.  Customs took ages, and I didn't reach my hotel until 3.15am, despite it being conveniently close. It turns out to be rather upmarket – and cheaper than I thought because the pound is stronger against the Fijian dollar – almost £1= $F2.  My room is quite palatial.  In the morning I am greeted by the thunderous sound of the nearby metal gods yawning.

After breakfast – expensive but filling, a tiny gecko on my chair – to the airport to hire a jeep.  I get a Suzuki Samurai for three days.  I've decided to go round to Suva along the King's (north) Road, stay there one night, and then return by the Queen's (south) Road; which should be easier and more picturesque.  The Suzuki is a new, gleaming white beast with levers all over the place; but it feels sturdy.  No aircon.

After reserving a room back at the Fiji Gateway hotel for Sunday, out on the road.  Not too much traffic – and this is the busiest stretch.  Before picking up the car, I was halted by a very long train hauling sugar cane; the train is an omnipresent companion, or at least its narrow-gauge tracks which cross the road continually – without warning lights.  But the main hazard is slow, lumbering trucks packed with sugar cane.  Road quite good along here, though it is supposed to get worse.

The scenery is quite dramatic: Pacific Ocean to my left, fringed by palm trees and narrow, silver strands, and the highlands to my right, craggy but lushly forested.  I pass through small villages – some with sleeping policemen – mostly tin huts.  In the bigger towns the shops are concrete – à la Bali – and all the signs are in English.  Many names are Indian; man of those that I pass on the road are dark southern Indians, as well as the frizzy-haired Polynesians.  Lautoka quite busy – with various banners promoting "First Police Remembrance Day".  Other signs warning of the "coffin nails" – fags.  All road signs in English.  Islands, misty, out to sea.  Clouds everywhere but the sun always burning them away.  An odd sight: Jehovah's Witness Centre.  A huge trench in the road: I didn't see it, but the Suzuki seems to cope.  Note: both here and New Zealand, Japanese cars are 95% of those on the road.  What a chance the Brits blew.

Bliss.  I am sitting in Suva, by the swimming pool of the Suva Travelodge.  In front of me, the sun is bleeding the sky a gorgeous salmon-pink, over a grey-pink cloud bank against which is silhouetted the mountains – more which anon.  It is a balmy evening; I can see two luxury liners moored at Suva, one lit up like a Christmas tree on Fifth Avenue.  I am surrounded by coconut trees and other exotica.  This glorious evening is quintuply welcome after the afternoon I've just had.  An odyssey, the perfect antidote to the anodyne New Zealand, with its perfect roads.

After lunch in Tavua, at the delightfully quiet but characterful Hotel Tavua (though unfortunately the goat curry was off the menu) [double parenthesis – tea and biscuits have arrived, shades of The Imperial in New Delhi…].  Anyway, after Tavua, I followed the coast to Rakiraki.  The sun was obscured more now, but that made the heat more pleasant.  The coast was low mostly, volcanic black sand.  The roads up to this point had been pretty good.  On to Viti Levu Bay [this tea is good – hello Bali, too] [lights have gone on...casting eerie lights and shadows].  Which was truly beautiful: white sand, mountains behind, islands to sea, bays peeking away to the distance. 

The drums have started now, Kodo-like. There are brazier-like lights along the sea front, flames shattering in the evening breeze, smoke weaves off almost imperceptibly. Great St. Mary's chimes – in Auckland, and even here, 6.45pm...  The cicadas have started up like a thousand tiny buzzsaws perfectly synchronised.  It has truck 7.  It is 6am in London; half a world away.  Am I really here?  A frog is hopping across the lawn: how on earth did it get here?  Another move – will this story never get told? - to Tikos – the floating restaurant.  It is rocking delightfully, there is a beautiful breeze and I am having raw fish, then pakapaka.  This is nice, if a curious sensation.

To return: I thought that I must have mistaken a turning, the road had gone on so long.  I was resigned to taking an even longer route when I met up with the map.  Then the fun really began.  The road by now was gravel or potholes or dirt track.  Had I not been driving the Suzuki I would have been having kittens.  I engaged 4WD – it felt like warp factor 7 – and drove.  After a while it became quite pleasant having my kidneys destroyed – reasonably secure in the knowledge that the beast could take it – there's that touching trust in technology again.

I passed through innumerable small villages, most without a name.  The people certainly are friendly: a simple wave elicits broad smiles and waves back.  I even gave a lift to three 16-year-old girls who had walked about three miles to get the Fiji Times ("the first newspaper published in the world", quite well written too).  As with most Fijians, they were cheerful and bouncy.  Talking with them brought home the yawning chasm between our worlds.  The villages are simple: some have schools – all in English; but there are few flowers anywhere, unlike Bali, say.  But then I have to the remember the fact that plants and animals exist here naturally is a miracle – imagine the distances.   Bridges have become planks with more planks laid crosswise parallel to the road. [Quite a lot of Brits in this restaurant – plus the ubiquitous Japs…]  I began to get a feel for distances and size: the first Polynesians and old James Cook must have been pretty pleased when they discovered Fiji: it is a surprisingly large lump of rock. Its volcanic origins lend a particular charm to the silhouettes: jagged fingers of rock, chimneys – quite unlike the tame glacial ones of Europe.  This is a young land.

Towards the north-east corner of the island, surprisingly barren; lusher inland.  This road goes on and on, as I can only make about 50 km/hour.  Even this is too fast: at one bridge I spot lorries the other side; I slam brakes on – too hard, and execute a rather worrying 90 degree skid; and reprimanded by one of the drivers… Later, nearer here, I encounter major road works as the government beings to metal and widen.  But road works here does not mean a bit of contraflow: huge trucks and JCBs pirouette; I have to avoid them while driving over barely tamped earth.  Roads split and diverge, old and new.  Red gashes of raw hillside; large drops all over the place.  Then, nearer here, a convoy of us on a dusty track: I am blinded and choked for half an hour – there is nothing I can do.  Finally metalled road, then I hit Suva's rush hour.

I listen to the radio occasionally.  Brit accents, announcements about Diwali competitions, news flashes relating to ferries, endless Indian film songs, tablas booming away under swooping saccharine strings.  [Are there people talking about apricots – and slagging them off…?] This is definitely pleasant, the breeze, the rocking, the smells, the lapping of the water.  [Talking of micros, which I'm not, in a micro store in Victoria Parade, Commodores – even Commodore 64s – rule the roost.]  At night, the heavens descent: the sky seems to crowd down like bunched velvet.  The paucity of lights helps: just the odd pool, otherwise soft blackness.  [Another parenthesis – almost as bad as James Joyce or summit – my beard seems to be growing very slowly – shock, perhaps.]

As I said, today's epic struggle was a wonderful contrast to New Zealand: many times thought I was completely lost – the sun, never as trustworthy below the equator as above, I find (relatively speaking) was all over the shop; there were no signs; the jeep really taking a beating; I was dusty, my throat dry and sore.  It is precisely this experience which I will remember (I hope) rather than the easy perfection of some of my travels in New Zealand.  I also felt in touch with the island.  Travelling around over half of it – the least touristy part, too, I met the real Fiji repeatedly.

1.10.89 Nadi

It has rained overnight.  In the morning, the earth has a fresh, new smell, like Bali.  It is pleasantly warm.  Plenty of fruits for breakfast, coconut juice and coconut muesli.  The Fijian/Polynesian language somehow seems of a piece with its environment: consonants divided by vowels, islands by sea, soft syllables, repetitious word formation just as volcanoes formed the isles.  Well, sort of.  From this trip in particular, I realise that for me part of the point of them is the challenge of making everything happen: I set myself tasks, goals, and have to achieve them  It is partly for this reason that I prefer to travel alone (sometimes…): things only happen if I make them – everything is continent on and a reflection of that.  It is a pure manifestation of will.  NB: all the greatest travellers have gone alone – is the only way to see things, rather than turn inward, to your group.  I must write "On Tourism".

Interesting piece in yesterday's "Fiji Times" (probably taken from a Brit newspaper – there are many lifted pieces): it was about animals' and humans' lifetimes – the old business about heart-rates, number of years lived, etc.  But on good point the journo made was about each day: when you are one year old, each day is 1/365th of your life; when you are 30, it is only 1/10,000th of your life – hence it seems to go more quickly…. (for some, anyway).  The point is hols are similar: they put back the density of event into your life.  Because your stay anywhere is so limited, each day becomes 1/10th or so of your time there – and so, more important.  

Outside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.  Strange seeing this pastiche Romanesque.  The choir is singing "Amazing Grace" within.  A symbol, perhaps, of the intrusions of all these bloody missionaries on these islanders' lives.  Suva, on a Sunday morning, is dead, not surprisingly.  Again, the Indian names – and a Swedish one, Hedstrom.  It is a sultry day, although the sun is in.  The Regal Cinema, a glorious folly, now painted a shocking Suffolk pink.  I am in the Crow's Nest restaurant.  It is clouded over but pleasant: the restaurant is atmospheric, nearly empty.  The restaurant is full of sailing memorabilia: pix of ships, lanterns, creels, even charts on the ceiling.  To my left, the ocean, wet beach then dark blue sea.  Fans twirl, the breeze passes in and out of the room; there is a peaceable clatter from the kitchen.  Ordered: cream of fish, and chicken in lolo (coconut milk).  Flowers on the table (bougainvillea?).  

Nothing much to report on here: a flat coastal plain, lush vegetation, then hills, with tempting water below.  Went down to Man Friday resort – another rough track, nothing much else to see.  Gave a lift to a mother and her four kids.  Otherwise just moving on.  A wasp like some kind of optica plane is buzzing me.  A nice place.  On to Sigatoka, to gawp at the Nadroga Jame-Mosque.  It's amazing the number of religions here – various Christians, Hindu, Islam, Hare Krishna, et al.  The mosque looks like Brighton Pavilion, or a tea-room there…

After overheating, then taking the wrong turn – rougher and rougher – I finally make it to Natadola Beach where I now sit.  This is a beautiful beach.  Alas, no sun.  But the waves are something else.  Mostly flat until within about 20 feet of the shore, then the water rises up with an incredible unanimity – falls with a huge slapping smack of extraordinary force and sharpness.  Very daunting.  Around there are a few coconut trees and other low trees.  A nice white beach (the sea is getting rather too close – I can see myself getting soaked if I'm not careful).  For about 15 minutes I was talking with a local – stocky chap, who was moaning about how he was the local "security" – but didn't get paid etc.  And how the Japs want to build a hotel here, how they're buying everything up, how they started the war…

Back at the Castaway Hotel – which is looking different somehow – perhaps the overcast skies have confused me.  A nominally better room facing the hills, not the planes – but I miss the great grey things.  I think one of my few indulgences when abroad like this is sugar in my tea; alas, they have no sweet bickies…  Two weeks ago, I was sitting in the Sidewalk Café in Venice...unbelievable.  Listening to the radio today, religious programmes everywhere – horrible kiddie propaganda – yuk.  [Did I mention: in Suva, one shrewd (Indian) merchant was advertising a special sale on the basis of Fiji Day, the Prophet's Birthday, and Diwali…]  A surprisingly tiring day again, but good fun.  The old 4x4 is certainly proving its worth.

I am sitting beside the pool, water plashing in from an incongruous heap of rocks beside it.  One Fijian around – otherwise, nada.  Old rock playing tinnily on the speakers. I am the heir to it all, and yet I have this too – who could ask for more?  I feel that someone is switching off the sky with a thyristor, or that an increasingly opaque curtain is being drawn across it.  A planet is out. I am now alone with the mad rock guitarist – very 70s.  It occurred to me that the Indians are about the only ones left with an alternative pop music to the all-pervasive Western variety.  [I realise now what the Crow's Nest restaurant reminded me of: a certain café perched on the edge of a cliff opposite the Calf of Man...] 

There is another frog, hopping across the pool's surroundings: is it a plague or an omen?  It is so easy to hear oblivion, ecstasy in the electric guitar's manic whine.  There is one Moody in Fiji phone book: R. I. R. Moody, Vatuvia Road, Lami, near Suva.  I passed through it today: perhaps I should have called in… [The standard Fijian woman looks like Joan Armatrading.]  There does not seem to be any abject poverty in Fiji: as in Bali, the climate ensures that subsistence living is quite possible with minimal means.  [Parenthetically, I only saw homeless and down and outs in New Zealand in Auckland, its biggest and most cosmopolitan of cities.]  And people do seem at peace, smiling and greeting readily.  No, I do have another indulgence abroad: I drink Coke.  But often this is out of necessity. Makes me think of the Imperial's swimming pool…

I am in the Blue Orchid dining room at the hotel: as I drove through Nadi, I discovered it was a long way out. I really am poised between past and future: in 50 years' time, Fiji will be like everywhere: everywhere will be like everywhere.  I am privileged to see Natadola before the hotels come, the tiny villages up in the hills with thatched roofs and plaited walls, the simplicity of the people.  It is really frustrating eating these dishes served in half coconuts: I cannot eat the fruit.  Ludicrously, the background music to Air New Zealand's privatisation ads on TV haunts me: it is a kind of dumpy waltz for brass band and strings – it sounds very Michael Nyman.  Which is doubtless why it haunts – I can't wait for "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" – let's hope there's a Greenaway retrospective around then.  And what's next?  I remember hearing the first rumours about "Drowning by Numbers" – and indeed reading the newspaper report about "Belly of an Architect" and "Zed and Two Noughts".  What a man, what a culture.

So much pop music represents a striving for the transcendental and the numinous.  Indeed, probably unbeknownst to them, this is the nearest many people will ever get to that "beyond".  Hence acid house's attraction, and all dance music's: it offers a trance-like state, a letting go, a social nirvana, an abdication of rationality. [I had cassava for lunch – tapioca? Made me think of cassowary – "Walk through H", Greenaway – again…] Apparently the quicksilver forms running across the road are mongooses (mongeese?) - old Rikki-Tikki-Tavi – now, there's a memory.  It is surprising how often a potentially decent/good meal is spoilt by an indifferent/bad sweet.  As it was tonight, and even old Kate Mantilini's.  Sadly, I fear that life may often be thus: we live too long, to become shadows.  Even someone like Lee Miller – a cultural heroine of mine – who seemed to have and do everything, ended her life in bitterness.  

2.10.89 Nadi

Up early enough to see a glorious sunrise.  Sun is streaming down now, but the forecast is not good.  I had failed to grasp the fact that I have circumnavigated the island, all of it, exactly.  It is a surprisingly large island, and so far from everywhere.  The same music as last night – hard rock – is playing: each hotel seems to have its one, favourite tape which it plays endlessly.

I got to Natadola beach early – around 9am.  It was deserted.  The sun was breaking through high clouds intermittently.  It is now scorching, but there is a lovely – deceptive – breeze, and the sea is perfect – and perfectly frightening in its power.  I have just been for a 15 minute horse ride, thus fulfilling one of my lifelong ambitions: to ride a horse bareback along the margin of a golden beach, with coconut trees swaying in the breeze, and the sun glinting on the water.  Hard work though – the mare – one "Jimmy"… (ha!) was a bit small for me.  But we galloped – and worryingly, it was without aids.  But exhilarating.  I am now sore.

Moody's First Law of Tourism

The amount of experience each day holds is in inverse proportion to the length of the holiday.

That is, if you spend only four days in Fiji, for example, you pack a lot in; stay for four months, and you pack more in, but not thirty times more.  The ideal would be to glimpse a country for an infinitely intense moment.

Moody's Second Law of Tourism

The cost of something is in proportion to the distance, time, effort expended to get to that place.

For example, at home, we can take or leave things; in France we probably put up with a slight premium; in the fjords of New Zealand we pay practically any price, since we may never return.  

Moody's Third Law of Tourism

The real distance of a newly-visited place is measured not in miles, or even hours, but in the amount of discomfort endured to get there.

Travel = travail, that is, suffering undergone.  Originally, all travel was travail: for example to visit India or the Nile was a horrendous undertaking.  Recently, it has become too easy: people have no sense of travelling.  Zero discomfort means you are still in your living room, watching a "feelie"/simstim travelogue.  Which is why more and more people want more difficult holidays.

Well, I'm glad I got that out of the way: the rest of the book should be easy.

I am back in the Crow's Nest for tea and pancake.  Luckily the sun went in so I was able to leave.  Even so, I am nicely frazzled.  The sea was just right: a warm bath but refreshing – but the waves were wicked, as were the various undertows.  First, I should note that about 11.30am, the crowds arrived.  Until then, I shared the beach with just three others, and one snorkeller.  And a big beach too.  I decided to head back to Sigatoka to drive up the valley along the river.  The latter is amazingly broad: it almost seems wrong that an island should have such a large twisting inland waterway.  On either side, lots of fruit and veggies growing.

More fun: there was a sign saying "detour", which of course I ignored.  It led me to more road works – that is, road building, with me swooping in and out of bulldozers, huge dumpster trucks etc al.  None of the workmen seemed at all worried by this, and waved back happily.  [Parenthetically, this waving and smiling really is infectious.]  The road was rough, and barely formed, but nothing I wasn't by now use to.  After getting bored following the road, I turned back but faithfully took the detour.  As often is the case, the cure proved worse than the illness: it was a road whose design was based on corrugated iron, with a few huge potholes thrown in to keep you awake.  But the trusty Suzuki made it.  Though I must say I can be less impressed with my own achievements after seeing some of the family saloons people took to the beach.

On the way back, my first Fiji rain – quite heavy.  Also, in the distance, I see grey shimmering beneath the clouds where rain falls.  The earth gives off smells that suggest that it is good enough to eat.  Unusually for me, I have overdone the sun.  Amusingly, where some of the highly efficacious Factor 9 suntan oil has touched me, I have white islands in a sea of red.  Foolish, foolish. I sit now in the outside restaurant; a trio of Fijians singing and playing guitar – some interesting falsetto chords.

3.10.89 Nadi

A curious day, but not unpleasant.  Painful, yes: I am really badly burnt, which is annoying; I am also sore from the horsey activities.  Wake, cursing, to brilliant sunshine.  But – wonders – I stayed out of it all day.  Perhaps I'm getting wise in my old age.  Instead, I sat in the shade round the pool or in my aircon room, reading Typee.  Disappointing: very old-fashioned, rather disjointed, though interesting points of contact with the future "Moby Dick".  Does capture quite well the sense of life unchanging on these islands – something which would drive me nuts.  Occasionally the prolonged barp of the sugarcane diesels, or else the low thunder of a plane on take-off.  Took Samurai back this morning: 780 kilometres in three days.  Served me well.  It's appalling: there are people here (as there need to be – this hotel has about 100 rooms).  Mercifully the clouds descended in the afternoon, so I felt less bad about missing it.  A late flight this evening: 1.40am.  Now I sit in the outside restaurant, , guitars strumming away, a delicious warmth in the evening air – one of my favourite facets of tropical locations.

It is 12.45am; I am very tired.  I am sitting in the café at the airport.  My plane has just come in – a huge, lumbering screaming 747 – the café is open to the night, and the sound was deafening.  I had no hesitation in sticking my fingers in my ears.  How I love the technology of this $100 million big bird: it epitomises late 20th-century life – that and computers.  I have read half of "The Mind's I": good, though nothing startlingly new yet.  Good for mental limbering up.  Brings back memories of San Jose, and even my skiing trip.  Earlier in the day, sitting beside the pool, I heard a big jet – 747? - take off; moreover, the wonderful waft of burnt kerosene spread over us – the incense of travel.

3.10.89 (sic) Honolulu

A very curious date – so that's what happened to Tuesday: it's rather pleasing that it should be Tuesday I lose, and Tuesday I gain.  So, I am in Honolulu, sitting in the café of the Academy of Arts – interesting, good value meal with a real character of a waiter – one Bill.  It is bucketing down outside – so much for my planned sunbathing.  Just as well, perhaps: I am now itching furiously, so this is my discomfort I was yearning for…

Good flight – again, I slept like a bent log.  Into a wet and very muggy Honolulu.  The drive from the airport looked like Los Angeles or San Francisco.  The Sheraton Waikiki looks impressive – more later, although my room has a lousy view.  Honolulu, in all its 24-hour glory, seems to be a living example of one of my laws…  So far Honolulu looks like a lush US city – few Hawaiians visible, mostly large Yanks.  Some very attractive oriental women at the airport – from an airline, perhaps.  Indeed, orientals seem common: I had one as my taxi driver – spoke barely a word, and seemed to understand as little.

One of the nicest things about visiting a new museum is that it offers a tabula rasa on which I can scribe my guesses.  I walk into the first room: I see (I think) Redon, Tanguy, de Chirico, Braque, Delaunay (R), Gris, Leger – almost right: Braque is actually a Picasso, the Gris is a Braque.  There is a very simple Tahitian scene by Gaugin; I now feel in a totally different way towards his work... Enjoyable wandering around the Academy.  Nothing stunning, but pleasant to be indoors on a day of tropical torrential downpour.  Well, one stunning work: I heard it as I came into the modern gallery.  It is called Sounding Sculpture, and by Harry Bertoia (US) 1915-1978.  It consists of 25 five-feet high metal rods, equally spaced in a square, with another eleven seven-foot six-inch rods on two sides, ending in heavier cylinders.  The tensile strength is such that the natural harmonics are low.  You are invited to touch.  Doing so produces a clangour of bells – like San Gimignano.  You hear complex snatches of rhythm; gradually it dies away, with just the occasional chance note singing out.  Totally magic.

It is a very curious sensation, but I appear to be trapped in the Honolulu Academy of Art.  I have looked at everything I can/want to, but the rain falls without abatement; buckets.  I cannot easily leave, and even if I could, where would I go?  So I am back in Room 1, with my friends and roots, and the smell of dank Hawaiian air in my nostrils.  

In my beginning is my end: just as my first meal in Los Angeles was Italian, so my last in Honolulu is; I am being lazy and eating in the hotel.  Largely because of the rain, which turns out to be a freak: three inches in one hour on this island; two inches elsewhere.  I called a taxi twice, none came.  Fed up, I did that un-American thing and walked.  Wet feet, but little else.  In the end, probably sensible: I get to find on the news that traffic jams were clogging everywhere.  

I find that there are three crucial elements to getting to know a place: its newspaper, its TV – or radio if this isn't available – and its telephone book.  [Parenthetically, as I came through immigration this morning, I noticed that one D. Moody is wanted: shame on him/her for besmirching the name…]  So this evening I have been settling down to the local news, Star Trek etc.

I am disappointed in this hotel.  It is not grand, just large – no real facilities, no view from the top.  My room is exceedingly ill-placed – the corridors are so long.  Waikiki is essentially an upmarket Blackpool – I'm not missing anything here; and Honolulu itself looks pretty empty.  But the experience of being here briefly was worth it, to experience the rain, the rain, the rain… [Parenthetically again, this here scribbling at least prevents me from twiddling my thumbs in restaurants – prime danger for solo dining: thanks, fog – or something.]

It is strange how everything has fitted together: Los Angeles to Honolulu, the three Pacific cultures, Tuesdays lost and found.  I have learnt much about travelling: whereas other hols have taught me about the places, here it has been more general.  At first I feared this trip would be something of a flop – without bit or focus; happily that isn't so, it is all coming together nicely.

4.10.89 Honolulu

So we make it to the 4th.  A slight restless night – I never trust wake-up calls that you program into the phone, so I tend to wake of my own accord.  Also my king-size bed – about six foot six inches square – is disconcerting.  No paper; pah – bloody Sheraton.  Down to the beachside café.  A very pleasant way to spend my last morning in Honolulu, watching the indistinct masses of the clouds hang greyly, with the pounding of the surf below, coconut trees swaying in the stiff breeze.  A nice morning, in fact, no rain yet .  Huge puce clouds as I was driven to the airport – surprising amount of traffic outward bound.

More destinations:

Moody's Black Notebook Travels

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