Departed (sadly) NZ the evening of 5 April and due to crossing the international dateline, landed in Los Angeles the afternoon of the same day. I stayed with friends Karen Guan and Holger Hellwig and their two kids in El Segundo and went hiking at Point Dune, just north of Malibu, with Alice Wexler. It was a gorgeous day and the cliff walk above Point Dune state beach was spectacular. (But it did not prepare me for the cold and sleet on arriving at Logan Airport)!
I had not been in Christchurch, NZ's second-largest city, since the earthquakes of Sept. 2010 and Feb. 2011 and numerous, sometimes large aftershocks essentially destroyed the city center. (A magnitude 6.0 quake occurred three weeks before I arrived in NZ, and two 3.8 ones in early April, just following my visit to conduct archival research). Recently, Christchurch has been widely touted as a tourist destination -- e.g. two years ago, the New York Times ranked it #2 in its list of 50 must-see places -- for its innovative city planning and focus on the arts, including many pop-up performance venues. The city is certainly colorful, with many brightly-painted shipping containers serving as banks, stores, and cafes, and there are upbeat posters everywhere. But I found it extremely depressing. The city seemed depopulated -- many former residents have decamped to Australia or other places in search of work -- the iconic ChristChurch Cathedral is in ruins and the entire downtown a vast construction site. The rebuild has been excruciatingly slow as it turned out that basically the entire infrastructure, including the sewer system, must be replaced (a task that will probably take 30+ years). Fortunately, the Canterbury Museum was almost unaffected along with the adjacent botanic gardens. And the Avon river, which meanders through the city and is lined with parks, remains lovely.
It was an event-filled week at Abbey, with something on every evening: lectures, films, a traditional Maori Hangi dinner, a heart-stopping semi-final NZ/South Africa Cricket World Cup match (won by NZ in the final minutes) on the big screen, a Persian New Year celebration hosted by Iranian students, and Whiskey Education Night. After six shots of single malts, I was barely able to stagger back to my room! (Tomorrow, I leave on a short trip to Christchurch).
I've included a link to a recent Abbey Update newsletter, where Charles Tustin (the head of college) explains the symbolism of the items on the table below and also a bit about the Hangi dinner. http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=4519c4a0c0cabde2cec5fa310&id=cddbb7d87c&e=2cbfd319f1
You wouldn't know it, but I am dancing! Below is Whiskey Education Night.
Hamish volunteered to take Caleb Irvine and I cockling, and as we were about to leave the area, spotted a difficult to identiy marine mammal on the beach. It turned out to be a rare leopard seal -- which occasioned great excitement. Later that evening, the cockles were steamed and turned (by Abby) into an appetizer and a fabulous chowder, which we had with lightly-seared tuna and local salmon.
The photos above are of fur seals.
A rare leopard seal resting at Aramoana beach.
The Mole is a 1,200m breakwater stretching out into the sea from Aramoana beach. Apart from many gulls/terns/shags, we saw albatross, fur seals, and even a few small blue penguins.
Tairoa Head and the Royal Albatross Colony (only land-based albatross colony in the world) directly across the mouth of the harbor from the Mole.
The birdwatchers (note telescope) spotting an albatross in flight.
My colleague Hamish offered to take a Belgian PhD student on a field trip to Aramoana, a beautiful site at the mouth of Otago Harbour (about 27K North of Dunedin) that is directly opposite the end of the Otago Peninsula. So of course I begged to tag along -- which meant completing the field-work induction course. (I am now stuffed with useless knowledge about what to do if I become hopelessly lost in a NZ forest or my van slides off the road into a bay). Anyway, it was a gorgeously warm and sunny day, and for my sake, the field work was combined with a search for the NZ clam tua tua and for cockles. The tua tua proved elusive, and unlike the cockles, which are in shallow bay waters, finding them requires immersion in the (frigid) sea. The fog also rolled in just as we started. But it was a wonderful outing, and we at least returned with a supply of cockles.
Beginning to dig for cockles on the mud flats.
Showing a tua tua clam (shell)
Plenty of tua tua shells -- but where are the live ones?
The fog rolls in ....
A Portuguese man-of-war! One of several we encountered on the beach.
Hamish and I emerging from sea, soaking wet and sadly sans tua tua.
Above: Chinese New Year festivities in Dunedin: Dragon Parade, Chinese Garden at night, fireworks. Below: dinner with companions from the SFO-Auckland flight on their brief visit to Dunedin; friend Fiona Stuart playing with ukelele group at the Intl Food Festival on the lawn of the Otago Museum.
First days in Dunedin. 1) Caleb Irvine being introduced to the Rob Roy Dairy. (Caleb is a junior at Harvard and younger son of my friends Ian Irvine and Judy Salpeter; he is coincidentally spending this semester at the University of Otago). 2) The famous clock tower building at the center of the university and,St Margaret's College, where our conference on eugenics in British colonial contexts was held the weekend of 7-8 Feb. (See blog post on the conference). 3) Abbey College and view from my living room onto the deck. 4) The traditional Sunday evening dinner on the deck at the home of my geneticist collaborator Hamish Spencer, his geologist wife Abby Smith, their younger son David and older son Ned. Alas, an expedition to collect Tua Tua clams, planned for Waitangi Day, had to be scrapped due to absolutely awful weather.
Speaking of weather, it is far more changeable than New England's. A spread of 30 degrees F in a day is common; e.g. today it was 45F when I left for the office and is now (late afternoon) 73F. The same day can include multiple periods of rain alternating with bright sun/cloudless skies. Needless to say, one learns to dress in layers. It is rarely hot, but even when it reaches the mid-80s, the humidity is generally so low that one almost never feels uncomfortable.
A big surprise upon arriving at Abbey College, the postgraduate residence where I am staying: I had rented a "large studio" room, but the young man who provided an orientation on my arrival led me to a fairly small bedroom furnished only with a bed and night-table. It did not look at all like the photo of the rather spacious room with separate sitting area that I thought I had rented. When I mentioned my surprise, he said, "oh, they decided to give you the living quarters recently vacated by the head of college since they haven't started the renovations yet -- you have the entire floor. So instead of a studio room, I have two bedrooms, a study, and a lovely living room/dining area and its own deck! (I also have a kitchen but as the contract involves full board, it's irrelevant). The food is so-so, but the atmosphere at the college is very friendly and because it is a converted motel, has a sauna, hot tub, and swimming pool. Best of all, it is only a half-block to the lovely Botanic Gardens, of which more about below.
THE DUNEDIN BOTANIC GARDEN/HILLTOP AVIARY
THE SATURDAY OTAGO FARMERS MARKET
An expedition to the wonderful Saturday morning Farmers' Market, which takes place next to the iconic train station (seen in first photo). Companions are Caleb and Ellie, a biochemistry postgrad from Iran and co-resident at Abbey College.
Kumi kumii is a NZ variety of squash. And "silverbeet" (near the back) is chard.
The Cricket 2015 World cup in Dunedin
In preparation for attendance at the first 2015 World Cup NZ-Scotland match tomorrow (Tues., 17 Feb), I was given hands-on instruction in the game by Hamish and Abby's younger son David, an extremely skilled (and patient) player.
A few photos of the match itself (a rout for New Zealand). In cricket, it is traditional to also applaud an excellent play by the opponent's team, and the fan waving the Scottish flag was not booed or jeered. However, Kiwi cricket fans have hated Australians since some game in 1981s when, to prevent NZ from tying a game, the Aussies bowled underarm, a move that while technically legal (in the sense that no one had thought to remove it from the rulebook) was not considered cricket. A "six" in cricket is awarded when the batsman hits a ball in the air beyond the boundary line before it comes into contact with the ground.